Those INGO chiefs as well as expatriate staff deployed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces should be able to reveal how the LTTE had used the civilian population in the Vanni for its protection, Rajapaksa said in a brief interview with The Island over the weekend.In his first comments since last Thursday’s passage of a US-led resolution demanding reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, the Defence Secretary said that both the UN mission in Colombo and its headquarters had been aware of the LTTE taking people hostage as early as March-April 2007 during an early stage of the military operations on the Vanni west front. In fact, the UN had been involved in secret negotiations with the LTTE to secure the release of some of its Tamil speaking staff detained for helping civilians to flee the LTTE area, the Defence Secretary said.
Rajapaksa alleged that the UN could have prevented the LTTE from using civilians as human shields if it had brought international pressure to bear on the LTTE. Unfortunately, those shedding crocodile tears for the Tamil speaking people today didn’t even bother to issue at least a press release condemning the LTTE, he said. The UN had failed to denounce the detention by the LTTE of its local staff for helping civilians take refuge in government-held area, while the foreign-funded civil society remained mum, the Defence Secretary.
UN officials must be probed
It wouldn’t be difficult for the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner and the UN to establish the conduct of the UN mission in Colombo during the Vanni operation, Rajapaksa said. None of the human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, which was at the forefront of the anti-Sri Lanka campaign at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, raised the abduction of UN staff. The likes of Channel 4 journalists didn’t utter a word, he said.
The Defence Secretary emphasised that the accountability on the part of the UN, too, should be investigated. Asked whether the GoSL had raised the issue with the UN mission in Colombo, the Defence Secretary said that the UN remained mum until the External Affairs Ministry queried the UN. The issue was also raised at a UN briefing in New York, where the UNSG’s spokesperson had admitted the abduction of Tamil workers by the LTTE.
The Defence Secretary pointed out that the UN Panel of Experts (PoE), too, had recommended that the UNSG should conduct a comprehensive review of the UN system during the war and the aftermath, regarding the implementation of humanitarian and protection mandates.
The UN mission’s own records in Colombo would reveal how terrorists prevented over 500 Tamils employed by the UN and other INGOs and their families from leaving the war zone along with expatriate staff in late 2008, he said. The LTTE rump living abroad, too, should be asked to explain its silence during the war, he said. As long as they felt that the LTTE could achieve eelam, they didn’t care about the lives of Vanni civilians.
C-4 should furnish details
Commenting on the fresh Channel 4 allegation that 40,000 civilians were killed in a ‘matter of days’, the Defence Secretary said that the UK media outfit should be able to reveal the identities of the victims and also identify those who died fighting for the LTTE. Recalling that the original allegation referred to 40,000 civilians killed in the final phase-a term used to describe fighting during the January-May 19 period on the Vanni east front, the Defence Secretary said that it had now changed to ‘a matter of days.’ Now that Channel 4 seemed to be sure of the number of people who perished in the last few days, it should be able to identify them by name. Obviously, no one could have reached a conclusion on the number of killed without conducting a survey, the Defence Secretary said, pointing out that a recent survey carried out by Tamil public servants under the auspices of the Census Department established the number of killed due to the war at 7,934, during 2009.
Enough Food Stocks in Vanni
The Defence Secretary said that UN and other INGOs quit the Vanni in September 2008, though they were continuously involved in humanitarian missions. Those who accused Sri Lanka of denying food and medicine to people held hostage by the LTTE should get in touch with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the ICRC. In spite of some of the fiercest fighting on the Vanni front, the WFP had delivered 7,694 metric tons of food to Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu overland. There had been 12 food convoys (Oct. 2008 to Jan. 23, 2009), he said, adding that once the overland food supply couldn’t be maintained, under the supervision of the ICRC over 3,000 metric tons of food were moved from Trincomalee to Mullaitivu in ships from Feb 19 to May 8. On April 28, the LTTE thwarted the MV Thirupathi from offloading 1,068 metric tons of cargo at Puthumathalan and the ship had to be diverted, the Defence Secretary said.
The Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner could obtain a detailed report from the ICRC’s role in moving food and also transferring those wounded from Puthumathalan to Pulmoddai, where an Indian medical team provided assistance. Rajapaksa emphasised that the government had not differentiated between terrorists and civilians in providing humanitarian assistance. The wounded evacuated from Puthumathalan had been given medical treatment, he said. Both the ICRC and the Government of India could provide further details, should anyone ask for it, the Defence Secretary said.
By Shamindra Ferdinando