Three page article by Rosie DiManno in Nov 2013
Posted on November 26th, 2013

Mahinda Gunasekera Agincourt, Ontario Canada

By E-mail
November 24, 2013

The Editor
Toronto Star
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Editor,

Re: Three page article by Rosie DiManno carried in the Star of November  2013

Rosie DiManno is once again packing her lengthy article with statements from different persons and repeating some allegations picked up from various sources as though these are gospel truths, whereas none of these have been substantiated or established as fact.  It is an impossible task to respond fully to the editor as letters are required to be limited to 150 words. Her long diatribe is possibly published to both mislead the reader and try to embarrass Sri Lanka, the host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which was scheduled to commence on November 15, 2013.

Unreliable Witness: On the first page, she has quoted one Dr. Thangamuthu Sathiyamoorthy a physician in the employ of the government who claims that there was intense shelling by the Sri Lanka Army during the military action taken against the Tamil Tiger terrorists, and his having narrowly escaped becoming a victim of the war.  This is the third public statement made by this doctor, each one varying from the other making it difficult to believe which is true. He failed to mention that the Tigers placed their artillery guns close to hospitals to attack the advancing army in attempts to draw retaliatory fire which could have caused damage to the medical facility.  It was the Tigers who initiated the war by making unprovoked attacks on civilians and the armed forces from December 2005 and cutting off water to 30,000 farming families from Mavil Aru (Mahavil Oya) in July 2006, which compelled the authorities to use force to dislodge them and provide drinking and irrigation water to the affected families.

Rbitrary Population Stats and Civilian Casualty Numbers: She again speaks of the exaggerated guesstimates of civilian casualties in the last five months of the war ended on May 18, 2009, reported by the U N Secretary General’s so called Panel of Experts report of 2011. They had based their assumptions on one sided information coming from pro-Tiger sources which they have locked away for the next 20 years to be around 40,000. A later UN internal review conducted by Charles Petrie claimed 70,000 had died between January 1 and May 18, 2009.  She has said that Church leaders who stayed behind calculated the civilian deaths at 147,000 based on census and statistics for the area. After the census taken in 1981, the Tamil Tigers did not allow any census to be carried out in their area of control as they could then provide inflated numbers to receive higher quotas of food and other essentials from the government.  Many people moved out of the Vanni paying a cash penalty to the Tigers or leaving a child behind to fight for the separatist cause and settling in the capital city of Colombo and suburbs which helped the Tamils to become the largest community in Colombo, while yet others fled to South India by boat.  In her earlier series of articles of September 2013, she said the civilian population was 330,000, and this time she says the number was 350,000 and in another place she has said the number was 300,000 to 350,000. Just like the casualty numbers being stretched by leaps and bounds, the population figures given is also highly elastic to fit the bogus casualty numbers picked from thin air.

Gordon Weiss who was attached to the UN Resident Representative’s office in Colombo was aware that the UN had counted a total 7,721 civilian deaths in the last five months based on information gathered from their more than 200 local Tamil staff who remained in the conflict zone as they were prevented by the Tigers from leaving the area.  Although the UN’s higher officials had withdrawn from their former office in Killinochchi, their local Tamil staff living amidst the civilian population was relaying information to the main office in Colombo on what took place on the ground. Weiss published a book called the ‘Cage’ where he dishonestly claimed that the civilian deaths was in the tens of thousands ranging up to 40,000 to market his book to the million strong Tamil expat communities residing in western countries.  On Weiss being questioned on his numbers in Sydney, Australia, he got wise and said the number was around 10,000 and that the figure of 40,000 was a printer’s error.

We have to rely on numbers compiled by the UN Resident Representatives office in Colombo which is not being talked of by the media and the UNSG’s Panel of Experts who preferred to conceal this number of 7,721 and instead invent numbers out of thin air in the tens of thousands ranging up to 40,000.  The post war census carried out by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2012 using school teachers and public officials from the Tamil community as enumerators arrived at a number of 7,432 deaths.  The total number of deaths reported by the Tamilnet which was a propaganda unit of the Tamil Tigers for the period January 1 to May 18, 2009 was 7,398, which is slightly lower than both the UN’s local office and the Sri Lankan Government’s census figure.  None of these three reports distinguished between combatant and civilian deaths, which leaves one to conclude that these casualty figures included Tiger  combatants as well as civilians who were pressed into combat roles to replace fallen cadres and genuine civilians caught in the crossfire.  When one excludes Tiger combatants in civilian attire the number of genuine civilian casualties will drop by over 50 percent, of whom many were done to death by the LTTE to prevent civilians from fleeing to safety on the other side.

The category deemed as ‘disappeared’ or unaccounted for that go to make up the total pre-war population would include those who moved out of the area to boost the numbers of the Tamil community in the capital city of Colombo and its suburbs, and yet others who took a boat to escape to Tamilnadu in South India.  There are also 600 others who escaped from the welfare camps before the registration process  with help of friends or relatives in the overseas diaspora who slipped out of the island to board the ‘mv Ocean Lady’ and the’ mv Sun Sea’ to enter Canada illegally.  There are yet others lingering in India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia waiting to catch an expensive boat ride to Australia or Canada or seek asylum in a developed country.  Numerous youth and adult civilians who were pressed into the fighting ranks to replace fallen cadres with little or no training may have perished in battle and bodies disposed of without making any record.  Those classified as disappeared may now be living in the west with bogus papers and assumed names.

The MV Sun Sea brought 492 Tamil migrants from Thailand to Victoria in 2010 aboard a rusty 59-metre-long cargo ship.

US Memos, Satelite Imagery and ICRC: (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/TheNG.pdf )  At the end of February 2009, the UN country team informed the Sri Lankan Government that in its view, there were 267,618 civilians present in the No ” Fire – Zone, basing the estimate, in part, on UNOSAT Quickbird and Worldview satellite images, used to count the number of IDP shelters. The resolution of the imagery produced by both satellites was 0.6 and 0.5m respectively, meaning a pixel resolution of 60cm — 0cm or 50cm — 50cm square. This resolution density is sufficient to be able to distinguish a single person on the ground.

 

For example, the former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake, noted in a confidential

embassy cable (Wikileak 09COLOMBO86) to Washington on January 26, 2009 that: [the] Army has a generally good track record of taking care to minimize civilian casualties during its advances.  On July 9, 2009 the then U.S. Ambassador ” at – Large for War Crimes Issues ” Ambassador John Clint Williamson ” whilst collecting information in relation to a U.S. Congressional reporting requirement, met and discussed the recent fighting in Sri Lanka with several INGO heads in Geneva, Switzerland. One of these heads was Jacques de Maio, the ICRC’s Head of Operations for South Asia. Whilst discussing potential violations of International Humanitarian Law, Jacques de Maio noted (as revealed in Wikileak 09GENEVA584): For example, he (Jacques de Maio) said that the Sri Lankan military was somewhat responsive to accusations of violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and was open to adapting its actions to reduce casualties […] He could cite examples of where the Army had stopped shelling when ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the Army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. In the same cable, Jacques de Maio had this to say about the LTTE and its strategies: On the LTTE, de Maio said that it had tried to keep civilians in the middle of a permanent state of violence . It saw the civilian population as a “protective asset” and kept its fighters embedded amongst them. De Maio said that the LTTE commanders, objective was to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurred.

 

It has been acknowledged even in the UNSG’s Panel of Experts report that the LTTE had placed their heavy weapons close to hospitals, food distribution points and in the midst of areas earmarked for safety of civilians unilaterally by the Army, described as ‘no fire zones’ though not formally agreed to by the Tigers, which were infiltrated by the LTTE with their long range guns.  The LTTE operating such weapons to attack the  Army naturally resulted in retaliatory strikes which sometimes may harm the civilians staying in the vicinity notwithstanding care taken to avoid such damage..

 

Alleged Attack on 58 Truck UN Food Convoy in Jan 2009 by SL Army: Di Manno has said that the UN had first hand evidence of the Army having shelled the Food Convoy (No. 11) delivering supplies to civilians in the ‘no fire’ zone. She has obviously not cared to further investigate this allegation, as it was later determined that two UN Security personnel who accompanied the WFP Food Convoy without notifying either the UN office in Colombo or the military headquarters in order to try and negotiate the release of the UN’s local Tamil staff held back by the LTTE, had later admitted to Mr. Rajiva Wijesinha of the Ministry of Disaster Management that the shelling which took place under cover of darkness had in fact been directed at them by the Tamil Tigers.  In fact, on the Army being notified of the two UN officers camping out in LTTE controlled terrain in a bunker dug out by Tamil civilians, they were compelled to halt hostilities for almost 48 hours giving them time to leave the area and reach safety in the south. The 23 Tamil civilians who helped these UN officers including children who also camped out beside the UN bunker became victims of the Tamil Tiger shelling with their body parts strewn on to the surrounding trees. What is reported by the UNSG’s POE and the media is the first version by these UN security officers which they retracted on being questioned on their return to Colombo.

 

Conclusions:  Towards the end, the US State Department report noted that, based on IDP accounts regarding events on May 17/18, a vast majority of the civilian deaths during the last few days of the conflict were caused by LTTE artillery and mortar fire: An organization reported accounts from IDPs of heavy fighting from the night of May 17 into the morning of May 18. The IDPs were certain based on the direction from which the shells were coming that a large number, perhaps the majority, of those killed in the NFZ during the previous 12 hours of fighting were killed by LTTE forces.  This version of events appears to be corroborated by the University Teachers for Human Rights- Jaffna (UTHR-J) interviews:

The Sri Lankan forces had abandoned the use of heavy weapons from about the 3rd week of April 2009 to withdraw air cover and only fought with hand held weapons, also limit the use of artillery except on occasions when they used it to neutralize enemy artillery guns attacking them after ensuring via UAV photos that the civilians were at a safe distance away from the Tiger guns. As a result, the Army lost almost 6,000 men in the last stages in trying to minimize Tamil civilian casualties being used as a human shield by the Tigers.  That’s equal to what the ISF ‘Coalition of the Willing’ lost in Afghanistan and Iraq after a total of over 10 years of war.

The Sri Lankan Army succeeded in rescuing a total of 295,873 from the Tiger terrorist clutches including nearly 12,000 former Tamil Tiger cadres who escaped with the fleeing civilians. The civilians were cared for in welfare camps with far better facilities than that provided in most other countries. Action was taken  to resettle all of them in their villages after demining and removing about 1.5 million mines laid by the LTTE, building/repairing houses, putting infrastructure in place  and providing livelihood assistance within the short space of three years.  The former Tiger cadres have also been rehabilitated through specially designed programs including vocational training to provide new life skills and released to the society with start up funds and guaranteed loans to resume normal lives except for about 200 hardcore cadres to be tried for serious crimes. The home established LLRC report drawn up to bring about reconciliation and restorative justice is being simultaneously implemented to heal the wounds of conflict which extended to over three decades.
Yours sincerely,
Mahinda Gunasekera

Tambrook Drive,
Agincourt, ON M1W 3L9

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