The full story of the white flag case is released by a group of researchers today.
This is the story of the killing or disappearance of several groups of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who surrendered to the Sri Lankan army on or about 18 May 2009 at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war. They were told by the government if they carried a while flag they would be safe crossing the frontline. But when they surrendered it became apparent they had been lured into a trap. Several were executed in cold blood – others have never been seen since.
The LTTE leadership had to make a choice whether to fight to the end or surrender. They decided that the political wing leader, Nadesan, and his deputy, Pulidevan, should negotiate a surrender and take with them the injured and others who wanted to lay down their arms.
In the course of the negotiations for surrender, the two men started sending out messages back and forth to a range of Sri Lankan politicians and diplomats and a journalist.
They sought and received guarantees that they would not be harmed.
(Sunday 17 May 2009 – All times Sri Lankan):
0846: Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona to Nadesan via a European intermediary: SMS: “Just walk across to the troops, slowly! And comply with instructions carefully. The soldiers are nervous about suicide bombers.”
1529: Another SMS from Palitha Kohona: “white flag, hands up, walk slowly”.
Midday approx: Nadesan calls Rohan Chandra Nehru MP in Colombo. “I will give you an answer around the evening, or anytime, my leader is instructing me, keep your phone free so I can call you”. [Shelling heard in background].
1830: Nadesan calls Nehru. “We are ready to surrender under the leadership instruction”. The rebel leader, Prabhakaran had given Nadesan and the LTTE permission to surrender. Nadesan tells Nehru to speak to Basil Rajapaksa to arrange, “full security and ceasefire for when we come out.” Nadesan reports heavy shelling in their location with many casualties.
1900: Nehru calls Basil Rajapaksa. He tells him that Nadesan said there were 3000 LTTE cadres (including the political wing) and 22,000 civilians who wanted to surrender as soon as possible. Nehru tells him that the LTTE political wing and others want a ceasefire and security guarantees to surrender.
Basil Rajapaksa: “I am happy to hear this, it is anyway too late…I told you to tell them to surrender in those days but I will speak to the President and I will call you back.”
Nehru calls a number of embassies to tell them an agreement has been reached, including Norway, Britain, US. He calls Nadesan’s brother abroad.
1930 approx: Nadesan calls Nehru. Nehru tells him that Basil informed him that the President has accepted their surrender conditions. The conversation is very difficult because of loud shelling. Nadesan says he will prepare everyone to surrender.
Nehru tries to call Basil back but his phone is switched off. He tries the President without success.
1930: Nehru receives a call from Basil Rajapaksa who says, “we are taking the necessary steps and the President has accepted the conditions.”
Nadesan calls Sunday Times journalist Maire Colvin in London (the call patched via South Africa). Nadesan says: “We are putting down our arms…We are looking for a guarantee of security from the Obama administration and the British government. Is there a guarantee of security?”. Nadesan asks Marie Colvin to call UN Special Envoy, Vijay Nambiar who is traveling. The first time Nadesan tells Marie Colvin that it will be difficult to persuade the Sri Lankan government to accept a surrender.
Monday 18 May 2009
0130: Nadesan calls Nehru. He says the army is very close. In the background is shelling and small arms fire and screaming. Nadesan again confirms there are 3000 LTTE and 22,000 civilians who want to surrender.
Nadesan: “Why are they shelling?” He asks if the government has really agreed to the terms of the surrender. Nehru assures him they have. Pulidevan takes the phone and is shouting in panic, “Why haven’t you stopped the shelling; there are people dying and bleeding to death?”
Nehru: “Please don’t shout at me, I am not the one shelling you!”
Pulidevan: “You said they were going to stop the shelling. Are you sure they are going to accept the surrender?’
Pulidevan: “We will call you back.”
0145: Nadesan calls Nehru to see if there’s any news from the government which there is not. Nadesan says he is in direct contact with Washington.
0156: Basil phones Nehru: “We have arranged everything. How do we identify those surrendering?”
Nehru suggests a white flag.
Basil: “Ok. I will mention this to the President.”
Nehru: “Please arrange a ceasefire and they would like me to attend there when they surrender.”
Basil: “Ok we will see.”
0330: Pulidevan calls Tomas Stangland in Oslo to ask for help (at midnight Norwegian time). He also calls Tore Hattrem, the Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka. [Press reports that Pulidevan spoke to Erik Solheim that night are incorrect.] Nadesan calls his brother in London to say he’s surrendering; he says there are 1000 injured rebels stranded with him.
0409: Palitha Kohona is informed by SMS that Pulidevan and Nadesan want to surrender together with approximately 40 LTTE cadres.
0436: Nadesan calls Nehru who relays what Basil said to him at 0156 and instructs Nadesan to hoist a white flag. Nadesan asks if Nehru will be there when he surrenders and he says yes.
Pulidevan calls Tomas Stangland in Oslo again – late night Norway time.
0500: Nadesan calls Nehru back to say they are taking heavy casualties.
0511: Nadesan calls Nehru again hoping for news. Shelling and gunfire is still audible.
0528: Nehru calls the US Embassy who tell him the Americans are working on the surrender and are deeply concerned.
0530: Marie Colvin wakes up Vijay Nambiar. He tells Colvin that he’s received assurances from the Sri Lankan President that the surrendering Tigers will be safe and there’s therefore no need for him to go to oversee the surrender. She questions him on the wisdom of this decision.
0551: The UK Embassy’s second secretary calls Nehru who explains the situation. The diplomat says, “We have urged the government to accept the surrender and there is huge international attention on the conflict. It is vital that the civilians get out so we would encourage them to raise the white flag.”
0545: Marie Colvin calls Nehru. She agrees to call Nambiar again.
0556: SMS from Palitha Kohona to European intermediary: “Thanks.” in reply to 0409 SMS.
0602: Nadesan calls Nehru for news. There is none. He says the casualties are very heavy. Nehru gives Nadesan the telephone number of Basil Rajapaksa to call directly. They can speak to each other in English.
0609: Pulidevan calls his European intermediary to say he’s about to set off for the bridge. He keeps the line open for a couple of minutes and then the satellite connection cuts off. This was most probably his last call though he also reportedly spoke to his sister in law in Canada around this time.
0610: Nehru speaks to President Mahinda Rajapaksa who says he has consulted the defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and all the plans are in place for the surrender which the government is willing to accept. Nehru offers to go and supervise the surrender but the President says, “No our army is very generous and disciplined. There is no need for you to go to a war zone. You don’t need to put your life at risk”. Mahinda Rajapaksa tells Nadesan to call his brother Gotabaya on his direct number. Nehru is reluctant. The President says: “Ok, speak to Basil”. Mahinda is clear he has given the order to his brother Gotabaya to accept the surrender and protect their lives.
0620: Basil calls Nehru and says he has spoke to Nadesan and told him everything will be ok and his surrender will be accepted. “Waive a white flag and hold it very high” he tells him. Basil gives instructions on the route to take. He says the 3000 LTTE are to come separately from the civilians.
0620-30 approx: Nehru calls Nadesan and hears gunfire in the background. He tells them to keep the line open but it drops off.
Nadesan: “We are ready. I’m going to walk out and hoist the white flag.”
Nehru: “Hoist it high, brother – they need to see it I will see you in the evening.”
0646: Kohona has been informed that Pulidevan and Nadesan are on their way to the bridge and replies by SMS: “That is very good news. Now let us rebuild the country and the shattered lives of all our people.”
0656-0700: Basil phones Nehru from his mobile phone. He tells Nehru to ask Nadesan why some LTTE are firing at the army. The implication is Nadesan and group are caught in crossfire. Basil orders Nehru to keep his mouth shut and not to talk to anyone about what has happened, especially internationals. Nehru gives Basil Nadesan’s satelite phone number and suggests he calls him directly.
0800: Johnston Fernando MP tells Nehru that Nadesan and the others are all dead. The source is a friend who is a commando in the security forces. Fernando calls his friend on speaker phone who says the LTTE leaders surrendered, accepted tea and were then beaten. Nadesan’s wife begged them to stop as they had surrendered however they were all shot by the commandos.
To read more about the story click here.