The Sri Lankan army twice within a week has denied it received any surrendering LTTE cadres during the closing stages of the civil war that ended on May 18, 2019.
On 05 July, 2019 Responding to a Right To Information (RTI) Act request, the Information Officer of the Sri Lanka Military, Brigadier Sumith Atapattu claimed “LTTE members have not surrendered themselves to the Sri Lanka military during the last stages of the war and they have handed themselves over to the Sri Lankan government”. Ironically, Information Officer of the Sri Lanka Military, Brigadier Sumith Atapattu during the war was part of the Mechanised Infantry regiment himself.
“As the institution with authority to deal with matters regarding surrendered LTTE members is the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, you are kindly requested to obtain the required information from them,” said Brigadier Sumith Atapattu.
The RTI request had been filed by Tamil Mirror Journalist, P Nirosh Kumar.
The stance of the military is in sharp contradiction to its earlier pronouncements that it did receive surrendering Tamil Tiger fighters and some of their family members.
JDS Lanka reported that there were several instances in which the military confirmed LTTE cadres had surrendered to the army. In 2012 when a Sri Lankan army Court of Inquiry (COI) acknowledged that the military captured LTTE cadres, in 2013 when Gotabaya Rajapaksa told journalists that 11,800 cadres had surrendered to the military, in 2016 when a senior military commander in the 58 Division said the army had kept a list of all those who surrendered. In 2018 two former Ministers from the Rajapaksa administration acknowledged that those who surrendered to the military had been killed while in protected military.
A senior Sri Lankan minister wittingly or otherwise has confirmed that some of the top Tamil Tiger leaders, including V. Balakumar and Yogaratnam Yogi, who had surrendered to the government troops during the final days of the war in May 2009, have been killed while in protected military custody.
Therefore, the present denial is a blatant lie and a futile attempt to hide a whole pumpkin in a plate of rice. The denial has dealt a devastating blow to the thousands of mothers and fathers searching for their loved ones who disappeared after surrendering to the army on May 17/18, 2009.
The Sri Lankan armed forces which brag that it crushed the LTTE terrorists never to raise again has now got cold feet that it never, ever accepted LTTE surrenders.
What is worse the Information Officer Brigadier Atapattu says the LTTE cadres had not surrendered themselves to the Sri Lankan military during the last stages of the war and they have handed themselves over to the Sri Lankan government. This is a blatant contradiction in that he is not denying the LTTE cadres surrendered to the army, only that they were handed over “to the Sri Lankan government after the surrender.”
The Information Officer Brigadier Atapattu goes on to say “As the institution with authority to deal with matters regarding surrendered LTTE members is the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, you are kindly requested to obtain the required information from them.”
This new twist by the army has dealt a devastating blow to thousands of Tamils searching for their loved ones who disappeared after surrendering to the security forces. Their protests campaigns are in search of the missing persons have gone well over two years now. They claim they have seen with their own eyes the army taking away their relatives who surrendered to the 58th division under the command of Brigadier Shavendra Silva at Vadduvaakal on May 18, 2009.
The army through their public address system asked the people and the LTTE cadres to surrender at different locations at Vadduvaakal.
Apparently, this is the first time since the conclusion of the war ten years ago; the Sri Lanka army has claimed that no LTTE cadres surrendered to the Sri Lanka military, despite the country’s most senior wartime defence official and other officials saying otherwise.
In an interview General Fonseka, who was the commander of the armed forces during the final days of the war, gave to Sunday Leader newspaper, he alleged that extrajudicial killings had occurred on the orders of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He stated: “Basil Rajapaksa, (a senior government figure) had conveyed information to the defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who in turn spoke with Brigadier Shavendra Silva, commander of the Army’s 58th division, giving orders not to accommodate any [Tiger] leaders attempting surrender and that they must all be killed.”
Sri Lanka’s Office of Missing Persons (OMP) appointed by the President has acknowledged that a vast number of those who surrendered to the military had disappeared.
“Families and civil society representatives in the districts made a number of recommendations that the OMP will take forward, including the use of mobile offices for more remote areas, prioritisation of the cases of persons who have reported to have surrendered to the military in May 2009 and then disappeared, and the need for immediate relief,” OMP announced in its interim report in August 2018.
OMP chair Saliya Peiris has said that he requested the list of surrenders from the authorities, but he never received any list. In 2016, a senior military commander revealed in courts that the 58th Division, which is accused of committing war crimes, is in possession of a list of those who surrendered to the security forces. The General Officer Commanding (GOC), 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army, Major General Kavinda Chanakya Gunawardena told Mullaitivu Magistrate Court that his division holds a list of all the LTTE cadres who surrendered to the military.
However, the commander failed to provide the document in court.
An Army Court of Inquiry (COI) established by post-war military Commander Jagath Jayasuriya in 2012 also acknowledged that the military did indeed capture LTTE cadres.
“The Sri Lanka Army had acted in a very professional manner taking very elaborate measures to avoid civilian casualties and all persons, including captured/surrendered LTTE cadres,” said the COI report.
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by Sri Lanka’s wartime president registered in 2011 a total of 53 LTTE cadres who surrendered during the final days of the war and were alleged to have disappeared.
The OMP estimates that at least 21,000 have disappeared from the predominantly Tamil north and east.
A UN investigation into serious violations and abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka’s war (OISL) concluded in 2015 that there are reasonable grounds to believe that captured LTTE members were unlawfully killed.
“On the basis of the available information, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a number of military cadres, who had laid down arms and were thus hors de combat, were unlawfully killed after having surrendered unarmed to the security forces,” said the OISL report.
Based on the findings, Sri Lanka committed itself at the UN to establish a judicial inquiry involving foreign judges, but the government now says it is opposed to any foreign judges and other personnel participating in such judicial inquiry. Almost five years later the transitional justice process is in splendid limbo thanks to President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
The UTHR-J report mentioned the names of top leaders who surrendered to the army. Karikalan (former eastern province political wing leader and subsequently in charge of the economic division), Yogaratnam Yogi (former spokesman of the LTTE), Lawrence Thilakar (a former spokesman of the LTTE, a one time head of LTTE office in Paris and later in charge of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation), Thangkan (former Deputy political section leader), Ilamparithi (former head of the political section for Jaffna district), Elilan (former Trincomalee political wing leader), Paappa (former head of the LTTE sports division), Puvannan (former head of the administrative division of the LTTE), Gnanam (deputy international head) and Tamilini head of the Women’s political wing.
On June 12, 2009, The Asian Tribune, a mouthpiece of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, reported that “LTTE Senior V. Balakumar and seven other hardcore Tigers are in the police net, Asian Tribune learns. They are Yogaratnam Yogi, former LTTE spokesman, Baby Subramanian, LTTE stalwart of long years, Lawrence Thilakar, a former head of the LTTE’s International Secretariat, Ilamparithi, Jaffna political leader, Karikalan of the Eastern Province and three others whose names are not immediately available.”
On August 06, the Lanka Guardian published a photograph taken in the army controlled area detention centre showing V. Balakumar and his son seated on a bunk under a tree. The background of the photograph shows army soldiers moving around the area. According to Lanka Guardian, V. Balakumar came to surrender to the Army with white flags together with other senior leaders of the LTTE. The photograph was taken in the army-controlled area.
LTTE cadres surrendered to the army in two batches some few hours apart. The first batch was on the night of 17 May 2009 led by B.Nadesan, Head of the LTTE Political Department, along with Seevaratnam Pulithevan of the Peace Secretariat and his Deputy Col. Ramesh and Nadesan’s wife Vineetha surrendered carrying white flags. In addition, 60 other LTTE cadres and 40 civilian relatives of LTTE cadres also surrendered.
Prior to the surrender on 14 May, 2009 Nadesan contacted the United Nations, the governments of Norway, United Kingdom, United States and also ICRC and was assured by Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa to surrender to the army with white flags. Nadesan’s request for a third party witness to oversee the surrender was denied.
Nadesan and others surrendered to the 53rd 59th Division of the Sri Lanka army carrying White flags and were reportedly shot dead. Sarath Fonseka and the then Sri Lankan Army Chief said that they had been shot dead on the orders of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to Brigadier Shavendra Silva Commander of the 58 Division (Sri Lanka).
Photographs and videos taken by soldiers appeared in the media showing bullet-ridden mutilated bodies of Nadesan, Pulithevan and Ramesh with burnt marks. One video showed a frightened Ramesh being interrogated roughly by the army personnel.
On 18 May 2009 evening the second batch of LTTE cadres consisting of LTTE military and civilian administrative leaders surrendered to the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan army close to the Vadduvaakal Bridge. The vast majority of these people have subsequently disappeared and, according to eyewitnesses, were last seen in the custody of the Sri Lankan military.
Those who surrendered on 18 May 2009 were screened and mostly put in a barbed wire holding area just south of the Vadduvaakal Bridge, which was in the control of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Many surrendered with an elderly Catholic Priest, Father Francis Joseph, who recorded the names of surrenders in a list for the military. Many eyewitnesses saw the LTTE cadres and in some case, their family members, loaded in buses and taken away by the army. Among those who surrendered were Elilan, Poet Ratnathurai, Yogi, Balakumar and Thilakar. They and the priest have not been seen since being taken into the custody of by the army.
A photograph appeared in the media showing Balakumar with his son seated on a bench inside an army camp. No other pictures appeared of those taken in buses by the army. A Catholic priest Francis Joseph who accompanied the LTTE cadres also went missing.
Another cowardly murder carried out by the army was that of Balachandran son of LTTE leader Prabhakaran who surrendered with his bodyguards. A photograph showed the 13-year-old kid seated on a bench inside an army bunker munching some short- eats oblivious of the imminent death lurking in the shadow around him. Later, a photo showed the bullet-ridden body of Balachchandran thrown to the ground. He was shot in the chest five times.
A senior military officer we interviewed told Channel 4 news that the rebel leader’s 13-year-old son surrendered with his bodyguards. He claims the boy was interrogated about his father’s location, then shot.
In an explosive interview with The Sunday Leader General Fonseka, the then Army Commander said he had no information communicated to him in the final days of the war that three key LTTE leaders had opted to surrender to Sri Lanka’s armed forces as the battle drew to a bloody finish. He told Frederica Jansz that Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa instructed a key ground commander in the north that all LTTE leaders must be killed and not allowed to surrender. Later, under pressure, Sarath Fonseka retracted his statement. (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2009/12/13/%E2%80%9Cgota-ordered-them-to-be-shot%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-general-sarath-fonseka/)
Photos also showed Isai Priya, the LTTE TV broadcaster, alive and in the custody of the Sri Lankan military. Footage obtained by Channel 4 News shows a number of dead bodies, including that of Isai Priya, which showed signs of possible sexual assault. These emerging eyewitness reports, photos, and videos are part of the mounting evidence of Sri Lankan soldiers summarily executing captured Tamils in the closing stages of the war. What crime did a 13-year boy commit other than born to the LTTE leader? (To read a detailed write-up and photographs about these killings please visit URL http://white-flags.org/)
Tamils are pointing finger at Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who for all intents and purposes the de facto Defence Minister throughout the war from November 2005. Incidentally, it was President Sirisena who was acting Defence Minister in the absence of Mahinda Rajapaksa who has gone abroad. Sirisena was bragging that the day he was sworn in over 1700 civilians were reported to have been killed and 3000 injured by Sri Lankan government shelling within the space of 48 hours. Thousands more were killed in the days that followed.
In 2011, Britain’s Channel 4 reported an interview with an army officer who served in Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s 58th Division that carried out the attack. The officer stated: “The defence secretary phoned Brigadier Shavendra Silva and ordered him not to take them prisoner, but to kill them. … I can confidently state that those who ordered the killings were Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Brigadier Shavendra Silva.”
The International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka (ITJP) has compiled a list of names of those who disappeared last seen in the custody of the military. Please click the following link to see the full list of missing persons at URL (http://white-flags.org/)*
The list comprises the names of 142 LTTE cadres who surrendered to the military on 18 May 2009 by eyewitnesses. The list is by no means a complete one. The ITJP through a press release let known to family members and relatives of the surrenders that there are eyewitnesses to the surrender of their loved ones to the military on the 18 May 2009 now living abroad. These eyewitnesses live outside of Sri Lanka as they fear for their security and reprisals against family members. The ITJP further said it is cognisant of the fact that some of the people on the list may have been released from detention after many years, without the knowledge of our witnesses. Eyewitnesses inside Sri Lanka and family members have also registered complaints or filed court cases regarding the disappearance of additional people who surrendered on 18 May 2009.
There is a mountain of evidence, including eyewitnesses as well as visual evidence of the mass slaughter of those LTTE cadres who surrendered to the army. Now ten years after the war, the army has the temerity to claim that LTTE cadres surrendered to the government and not to the army. Obviously, the army spokesperson Brigadier Atapattu is lying through his teeth and he should be charged with perjury.
Even if what Brigadier Sumith Atapattu says is “true” then both the armed forces and the Sri Lankan government are guilty of committing war crimes. Needless to say, those concerned should be put on trial for war crimes before the International Court of Justice.
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