Sri Lanka on LTTE war opens public hearings

A high-level commission appointed by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to look into the last seven years of conflict with the LTTE opened public hearings on Wednesday.

Updated: Aug 11, 2010, 20:12 PM IST

Colombo: A high-level commission appointed
by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to look into the
last seven years of conflict with the LTTE opened public
hearings on Wednesday, amid global apprehensions over its credibility
and mandate to probe war crimes.

The eight-member `Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation
Commission` recorded the testimony of its first witness,
former top diplomat Bernard Goonatilake, who participated in
the talks between the government and LTTE in 2002-2003.

It is to report to the President within six months from
the date of appointment, May 15, on the events in the period
between February 21, 2002 and May 19, 2009 when the war had

The commission opened its proceedings a day after a group
of 57 US lawmakers asked the Obama Administration to call an
independent international probe into alleged war crimes in Sri

The group said such a probe is in the best interest of
the US and people of Sri Lanka to ensure lasting peace after
a quarter century of ethnic conflict. "Such a peace can only
be reached once the truth about the past is understood," it
said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

After holding sittings in Colombo this week, the
Commission is scheduled to operate from Vavuniya to facilitate
the persons in the conflict-affected areas to give evidence
and state their grievances.

The Commission comprises persons of eminence,
representing the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nature of the
Sri Lankan society.

Its findings will seek to take Sri Lanka towards the
common goal of a multi-ethnic polity, in a spirit of
cooperation, partnership and friendship, learning the lessons
from recent history to ensure that there will be no recurrence
of such tragic conflict in the future.

While assessing the conflict phase, the commission will
search for any violation of internationally-accepted norms of
conduct in such situations. It will also go into the
circumstances that may have led to such actions and identify
persons or groups responsible for such acts.

It is also expected that recommendations would be sought
on the nature of compensation to be granted to the victims or
their dependents who have suffered in this conflict situation.

The commission will also look into the institutional,
administrative and welfare measures already taken in the post-
conflict phase and that should be taken further in order to
effect reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.

The legislative and administrative measures that may be
necessary in order to prevent such situations in the future
and to promote national unity and reconciliation among all
communities are also part of the mandate of the Commission.

Former diplomat Goonatilake, who participated in the
talks between the Government and LTTE in 2002-2003, told the
commission that the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed
without any serious negotiations.

It was signed on the text presented by the Norwegian
mediators with inputs from LTTE theoretician Anton
Balansingham. It was full of shortcomings that could be seen
as beneficial to the LTTE, he said.

Appearing as the first witness at the commission at the
Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Strategic
Studies, he said the government did not have any option other
than entering a ceasefire at that time.

This was because of several factors such as the military
losing territory and camps, including Elephant Pass, attacks
on the Katunayake Air Force Base and International Airport and
economic growth falling below zero for the first time, he

Goonatilake, former Ambassador to US and China and first
Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat, claimed that
although the military wanted some amendments to the CFA draft,
the LTTE did not accede to them.

He pointed out that when the ceasefire came into
operation in December 2001, there was no agreement to guide
it. Hence it was decided to sign the CFA "as early as
possible" and "this had led to its many shortcomings."

The former ambassador also said that when the `Oslo
Declaration` on a federal solution was announced, it appeared
that Anton Balasingham was reprimanded by the LTTE leadership
for going beyond the mandate given to him.

When the LTTE wanted free movement for political activity
outside North and East, the military wanted reciprocity. But
that request was brushed aside by the LTTE.

When the need for international scrutiny of human rights
in the North and East was proposed, Balasingham said that
there was no need for any international institute for scrutiny
of alleged human rights violations in these areas, according
to Goonatilake.

"Though LTTE generally expressed mistrust about the
institutions in the South; on this issue Balasingham had said
Sri Lanka`s National Human Rights Commission could scrutinise
the alleged human rights violations in the North and East," he

Goonatilake said he agreed with the Chairman of the
Commission, C R de Silva, that this had been stated when the
government`s writ did not extend to some parts of the North
and East.

"We also proposed a clause on child recruitment in the
CFA, but Mr Balasingham expressed opposition to that. When
this matter was pursued in negotiations, Balasingham asked
whether we would like to see his neck being cut, gesturing
with his forefinger across his neck, as Ambassador Goonatilake
demonstrated," an official statement said.

Goonatilake said the LTTE leadership did not want its
delegation to cooperate with the government side.

The talks were limited to facilitating rehabilitation and
reconstruction and the LTTE was not prepared to discuss any
substantial issues, he said.

Answering questions posed by the members of the
Commission, Goonatilake said that although die-hard LTTE
diaspora leaders or pro-LTTE Tamil expatriates would not give
up their campaigns, the government should take effective
action to win over the other Tamils living abroad.

He said the Sri Lankan missions abroad could play a major
role in this campaign, and that as in India there should be
institutional arrangements to serve the interests and needs of
Sri Lankan Tamils living abroad.

He said there was a danger of the Tamil youth living
abroad -- who are not aware of the situation here -- being
misled by the pro-LTTE leaders.

These pro-LTTE leaders, who were serving their own cause
of raising funds and to impress the Tamil community, were
engaged in lobbying foreign politicians and governments and
international financial institutions against Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has rejected a separate UN probe into the
alleged rights abuses during final stages of the war, which
ended with troops defeating the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

According to the statement, the commission members "have
been asked to report back to the President within six months
from the date of appointment 15th May, 2010."