By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Enemies of the President’s Promise: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Grumpy 1
What was termed the militarization of the North was attributed primarily to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary of Defence, and in several minds he was regarded the greatest barrier to Reconciliation. He was thought the architect of the policy that held safety to be the most important consideration, and that to make sure this the footprint of the military had to be heavy and pervasive.
This was ironic, for during the course of the war he had seemed of the view that, even though the forces could handle the military needs, a settlement needed the politicians, and setting this in location was not his role. Indeed, in this regard he seemed the opposite of his Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka, who was thought to be of the view that a policy of settlements in the North was the greatest way of guaranteeing peace. Gotabaya, on the contrary went along with his brothers, the President and Basil, when they sidelined Fonseka, having refused his request that the army be enlarged and, as noted, Basil went ahead with a policy of swift resettlement, which was in accordance with the pledge of the President.
Certainly, even for the duration of the war, Gotabaya had seemed soft in comparison with Sarath Fonseka. His selected instruments had been officers such as Daya Ratnayake, appointed Army Commander in 2013, who had created the approach that ensured that there have been hardly any civilian casualties in the East. Sarath did not like Daya Ratnayake, and sidelined him and would have had him retired early, but Gotabaya saved his career by sending him off to China for his Employees College Course. When he came back, he was not utilized at all in what remained of the Northern offensive.
Sarath had a no nonsense strategy to the conflict, and when the ICRC told him that firing was coming close to hospitals, his response was on the lines that the hospitals ought to no longer have been there, because they had been instructed to move. Gotabaya on the contrary had taken notice of such warnings and indicated that he would have the line of fire changed.
In basic, Gotabaya and his preferred instruments such as Jagath Jayasuriya who, as Commander of the Special Forces in Vavuniya, was in charge of the Northern operation, tended to follow international law as best feasible. Offered the general technique followed in the war, and the care taken in most quarters to keep away from civilian casualties, there is no doubt that Sarath Fonseka also followed the general principles laid down by the civilian command, but it was also apparent that he often saw this as a needless hindrance. His initial account of the killing of those who tried to surrender by carrying White Flags and leaving the Tiger lines indicates his bluff mindset, for he was reported as possessing said that these in air-conditioned rooms, an obvious reference to Gotabaya, ordered that they be spared. He nonetheless had accomplished what was required, considering that he knew how they had behaved in the previous.
It was odd then that, a couple of years later, Gotabaya must have inherited the mantle of the difficult-liner, but maybe it was inevitable given the manner in which government decided to respond to the challenge presented by Sarath Fonseka, when he stood for election against Mahinda Rajapaksa as the common Opposition candidate. Getting skilled what seemed a Damascus style conversion, doubtless because he was backed by the Americans (who could not have been ignorant of his measure but believed him the ideal instrument of applying pressure on Rajapaksa), he place himself forward for election as a dove. He was certainly supported by the UNP, which had not supported the crushing of the Tigers, and by the TNA, the principal Tamil political celebration. His method then to the White Flag case was that it was these in air-conditioned rooms who had given orders that they be killed.
Government responded, not by pointing out the contradictions in his accounts, and calling him a liar, but by saying he was a traitor. They had decided that, since Fonseka was the principal opponent in the election, it was the hardline vote that had to be won. Patriotism, in order to get the much better of Fonseka, had to be difficult, so it did not matter that the impression they produced was that his story may well be correct. The upshot of this, of course, was that when the LLRC advised inquiries into attainable abuses, the government was in troubles, given that Fonseka could nicely have named them traitors for letting down patriots who had only done what was essential to remove terrorism.
But there had previously been indications that Gotabaya was determined to safeguard those who had fought on his behalf. Despite the typically admirable conduct of the forces, there had been a single ugly incident even before the offensive in the East had begun, which was unfairly noticed as characteristic of the army. What made this even a lot more unfair, apart from the exceptional nature of the incident, was that the perpetrators were not army personnel, but rather members of the Unique Task Force, which was a commando kind branch of the Police.
The incident had occurred in Trincomalee, with five youngsters getting killed in cold blood. Even though Gotabaya after claimed that they had been involved in terrorism, it is doubtful whether or not even he believed this. Initially certainly government had been of the view that these accountable had to be brought to book, but there had been some delay in carrying out this, and it seemed probably that Gotabaya, who had referred to the perpetrators as youngsters under stress, had been instrumental in countermanding the President’s decision. The upshot was that nothing at all was completed, even although at a later stage as well the President truly asked the Lawyer General to situation indictments. But, on the grounds that he would lose the case – and probably simply because he was not positive the President would not modify his thoughts – the Attorney General had done nothing at all.
This was 1 of the cases as to which the President had set up a Particular Presidential Commission of Inquiry, but its report was by no means publicized. This developed the impression that government wanted to cover up with regard to each this case and an additional notorious one, the killing of 17 workers of the French NGO Action Against Hunger, in the course of the try of the Tigers to take handle of Mutur, and hence threaten Trincomalee. In truth responsibility in the latter case was not so clearcut, and it was also apparent that the NGO had acted against UN recommendations in sending their workers into a threatened area when all other help workers had been withdrawing. But by maintaining the Udalagama Commission report a secret, government gave a handle to those accusing it of big-scale violations of international law.
Gotabaya then seemed determined to resist any effort to investigate charges of wrongdoing. He gave space on the Defence Ministry website to those crucial of the LLRC Report, which was a pity due to the fact the LLRC, having weighed the evidence, had indicated that most charges of War Crimes (as laid out in the Darusman Report commissioned by the UN Secretary General) did not hold water. By resisting however its conclusion that there was a case to investigate with regard to the remedy of some surrendees, Gotabaya permitted the impression to be developed – and propagated vehemently – that the government was in a state of total denial of everything.
Probably the vehemence with which the government was attacked had thrown him. Definitely the President claimed that his attitude had hardened right after the attacks on Sri Lanka elevated. Hence, with regard to police powers, which were supposed to be devolved below the current 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which Rajapaksa had pledged to implement soon after the conclusion of the conflict, Gotabaya was initially reported as getting no objection to neighborhood policing being run by the Province. Certainly the President himself had earlier indicated to me that he saw no purpose not to devolve police powers since, following the demerger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, there seemed no real threat of an alternative energy base.
But right after the hostility in England to the President that prevented him from speaking at the Oxford Union, hostility which it seemed in Sri Lanka the British government had not dealt with firmly, Gotabaya had hardened, and there seemed tiny prospect of a Provincial Administration being allowed police powers. It was soon after that too that what had seemed previously a readiness to give up significantly of the land about Palaly changed, and government ended up keeping much far more than could reasonably be claimed was vital for security purposes. Whereas elsewhere in the North the forces withdrew from massive tracts they had previously declared they needed, in Palaly – which was a heavily inhabited area, so that hundreds of households had been deprived of their properties – they clung on, to unpopularity that enhanced in leaps and bounds.
This might have led as well to what seemed an effort to alter the demography of the Wanni, via settlement of Sinhalese in the area. Initially there had seemed no truth in the assertion that Sinhalese had been getting brought in from outside. What was happening was resettlement of households that had been driven away by Tiger violence in the early stages of the conflict, and I discovered in my early visits that certainly the Sinhalese families in location could talk emotionally of the ancestral properties they had had to abandon. But later on those exact same households told me of new settlers getting brought in. Interestingly, they had no racial feeling about this, and complained that what was taking place was unfair to the original inhabitants of the area, because they all, Tamil and Muslim and Sinhala, had children who must have been given the opportunity 1st, if new lands have been being given out to settlers by government.
Drastically, this type of settlement was also deeply upsetting to government politicians in the North. Rishard Bathiudeen complained once, at the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Resettlement, that government seemed to be acting on a policy that was not created public, of promoting racial harmony by producing villages of certain communities side by side with other people of various communities. Considering that this was only being implemented in the North, and therefore involved taking the lands of Tamil and Muslim communities to establish Sinhala ones, clearly the professed aim was not the real 1. And the huge locations devoted to Sinhala only villages in Vavuniya North created it clear rather that what was taking place was what the TNA claimed, which had not been component of government policy quickly following the war ended, namely efforts at demographic modify.
In some instances certainly Gotabaya seemed on a various wavelength from at least some of his officers, who have been typically concerned about the welfare of the original inhabitants becoming resettled. One obvious bone of contention was the work of a few monks from the South to set up Buddhist temples in the area, claiming that these had been historic Buddhist sites. In Mannar, the army officers did their greatest to avoid new locations being acquired – one particular Monk for instance had no liking for the archaeological site which did have an old temple but was deep in the jungle, so rather took over a Hindu temple on the principal road – but an unprofessional Department of Buddhist Affairs and a complaisant Archaeological Department contributed to growing resentment. Typically the TNA claimed that the armed forces had been behind these new Buddhist temples, which was really untrue, but they could not of course have been anticipated to admit that the army was normally the ideal defence against such practices.
Matters have been difficult by the more intense Buddhist chauvinists claiming that the President also was truly a Christian (which his wife was), and suggesting that the only hope for Buddhism was Gotabaya. Although the brothers had been extremely close, and had full confidence in every other, it was apparent that Gotabaya did take seriously the escalating tendency to view him as the greatest patriot in the land.