By Shamindra Ferdinando
Field Marshal Fonseka points to a map depicting positioning of troops on the Vanni front (Pic by Nimal Dayaratne)
Denying UN accusations that the army had massacred over 40,000 civilians during the last phase of the ground offensive on the Vanni east front in 2009, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, yesterday stressed that there was absolutely no basis for war crimes charges.
The allegations mentioned in the UNSG Ban Ki moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report and a subsequent investigation based on unsubstantiated accusations paved the way for the UN to adopt a resolution on Sri Lanka on Oct. 1. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council wants Sri Lanka to set up an inquiry before June this year.
The much-repeated allegation that 40,000 civilians were killed during the last two months of the battle against the LTTE was a blatant lie, Fonseka said. Those who had been propagating war crimes allegations would have to prove them, Democratic Party (DP) leader Fonseka said, reiterating his commitment to defend the army.
The UNP last month accommodated the war winning Army Chief on its National List.
Field Marshal Fonseka was responding to The Island at a media briefing organized by the Information Department at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI).
Responding to another query by The Island, Field Marshal Fonseka strongly denied UN allegations in respect of indiscriminate artillery fire directed at civilians as well as hospitals and makeshift medical facilities on the Vanni east front. Fonseka revealed that he had specifically requested the then head of the ICRC in Colombo to persuade the LTTE to allow civilians to leave Puthumathalan before the army advanced on enemy fortifications. The war veteran recalled the circumstances under which the then government had allowed the ICRC to ferry those who had been wounded at Puthumathalan to Pulmoddai.
Field Marshal Fonseka said that he had direct access to real time footage obtained by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) operating over Vanni east battlefields. The tough talking politician recalled him seeing UAV footage containing hundreds of bodies of LTTE cadres draped in LTTE flags placed on the ground. Those categorised as missing today had died fighting for the LTTE, the Field Marshal said, adding that the army had paid a very heavy price to bring the war to a successful conclusion.
Field Marshal Fonseka emphasised that had anyone operated outside specific instructions issued by the Army Headquarters they would have to face the consequences. The war hero insisted that the SLA wouldn’t have to accept responsibility for any individual cases of violations.
Combined security forces’ campaign lasted for two years and ten months. Having launched offensive action in August/September 2006, the army brought the war to an end on May 19, 2009.
The Field Marshal dismissed assertions that the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had given leadership to the army. Those on the battlefield wouldn’t have carried out orders given by a civilian under any circumstances, Field Marshal Fonseka stressed.
Referring to his tour of China which began on May 11, 2009 as troops fought their way into the remaining enemy-held territory, Field Marshal Fonseka emphasized he had been constantly in touch with field commanders. “I contacted them thrice a day from China.”
The then Lt. Gen. Fonseka returned to Sri Lanka on the night of May 17, 2009. According to the Field Marshal, the final battle had erupted at 2.30 am whereas he returned from China at 9 pm.
Field Marshal Fonseka said the fighting ceased around 1.00 pm on May 19, 2009.
One-time Chief of Defence Staff castigated Kalutara District MP Kumara Welgama for alleging that he (Fonseka) was not being aware of the day LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed. MP Welgama claimed that Prabhakaran had been killed on May 18, the Field Marshal said, adding that the LTTE leader’s body was found around 1 pm on May 19.
“I was informed of Prabhakaran’s death by the then General Officer Commanding (GoC) 53 Division Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne. The call was received as I was on my way to Army Headquarters from Parliament after hearing the then President’s speech.”
Field Marshal Fonseka said that he wouldn’t change his statements.
Asked whether Prabhakaran had been captured alive and brought to Colombo for interrogation before being taken back again to Puthumathalan and shot, the Field Marshal said that in that case the then President would have saved the terrorist. Prabhakaran would have been given a political appointment courtesy the previous political leadership, MP Fonseka claimed.
Field Marshal Fonseka declared that as he had conducted the war until the very end there couldn’t have been any interference from the political leadership. According to him, there had been two interferences by the Rajapaksas. “Once they had proposed to deploy an additional formation in support of Task Force I (58 Division) and 57 Division complaining about extremely slow progress on the Vanni west front. However, the proposal was dropped after I explained the difficulty in raising a new fighting formation. Subsequently, on the Rajapaksas’ behalf, the then Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda proposed push towards Mullaitivu from Vavuniya. It was not realistic and therefore it was dropped.”
Fonseka said that his battlefield strategy was meant to kill as many terrorists as possible without bringing territory under Army control. Terrorists died fighting front line troops. The enemy had suffered sizable losses. ” I had 200,000 officers and men under my command whereas the enemy strength comprised about 35,000 personnel. Therefore at the end, the Army had to prevail,”Field Marshal Fonseka said.