Former minister Basil Rajapaksa stunned journalists in Jaffna Sunday by admitting that security forces commanded by his president brother Mahinda committed “crimes” during and after the Tamil separatist war.
Basil told the Jaffna Press Club that troops continued to break the law even after the end of the war in May 2009. It is the first time that one of the kingpins of the Rajapaksa administration admitted, in the former war zone, that armed forces had committed crimes.
His remarks strengthened charges made by Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka that there may have been individuals who stepped out of line and who should be investigated and punished to clear the good name of the Sri Lankan forces.
Asked for his views on Field Marshal Fonseka’s remarks, including his willingness to testify before any war crimes tribunal, Rajapaksa said he was reluctant to comment, but ended up admitting to “crimes” by security forces.
“I think our forces didn’t do war crimes, but individuals might have done. It is not war crimes. We can call (it) crimes,” Rajapasksa said dispensing with a Sinhala-Tamil translator and switching to English.
However, he made it clear that he was unhappy with Field Marshal Fonseka’s comments. “I don’t think the person who led the forces at that time should talk like this.”
Basil Rajapaksa and his brothers had described Fonseka as the “world’s best military commander” after he crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and declared an end to a decades-long separatist war in May 2009.
However, they quickly fell out over who should take the credit for the spectacular military success.
In Jaffna yesterday, Basil Rajapaksa also dropped another bombshell declaring that his new party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP), a breakaway faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), supports the full return of all occupied private land in Jaffna.
He said occupied land should not only be returned to Tamil owners, but those who did not originally own property should be given state land, a position that is in sharp contrast to nationalist elements supporting his brother.
The SLPP had insisted on the military maintaining its hold on private land occupied during the war.Basil said the issue of people who had disappeared during and after the war should be addressed “humanely” and a solution found at the earliest.
“It is a question that must be addressed. We were trying to solve it (during our time), it is an emotional issue. It must be solved in a very humane way,” he said without going into details.
Rajapaksa lamented that moderate Tamil parties did not cooperate with the Rajapaksa regime, but was accommodating the government of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The SLPP was venturing into Jaffna for the first time to set up a village level organisation to kick off their party activities in the former conflict zones, he added.
Tamil politicians as well as local rights groups say tens of thousands of people disappeared during the decades-long separatist war and the next of kin have not had closure.
President Maithripala Sirisena set up the Office of Missing Persons in July clearing the way to trace about 20,000 people still missing eight years after the end of the war.