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“Dubbing Sri Lankan Conflict as ‘war without Witness’ is Simply not True”

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Frances Harrison at the Frontline Club debate, London-May 16, 2012

By Frances Harrison

Today marks three years since the end of the fighting in Sri Lanka . I would like to mourn the dead but still I do not know how many. Estimates range from seven to 147,000. It is a shocking difference.

How is it possible in this world of satellites, rolling news and internet we have no idea how many human beings really perished, even rounded up to the nearest thousand?

It is because as journalists we have failed to get close to the truth. On one hand the Sri Lankan government says the 2009 war was a magnificent humanitarian rescue operation, while on the other many Tamils say it was a genocide.

As reporters it is not enough to quote both extremes without digging a little deeper, but that is what the media reports in 2009 were like, citing army and rebel claims and just adding a proviso that these were unverified because journalists had no access to the war zone.

Perhaps that is why the media dubbed the Sri Lankan conflict “a war without witness”. That is simply not true. There were 60 Catholic priests and nuns, 240 local NGO workers, and Tamil civil servants working for the central government including five doctors.

All of them were people who prided themselves on their professional integrity. Not to mention the survivors of this war, many of whom are now traumatised, suicidal, destroyed people, racked with guilt at being alive when so many around them died. Every emaciated person who walked out of those months of hell had a tale of narrowly missing death, of sitting chatting to someone one minute and seeing them dead the next. This is a story that has been largely missed, with the notable exception of Channel 4 news.

There is little knowledge of the horror of those final months of war in a tiny patch of tropical, palm-fringed beach. It was a place where milk powder was more precious than gold, where women cut up their best silk wedding saris to make sandbags and children died hungry while an hour down the road the shops were full of food.

Numbed to the sight of death, families were forced to abandon the corpses of their loved ones as they ran for their lives. A brave doctor who saved thousands of lives is haunted by the memory of the 150 patients he abandoned under a tree on the last day of the war; he can no longer stand the sight of blood and does not want to be a surgeon. It was a place where loving parents discussed suicide with their children, unable to tolerate the agony of dying one by one.

A medic saw a baby born with a bullet lodged in his tiny leg, shot while still in the womb. In the makeshift hospitals dying mothers screamed for their babies to give them one last feed – knowing the breast milk would be their last gift of life.

It was not just the indiscriminate government rockets fired from multi-barreled launchers into densely packed civilian refugee camps that caused untold suffering. At night in the bunkers women cursed and ranted against the Tamil Tiger rebels who stole their children. At first it was one child recruited from each family; in the final months they came back for the second and third children.

Parents buried their teenagers underground, hiding them in suffocatingly hot diesel cans with just a pipe to breathe through, hoping to evade the child-catchers. It was bad enough to lose your home and possessions, even worse to have your precious son or daughter taken away to die a pointless death in a jungle trench.

Three years on there is still no clarity about what really happened. The Tigers refused a credible Norwegian surrender plan with international supervision, which would have given amnesty to all but the two top rebels. It would have prevented all the torture, rape and disappearances after the end of the war. But the rebel leadership preferred to hold out for a humanitarian intervention that could have saved them as a political force.

As a result they exposed their own people to more bloodshed at the hands of the Sri Lankan army when defeat was already guaranteed. It was an immoral and callous decision and it fed the cycle of revenge, ensuring the continuation of the struggle.

In Libya Colonel Gaddafi took his loyal bodyguards and fought to the death, but Velupillai Prabakharan, leader of the Tamil Tigers, took tens of thousands of exhausted but trusting Tamil civilians with him to the end. There is no public discussion of these choices in the Sri Lankan media, no questioning of what armed struggle really achieved, no acknowledgement of the assassination, extortion and child recruitment by the rebel leaders.

The evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Sri Lankan government has been independently documented by a United Nations inquiry that many journalists do not seem to have read in full.

For a long time the government claimed theirs was a “zero civilian casualty war” – a ridiculous assertion that was never properly challenged. Human rights groups documented more than 30 attacks on makeshift hospitals in six months. It is hard to believe they were all accidental.

Last night at a Frontline Club debate watched by 844,042 people live online, I heard a Sri Lankan MP in charge of reconciliation say the international Red Cross had praised the Sri Lankan army for its restraint. The same Red Cross publicly confirmed its staff had come under fire inside a hospital from positions held by the Sri Lankan military. When the fighting ended, the Red Cross said it had seen a lot of wars, but rarely one where civilians had been so badly affected. They called it an “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe”.

Many Tamils blame the international community for abandoning them to die. It is true that the United Nations failed utterly in its duty of care. Those aid workers who spoke out were forced to leave the country. Record numbers of journalists were killed and exiled in a deliberate attempt to silence the truth.

But no intrepid journalists smuggled their way into rebel territory as they did in Syria , even though an erratic bus service ran across the front line until mid-January 2009. There were Scottish, Australian and Bangladeshi UN staff who witnessed war crimes at the start of the war, but their stories did not get out at the time. Journalists reported on British politicians wooing the Tamil vote in general elections but they failed to read a Swedish study that found the UK issued more arms-export licenses for Sri Lanka during 2001-2008 than any country in Europe

At the time 400,000 Tamils were trapped in the war zone in Sri Lanka , international media attention was focused on Gaza where at most an estimated 1,500 died. A UN report now says reports of up to forty thousand civilian deaths in 2009 in Sri Lanka are credible. If that number is correct, then the defeat of the Tamil Tigers was one of the bloodiest conflicts so far this century. Every journalist has heard of Srebrenica. How many have heard of Mullivaikkal where just as many perished?

(Frances Harrison is a former BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka and her book “Still Counting the Dead” which tells survivors’ stories from the 2009 war will be published in London by Portobello Books in July in e-book form and October in print)

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  1. The first report by a reputed journalist I have read that tries to tell the story of the last war from the point of view of the victims. I have heard what Frances Harrison has said here and much more from many civilians who were the hapless victims of a brutal and pointless war. It is a relief that the story of these people is being told on the third anniversary of the end of that shameful war. I am glad the focus has been shifted by Frances Harrison. I feel these brave men, women and children, who are fighting to survive and retrieve their lives and livelihood should be remembered today and every Sri Lankan should come forward to help them to the extent they can. The government should set up a national fund to receive this help and set up mechanisms to run it efficiently and honestly. This will be the quickest and most decent path to achieve national reconciliation. Every donor and every recipient should feel that they have been part and parcel of a national humanitarian operation and become part of a healed and united Sri Lankan nation. This will be the national catharsis we need urgently.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran.

  2. Just for the record, during 1996, people of Jaffna displaced as whole to Vanni,history repeated in 2009, people of Vanni displaced to Mullathivu, tamils went behind praba.

  3. /*
    Frances Harrison is a former BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka and her book “Still Counting the Dead”

    She is very good at selling this book of hers. I bet sales will pick up again.

  4. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Ohhh! Another ‘briliant’ journalist and an ‘expert’ giving ‘her’ account

  5. Frances Harrison says:

    “The Tigers refused a credible Norwegian surrender plan with international supervision, which would have given amnesty to all but the two top rebels. It would have prevented all the torture, rape and disappearances after the end of the war. But the rebel leadership preferred to hold out for a humanitarian intervention that could have saved them as a political force.”

    The inescapable fact in the Mullivaikal war is that had Pirapaharan agreed to the surrender as proposed by not just Norway but India too all those deaths and sufferings would have been averted. The destiny of over 300,000 Tamils were in the hands of this one man.He could have saved them all including his own cadres. He didn’t agree to the surrender and waited for a humanitarian intervention which he hoped would save him and his murderous outfit. That was not to be.

    This maniac,as Frances Harrison correctly points out, took tens of thousands of exhausted but trusting Tamil civilians with him to the end.

    What are the followers of this maniac in western countries who funded his suicidal war doing now? These very same people who funded the worst terrorist outfit in the world have now become champions of human rights.Not only that.They are holding vigils to remember their so called dead heroes and getting ready to fund another armed struggle to achieve their elusive Tamil Eelam goal. They can do it safely because they are thousands of miles away from Sri Lanka. But the poor wretched Tamils in North East Sri Lanka will have to pay for the foolish antics of these diaspora Tamils. So long as these diaspora fools continue with their antics, the Sri Lankan Army is going remain in the North East and every young Tamil will be a suspect in the eyes of the Sri Lankan Defence Forces.

  6. The disconnect between the Sinhalese and the Tamils will be highlighted in the various comments that will appear in response to this piece. One can already see from the few comments posted that one side will call it an accurate synopsis whilst the other side will be desparaging in their responses.

    Ms Harrison makes some very pertinent points whilst detailing the horrors that occured during the months of April and May 2009. One can argue on the numbers of innocent civilian who died but no amount of debate will bring them back. We can debate until we are blue in the face about the culpability of the LTTE in herding these innocent human beings into a tiny strip of land knowing full well what the SLA’s intention were and the SLA’s desire to end the conflict whatever the collateral damage.

    Perhaps both sides, the GoSL and the so called Tamil Diaspora, some of whom appear to the voice of what is left of the LTTE rump, although somewhat camouflaged under the guise of various charitable organisaions, need to accept their culpability in order for everyone to move forward.

    For example, Ms Harrison refers to fire from MBRL’s hitting the makeshift hospitals resulting in terrible mutilations and death. The GoSL, if it had any sense, should actually say that this was indeed the case and explain why it happened. It happened because the LTTE had positioned artillary pieces around these makeshift hospitals and were firing on the SLA. Any self respecting army commander will return the fire in order to protect his troops. The result was the carnage that occured. The west call it ” collateral damage “.

    It is also simply preposterous to claim that the Channel 4 footage has been doctored or is ” not legitimate ” as Professor Wijesingha claimed at the frontline meeting. Talk about shooting the messenger !

    The primary problem that the GoSL actually have is that any acknowledgment of errors or any admissions of wrong doing ultimately leads all the way up the chain of command to the executive.

    The imprisonment of the man who lead the SL armed forces to victory is perhaps indicative of what little benevolence actually exists is Sri Lanka.

    The teachings of the Buddha is only to be talked about in mother Lanka but never actually practiced !!!!

  7. Today- the 18th May- is an auspicious day for weddings. I had to attend a wedding today in Jaffna, amongst the many taking place all over. No one I met was talking about May 18th’09. I think the people have relegated ‘That Day’ to the dust heap of history and are dealing with the present as they should. In the wedding I attended there were seven Nathaswaram players and six Thavils (drums). The largest number I have seen at a wedding!

    I hope amidst this welcome healing the Tamils also remember and help their unfortunate compatriots who are yet suffering from the war and its aftermath.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  8. Correct!

    Failure started 30 years ago.

    LTTE was raising funds and running propaganda from their bases in the West.

    Journalists, including Frances Harrison failed to tell the Story of LTTE war crimes in Sri Lanka financed with funds collected in the West for 30 years. Public opinion in the West was kept in the dark, wide open for LTTE propaganda.

    Frances, Where were you for 30 years?

    You guys did very little or nothing to expose LTTE crimes. It was going on for 30 years and you come out with force only now.

    Even then, only concerned about the tragic 3 months at the end of a 30 year long conflict.

  9. I appreciate Frances Harrison’s book. i think it will bring fresh thinking in Sri Lankan conflict that is still ongoing. The struggle was started with the genuine grievances. the grievances worsened over thirty years and thereafter. Now, Tamil is treated as second class citizens. miltiaryisation has not eased.

    Now people from both sides will take a few texts ourt of context and criticise F Harrison.
    LTTE apologist now pick up the last surrender that ended in tragedy.

    I think F Harrison refers to Norwegian surrender planned in January 2009. LTTE rejected until the last. They thought they would be saved by human shiled that they took with them.

  10. This essentially a reflective piece written by Francis Harrison. Sounds honest.

    I had distant relatives in the war zone and one of tham died due to shelling. I did not cry that day I heard the news because I was happy the rest were alive and well.

    But today reading this piece, I cried my heart out.

    Unimaginable suffering happened in our back yard.

    Feel gulity for fleeing from Sri Lanka many years ago.

    Thanks for being a caring person Francis.

  11. Well said Ben Hurling,

    These jockers of journalists only know where to pitch with corcadile tears only to sell their stories.

    yes I ask you Frances you were here when the LTTE cut up babies and murdered inncoent civilians.

    While I do not for once deny that innocent civilians were killed during the last months of the war and the preceding 30 odd years, I deplore the fact that outsiders such as Frances seen to potray more humanity in their reports now.

    These are very journalists that paid lip service to the LTTE and helped generate a war machine that ulitmately paid the price in inncent lives lost.

    Frances as the anniversary of the end of the LTTE draws near you are covered with the blood of every life lost as much as the those who murdered them.

    Your lily white skin belies a soul that would do anything to make money.

    For those who lost loved one, for the mothers who lost a son I mourn with them irrespective whether they were LTTE or SLA or just plain onnocent civilians. May your memories bring you happiness and contentment.

    For you Frances try robbing the story from Syria or Libya to make some more money.

  12. Dr.Rajasingham narendran
    No one I met was talking about May 18th’09. I think the people have relegated ‘That Day’ to the dust heap of history and are dealing with the present as they should.
    (a)I doubt any one want to talk about tragedy, genocide, killing , shelling, lost relatives, sufferings etc etc on a auspicious wedding day. I am astonished you even tried to raise the subject or even expected people to talk about it during an auspicious wedding ceremony.
    (b)Down south People very much want to remember and celebrate this day. Roads to Galle Face are closed and party mood is settling in at Gall Face with show off of the weaponry, and warships and war planes used for the genocide. And then the regime and the family and hangers on will retire to a luxury hotel to celebrate in style

  13. Dr Rajasingham Narendran
    I am glad the focus has been shifted by Frances Harrison.
    she is not shifting the focus, read the article carefully in totality instead of selectively .

  14. I’m glad to see comments from people like Seevali. There is till some hope left for Sri Lanka, if she is actually writing from there.

  15. The wounds of more than 3 decades of Terror & Violence in SL are very difficult to heal within 3 years but I am happy to hear from Dr.Rajasingham Narendran’s comments that people are moving forward in Jaffna without getting trapped in the past .I hope this trend continues and extend to other parts of Tamil areas which saw lot of violence , death and destruction .

  16. “There were 60 Catholic priests and nuns, 240 local NGO workers, and Tamil civil servants working for the central government including five doctors” who
    the BBC Journalist wishes to subtitute as the “JOURNALIST” in this sordid war
    and she wants to make up for it with a book aimed at making money…

    As a post-war “journalist” why has she not followed up all the technological
    evidence that the US has in its archieves on this w-w-w war, nor with the only
    embedded witness behind the camera (Mr. Ramawickrema) who may have sold a lot of clips turned into mobile-phone format,in good time via brokers to Ch.4.He is presumably now kept in Gotas “golden cage” as with KP?

    There is so much of material out there and therefore made a No-Go zone, till
    all evidence is eliminated for good.

  17. Ben Hurling
    Frances, Where were you for 30 years?
    …only concerned about the tragic 3 months at the end of a 30 year long conflict
    The 30 year freedom struggle/or war/or attempt to resolve/ call what you may like had a great coverage internationally
    as you correctly point out only the last 3 months the GOSL ordered every one out to finish it off at any cost

  18. Today, I pray for the Souls of seven to 147,000 to rest in peace. Aum Santhy..Santhy…Santhy.

  19. Journalist Frances Harrison’s article proves that no one can sweep the truth under the carpet for a long time.
    It is obvious that no one under the sun is going to give justice to the affected people, and some of the comments of Sinhala brethren portray that there won’t be justice to the affected Tamilians in this Island nation.

  20. Journalist Frances Harrison’s article proves that no one can sweep the truth under the carpet for a long time.
    It is obvious that no one under the sun is going to give justice to the affected people, and some of the comments of Sinhala brethren portray that there won’t be justice to the affected Tamilians in this Island nation.

  21. WISHING YOU HAPPY BIRTHDAY on 21th Early Wishes because its a holiday
    Victoria Day & DBSJ Day Long weekend and will be out – Santhirasegaran

    Thank You…………DBSJ

  22. We already know 40,000 to 147,000 human may have died. Until real independant group count happen. I would think 147,000 or more human died.
    Otherwise government would have allowed,Independant group to disprove it.(This is the easy way to prove or disprove.)
    Srilankan Gov may think dragging for ever is going to solve the issue. They are in a day dream.

    Bishop(I mean 60 Catholic priests and nuns) has told the numbers indirectly.UN and world need to do thier own home work.
    God bless every one.

  23. Ben Hurling, the brutalisation of the Tamils by the SL state started in the 1950s, where have been in the last 50 plus years??

  24. Francis Harrison said:

    “The Tigers refused a credible Norwegian surrender plan with international supervision, which would have given amnesty to all but the two top rebels. It would have prevented all the torture, rape and disappearances after the end of the war. But the rebel leadership preferred to hold out for a humanitarian intervention that could have saved them as a political force.”

    And let us not forget that, with a few notable exceptions such as D B S Jeyara and Dr Narendran, most of the leaders of Tamil migrants living in the west unconditionally supported the decision that there was to be no surrender and the unarmed and untrained tamil civilians were to continue to be used as human shields and as bargaining tools.

    In practice the TNA also endorsed that decision by refusing to demand that the LTTE release the civilians or move away from amongst them. Everyone of those leaders and their western apologists, such as the UK MPs Simon Hughes, Lee Scott, Siobhain McDonagh, should be publicly asked “Did you voice any opposition to what the LTTE were doing with their own civilians in the last 3 months of the conflict and did you publicly demand that that they release the civilians?”

    This also reveals another untold aspect of the conflict which the western media is still unwilling to investigate.

  25. It is a good essay to publicize the book that the author is about to publish, which purports to give examples of the real life stories of some of the victims of the war. This is an essential part of understanding what truly happens, as it is likely to be personal accounts of how people lived, died, and escaped or were brutalized by the conflict, and I do not believe it to be a propaganda exercise on behalf of any side.

    It is always crucial to understand the victims perspective in conflict. The whole idea is that we hope such events will not occur in future and it is our duty to try and prevent such.

    Whatever the Tamil pro LTTE element in the Diaspora, would like us to believe or the GOSL would like us to believe, we know atrocities and brutality took place on both sides, and no one has been held accountable for them. It has been explained as just being inevitable as winning at any cost was the only course of action, the GOSL had determined to be the only option.

    Whether we accept that premise or not, it was a fact and it was carried out to that extent. The next step called winning he peace is the challenge to the GOSL and in that regard, I personally believe it has failed damningly due to their inability to understand what it takes to do so.

    I would like the author to leave us with her opinion on how that can be achieved (in her book if that is not already covered) as that is the need of the hour, for closure for her victims and the prevention of a future conflict, or another resurfacing in future.

  26. The harassment of not only Tamil civilians, but others who does not toe the line of the “royals” continues throughout Sri Lanka, more so of the Tamils than others!!!

  27. Patta Pal

    The Western journalists have always conspired to undermine Sri Lanka reputation all over the world.

    Therefore Sri Lanka should officially record “survivors’ stories” appointing its permanently (voluntarily) embedded journalists C. A. Chandraprema (who wrote a book ‘Gota’s War’) and Shamindra Fernando (both island journalists)to write feel good stories in order to impress the clan.

  28. Bandula Jayasekara – I saw you in TV during Geneva session, I heard you were thrown out because you were intimidating NGO’s and tamils supporting the resolution. Is it true? Media actually televised that footage…man you looked scary and intimidating….fortunately/unfortunately we have to digest the fact that you are a spokesman for Sri Lankan president. I am not sure if we should be proud of you or ashamed of you!
    DilshanF – Dude get real seriously. For you everyone critical of the Government get money from LTTE? Get over it my friend, change your attitue…learn to accept both views. DBSJ himself is critical of your beloved government, does he also take money from LTTE? When he is full of praise of your government, he is good over night? Dude one day your daughter/son (if you have one) will find faults with your government, are you going to find tiger spots under their skirt/pants? My friend, don’t make a mockery of yourself in a public forum. With oldies like you around, reconciliation is impossible. I tell you one thing my friend, as long as any successive government of SL fail to reconcile with diaspora tamils embarrassments the like of Geneva will continue.
    As for the article, Frances hasn’t said anything new. DBSJ and many other journalists have said the same thing years ago. Int’l community is well aware of what took place, satelite images can tell how many died and attrocities committed by both side. Genuine reconciliation is what many ask for these days! a decent political power to tamils is what being asking for these days….there is no LTTE, most tamils are coming to terms with it…..slowly integrating their life in a unified Lanka. Unified lanka is a possible mission now, power lies in the hands of the majority, now taking advantage of this golden opportunity to solve this ethic issue is possible in every way. We, minorities, are waiting……..let’s see!

  29. DilshanF,

    I don’t get your thinking process.

    Yes. LTTE did lot of attrocities and for which it was punished. Period.

    C4, Gorden Weiss and F Harrison all talk for innocent Sri Lankan civilians perished in their thousands mainly in the hand of the national forces that is suppose rescue them.

    You guys are making me to think of the typical Sinhala proverb: Where are you going ? Oh, in this bay; two coconuts.

    Rajiva Wijesinha is best at it.

    Please stick to the point.

  30. Here’s the thing. Human history is full of stories filled with regret. What if…! The point is, crossing lines with no return has dire consequences with very few instances of success.

    Lenin did it. Napolean did it. Hitler did it. Jesus Christ did it. I am pretty sure the significant actors believed in the cause until the end. The poor civilians, however, suffered needlessly.

    Gandhi followed by King, followed the true path. NON-VIOLENT Resistance. It is the only method that is proven to work through suffering. Look at India today and we have a Half-Black President.! Every grieved group in this world has a choice to make.

    Enough Said..

  31. Barath,

    What I see is that the only different between Bandula J and Dr Mervin is that the former can speak or write Queen’s English, a little better.

    That’s all.

    These guys do not care about our country’s image abroad. We have seen their colours in Geneva and here the same man is trying the same on F Harriosn; well this time by his writing.

    These presidential advisers have time for lowering themselves to this level. And he prides himself that he is writing in his own name.

    What a shame! I can’t help but think what these guys would be doing if Medumulana guy is not at the throne.

  32. Ranga,

    let me put it this way.

    Frances states that the war was not without witness.

    A. War – for 30 years was with witness and Frances was one of them and she didnt write. The BBC paid lip service to the LTTE for 30 years and now cry over the last 6 months.

    Frances says that journalists failed. – Why say now? she was one of those who failed to report atrocity after atrocity committed by the LTTE which made them get more money and then culminated in this disaster.

    There is no question of ‘Kohede yanne malle pol ‘ here.

    There is every right of anyone to write about a day in the war or the whole 30 yrs. But the two being referred to Frances and Gorden were here enjoying the lap of luxury in colombo fashion circuitt, night clubs and cocktails, suddenly waking up from their stupor when the war is over and try to make or milk more money from the unfortunate war.

  33. Come on DilshanF,

    Don’t you think it was because of journalists like S Bell of Canada’s Natioal Post and Ram of The Hindu and many editorials in The Times in UK the world powers decided to deal with Tigers.

    Not to mention our DBSJ.

    Just like what you are doing all of them were abused by LTTers.

    It is Mahinda’s turn and above all don’t try shooting the messenger.

    For the great future of our country, we don’t need not only VP but also MR.

    Yes, MR you did a good job, Thank You but move away as you don’t have other qualities to lead.

  34. One can seldom expect a calmly reasoned cohesive description of an event from many a journalist. Harrison’s comments illustrate our point.
    She seem to maintain by implication that exposing the excesses commmitted in a war just depends on the advances in electronic communications.
    Those are mere tools to be used by a reporter located at a given place. Unless the reporter has an adequate background knowledge of the situation and at least a wee bit more than average intelligence, what is churned out is nothing more than ghastly gossip.
    War reporting has never been easy. So, most of the incompetent nincompoops who report it resort to playing on the emotions of their gullible audience, and what’s more, become champions of human rights! What about objective reporting?
    As a civilian, Harrison may not understand that during a military conflict neither participant would be in a position to place reporters where the important engagements are taking place.
    Even when they do, if things should go wrong, the military often requires the reporters to send out a sanitised version of the event, as the BBC did after the disastrous British raid on Dieppe during the war.
    The ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland did not promote ‘truth a la Harrison’, nor yet the human rights of bystanders who got blown to bits. Pity that Harrison and her ilk pay scanty attention to the inherent difference between the professional British army, and ill-trained and badly led Ceylonese army.
    Human rights hue and cry will certainly help reporters and politicians, and the non-entities who are supposed to lead a variety of organisations. Does it help the victims a jot?
    Immediate relief of suffering, restoration of public services, return of property, etc. followed by a reasonable solution to the problem seems to be the rational way forward.
    Sheer love of apportioning guilt in due magnitude may seem to be what motivates great and noble souls like Harrison, but unfortunately, so said Uncle Adolf, a pack of party general secretaries of soviet empire, and that iranian holy joe with a name that sounded like homeni.
    We believe that any literate child would know that bloodshed, rapine, and destruction are the unavoidable consequences of a war. Likewise, it would know that those would evoke a wide variety of feelings in different people including itself. This is the same old story of any military conflict.
    What is new is how a particular conflict started, who is responsible for it, and what is being done to resolve it. Extremely few reporters understand that this is their brief with respect to military conflicts, and Harrison is certainly not amongst them.

  35. Having followed the Sri Lankan Ethnic conflict for over 30 years and having interatced with Australian politicians and NGOs, I think Frances has either taken a very simplistic position on the precarious situation the Tamil Eelam National Leader was in during the last phase of the war or is going on the defensive to hide the blatant failure of the international community from protecting the civilians from crimes against humanity and having made them now defenceless and politically so weak.

    The ‘Norwegian credible surrender plan’ she refers to, sounds like the Indian plan to capture the LTTE leadership (that was speculated at that time) rather than a genuine ceasefire plan to save the liberation movement and to facilitate a pol;itical solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. It was very obvious during the ceasefire period that Norway was simplly dictated by the co-chairs and heavily influenced by India. India actively assisted Sri Lanka to fight the war. Further, the Indian government’s efforts taken at the UN to have a resolution passed to praise Sri Lanka for ending ‘terrorism’ and its failure to bring about a political solution to the conflict in the past three years only strengthen this line of thinking.
    Frances needs to understand and acknowledge that LTTE was waging a liberation struggle and their political survival was essential for the political emancipation of ‘the Tamil people. Seeking to recruit cadres to defend the nation in an unequal war should be viewed in this context. The LTTE leadership (whilst restraining their forces from carrying out any attacks on soft targets) on the onehand and the Tamil diaspora at large (walking on to the streets, uncharacteristically causing inconvenience to the public and even breaking traffic laws and staging extended fasts etc out of desperation) were seeking an urgent and direct intervention of the international community to protect the civilians and the authentic leadership of the Tamil people to negotiate a political solution. If LTTE had survived the war, these matters would have been hailed as heroic. But when failed it is easy for people to criticise. Recent history tells that the Tamil civilians have mostly preferred to remain in the LTTE controlled areas for fear of death, torture and humiliation in the hands of the Sri Lankan security forces. Also these people would have had some hope that the LTTE would successfully reverse the situation as it has done in the past. Therefore it is wrong to accept the Sri Lankan government’s sinister claim that LTTE were holding the civilians as human shield.

    It is quite possible that Frances was simply scapegoating the LTTE leadership in an attempt to protect the international community which not only failed to protect the civilians but in fact overtly and/or covertly aided and abetted a failed state to finish off the leadership of a genocidally oppressed people (under the pretext of fighting terrorism) particularly when they found that LTTE was no longer ‘ínvincible”. I would apprecite it if Frances takes a very objective and fair approach in analysing the Sri Lankan conflict and in particular the last phase of the war in her new book. I wish her well.

  36. Tarquin referrers to “the professional British army, and ill-trained and badly led Ceylonese (sic) army”. Here’s an interesting account of atrocities by the “professional British army” 30 years ago from the UK’s Daily Mail:


    Personally I think what upset many Western media people about Sri Lanka’s up-front very strict control of the media in the final stages of the conflict is that it removed the possibility of a lot of jounalists and photographers getting “covered a very bloody war” on their CVs.

    Still, the UK’s Channel 4 team got their own back with recent awards from One World Media for their 2 snuff movies. Interesting how Channel 4 claimed the civilians were short of water, food and medecines, yet they seemed to have had was no shortage of fully charged cell phones and video cameras.

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