G R O U N D   Z E R O

Why Lanka is losing the battle for peace
Almost four years after Prabhakaran was killed along with his family, how they died remains shrouded in mystery.
Facing criticism over human rights violations, the least
President Rajapaksa can do is to keep his promises to the
Tamils after the war.
Raj chengappa

Raj chengappaChandrika Kumaratunga, former President of Sri Lanka, may be out of power but her words still carry plenty of weight. I met her at a wedding in Delhi recently and asked her what she thought of the current situation in Sri Lanka. Her answer was succinct: “We may have won the civil war against Tamil separatists but we are losing the battle for peace.”

Like the Nehru and Bhutto families, Kumaratunga is a daughter of history with her late parents, Solomon Bandaranaike and Srimavo Bandaranaike, being former Prime Ministers. Kumaratunga was President of Sri Lanka from 1994 to 2005 during one of the most turbulent periods of the island nation’s history that saw an escalation of the bloody civil war between Tamil separatists led by Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the dreaded chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Army.

So her party colleague, Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka, should heed her comments. Currently Rajapaksa is battling a fresh round of controversy over human rights violations by the Sri Lankan army during the last phase of the civil war that saw the decimation of the LTTE in 2009 and the death of its charismatic chief.

Channel 4 TV, a British news channel, recently released a documentary that claimed photographic evidence alleging that Balachandran, Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son, had been captured in May 2009 and executed by the Sri Lankan army. The Sri Lankan government issued the usual rounds of denials.

File photos of Prabhakaran and his son before and after being shot dead.
File photos of Prabhakaran and his son before and after being shot dead.

The fact remains, though, that almost four years after Prabhakaran was killed along with his wife and three children in the northeast coastal village of Vellamullivaikal in Mullaitivu, where the last decisive battle was fought between the LTTE and Sri Lankan Army, the circumstances that led to their deaths remain shrouded in mystery.

In 2009, I had flown into Colombo the day after Prabhakaran was reportedly killed by the Sri Lankan Army and interviewed the three key leaders, President Rajapaksa, his brother Gotabaya, who was the Defence Secretary, and the then Army Chief, Sarath Fonseka. None of them gave me a clear answer as to how the LTTE chief met his end.

Fonseka told me that the Lankan army had cornered Prabhakaran in a narrow strip of coastal land of just 400 square metres. As the Sri Lankan forces moved in for the final assault at midnight, Prabhakaran, seated in an ambulance, tried to breach the cordon but was thwarted. According to Fonseka, Prabhakaran kept yelling to his body guards, “Don’t surrender, don’t let me down”.

That may have been Prabhakaran’s last words for, according to Fonseka, soon after that the LTTE chief along with his trusted guards was felled by a burst of heavy machinegun fire from the advancing Lankan army infantry battalion. Fonseka told me that only at dawn was the army able to confirm that the LTTE chief was among those dead. They then flew in Karuna, Prabhakaran’s former lieutenant who had defected, to identify the body of the Tiger chief. Days later, reports trickled out that Prabhakaran’s entire family had been caught in the crossfire and killed during the operations.

When I spoke to Defence Secretary Gotabaya that day, he did not want to dwell too much on how Prabhakaran met his end, saying, “Everybody overestimated Prabhakaran’s capacity, including him – I don’t think he was a great strategist as was being claimed.” I then met President Rajapaksa at his Temple Tress residence and he laughed off the question, “I wish we had captured him alive; then we would have sent him to India to face trial for killing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He would have then been India’s headache.”

Despite the air of triumph, I noticed an undercurrent of tension building between Fonseka and the Rajapaksa clan. It was apparent that the President was not too happy that Fonseka had emerged as the hero of the war and his advisers feared the army chief harboured political ambitions. Months later, Fonseka did make a run for the Presidency, but was jailed by the government after being found guilty of corrupt deals during his tenure as army chief.

How the LTTE chief and his family finally met their end though remained wrapped in ambiguity. That question was overtaken by the larger issue of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan army during the civil war, with an internal report of the UN Human Right Council (UNHRC) estimating that that there were 40,000 civilian casualties during the Lankan army’s final assault against the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

The Sri Lankan government has vehemently denied the UN report and refused to allow any international investigation into the allegations of human rights violations. In March 2012, under pressure from Tamil Nadu political parties, including its ally DMK, the UPA government, much to the consternation of Sri Lanka, supported a US-sponsored resolution in the UNHRC pushing for reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.

However, for lasting peace in Sri Lanka, alluded to by Kumaratunga, it is as important that President Rajapaksa keeps his promise to meet the demands of the Tamils for equal rights and devolution of powers. It was, after all, the root cause of the civil war.





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |