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Army chief details murders of Nadesan, Puleedevan

Sri Lanka’s former Army Commander has claimed that his forces were responsible for

the killing of surrendering senior members of the Liberation Tigers in May this year.

 

Presidential candidate Major General Sarath Fonseka (retd) initially accused Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Shavendra Silva, commander of army’s 58th division as directly responsible for the assassination of LTTE’s political leaders Balasingham Nadesan, Seevaratnam Puleedevan and police chief Ramesh.

 

Fonseka claimed that the army was ordered to execute the surrendering LTTE leaders.

 

He also named presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Norwegian minister Erik Solheim and various foreign parties as people involved in the episode, according to a story in the latest The Sunday Leader newspaper.

 

But the following day, he qualified the statement, taking responsibility, as the army chief, of what happened on the nights of May 16 and 17 on a patch of marshy land near the north-eastern coast.

 

Fonseka said he had been personally unaware of the Tamils' attempts to give themselves up, which included frantic last-minute appeals for help to a Norwegian minister, diplomats, journalists and UN and Red Cross officials.

 

"Later I learned that Basil [Rajapaska, a senior presidential adviser] had conveyed this information to the defence secretary, Gothabaya Rajapaksa, who in turn spoke with Brigadier Shavendra Silva, commander of the army's 58th division, giving orders not to accommodate any [Tiger] leaders attempting surrender and that they must all be killed," Fonseka told The Sunday Leader newspaper in Colombo.

 

Fonseka said Nadesan, head of the Liberation Tigers’ political wing, Puleedevan, head of the group's peace secretariat, and Ramesh had been assured through intermediaries by Basil Rajapaksa and Gothabaya Rajapaksa, brothers of the president, that they would be given safe conduct.

 

According to subsequent accounts, the men were advised: "Get a piece of white cloth, put up your hands and walk towards the other side in a non-threatening manner."

 

"It [the surrender method] was their idea," Fonseka told the newspaper, referring to Basil and Gothabaya Rajapaksa.

 

When the three men approached government lines some time after midnight on 17 May they walked into a trap, Fonseka suggested. Troops opened fire with machine guns, killing all three and a number of family members.

 

A Tamil eyewitness account said Nadesan's wife, a Sinhalese, called in Sinhala to the soldiers: "He is trying to surrender and you are shooting him." She also died in the hail of bullets.

 

The chief intermediary was Norway’s Erik Solheim, The Sunday Leader said, while including the ICRC too in the process.

 

Fonseka said that he came to know what exactly had happened after the event through journalists who had been with Shavendra Silva’s Brigade Command at that time.

 

These journalists were privy to the telephone message from Gotabhaya to the Brigade Commander, ordering the latter not to accommodate surrenders but to simply go ahead and kill them, Fonseka said.

 

The Sri Lankan government reacted angrily, denying the allegation.

 

Responding to Fonseka, Mahinda Samarasinghe, the human rights minister, said: "The government totally denies this allegation … We reject this malicious allegation against our heroic soldiers."

 

Offering yet another version of events, he said the senior LTTE cadres were carrying white flags in an attempt to fool the army and were not trying to surrender.

 

Basil Rajapaksa told the Sunday Leader he had not been contacted by a Norwegian intermediary over the surrender offer.

 

Gothabaya Rajapaksa and Brigadier Silva have not commented in public on Fonseka's claims.

 

The next day Fonseka appeared to qualify his statements.

 

At no point of the war any member of the Army violated internationally accepted rules of war, he said.

 

"They (army soldiers) never committed any criminal act. There was no attempt at surrender on May 17, 18 and 19," he said.

 

He would take full responsibility for any human rights violations during the final stages of the war, Fonseka further added.

 

Fonseka said he never said that defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered Silva to eliminate surrendered LTTE leaders.

 

Despite disavowing his earlier remarks, Fonseka's claims about the circumstances surrounding the three men's deaths resemble contemporaneous reports in regional and western media that were denied by the Sri Lankan government, reported Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.

 

There is little doubt that the three LTTE leaders were negotiating to surrender. Diplomatic sources had confirmed that S Pathmanathan – then LTTE’s international relations chief – called up top UN officials on the intervening night between May 15 and 16, telling them the LTTE was ready to lay down arms, reported the Hindustan Times.

 

Tamil news reports two days later said that Nadesan and Pulidevan were shot by the army dead while surrendering. “We were instructed to make contact with the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan forces in the war zone, un-armed and carrying white flags…They…were called on by the officers of the 58th Division to come forward for discussions. When they complied they were shot and killed,” KP said in a statement.

 

At the time, the Sri Lankan government vehemently denied this, saying they were killed by their own angry cadres.

 

Former foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona told AFP: “I told them to…take a white flag and walk slowly towards the army lines in an unthreatening manner. What I learnt subsequently is that the two of them were shot from behind as they tried to come out. They had been killed by the LTTE.”

 

Meanwhile, Tamil circles commenting on Fonseka's 'revelations', said both the SLA Commander Fonseka and Commander-in-Chief Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot explain away their involvement in war crimes and the crimes against humanity, reported TamilNet.

 

"The International Community has a responsibility to at least conduct an investigation on the last-minute facilitation to which it should have necessary evidences," the Tamil sources further told the news site.