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Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away with War Crimes', a new book which has just been released, uncovers how a British mercenary company formed by ex-Special Air Service (SAS) veterans carried out highly controversial secret operations across the world, including in Sri Lanka.
Keenie Meenie Services (KMS), a private and one of Britain’s first mercenary companies, was established in the 1970’s and recruited military veterans equipped with combat experience from various conflict situations.
The book – written by reporter for investigative journalism organisation Declassified UK and author Phil Miller - claims its powerful backing meant successive British governments failed to restrain it from operating.
During a House of Commons debate in 1985, current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the detrimental impact on the Tamils that KMS had, to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which was seemingly disregarded:
" The Government were quite prepared for the oppression by the army in Jaffna, and the killing of so many people, to continue.
According to a report in The Observer on 4 April, a special task force of police commandos at the disposal of the Sri Lankan Government have been trained by ex-SAS people from this country. The United Kingdom continues to give aid. The Prime Minister attended the opening of the Victoria dam and pledged further aid for the country. There is a military training arrangement and British Government support for police training in this country."
Miller discloses in his book that some figures within the UK government at the time had urged to keep the mercenaries actively running internationally. The research showed that KMS, during the Thatcher-era (1979-1990), gained lucrative contracts in Asia and South America, that allowed them to receive millions of dollars while orchestrating and executing various military operations.
Miller insists KMS earned millions of pounds in Sri Lanka by engaging in devastating military operations and that the continued use of air power prolonged the civil war. He claims by operating helicopter gunships on combat missions, the crucial ceasefire between the LTTE and the government collapsed, leading to the death of many civilians.
In 1985, the head of South Asia’s Foreign Office wrote in a memo: “We believe only KMS pilots are currently capable of flying armed helicopter assault operations in Sri Lanka.”
Lt Col Richard Holworthy, Britain’s former defence attache to Sri Lanka, told Miller that the helicopters bombed Tamil civilians using grenades placed inside wine glasses:
“They’d fly over and drop the grenade with the wine glass, and of course when it hit the ground the glass broke, the grenade exploded.”
David Gladstone, a former British high commissioner to Sri Lanka, told Miller that KMS had “some sort of political cover in this country … there were one or two British politicians who were connected to the company.”
Miller believes the British state used KMS as a veil to hide its political agenda and to commit heinous acts in countries such as Sri Lanka and Nicaragua.
“The British state didn’t have to get its hands dirty and Keenie Meenie could be doing things they didn’t want to be doing,” he said.
The book showcases that despite the KMS founders being allegedly well-known at the time in Whitehall chambers, they nor the Sri Lankan government, are yet to be held accountable or investigated for what many believe to be multiple war crimes.
Read more from The Guardian here.