White Flag Killings Raised Again
by Easwaran Rutnam
The much talked about and possibly most controversial incident related to the war known as the ‘white flag’ incident has been brought to the notice of the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons by people who witnessed the final stages of the war.
The matter was raised when the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons led by Retired judge Maxwell Paranagama held public sittings in Kopai in the North last week.
A woman who appeared before the Commission to make an oral statement revealed that some 150 people, mostly LTTE members, surrendered to the army with white flags in their hands.
The woman, whose identity was not revealed at the hearing owing to concerns over her safety, claimed that the 150 people were boarded onto a bus and taken away by the army.
Among those who were boarded on the bus was former LTTE ‘police chief’ Nadesan. The woman claimed that Nadesan and the others who were taken on the bus were shot dead.
She said that even her husband and 35 others were also taken away by the army, and they were not heard from later and their fate is still unknown.
“During the final stages of the war on May 16 in 2009, we came to Nandikadal and entered army controlled areas. From there we were taken to Pudikudiruppu. When we were at Nandikadal, the army asked those from the LTTE to come forward.
Then Nadesan and several others came forward with white flags. They were boarded onto a bus, taken away and then shot dead,” she claimed.
She said that her husband was afraid to surrender to the army when he saw the LTTE members being taken away.
“The army however said that everyone will be checked for about five minutes and freed so my husband and 35 others handed themselves to the army. They were taken to an abandoned house and that was the last I saw of him,” she said.
The woman said she was taken to an IDP camp in Vavuniya, and she had no way of getting information on her husband.
She said that even after being released from the IDP camp, she had made several attempts to locate her missing husband, but the attempts were futile. The woman, however, told the Commission she feels her husband is still alive, and she urged the Commission to find her husband.
The white flag incident was first made public by former army commander Sarath Fonseka in an interview with The Sunday Leader ahead of the 2010 Presidential election.
The then government denied claims that Nadesan and several other senior LTTE members were killed after they surrendered to the army.
However, the current government said it will investigate the ‘white flag’ case. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told parliament last October that just as much as the government has investigated the murder of 600 policemen who surrendered to the LTTE in the Eastern Province, there is a need to investigate the white flag case and other cases identified by the UN report on Sri Lanka and two other local commission reports.
“The people of Sri Lanka have the right to know if any violations of their rights or atrocities have taken place,” he said.
The Foreign Minister said Sri Lanka is not the only country in the world to initiate an accountability process to save the good name of security forces personnel.
“It is the trial, conviction and imprisonment of the few service personnel who have committed crimes that helps maintain the reputation of the armed forces as a whole,” he said at the time.
But it is not only the ‘white flag’ incident which surfaced during the hearings by the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons in the North last week.
A woman who testified before the Commission last week at a public sitting in Velanai claimed that hundreds of civilians were killed during air strikes carried out by the air force during the final stages of the war.
She claimed that around 450 people were killed in three air strikes carried out by the air force in the North on March 22 in 2009.
“I looked for the body of my son among 450 bodies,” she told the Commission on Missing Persons.
She said that people in areas earlier under LTTE control kept moving during the final military assault on the North and were always displaced.
“We sought refuge at one location but that was hit by air strikes the whole day. Once the air strikes ended we went and looked for our loved ones. I searched for my son and looked through the bodies but could not find him,” she said.
The woman feels her son may have run away and sought refuge somewhere but she never found him even to this date.
She said she continued to stay at the location she last saw her son for 15 days hoping he will return, but he never did and finally she crossed over to army controlled areas.
The Presidential Commission on Missing Persons said it will investigate the complaints made by the public during the sittings held in the North last week and submit its recommendations to the President.