The Sunday Leader

OMG, it has to be an OMP still!

Army commander Lt-Gen Mahesh Senanayake needs to be commended and thanked for telling everyone concerned not to politicise the ‘sacrifices’ of the fallen soldiers who all had laid down their lives in the cause of the nation, fighting LTTE terrorism.

He has put their numbers at over 28,000 – over the 30-long years of war, violence and blood-shed. No one contests these figures, nor does anyone, starting with the Tamil civil society or the over-politicised TNA nearer home, or the high-voltage Diaspora groups own it up, either for and on behalf of the LTTE or otherwise.

At the other end of the social and political spectrum, and at the other end of the island-nation, the Tamils are observing what unfortunately has been reduced to ritualistic, annual ‘Mullivaikkal memorial’ prayers, peace rallies and public speeches. They have varied figures for their civilian-deaths, purportedly caused by the armed forces, from a high 175,000 down to 40,000 – the latter, as per the finding of the UN’s three-man Darusman Committee. The common claim, or charge is that all of them fell in the last stage of the war, hence the prefix ‘Mullivaikkal’, the last of the battle-fields in the decisive ‘Eelam War IV’.

Then, there is the third class of civilian or not-so-civilian casualties, most of them Tamil para-militaries’ victims of the LTTE through those long years and decades. Rival para-militaries, including then Minister Douglas Devananda’s EPDP, were also charged with targeting both LTTE supporters (read: only as ‘civilians’ in this case) and even their cadres, especially after the terror-outfit lost control of the Tamils’ ‘politico-cultural’ capital of Jaffna town to the armed forces in the mid-nineties. The war ended only a decade and more, in May 2009.

There are no figures, but the arguable surmise is that the LTTE killed more Tamils than the armed forces – that is, if you accepted the war-time Rajapaksa government’s claims of ‘zero civilian casualty’ through ‘Eelam War IV’, including the un-fought ‘Mullivaikkal battle’. In all this, truth lies in between, and has been a sure casualty – as with any war, anywhere.

This or nothing else!

If someone claimed early on that in this war, like in everyone else for centuries and millennia, the victor writes its history, it is not to be, at least as the war’s history purportedly unwounded itself. In this case, the self-appointed guardians of civilian and human rights, with their self-styled yard-stick and self-designed pincers and power-glasses have said what went wrong with the war’s end, especially at Mullivaikkal – and it has to be that, and nothing else. Rather, it has to be, ‘This, or nothing else!’. Again, it is ‘This way, or no other way!’

It is most unlikely that Gen Senanayake was not referring to this aspect of ‘politicisation’ the sacrifices of the nation’s armed forces as it observed the ‘War Heroes’ Day’, instituted by the war-victor President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the very first year. There were, and there still are those who claim that he had politicised it all for personal electoral gains. Possibly, Senanayake’s reference was not to this, but the Rajapaksas have not come out this ritualistic, annual revival of the charge against them – at around the same time as the ‘War Heroes’ Day’.

So does vague and half-hearted references continued to be made, with regard to Mahinda R’s victory speech, where critics without fail saw a ‘majoritarian mind-set’ – which they had attached to his predecessors, too, whenever the LTTE was at the receiving-end. In this case, such references have been replaced with a ‘solid case’ on war-crimes front and demands for an ‘independent probe’ flowing from a series of UNHRC resolutions. This has been done, yes, without changing the basic character of those demands, whatever changes otherwise might have been accommodated in favour of the changed leadership an changed political circumstances in the country.

The question is if the present-day rulers also played politics with ‘war crimes probe’ with the Tamil polity (TNA, to be precise) and society nearer home and the international community, including the US and the UNHRC, all at the same time. It had all begun even before the Sirisena-Ranil duo had won the advanced presidential polls of January 2015, in which the former defeated incumbent Mahinda R, squarely.

The Ranil-Sirisena combine’s purported promise to the Tamils in general and the TNA more specifically seemed to have tipped the scales, as much as the intervening the ‘pro-Rajapaksa’ BBS’ anti-Muslim attacks. So did their commitment to the ‘war-crimes probe’, more as perceived by the international community than possibly promised by either or both of them, or anyone speaking for them. Yet, the question of politicisation of the ‘war crimes probe’ issue cannot be over-looked.

It is another matter that Gen Senanayake was not referring to the ‘war crimes probe’ directly when he said what he said – not to ‘politicise the sacrifices of the war heroes’. Commonly understood and otherwise intended in other conversations and statements of the kind, it has meant only as much – and nothing less.

Kick-starting process

In the midst of all this, and just ahead of the year’s ‘Mullivaikkal memorial’, the legally-constituted ‘Office of the Missing Persons’ (OMP) has held its first public hearing in eastern Batticaloa town, to be seen as kick-starting the process. According to media reports, the public participants, all of them from Tamil victims’ families, expressed as much frustration as desperation, at the one too many number of commissions of committees that they had been asked to meet, to recall and repeat the heart-wrenching stories of their dear ones, during the war or even after the conclusion of the war.

Included in the long list running into thousands are specific cases of Tamil persons, especially men suspected to be ex-LTTE cadres, who were reportedly picked up by men in uniform, in front of witnesses, including wives, parents and children. The situation could be worse when the OMP warms up to its work, and visits the war-ending North. There, saddening stories of those like controversial Northern Province Minister, Ananthi Sasitharan and that of her ‘missing’ husband, ‘Ezhilan’ Velayutham, acknowledged as the LTTE political head for eastern Trincomallee, have made media headlines across the world, when first told and every time it is re-told.

It is not only those sad stories that have made the news. The reference to multiple committees before the current OMP also refers to the good, initial work done by the Justice Parnagama Commission, again a probe panel appointed under the law with a much larger scope and reach. They also held public hearings, and even sent out open appeals to other nations where some of these ‘missing persons’ were believed to have migrated under aliases – many of them as post-war ‘economic refugees’ than as ‘political refugees’.

For weeks and months after the war, local media reports had claimed that some inmates of the four massive refugee camps for the ‘LTTE escapees’ had made their way to some western nations. There were specific cases where local officials of foreign embassies in the country were reported to have aided and abetted ‘human-smuggling’ of the kind. They were among the hundreds of thousands Tamils (purportedly ‘civilians’ alone) that the armed forces helped free themselves from the LTTE’s thankfully failed attempt to use them as ‘human-shields’.

All ‘missing persons’ probe panels going with any post-war situation are the same, by whatever named called. The OMP cannot now succeed where the Paranagama Commission failed, if at all – unless the West too cooperates in specific ways, as required by the Sri Lankan authorities. The sad part was that just because the discredited Rajapaksa regime had appointed that Commission, its findings too were thrown out with the bath-water that President Mahinda became at electoral defeat.

Given the political trends now visible in the electoral horizon, there can only be hopes and prayers that the OMP’s work, when begun in right earnestness, does not end up going the same way as the Paranagama recommendations before it. It can demoralise the defenders of real rights of the people, and disturb the families of all those ‘missing persons’ even more. The nation can ill-afford a situation of the kind any more than in the past, but then still hunting for ways to ‘hunt’ for the ‘missing persons’ close to a decade of the war’s ending, is a shame that no nation can afford to live with – and live without, as in the case of contemporary Sri Lanka!

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi.

2 Comments for “OMG, it has to be an OMP still!”

  1. srilankan army not win the LTTE. it win with the help of indian army. ms SONIA and mr MAMMOHASINGH was behind the war, other wise mr PARABA win the war and minorities win live freedom ,srilanka army killed the civilian and journalist, all civilian was treated as LTTE by indian prime minister, then mr GOTA ran away from country to USA.he is wanted criminal supported by president

  2. gamarala

    The General forgets the thousands of army deserters who quit the army, rather than be forced to kill Tamils in cold blood, merely for political expediency.

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