Did the Tiger change its strips for a white Flag?

- Defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, and President Premadasa, got to know what happened only when "it was all over".

By Gam Vaesiya, Ontario, Canada

(December 30, Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian) Probably the most important outcome of Sarath Fonseka's misadventure into the political arena has been his opening up a post-mortem of the Tiger leadership. Although Fonseka may reduce the "walk-over" majority commanded by Rajapaksa, the final outcome of the election is fairly evident to everyone except those who have become mesmerized by the mismatched Mangala-Ranil-Tilvin kaleidoscope.

There is already enough information available to the discerning observer to piece together the likely evolution of events which had developed its own momentum, well beyond the control of the many players who were involved.

The strategy of the LTTE.

A number of academic observers (e.g. Gamini Keerawella, Gerald Peries) have noted that the final strategy of the LTTE was to create an impossible humanitarian situation - a grave humanitarian crisis- that would warrant Kosovo-style international intervention in the Sri Lankan conflict. The LTTE systematically planned this scenario by holding two hundred and fifty thousand ordinary men, women and children with them and hoped to keep them till such an eventuality took place. Even before the fall of Killinochchi (ancient name: Giraanikka), many well-to-do Tamils had paid their way out. But the vast
majority had no option but to retreat with the Tigers. Highly placed diplomats of three western nations, several officials of the UN, two British journalists, and at least two parliamentarians of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were involved, together with a vast array of Tamil academics, businessmen and activists in western countries, to bring about this plan to fruition. Interestingly, there was no serious support for this plan from highly placed Indian officials.

Nadesan, the LTTE political spokesman, rejected all calls by the government to lay down arms and surrender. The LTTE firmly believed that these Tamil people herded in place would remain with them till the end. But, as soon as the Sri Lankan forces broke the earth bund and lifted the siege, the people deserted the LTTE. Some prominent LTTE members, e.g., Daya Master surrendered using the channels that were put in place by the military, in spite of LTTE suicide squads and sharp shooters which attacked likely surrendees. On a number of occasions, esp. during 15-17th May, the Tigers pretended to be surrendees and then attacked, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians and fellow LTTEs trying to flee.

Once it became clear that the strategy based on expecting a ``humanitarian crisis'' had failed, the LTTE leadership began to use the diplomatic and parliamentary channels that had be put in place to attempt a safe passage for the LTTE leadership. However, although mechanisms for surrender were in to place and although they were function reasonably well, as seen by the number of high-ranking LTTE cadre who safely surrendered, the LTTE leadership did NOT want to make use of them. The leader of a cyanide cult cannot possibly surrender. Reports of interviews and interrogations with IDPs suggest that Prabhakaran did not wish to surrender, but instead expected to be escorted out. Another plan had been for some of the leadership to meet up with suitably placed special envoys, while Prabhakaran himself would try to ``disappear'' in a clandestine escape. A makeshift hospital, an ambulance as well as sea crafts had been made ready near ellamullivaaikkaal (Valbatugala) and it was reported to have been put at the disposal of the LTTE leader. This was meant to be the location for foreign rescue officials to receive and accompany Prabhakaran who demanded to be treated at the level of a head of state. There was no question of his biting the cyanide capsule or showing any semblance of surrender. It was to appear as a negotiated evacuation only.

Thus proposal to surrender with white flags etc., seems to be mostly a general romantic picture evoked by various parties in Colombo, including the MP Chandrakanthan who was in contact with the Rajapaksa administration. It did not involve the army commanders who were directly in the Valbatugala (Vellamullivaaikkaal) area. The Rajapaksa administration believed that the modalities of surrender already existed, as indeed surrenders of various cadre were happening on a continuous basis, and saw no need for new modalities. If indeed a party of LTTE leaders had moved forward with the intention of surrender, it is almost certain that the tiger leadership, equipped with cell phones and communication equipment with a global reach could have attempted to send messages that would be easily picked up by army electronic eves-droppers or visual observers. If such a surrender was the objective, it is clearly more important to coordinate with the immediate ground commanders on site, rather than with Nambiar, Marie Covin, Chandrakantha or Palitha Kohona. Also, if a party moved forward with white flags, the Tigers who are reputed for photographic and cinematographic records of all kinds of historic scenes would have at least taken a cell phone picture of the event and transmitted it to western reporters, diplomats and ``KP'' (Selvarasah Pathmanathan) who are said to have been in touch with them almost constantly.

Unexpected arrival of the special squads.

The unexpected events in the unfolding of the drama were two fold. Events unfolded much faster than anticipated. The British, French and Norwegian diplomats did not secure a special status for the LTTE leaders to evacuate, while the UN envoy Nambiar arrived too late to do anything. Meanwhile, the LTTE leadership seems to have taken steps to AVOID the positions manned by the 58th Division of Shavendra Silva, or the 59th Division of Prasanna Silva who were on the Thibbatugala beach. Either of these divisions would have arranged for their safe surrender, as they had been accepting surrendees for several days by then. Instead, the LTTE leadership had a number of plans which included (i) Sneak through the army cordon, possibly using the ambulance, or use do-or-die" support from Ramesh and Ilango who were to remain ready to fire and fully armed, while accompanying the group led by Nadesan. Meanwhile Prabhakaran would remain incognito in a third group. (ii)If they were to meet up with the soldiers of the 58th or 59th Division, Nadesan would negotiate and ask for an honourable diplomatic-level escort to evacuate Prabhakaran.

However, instead of meeting with the 58th or 59th divisions, they stumbled on the army special units attached to the special forces of the Golf, Echo and Delta squads. They noticed the armed second group consisting of Ramesh and Ilango and their men. This write has NOT been able to find any evidence of Nadesan and others in the lead group carrying white flags. It is very likely that the special forces soldiers would have challanged them as well as Ramesh, Ilango and their men. Where were they moving with armed support? If they were looking to surrender, they should have marched towards the 58th or 59th Division posts on the beach. This was an unexpected misadventure, and the Tigers were in no position to fight the special squads or claim that they are attempting to surrender.

Special squads were deployed to cover strategic escape routes, precisely to prevent clandestine rear-guard action or secret escape by the LTTE. The special squads operated away from the surrender lines. The LTTE leaders, and their armed body guards (Ramesh, Illango et al.) succumbed to the fire of the special forces.

General Fonseka's attitude.

While all this was happening, General Fonseka was in China. On December 20th 2009 "The Sunday Leader" published a clarification by Fonseka on his previous statements. Fonseka stated that :

"As Commander of the Army during the final stages of the war, I did not receive any communication that some LTTE leaders were planning or wanting to surrender. I was not told at any stage they wanted to do so and that some kind of an agreement had been reached that they must come out carrying pieces of white cloth".

It is entirely according to protocol that foreign missions pass through the Defence secretary and the Foreign Ministry rather than go directly to the Commander of the armed forces. What attitude would General Fonseka take if he had been in Colombo and if he had been consulted by the Defence secretary – as he surely would have been. Fonseka too would have assured everyone that the modalities for surrender already exist, and that many top LTTE cadre like Daya master had already surrendered safely.

If the ex-General Fonseka attempted to blame the commander of the 58th or59 th divisions, that would be completely pointless as there is evidence that Nadesan and his group never attempted to go to the surrender posts of these divisions. If they did carry white flags, is would be inconsistent with the stand taken by the LTTE leadership which claimed that this was an honourable evacuation arranged under the auspices of the UN. It does seem established that Nambiar had been told that it is already too late for him to do anything,. It is also clear that the British and French diplomats, as well as the UN iplomat probably did not realize that a pitched battle was going on. They had been informed that a``humanitarian crisis'' is unfolding, and that it is simply a matter of their driving into Nandakadola and evacuating the LTTE leadership which is marooned behind the army lines!

The story of the white verti

Given the level of electronic communication that was being used, and given the well known fact that Army intelligence, and perhaps foreign intelligence, were monitoring all the electronic conversations and radio communications emanating from Nadakadola, it is indeed surprising, and beyond credibility that the proverbial ``white cloth'' becomes the modality for surrender. During the IKPF-LTTE battles, when the Tiger cadre were to be arrested, they blew themselves up. There has never been any examples of deployment of white clothes. During the Premadasa era, some 600 Sinhalese policemen surrendered to the LTTE, unarmed, and there too no white cloth was used as the modality of surrender. It should also be remarked that the policemen who surrendered were murdered in cold blood by the LTTE.

Defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, and President Premadasa, got to know what happened only when "it was all over".

When and where did the story of the white cloth appear first in print?