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Friday, May 18, 2012 - 06.51 GMT
SL under tremendous pressure during final stages of the conflict- Author of Gota's War


During the final months of the war, tremendous pressure was brought on Sri Lanka by certain Western countries to halt military operations C. A. Chandraprema said in the recently releases Gota's War: The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka.

One of the means adopted by the West to bring the Sri Lankan government to heel was by exerting economic pressure, the author said in Chapter 76 of the book.

Reproduced below is chapter 76 from Gota's War:

During the final months of the war, tremendous pressure was brought on Sri Lanka by certain Western countries to halt military operations. One of the means adopted by the West to bring the Sri Lankan government to heel was by exerting economic pressure.

In the years 2008 and 2009, every country in the world was economically vulnerable because of the world economic recession of those years which was widely regarded as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The year 2009 was the worst possible year for any country to be embroiled in a war. When the global recession hit, there was a flight of capital from Sri Lanka because the investors were having problems back home. In this situation it appeared that Sri Lanka's foreign exchange reserves would not be sufficient to meet even day-to-day needs. This is the classic situation in which the IMF was supposed to come in and assist member countries. They are the lender of last resort to countries that are having balance of payments problems. As a member of the But the IMF delayed the stand-by facility by more than five months. The application for the funding was made at the end of February 2009. In March that year Central Bank Governor Ajith Cabraal and senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa went to the IMF headquarters in Washington and met the Managing Director and he had told them that they were happy to consider Sri Lanka's application. Everything had been finalized and the money should have come by the end of March or at least the beginning of April 2009. But the money never came. As a result of this, capital continued to flow out of Treasury Bills and treasury bonds. The foreign currency held in Treasury Bonds came down from 800 million to 17 million USD.

When Cabraal went to the regular IMF meeting in mid-April 2009, he realized that the money was still not on the way. Something had to be done fast, or the Sri Lankan economy would have collapsed and the war would have come to a grinding halt. Cabraal phoned President Mahinda Rajapaksa from Washington and informed him of the situation. The American government had a lot to do with delaying the stand-by facility to Sri Lanka with Hillary Clinton openly saying that this was 'not the best time' to give that loan to the Sri Lankan government. Voting power in the IMF depended on economic strength and the US, the EU and other Western powers opposing the war effectively controlled the IMF.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa then spoke to Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi over the phone and arranged for a bilateral loan of 500 million US $ and Cabraal flew straight from Washington to Tripoli to meet his Libyan counterpart and finalise arrangements for the funding line. In Libya, Cabraal had told the news channels that he was negotiating a loan and this was flashed all over the world by the newswires. This had helped stabilise the markets in Sri Lanka because of the impression that the government had somehow got the money. If the impression had been created that there was going to be a balance of payments crisis with no one coming to Sri Lanka's aid, then the markets would have panicked. Thus, due to some deft footwork on the part of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka survived the financial crunch that was almost upon the country just as the war entered its final stages.

While the Western powers conspired to deny Sri Lanka a badly needed stand-by facility by using their voting power on the IMF board, India came to Sri Lanka's rescue with the Indian representative on the IMF Board Adrash Kishore, a former Finance Secretary of India telling them on the express instructions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that if the IMF was not going to give Sri Lanka the money that they were entitled to, India would provide the funds themselves. At this, the Western powers backed down and allowed the loan to go through. The IMF bureaucracy had been scandalized by what was happening and they had said privately to Sri Lankan officials that they had never experienced such attempts to politicize the IMF before. The IMF money finally came only in July 2009 when the war was over, and Sri Lanka was already on its way to recovery with money flowing in again.

On April 16, 2009, Vijay Nambiar the chief of staff to the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon, came to Sri Lanka trying to broker a ceasefire. He had a meeting with Gota who ruled out a ceasefire point blank on the grounds that it would only help the LTTE and prolong the suffering of the civilians held hostage. Gota explained to Nambiar how the demilitarised zone that the government had declared, had to be changed to a different location because the LTTE sent the civilians into Puthumathalan to prevent them from going over to the government side. Gota had also explained that there was no road access to the second demilitarised zone and that food and medicine was being provided by ship. Nambiar wanted to send a UN fact finding team into the demilitarised zone. But Gota pointed out that was not a practical proposition because the army will have to cease operations for the UN team to go there.

The President had a one to one meeting with Nambiar the next day, but there was no change in the government's stance. On April 24, 2009, as the great hostage rescue was in progress in Puthumathalan, US State Department spokesman Robert Wood at the department's weekly press briefing, called upon the LTTE to stop holding civilians and putting them in harms' way and to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. This call by the USA for the LTTE to surrender to a third party, raised many an eyebrow in Sri Lanka. On April 27, the Sunday Island reported in a headline story that the government has ruled out any deal for the LTTE to surrender to a third party. A senior defence ministry official was quoted as having said that the ongoing offensive would not be stopped, and that there could not be any third party involvement in this matter, and that the government was not going to give up its right to destroy the LTTE militarily. Even after all this had been said, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband came to Sri Lanka on April 29, 2009, in a bid to prevail upon the government to halt the war. At a meeting with the two visiting foreign ministers at which the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohita Bogollagama, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, and Attorney General Mohan Peiris were present, Gota categorically rejected Kouchner's and Miliband's call for a ceasefire and told them point blank that the government will continue military operations until Prabhakaran is captured dead or alive.

During this meeting, Milliband had been the more agitated of the two, sitting on the edge of his chair while making his case for a halt to the war. Gota told both Kouchner and Milliband that these 'humanitarian concerns' they were talking about was only a ploy to extricate Prabhakaran and his top leaders from the situation they were now in. And he told them in no uncertain terms that the military was under orders to kill Prabhakaran if they are unable to capture him alive. Gota told Milliband that over 200,000 civilians had been rescued from the LTTE clutches and that over 100,000 had been rescued in the days prior to their arrival in Sri Lanka. He told him that visuals of the whole rescue operation had been relayed live over the news services worldwide.

At this point, Milliband who was in an agitated state had said that Britain had information that civilians had been harmed due to army shelling. To this Gota had said that the British Foreign Secretary should not be misled by LTTE propaganda and that even the BBC was broadcasting LTTE propaganda material without verification. The visibly flustered Milliband had said that he was not being influenced by BBC reports but by credible reports from people inside the no-fire zone. To this Gota had said that anybody who knew the LTTE would not believe that reliable information would come out of a population under its control.

All communication into and out of the area under their control was completely in LTTE hands and only those whom they permit, will have access to the outside world. Gota pointed out that the stories coming out of the area of LTTE control are all doctored to elicit the most favourable response from the Western community of nations and the international media. Knowing that they were not getting anywhere with calls for a ceasefire, Kouchner had finally said that their concern was for the civilians and he requested the government's permission to visit the LTTE held area to talk to the LTTE and to get them to agree to release the remaining civilians. Gota however had turned down this request saying that it was too dangerous and that the LTTE may even take him hostage. To this Kouchner had replied that he was willing to risk his life if necessary on behalf of the civilians. Gota shot back that his concern is not about what would happen to him (Kouchner) but that operations will have to be halted to facilitate such a visit and that through that, the opportunity to get at Prabhakaran may be lost.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was on that day in Embilipitiya for a function and was staying in a guest house on the banks of the Chandrika Wewa. Kouchner and Milliband were air lifted to Embilipitiya from Vavuniya after visiting the newly set up IDP camps to meet the President.

Just half an hour before they arrived the President ordered his staff to get a place ready for a meeting outside by the side of the lake under a tree. The President, Rohitha Bogollagama, Lalith Weeratunga, Palitha Kohona, Kshenuka Seneviratne and the British and French ambassadors were present. Milliband started by saying that they were representing the international community and that “This massacre of Tamils must stop”.

The President had flown into a towering rage at this. “What do you mean massacre of Tamil people,” he had asked. “We have to free these people from the LTTE.” He also told Milliband not to think that Sri Lanka was still a British colony. The President told him, that even if the entire international community comes to Sri Lanka he couldn't care less and that he will stop the war only after terrorism is eliminated. Kouchner, striking a conciliatory note had said “Look Mr. President, we are here to help you. We are your friends.” To this the President had shot back that he knows who his friends and enemies are. He said “For you people, what happens here is news, but for us, its agony!”.

Milliband and Kouchner went back without having achieved anything. A Norwegian government commissioned report on Sri Lanka was to observe later that overseas aid workers in Sri Lanka had regarded the visit of the duo as 'a joke'. Just days before he arrived in Sri Lanka, according to an AFP report, Kouchner had said in a radio interview that civilians fleeing Puthumathalan by boat had been drowning in the sea and that French and British boats could be deployed to help the IDPs.

This comment made it to the headlines of The Island on April 23, 2009. The Navy hotly denied that any IDPs had drowned in the sea and that all those who escaped by boat were being looked after by the Navy and that the vast majority of the IDPs had waded across the shallow lagoon and escaped by land. With that kind of pre-arrival press, it was not surprising that both Kouchner and Milliband were summarily brushed off by the Rajapaksas.

An interesting sequel to this fiasco was that Tim Waite, the British foreign office team leader on Sri Lanka had told Richard Mills a political officer of the US Embassy in Colombo that the reason why the British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and the Labour government in Britain were lavishing so much attention on Sri Lanka was because of the 'very vocal' Tamil Diaspora in the UK numbering more than 300,000 who had been camping in front of the British Parliament since April 6, 2009.

Waite had told Mills that with the UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in labour constituencies with slim majorities, the labour government was paying particular attention to Sri Lanka. Waite had also told Mills that Milliband had told him that he was spending 60 percent of his time on Sri Lanka at that moment. A few days later, Mills was to report this conversation to Washington in a routine communique.

This communique was among the US government documents that were published on the Wikileaks website in November 2010 and was reported in a story in the British newspaper The Telegraph by Gordon Rayner.

What this reveals is that Milliband sought to put pressure on the government of Sri Lanka to halt the war due to considerations pertaining to British politics. Therefore the manner in which both the President and Gota brushed him off was fully justified. The very notion that a sovereign nation combating the world's deadliest terrorist organization should halt the war, so that the British Labour Party could win elections, was absolutely preposterous.

The grand finale to all this was that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also wanted to come to Sri Lanka just as the war was entering its final few days. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa was in Jordan at the time, and he told Ban that he shouldn't come, because he (Mahinda) would not be able to receive him. To this, Ban had said that it is quite all right even if His Excellency is not there to receive him as he can always talk to the Prime Minister. But Mahinda insisted that if no less a person than the UN Secretary General was coming to Sri Lanka, the Head of State should be there to receive him and to postpone the visit until he gets back to Sri Lanka. By the time Ban finally got to Sri Lanka, Prabhakaran was dead and the war was over.





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Last modified: May 18, 2012.

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