The Shadow LTTE's Subtle Propaganda Campaign in Colombo - A conversation with Mathias Keittle
Mathias Keittle has been a student of Sri Lankan affairs for over twenty five years. He has visited Sri Lanka regularly. He is currently touring the country. A German and a graduate of Tubingen and Cambridge, he has unique insights to the political developments in Sri Lanka. He is planning to compile his thinking into a book to be published in the German language.
Asian Tribune interviewed Mathias Keittle and given below the excerpts of the interview:
Asian Tribune: In your view did the Government, at any point, intend to keep Tamil civilians in concentration camps indefinitely?
Mathias Keittle This is another of those politically motivated sympathy generating charges leveled against the Government of Sri Lanka by the shadow LTTE in Colombo and reflected by the diplomatic community.
The term "concentration camp" is emotionally charged and ever since the British invented concentration camps during the Boer War in 1899, they have been used by many powers, including as recently as the 80s and early 90s in Northern Ireland.
The Sri Lankan Government came up with the idea of protected villages at Manik Farm for IDPs for a number of reasons; for ease of delivering, shelter, food, health care, etc to approximately 300,000 IDPs, for the better protection for the IDPs, to prevent former LTTE cadres who had mingled with the IDPs from slipping back into the jungle (approximately 11,700 were identified in Manik Farm), to prevent looting of supplies delivered to the IDPs as it happened earlier in the East and predatory sexual assaults on females, to discourage denuding of surrounding forests for fire wood, etc.
Happily today, over 95% of the IDPs are back in their villages in less than two years. They have not returned to idyllic surroundings but the Government appears to be trying hard to make their return as acceptable as possible. A record that cannot be matched elsewhere in the world in similar IDP situations. Returnees are monitored by the UNHCR and are assisted by over 70 NGOs, INGOs and bilateral aid donors.
Asian Tribune Why are the emergency regulations still in place?
Mathias Keittle First and foremost, in excess of 70 % of the emergency regulations that existed one year ago have been removed. The remainder is necessary to deal with the former LTTE combatants until they can be produced before the courts.
Of the 11,700 former LTTE combatants who surrendered, over 6000 have been rehabilitated and returned to their communities despite these individuals being trained killers with no other skill set useful in civilian society and the fact that buried caches of weapons are still being unearthed in the North.
Others will be released as the rehabilitation programme progresses. Former LTTE combatants are provided life skills before being returned to their communities. Some of the remaining detainees will face the courts because they have committed egregious crimes and all of their cases are being investigated. In a common law system, it takes time to investigate any criminal activity given that the courts have to make the final judgment on the basis of evidence. It takes time to gather evidence.
Look for example, the time taken to process the detainees at Guantanamo Bay or the time taken to process the detainees in the Maze in Northern Ireland.
It would appear that a much tougher standard is being imposed on Sri Lanka compared to the standard used with regards to broadly similar experiences of key Western countries.
What is more, the remaining emergency regulations are broadly similar to those provisions in the US Homeland Security Act and the related UK statutory provisions.
Asian Tribune: Is the LLRC likely to be found wanting at the end of the day?
Mathias Keittle The LLRC has been appointed to realize a sweeping mandate. It has a very broad mandate, which would enable it to go into accountability issues. The LLRC consists of very eminent persons and it has taken evidence in many places in the country, observed by the media and foreign missions in Sri Lanka.
It has drawn inspiration from a range of sources, including the Chilcott Commission in the UK and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.
It was welcomed by the US authorities. It must be given the time to complete its work before judgments are made. The LLRC not only has a mandate to go into what went wrong but also to be conscious of what can be done to put things right for the aggrieved. It is strange that doubts have been expressed about the composition of the Commission by people who should know better. The Chilcott Commission consists of people handpicked by the UK Government, including some who supported the invasion of Iraq.
Its mandate is substantially limited to investigating intelligence failures prior to the invasion, not the deaths of over one million Iraqi civilians and massive damage to infrastructure directly attributable to the invasion. The same people who have no comments on the Chilcott Commission challenge the composition and the mandate of the LLRC. This blatant double standard is encouraged by the shadow LTTE operating in Colombo.
Asian Tribune: Why is a political solution still not on the table?
Mathias Keittle One needs to ask the question as to what sort of political solution are we talking about. Is this another ploy to keep up the pressure on the government considering that the conflict ended only two years ago!
Successive governments since 1987, attempted to impose political solutions from the top and were all rejected by the Tamil leadership.
We are still not clear as to what they mean by a political solution.
The current government is committed to evolving a political outcome acceptable to all the people of Sri Lanka, not only the Tamils or the shadow LTTE in Colombo whose views tend to get reflected too prominently in the attitudes of Western embassies in the Capital.
A political outcome must take into account the 54% of the Tamils who live and work among the Sinhalese and the Eastern Province which is equally divided among the three communities. There is a substantial Tamil community in the Central Province and in Colombo. The North is overwhelmingly Tamil only because the other two communities were expelled by the LTTE in the early 90s.
The LTTE tried to create a separate state through terrorism. The shadow LTTE in Colombo is now seeking to achieve the same goal by encouraging international intervention. The Tamils living among the Sinhala do not seem to have much enthusiasm for the goals of the shadow LTTE. The vast majority of the rest of the country have shown no interest in this goal either.
They have over and over again endorsed the President and the Government in repeated elections. Political structures are not built by external forces but by the people themselves. Sometimes this takes time. In most Western countries this process took centuries.
Asian Tribune: What is the background to the white flag allegation?
It first emerged in London at a time when the LTTE was working itself up to a frenzy to raise the anti-Sri Lanka sentiment. The facts are very clear. But the conjecture makes the reading interesting, not least because Dr Kohona's dual nationality (Australian) brings him under Australia's jurisdiction, and by extension, within the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Dr Kohona has categorically denied being involved in a negotiation involving the surrender of LTTE leaders. He has clearly stated that he did not have the authority to deal with surrender offers or issue orders on the fate of surrendees.
He had said that he was approached by a Europe based intermediary and, given the late hour when this happened, he had simply asked that the proper procedures be followed.
We also know that Prabhakaran had not permitted any surrender. (See the interview in the Asian Tribune with ...). From here onwards, it is pure conjecture. The LTTE propaganda machine has exploited this furiously because Dr Kohona has been a major irritant for them in the international arena.
The goal appears to be to silence him using the threat of legal action. We note that elements formerly associated with the LTTE have similarly threatened legal action in Canada against Dr Rohan Guneratna, Mr Asoka Weerasigha and Mr Mahinda Gunesekara.
Asian Tribune: Why are the security forces still visible in North
Mathias Keittle The war, which lasted 27 years, ended only two years ago. The situation there is by no means normal. The North still holds many who were conditioned and trained by the LTTE to hate, to kill and destroy. There is no other place in the world where the winning forces were quickly demobilized at the end of a conflict.
For example, the Second World War ended 66 years ago. But the victorious allies are still present in Germany and Japan and also the victory is still celebrated with great pomp and grandeur by the victors.
For some reason, Sri Lanka, obviously, is being held to a different standard than other countries despite having had to counter the terrorist LTTE for over 27 years.
Why? There are still buried weapons in the North being recovered on a regular basis. It will take time to bring about normalcy and for the hatred to dissipate.
The rest of the country will not forgive a government that permitted the ugly head of violent separatism to raise itself again.
The joy with which thousands of people from the South travel to the North is evidence of the reemerging confidence and trust. In any event, like in any other country, the security forces should be present in any part of the country where their need is felt.
- Asian Tribune -