The Island Editorial, Friday, 18th August 2016, with this title “Beginning of international war crimes probe?”
The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is making the most of the increasing impotency of the state to run a parallel government of sorts in the northern parts of the country; it is also working overtime to annex the Eastern Province to the North. Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran and others of his ilk are all out to gain legitimacy for their political project with the help of foreign powers. Hardly a day passes without a foreign dignitary visiting the North and entertaining appeals from the NPC members and doing a Dixit.
The New Indian Express has quoted CM Wigneswaran as having said US Ambassador Atul Keshap acceded to his request that some of the rehabilitated LTTE cadres be examined by American doctors who are currently here to find out whether the former Tigers were injected with poisonous substances during their rehabilitation programme. The US Ambassador has, according to him, said its medical team can examine some of the former LTTE members and decide what to do next. The US embassy in Colombo has given an evasive answer to our questions on the issue; it has not contradicted Wigneswaran’s statement. Doubts that Wigneswaran et al have created in the minds of people, both here and abroad, need to be allayed and the best way to do so is for a team of medical experts to examine the former LTTE combatants. But, that is a task for the government of Sri Lanka and not Washington.
Interestingly, CM Wigneswaran’s allegation reminds us of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s claim, in 2011, that the US could be responsible for a spate of cancer among South American leaders. While battling cancer himself the Venezuelan leader alleged that the US had ‘invented a technology to spread cancer’, and warned other left-wing leaders in neighbouring countries that they could be targeted next. Several other South American political leaders including suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the then President of Paraguay Fernando Lugo were struck by cancer. But, Chavez’s allegation went unprobed.
The government should have acted promptly when Wigneswaran and other TNA grandees made the aforesaid allegation. This country is not short of good doctors and a team of local medical specialists including those named by the TNA should have been appointed to examine the LTTE cadres who have been reunited with their families after rehabilitation. The government could have sought foreign assistance if the need for that had arisen in respect of tests etc.
The Northern Chief Minister’s claim at issue is tantamount to a very serious war crimes allegation. (Injecting anything harmful into prisoners of war is a war crime, isn’t it?) And, if the US examines former LTTE cadres as it has reportedly promised, its action will amount to conducting a war crimes probe in all but name. In other words, the NPC will succeed in having a war crimes investigation initiated with foreign involvement therein; Wigneswaran and others will have beaten the UNHRC to it in such an eventuality and one may be justified in arguing that the medical camps the US held in the North were only a smokescreen.
Whether the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government will pluck up the courage and seek an explanation from the US on this score without taking it lying down remains to be seen. We bet our bottom dollar that it will resort to some face saving tactics as it is too pusillanimous to confront the western powers.
The army insists that none of the LTTE suspects were ill-treated and all of them were rehabilitated properly and reunited with their families under the supervision of eminent members of their community. About 12,000 LTTE cadres who either surrendered or were captured during the war underwent rehabilitation. However, the critics of the Sri Lankan military may not buy into the army’s claim. Now that the US has undertaken the examination of some of the former LTTE cadres, according to Wigneswaran, the onus is on Washington to reveal the findings of its investigations if it fulfils its promise to the Northern CM; the US medical experts will also be in position to tell the international community whether the LTTE suspects held at rehabilitation centres have been tortured in the same way as the Guantanamo Bay inmates. The world must know the truth.