The Bogollagama Gem: Thoughts on the Threatening US Spectre in March-May 2009

Michael Roberts

A = The ethnographic gem on events in 2009 provided by former minister Rohitha Bogollagama in 2013 that is now clarified by Chandre Dharmawardana is startling news even for those aware of the exchanges taking place in the (i) ambassadorial despatches now accessible via Wikileaks and (ii) the bare details of the secret meeting held in Kuala Lumpur at KP’s ‘office’ in February 2009 between Norwegian diplomats and LTTE operatives (with US cognisance).[1]

two symbolic snaps 

B = Blake had more or less demanded that GSL cease its military advances when he met the Foreign Minister formally in March 2008 and thereafter been politely threatening when he met the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in mid-April a few days after the Tiger fighting force had been severely mauled at the battle of Aanandapuram (as DBS Jeyaraj calls it) where the LTTE lost 623 fighters including several experienced commanders (Theepan, Vidusha, Durga, Nagesh, Mohanna for instance).[2]

That is, while speaking amicably as “Bob” to ”Gota,” on the 12th April 2009 he commanded the Defense Minister not to enter the “Safe Zone” and then, at another meeting on the 13th April, stressed the need for restraint.[3]

So, one has reason to surmise that the US was issuing a threat to GoSL on those days in mid-April when Blake met Gotabhaya.

C = If Bogollagama’s report is not a fabrication,[4] then, the arrival of a commando force organised by the Pacific Command was a logical sequence to the bullish strategy of the US State Department under the direction of Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and others. They were prepared to arm-twist and intervene forcefully even though the military context was a “non-permissive environment”[5] – in the American speak conveyed to Bryson Hull of Reuters when he contacted personnel in the US embassy in Colombo.[6]

D = We can therefore conclude that the pressures exerted on the government of SL at this point of time were enormous. While the UN Media Officer in Colombo Gordon Weiss was working closely with Ravi Nessman of Associated Press to paint a picture of a humanitarian catastrophe,[7] the UN Secretariat sent Vijay Nambiar as an emissary to Colombo[8] on the 17th April 2009 — yet another indication of the degree to which that the UN officials in New York/Washington were more or less an extension of the US State Department and its allies.[9]

E = A major question remains: when precisely in April did such a commando force turn up? …..…. There is a big difference between a date around the 19th/20th April on the one hand and, on the other the 29/30h April when Miliband and Kouchner turned up to try and twist President Rajapaksa’s arm.[10] Metaphorically speaking, by the end of April Mahinda Rajapaksa’s biceps had expanded ten-fold and could not be twisted because a remarkable SL Army operation had released some 110-125,000 Tamil civilians in the process of seizing control of two/thirds of rump Thamilīlam.[11]

F = Since we know that the ostensible humanitarian objectives of USA were just one pillar in a project that had other major dimensions – being part and parcel of a scheme to rescue the Tiger leaders and place some of them under their thumb in either Eritrea, South Africa or Timor,[12] it should be evident that we have here a blatant example of American imperialism in swaddling clothes (also note my APPENDIX which takes one to the overall American presentation of self and encompasses events in May 2009 as well).

G = However, the most puzzling question to me is that residing back home: why have the key government personnel of that day and the top Lankan military commanders been so tight-lipped about this blatant imperialist act? …. ………………….. And as adjunct, how is it that leading journalists in the island did not pick up any whiff of this event?

APPENDIX

Apart from the information within this article, we should take note of an article in Ceylon Today in 2015 by Sulochana Mohan entitled “US ready to take Prabhakaran” which highlights the ‘fact’ that during the final stage of the battle against the LTTE in mid-May 2009 an US naval ship had been sent to the eastern waters off Sri Lanka in order to rescue the civilians trapped in the last segment of LTTE terrain and to effect some sort of via media with the remaining Tiger cadre. Please note that Mohan’s account is ostensibly a review of Mark Salter’s book To End a Civl War which in its turn is an apologia for Eric Solheim and the Norwegian peace effort.

As it happens, Mohan reproduces parts of a boxed memorandum from Robert Blake which Salter has presented on pages 355-56 of his book. This enables me to reclaim part of Blake’s post facto justifications and “clarifications” more easily.  I reproduce a section here – with the note that Salter does not tell us WHEN and WHERE Blake presented his summary to the world (a missing detail of vital import which is typical of Salter’s sloppy methods).

Part of the ROBERT BLAKE MEMO

“At a certain point we probably became more of a target than Norway because we were seen to be pushing hard on human rights. I worked extremely closely with Tore [Hattrem] and Hans [Brattskar]. At the end of the war there were basically four of us: myself, Tore, Neil Buhne and the head of the ICRC. We often made sort of quadripartite demarches. We would all go in together and talk to Gotabhaya or Basil. We made our point, mostly about civilian casualties. We were always trying to be even handed, and were very careful to say that a lot of the responsibility fell on the LTTE.

We could have said that all of this should come to a halt, there should be no military action whatsoever, but we made the judgment that that was not correct; it was perfectly reasonable for the government to prosecute a war against the LTTE provided they were careful about civilian casualties.

Until January 2009 or so, their record was pretty good. [Earlier] we had realized that UN withdrawal was quite an ominous development. A lot of NGOs did not want to put people in harm’s way, but many had Tamil staff who did not want to be separated from their families. We had a regular meeting with the government. We all got together: Gotabhaya, Basil and army officers were there. /// The Norwegians still had contact with the LTTE and that remained an important role. The other big effort we made was to see if we could use American ships to go in and pull a large percentage of the IDPs off the beach. Erik [Solheim] and I were prepared to go in and try to negotiate that. I brought the Pacific Command in to send a whole team out to look at it. They had detailed conversations with the Sri Lankan military.

The idea was that we would send a landing craft, and the ICRC would have supervised some sort of screening procedure on the beach itself to make sure that none of [the IDPs] were armed. Then we would take them to a Sri Lankan ship somewhere off the coast. From there they would go to the normal IDP screening procedure further south. It was a relatively simple idea. There were several thousands of people at risk. Many of them were injured. Since the government had conceded that the ICRC could come in and provide food to these people [we argued], why shouldn’t we take as many as possible out of there? “

Where the idea finally ran aground was that in the end Gotabhaya was worried that Erik and I would be taken hostage. That was his stated reason. What he was really worried about was that we might actually succeed and that that would lead to a renewed Norwegian peace effort, and he didn’t want that. He wanted to put an end to the whole thing militarily.

Right till the end we were trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution. We were not going to allow the LTTE to leave but we were hoping that most of the cadres would be allowed to leave of their own volition. Some sort of deal whereby they would not be prosecuted, although obviously the senior leadership would have to be.

There was a lot of talk of how Prabhakaran and others had these submarines and probably could have escaped, and to this day I don’t know why he didn’t try to escape and live to fight another day. He didn’t choose that, and I’m still not clear why. Despite the wave of hostile sentiment generated by this affair, the Norwegians diligently continued with their attempts to persuade the LTTE leadership to accept an ‘organized end’ to the conflict.”

***  END ***

SELECT REFERENCES

Buncombe, Andrew 2009 “Miliband adds voice to Sri Lanka ceasefire calls,”5 July 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Downfall of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” South Asia Defence and Strategic Review, May-June 2010, pp. 10-15.

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

Hull, C. Bryson 2009 “Sri Lanka opens eye in the sky on war zone,” 20 April 2009, http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSCOL450259

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009 “Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone,” 23 April 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war-idUSTRE53J0IZ20090422

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009a “Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior,” 4 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/5381

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009b “Anatomy of the LTTE Military Debacle at Aananthapuram,” Sunday Leader, 8 April 2012 —http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/08/anatomy-of-the-ltte-military-debacle-at-aananthapuram/

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009c “Fraudulent concept of a “fire-free, no-fire, safe zone,” 18 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/343.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009d “Wretched of the Earth break Free of Bondage,” Daily Mirror, 25 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/380.  

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2011 “KP’ Speaks Out. An Interview with Former Tiger Chief, Vavuniya: NERDO.

Mohan, Sulochana Ramiah 2015 “US ready to take Prabhakaran,” Naval ship was 8 November 2015, https://www.ceylontoday.lk/90-108791-news-detail-us-naval-ship-was-ready-to-take-prabhakaran.html

Peiris, Gerald H. 2010, “The Doctrine of Responsibility to Protect: Impulses, Implications and Impact,” 30 June 2010, http://www.slguardian.org/2010/06/the-doctrine-of-responsibility-to-protect-impulses-implications-and-impact/  AND https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/from%3A(geraldpeiris%40yahoo.com)+OR+to%3A(geraldpeiris%40yahoo.com)/1510fc7141751033?projector=1

RFI 2009 “Government ignores French and British calls for ceasefire,” http://www1.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/112/article_3624.asp

Roberts, Michael 2015 Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015,https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Reuters in Word and Image: Depicting the Penetration of the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, 19-22 April 2009,” 19 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/reuters-in-word-and-image-depicting-the-penetration-of-the-lttes-last-redoubt-19-22-april-2009/#more-20190

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 5 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “A Puzzle: When Weiss, Amnesty International and Aussie Greens LIE,” 16 June 2016,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/a-puzzle-when-weiss-amnesty-international-and-aussie-greens-lie/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,,” 5 July 2016,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War. Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, London: Hurst & Company.

Thiagarajah, Jeevan 2014  Confronting the OCHR Investigation in Geneva, September 2014: Memorandum from Jeevan Thiagarajah,” 19 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/confronting-the-ochr-investigation-in-geneva-september-2014-memorandum-from-jeevan-thiagarajah/#more-18481

US Embassy 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/#more-13481

  END NOTES

[1] See Salter 2015 348 ff.

[2] Jeyaraj, “Theepan,” 2009 and “Aanandapuram,” 2009.

[3] Rajapaksa agreed not to enter the NFZ. He, clearly, was lying for people and country.

[4] I note here that I contacted Rohitha Bogollagama on the telephone in late April indicating that I was speaking from Australia and in search of more info on the last stages of the war. He was only  prepared  to discuss such issues at an interview.

[5] This is a form of language that I could not have conceived – but it has precision and suggests military speak.

[6] Info from Bryson Hull during skype chat (from New York) in 2016. Bryson could not recall the precise date.

[7] Thus in early May Weiss “went on world air through AP to assert that a “bloodbath” was about to unfold in the north-eastern war zone” (my summary in “A Puzzle,” 2016.

[8] See http://news.rediff.com/report/2009/apr/17/ltte-un-sends-vijay-nambiar-to-sri-lanka.htm

[9] As Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayakam would tell you, this criticism can be extended to the UNHCR in Geneva. Also see Gerald Peiris 2010 and Thiagarajah 2014.

[10] See Buncombe 2009 and RFI 2009. Note the dissection of this visit in Roberts, “Miliband,” 2016.

[11] For details of this operation, see Bryson Hull 2009; Hull & Sirilal 2009; de Silva-Ranasinghe 2010; Roberts, “Saving Pirapaharan,” 2016 and “Reflections” 2018. Also note Jeyaraj, “Wretched of the Earth break Free of Bondage,” 2009.

[12] See Jeyaraj, KP speaks out, 2011; Daya Gamage 2014; Roberts “Saving Pirapaharan,” 2016.

5 Comments

Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, conspiracies, governance, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, trauma, UN reports, unusual people, war reportage, wikileaks, world events & processes

5 responses to “The Bogollagama Gem: Thoughts on the Threatening US Spectre in March-May 2009

  1. Eddie Wijesuriya

    He was always a dubious character, romeo and his girlfriends were thrashed by his wife, in public.

    On Mon, May 7, 2018 at 8:24 PM, Thuppahi’s Blog wrote:

    > thuppahi posted: “Michael Roberts A = The ethnographic gem on events in > 2009 provided by former minister Rohitha Bogollagama in 2013 that is now > clarified by Chandre Dharmawardana is startling news even for those aware > of the exchanges taking place in the (i) ambassador” >

  2. Pingback: Infantry Warfare and the Final Phase of Eelam War IV: Where Laymen Blunder into Infantile Assessments | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Eddie Wijesuriya

    I strongly support this move. They are not forced into being Miniisters and MPs. It is their choice and being a politician is not employment. All perks like duty free vehicles, housing, utility bills etc., must be stopped. Pension for what, robbing ? Let their emoluments be controlled and treat them as normal citizens, subject to the laws of the country, with no privileges, except, maybe, a transport allowance. They should be made to pay at least the cost of meals in Parliament. Why should they get gourmet subsidized meals whilst the man on the street is staving?. If all these perks are eliminated only the genuine politicians will come forward and all the “ills” in the country will come to an end. THE WHOLE COUNTRY SHOULD SUPPORT THIS MOVE AND INSIST ON THIS. Then and then only the rampant corruption can be eliminated because only the right calibre of people will contest.

    JOIN HANDS IN THIS PROTEST AND SAVE THE COUNTRY. ELIMINATE THE THIEVES.

    On Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 9:54 AM, Siri Samarakkody wrote:

    > > ———- Forwarded message ——— > From: Ranjith Gunaratne > Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2018, 19:39 > Subject: Fwd: EXTREMELY IMPORTANT – I STRONGLY SUPPORT THIS MOVE….>>>> > To: > > > > > > > Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone. > > – > > > > —– Forwarded message —– > *From:* > > > > > > Begin forwarded message: > > > *To:* undisclosed-recipients: ; > *Subject:* *Fwd: Fw: Fw: Fwd: EXTREMELY IMPORTANT – I STRONGLY SUPPORT > THIS MOVE….>>>>* > > > > > > > > > > > *

  4. Pingback: How Mahinda Rajapaksa rebuffed David Miliband | Thuppahi's Blog

  5. Pingback: USA’s Threatening Interventions during the Eelam War in 2009 | Thuppahi's Blog

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