Belmont Club

Downfall

An article by Marie Colvin of the Times Online describing the failed surrender of the Tamil Tigers rings true.  At least in part. Her story is that the Tiger leadership attempted to surrender, but were either accidentally or treacherously gunned down by the Sri Lankan security forces. Colvin was in touch with the Tiger leadershp for much of the siege by satellite phone.

“We are putting down our arms,” he told me late last Sunday night by satellite phone from the tiny slip of jungle and beach on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka where the Tigers had been making their last stand. I could hear machinegun fire in the background as he continued coolly: “We are looking for a guarantee of security from the Obama administration and the British government. Is there a guarantee of security?”

There was none. So Colvin attempted to set one up. She approached the UN representative to Sri Lanka to arrange for a safe conduct pass. The UN envoy, Vijay Nambiar, received assurances from Sri Lankan officials that the Tigers simply had to “wave the white flag high” and they would be received safely. What the Tigers received was something else.

Through highly placed British and American officials I had established contact with the UN special envoy in Colombo, Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general. I had passed on the Tigers’ conditions for surrender, which he had said he would relay to the Sri Lankan government. … Once more, the UN 24-hour control centre in New York patched me through to Nambiar in Colombo, where it was 5.30am on Monday. I woke him up.

I told him the Tigers had laid down their arms. He said he had been assured by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, that Nadesan and Puleedevan would be safe in surrendering. All they had to do was “hoist a white flag high”, he said. I asked Nambiar if he should not go north to witness the surrender. He said no, that would not be necessary: the president’s assurances were enough.

However, the Sri Lankan President might have wanted to assure something else. A Sri Lanakan Tamil MP who was on the phone with the Tiger leadership up to the moment they stepped out with the white flag takes up the tale.

“We are ready,” Nadesan told him. “I’m going to walk out and hoist the white flag.”

“I told him: ‘Hoist it high, brother – they need to see it. I will see you in the evening’,” said Chandra Nehru.

A Tamil who was in a group that managed to escape the killing zone described what happened. This source, who later spoke to an aid worker, said Nadesan and Puleedevan walked towards Sri Lankan army lines with a white flag in a group of about a dozen men and women. He said the army started firing machineguns at them.

Nadesan’s wife, a Sinhalese, yelled in Sinhala at the soldiers: “He is trying to surrender and you are shooting him.” She was also shot down.

After the first pictures of Tiger leader Prabhakaran’s corpse were released, I noticed the immaculate condition of his uniform; the lack of a disguise, his vanity dogtags, his newly shaven face and the headcloth covering what might have been a wound to the head. It was not the garb of a man who had intended to sneak out unnoticed from a tight encirclement in an ambulance, a public story which was preposterous anyway. Here was a man, I thought, who strode out in his best pressed uniform hoping to salvage his life from the wreckage of his insurgency through diplomacy. Tens of thousands had been sent to their deaths; including 6,000 Sri Lankan soldiers in the last phases of the battle. Yet the puppet masters always see themselves apart from the puppets.  But Prabhakaran didn’t look like a man who had been machine-gunned as part of a larger group in the manner described. No mud stains from a sudden going to ground; no blood from those who had fallen around him. Perhaps Prabhakaran died separately from the group described by the the Sri Lankan MP. Perhaps the Sri Lankan MP’s account isn’t accurate either.  Maybe there was no group, no machine-gunning, just an arrest after the surrender and bullet to the side of the head. After all, the the Sri Lankans would want to positively identify the Tiger leadership first before putting the period on the long and bloody tale. Machine-gunning a group would be an inefficient way to end it.  Perhaps the only thing we can descry, through the bodyguard of lies, is the verity of self-interest.

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Will we ever know the truth? That is always said to be the “first casualty of war”. Despite all the noises the UN is making, my guess is that the current Sri Lankan leaders will never be seriously accused of anything. The UN deals with whoever is in power, whoever they may be. There will be laughing, smiles and posed handshakes after a decent interval as the surviving puppeteers gather up their strings. If I was to guess, everyone, including Prabhakaran and the UN envoy, knew how this would end. The “don’t bother to attend the surrender” was not only a warning to the diplomats, but an opportunity for them not to know.

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