Original image from AFP | The Sydney Morning Herald

The Sri Lanka defense establishment is organizing a counter-insurgency seminar from the 31st of May to 2nd of June 2011. It has invited over 50 countries for the seminar with a stated objective of sharing the Sri Lankan experience of successful counter insurgency operation against the LTTE. At the same time there is a strong group of human rights activists who are advising against participation in this seminar and calling for a boycott. I beg to differ for a number of reasons, not least because boycotts and sanctions are probably the bluntest instruments.

Firstly, it gives an opportunity for the military personnel form different countries to get an account of the various strategies and tactics used. While we may not agree with some of the strategies and tactics it is very likely that there were innovations – the LRRPs, planned recruitment and resource mobilization, effective use of para-military, the organizing and deployment of fighting units, carefully cultivated political support etc.  In a global context where the non-state actors including the terrorists have an active learning and sharing network it is imperative that the military too have such opportunities – to keep abreast of best practice and bad practice.

Secondly, it is naive to assume that the armed forces of the world are going to uncritically accept the Sri Lankan experience of counter insurgency. None of them, if they can help it, will want to be accused of war crimes and have a UN panel report on their conduct. It is very likely that they will be asking much more informed questions about military objective and strategies, nature of the operational threat faced, nature of weapons used, proportionality, measures taken to obtain intelligence about targets, to minimize civilian casualties and the decision making command and control structures. Irrespective of what the Sri Lankan military say, the participants with deep knowledge in warfare will be able to piece together what happened much more clearly than most of the human rights activists.

So if the human rights lobbyists are influential enough (which I doubt they are) rather than call for a boycott they should try and influence the participants to engage more ‘fully’ in understanding the counter insurgency experience of Sri Lanka.

The participants should be encouraged,

  1. to ask for a field visit to the stretch of land where the final phase of the war took place and a briefing on the number and movement of civilian population through the final days
  2. to ask for a half a day session to meet groups with alternative view points. Clearly the cost of the Sri Lankan experience in the counter-insurgency is equally important to be understood and there are civil society groups who will be able to give the other side of the Sri Lankan experience.
  3. to ask for a visit to the Menic farm area and for a discussion with key humanitarian agencies

Even if the organizers are unable to accommodate the above, the participating military personnel should be encouraged stay a day or two extra and to do the above. Again the respective embassies and high-commissions can be asked to facilitate such discussions so that their military representatives will be able to get a fuller understanding.

The official seminar web-site www.defseminar.lk no longer carries the list of countries whose military have confirmed participation. Now it only contains the list of countries that have been invited. Once the participants are confirmed, it might also be a good idea to compile some reading material on the conduct of the war – including the UN Panel report, local paper articles, UNHRC resolution, reports by human rights organizations and UN special representatives, press statements by UN, ICRC and humanitarian agencies etc. These might help the participants to raise and clarify various issues – including the use of paramilitary that included child soldiers among them as a counter insurgency strategy, use of white vans and extra-judicial killings, shutting off media from the theatre of war and silencing of the media, the rationale for the ‘illegal’ internment of 270,000 tamil civilians, the restrictions on humanitarian space, non-recognition of the role of ICRC in visiting detainees and family-reunification etc. A dialogue between the Sri Lankan military and military personnel from other countries on these issues surely will be more illuminating than the discussions in parallel worlds currently going on between those from the legal/human rights school and the military.

I would love to attend this conference. One of the stated objectives of the seminar is ‘a better understanding and sharing of knowledge in Political reforms to accommodate all ethnic communities and nation building’. I want to know what these ‘political reforms that accommodate all ethnic communities’ are. Don’t you? Why is it that only foreign military personnel are privileged to hear that!

  • sr

    ”to ask for a field visit to the stretch of land where the final phase of the war took place” ??

    The Major tells the journalist in March 2011 that nobody is allowed in to the stretch of land where the final phase of the war took place but the President and hundreds of troops were there in December 2009. The war ended and the last IDP came out of it in May 2009:

    Al Jazeera, “Sri Lanka: War Crimes,” April 20, 2011:
    (The journalist visits Mullaitivu in the first week of March 2011)
    Journalist:(Pointing towards the strip of land across the Nandikadal lagoon)That side is still entirely closed off?
    Major: Because it is not cleared. Demining is still happening.
    Journalist: Because it’s given wlld speulation about mass graves that are being covered up. So far nobody isn’t allowed in there?
    M: Nobody
    J: No international observers?
    M: No

    2. http://www.airforce.lk/news.php?news=179 Pre
    President Unveils a Monument to Commemorate the Final Battle, 10 December 2009:
    ‘’President Mahinda Rajapaksa unveiled a monument in Nandikadal lagoon in Pudumathalan, Pudukudirruppu last morning (09 December 2009) in honour of the war heroes who paid the supreme sacrifice in the final battle, to eradicate terrorism and its leadership.’’

  • sr

    ”it gives an opportunity for the military personnel form different countries to get an account of the various strategies and tactics used”

    This is possible only in an island from where a large exodus of IDPs cannot spill over into the neighbouring countries across land borders.
    Furthermore Tamils would have moved over land borders in the 50s/60s/70s/80s if it were not an island.

    Any other small island can achieve this with huge military expenditure.

    • Lakshan

      “This is possible only in an island from where a large exodus of IDPs cannot spill over into the neighbouring countries across land borders.”

      yeah you have a point

  • Bundoora

    this is yet another joke of this regime, when the real war hero & main architect of the war is languishing in walikada on all the fabricated charges, card board heroes gonna tell the world how they conducted this so called humanitarian operation with a zero causality myth, while blocking all the media, NGOs and UN officials from the conflict zone and mercilessly attacking on those who were critical of the war. Perhaps participants could learn few more noble tips from SL , they are as bellow

    1) how to politicized the war & the military
    2) how to use & destroy the real heroes
    3) how to safeguard the enemy and pilfer their wealth (KP, Daya, George master duo etc )
    4) how to become overnight millionaires (through various arms deals )
    5) how to win the elections
    6) how to stay in power forever

  • Before the moral high ground is reached, it should be noted that every single Western counter-insurgency campaign since 1945 has involved torture, assassination, death squads, abductions and large scale killings of civilians and massive human rights abuses.


    Only in the Falklands War were these elements absent, because it was a bog-standard conventional war without any civilians being present. But the Brits made up for that by introducing modern media management during wartime. i.e. tight control of journalists, embedding, censorship of reporting etc.

    I’d also love to attend this conference. Perhaps they could webcast it?

    • Lakshan


      very true
      West cannot take the high moral ground .
      But the problem is some people believe that Geneva Convention was drawn up by the Almighty and that selective application of R2P by the West is OK.
      I remember even the “liberal” Newsweek assuming an ardent nationalist tone at the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom. One commentator of that magazine said ” Good Job Boys ( or something similar as I’m quoting from memory) ” to the US troops.It is these guys who are now lecturing us. Like the Americans standing by their troops, we too stand by our troops. After all we cannot be neutral for we were the beneficiaries of their sacrifice to rid this country of LTTE.

      The relief that we feel after defeat of LTTE terror is immense

      However there should be a mechanism to address legitimate grievances of Tamil people without caving in to the false patriots within the present regime .Otherwise we can expect a resurgence of the evil .

      • Lakshan,
        Apologies for the delay – I couldn’t find this post! Agree with you 100%. This war was fought and won at immense cost with political goals in mind (I hope!). What are these goals and aspirations, other than simply development? Where are these goals being met?

        I compare Britain, post-1945 where the incoming Labour govt engaged in a root and branch re-form of society to literally create a better society. I know the two situations aren’t directly comparable, but where’s the peace dividend?

  • sabbe laban

    The fact remains that in Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE the latter was otally anihilated in a small strip of land;an unimaginable stupidity that no terrorist organisation would allow for. That of course is a great achievement, that other nations too can learn a lesson or two from.

    The sorry state is that this victory is used by the present Sri Lankan gegime to push a “Kekille Rule” in the country! Erasing the name of Fonseka and denying the role he played in the war is one such thing. True, his arrogance and ego tarnished the good work he did. Yet, he deserves the credit for what he did.

  • sr

    The country that
    i.disenfranchised 75,000 Tamils in mid-20C when the rest of the world was gaining franchise
    ii.ordered its police not to interfere when thugs attacked satyagrahis (Galle Face Green in 1956)
    iii.that didn’t punish any for burning and butchering 150 Tamils Galoya sugarcane field
    iv.unleashed many more pogroms
    v. Prime Minister(1958) and President(1983) let mahhem reek the country for 4 days before declaring emergency
    vi. the last day of Bindunuwewa trial, the judges cracked ugly jokes about how the butchered bodies could have been roasted…

    what is not possible ???????

    • sabbe laban


      In fact, the Indian Tamils were a by-product of British Colonialism. India too accepted this position and that’s why India agreed to take them in a staggered basis under Sirima-Shastri Pact. The same racist government as you call it which helped the riots in ’83 anulled this Pact and granted citizenship to more than 300,000 Tamils of Indian origin!

      “the last day of Bindunuwewa trial, the judges cracked ugly jokes about how the butchered bodies could have been roasted”

      That could be insensitive and inappropriate, if that happened! But, what made you highlight an incident like that, rather than the massacre itself?

  • sr

    Last week in Tenerife a man beheaded a woman in a supermarket and ran out with her head.
    In 1983, the criminal carried a head in his hand in Welikade jail masscre in July 1983 to show the boss of the prison(the boss knocked down the criminal in disgust) but none punished.

    • sabbe laban

      Was anybody punished or accused of in the assasination of President Premadasa? Was any inquiry held in the killing of the JVP leader Wijeweera or his deputy Gamanayake? Does everything have a racial slant as you seem to perceive?

  • sr

    1983 Welikade jail –
    26 July – 35 Tamils butchered
    28 July – 27 Tamils butchered

    what is not possible in sri lanka ????

    Buddha statue under every Bo tree

    • sabbe laban

      Yes, butchered, butchered and butchered! Everywhere from under Bo trees to people in mosques;from people in busses, trains, and shops to sleeping villagers. No more of that now!

  • sr

    What follows ”defeating terrorism”:

    No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka, Minority Rights Group International, 19 January 2011 (Relevant international HR instruments mentioned)

  • ravana

    Heh Heh Heh,
    Good one Sacca.

    Sabbe Laban,

    General Fonseka’s game is yet to be played to the end.

    Trying to deny/minimise racism by the majority is not the sort of strategy that a chess master would use in a game designed to prevent future instability.
    The greatest threat to Sri Lanka now is from yet another huge brain drain. The nation is already considerably dumbed down!

    I suspect that the nation has already lost the loyalty of its greatest treasures (many are Taymoli speakers). In the end, the whole idea of “Sri Lanka” is an abstraction! It is a constantly mutable reality. “Sri Lankanness” is seeping and bleeding out of that piece of dirt in the Indian Ocean mate!

    Read the following article:

    The author uses some obtuse Oxford type English as well as Social Science jargon. But if you can wade through it you will hopefully understand the futility of holding up examples of one set of monsters to justify the actions of another (of your own) to protect an identity which is already in the throes of crisis.

    It is Wesak today. Unenlightened people are celebrating enlightenment. Just to quote one of the pillars of Dhamma, “Anicca” applies to “Sri Lanka” as it does to everything but the Absolute!

  • veedhur

    It will be a good test for the countries who are sending their military representatives for the seminar. If they are doing it to be in the good books of SL government, or as a strategy for engaging (aka maintaining relationship for leveraging!) they would only participate in the conference. But if they ‘really’ want a fuller understanding the will make use of the opportunity to organize for their military representatives additional interactions and exposures outlined above.

    Either way will be interesting to see how the countries play this.

  • veedhur

    Well it seems HRW is not convince about the views expressed by the author.

    It’s views are stated in http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/05/23/sri-lanka-military-conference-whitewash-war-crimes