Colombo, March 27:India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s obsession with China led to India’s working for a regime in Sri Lanka in 2014, the island nation’s former Defense Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, told the Foreign Correspondents’ Association here on Monday.
He said that the Congress-led government had been very supportive of Sri Lanka as revealed in “Choices”, former Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon’s “very good book”.
But as soon as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power and Ajit Doval became NSA, the China issue was brought to the fore. Gotabaya said that Doval had twice asked him to cancel the China-funded Colombo Port City project and take back the southern container terminal at the Colombo port from the Chinese.
Gotabaya said that China has been a bee in the bonnet for Doval since his early days in the intelligence service. While Menon looked at things as a diplomat, Doval looked at them as a “intelligence man”, the former Sri Lankan Defense Secretary said.
In this context he referred to the alleged visit of a Chinese nuclear submarine in November 2014 which created a flutter in India. Gotabaya blamed the Indian media for this.
Firstly, it was not a nuclear submarine, and secondly, it is not true that the visits by Chinese submarines were secrets, Gotabaya said. The Indian High Commissioner had been informed about the visits of the vessels, which were en route from East to the West and back. And these visits had taken place with prior permission from the Sri Lankan government. Colombo was aware of New Delhi’s sensitivities and had expressly stated that it will not allow Sri Lanka to be used against India, Gotabaya said. But still there were reservations in New Delhi.
Against this background Gotabaya said that he is intrigued by India’s silence over the present Sri Lankan government’s handing over 80% of the shares in Hambantota port to a Chinese state owned company for 99 years. He wondered if India has anything up its sleeve. He described the transaction over Hambantota as “dangerous”.
Asked about the alleged US plan to rescue LTTE leader Prabhakaran along with the evacuation of the trapped civilians in the last two weeks of Eelam War IV, Gotabaya said that he was not sure if there was such a plan. But US Ambassador Robert Blake did tell him that the US would like to help evacuate the civilians but not Prabhakaran and the top LTTE leadership. But this was only a suggestion, Gotabaya added.
Asked why the ceasefire cum evacuation plan was not carried out, he said that there were some issues to consider: Would Prabhakaran allow it? Would India agree to it?
Further on US policy towards Sri Lanka, Gotabaya said that Ambassador Blake said that the US wanted “to be seen” to be helping the Sri Lankan war effort and for that he asked Sri Lanka to sign the Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to make its ports available for the US Department of Defense. Blake pointed out that many countries including India had signed it. The agreement was signed The US gave intelligence on the LTTE’s floating armories which had a huge impact on the militants’ ability to function.
But US policies changed when Barack Obama became President in January 2009 with human rights activists like Samantha Power and Susan Rice holding key posts. The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner came to Colombo ask for an end to the hostilities. This was because of the domestic electoral importance of the Tamil Diaspora, Gotabaya reasoned.
Their plea was negatived as President Rajapaksa and he had decided to fight to the finish. There was no going back from the objective of completely finishing the LTTE.
On allegations of huge casualties in the war, ranging from 40,000 to 150,000, Gotabaya said that empirical evidence does not support these figures. The government census department had done a survey which revealed a death toll of 7,000 to 8,000. UNICEF had done an independent survey which did not support the allegations. Even the UN has not officially put out the figure of 40,000 killed.
Data available with the World Food Program and the District Government Agents had indicated a population of 300,000 in the war zone out of which most crossed over to the government side and were lodged in camps.
Asked about forced disappearances, he said that the allegations need to be investigated, and for that, people need to give credible evidence and identify the perpetrators, things which are lacking now.
He dismissed the claim of some people that they had handed over militants to the army but have not been heard of till date. “In a chaotic situation which prevailed in the last stages, it is not possible for people to hand over anybody to the army peacefully,” Gotabaya said.
On the issue of post war justice and accountability mechanisms Gotabaya said that if both sides rake up old wounds, the gap between the Tamils and the Sinhalese will only widen and there will be no reconciliation. If the Tamils talk of army atrocities, the Sinhalese can talk about the many killings and massacres done by the LTTE , and the two communities can never reconcile.
On the issue of releasing LTTE prisoners, he said that out of the 13,000 in custody, all except 274 ,who had cases against them, had been released.
On Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the resolution on it in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Gotabaya said that the present government has failed to make use of the changed political scenario in the US, with Donald Trump at the helm. Trump would have left Sri Lanka alone as he had pledged to make America look inward rather than outward.
(The featured image at the top is that of Gotabaya Rajapaksa)