Thursday, November 14, 2013

Create a Commonwealth Truth Commission!

As host and incoming chair of the Commonwealth summit Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse should establish a Commonwealth Truth Commission to build on the British bid to focus attention on the bloody end of the Tamil Tigers.

It should be empowered to look at the post colonial experience of deadly insurrection in every one of Britain's former colonies.

Most African and Asian members have experienced such subversion and should welcome the initiative; and London can hardly object after doing so much to draw international attention to the atrocities that occurred in Sri Lanka.

Of course, an impartial investigation would reveal much more than one of London's low-budget propaganda films; in the case of the Tamil Tigers, it would be impossible to hide Britain’s sinister role from the beginning to end.

Anton Balasingham, who became the power behind Tamil Tigers supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, was an employee of the British High Commission in Colombo, and for three decades he was the key figure in everything the organization did.

First in Sri Lanka and then from London, Balasingham was billed as the Tigers’ “ideologue;” but clearly, he was in control of much more. With his Australian wife (who headed the feared Women’s Wing of the Tigers), he traveled the world on a British passport and took care of business while Prabhakaran served as the taciturn bogeyman in his jungle hideouts.

In 1999, when the Sri Lankan military first took the Tiger stronghold of Jaffna, Balasingham and wife relocated to London despite strenuous objections from Colombo. He died there in 2006 of cancer, and the obituary in The Times noted his importance:

“His influence over Prabhakaran was embarrassingly obvious at a packed press conference in Sri Lanka during the 2002 peace process.” Balasingham “was doubtless responsible for the image makeover of the Tigers leader. Eschewing his customary military fatigues and sidearm Prabhakaran attended the press conference in a safari suit and had even shaved off his moustache. After almost every question he would lean towards Balasingham to be primed with the reply, and for the most part Balasingham would do the replying for him. Which led one commentator to ask: So who is the real leader of the Tamil Tigers?”

Without Balasingham to guide MI 6 controllers, the Tiger command structure soon fell apart, and with the Sri Lankan government passing into the hands of the most ruthless of the island’s political groupings, the bloody end was predictable.

However, in acknowledging the lack of mercy on the government side, we must also recognize that there was no bloodthirsty “crime against humanity” decision to slaughter civilians at the end. According to Indian and Sri Lankan reporters, as well as NGO representatives in the area, the Tigers entered the agreed upon fire-free zones and used civilians as living shields.

The grim video footage the British have propagandized to tar the Sri Lankan government shows what followed. It is heart-rending and terrible, but the responsibility for what happened cannot be narrowly located. London is as covered in blood as anyone else, and perhaps more so because of its longstanding support for a terrorist organization.

As a reporter at the UN, I used to get a first hand account of the unbending attitudes in the British capital from Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil who paid with his life for trying to make peace. Marksmen staked out a building under construction overlooking his villa in Colombo and shot the 71-year old statesman as he was doing laps in his swimming pool.  

If President Rajapakse facilitates the creation of a Commonwealth Truth Commission to study Britain's murderously exploitative role in its former colonies, he will go down in history as a key figure in the transition out of the colonial era.

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