Surrender of top LTTE leadership: US records show Defense Attaché was correct

Despite the U.S. State Department spokesman dismissed what the Defense Attaché of the American Embassy in Sri Lanka commented about the surrender of the Tamil Tiger top leadership in mid-May 2009, the Asian Tribune archives which maintains official U.S. Government records very clearly shows what Defense Attaché Lawrence Smith disclosed at Colombo defense conference was in fact correct.

During a question-and-answer session at the defense seminar in Colombo Smith said that the offers by the leaders of the terrorist group LTTE to surrender in the final hours of the conflict lack credibility and needed to be examined carefully before coming to conclusions.

The U.S. Department of State in a press briefing on Friday, June 3 said the remarks made by the earlier this week by the U.S Defense Attaché to U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Smith reflected his personal opinions.

Drawing from the official statements, pronouncement, and even from a classified cable sent by then American ambassador Robert Blake, the Asian Tribune is in a position to confirm that what the American Defense Attaché said was the correct developments during the last stages of the GSL-LTTE fight at Nathikadal in the Mulliativu water front.

The controversial statement made by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith is as follows:

(Begin Quote): “Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the defence attaché here at the US Embassy since June 2008.

Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict — from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that I am aware of seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE — Nadesan, KP — people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

“And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders at various levels that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up. But I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble. ” (End Quote)

On 06 May, Approximately 12 days before the end of the battle (18 May 2009) Mike Owens, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs told a special media briefing in Washington “The government of Sri Lanka has previously offered a limited amnesty. This would be for the lower level LTTE cadre, not the leadership.

“And so I think one of the big questions is what to do about the leadership, and that’s certainly not easy to answer. This is a very complex and very difficult sort of thing to orchestrate. There are many problems, and we are running out of time. We really, literally, have a matter of a couple of days maybe in which we can try to get this finalized.”

A WikiLeaks disclosed classified diplomatic cable sent from Colombo under the signature of Ambassador Robert Blake to Washington said:

(Begin Quote): Ambassador contacted senior GSL officials throughout the day, including Secretary of Defense Gothabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Bogollagama, to urge acceptance of a mediated surrender of the remaining Tigers and maximum restraint on the part of the military to avoid further civilian casualties, particularly after the reports from the Bishop of Mannar of continued high numbers of civilians in the safe zone. Rajapaksa refused to accept mediated surrender on the grounds that the fighting was all but over, but said troops had been instructed to accept anyone who wishes to surrender. (End Quote)

What deputy assistant secretary Owens said at the 06 May 2009 media briefing in Washington was about the surrender of the lower level Tamil Tiger fighting cadre and not the top leadership of the outfit.

The Asian Tribune produces here at length what Mr. Owens said on 06 May 2009 for the readers to get a better understanding of the issue.

(Begin Quote): “We are trying quietly — and I can’t talk too much about this– but we are trying quietly behind the scene to find a way to bring an end to the fighting. It’s very difficult to see exactly how that’s going to happen, but we think there are a couple of elements that need to be involved, and we need to find a way for the LTTE to surrender arms possibly to a third party in the context of a pause in the fighting, to surrender their arms in exchange for some sort of limited amnesty to at least some members of the LTTE and the beginning of a political process.”

“Now, those are pretty vague — that’s a pretty vague outline, and we realize that. It’s going to require a lot of negotiation with the parties involved to bring that to fruition in a really a coherent way, but that is something that is underway behind the scenes to try to find a way to reach that point.”

“I just want to emphasize this is what we would like to see happen, but we don’t have any illusions that this is easy to engineer. It’s something that we’ve been working on very hard and quietly behind the scene, because we see — the only potential we see to bring this to an end is to have a package in which we have a pause, and the civilians were allowed to leave. And now it’s very clear that many civilians do want to leave in spite of the fact the LTTE has said earlier they do not want to leave. They do in fact want to leave.

“So what we would like to see is a package, in which there is a pause, and then during that pause, not only do the civilians leave but we also make some arrangements between the government and the LTT that would involve trading off surrender of arms for a limited amnesty. The government of Sri Lanka has previously offered a limited amnesty. This would be for the lower level LTTE cadre, not the leadership.

“And so I think one of the big questions is what to do about the leadership, and that’s certainly not easy to answer. This is a very complex and very difficult sort of thing to orchestrate. There are many problems, and we are running out of time.

We really, literally, have a matter of a couple of days maybe in which we can try to get this finalized.

“So we are working on it, but I don’t want to raise expectations that we’re close to a comprehensive agreement.” (End Quote)

Mr. Owens never mentioned about the surrender of the leadership.

In fact, the State Department spokesman Mark Toner at last Friday’s June 3 media briefing was talking about accountability that the U.S. is seeking from the Government of Sri Lanka. Even if he were inferring about the surrender of the top LTTE leadership Mr. Owens’ 06 May 2009 statement negates it.

Here is what Mark Toner said last Friday:

Question: I have one on Sri Lanka. The senior defense attaché at the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka went public in the newspapers (inaudible) that he questioned the credibility of surrenders offer made by senior LTTE leaders who was the head of the (inaudible) last year. Does this reflect any change in the U.S. position on the war crime victims?

Mr. Toner: Right. You’re talking about remarks that were made at a conference in Colombo?

Question: Yes. Yeah.

Mr. Toner: Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panelist. My understanding is that the defense attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.

Question: So that was a personal opinion?

Mr. Toner: Personal opinion. The United States – and just to reiterate that policy – remains deeply concerned by the allegations in the panel of experts report, and we’re committed to seeing a credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And we believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address these allegations.

Question: Who was the attaché?

Mr. Toner: I don’t have his name.

Question: Is he still the attaché? (Laughter.) Was there any discussion –

Mr. Toner: I believe he’s still there, but I’ll try to get an update.

The Defense Attaché of the American Embassy in Colombo has been on that job since June 2008. He was witness to the developments that took place leading to the final closure of the LTTE-GSL battle in May 2009.

According to the official U.S. Defense Department document that the Asian Tribune looked at, the responsibilities of the Defense Attaché are: (a) Collect and Report Information (b) Provide the Chief of Mission appropriate military information for consideration of Politico-Military situation and problems.

The Defense Attaché Office (DAO) to which Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith is attached is a component element of the United States diplomatic mission in Sri Lanka.
Therefore, Lawrence Smith was totally aware of the Pol-Mil development during the final stages of the battle in April-May 2009.

These evidences clearly show what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith remarked at the defense conference in Colombo last week was the correct version of what happened regarding the surrender of the top LTTE leadership, and that there was no situation in which the top leadership was gunned down as widely propagated by interested parties.

– Asian Tribune –

5th June 2011

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