Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Cricket Australia needs to get player availability policies sorted

Australian cricket authorities are short-charging fans of the national Twenty20 competition, the Big Bash League, through their policies on releasing players from national duty when needed by their BBL sides for crucial encounters.

The Adelaide Strikers and the Hobart Hurricanes, who contested Sunday’s final, were both affected by this policy.

Adelaide won, but had they failed to do so, no doubt there would have been attention drawn to the fact that their main fast bowler, Billy Stanlake, did not play as he was on national duty to play in a tri-nation tournament involving New Zealand and England.
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One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

World cricket is in a parlous state, not in terms of the money it makes, but in terms of the contests it provides. The games are one-sided to the extent that patrons at the grounds are few and far-between.

There is no better illustration of this than in the ongoing Australian games, where the home team is playing New Zealand and the West Indies in three Tests apiece. The first Test against New Zealand was won convincingly, and the second looks like going the same route. As to the West Indies, they are not expected to last beyond four days in each of the three Tests.

The man who is responsible for this farcical outcome, where Tests are mostly one-sided, died recently. Jagmohan Dalmiya was the one who set in motion these unending Test matches, where cricket goes on round the year, and the same bunch of players have to play, and play and play.
Continue reading One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

Sri Lanka’s big three may have stayed on too long

It has been said of the great West Indies cricketer Viv Richards that he should have quit the international game two years before he actually did. Richards, who made his debut in India in 1974, retired in 1991, after having been West Indies captain for about six years.

But after 1989, he was never the dominating batsman he had been over his entire career; his reflexes appeared to have slowed, and his temper sometimes got the better of him.

Something similar could be said about the three Sri Lankans — Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Kumar Sangakkara — who played their last game together on Wednesday, a loss to South Africa in a World Cup quarter-final. For Sangakkara it will be his last one-day game; Jayawardene has already quit Test and T20 cricket so this is his last international game.
Continue reading Sri Lanka’s big three may have stayed on too long

Three years on, Sri Lanka still bleeds

A MONTH and two weeks from now, it will be three years since Sri Lanka won its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, effectively ending the campaign for a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

But there has been no movement on achieving a political solution to put the minority Tamils at ease. Instead, the triumphalism that has pervaded the country has seen the government act in a manner that can only serve to remind the Tamils that during the days when the Tigers were in the ascendant they were at least not marginalised in the way they are right now.

The Tigers had ensured that the north of the country was more or less completely occupied by Tamils. Now, the army is everywhere in the north and Sinhalese people are being resettled in large numbers to change the population mix. And, to rub it in, there are signs in many places that are only in Sinhala, a language that Tamils, cut off from the rest of the country for decades, cannot even speak.
Continue reading Three years on, Sri Lanka still bleeds

Journalism of the very best kind

CHANNEL 4 has done journalism proud, with a follow-up to its documentary on the war in Sri Lanka.

Last year, in June, the television network screened a documentary titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields which provided powerful evidence of war crimes by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers during the civil war which ended in May 2009.

The follow-up, titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, screened on the night of March 14 in London; it is available on YouTube and is a powerful reminder that in a day and age when journalism is often referred to as a dying profession, good investigative reports are worth more than their weight in gold.
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Time for Australia to blood new cricketers

NEXT week, the Australian international cricket season kicks off with the first Test against New Zealand. The Kiwis will play two Tests and then India will play four more, beginning in December. Next year, Australia, India and Sri Lanka will play a triangular limited overs tournament.

Australia is in the midst of a transition but it remains to be seen to what extent the new set of selectors are prepared to experiment. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey are both well into their 30s and not exactly setting the Nullarbor on fire when they go out to bat. Mitchell Johnson has been erratic to put it mildly, with more downsides than upsides.

And Brad Haddin has shown an inclination to throw his wicket away at the worst of times. His keeping is pretty poor too.
Continue reading Time for Australia to blood new cricketers

Sri Lanka is losing the propaganda battle over war crimes

WHEN a sovereign nation has to respond to charges made in a TV documentary that screens in just a few countries, no matter how serious those charges are, then it has well and truly lost the battle to convince people that it is in the right.

Sri Lanka finds itself in this position after having, rather foolishly, decided to respond to a documentary made by Britain’s Channel 4 about alleged war crimes committed during the war against the Tamil Tiger separatist movement that ended in May 2009. (The programme is also available on YouTube; just search for “Sri Lanka killing fields”.)

The Lankan bid to refute the claims came a few days after Channel 4 broadcast even more evidence of Colombo’s complicity in war crimes – evidence given by two unnamed soldiers who went to the extent of claiming that the orders to kill Tamils en masse in order to get the war over with came from the country’s defence secretary, Gotabaya Rakapakse.
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Evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka

BRITAIN’S Channel 4 television screened a remarkable programme on Tuesday, the 14th of June, one that nobody would expect to see in a Western country.

Graphic evidence of war crimes by the Sri Lankan military and the militant group, the Tamil Tigers, during the war that led to the elimination of the Tigers in 2008-09, was screened from 11.05pm in a programme titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. (The programme is also available on YouTube; just search for “Sri Lanka killing fields”.)

The programme is not for the squeamish or those who cannot bear to see what actually happens in a war. This was a war fought between sides which were not equal – as the programme shows the military had heavy hardware and was prepared to use it. All Tamils were treated as terrorists and they were fair game. Indeed, the military gathered them together in so-called no-fire zones and then killed them.

Hospitals were shelled despite the fact that their coordinates had been provided to both sides of the conflict by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Children, old women, the feeble, the sick, pregnant women, aged men – they all served as cannon fodder for the bloodthirsty Sri Lankan military.

The government had given the military carte blanche as far as the war was concerned; they did not have go fight with one arm tied behind them. This led, in the end, to soldiers killing civilians in cold blood and collecting video footage as grotesque war souvenirs. Women were raped and then killed. Half-dead corpses were thrown around like sacks of potatoes.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon visited some of the government camps where those Tamil civilians who survived were interned. He stayed a few minutes and then moved on. In April, the UN produced a damning report wherein it cited plenty of evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by both the government and the Tigers. Ban Ki-moon has refused to act on that report – he says he has no authority to do so. Doubtless, he is also conscious of the fact that with the end of his term looming, his chances of re-election will depend on having China on-side. Beijing has been Sri Lanka’s ally during the war and after; weapons were supplied to Colombo and in return a $2 billion contract to build a port and naval base in the Hambantota district, from where the president, Mahinda Rajapakse hails, went China’s way.

China, of course, is not the only country to help Sri Lanka in this manner. Israel supplied Kfir fighter jets and India provided intelligence to help Colombo destroy Tiger re-supply craft which were being used to replenish the militants’ weapons stocks. In their time of need, the Tigers found no country willing to help.

Now it remains to be seen whether there will be any action by the so-called international community. My guess is that nothing will happen. The US has shown no interest in speaking out about the atrocities and if it stays silent, every other country will hold its peace.

But unless justice is seen to be done, the situation will continue to simmer. Tamils will leave Sri Lanka in increasing numbers but there will be anger and hurt in the community which will resurface some time or the other. By going after the Tigers and ending the 26-year insurrection, the Sri Lankan government has, metaphorically speaking, sown the wind. They may well end up reaping the whirlwind.

The tragedy of Sri Lanka

AS THE Sri Lankan government twists and turns and manouevres in order to try and prevent a war crimes investigation being ordered by the United Nations into its conduct during the war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009, the first definitive account of the conflict has emerged.

Former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, has written a book titled The Cage which gives a detailed and powerful account of the tragedy as it unfolded.

Weiss had to tread a difficult path as he wrote the book; given the oath that he took as an UN employee, he was unable to divulge any material that came to him in that capacity. Despite this very difficult obstacle in his path, he has done an extremely credible job in tracing the history of Sri Lanka that has a bearing on the country’s current position.

The Tamil Tigers, formed in the early 1970s, became the most powerful of the groups fighting for a separate state for their people and were known for the reign of terror that they imposed. They killed anyone standing in their way and massacred both Sinhalese and Muslims to enforce their writ. They were also not loath to kill their own people, if those people happened to be standing in the way of their supreme leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan and his ruthless ambitions.

The Tigers made a number of miscalculations. They reasoned that no state would resort to the type of bloodthirsty and ruthless tactics they employed, no government would indulge in the kind of indiscriminate killing that they carried out. The Tigers forgot that the state had twice put down rebellions, by Sinhalese youth in the shape of the Janata Vimukti Peramuna, in 1971 and again in 1989, in a singularly, bloody-minded manner, killing all and sundry and in a pretty gory manner too.

The Tigers also thought that India would act as a bulwark if things became really bad – after all, the main powerbroker in the Indian Ocean had broken a siege of the Tamils in the 1980s, at a stage when the Sri Lankan army had them cornered. India, of course, has a Tamil population to which it has to cater, given that the main Tamil party in India is in coalition with the ruling party at the federal level. And finally, the Tigers failed to realise that in the post-2001 world, countries are less inclined to regard breakaway groups as romantically as they did in the past.

Sri Lanka ensured that India would not act as an obstacle this time by bringing China into the picture very cleverly. The Sri Lankans first asked India if it would be interested in constructing a port in the southern Hambantota area; when India declined, realising that it might be obligated to Sri Lanka if it accepted, the Sri Lankans asked the Chinese who gratefully accepted. The contract was then expanded to include a naval base; when Sri Lanka went to China to seek weapons and influence at the UN level for its pursuit of the Tigers, Beijing was only too happy to oblige.

When India realised that China was cutting in on its normal sphere of influence, it agreed to provide Sri Lanka with intelligence that led to the destruction of many of the Tiger arms re-supply craft, thus depriving the Tigers of fresh stocks of arms. By doing this, the Indians once again hoped to get back into Sri Lanka’s good books.

In 2002, the Sri Lankan government had signed a ceasefire with the Tigers; at that point, the Tamil group controlled something less than the one-third of the island which was its maximalist demand for its own state. At this point, Pirapaharan could well have bargained and got at least two-thirds of what he had set down as his ambit claim. But he refused to budge and in 2003 announced that the Tigers were withdrawing from the ceasefire.

In 2005, the current president, Mahinda Rajapakse, came to power. A year later, having put his brother, Gotabaya, in charge of defence, the war began to eliminate the Tigers. Gotabaya was promised that political considerations would not interfere with this goal; in the 1980s, when India made food drops to the besieged Tamils, Gotabaya was a member of the armed forces and that memory remained with him.

The Rajapakses kept to their word. They massacred the Tigers and shot a number of leaders of the movement in cold blood as they were trying to surrender. They did not mind if there was collateral damage in the form of about 40,000 civilians killed by both sides. They had a goal and they were as bloodthirsty as Pirapaharan in their determination to achieve it, come hell or high water. They had a regular well-paid army which was not asked to fight with one arm tied behind; the Tigers did not have the number of troops to match as several of their hardened fighters had left the movement in 2002, confident that the struggle was over.

While the low-level war began in 2006, the government only formally abrogated the ceasefire in 2008. By May 19 the following year, it was able to declare victory and show Pirapaharan’s body on television. His twisted dream had come to an end, a lesson to all those fighting for separate states that one needs to compromise in order to achieve at least a part of one’s objectives.

Sri Lanka: reconciliation will come only after probe into war crimes allegations

TWO years after its war against the Tamil Tigers ended, the government of Sri Lanka is trying desperately to avoid an UN investigation being launched into alleged war crimes during the fighting.

The government is now making the rounds of various countries, trying to bolster support for its position, and has first gone to India, the power-broker in the region. But there is a damning UN report (PDF, 9.2 MB) which clearly indicates that civilians were killed in cold blood during the war which ended an insurrection that ran for nearly 30 years.

There are videos on the internet, including a couple that have been broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 TV channel, of Tamil civilians being blindfolded and shot in the back of the head by uniformed Sri Lankan troops. An army official and a soldier have both told the channel of how the policy during the war was to shoot to kill, not to bother about taking prisoners. And these orders came right from the top, which means the president, Mahinda Rajapakse.

Rajapakse ‘s brother, Gotabaya, implemented these decisions as he is the defence minister. As someone who holds joint US and Sri Lankan citizenship, he is more likely than others to face a a probe for involvement in war crimes. It all depends on which lobby wins out – the government or the supporters of the Tamils.

Sri Lanka is not a signatory to many UN conventions and hence is not bound to carry out a probe despite the damning report. However, the secretary-general can force the country to accept an investigation if he so decides. But like the heads of the UN in the past, Ban Ki-moon has never shown firmness in dealing with anything. A great deal thus depends on countries which still place some value on human rights.

Former UN official Gordon Weiss has written a book about the war which is due to be available in the next day or two. This would be the first authoritative account of the conflict to see the light of day – all that has aired by both sides in the conflict has been propaganda.

There are tens of thousands of Tamils still held in camps in Sri Lanka; the government’s stance is that it wants to weed out the guerrillas among them and the release the rest. But two years on, this excuse is beginning to wear a little thin.

Trying to convince the world that it is aiming at reconciliation at this stage is unlikely to work – unless there are powerful sponsors. It looks like India is attempting to play the sponsor, judging by the sentiments reportedly express by Indian officials to the Sri Lankan foreign minister G. L. Peiris. India is, of course, aware that if it took the high road on human rights, then there would be umpteen calls for investigations into the savagery wrought by Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir.

By the end of this year, if no UN probe is begun, one more government would have killed its own citizens in cold blood and got away scot-free. The most dangerous thing about this whole episode is that other countries, like the Philippines, which are plagued by internal unrest due to militant groups fighting for legitimate rights, are beginning to talk of the Sri Lankan method as the model.