Sri Lanka military tries to evade responsibility for captured Tamil rebels

By Athula Vithanage

Dealing a devastating blow to thousands of Tamils searching for their loved ones who disappeared after surrendering to the security forces, the Sri Lanka army has shirked responsibility.

For the first time since the conclusion of the war ten years ago, the Sri Lanka army has claimed that no Tamil Tiger surrendered to the Sri Lanka military, despite the country’s most senior wartime defence official and other officials saying otherwise.

Thousands of Tamil relatives on continuous protests in the north of the country have described to multiple government bodies how they handed their loved ones to the security forces in May 2009 following public announcements that it would be safe to do so.

Many who surrendered were members of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or its administration. The LTTE was crushed in the bloody war that killed an estimated 70,000 civilians.

'Surrendred to government'

In an extraordinary reply to Tamil Mirror Journalist, P Nirosh Kumar, who requested details of surrendered LTTE members under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the military has denied its role and said they surrendered “to the Sri Lankan government”.

“LTTE members have not surrendered themselves to the Sri Lanka military during the last stages of the war and they have handed themselves over to the Sri Lankan government,” wrote the Information Officer of the Sri Lanka Military, Brigadier Sumith Atapattu, who was part of the Mechanised Infantry regiment himself.

“As the institution with authority to deal with matters regarding surrendered LTTE members is the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, you are kindly requested to obtain the required information from them.”

Contrary to what Brigadier Atapattu says, wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has confirmed that those who were handed over to the rehabilitation authorities first surrendered to the military.

Around 11,800 LTTE cadres surrendered to the Security Forces, Secretary Rajapaksa told journalists in Colombo in 2013. He added that almost all the former rebel cadres who surrendered to the military at the end of war in 2009 had been reintegrated into society.

In September 2018, two ministers from Rajapaksa administration publicly acknowledged that rebels and civilians were killed after they surrendered to the military in the final days of war.

OMP & 58 Division

Sri Lanka’s Office of Missing Persons (OMP) appointed by the President has acknowledged that a vast number of those who surrendered to the military had disappeared.

“Families and civil society representatives in the districts made a number of recommendations that the OMP will take forward, including the use of mobile offices for more remote areas, prioritisation of the cases of persons who have reported to have surrendered to the military in May 2009 and then disappeared, and the need for immediate relief,” OMP announced in its interim report in August 2018.

OMP chair Saliya Peiris has said that he requested the list of surrendees from the authorities. However, JDS understands that such a list has not been made available.

In 2016, a senior military commander revealed in courts that the 58 Division, which is accused of committing war crimes, is in possession of a list of those who surrendered to the security force.

The General Officer Commanding (GOC), 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army, Major General Kavinda Chanakya Gunawardena told Mullaitivu Magistrate Court that his division holds a list of all the Tamil Tiger rebels who surrendered to the military.

However, the commander failed to provide the document in court.

An Army Court of Inquiry (COI) established by post war military commander Jagath Jayasuriya in 2012 also acknowledged that the military did indeed capture LTTE cadres.

“The Sri Lanka Army had acted in a very professional manner taking very elaborate measures to avoid civilian casualties and all persons, including captured/surrendered LTTE cadres,” said the COI report.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by Sri Lanka’s wartime president registered in 2011 a total of 53 LTTE cadres who surrendered during the final days of the war and were alleged to have disappeared.

The OMP estimates that at least 21,000 have disappeared from the predominantly Tamil north and east.

A UN investigation into serious violations and abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka’s war (OISL) concluded in 2015 that there reasonable grounds to believe that captured LTTE members were unlawfully killed.

“On the basis of the available information, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a number of military cadres, who had laid down arms and were thus hors de combat, were unlawfully killed after having surrendered unarmed to the security forces,” said the OISL report.

Based on the findings, Sri Lanka committed itself at the UN to establish a judicial inquiry involving foreign judges. Almost five years later the transitional justice process is yet to commence.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.