Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Tamil Diaspora Peak ploughs the depths

( Created date: 16-Jul-2009 )

The Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA), which describes itself as the peak body representing the Tamil Diaspora living in Australia and New Zealand, has expressed deep concern over five Tamil doctors recanting the statistics they were ‘dispatching to the outside world during the last stages of the war.’

The AFTA pronouncement, in throwing doubt on the statements of the doctors now made in public, privileges earlier reports of what they said when under the control of the LTTE. As to these, even the London Times, which has been consistently critical of the Sri Lankan government, said ‘It would be surprising if the Tigers, who were no slouches when it came to the manipulation of the media, had not attempted to modify the doctors’ testimonies’.

AFTA may not accept this. However, in accepting as gospel figures attributed to these gentlemen when they were under the control of the Tigers, AFTA has ignored logic as well as clear evidence. And to shore up their argument they cite me as well, but instead of quoting me direct they rely on a British newspaper report.

They assert that, in an interview with the Guardian, I said that I ‘would estimate that the civilian death toll from the last stages of the war with the Tamil Tigers as 3,000 to 5,000’. They go on to claim that ‘Therefore the doctors’ statements are in contradiction to the accepted casualty figures of the government itself.’

This is nonsense. My estimate to the Guardian was of total deaths during the war, and was in line with what I had written in an earlier press release I had shared with them, which noted that, when TamilNet and others cited figures of casualties, there were three important questions that had to be asked, viz
        First, are the figures of dead and injured accurate?
        Second, are they all attributable to the Sri Lankan forces, or might some of them at least have been inflicted by the LTTE?
        Third, are all those who died or were injured civilians?

Whilst we cannot provide definite answers to any of these questions, we can certainly dismiss outrageous claims through logic. Sadly AFTA blindly repeats the lunatic Times assertion of 20,000 deaths, even though the Times has used three different arguments to justify this figure, each more ridiculous than the last. The latest is that they made an estimate of beach graves, whereas earlier they had cited 20,000 for the entire period from January on, when the fighting was taking place far from the beach. Before that they claimed they worked on the basis of bodies they were told were brought in to various centres, but they multiplied these by about five to get the figure they wanted.

My own estimate was based on the figures of the ICRC for those they had brought away from the conflict zone to Sri Lankan hospitals. AFTA claims the ICRC ‘evacuated almost 14,000 wounded or sick patients and accompanying caregivers’ but fails to note that fewer than 6000 of these were wounded (and that includes some sick too). Since all claims with regard to the conflict, including those of TamilNet, never estimated the number of dead at more than half the wounded, that led to the conclusion that the total number of deaths would have been under 3000. This was the figure I first mentioned to the Guardian, in line with what I had written. They asked however for an estimated complete death count and, in including estimates for the final pitched battles the Tigers fought, outside the no fire zone before it was completely surrounded as well as inside at the end, I said it could have been 5000 at the outside.

That was a total which included combatants as well as civilians, almost wholly hard core combatants for the pitched battles. ICRC figures did not distinguish between wounded combatants and wounded civilians, and of course the Sri Lankan health service asked no questions but faithfully served all those brought into its care. Since obviously there would have been wounded combatants amongst the fewer than 6000 taken for care, any estimate of dead would also have included combatants. Though many combatants would have been young innocents forced to fight by the LTTE, unfortunately, if they were pushed into the front lines with guns, they had to be treated as combatants not civilians.

Given the techniques used by the LTTE it is quite likely that many of those killed were combatants of one sort or another, while we know from the testimony of many who tried to escape that the LTTE was ruthless about killing civilians. In this light the testimony of the doctors now, that ‘only up to 750 civilians were killed between January and mid-May in the final days of the war’ (whatever that timeline means), is quite plausible. The rest of the dead could very well have been combatants forced to fight by the LTTE.

What does seem incomprehensible in the AFTA statement is the subsequent assertion that one doctor said ‘only around 600 to 650 people had been injured between January and mid-April 2009’. This may be based on what appeared in newspapers because, whereas some reports of what the doctors said covered deaths, others referred only to the injured, in what seemed glorious confusion. But it is of course possible that until mid-April the number of civilians injured who had sought the assistance of the doctors was quite low, because they would have had to give priority to LTTE cadres.

AFTA certainly has lifted chunks wholesale from newspapers hostile to Sri Lanka, as in their ridiculous insinuation, taken wholesale from the Times, that ‘world outrage’ about the Times claim of 20,000 dead led to the arrest of the doctors. This had in fact happened ten days before the Times outburst. They then quote the preposterous Sam Zarifi, the Iranian expatriate who had jumped from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International in his zeal to attack Sri Lanka, who wonders now whether what the doctors said was voluntary. Understandably it never occurred to him to express doubts about what they said when they were under the control of the Tigers. Even the Times was less barefaced in its effrontery, though it should be noted that they rapidly withdrew the concession about Tiger manipulation in later versions of their reports about the doctors.

AFTA however picks up whatever dross it can to make its case. Ignoring the ICRC figures, it extrapolates from a doctor cited by Channel 4, the liars who did not dare to ask for government comments on their distortions. The unnamed doctor is supposed to have said that there ‘may be as many as 20,000 amputees among those who fled’ (which suggests that AFTA does recognize these poor souls fled from the Tigers, and were helped to safety by the Sri Lankan forces). From this multiple uncertainty AFTA declares, without committing itself, ‘one could extrapolate the number that would have been killed.’ It is only then, having apparently lost faith in the 20,000 graves of the Times, that it cites me as quoted misleadingly in the Guardian.

At least it is satisfying that AFTA realizes that I am more reliable than all the imaginative liars it cites, but I am sorry that they do not dare to contact me direct. Recently I have held discussions with several Tamil expatriates who are anxious to escape the yoke of terrorism and discuss instead how they can contribute to the rehabilitation of their people who were crushed for so long by the Tigers. It would be good if what calls itself a peak body could escape from the depths of wickedness and falsehood into which the Tigers plunged so many of our fellow citizens, and instead tried to make things better for them and for the country as a whole.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

Click here for the Tamil Sydney article




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