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Lessons learnt from conflict zone

india Updated: Aug 25, 2010 01:29 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

In Colombo, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) records evidence from witnesses at the sprawling, white-washed 'Lighthouse' bungalow, a colonial era mansion used by the British. When I walked in last week to hear defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa depose before the panel, the air was relaxed, almost informal and security checks cursory.

Welcoming enough, I thought, for someone to saunter in and tell the LLRC without fear or favour why the ceasefire agreement (CFA) with the LTTE failed and the war continued for several bleeding months.

After deposing, Rajapaksa shook the grateful hands of panelists and chatted with them animatedly about the hostage rescue mission to free Tamil civilians. He denied that the government was building permanent military bases on civilian property in the north.

To me, it seemed that the formally attired, and mostly smiling, LLRC was more than half-way to "ascertain, circumstances that led to the failure of the CFA of 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter till May 19, 2009" and make far-reaching suggestions.

But sadly not all were convinced. "The CFA had no logical connection with the war and its causes; the conflict began long before the war did. The LLRC is an effort to counter-maneuver the UN panel (set up to look into rights violations during the war)," said a researcher.

"Blame international community and United National Party for the CFA and LTTE for its breakdown. That's what LLRC will point out," said another.

I was then asked to read Amnesty International report 'Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka's Commissions of Inquiry'. Which among other criticisms, quoted the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons as having concluded that a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to look into 16 cases of human rights violations was not meeting global standard. There were "serious conflicts of interests... that compromised the independence of the Commission and, lack of effective victim and witness protection."

Interesting, but that was of course a different commission. And as for protection, I'm sure Rajapaksa's testimony to LLRC was without a trace of fear.