The Tamil Tiger leadership had not only used civilians as human shields but also sent hundreds of suicide cadres in civilian guise to attack unsuspecting Sri Lankan army personnel (SLA), an army officer–turned-diplomat said on Wednesday.
"…approximately 400 civilians allowed in the guise of innocents conducted a suicidal attack at the artillery gun position…" Major General Shavendra Silva, who led an SLA division during the end of war and is now posted in the United Nation, said on Wednesday.
Silva was speaking on the second day of the SLA-organised seminar `Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience.’ Two Chinese companies are co-sponsors of the seminar.
"Even within the “no fire zones’ declared for civilian safety, the LTTE deployed them as human shield by placing war-like materials in the civilian held zones. The LTTE defensive positions and bunkers were observed to be among make-shift shelters of civilians located in successive lines at regular intervals in NFZs," Silva said.
Along with Silva all SLA officers who spoke about their experiences called the last battle the "biggest humanitarian mission" ever carried out by an army in which displaced Tamil civilians were rescued from the LTTE. The other refrain was the "zero civilian casualty" claim.
When asked how the SLA’s artillery gunners managed not to kill civilians when the LTTE had their guns placed among them, the explanations were not clear. “We changed our tactics. We carried out our operations in small groups and in stealth,’’ a panelist said.
Even Silva, when asked by general Ashok Mehta, who commanded the the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) for a period, about the `white flag’ incident -- in which a group of surrendering LTTE leaders were allegedly shot dead -- skirted the issue.
The army has maintained it never shelled the NFZ. But human rights agencies and accounts from eyewitnesses have claimed that the NFZ was deliberately shelled by SLA’s heavy artillery guns resulting in carnage and deaths of thousands of civilians.
Of course, in a seminar organised by the SLA to teach other armies the art of counter-insurgency, the buzzwords and phrases were “humanitarian operation”, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government’s indomitable “political will and leadership” and the SLA’s “discipline.”