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White flags and bullet wounds

world Updated: Dec 15, 2009 18:34 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Memories don’t fade in seven months. Presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka’s claim on Sunday that the army was ordered to execute surrendering Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leaders in May must have brought them rushing back for many. Fonseka, of course, qualified his statement a day later, taking responsibility, as the army chief, of what happened on the nights of May 16 and 17 on a patch of marshy land near the north-eastern coast.

What had exactly happened on those nights? There is little doubt that three top and cornered LTTE leaders were negotiating to surrender. Diplomatic sources had confirmed that S Pathmanathan (or KP) – then LTTE’s international relations chief -- called up top UN officials on the intervening night between May 15 and 16, telling them the rebels were ready to lay down arms. Government officials, Norway, and the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) were also involved in the negotiations.

But two days later, the three were found dead.

Seeds of doubt about the way they died were sown by the pro-LTTE TamilNet website, which said political chief B Nadesan and peace secretariat head Puleedevan were shot by the army dead while surrendering.

"We were instructed to make contact with the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan forces in the war zone, un-armed and carrying white flags…They…were called on by the officers of the 58th Division to come forward for discussions. When they complied they were shot and killed," KP had said in a statement.

The government said they were killed by their own angry cadres. Former foreign secretary, Palitha Kohona told AFP: "I told them to…take a white flag and walk slowly towards the army lines in an unthreatening manner. What I learnt subsequently is that the two of them were shot from behind as they tried to come out. They had been killed by the LTTE."

In these times of allegations and counter accusations, will the truth be ever revealed? Or will it remain as haunting memories for those who know the truth.