Five Years on The White flag incident 2009-2014 (Part 11)
Witness 2 says about an hour or so after the surrender, he was on a dirt road parallel to the A35 highway and spotted the corpses of Pulidevan and Nadesan lying in a ditch by the roadside with soldiers standing around taking photographs. (see map)
“I instantly recognised the bodies of Pulideevan and Nadesan. I knew as soon as I looked at their bodies that they were dead. Both men were lying on their backs in the ditch.
The Sri Lankan government has produced a number of contradictory explanations for what happened that morning at the bridge.
The then foreign secretary Palitha Kohona denied there was any surrender deal and yet he sent at least 4 unambiguous text messages to the LTTE that confirmed the surrender deal – SMS that are produced for the first time in this report.
Mr Kohona claimed the LTTE shot their own leaders in the back for daring to surrender against orders. The extensive negotiations about surrender do not indicate a furtive attempt to defy LTTE orders. Three eyewitnesses did not report any firing – indeed one was with the people surrendering and was not shot. Furthermore, the government never produced the leaders’ bodies to prove the entry wounds were in the back. In other instances, they have been quick to demonstrate evidence of LTTE perfidy but not in this case. In addition, other witnesses say that the LTTE leader sanctioned surrender after 15th May for all his fighters who wanted to take their chances and cross over to the army.
The Sri Lankan military put online a web page claiming responsibility for the killing of Pulidevan and Nadesan (by the 58th Brigade of Shavendra Silva whom eyewitnesses place at the spot) but then removed it offline.
The defence secretary suggested a young recruit might have shot the leaders in the dark by accident as there was still fighting going on elsewhere. However, the communications records and witness testimony show the surrender did not occur in the dark but after dawn. Eyewitnesses say there was no shot fired by either side at the surrender.
The former Army Commander, General Sarath Fonseka, in an interview with the Sunday Leader newspaper in Sri Lanka in December 2009, reportedly alleged that the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had ordered the 58 Division Commander, Shavendra Silva, to kill any LTTE leaders attempting to surrender.
General Fonseka backtracked on this allegation, reportedly saying there had been an illegal order from the Defence Secretary to kill LTTE leaders surrendering but it hadn’t been carried out: “Two days after the war ended I learnt through some journalists who were entrenched at the time with then Brigadier Shavendra Silva that an illegal order had been conveyed to General Shavendra Silva by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This illegal order was however not carried out at ground level. I take full responsibility for what happened on the ground.”
In court General Fonseka later denied telling the journalist that the Defence Secretary had ordered the executions of the LTTE leaders surrendering.
However, in July 2010, General Fonseka reportedly implied in a speech that the army was after all responsible for the killings:
“I got messages not to shoot those who are carrying white flags. A war is fought by soldiers. They do so by putting their lives on the line. Therefore, the decisions about war should be taken by the soldiers in the battlefront. Not the people in air-conditioned rooms in Colombo. Our soldiers have seen in life the kind of destruction carried out by those people before they decided to come carrying a white flag. Therefore, they carried out their duties. We destroyed any one connected with the LTTE. That is how we won the war.”
In 2011 General Fonseka was sentenced to three years in prison and fined Rs.5000 by a court for “propagating a false rumour’ in connection with the original Sunday Leader story.
Eyewitnesses say it was not just the LTTE political wing leaders who were targeted, but at least 102 other administrative, financial, political, humanitarian leaders of the LTTE, in addition to unarmed military wing cadres and non-combatants such as children who also surrendered later the same day. There were also other LTTE figures who surrendered in the days before and after 18 May who have disappeared or been killed in the custody of the Sri Lankan security forces.
It appears to have been part of a coldblooded plan to wipe out any future Tamil representatives. The names collated in this report are by no means an exhaustive list. Almost all of those who were seen unarmed and in the custody of the security forces have never been heard of again after surrendering on 18 May 2009. The onus is on the Sri Lankan government to explain what happened to these people.
Father Francis, the priest who wrote to the Pope in desperation, disappeared without trace on 18 May 2009 when he escorted a group of about 40 LTTE members to surrender. He was a well known figure in LTTE areas and several eyewitnesses now out of the country saw him getting on a bus under the custody of the Sri Lankan military.
Even the influential Catholic Church has been unable to get any word of what happened to their priest.
Once people crossed the bridge they were herded into pens, secured with barbed wire, to be searched and screened. Suspected LTTE fighters were separated like these women fighters identifiable by their short hair which marked them out.
There are several photographs now available that show prominent LTTE figures or their family members alive and in Sri Lankan army custody at the end of the war. Those same people have either been photographed dead or have disappeared subsequently.
NOTE on Photographs: Most of the photographs and videos used have not been forensically authenticated by this project. However, the pictures of 12-year-old Balachandran and some of the pictures of Isaipriya were independently authenticated in the past by Channel 4.
Families in Sri Lanka have spent the last 5 years searching for their loved ones who disappeared on 18 May 2009. They deserve some closure.
“My son Vijayapaskaran (32) surrendered on 18 May 2009, in Wadduvakal, along with many senior combatants, who were accompanied by a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph. I witnessed my son’s surrender as well as others’. The military took the surrendered combatants in a bus, and promised me, as I continued to stay there, that they will inform about their whereabouts, once they are taken to safety. In the past four years, I have visited all the detention centres in the country, but I did not find my son anywhere. I have waited for far too long and I am getting old. I want justice for my son before I die.”
Pushpaambaal Thanabalasingham (53)
“My son-in-law, Nadesu Muralitharan (37), served in the LTTE’s Intelligence Unit, until the end of the war. My daughter, Krishnakumari (30) and their children Saariyan (5) and Abitha (3) surrendered to the military together with Nadesu, on 18 May 2009. I visited all the detention centres and I could not find my family members. They surrendered along with several senior combatants of the LTTE, accompanied by Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph. The surrender took place in Wadduvakal in the Mullaithivu District and I witnessed their collective surrender. I have searched everywhere for my son-in-law, my daughter and my two grandchildren.”
Ponnamma Kanthasamy (60)
This list of 103 names represents people believed to have surrendered on or about the 18th May 2009. It is by no means a definitive or complete list of those subjected to enforced disappearance in those final days of the war; it’s quite probable there are 100’s more we have not captured here, including the 41 additional names we list whom we believe surrendered in the immediate days before and after 18 May 2009.
The list is colour coded according to the sources:
Those in BLACK were witnessed surrendering or were last seen in the custody of the Sri Lankan security forces by a witness or about 18 May 2009 who has given us a sworn statement to that effect.
In addition, those in BLUE are 55 cases where surviving family members have lodged formal complaints regarding the disappearance of people they say surrendered on or about 18 May 2009 and were last seen in the custody of the security forces.
Those names listed in GREY are based on reports we’ve received from individuals but without sworn statements.
Those listed in green represent additional names mentioned in media reports.
Those listed as dead are people who were seen surrendering and where (a) credible photographs of their corpses have appeared or (b) the Government of Sri Lanka has itself announced they are dead.
Those listed as fate unknown are people who were witnessed or reported by family members as surrendering and/or were last seen in the custody of the Sri Lankan security forces and whose current whereabouts are unknown.
In addition, Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission stated it received complaints from family members regarding 22 people who had disappeared after surrendering on 18 May 2009 and an additional 23 people in a couple of days before and after 18 May 2009.