Army court clears troops

An army court of inquiry has, in a new report, cleared the military over allegations of targeting civilian locations during the final stages of the war.

Human rights groups had raised doubts over investigations carried out by the army as the allegations are against the army in relation to some incidents reported during the war.

The first part of the report of the army court was handed over to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa by Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya today.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa had made some observations pertaining to the Army and allegations made by Britain’s Channel 4 television.

Thereafter in terms of Regulation 4 of the Courts of Inquiry Regulations 1952, the Commander of the Army convened a Court of Inquiry to investigate and submit a report on the observations made by the LLRC.

The army court of inquiry headed by Major General A W J C de Silva, included Major General A K S Perera, Brigadier J R Kulatunga, Brigadier W R P de Silva, Brigadier A S Wijewickrama and Lieutenant Colonel H M L D Herath.

The Court examined senior field commanders and infantry, armory, artillery, intelligence, civil affairs and medical officers who had participated in the Humanitarian Operation.

From the evidence presented, the Court of Inquiry concluded that the LTTE had violated international laws with impunity by committing various unlawful acts inter alia, using of civilians as human shields, placing of artillery and other heavy weapons amidst civilian concentrations and illegal conscription of civilians, including children and old people, for combat purposes thus exposing them to danger, the army said.

The army media unit also said that evidence before the Court has conclusively established that the war was conducted strictly in accordance with the “Zero Civilian Casualty” directive made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and commanders at all times obeyed the said directive and even where the LTTE allegedly fired from No Fire Zones, commanders refrained from firing at such No Fire Zones. It has also been revealed that as an additional measure of safety, artillery commanders had added 500 meters more to the boundaries of No Fire Zoness given by higher headquarters.

The army court also noted that the International community had failed in their duty to stop war crimes committed by the LTTE.

It also concluded that the instances of shelling referred to in the LLRC Report were not caused by the Sri Lanka Army and that civilian casualties might have occurred due to unlawful acts by the LTTE. These acts include firing at civilians fleeing to the safety of Army held areas, dropping of artillery rounds fired by ill-trained LTTE gunners on to civilian concentrations, employment of sub-standard artillery rounds obtained from illegal sources by the LTTE, forced conscription of civilians including children and old people by LTTE for combat purposes, thus exposing them to danger.

In his concluding remarks the Commander of the Army has stated that in any war, even those fought by western powers using state of the art hi-tech equipment, civilian casualties are inevitable due to the vagaries of war and although the evidence presented before the Court of Inquiry does not attach blame to any Sri Lankan Army member, if new evidence is presented by any person giving precise information on civilian casualties, such instances will be investigated further by giving such persons the opportunity to present their evidence.

The army court will now proceed to investigate the 2nd part of their mandate, to wit Channel 4 allegation on summary executions of captured LTTE cadres. (Colombo Gazette)