In his first public comments on last week s The Sunday Leader lead news item `Gota ordered them (read as surrendering LTTE cadres) to be shot,` on the basis of an interview given by former Army Chief turned Opposition presidential election candidate, General Sarath Fonseka, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Island that a section of the international community, hell bent on undermining the Sri Lankan State, would take advantage of this situation.
Although General Fonseka had later claimed that the broad sheet misquoted him irreparable damage was done, he said. International wire services had zeroed-in on this allegation. Nothing could have pleased them as much as an opportunity to blame the Sri Lankan forces of battlefield excesses, he said.
The Sunday Leader, in what it called an explosive revelation , alleged that Rajapaksa had ordered Maj. General Shavindra Silva, the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 58 Division not to take prisoners though a section of the LTTE leadership offered to surrender.
The former Gajaba Regiment veteran said that almost all major media groups, including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and the influential Indian press sought his comments though he did not respond. According to him, the Indian press had emphasised that he could not turn a blind eye to criticism of his conduct as it was a major issue in India. The bottom line is that even if the Opposition candidate had disputed the news item, those who sided with the LTTE during Sri Lanka s war on terror would now go on the offensive. He pointed out that the unsubstantiated allegation would help the Tamil Diaspora and peace merchants to revive their campaign against Sri Lanka.
He said that it would be interesting to see whether The Sunday Leader retracted its last week s story. An irate Defence Secretary said that he could not understand how the Opposition could exploit an alleged war crimes charge to go one up at the ongoing presidential election campaign. Obviously this was nothing but an attempt to appease the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil Diaspora and some countries which desperately tried to save the sinking Tigers, he said. According to him, this particular allegation had been directed at frontline troops, including the Special Forces commanded by Major General Silva, though all fighting formations would now be suspect of war crimes. `Can anything be as despicable as this,` he said emphasising that whatever the Opposition said people would not be deceived or surprised.
`People know that public transport is now safe and terrorists no longer threaten our schools nor will there be suicide attacks at political meetings,` he said.
The Defence Secretary said that this was no longer a domestic political issue but a contentious matter which would cause far reaching ramifications. The Sunday Leader editor Fredrika Jansz is on record as saying that she stood by her story.
The Defence Secretary pointed out that the Opposition had denied him any credit for the successful offensive though now an unprecedented accusation was being made to the effect that he bypassed the Army headquarters and directly ordered a GOC not to take prisoners. `Don t forget over 11,000 LTTE cadres are in our custody. We went to the extent of providing schools for terrorists and also allowing hundreds to sit the GCE O/L examination. We gave several opportunities to LTTE cadres as well as civilians to surrender. LTTE leader Velupllai Prabhakaran s parents took advantage of this,` he said.
The Defence Secretary said that a section of the media, which opposed the military offensive against the LTTE, was now working overtime to deny President Rajapaksa a second term. He urged the electorate to recall what Opposition politicians and the media propagated during the recently concluded war. Their campaign, he said was directed at internationally isolating the country thereby denying the much needed support to finish off the Tigers.