Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said that the international community should not take seriously former Army Chief turned Opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka s recent claim that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered Major General Shavendra Silva, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the army s 58 Division not to take prisoners.
The Minister told The Sunday Island that Fonseka caused irreparable damage though he subsequently blamed the media for misquoting him. He said that international think tanks and media would now pursue this issue much to the detriment to the country.
It was no secret that numerous parties, heavily lobbied by pro-LTTE elements, had stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka to stop the military campaign. `They wanted to give a lifeline to the sinking Tigers,` he said.
`This pressure included much publicized threats to bring charges of war crimes. However, in reality the fact that the entrapped civilians dared LTTE fire to escape to government-controlled areas seeking refuge in the armed forces is testimony to the fact that the armed forces treated all those who reached them humanely.
``This was despite the grave threat to servicemen s lives by the infiltration of suicide cadres in a situation of such mass exodus,` he said.
`Being the Commander of the Army at that time not only was Fonseka well aware of the strictest instructions given to troops to avoid loss of civilian life, but was also on record
reaffirming the compliance of his forces to same. He is only too well aware that the government forces have not violated the international humanitarian law and adhered to all accepted international norms and standards followed in conflict situations.
``From the perspective of the Sri Lanka security forces, who have won accolades for their discipline and highest professional standards as members of International Peace Keeping Forces of the United Nations, nothing could have been more disheartening than facing these allegations, coming from its one time commander,` he said.
Bogollagama said that short-sighted remarks have no doubt damaged not only the image of Sri Lanka army but also that of the country at large.
He told The Sunday Island, `In this context it is not difficult to assess the actual motive of the retired General in making this controversial statement. He could not have been unaware that he was only echoing anti-Sri Lanka propaganda of the LTTE, the very terrorist organization against which he led the army.
``His statement therefore is malicious, politically motivated and aimed at discrediting his political opponents, in his new role as a presidential candidate. Obviously, the pro-LTTE lobbyists and also some sections of the opposition have already begun to exploit this situation and working overtime to make use of the statement by the retired Army Commander to embarrass the country and the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.`(SF)