Transcript of BBC Radio interview given by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha. He was not shown the report, and was expected to provide answers in the programme going out within the hour. The interview can be heard on http://www.youtube.com/user/ReconcileSriLanka
Razia Iqbal: Why (did) the Govt. of Sri Lanka want the UN to go? Was it because you couldn’t protect them or did you have another reason?
Rajiva Wijesinha: Well in fact we didn’t want them to go. In Sept we asked the NGOs to leave, one of them had actually been supplying vehicles to the Tigers.
We specifically asked, and that letter is available, UNFPA and UNHCR to stay along with the Red Cross. I’m afraid the then UNDP rep was galvanised by some people, who wanted almost to blackmail us, to say “No no, if we can’t all stay, then we are all going to leave”. So the Sec Defence said, ‘Then leave.’ But the ICRC stayed right through and we have got all the details of the ICRC interventions during that period. We also have the UN interventions …
RI: We’re not talking about the ICRC Sir, if I, if you wouldn’t mind …
RW: Hold on, let me finish. The UN was there through convoys right through till January, and it’s nonsense to say the UNDP rep didn’t bother – they were very concerned. I remember my Minister (Mahinda Samarasinghe) being rung up one morning and told that the people in the No-Fire Zone were being fired on, but in the evening they sent us an sms saying their information was that the firing came from the Tigers – I don’t think they were lying, but unfortunately junior members of the UN have complained about their bosses and lied about them
RI: Sir, this internal report of the UN says that under intense pressure from the Sri Lankan Govt. the UN did not make clear that a large majority of deaths were caused by govt. shelling, and that you put the UN under that pressure.
RW: The panels of inquiry have not been transparent. We have got the letters through which the UN dealt with us and I think this is an attempt to undermine senior members of the UN. I am sorry you can’t share the leaked report with me, but recently I saw something by a Britisher Julian Vigo, which quoted young people in the UN system, and they are liars – for instance I checked with IOM about the person called Suzanne – they said there was no such person called Suzanne …. I’m afraid these people are not only determined to push a political agenda, but they are not truthful. I mean I don’t mind people being anonymous but don’t claim to have a name which turns out to be false.
Why don’t you check with the senior leadership of the UN? I have to say that the Sri Lankan govt has failed because when the Darusman report came out I personally checked – Sir John Holmes had not been contacted, except very briefly initially, Neil Buhne was the UNDP head and worked very well with the Sri Lankans, he was not contacted except briefly at the start. He can testify that the Tigers did not allow something like 600 Sri Lankan (UN) workers to leave, but at the end of the war all of them were safe – so this is hardly indiscriminate attacks.
RI: Well let me ask you about the issue that both sides in this conflict have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. What do you as a representative of the Sri Lankan govt. have to say about that – that there was widespread indiscriminate shelling of civillians.
RW: Well who are the people who make these attacks? For instance in the East, where I followed very carefully, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said “indiscriminate attacks on civillians” but their report recorded only one instance of civillians being killed and that was because of mortar locating radar. We took full responsibility and said we are sorry but we had mortar locating radar, and HRW granted the Tigers had been with weapons in a refugee camp but said they were not heavy weapons. How dare they allow these people to shoot from amongst refugees?
RI: Do you not, Sir, take responsibility …
RW: I was head of the peace secretariat, I monitored TamilNet every day and I would ask for explanations
RI: How do you account for tens …
RW: Let me finish please
RI: You are not answering the question
RW: Of 425 sorties by the air force, in only 29 of them were there allegations of civilian deaths.
RI: How do you account for tens of thousands of civilians being killed?
RW: It is not tens of thousands because even the UN report – which the UN then said we cannot talk about because it’s not verifiable, Sir John Holmes said that he was accused of suppressing things but he was trying to be accurate – said 7,000. The larger figure is obviously exaggerated, and you’re relying on people like the Times who started this figure of 20,000. They first said it was on the basis of extrapolations. When I pointed out that it was not true, they said it was on the basis of graveyards. The graveyards were looked at aerially by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and their report was suppressed because they said the graveyards barely expanded during those days. So, why don’t you look at a few facts instead of mentioning the exaggerations of people who simply cannot cite dates and times?
RI: Is it not also the case Sir that you do not allow journalists to, have not allowed journalists to report on this story freely which makes it very difficult to verify some of the things that you are claiming?
RW: Don’t be ridiculous. During the war I was head of the peace secretariat – I kept asking journalists to come in. The Indians came and reported very fairly and I must say in fairness to the BBC it was not outrageous, they tended to cite people but they always said they were citing – it was Channel 4 and the Guardian that came out with such outrageous lies and when I questioned the Guardian guy he sort of said to me ‘I now realise that source was not reliable.’ This is the source that told him there were 13 women with their throats cut – there was not 1, I checked with all the protection agencies.
RI: OK, OK, Sir we have run out of time. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.