Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Travelling between the Planets UTHR (J) and LLRC

Published in my column in The Nation on May 13, 2012 
By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Marga in their analysis of the Darusman report says that it presents possibly the strongest case against the Government and the Army. This is wrong. The strongest case is presented by UTHR (J) special report No.34. It came before everything; Darusman’s, The Cage, Marga Seminar report and the LLRC.

In 2009 December, UTHR (J) proclaimed to an impressionable audience (Thisaranee Gunasekera et al.) that a comfortable separation between the combat targets and the non combatant civilian presence was the norm (what is usual, general) within the NFZs. This separation was clearly detectable by SLA’s technology (UAVs, counter battery radar). “Witnesses report the LTTE firing mortars from among them, but they were usually out of sight or at a distance outside the error in detection systems. In general they were far enough to avoid danger to civilians, if civilian safety had been one of the Government’s aims.”-(pp. 18)

Could such a generalization be made? Should ‘the artillery in proximity to civilians’ factor be demoted to a position of negligible importance? Was firing artillery in proximity to large groups of IDPs and civilian installations, not the norm for the LTTE in NFZs? If you read the UTHR report uncritically, worshipfully (like Thisaranee et al.) you will come away believing this. In fact you will feel like taking out your Darusman’s, turning to the 3rd core category of potential serious violations against the LTTE; ‘Using military equipment in the proximity of civilians’, and writing in the margin; ‘but in the vast majority of shelling incidents involving civilians and civilian installations, this was not a contributing factor to the death toll because the LTTE artillery was at a considerable distance (outside the error in detection systems) and precision guided mechanisms used in SLA artillery should have ensured that only enemy artillery was hit ’. But even as you write this, you would remember the Darusman account of the shelling of the famous 11th convoy, how the Tiger artillery was a full 500m away from the ‘UN hub’ and wonder about the nature of cross fire. Then you’d remember reading in page 11 of the Marga report; “The seminar panellists noted that 500 metres is not a huge distance in such a restricted battle space, and it is very possible for even a single shell, or two or three, that could have devastating effect on concentrated civilians, to fall 500 metres off target. One or two shells could kill and injure a hundred civilians, and seem to indicate deliberate intent even when it isn’t so intended.”

At this point, all would become clear. How do you show that instances of the LTTE firing at SLA from the proximity of civilians are ‘rarer than hen’s teeth’? Narrow down the meaning of ‘proximity’ and curtail its range to the ‘probable error in hostile artillery detection systems’. A neat way to puncture the ‘proximity’ balloon.

“Modern detection systems for hostile artillery have a circular probable error of about 0.45% of range ( This roughly means that detection of hostile fire 6 ¼ miles (10 km) away could be measured to a working accuracy of 50 yards (45 m). This is again a probabilistic measure, inadequate for firing at enemy positions among civilian concentrations. LTTE had its large artillery guns usually in isolated places. Civilians on their own kept well clear of LTTE mortar positions… 

The Government had the technology to avoid hitting civilians; the fact that it did so almost daily points to a deliberate intention…” (pp. 17-18 UTHR (J))

Reading that last sentence was a profound experience, because I knew that I was seeing incontrovertible evidence of deductive failure in Rajan Hoole and Co. To be able to write this sentence a person had to make three ridiculous presumptions
1) The LTTE always kept the proper distance (outside the error in detection systems) between their artillery and civilians. (They didn’t. Specific instances when they did not is given in the UTHR(J) report itself)
2) All artillery strikes are directed by counter battery radar (No.Some are only called in by direct observations of UAVs and other aircraft, as well as ground troops)
3) When artillery fire is directed by counter battery radar, accuracy of the latter is the only thing that matters to the accuracy of the former. (Wrong. There have to be separate margins of error for the artillery crews and mortar teams that do not depend on technology alone. Counter battery radar is not a fire control radar and does not control the artillery, which is also at the mercy of human fatigue, human error, faulty fusing, etc.).

Comparing the two reports the UTHR (J) and the LLRC, you become conscious that they have taken testimonies from civilians inhabiting two different planets with no interplanetary communication. UTHR(J) civilians insist that ‘much of the shelling was independent of any provocation’(pp.32), that ‘worse than shelling from the army side was regular small arms fire’ which ‘changed positions but was usually not a response to LTTE provocation.’ (Pp.61-62), that ‘In almost all instances not involving direct combat, the Army’s return fire was directed at civilian presences, something it would have known from UAV information.’(pp.17). LLRC civilians maintain ‘SLA never initiated attacks in the NFZs and return fire was in response to LTTE attacks.’ (4.271) (However incidents of seemingly targeted SLG attacks on civilians emerged from planet LLRC too; 4.106, 4.107, 4.109, 4.110, and 4.111)

From planet LLRC; “…After January 2009, fighting areas were not clearly defined because the dimension of the war has expanded to that extent. … at the last stage of the battle, the people converged to a very narrow area of Mathalan and Pokkanai. The LTTE launched their shelling attacks on the Army from these places. The Government forces retaliated to the spot that the LTTE was staying, as a result there was a number of deaths...” (4.84).

From planet UTHR (J);
2nd Week of March, LTTE’s Two Deep Penetration Missions 
The civilian victims of shelling were well outside the zone where fighting was going on. …. the LTTE fired only a little above ten shells in support of the two related operations as they were short of ammunition. …During these two attacks civilians in the north of the zone near Valaignarmadam were subject to reprisal shelling, although the LTTE’s guns (130mm and 122 mm) were generally to the south of the civilians.” (pp 45-46)

A civilian in planet LLRC had a different take on Valaignarmadam; “Another civilian who was interviewed by the Commission stated that the LTTE had gun boats in Valayanmadam area as well as heavy artillery.”(4.75)