by Dylan Welch
AN AUSTRALIAN citizen and senior Sri Lankan diplomat has been accused of complicity in the murders of three surrendering Tamil Tigers in an application to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.
The man, Palitha Kohona, was the international face of the Sri Lankan government's war with separatist militants, the Tamil Tigers, and played an important role in the surrender of Tamil Tiger soldiers following their defeat in May 2009.
But reports of mass killings and the extrajudicial killing of surrendering Tigers have since surfaced. Dr Kohona and the Sri Lankan government strongly deny the claims, and so far the international community has been reluctant to investigate them.
However, two international Tamil organisations have made a series of war crimes allegations to the International Criminal Court involving Dr Kohona and his role in the negotiated surrender of three Tamil Tigers who are believed to have been killed.
While Sri Lanka does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court, Dr Kohona's citizenship of Australia - a country which is a party to the court - means unlike other senior members of the Sri Lankan government, he can potentially be prosecuted.
That does not mean that a full investigation is likely, however, as only a very few of the requests for prosecutions each year are pursued by the court.
Dr Kohona became an Australian citizen in the 1980s while working in Canberra with the Foreign Affairs Department. He is now the Sri Lankan government's representative at the United Nations.
During the 2008-09 civil war which led to the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Dr Kohona was secretary of the Sri Lankan foreign affairs ministry and played a role in negotiating the surrender of Tamil Tigers.
Among those who surrendered were three senior Tiger members, Mahindran Balasingham, Seeveratnam Pulidevan and a man known only as Ramesh.
On May 18, the day after the Tigers admitted defeat, the three men, along with at least a dozen others, negotiated a surrender with the Sri Lankan army. They waved a white flag when surrendering to show their intent.
Watched by hundreds of other Tamils, the group walked into an army-controlled area. Several minutes later shots and explosions were heard, witnesses said.
Balasingham and Pulidevan have not been seen since and Ramesh was seen at a hospital months later but subsequently disappeared. The Sri Lankan government has confirmed the death of two of the men.
The request, filed by the Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils and the US group Tamils Against Genocide, alleges Dr Kohona had been involved in the trio's surrender in the days before their death.
''On about May 17, 2009, in the evening or night, Palitha Kohona communicated … that the surrendering [Tamil Tigers] members would be safe if they surrendered with a white flag raised,'' the request claims.
A day later the three men surrendered. ''Some time after 8.15am [the trio] walked towards SLA lines with a white flag, along with 12-40 combatants and non-combatants … the SLA attacked by gunfire.''
A spokeswoman for the Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, would not comment on the case except to say: ''Australia is a party to the Rome Statute and, as such, supports action by the court to prosecute crimes falling within its jurisdiction.''
Dr Kohona told the ABC yesterday the claims had no substance and were politically motivated. ~ Courtesy: Canberra Times ~