Lord Naseby, Chair of The All Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka, supported by Conservative Friends of Sri Lanka, held a very successful screening of the documentary film, ‘The Last Phase’ in the Westminster Houses of Parliament on Monday, February 24th to a distinguished gathering of British Parliamentarians and opinion makers. Special guests included the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka, Dr. Chris Nonis, his Deputy, Neville de Silva and other senior officials from the High Commission.
Public places for the event had been in great demand and representatives from all Sri Lankan communities and ethnicity attended the gathering in the packed Commonwealth Parliamentary Association room within Parliament.
It was the first time that an independent Sri Lanka produced a documentary about the War had been shown in the cradle of Britain’s democracy and seen by parliamentarians from all sides of the Houses of Commons and Lords. Ian Paisley MP, who attended the meeting commented that it was refreshing to see an alternative perspective about the Sri Lankan war, and this event clearly demonstrated that the international community did not have a monopoly on the truth in relation to Sri Lanka. He thanked the film-makers and event organisers for successfully challenging that the erroneous presumption that there is only one perception from which to judge the Sri Lankan war and hoped that the film would be seen by as wide a global audience as possible.
Apart from Paisley, the other parliamentarians who attended the event were Baron West of Spithead (former First Sea Lord) and the following Members of Parliament, Brian Binley, Mark Durkan, Bob Blackman, James Wharton, Laurence Robertson, Andrew Turner, Nick De Bois as well as Foreign Office and Parliamentary researchers and assistants.
Lord Naseby introduced a distinguished panel, comprising Professor Paul Moorcraft and Richard Mundy, who was the narrator on “The Last Phase” to discuss the war and current developments in Sri Lanka. Professor Moorcraft is director of London’s Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis and was a senior instructor at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College. He is a Visiting Professor at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and is a distinguished military historian with experience in various theatres of conflict in Africa, Middle East and the Balkans. He has authored many books and in 2012 was given access to the leading figures in the Sri Lankan conflict which he researched extensively, resulting in the publication of ‘Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers’, which was re-launched in Colombo last week.
Richard Mundy is a Briton who currently lives in Sri Lanka and travelled especially to London for this event. Richard, who has undertaken work in a Tsunami Housing Project, has lived on the island for more than a decade with his wife, who works for a leading Sri Lankan garment manufacturing company. Having lived on the island for over 12 years he feels passionately for Sri Lanka and for the sincere efforts that all communities are collaboratively contributing towards moving forward after a long period of terrorism and divisiveness into a new period of unity and prosperity. He was attracted by the efforts of a group of independent and enthusiastic film makers who dedicated their time and resources to produce this documentary. He freely volunteered his services as a narrator to the project as he felt aggrieved that there was deliberate misinformation outside the island both about the war and the ground realities in contemporary Sri Lanka, which needed to be challenged.
Richard Mundy gave an introduction to the documentary and explained the story of Jayawardani , a former LTTE combatant and her family. He mentioned the dedicated Sri Lankan production team who had worked on the project as a labour of love, including Jeevan Chandimal, Director, and Ruwan Kukulewithana, Producer. They had been inspired by the tragic story of Jayawardani, who had been indoctrinated by the LTTE and joined its terrorist army at a young age, but ultimately felt deceived by the Tigers, who claimed to be fighting for their freedom, but regularly threatened and killed their own supporters. It was only at the end of the war in 2009, that she and her family had to be grateful to the Sri Lanka Army for ultimately saving their lives. Her story was only one of the many thousands of individual humanitarian efforts performed by the armed services to allay the suffering of about 300,000 people who were held hostage by the LTTE, but who were eventually saved and liberated at the conclusion of the war.
Professor Moorcroft spoke of the events at the end of the war from a military perspective. He explained that in all his experience, having investigated wars in other countries, that the Sri Lankan Army conducted themselves very professionally in comparison to other armies. His observations and opinions were formed after visiting Sri Lanka and having had access to all the workings of the armed services as well as with surviving Tiger cadres. The total civilian casualties in the final days of the war, he observed, could not be ascertained with accuracy, but based on the figures of those injured, the estimate of 40,000 civilian deaths quoted by Gordon Weiss in his book and thereafter repeated by many others, including by the Darusman Report and Channel 4, is a gross exaggeration, which he confirmed should not be relied upon as being accurate.
Questioned by MPs, Prof. Moorcraft said that since the defeat of the LTTE, the island had not suffered from incidents of terrorist killings or bombings. This gives credence to the fact that terrorism has been totally eradicated on the island and that there is now genuine prospects for peace and true reconciliation which the Government should pursue. However, he acknowledged that the country faced several challenges, in particular with regards its relations to the large Tamil diaspora and the country’s engagement with NGOs and the United Nations. Turning on to other questions from the floor, the panel responded in some detail with regards IDP resettlement, the transparency of the actions of the armed forces and the need to address allegations of disappearances and religious intolerance. Professor Moorcraft expressed the view that greater access to the press would be in the long term be beneficial to Sri Lanka in maintaining the progress of trust with the international community and ultimately lead to a better understanding of the positive changes that Sri Lanka has achieved.
Dr. Chris Nonis, High Commissioner addressed the issues pertaining to the Government of Sri Lanka. In a robust delivery he stated that there was never a Civil War in Sri Lanka and that it should be instead correct to understand it as a war against terrorism. He said that people from all communities and religions lived side by side in all parts of the country, and that for example, the demography of the capital Colombo was 30% Sinhalese, 30%Tamils, 30% Muslims. He maintained that many external politicians were making unwarranted pronouncements about Sri Lanka with understanding basic demographics and that it was long and complex war story, which needs to be understood by visiting and experiencing the country’s committed efforts at post-war progress first-hand. He made a passionate plea for supporting the country’s reconciliation processes via the LLRC and appealed to all expatriate communities to work towards this goal. His appeal to the international community was for greater understanding of Sri Lanka’s achievements and stated that all communities are playing a substantial role in the economic and social progress of the country. His address was well received by all those present.
At the meeting’s conclusion Lord Naseby encouraged the audience to watch the full documentary and share the DVD of ‘The Last Phase’, which was made freely available, and to read Professor Moorcraft’s book ‘Total Destruction Of Tamil Tigers’ as they both provide a different narrative than is currently being shown in the British media. He also recommended all friends and supporters of Sri Lanka to read another book by Engage Sri Lanka entitled ‘Corrupted Journalism’, which deals with the claims alleged against Sri Lanka by Channel 4. He mentioned that the book was a thorough and powerful response which addresses and rebuts the vast majority of the allegations forthrightly.
Dr. Lionel Samarasinghe on behalf of the Conservative Friends of Sri Lanka gave a vote of thanks to Lord Naseby and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sri Lanka for hosting the event in Parliament. Professor Moorcraft was thanked for giving up his time to attend this event and for his invaluable and learned contribution. Special gratitude was also extended to Richard Mundy, whose passionate comments on the behalf of all the documentary’s film-makers was thoroughly welcomed by parliamentarians and audience alike. It was mentioned that it was great shame that the other members of the film’s production team namely, Jeevan Chandimal and Ruwan Kukulewithana were unable attend this event as there had been delays in the processing of their British visas in Colombo. The Sri Lanka High Commissioner and his staff, British parliamentarians, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and other audience members who attended this important gathering were also thanked for their participation and contribution. (Defence.lk)