Mixed reactions to new Army Chief of Staff appointment | Sunday Observer

Mixed reactions to new Army Chief of Staff appointment

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will oppose the recent appointment of Major General Shavendra Silva as the Army’s Chief of Staff, in Parliament, even as the promotion of the senior military official drew sharp criticism from human rights activists and praise from ultra-nationalist sections of the political spectrum.

TNA Leader R. Sampanthan told the Sunday Observer that the party will raise the issue at the next parliamentary sitting. According to Sampanthan, the party is concerned about the appointment due to war crime allegations against him.

Silva received his appointment as the Army’s 53rd Chief of Staff from President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday. He led the 58th Division of the Army during the final days of the war against the LTTE in the Vanni.

The recent appointment came in for much criticism from human rights groups, which branded it as a ‘shocking new low for Sri Lanka’.Releasing a statement on Friday, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) said the appointment sent shockwaves through the Tamil community, and to those interested in human rights and accountability in Sri Lanka. According to the GTF, an appointment of this nature is a message to the international community that the country cares less about its views and the consequences of its failures in implementing the UNHRC resolution 30, 34/1.

Human rights activist Ruki Fernando said the appointment sends a negative signal about holding accountable members of the Armed Forces who are alleged to be responsible for serious rights abuses.

“This appointment is against the spirit of recommendation 47 (k) of the interim report of the Office on Missing Persons, which states that members of the Armed Forces who are accused of criminal action relating to abductions and enforced disappearances are suspended, and are not promoted or offered any other office in the Armed Forces,” he said.

A spokesman for the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said the country manifests troubling signs of efforts to exacerbate and further entrench impunity. He urged the President to immediately review the appointment in light of the serious allegations levelled against Major General Silva.

However, in other circles, the appointment drew a very different reaction.

Former UPFA MP and Retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara said Silva should be the first to be appointed to the position as he was a ‘warrior’ who aided to end the long-drawn out war against terrorism. He questioned as to why Silva should be prevented from getting the position.

As for the allegations from various groups he said, “Who are these Human Rights activists? Where were they when 300,000 innocent Tamils were used as human shields or 3,000 soldiers used as cannon fodder by the LTTE?”

He said the intention of the groups crying out against the appointment is dubious, and the Army, that led a rescue mission of 295,000 people who were held hostage by the LTTE, has more right to speak about the Tamil community than the human rights groups who questioned the new appointment.

Retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne said the appointment was the correct decision.

“Silva is an energetic Commander who can work hard for the betterment of soldiers and officers. He can, no doubt, improve their capabilities in many ways,” Gunarathne said adding that Silva is well experienced for the position as he was involved in the war from the beginning till the end.

The report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka on March 31, 2011 accused the Army’s 58 and 57 Divisions of involvement in major violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Regarding the ‘white flag’ case it adds, “Both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Defence Secretary provided assurances that their (LTTE) surrender would be accepted. These were conveyed by intermediaries to the LTTE leaders, who were advised to raise a white flag and walk slowly towards the army.

Around 6.30am on May 18, 2009, Head of the LTTE political wing Nadesan and Head of the Tiger Peace Secretariat Pulidevan left their hide-out to walk towards the area held by the 58th Division, accompanied by a large group, including their families. Shortly afterwards, the BBC and other television stations reported that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been shot dead.”

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