Networks of Informers 8 - Colonel Harun and the food convoys
I have written at length about the strange business of Convoy 11,
which took in the last supplies of food sent to the Wanni by land in
2009. The adventures of this convoy have formed the backbone of
criticism of the Sri Lankan government, beginning with a diatribe by
Human Rights Watch a couple of years ago. I responded to this at the
time, but the matter was not taken up by the then Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, to check on what sources within the UN had claimed. These
sources were doubly culpabale for the official position of the UN, and
the letters we had from them, indicated that there had been hardly any
problems for which government was thought responsible.
I continue to believe that more active engagement with the UN, the
senior leadership of which was well aware of the true reasons for
problems, would have been helpful at the time. It is still not too late,
as I have advocated, in writing as well as orally, to discuss more fully
with responsible people in the UN the strange allegations that have
emerged in the Darusman Panel report as well as the book written by
Gordon Weiss, who should still be held accountable by the UN in terms of
his contract - but they will not act on this unless we request them to
With regard to Convoy 11, the bare facts are that a Convoy was sent
in on 16th January conveying not just food provided by the UN but also
supplies prepared by the GA.
It is often ignored that, right through the period of conflict, the
government of Sri Lanka sent supplies to the Wanni for distribution
through ordinary suppliers. The role played by the Commissioner General
of Essential Services, Divaratne, in making sure that our fellow
citizens in the Wanni received what they both needed and wanted, is
ignored in international narratives, and sadly within Sri Lanka too.
Only a few people know or care about his extraordinary efforts,
working in collaboration with the two brave Government Agents, Ms
Sukumar and Vedanayagam, who had to cope with Tiger threats whilst
fulfilling their governmental responsibilities to the people.
The army has provided me with details of what was sent in Convoy 11,
with the UN through the WFP providing mainly flour. But man does not
live by bread alone, nor only on the other essentials that the UN
The GA’s convoy, as it was termed, included not only other food
items, ranging from Lactogen and all sort of biscuits (Custard Creams
and Chocolate Wafers etc) to Jelly and Bubble Gum, but also other items
which still seem to have had an appeal for customers such as Meera
Powder and Fair and Lovely. While the LTTE then was driving the people
into ever smaller areas, they seem still to have maintained a wider
Nothing of this is mentioned in the Darusman Report, which specifies
only the ‘rice, sugar, oil and wheat’ that form the WFP package, while
Weiss claims the trucks carried ‘the basics of WFP’s “food basket”,
which consisted of rice, beans, sugar, cooking oil, wheat and a small
number of tents: all that the Sri Lankan government would allow’.
Supression of facts
Again, I cannot understand why we have not got from the UN a
statement to the effect that all this is nonsense, inexcusable in a
former UN employee and in a Report that was supposed to advise the
Secretary General. Such suppression of facts, deliberate I suspect in
the Weiss case though I cannot imagine that Darusman and Co would be so
insidious, and are probably just plain ignorant, is culpable. But if we
fail to do anything about it, these lies will pass into history. The
fact that we continued to supply cosmetics says much about the human
spirit of all involved, a spirit that goes against the narrative of
unbridled gloom and wickedness that Darusman and Weiss wish to
Anyway the convoy went into the Wanni on the 16th of January, but
decided, arbitrarily, to stay on to try to persuade the LTTE to allow
the local UN workers and their families to leave. This had been
prevented previously but negotiations of some sort had taken place and
the UN Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, told me that they thought
agreement had been granted.
I do not know if this was true, or if Neil had been misled (he should
have been asked at the time if he had agreed to this exercise, since the
government had no idea it would happen and I cannot believe Neil would
have planned such improper activity).
Granting a free ticket
Both the Darusman Report and Weiss declare that the convoy did not
return immediately because it was not given permission to leave.
Darusman only implies that the government was responsible for this,
whereas Weiss specifically states that ‘goverrnment had cancelled their
permission to return’.
This is at odds with that military officials tell me, and I believe
the position of the military, that they were anxious for the convoy to
return, is substantiated by the letter of the UN Chief Security Adviser
when finally movement became possible.
He notes on January 20th that ‘We were informed that the LTTE has
given the green light that the convoy can move south’. Incidentally this
is the letter in which he informs government that ‘artillery and mortar
bases have been established in the general area of our communications
hub from where they deliver fire to your forces’ but asks the army ‘not
to deliver any artillery, mortar of small arms fire into the general
area of the hub’.
A former adviser to the Angolan terrorist Jonas Savimbi, as Chris du
Toit was, must have understood that what this meant was granting a free
ticket to the LTTE to continue to inflict casualties on the Sri Lankan
forces with no danger of retaliation. Could any terrorist force have
asked for greater indulgence?
Government promptly facilitated the return of the convoy, but Weiss
then further muddies the waters by saying that the convoy tried to go
west, with du Toit hoping ‘that somehow they would be able to flag their
presence in the battle zone as the army advanced eastwards from
A suspicious mind such as my own - which I fear our forces and our
Foreign Ministry do not share - would have seen this as an effort to
find out more about the battle positions of our forces, but it seems
that even the Tigers were not as subtle and that ‘cadres manning a
road-block’ westward of the convoy’s bunkers ordered it to turn back.
Weiss then claims that ‘recriminations broke the brittle discipline
of the international staff’, a statement that merits further
I am sorry then that Colonel Harun has not been invited to testify to
the LLRC, since I think there would be much to learn from him about how
efforts to reignite conflict can be defeated, so that reconciliation can
proceed apace without suffering from the innumerable road-blocks so many
people are constructing in its path.