wonders if the April prophesies had come true
- President speaks to Mangala at the airport
- UNP to keep Mangala-Sripathi issue alive
- President likely to suspend CMC
- Mahroof under fire from the UNP
LTTE’s air attack on the Air Force base at Katunayake adjacent
to the Bandaranaike International Airport jolted the country
early in the week. The air attack was the talking point in the
discussions of the military as well as in the political circles
throughout the week.
The country woke up on Monday morning to the shocking news of
the LTTE’s air capability demonstrated for the first time
although there were intelligence reports and speculation in the
media that the LTTE was in the process of building an air
capability using small-lightweight aircraft.
By strange coincidence several VIPs were also present at the
Airport on the day of the attack. Opposition Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe arrived in the country from Bangkok after
celebrating his 58th birthday in Phuket with wife Maitree and
several other close friends. The Opposition Leader arrived in a
Cathay Pacific flight sometime before the LTTE attack. However,
Wickremesinghe had left the Airport by the time the attack took
place. An Editor of a newspaper and a well known female
journalist, close to the Opposition Leader, who were also in
Phucket to celebrate Wickremesinghe’s birthday, arrived at
Katunayake shortly after Wickremesinghe left. The explosion at
the Katunayake Air Force base took place a few minutes later.
When UNP’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Ravi Karunanayake
telephoned Mr. Wickremesinghe, in the dead of the night to
inform him of the attack at Katunayake SLAF base, Mr
Wickremesinghe was alarmed and told him that he had just
returned from the airport. However, Karunanayake explained to
Mr. Wickremesinghe that the alleged attack by the ‘Air Tigers’
had taken place after Mr. Wickremesinghe left the air port.
It was a rare coincidence that some important people were at the
Bandaranaike International Air Port that night including
Minister A.H.M. Fowzie and deposed Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Petroleum Minister A.H.M. Fowzie was expected to leave for Egypt
for an Islamic conference. But the person who was most affected
due to the uneasy situation that arose following the attack was
non other than former minister Mangala Samaraweera. The former
minister is under the political spotlight at the moment.
Samaraweera was leaving to Singapore with his mother Khema
Samaraweera who was expected to receive medical treatment.
Samaraweera who is used to traveling through the VIP gates was
seen pushing his mother on a wheel chair and proceeding through
normal channels this time around.
Samaraweera and his mother had almost boarded the flight to
Singapore when the incident took place and the entire airport
was in panic. Passengers were immediately instructed to lie on
the ground and brace themselves. Samaraweera accompanying his
elderly mother had to first move her wheelchair near a wall for
safety and thereafter take precautionary measures.
Expected to board the same flight as Samaraweera was a close
friend of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Rohan Welivita. He phoned
the President as the events were unfolding and informed him that
Mangala Samaraweera was also there with his mother. The
President who was unable to get through to Samaraweera’s phone
had asked Welivita to hand over his phone to Samaraweera. The
President spoke with Samaraweera for some time and inquired
after his safety and how he was. Thereafter the President spoke
to Mrs. Khema Samaraweera as well.
The President was also in contact with Airport authorities
instructing them to bring the situation back to normal. After
the initial flights arriving to the country were diverted to
airports in India, authorities were able to commence operations
at the airport by 3 am.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa also contacted JVP parliamentarian
Wimal Weerawansa soon after he heard of the LTTE attack on the
Katunayake Air force Base.
“Wimal, did you hear of the attack,” the President asked
The JVP leaders were already discussing about the incident. JVP
Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, Parliamentarians Tilvin Silva,
Wimal Weerawansa, and Anura Kumara Dissanayake were at the
“But the air force has not suffered a big damage” the president
went on to say.
“What matters is how they returned to Killinochchi after the
attack” said Wimal Weerawansa.
“It is just the matter that concerns me. I will take stern
action on this. However, I want to meet the party leaders and
explain to them about the situation,” the President said.
Wimal Weerawansa said it was a welcome move.
The President had also spoken to Jeyaraj Fernandopulle who
briefed him from his residence in Welihena, Kochchikade of what
was going on at Katunayake. He said that he had heard the sound
of guns but there was silence shortly afterwards.
The threat to the country’s sovereignty and the political
implications arising from the existence of an LTTE air
capability have seen political parties airing various views
blaming each other for letting the LTTE build up such a force.
The government holding a press conference on the very afternoon
of the attack was quick to blame the UNP and the Ceasefire
Agreement for the LTTE’s air capability. The UNP too refuting
the allegations and citing intelligence reports pointed out that
the LTTE had acquired parts of the airplane and built the
runaway during the previous People’s Alliance regime. The UNP
also called on the President and the government to resign on the
inability to prevent the air attack
Thirteen political parties met with the President for a
discussion on Monday evening regarding the attack and the future
action the government should take to face the LTTE’s air threat.
The JVP was critical of the government and the Air Force for
failing to prevent the LTTE from attacking the Air Force base
and thereafter letting the LTTE aircraft to escape. JVP leader
Somawansa Ameresinghe posed many questions regarding the
military misadventure. UNP dissidents, Public administration and
Home Affairs Minister Karu Jayasuriya and Tourism Minister
Milinda Moragoda wanted clarifications made on the matter when
former Air Force Commander and Chief of Defence Staff Donald
Perera said that they did not have enough equipment to monitor
He said that the radar system acquired by the Air Force from
India was not sufficient to detect low flying aircraft. The
President more or less defended the armed forces in the face of
the JVP criticism. The President said that the terrorists were
not able to fulfill their targets because of the diligence of
the Air Force and the security forces. “Everyone should pay
attention to those who are trying to give false interpretations
to the effort in defeating terrorism. By now we have done a lot
to rid people of terrorism and usher in peace. We believe that
all of us should work in unison to bring a solution to this
problem. Criticizing the security forces is an obstacle to this
task,” the President said.
The President also met Editors of national newspapers to explain
the present situation, particularly in the light of the LTTE air
attack. The President who was speaking freely with the Editors
said with a smile on his face that when he heard about an
explosion at the airbase early Monday morning, he had wondered
for a moment whether the April prophesies that many politicians
were expecting had come true. “There are April Queens,” he said
with a laugh and added: “Lets see what happens.” The President
was referring to certain astrological beliefs that have come to
take precedence among many politicians in the country of late
that several vital political changes are going to take place
after a planetary change in mid-April.
Addressing the Editors he said that the Air Force has enough air
power to neutralize LTTE’s air capability. “This LTTE air
capability is a new phenomenon. It is a new phenomenon in
international terrorism as well and brings about a new aspect to
terrorism,” he said.
Speaking about how the international media reported on the
incident President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that that CNN and BBC
had said that the Airport had been attacked when in fact it was
the Air Force base that had been attacked by the LTTE. The
President had called the local correspondent of CNN early in the
morning and requested him to correct the report. But the same
report had been used in the news bulletin at eight o’clock as
The President asked the editors to give a fair and balanced view
of what is taking place. He made a request not to discourage the
security forces since things have reached a critical stage.
“Anyone is free to criticise me and my brothers. But when
criticising the security forces it should be done with care,” he
On the arrest and release of Maubima journalist Munisami
Parameswari, the President said that it had been done on the
information available at the time. “We did not know who
Parameswari was. But when her accomplice was a suicide bomber it
was natural for the police investigators to arrest her,” he said
and added that both Sinha Ratnatunga and Victor Ivan had called
him regarding the issue and queried whether there was any
evidence available against her. The President went on to say
that there were no threats against the journalists but the
government has to check on situations arising from security
issues. “If I don’t take precaution then you would question me,”
The President also said that he had called Mangala Samaraweera
on the day of the attack since he heard from the airport that
Samaraweera was waiting to board a flight that day. He said that
he spoke with Samaraweera’s mother too.
President Rajapaksa said that he did not have any problem with
Samaraweera but that Samaraweera should withdraw the statement
he made that an abduction takes place every five hours in the
country. “I do not have anything against Samaraweera but as the
foreign minister he should defend the country and not create
more problems,” he noted. The President also noted that there is
no truth in what Samaraweera had said referring to abductions
Speaking about Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, President Rajapaksa said
that he was in the possession of a letter sent by a person with
an article published in the Sunday Leader newspaper sometime ago
with serious allegations leveled against Sooriyarachchi. “I have
put it aside as the person who sent the letter had also sent it
to the CID. I do not have to do anything since the person who
sent it had done the needful by sending it to the CID,” he said.
The newspaper article referred to by the President was written
by Fredrika Jansz titled “Sripathi’s dirty secrets” and appeared
on June 5 (Sunday)2005. In the newspaper article the wife of one
of Sooriyarachchi’s slain bodyguards, had made serious
allegations against him in connection with the death of her
The President also told the editors that although there were
several attacks on the airport and the SLAF base in 2001 when
Chandrika Kumaratunga was president there was nobody at that
time who called for her resignation as well as the resignation
of the Defense Ministry Secretary.
The magnitude of the damage was huge but the opposition was
“mum” the President said.
He said it was Lakshman Kadirgamar, the former minister of
Foreign Affairs, who brought to the notice of the international
community of LTTE’s air capability and told the whole world that
it was a dangerous phenomenon.
But when someone queried from the President why Foreign Minister
Rohitha Bogollagama down played the whole issue when he met with
the foreign correspondents, the President said that this was
untrue and added that Bogollagama had chosen his words
Besides all these, the President was preoccupied with the idea
of resolving the ethnic crisis in the country once and for all.
The government is under obligation to the international
community to put forward its proposals for a peaceful resolution
to the ethnic crisis before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year
festival which will be celebrated on April 13 and 14. The
government’s proposals are likely to come in the form of SLFP
proposals and are likely to be tabled at the All Party
The President’s view on a resolution to the ethnic conflict is
that despite him being elected on the vote of the Sinhala people
he would put forward a reasonable solution. He was of the
opinion that almost all Tamils other than a few friends had
preferred the UNP to the PA. His thinking is that in the future
too even if he grants a solution to the ethnic problem the
Tamils would not vote for him.
The President had told some of his friends that if he provides a
solution it might not be popular with those who voted for him
and as a result he would lose some votes. However, he had also
said that he would be committed to the pledge he made to offer a
reasonable solution to the ethnic problem as President of the
country. He had said that the SLFP’s proposals to the All Party
Representative Committee will be presented shortly.
Meanwhile the UNP Political Affairs Committee met on Thursday.
The UNP was basically in a jubilant mood since the thinking of
most of the members was that their strategy to capture power is
in motion. The Political Affairs Committee discussed the current
political situation in the country and the Mangala Samaraweera,
- Sripathi Sooriyarachchi issue. The committee decided that it
should keep the issue etched in the minds of the people since
some feared that it would be eclipsed by the approaching Avurudu
season. Thinking that the issue would sink into oblivion with
the upcoming festive season they decided to appoint a committee
to keep the issue in the news as it has paid political dividends
to the UNP.
It was seen at the meeting that the party’s recently appointed
Colombo district leader Ravi Karunanayake is playing a major
role in all these issues and is closer to party leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe more than before. Karunanayake raised the issue
of Mohammed Mahroof leaking information about money from the
Lafarge Cement Company being channeled to the Ports Ministry.
The CID last week filed action in the Colombo Magistrate Courts
on the misappropriation of twelve million rupees given by
Lafarge Cement Company to the Ports Authority for using a land
belonging to the authority. The CID also sought the court’s
permission to check with the banks as to who had deposited the
cheque and in which account and what had happened to the money.
The courts had given due permission to proceed on the matter.
Speaking at the Political Affairs Committee Ravi Karunanayake
raised the issue and asked why Mohamed Mahroof, who is the local
agent for Lafarge, was raising such issues when Mangala
Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi are helpful to the UNP.
It seems now as if Mahroof has been discarded by the UNP given
his connections with Milinda Moragoda.
Meanwhile it is learnt that the Milroy Perera committee report
on the UNP’s CMC debacle, which has been kept under wraps for
several months, is to be made public. It was alleged in the
report that the UNP nomination papers for the Colombo Municipal
Council were tampered with by Mahroof on the instructions of
Milinda Moragoda who has now joined the government and is
holding the Tourism portfolio. The Elections Commissioner
rejected the UNP’s nomination list since there was a discrepancy
with the election laws where the person whose name was newly
inserted was under-aged.
When Ravi Karunanayake raised the issue about Mahroof, Lakshman
Kiriella queried whether Karunanayake is trying to rid Mahroof
also from the party. Ravi Karunanayake is undoubtedly working
hard to bring the UNP back into power and weed out all
Ravi Karunanayake also made it a point to congratulate Akila
Viraj Kariyawasam who was invited by Ranil Wickremesinghe to
attend the Political Affairs Committee meeting. Karunanayake
commended Kariyawasam for carrying out a poster campaign saying
“Dhooshanaya Bheeshanaya Saha Rajapaksa Poshanaya (Corruption,
Terror and nurturing the Rajapaksas).
There are also cracks appearing in the UNP with a cold war
breaking out amongst most of its prominent members. One such
case is in connection with the new UNP General Secretary Tissa
Attanayake. Some party seniors complain that Attanayake is
inaccessible and they have to go through a conduit to reach him.
One such conduit they say is former Airport Authority Chairman
Gamini Abeyratne or “Taxi Abey.”
The political affairs committee also decided to hold mammoth
rallies in the electorates of the 18 dissidents who joined the
government. Meanwhile a meeting to be held by the UNP on April 4
at Kosgashandiya was discussed at a meeting chaired by party
chairman Rukman Senanayake. Mohamed Mahroof and several local
government UNP representatives were also present at the meeting.
To show the party’s strength they proposed that a procession
should be held from the Khettarama Stadium to Kosgashandiya to
disapprove the party critics.
Be that as it may the crisis ridden Colombo Municipal Council is
now facing a multitude of problems with regard to its functions
including the garbage and mosquito menace that is bound to arise
with the onset of the Monsoon rains. There should be a concerted
effort to combat Dengue and Chikungunya when the rainy season
The President met with all Colombo Municipal Council members
last week. The President was not impressed although the
councilors said that they had discharged their functions
It is likely that the President would suspend the Colombo
Municipal Council shortly and appoint a city administrator as
the person in charge. Opposition Leader of the CMC Vasudeva
Nanayakkara is also backing the move as he feels that nothing
had been done by the council finance committees. It was the
other day that Public Administration Minister Karu Jayasuriya,
who himself is a former Mayor of Colombo, supported the
appointment of another former Mayor Omar Kamil as the Chief
Administrator of the city.
It is now likely that Sirisena Cooray, who was originally
earmarked for the post, will be appointed to a substantial
position. Earlier the UNP nominated Sirisena Cooray as their
Mayoral candidate with the backing of powerful politicians such
as Milinda Moragoda and Mohamed Mahroof. It was this list that
was rejected by the Elections Commissioner.
The JVP Politburo met at the party headquarters on Wednesday.
They discussed at length on the situation that had surfaced in
the aftermath of the LTTE attack on the Air Force base.
“The government is responsible for the country’s security and we
as a political party must support it. We must also compel the
government to take right decisions,” said the JVP leader. The
members of the politburo agreed with him.
They decided to hold the JVP’s May Day rally on April 30 against
separatism, privatization of state assets and corruption.
The politburo also decided to hold the general meeting of party
branch organizations at 3pm on April 3 at the Henry Pedris Park
Meanwhile the European Union resolution at the UN Human Rights
Council sessions, which concluded in Geneva on Friday, had been
differed. The EU resolution on Sri Lanka was presented in June
last year but had not been taken up. Before the commencement of
the sessions Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister
Mahinda Samarasinghe discussed with the EU representative in
Geneva and with almost 20 other representatives from EU
countries about what was said in the resolution. At this
discussion, also attended by Solicitor General C.R. De Silva and
Deputy Solicitors General Yasantha Kodagoda and Shavindra
Fernando, the Sri Lankan delegation had taken the resolution
section by section and explained what the government had done.
However, several NGO representatives had lobbied strongly with
the EU to get the resolution taken up at the sessions but their
effort had failed.
It was also speculated that Home Affairs and Public
Administration Minister Karu Jayasuriya had also played a part
in getting the resolution differed by holding extensive
discussions on the matter with the German Ambassador in India.