Military Matters


History does repeat itself!

On January 1, 2002, then UNP General Secretary and Minister Gamini Atukorale (50) mysteriously passed away in his sleep. His death came amidst allegations that he was opposed to certain individuals close to the leadership.

No doubt, it was an inauspicious start for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Front (UNF) government, bent on forging a political solution to the ethnic conflict. Wickremesinghe undertook this mission after the LTTE routed the Army in several places and successfully attacked the country’s only international airport and the adjacent Air Force base in Katunayake, and downed Pucaras and Avros in Eelam War III. In his own words, he studied the defects of previous negotiations to make this attempt successful.

By the time Wickremesinghe took over, the country had registered a negative growth for the first time since independence.
Like Atukorale, the UNF government was unceremoniously despatched by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose term was cut short by a year, courtesy a determination by the Supreme Court presided over by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva. So retribution does follow!

The beneficiary was none other than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is now inclined to offer the post of primus inter pares to a prominent legal luminary in the next cabinet reshuffle. Gratitude, it seems, is a new value, to be cherished in politics, which, no doubt, make strange bedfellows.

Six years later, the vociferous Tamil UNP MP Thiyagarajah Maheswaran, who spoke on behalf of the rights of his minority community, on abductions, mass arrests and other human rights violations had his life snuffed out on January 1, 2008.
Barely two months after an inauspicious start, Wickremesinghe signed a bold Norwegian-structured Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in the shortest month—February 2002.

Two weeks after Maheswaran’s killing, the inauspicious start to the year continues as the CFA is set to get abrogated on January 16. The Rajapaksa regime played the role of undertaker to administer the last rites to the CFA, which will end up as yet another aborted pact between the Sinhalese and Tamils. This agreement takes added significance as it was backed by powerful nations and had the blessings of the larger international community.

For want of an agreement
Despite the many hiccups in the peace process, world leaders saluted the parties for sticking to the CFA. The CFA that was defunct de facto, was made defunct de jure, by this act of the government.
Ushered in by the UNF, the CFA stood a good six years, notwithstanding many hiccups. It was destined to die a natural death, but euthanasia was preferred.

Acceding to the JVP request to abrogate the CFA, the SLFP will throw overboard Wickremesinghe’s CFA. Ironically, the Rajapaksa regime would embrace the UNF leader’s uncle J.R. Jayewardene’s 13th Amendment that included the provincial council (PC) system, which, the SLFP and the JVP bitterly opposed in 1987. The same two parties unprincipally contested and occupied all the PCs barring the North and East justifying further the need for devolution at the periphery for the minority parties. Given a chance, these parties would prefer, through subtle colonisation, Sinhala control in the east as well.

The JVP went before the Supreme Court and got the predominantly Tamil-speaking provinces de-merged throwing over-board the concept of asymetrical devolution.

How much bloodshed the JVP orchestrated on account of the 13th Amendment, which was also opposed by UNP Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. The same Premadasa regime got the forces to massacre, not just JVP members, but other Sinhala youths on suspicion. The cruel counter subversive operations against the Sinhalese in the late 80s, and the human rights violations in two decades of separatist war make the state a barbaric one. No doubt, the state had a duty to prevent the overthrow of the democratically elected government and prevent secession in the separatist war.

But, that does not and should not prevent the government from reaching a political solution to the ethnic conflict.
On the instigation of the LTTE, President Premadasa unceremoniously ordered the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) out of the country. The country has been paying bitterly at the hands of India, for this act of indiscretion.

On the instigation of the JVP, President Rajapaksa is now unceremoniously ordering the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), by abrogating the CFA. The country is likely to pay bitterly for this act of indiscretion, too.

Regional loyalties
The LTTE, despite its manifold CFA violations, did not want to draw flak from the international community that backed the CFA to the hilt. While India cares less for the CFA, which is an agreement between a banned organisation and the Government of Sri Lanka, its External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has insisted that a military solution was not in order.
The CFA and the peace process, however, gave the Indians a bit of a headache, as it continuously draws the Western powers too close to Sri Lanka.

The war too has brought India’s traditional enemies, Pakistan and China, closer to Lanka, which lies in its underbelly.
China seems to be providing weapons to the LTTE indirectly (perhaps through North Korea) as weapons recovered tallied in serial numbers.

India is vary of these developments and is keen to remain close to the administration. So, whether it is peace or war, India will keep close tabs on Lanka, vis-à-vis the big powers and the not so friendly nations.
On the other hand, the Western world and Japan is getting jittery over the gravitation of Sri Lanka towards Iran and China. While the US is unhappy about the recent visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Iran, Japan is disturbed by the administration’s links to China, its arch rival.

Speaking with forked tongue
In fact, President’s recent visit to Japan proved very unsuccessful. Much of what was proclaimed in the State media was not pledged. In fact, Japanese Government leaders gave the President a strong, clear message. In fact, the President had informed that a political package would be offered to the LTTE, and Japan Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi was planning to come down to deliver the message to the LTTE.

The President had a different message for the 10,000 odd pro-JVP Sinhalese community. He said he would defeat the LTTE militarily. A sizeable number are married to Japanese women and settled down.

With the latest developments, the Japanese government has cancelled an Akashi visit and all assistance to the north and east. However, Japan, would continue aid to the rest of the country, where there is stability.

But, the World Bank and the IMF are contemplating cutting down aid on account of the recent changes in policy and the pursuit of a perceived military solution, as against a political solution. The US and EU have influence over the two Bretton Woods institutions likely to do the bidding of these powerful countries.

Last week, the US suspended Defencse Export Licences for Sri Lanka, despite last-ditch diplomatic efforts to influence the State Department.

“In accordance with the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programmes Appropriations Act 2008, effective December 26, 2007, it is the policy of the United States to deny applications for licences and other approvals to export or otherwise transfer defence articles and services to Sri Lanka. Despite lobbying, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US Government organisation, also decided to de-list Sri Lanka from its 2008 funding list. Even though the CFA was called off, the US was able to get the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Sri Lanka signed, a feat it could not achieve during the UNF administration as India opposed it. Through the Indo-Lanka accord, the Indians secured certain concessions in Trincomalee.

The representatives of the Co-chairs of US, Japan, EU and facilitator Norway would through a teleconference review the situ next week. Foreign Minister Bogollagama has informed the envoys of the Co-Chairs here that the government was committed to a political settlement and that Norway would continue as facilitator.

No valid reason was adduced for the abrogation, except that the LTTE violated the CFA. Prior to that meeting, the envoys of the Co-Chairs met separately. Ridding the north east of SLMM monitors signals an intention to intensify war. Up to six weeks back, the government’s military releases were couched in diplomatic language. All military action was announced as retaliatory strikes by the army and navy or pre-emptive strikes by the air force. Sensing a military victory, the government has thrown caution to the wind. While there seems to be still resistance from the Mannar front, the military has the upper hand in Vavuniya as it is pushing forward. It is likely that a new front would be opened in Weli Oya, soon.

Bogollogama met ambassadors of the larger international community as well as representatives of the INGOs. He met Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad and his No. 2 Manickkam. Like when Rajapaksa took oaths as President, he has again gravitated to India, which however is demanding a reasonable home-grown political solution. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has been invited to grace Sri Lanka’s Diamond Jubilee independence celebrations next month, would not make it as there isn’t much time to arrange the visit.


Tamil MPs: Live and let die

Silencing a Tamil politician from the catchall opposition United National Party, sends a dangerous message to Tamils. Either you toe the administration line or pay with your life.

What an inauspicious way to kick of the very year the country celebrates its diamond jubilee of independence.
There is no room for overstepping your mark, in your campaign for the rights of Tamils, seems to be the underlying message in the killing of G.G. Ponnambalam (Jnr.), Joseph Pararajasingham and Nadaraja Raviraj.

The killing of Maheswaran, while worshipping at the Kotahena Shree Ponnambalavaneswarar Sivan temple, constructed by Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, a freedom fighter for independence, is also symbolic.

G.G. Ponnambalam (Snr.) was part of the first post independent cabinet that sanctioned the disenfranchisement of Indian Tamils.
Tamil politicians have few choices in majority rule.

In the first quarter of independence, they would join the bandwagon and let the majority have its way. Others of the Chelvanayagam ilk, would oppose the government, fight for minority rights, but get away in the pre-separatist war phase.
In the second quarter, violence began with the killing of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Durayappa, by none other than LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, on July 27, 1975.

Prabhakaran was sending a powerful message that either you be on his side or side with the Sinhalese and face death at his organisation’s hands.

After the failure of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact and the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), in the mid seventies, in the run-up to the 1977 landmark general election, promised a separate State in their election manifesto- the famous Vaddukodai resolution. The party, not only received a democratic endorsement of its policy, but ended up as the chief opposition party to the all-powerful UNP, which brought in the sixth Amendment and vowed to militarily defeat separatism.

Vaddukodai MP A. Thiagarajah was murdered on May 25, 1981 and on September 3, 1985 Kopay MP K. Alalasunderam and Manipay MP V. Dharmalingam were killed.
The military effort to defeat terrorsim failed in the 80s and that led to the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord signed on July 29, 1987.

In the immediate post Indo-Lanka Peace Accord era, 13 years after Prabhakaran eliminated Durayappa, he got his successor Sarojini Yogeswaran on May 17, 1998 and followed it up with her successor, Ponnuvhurai Sivapalan, four months later on September 11. In the interim, he had Jaffna MP S. Shanmuganadan killed on July 15, that year.

On May 21, 1991, the LTTE killed the very protagonist of the Accord, ex Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, fearing he would come to power at the next election and deal with the organisation appropriately, for failing to make it work, after an initial, but reluctant agreement. Sri Lankan Minister Gamini Dissanayake, who backed the Accord on behalf of President Jayewardene, was also killed three years later, during the Presidential elections.

During the Premadasa-LTTE Hilton talks, Prabhakaran silenced the MPs from the principal Tamil party, the TULF. TULF General Secretary Appapillai Amirthalingham and Jaffna MP V. Yogeswaran were shot dead in Colombo on July 13, 1989. He ended up silencing President Premadasa at the tail end of his first term on May 1, 1993.

By 1990, the LTTE was slowly spreading its tentacles of elimination of Tamil and Muslim representatives in the East. On May 7, that year it killed Batticaloa MP Sam Tambimuttu and on one single day, June 19, 1990, the LTTE killed Jaffna MP V. Yogasankari, Finance Minister North East Provincial Council P. Kirubakaran and EPRLF General Secretary K. Pathmanabha. The next month it killed Eastern Province MP K. Kanagaratnam on July 15, 1990. Its intent was clear—wipe out moderate Tamil representatives to stand as the sole reps of the Tamils.

Batticaloa Deputy Mayor Thomas Anton was killed on October 26, 1995 and Trincomalee MPs Arunchalan Thangathurai and Mohamed Maharoof were killed on July 5 and 20, 1997 respectively.

The July 29, 1999 killing of Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam — the co-architect of the Chandrika Kumaratunga package was a clear message that Tamil politicians cannot afford to come up with a political solution. Kumaratunga was also targeted subsequently, in December 1999, in her re-election bid.

In its fight for dominance or predominance, the LTTE, in the internecine war in the late 80s, almost drove to extinction, the other Tamil militant groups such as PLOTE, EROS, EPRLF, EPDP and others, forcing them in the post 1987 Accord, to give up the separatist fight and take to politics. But for their survival, these groups, particularly, the EPDP, PLOTE and EPRLF sided with the government of the day and, in turn, became paramilitaries fighting the LTTE, side by side with the state military.

The LTTE’s annihilation of these groups was further ensured, courtesy the February 22, 2002, Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) that ensured the members of these groups hand in their weapons, making them sitting ducks.

The LTTE’s killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005 and Government Peace Secretariat Deputy Chief Kethesh Loganathan, symbolically, the same day a year later, could be cited. The message here was: You can’t be on the side of the Sinhala-dominated government in talking peace.

After the unprecedented internationally backed UNP peace process, the LTTE did not kill Wickremesinghe, but instead, killed him politically, by giving Rajapaksa the seat to the throne.

Prior to that, Prabhakaran, after agreeing to a federal solution, unveiled the far reaching Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals, that exceeded a final solution. Through this act, he gave President Kumaratunga a handle to dismiss Wickremesinghe’s government.

The trend of strategically wiping out opponents continued right through the separatist war and right up to the post UNF peace process that marks its end with the abrogation of the CFA on January 16, a day after Hindus celebrate Thai Pongal, or the festival of prosperity.

After, more or less wiping out the TULF leadership, the ones left were compelled to do the LTTE’s bidding, by forming the TNA and securing 22 seats in the 225-member Parliament, backed, of course, by the violence of the LTTE.

The tables have been turned and the less powerful Tamil political leaders are afforded protection by the State, which is using them to belittle LTTE’s clout as the sole representatives of the Tamil people.

It is also alleged that the military, military intelligence and paramilitaries are now wiping out the representatives of the people whom the LTTE endorsed, via the Tamil National Alliance. Hence, the killing of Joseph Pararajasingham and Nadaraja Raviraj in the high security zones of Batticaloa and Colombo. It started off with the killing of Kausalyan, the political head in the East. Even the Political Wing Leader of the LTTE, S.P. Thamilselvan was successfully targeted, as part of the strategy of wiping out the LTTE leadership. Last, but not least, Prabhakaran himself was targeted in an aerial bombing, injuring him.

For some, Prabhakaran is reaping what he sowed. But others contend that Rajapaksa is earning a whirlwind of international condemnation by his acts of commission and omission and the way he is treating the powerful international community, would lead to economic strangulation.


CFA: Warring parties’ public convenience

The CFA stood a good six years, despite the LTTE pulling out of the peace talks and the two parties—the Tigers and the military— violating it ad nauseaum during Wickremesinghe’s tenure and after. Prabhakaran and his deputies threatened several times to give notice, but stuck with it in the end.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, first criticised the signing of the CFA, saying it violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state. Using the CFA as a yardstick, she pointed out the frequent violations of it, and eventually, in a constitutional coup, relieved Wickremesinghe of three of his top ministries, including Defence.

However, she too retained the CFA.
Wickremesinghe’s ministers proudly took credit for the defection of LTTE Military Wing Leader V. Muralitheran alias ‘Col. Karuna’, saying it happened because of the CFA.

Even after her United People’s Freedom Alliance (SLFP and JVP) came to office in April 2004, after Parliament was arbitrarily dissolved, Kumaratunga and the constituent parties retained teh CFA. The JVP left the UPFA on the grounds of P-TOMS, a power sharing agreement to distribute tsunami aid. The Supreme Court, in fact, endorsed the CFA, in determining the constitutionality of P-TOMS.

With Mahinda Rajapaska becoming President, the military and the Tigers, both used or, better abused, the CFA till its dying days. The classic example is the August 11 and October 11 attacks by the LTTE and the military, while blaming it on the on the other side. As for the LTTE, the CFA was conceived in disguise, to wipe out intelligence operatives and the paramilitaries by invoking the provision of weapons decommissioning, to have the high security zones dismantled and have political offices established to carry on recruitment. They were to be permitted to carry guns to intimidate not just opponents but also innocent unsuspecting Tamils. Under the agreement, more than essentials were to be sent to Tiger-controlled areas.

The LTTE used the CFA to attempt an assassination on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and assassinated his No. 3 Maj. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, Peace Secretariat Deputy Chief Kethesh Loganathan and several others. The military and paramilitaries used it to kill LTTE Political Leader Kausalyan and others. Both sides used it to start and continue the undeclared ‘Eelam War IV’, to smuggle in arms, wrest control of territory and to claymore-mine its way to peace through war.

At the first round of the Geneva peace talks in February 2006, the government, bent on amending certain clauses in the CFA, maintained it did so. The LTTE tried to press the government to fulfil its obligations by the CFA, without carrying out its responsibilities. One of the biggest flaws of the CFA is it did not demarcate areas of control in the east and the UNP overlooked the LTTE taking over large swathes of territory here. But, the greatest achievement was it saved many lives.