History does repeat
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.