Monday, 13 August 2012

Attempt on Douglas Devananda’s life

War on terror revisited: Part 25


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having won the general election on April 2, 2004, the UPFA called on the Norwegians to renew their peace initiative. The UPFA felt that the on-going battle between the LTTE and its breakaway faction shouldn’t be an obstacle to the UPFA-Norwegian efforts. Both believed the LTTE, which quit the negotiating table in April 2003, could be persuaded to resume direct talks, though some thorny issues remained unsolved.

The UPFA never realised that the LTTE was only biding time to resume hostilities. The UPFA remained confident that it could somehow entice the LTTE even after the group launched its first suicide attack in the city on the morning of July 4, 2004.

In the wake of the blast at the Kollupitiya police station premises adjoining Temple Trees, the government declared that it couldn’t be an obstacle to the peace process. The blast claimed the lives of Chief Inspector, H. B. Ekanayake, two women police constables and three security assistants. Two civilians and five police personnel received injuries.

The LTTE mounted the operation two days after celebrating the Black Tiger anniversary in the Northern and Eastern Districts. The TamilNet announced ahead of the Kollupitiya blast that since the first suicide attack carried out on July 5, 1987 at Nelliady, Jaffna, 240 Black Tigers had sacrificed their lives for the eelam cause.

It was the first suicide attack since the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) came into operation on Feb 23, 2002. Head of the Peace Secretariat, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala raised the issue of the attack with Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar. He pointed out that the CFA expressly prohibited suicide attacks, assassinations and attacks on political opponents. The LTTE struck in Colombo as the then Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen concluded a three-day visit to New Delhi, where he explored ways and means of revising the peace process (Govt takes up blast with Oslo––The Island of July 8, 2004).

CBK’s reaction

Many an eyebrow was raised when the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga asserted that the peace process wouldn’t be derailed by a suicide attack. The JVP, which won 39 seats, including three National List slots at the April 2004 General Election, claimed that the suicide cadre had infiltrated the city over one and half years back. UNP spokesman Ravindra Randeniya lambasted the UPFA for jeopardising the peace process.

Randeniya, one time UNP National List MP, warned that the government’s failure to revive the peace process could lead to the collapse of the CFA. Randeniya, too, didn’t realise that the LTTE had never adhered to the CFA since it came into being in February 2002. But, having lost the general election, the UNP emphasised that the attempt on Devananda’s life wasn’t an isolated incident (UNP: Bomb attack no ‘isolated incident’: President urged to revive peace bid without delay--The Island of July 11, 2004).

The Scandinavian truce monitoring mission warned that the on-going wave of violence involving the LTTE and its breakaway faction threatened to cause irreparable damage to the peace process.

The Kollupitiya blast exposed the high level of negligence on the part of the police as well as the government’s failure to adopt counter measures to meet terrorist threats. Having detected a suspected LTTE woman cadre at the office of EPDP leader and Minister Douglas Devananda’s Kollupitiya office, No 64, Colombo 3, two policemen escorted her to the Kollupitiya police station, where she exploded herself.

The following is UNP spokesman Ravindra Randeniya’s response to a query by The Island immediate after the abortive bid on Devananda’s life and the blast at the Kollupitiya police station: "Yesterday’s incident was evidence that President Chandrika Kumaratunga should take the peace process seriously. I don’t want to blame the LTTE or any other party or group for yesterday’s death and destruction."

Devananda recalls

Minister Devananda recalled the circumstances leading to the detection of the suicide cadre and her accomplice, who had been known to him for many years. It would be pertinent to mention here what Minister Devananda told the Colombo High Court last May when the Kollupitiya blast case was taken up. The minister highlighted the diabolical nature of the LTTE. Those who still believed that the GoSL could have come to an understanding with the LTTE should examine Minister Devananda’s statement.

Minister Devananda on May 28, 2012 told the Colombo High Court that he wouldn’t want a woman LTTE handler, who had been allegedly involved in an attempt to assassinate him on the morning of July 7, 2004, punished, though he was convinced of the suspect’s involvement.

Minister Devananda was making a special statement in the High Court with the permission of HC Judge K. H. Sumithrapala, when an LTTE woman operative arrested on July 7, 2004 at his Kollupitiya office, No 64, Galle Road, Colombo 3, was produced in Court over her alleged role in the assassination attempt.

Devananda identified a woman produced in Court as the LTTE operative, who had brought a woman suicide cadre into his then Kollupitiya office. The minister said that she had established contact with him years back in Jaffna and gradually won his confidence by supporting his campaign at the 2004 parliamentary polls.

Asked by defence lawyer A. Vinayagamoorthy whether the operative, a pre-school teacher in 2000, had been paid by his ministry, Devananda answered in the affirmative. He said that on several occasions he had met the operative’s request for money as she was in financial difficulty. In spite of that, she had been involved with the LTTE and conspired to assassinate him, he said.

Minister Devananda admitted that even after he had been warned of the possibility of her alleged complicity in an LTTE operation targeting him, he had kept in touch with the woman, though she wasn’t allowed to work at his Jaffna political office. The minister said that the woman had visited his office on more than one occasion, before coming along with the woman suicide cadre on July 7, 2004. "When those guarding me were alerted to the presence of a suspicious looking woman who refused to allow a body check before being allowed to see me, I knew she could be a suicide bomber. As I didn’t want to cause her to trigger a blast within the compound, I told my aides to tell her to leave the building if she wasn’t well and come back again some other day. But, I told my security personnel to get hold of her as she left the building and cautiously take her to the nearby Kollupitiya police station, where she could be searched."

The minister said that as he knew the lives of those at the police station were at risk, he had repeatedly tried to call the Officer-in Charge of the police station to warn him but couldn’t get through to him. The minister said he felt sorry for the officers and men who had lost their lives in the blast of which he was the target.

Assassin’s handler

Responding to the Defence Counsel, the minister said that the operative, now seated in the Court couldn’t have been unaware that her friend was a suicide cadre. The minister said that they had come to his office together, but sought to meet him separately. Although the suicide cadre had left the building when she was told she could come some other day if she was not ready to undergo a body check as she wasn’t well, the handler had stayed back, the minister said.

The minister said that the handler had written him a letter while being detained, explaining the circumstances, in which she was compelled by the LTTE to play a role in the operation targeting him. Responding to the Prosecution Counsel, the minister said that the letter was probably at his Jaffna political office and could be produced in Court. Defence Counsel twice consulted the LTTE handler, who confirmed writing a letter to the minister from prison, while Devananda said that the letter had been received through the Prisons Department.

During the conflict, the LTTE targeted Devananda on a dozen occasions in the north and Colombo after he switched allegiance to the Sri Lankan government, during the tenure of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Minister Devananda, who had been high on the LTTE hit list since 1990, further antagonised the LTTE when he publicly backed Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna’s revolt against the LTTE’s Kilinochchi leadership. Devananda encouraged Karuna to go all out against Prabhakaran. However, the LTTE made an attempt to blame Karuna for the attack, though the military insisted that there couldn’t be any dispute as regards the complicity of the LTTE’s Kilinochchi leadership in the attack.

The SLMM, under heavy fire for failing to rein in the LTTE, tried to sidestep the issue by linking the ongoing violence in the East, particularly in the Batticaloa-Ampara sector with the Kollupitiya blast. The SLMM asserted that the Kollupitiya blast could have been caused as a result of the battle for supremacy between the LTTE and the breakaway faction.

The SLMM demanded that the government and the LTTE stop resorting to violence. SLMM head Maj. Gen. Trond Furuhovde said that strongly worded letters were sent to both parties, demanding tangible action to avert further attacks.

The Sri Lanka Inspectors’ Association strongly condemned the assassination. President of the association, Inspector Dale Gunaratne emphasised that the LTTE had been able to build up its units due to the suspension of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and emergency regulations. "We are fighting with them with one hand tied behind the back. Politicians are acting foolishly, thereby endangering the lives of both politicians, as well as those fighting terrorism," he said.

The LTTE had never been seriously interested in a negotiated settlement to the national issue. It always believed that the GoSL could be overwhelmed through conventional military action, backed by special operations. Assassinations or target killings remained a key tool in their arsenal, until the conclusion of the conflict.

Assassin stayed at Thalawathugoda

The police were able to identify the woman, who had blasted herself at the Kollupitiya police station immediately after the they released her photograph through the print media. Having seen the photograph, an unsuccessful UNP candidate at the April 2, 2004 general election told the CID how the assassin worked as a maid at his home in Colombo. The UNPer, who contested the Kandy electoral district, said that the suicide cadre had even settled a loan she had taken from him a few days before the suicide mission. The flabbergasted politician, whose father had been a UNP minister, revealed that the assassin had stayed at his place for one and a half years. The police tracked down the woman, who got the suicide cadre employment at the UNPer’s residence (Bomber stayed with former UNP minister’s son––The Island of July 12, 2004).

The suspect told investigators that she had been introduced to the assassin by her son, who had married a girl from Mullaitivu.

Close on the heels of the Kollupitiya blast, the police arrested a Colombo-bound LTTE operative, who was on his way from Hatton to Colombo, carrying a T-56 assault rifle and 19 rounds of ammunition. The arrest was made at Ambatale, during a routine check on a bus. The police recovered a photograph of the arrested person taken with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran (Colombo bound armed Tiger arrested––The Island of July 12, 2004).

Subsequent inquiries revealed that the assassin had been a sleeping agent. Unlike on previous occasions, the LTTE had secured employment with affluent families for undercover operatives to ensure their protection until they were directed to carry out missions in support of the LTTE’s macabre cause. The woman tasked with assassinating Minister Devananda had been the maid at the Thalawathugoda residence of a UNP politician, though he didn’t know about the woman’s mission (Suicide bomber was a housemaid at Thalawathugoda––The Island of July 14, 2004).

Even after the Kollupitiya blast, the UPFA government continued to mollycoddle the LTTE. The government on July 13, 2004, flew Karuna’s successor, ‘Colonel’ Thambirajah Ramesh, in charge of the Batticaloa-Ampara sector and the regional political head, Kauseelan from Batticaloa to Kilinochchi. The government went to the extent of diverting a helicopter carrying Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattshar for a meeting with LTTE Political Wing Leader S. P. Thamilsevan, in Kilinochchi, to pick Ramesh and Kauseelyan from Batticaloa. The deployment of a twin-engine 212 to facilitate LTTE movements was the first since the UPFA won the general election on April 2, 2004. During the meeting in Kilinochchi, the LTTE demanded that Minister Devananda sever his links with Karuna (UPFA reverses its stand on chopper rides for Tigers––The Island of July 15, 2004).

The UPFA made a vain attempt to justify chopper rides to senior LTTE personnel. The Peace Secretariat on behalf of the UPFA, said that chopper rides had been provided in keeping with the CFA. The UPFA conveniently forgot how its leaders had opposed LTTE cadres being flown between the Northern and Eastern Provinces. They also opposed LTTE leaders being flown between the Bandaranaike International Airport and Kilinochchi.

In spite of the LTTE causing mayhem, it continued to enjoy the goodwill of the international community as well as the Colombo-based foreign media. Even a suicide attack in Colombo didn’t prompt tough response from those who always found fault with the GoSL for the stalled peace process. LTTE Deputy Political Wing Leader S. Pulidevan was among those invited by the outgoing BBC correspondent Frances Harrison to cocktails at the Galle Face Hotel (Tiger at cocktails in Colombo––The Island of July 18, 2004).