Monday, 13 August 2012

LTTE/TNA alliance and a damning EU statement

War on terror revisited: Part 24


article_imageBy Shamindra Ferdinando 

Head of EU mission in Sri Lanka Wouter Wilton and EU Election Observation Mission Chief Observer Cushnahan visited Trincomalee ahead the April 2, 2004 General Election. They arrived there in the wake of the LTTE making an abortive attempt to assassinate UNP Jaffna District candidate, T. Maheswaran.

The EU Election Observation Mission roundly condemned the LTTE-TNA alliance. The mission chief, John Cushnahan incurred the wrath of the LTTE as well as of some EU countries for being overly critical of the LTTE /TNA grouping. In spite of overwhelming evidence of threats, intimidation and killings carried out by the LTTE in support of the TNA, the international community remained strangely silent on Cushnahan’s report. The UPFA and UNP, too, remained mum as they didn’t want to antagonise the LTTE/TNA alliance. Interestingly, the EU, a key member of Sri Lanka’s Peace Co-Chairs –an outfit set up in support of the Norwegian initiative – wanted to take up the issue. Although the Co-Chairs should have used Cushnahan’s report to rein in the LTTE/TNA alliance. It felt any attempt to bring pressure to bear on the LTTE would be counterproductive vis-a-vis the CFA.

General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL), DEW Gunasekera says that there couldn’t have been any other general election in the post-independence era more important than one conducted on April 2, 2004.

He asserts that various alliances, both electoral and secret pacts, as well as conspiracies in the run-up to the poll meant that the outcome could have had far reaching consequences. Gunasekera was responding to our article, ‘LTTE’s hand in electing WJM as speaker’ (July 24), which dealt with one of the most controversial episodes in Sri Lanka’s parliamentary history.

The CPSL chief revealed a desperate bid made by the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga to ensure his victory at the April 21 vote in Parliament to elect the Speaker. On the night of April 20, the President had met the nine-member-strong Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) parliamentary group to solicit support. Gunasekera and the then presidential secretary, Kusumsiri Balapatabendi, accompanied the President for crucial talks in the wake of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Lokubandara meeting the JHU. Having chanted pirith, the JHU assured the President of its support to help elect Gunasekera as Speaker, seven out of nine voted for Lokubandara the following day.

A move to undermine MR

Although the entire 39-member JVP parliamentary group, including three National List nominees voted for Gunasekera, it would be pertinent to examine the circumstances under which the party made a well calculated move to secure the highest preferential votes for its candidates at the April 2, 2004 General Election. The JVP intended to deny the highest preferential vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa in his Hambantota stronghold, to undermine his bid for the premiership. The JVP almost succeeded in its plans. The JVP and an influential section of the SLFP promoted Mahinda Amaraweera with the JVP instructing its supporters to vote for Amaraweera, thereby helping him to beat Mahinda Rajapaksa in the manape battle. But the SLFPer, who hadn’t been involved in the conspiracy, through his campaign, received an unexpected boost from the JVP-SLFP conspiracy. Mahinda Rajapaksa thwarted the conspiracy.

Had they succeeded, the situation could have been different. The JVP pushed for Lakshman Kadirgamar as the Prime Minister, with Anura Bandaranaike and Maithripala Sirisena named as its second and third preferences, respectively. President Kumaratunga, too, endorsed the JVP’s stance. Had Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to secure the top slot in Hambantota, he would have been placed in a difficult position. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa prevailed in Hambantota.

Anura Bandaranaike, another aspirant for premiership, suffered a debilitating setback in the Gampaha electoral district, where he was pushed to a distant third place. The JVP’s Vijitha Herath on the UPFAticket and UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya obtained first and second positions, respectively, by polling over 200,000 preferential votes each. Bandaranaike managed to secure only 198,444. The JVP won first place in several other districts, including Kalutara (Nandana Gunatilleke), Badulla (Samantha Vidyaratne), Kurunegala (Anura Kumara Dissanayake), Moneragala (Padma Udaya Shantha) and Anuradhapura (Lal Kantha). The JVP comfortably won the first three slots in Kurunegala and first two in Anuradhapua. The JVP also had the first two slots in the Kegalle district.

However, Mangala Samaraweera won first place in the Matara electoral district. JVP’s Ajith Kumara won the highest number of preferences in Galle, while Ms Sujatha Alahakoon, too, received the most number of preferences in Matale. She was the top female candidate fielded by the JVP. In Colombo, the JVP’s Wimal Weerawansa polled the most number of preferences for the UPFA, while UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe came first comfortably.

Secret pacts

Electoral alliances and secret pacts dominated the period up to the April 2 general election. But, none could be as diabolical as the understanding between the LTTE and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which came into existence in 2001. The formation of the grouping comprising members from the ITAK, ACTC, TULF, EPRLF and TELO was meant to strengthen the LTTE’s interests both here and abroad in keeping with its battlefield strategy. The TNA played its part well.

The LTTE’s attempt to influence Parliament by helping the UNP to help elect its man at the April 2 general election should be studied thoroughly. The intelligence services had examined the LTTE/TNA alliance with special emphasis on operations undertaken by the TNA on behalf of the LTTE, during eelam war IV (2006-2009).

A statement issued by the TNA in the run-up to the April 2 general election highlighted its alliance with the LTTE. Unfortunately, the UPFA failed to exploit the environment to its political advantage. It simply ignored the rapidly developing situation. The TNA declared: "Accepting the LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of ‘Tamil Eelam’ Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representative of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers’ struggle with honesty and steadfastness. Let us endeavour determinedly, collectively as one group, one nation, one country, transcending race and religious differences, under the leadership of the LTTE, for a life of liberty, honour and justice for the Tamil people."  

The TNA didn’t take notice of what was going on under the very nose of the Norwegians and the Scandinavian truce monitoring mission. The LTTE was engaged in a massive recruitment campaign besides attempts to smuggle in arms to replenish its depleted arsenal. The interception and destruction of two floating warehouses off Mullaitivu in March and June 2003 by the Sri Lankan Navy didn’t discourage the LTTE from smuggling in equipment in trawlers. The TNA didn’t bother at least to request the LTTE to control some of its activities. Instead, it publicly pledged its support to the LTTE leadership and its efforts to divide the country on ethnic lines. The LTTE/TNA alliance made war inevitable, though the UPFA failed to comprehend the impending danger. Following the UNP strategy, the UPFA, too, pledged its commitment to the Norwegian peace initiative shortly after the April 2 general election. In its haste to persuade the LTTE to return to the negotiating table, the UPFA didn’t even bother to comment on the unprecedented TNA statement. The UPFA remained silent. President Kumaratunga was wary of confronting the TNA. The UPFA took up the position that an understanding with the TNA was necessary to bring back the LTTE to the negotiating table.

Both major parties, the SLFP led UPFA and the UNP-led UNF, accepted the TNA as the LTTE’s mouthpiece. The TNA wielded immense power, with the Colombo-based diplomatic community bending over backwards to appease the group in spite of it openly representing the LTTE. The TNA had access to any Western embassy in Colombo as it propagated LTTE ideals at every level. Both TNA bigwigs and representatives of the LTTE Political Wing were guests at regular diplomatic functions, while killings and forced conscription of children continued in the temporarily merged North-East Province.

EU bombshell

A demoralised military watched the LTTE build-up, though a section of the defence establishment challenged the LTTE. Those who resented the UPFA’s policy of appeasement at the expense of national security gradually responded to the LTTE challenge, with disputed counter-terrorist actions. Unfortunately, the government failed in its duty. Had it realised the importance of a statement issued by the EU Election Observation Mission, which explicitly dealt with the TNA/LTTE alliance, it could have been used both here and abroad. Perhaps, only The Island took up the issues raised in the EU report with the LTTE/TNA alliance and its implications being discussed editorially on several occasions.

The EU report released on Jun 17 2004, described the LTTE as the primary source of violence at the April 2 general election. The EU monitoring mission’s head, John Cushnahan, didn’t mince his words when he declared that the LTTE’s primary aim was to garner a huge majority for its proxy the TNA to project the group as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people. In fact, the EU endorsed what TULF chief V. Anandasangaree had been saying throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, the then government, the international community and even the Nordic truce monitoring mission didn’t take any notice. Anandasangaree was ignored. The UNP refused at least to condemn the LTTE for making an attempt on the life of T. Maheswaran, Jaffna District candidate. Anandasangaree urged the government and the Opposition not to accept the TNA. The LTTE proxy had no right to be in parliament (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy––The Island of June 23, 2004).

The EU said: Firstly, the LTTE intended that no other rival Tamil party (or Tamil candidate from the mainstream political alliances) to the TNA would be able to claim to represent Tamil interests. A chilling message to this effect was sent early in the campaign when a UNP candidate and an EPDP activist were murdered. Incidents such as this seriously restricted the right of the parties other than the TNA to campaign freely in the Northern and Eastern Districts. During the 2004 elections, the major incidences of violence was perpetrated by the LTTE, whereas at the earlier elections, the primary source of the violence (although not all), were the two largest political parties.

DPL community divided

The EU accused the TNA of being the direct beneficiary of violence unleashed by the LTTE. There hadn’t been any previous case of a political party having an armed organisation to help it at an election. Although the EU election observation mission lashed out at the TNA over its complicity in political violence, including murder, the Colombo based diplomatic community didn’t want to jeopardise their relationship with either the TNA or the LTTE. The EU mission as well as other diplomatic missions ensured that Cushnahan’s report didn’t cause any impediment to their relationship with either the TNA or the LTTE. Senior representatives of both organisations continued globetrotting at the expense of Norwegian taxpayers. The EU assured the TNA that Cushnahan’s report wouldn’t have an impact on their relations and the European community remained committed to helping the TNA’s cause.

The LTTE engaged in a rapid military build-up, while the TNA, on its behalf, engaged both the UNP and the UPFA. In line with this approach, they helped UNP stalwart WJM Lokubandara to become the Speaker. (Lokubandara subsequently switched his allegiance to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who rewarded him with the post of Chief Minister of the Sabaragamuwa Province. The President also accommodated Lokubandara’s son on the UPFA nomination list for Badulla.)

The EU and other Western countries turned a blind eye to what was going on in the aftermath of an unprecedented split caused by Karuna, the one-time LTTE commander. The LTTE ordered a series of killings in the Eastern districts targeting Karuna loyalists. The LTTE mounted operations in Colombo too and the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission looked the other way.

The Elections Department, too, didn’t take notice of the EU report, though it was instrumental in deploying the mission in the Northern and Eastern districts in the first place. Local monitoring missions did not call for action based on the EU’s findings. It would be interesting to examine the EU report along with reports issued by local monitors at the conclusion of the April 2 general election. Although local monitors, too, pointed out violence and incidents in the Northern and Eastern districts, they refrained from highlighting the direct links between the LTTE and the TNA and how the former had helped the latter to secure 22 seats, thereby becoming a major force. Those who are interested in knowing the ground situation at that time should examine the post-poll reports released by all groups, including the Centre for Monitoring Elections (CMEV) and PAFFREL.

TULF veteran Anandasangaree suggested that those who monitored the poll should have called the Elections Commissioner to annul the results. Anandasangaree said that all monitoring groups should have joined hands in exposing the LTTE/TNA alliance (Monitors should have called for fresh poll in North and East-TULF––The Island of June 24, 2004).

The TNA remained mum on the EU report. Senior TNA members refused to discuss the issue, though The Island sought their opinion on several occasions. However, they privately acknowledged that the report would never be taken up with the EU, though it caused severe embarrassment to the party. The TNA admitted that it wasn’t in a position to challenge the EU, hence its decision to remain mum (TNA mum on EU polls terror report––The Island of July 4, 2004).