Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Gujral factor

War on terror revisited : Part 99

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe signing the Condolence Book opened in the Indian High Commission in Colombo on the sad demise of Inder Kumar Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India, who passed away on Nov. 30, 2012.
The JVP in June 1989 ordered all Indians to leave the country or face the consequences. It was nothing but a foolish propaganda effort in the wake of President Premadasa’s demand for the IPKF’s withdrawal by July 29, 1989. The then Indian High Commission spokesperson Ms Primrose Sharma explained the measures taken by India to ensure the safety and security of the diplomatic staff. The majority of the diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff moved to Colombo hotels, with the police and security forces providing security (Security forces on full alert-The Island June 15, 1989).

 One-time Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral died on Nov. 12, 2012 in a hospital at Gurgaon near New Delhi, aged 92. Gujral was India’s 12th premier, heading a United Front coalition government (April 1997 to March 1998). He held the external affairs portfolio twice, first from 1989-1990 and again in 1996-1997.

The much discussed Gujral Doctrine took shape during his second stint as India’s External Affairs Minister, though his influence in changing Indian foreign policy towards Sri Lanka in 1989 could never be disputed. If not for Gujral, the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa would have found himself in a catastrophic situation. Gujral advocated the withdrawal of the IPKF.

The defeat of the then Premier Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress at the Nov. 1989 general election and the formation of the National Front government, with Gujral as its external affairs couldn’t have come at a better time for President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Had the Congress regained power, India wouldn’t have complied with President Premadasa’s demand and he would have had to face a powerful hostile power. This, against the backdrop of Premadasa’s hostility towards India in general and the Gandhis in particular, would have placed Sri Lanka in an extremely difficult position.

Former Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit in his memoirs, titled Makers of Indian Foreign Policy, faulted Gujral’s strategies. In a chapter captioned ‘A Pacifist and an Optimist’, Dixit, New Delhi’s top diplomat in Colombo during the deployment of the IPKF declared, "I.K. Gujral was appreciated for his idealism and commitment to peace. But he was overoptimistic and was willing to make compromises with other countries in a one-sided manner." Commenting on Gujral’s response to President Premadasa’s demand to withdraw the IPKF, Dixit said that the then External Affairs Minister was of the opinion that India should not have got involved in a mediatory role in Sri Lanka. According to Dixit, Gujral was also strongly opposed to training and arming of what Dixit described as Tamil separatist groups and the deployment of Indian armed forces in Sri Lanka. "Gujral did not accept the argument that if India had not got actively interested in trying to resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, it might have had to face a separatist movement in Tamil Nadu. He was also of the view that India’s military involvement and political mediation in Sri Lanka was against the basic principles of nonalignment and the stipulations of international law. He orchestrated a 180 degree turn in India’s Sri Lanka policy. There were segments of Indian public opinion which welcomed his decision as a statesman-like action, restoring India’s foreign policy on the right track and regaining the moral high ground which it had apparently lost in Sri Lanka."

Dixit said that others felt that the decision taken by Premier V. P. Singh and Gujral caused the dismantling of the ILA, leading to the failure of what he described as the disintegration of the experiment of Tamil self-government in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka.

President’s shocking move

Having won the Nov. 19, 1988 presidential election, President Premadasa set the stage for a fresh confrontation with India, at the Jan. 2, 1989 inauguration of his presidency. In spite of his hostility towards, India, no one expected him to demand the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), in a bid to facilitate resumption of direct talks with the LTTE.

The demand was made on the morning of April 13, 1989. Addressing a small gathering at Chittawiwekaasramaya, a temple situated near the Independent Television Network (ITN) head office, President Premadasa called for the withdrawal of the IPKF within three months (on or before July 29, 1989, the second anniversary of the signing of the Indo-Lanka Agreement). The announcement was made after President Premadasa had declared a unilateral ceasefire throughout the country to coincide with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. The IPKF, too, reluctantly agreed to suspend operations in the temporarily merged North-East Province, in accordance with President Premadasa’s move. During the weeklong ceasefire, violence claimed the lives of 110 persons.

India/IPKF would never have suspected President Premadasa’s plan to call for the IPKF’s withdrawal in the wake of the temporary ceasefire. The President was hastily responding to the LTTE declaration that it wouldn’t suspend operations until the IPKF quit Sri Lanka. On the instructions of President Premadasa, the then State Minister of Defence Ranjan Wijeratne invited the LTTE to direct talks. The LTTE’s International Secretariat in London accepted the invitation on April 15, 1989. The stage was set for what came to be known as the Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon.

Premadasa’s ill-fated strategy paved the way for the transformation of the LTTE from essentially a terrorist organisation to a force with a distinctive conventional military capability.

Although President Premadasa always talked of restoration of normalcy in the North as well as South through consultation, consensus and compromise, the UNP leader never practised what he preached. He did not trust anyone and none dared to discourage him from challenging India. Fear of losing access to the President’s private residence, Sucharitha made politicians and officials alike go with his thinking. The President felt that that he would be free to deal with the LTTE and the JVP once he got rid of the IPKF. He obviously considered the IPKF the biggest obstacle to his presidency. An angry India was blunt in its response. President Premadasa was told the IPKF wouldn’t be pulled out. In spite of President Premadasa pushing the Indian High Commission in Colombo as well as Premier Gandhi for de-induction of the IPKF, India remained noncommittal.

Balasinghams in Colombo

Former Veerakesari staffer turned former British High Commission employee Anton Stanislaus Balasingham arrived at the Katunayake International Airport (KIA) on April 26, 1989. He was accompanied by his second wife, Australian born Adele. On the instructions of President Premadasa, Air Lanka flew them from Heathrow to KIA at the government’s expense. Balasingham was representing the LTTE as its theoretician. The SLAF flew them to Colombo for a meeting with Presidential Secretary K.H. J. Wijedasa (Balasingham arrives here for talks-The Island April 27, 1989).

At the behest of President Premadasa, the SLAF airlifted the LTTE delegation from the Vanni to join the Balasinghams for their first formal meeting with the government at the Colombo Hilton on May 5, 1989. However, President Rajapaksa met the LTTE delegation at Sucharitha on the evening of the previous day. They discussed the crisis caused by the Indian intervention, deployment of the IPKF, formation of a militia loyal to the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF)-run PC administration in the North-East and the ‘colonisation of predominately Tamil areas’ under the auspices of the Mahaweli Authority.

The LTTE conveniently forgot the circumstances that had led to the Indian intervention in June 1987. India intervened when the Sri Lankan Army was advancing on two flanks after having liberated Vadamaratchchy in the last week of May 1987.

President Premadasa went out of his way to appease the LTTE. On his instructions, the government facilitated the return of Prabhakaran’s wife Mathivathani, daughter Duwarka and son Charles Anthony from Europe. Their fourth child Balachandran was born in the Vanni East.

Premadasa leads talks

Premadasa declared that the IPKF should be confined to their barracks in case its withdrawal couldn’t be completed. India ignored Premadasa’s call. As part of measures to undermine Premadasa’s administration, India formed a militia under the political leadership of the EPRLF to face the Premadasa-Prabhakaran axis. The so-called Citizen’s Volunteer Force (CVF) was transformed into the Tamil National Army (TNA). The IPKF didn’t realise that the TNA couldn’t match the LTTE.

In the immediate aftermath of V. P Singh’s triumph, Premadasa’s sent State Minister for Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne, to explore the possibility of expediting the IPKF pull out. External Affairs Minister Inder Kumar Gujral as expected gave an assurance that India would pull out her forces.

Premadasa handpicked his team for negotiations with the LTTE. He kept Messers Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake out of the secret process. A. C. S. Hameed (Minister of Higher Education and UNP Chairman), Ranil Wickremesinghe (Minister of Industries). Ranjan Wijeratne (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Sirisena Cooray (Minister of Housing and Construction), U. B. Wijekoon (Minister of Public Administration, Home Affairs and Provincial Councils), P. Dayaratne (Minister of Lands, Irrigation and Mahaveli Development) took part in the first round of talks held at the Colombo Hilton and Galadari Hotel (May 4-May 30, 1989).

The second round (June 16-July 2, 1989) was also held in Colombo. Premadasa included Festus Perera (Minister of Power and Energy) and A. R Mansoor (Minister of Trade and Shipping) in the delegation.

The third round was held in November 1989 at Sucharitha with the participation of Premadasa, Hameed and Ranjan Wijeratne. Among the officials present were Defence Secretary Sepala Attygalle, presidential secretary K. H. J Wijedasa, Foreign Secretary Bernard Tillekaratne and International Affairs Advisor Bradman Weerakoon. Prabhakaran’s deputy, Gopalsamy Mahendraraja aka Mahattaya joined the third round. The LTTE delegation included Balasingham and Yogiratnam Yogi.

Felix Dias Abeysinghe, a former Elections Department chief who drafted routine press releases issued after the meetings was also present. But there was no press release after the third round.

Did Army Commander Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe, Defence Secretary General (rtd.) Sepala Attygalle and presidential security advisor General (rtd.) Cyril Ranatunga resist Premadasa’s strategy?

At the behest of the President, the army provided arms, ammunition and equipment to the LTTE to carry out attacks on the IPKF and the Tamil groups loyal to India. The LTTE also received funds from the Treasury.

The President directed the army to provide tactical support to the LTTE to carry out operations against the TNA.

EPRLF fights back

In the run-up to President Premadasa’s call for the IPKF’s withdrawal, the embattled Chief Minister of the North-East Provincial, Council Varatharaja Perumal called for far reaching constitutional reforms to devolve powers to the provinces. Having met Indian Premier Gandhi and President Premadasa, Perumal called a media briefing on the morning of April 7, 1989 in Colombo to explain the urgent need for tangible action on the part of India and Sri Lanka. Perumal declared that the EPRLF expected Premier Gandhi to take up the issue with President Premadasa. Responding to a query, Perumal strongly defended his decision to call the provincial administration the government of the Northern and Eastern Provinces (Perumal says he asked for India’s help––The Island April 8, 1989).

On April 17, 1989, the EPRLF warned the Sinhalese living in Welikanda area to leave or face the consequences. Despite threats, some villagers lodged complaints with the Welikanda police, though law enforcement officers couldn’t interfere with the EPRLF (‘Quit or die’ threat to Welikada settlers––The Island April 21, 1989).

IPKF engineers protests

in B’caloa

Having decided to ignore President’s Premadasa’s vacation order, the IPKF mobilised thousands of people in Batticaloa against Premadasa’s call. Protesters handed over petitions to the IPKF demanding the continued presence of the Indian forces and the speedy devolution of powers to Perumal’s provincial council (Demos in Batticaloa calling for IPKF to stay-The Island June 13, 1989). The ENDLF (breakaway PLOTE faction), TELO and EPRLF led the protests. The Sri Lankan military remained in barracks.

The IPKF and the EPRLF administration went to the extent of escorting senior government officials from their residences to the Batticaloa Kachcheri to prevent the LTTE from disrupting civil administration.

India indicated in no uncertain terms that President Premadasa’s deadline wasn’t acceptable. Until the change of government in Nov. 1989, India remained committed to an Indian military presence, regardless of the President’s call.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Premadasa misreads JVP’s intentions

War on terror revisited : Part 98

Jan 2, 1989 Dalada Maligawa: President elect Ranasinghe Premadasa signs the visitors’ book before he addressed the nation

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In Dec 1988, the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and the police clashed with armed persons backed by the IPKF at Sumedagama in the Trincomalee district. The Joint Operations Command (JOC) and the Indian High Commission acted quickly to defuse the situation in the wake of the SLA killing five armed members during a confrontation. The police, too, killed another armed person in a separate confrontation. The situation deteriorated further when a gun battle between the SLA and the IPKF resulted in the death of an Indian soldier, also in Trincomalee. Both the JOC and the Indian High Commission felt that sporadic incidents could develop into a major confrontation in Trincomalee. They warned of the possibility of SLA-IPKF battles spreading to other districts.

Police headquarters sent DIG Mahesh Selvaratnam especially to investigate the situation and take remedial action.

Responding to the Indian High Commission allegations, the SLA and the police insisted that the IPKF and some cadres of the EPRLF were responsible for causing mayhem in Trincomalee. They cleared the LTTE of involvement.

In the wake of the EPRLF securing the administration of the temporarily merged North-East Province at the Nov 19, 1988 PC polls, the group began flexing its muscles. The EPRLF had the IPKF’s backing to meet any eventuality. The IPKF provided weapons to hundreds of EPRLF cadres as well as other groups loyal to India in accordance with an overall security plan. India wanted to establish an armed force comprising members of all groups other than the LTTE to protect the EPRLF administration.

President JRJ faced the prospect of having an extremely hostile political entity in the temporarily merged province with an armed force of its own. Although the UNP realized the danger in the Indian move, it couldn’t intervene.

 The government was helpless. But the EPRLF-IPKF alliance was going to be Ranasinghe Premadasa’s problem in the wake of Dec 19, 1988 presidential election. The country was in turmoil. The presidential election was held amidst violence with the JVP on the offensive in the South. JVP gunmen targeted election staff. In separate incidents, two senior presiding officers died. The IPKF was in charge of security in the Northern and Eastern districts, though the government deployed Sri Lankan troops and police in predominately Sinhala areas in the Eastern Province with the consent of the IPKF. The bottom line was that President JRJ had no option but to obtain IPKF approval for deploying local forces. Having overcome an attempt by an influential section of the party to undermine his campaign, Ranasinghe Premadasa won the Dec 19, 1988 presidential election by polling 2,569,199 votes to beat his main contender, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The SLFP leader polled 2,289,960, whereas Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP) leader, Oswin Abeygunasekara obtained 235,719 votes. Abeygunasekara’s campaign had the backing of the UNP.

Premadasa was sworn in as the second executive President on the morning of Jan 2, 1989 at the Dalada Maligawa.

Delivering his inaugural address to the nation, a confident Premadasa revealed his readiness to meet both the LTTE and the JVP in a bid to bring both groups into the political mainstream. The President’s move was anticipated. The President was making an attempt to form a common front against the Indian intervention. The UNP leader was of the opinion that the government could work closely with the JVP as well as the LTTE due to him, JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran wanting the IPKF out. President Rajapaksa felt he could exploit their hostility towards India/IPKF to his advantage. The JVP most probably realized President Premadasa’s strategy, hence its decision to spurn the peace offers.  However, the President didn’t make any direct overtures to the LTTE.

EPRLF-led Tamil Front takes shape

President Premadasa resented the IPKF’s presence. During his tenure as the Prime Minister Premadasa strongly opposed the Indian intervention. The President was wary of the IPKF-EPRLF nexus. The President and his advisors felt tangible actions were needed to neutralize the threat posed by the IPKF-EPRLF grouping. They considered the formation of a Tamil front under the EPRLF leadership ahead of the parliamentary elections in April 1989, a major threat. The Indian sponsored group included members of the TULF, TELO, EROS and ENDLF. The IPKF believed the LTTE could be isolated by bringing the TULF and all armed Tamil groups under one umbrella. In support of the political coalition, India intended to set up a strong force capable of taking on the LTTE. The Indian plan was obvious. The Indian government and the IPKF asserted that their operation could be legitimized by involving the TULF. The Indian operation was launched at the expense of the TULF.

The Tamil front contested the general election in April 1989 on the TULF ticket, though the EROS fielded candidates in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Vanni on its own. The EROS contested the four electoral districts as Independent Group I. It ended up winning 13 seats, whereas those who contested on the TULF ticket won 10 seats. Both won one National List seat each. The Democratic People’s Liberation Front, the political wing of the PLOTE failed to secure a single seat. Under President Premadasa’s leadership, the UNP secured 125 seats including 15 National List slots. The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) contested on the UNP ticket. The SLFP managed to win 67 seats, including nine National List slots.

Political pact amidst war

Interestingly, the TULF was brought back from India in May 1988 following tripartite consultations involving India, TULF and the LTTE. The original plan was for the TULF to participate at the first ever provincial council election scheduled for August, though it couldn’t be held as scheduled. One-time TULF MP Vettivelu Yogeswaran revealed the understanding between the TULF and the LTTE a few days before TULF leaders, Appapillai Amirthalingham, Murugesu Sivasithamparam and R. Sampanthan were scheduled to return. Yogeswaran said that they had been able to reach an understanding with the LTTE during consultations in India (TULF leaders return on Monday-The Island May 12, 1988). Yogeswaran inadvertently revealed what was going on in New Delhi, while the IPKF was waging war against the LTTE. The Indian media quoted the then Mahaweli Development Minister Gamini Dissanayake as having said in New Delhi that, provincial elections in August would entirely depend on the IPKF’s ability to suppress the LTTE.

The LTTE would never have expected the TULF to join hands with Indian sponsored armed groups. On the other hand, the TULF had no option but to join the EPRLF-led grouping due to Indian pressure. Except for the LTTE, all other Tamil political parties and groups worked under the auspices of the Indian High Commission and the IPKF. The Indian government didn’t tolerate dissent as it worked hard to isolate the LTTE. The LTTE was given only one opportunity during September 1989 to join the political mainstream. The previous article dealt with India declaring a 10-day unilateral ceasefire to facilitate the LTTE’s return to the negotiating table. The LTTE ignored the offer.

Moves to pacify JVP backfire

The security situation continued to deteriorate in spite of President Premadasa’s efforts to restore government authority in the South as well as in the IPKF-dominated Northern and Eastern districts. President Premadasa’s attempts failed. On the night of Dec 13, 1988, the JVP attacked the Welikada Prison, resulting in a major battle with the armed forces. The JVP operation highlighted the rapid deterioration of the security situation in the wake of the Nov 19, 1988 presidential election.

In January 1988, the JVP mounted an unprecedented attack on army commandos at Hungama killing three personnel. It was the second major incident since the lifting of the five-year-old state of emergency. President Premadasa lifted the emergency regulations, though security chiefs felt that the time wasn’t opportune for the removal of the state of emergency. In the first incident, subversives shot dead three soldiers and wounded five other personnel, including one officer also in the deep South.    

Bradman Weerakoon (presidential advisor 1989-1993), in an article captioned President Premadasa-LTTE peace negotiations discussed the then UNP leader doing away with the countrywide state of emergency on Jan. 12, 1989 regardless of opposition by his Cabinet and his security advisors. According to Weerakoon, the President ordered the release of 1,800 JVP detainees. After a brief quiet period, the JVP intensified attacks on the police and armed forces.

Successive attacks on the army in the south within a week after the lifting of the state of emergency humiliated President Premadasa in the eyes of those who opposed his controversial strategy of appeasement. The release of 1,800 JVP suspects, too, contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation in the Southern, Central and North Western Provinces. The police and the army struggled in the face of JVP attacks. JVP gangs executed suspected informants and supporters of the UNP, SLFP as well as left parties. The police and the military, too, hit back with a vengeance. The government unleashed death squads. President Premadasa allowed his security chiefs to adopt whatever anti-insurgency measures to eradicate the JVP. An irate President wanted the JVP dealt with as early as possible. The police, armed forces as well as death squads, some of which operated under politicians, stepped up operations targeting JVP cadres. In hindsight, President Premadasa wanted a trouble free south before he entered into negotiations with the LTTE. The government turned a blind eye to security forces and police carrying out reprisals in the south. In fact, it was part of the overall strategy. Although a section of the security establishment resented the strategy, the political leadership at the highest level decided the JVP should be destroyed at any cost. The armed forces had the blessings of the political leadership to do whatever required of neutralising the JVP.

Premadasa suffers

another setback

 President Premadasa struggled to contain the situation. Although the UNP leader repeatedly declared he would pursue the three ‘Cs’ strategy namely consultation, consensus and compromise to restore peace in the country, President Premadasa always believed that he was right. Having failed to persuade the JVP to come to the negotiating table, President Premadasa explored ways and means of reaching out to Tamil speaking people. The president desperately wanted to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil speaking people. He suffered a severe setback when the SLA went on the rampage in the districts of Mannar and Vavuniya in the third week of Jan. 1989. Troops were accused of killing 14 civilians in separate incidents on Jan 17 and Jan 20, 1989. Seven of them were killed close to Atambagaskadawewa close on the heels of gunning down of a member of the National Auxiliary Force (NAF) and one civilian on Jan 17. Troops shot dead seven more civilians after the LTTE ambushed a routine SLA patrol at Silavaturai off Kondachchi. The Silavaturai incident claimed the lives of seven. Violence claimed the lives of 16 SLA personnel, 13 IPKF and 25 civilians from Jan 8 to Jan 22, 1988. Both the LTTE and JVP inflicted losses on the SLA (Killings in NP; Inquiry ordered-The Island Jan 22, 1988).

Pending an investigation, army headquarters shifted about 100 officers and men of the 5 CLI (Ceylon Light Infantry) out of Mannar and Vavuniya. On instructions from Colombo, Vanni Brigade Commander, the then Brig. Ranjan de Silva, called a meeting with senior EPRLF, TELO, ENDLF and TULF representatives to discuss the situation (CLI men moved out pending probe into killings-The Island Jan 26, 1989).

Indiscipline among troops remained a major issue, though the SLA had been fighting Indian sponsored terrorist groups since 1983. Troops tended to go on the rampage at the slightest provocation in the absence of a cohesive strategy to deal with the situation.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Missed opportunities

War on terror revisited : Part 97


 The Indian Army during its deployment here (July 1987-March 1990) caused irreparable damage to the Tamil community.Instead of disarming all Tamil groups sponsored by the Indian government, the IPKF ended up arming thousands of men, further militarizing war-torn areas. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka never examined the Indian deployment here, which aggravated the situation.

 by Shamindra Ferdinando

Having scheduled the first election for the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province for Nov. 19, 1988 in accordance of the Indo Lanka Accord (ILA), India declared a five-day unilateral ceasefire in the third week of Sept. 1988 in a bid to facilitate a fresh round of talks with the LTTE. Although the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sceptical about the LTTE’s intentions, India felt Velupillai Prabhakaran should be given another chance to enter the political mainstream.

India extended the ceasefire by five more days when the LTTE ignored the first offer. In an exclusive interview with this writer, the then Indian High Commissioner, J. N. Dixit ruled out direct talks with Prabhakaran unless the LTTE chief responded positively to the ongoing ceasefire. Dixit did not mince his words when he declared that Prabhakaran should respond before 7 a.m. Sept. 26, 1988 or face the consequences. Dixit emphasised that the surrender of arms, ammunition and equipment belonging to the LTTE was a prerequisite for negotiations. Dixit was responding to a statement attributed to the LTTE, calling for unconditional talks.

The Indian High Commissioner was responding to The Island queries, after having high level consultations in New Delhi followed by a meeting with the then President JRJ. Dixit’s deputy, Nerupan Sen told the writer that there was no indication from New Delhi of any further extension of the ceasefire (Lay down arms for talks-India tells LTTE–The Island Sept. 25, 1988).

Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga lambasted India at the launch of C. A. Chandraprema’s ‘Gota’s War’ at the Waters Edge last May. Weeratunga asserted that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would have reacted differently if he had come under the same pressure as the late President JRJ. J.N. Dixit had been lucky that he had had to deal with JRJ and not President Rajapaksa, Weeratunga declared. Among the distinguished invitees were many diplomats, including Indian High Commissioner Ashok K. Kantha. Weeratunga didn’t refer to the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s reaction to India’s role.

The Indian move received the backing of all Citizens’ Committees active in the Northern and Eastern districts, though none of them wanted to pressure the LTTE to accept the ceasefire. Instead, they appealed to Dixit to extend the ceasefire in the wake of an LTTE cadre lobbing a hand grenade at an IPKF vehicle at Punguduthivu on Sept. 23, 1988. IPKF personnel captured the attacker.

India strongly felt that all Tamil groups, including the LTTE should join the provincial administration. Dixit asserted that the LTTE wouldn’t get another opportunity if it spurned the latest offer. Although the LTTE ignored the Indian offer, many pointed out that Prabhakaran, too, had suspended attacks. They described the grenade attack on the IPKF at Punguduthivu as an isolated case. Speculation was rife of an understanding between India and the LTTE before the lapse of the ceasefire on the morning of Sept. 26, 1988.

It was the first formal attempt made by India in consultation with President JRJ to bring the LTTE back to the negotiating table, after the launch of Operation Pawan in the second week of Oct. 1987.

Interestingly, the IPKF made an attempt to establish contact with the LTTE through the Batticaloa Citizens’ Committee. The IPKF high command summoned the BCC for a meeting at the Batticaloa Rest House on Sept. 16, 1988 to explore ways and means of contacting the LTTE. The IPKF conveniently forgot its earlier threat to members of the BCC not to contact the LTTE. Addressing the BCC, Maj. Gen. Ashok K. Metha said that the IPKF was ready to extend its unilateral ceasefire if the LTTE responded positively to the Indian offer. Metha urged the BCC to facilitate a meeting between the IPKF and the LTTE (India to extend ceasefire to get LTTE to accept peace offer––The Island Sept 17, 1988).

Had the LTTE accepted the Indian offer, it could have had an opportunity to join the provincial administration.

LTTE resumes attacks

One day after the lapse of the 10-day ceasefire, the LTTE resumed operations with an attack in the Trincomalee District. The LTTE triggered a claymore mine explosion targeting an IPKF patrol before firing small arms. The attackers fled leaving three IPKF bodies. Four IPKF personnel suffered injuries. The people of Trincomalee launched a protest on the morning of Aug. 25, 1988 calling for an immediate ceasefire between the IPKF and the LTTE. The decision to launch the first major attack on the IPKF in Trincomalee was a signal to Tamil speaking people not to interfere with its strategy (Call for IPKF-LTTE ceasefire––The Island Aug. 26, 1988).

On Oct. 1, 1988, the LTTE killed an IPKF doctor and seriously wounded five other personnel close to the Monkey Bridge, Trincomalee.

The IPKF remained confident that it could ensure security, though the LTTE would make every effort to disrupt the election scheduled for Nov. 19, 1988. Overall Commander of the IPKF Lt. Gen. A.S. Kalkat assured the then Defence Secretary Gen. Sepala Attygalle that the IPKF was fully geared to provide security for the election in spite of LTTE threats (IPKF assures security for N-E poll––The Island Oct 2, 1988).

Although the then Elections chief Chandrananda de Silva announced that nominations would be accepted at kachcheris from Oct. 3 to Oct. 10, 1988, the LTTE ordered staff not to report for duty. Except for the Ampara and Trincomalee kachcheris other offices remained closed. Ahead of nominations, the IPKF moved the top leadership of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) from Chennai to Sri Lanka in a special Indian Air Force flight. Subsequently, the IPKF made arrangements for those contesting the election to hand over their nominations (EPRLF fails to file nomination papers––The Island Oct. 4, 1988).

First recovery of missile

In the run-up to Nov. 19, 1988 polls, the IPKF recovered a shoulder-fired missile and a launcher during an operation conducted at Nallur in the Jaffna peninsula. The then Deputy Indian High Commissioner Nerupan Sen expressed concern over the possibility of the LTTE receiving the missile of Soviet origin through an agency or an organisation hostile to India. The recovery was made by Indian commandos (LTTE SAM was of Soviet make––The Island Aug. 5. 1988).

JRJ meets media

President JRJ rarely called a press conference to explain his position. On the afternoon of Oct. 5, 1988, the writer had the opportunity to cover a hastily arranged presidential media conference due to the absence of any of senior journalists at that time. President JRJ was flanked by the then Education Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe, Chief Minister of the Southern Provincial Council M.S. Amarasiri, Defence Secretary Sepala Attygalle and IGP Ernest Perera.

President JRJ lambasted the SLFP for not backing his efforts to quell the JVP insurgency, though the UNP had thrown its weight behind Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime during the 1971 insurgency. Whatever the criticism of those aligned with the JVP campaign of death and destruction, the government and the governing party, President JRJ vowed, would not in any way compromise national security and democracy. The President declared that the JVP had absolutely no popular support; it only had the SLFP’s backing. The UNP leader said that both the North and the South were in turmoil with a sharp upsurge in violence and the JVP seemed hell-bent on achieving its objectives and obviously did not believe in half measures, while reiterating his commitment to preserve democracy (JVP does not believe in half measures––The Island Oct 6, 1988).

During the briefing, JRJ never indicated the possibility of a fresh attempt to bring the JVP back to the political mainstream. In fact, he strongly backed the police for their efforts to quell the insurgency under extremely difficult circumstances. JRJ suspended police and military operations on Oct. 20, 1988 to facilitate a dialogue with the JVP. The government resumed operations on Nov. 1, 1988 in the wake a series of attacks. The resumption of government operations coincided with a major JVP attack on the Auxiliary Force Training Camp at Pannala. The attackers killed four personnel, including Lieut. Lanka Thalgahagoda. Although the attackers lost four men during the raid, they seized 447 weapons (Pannala training camp attacked––The Island Nov. 2, 1988).

Instead of responding positively to JRJ’s overtures, the JVP intensified attacks. The UNP, too, hit back hard. The JVP felt that JRJ could be brought to his knees through violence. The JVP exploited the IPKF’s presence as well as the merger of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province as a rallying point against the UNP. The JVP strongly believed the armed forces would ultimately turn their guns on the government. Although the UNP managed to recruit some members of the armed forces, it couldn’t attract a sizeable number to its ranks.

The JVP’s attempts to infiltrate at least the middle level officers, too, failed, though at one point it felt that the Indian intervention in the wake of Operation Liberation to regain the Jaffna peninsula, would cause an armed forces revolt. The JVP wrongly asserted that the attack on Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi by a naval rating at a guard of honour at President’s House immediately after the Indian leader’s arrival in Colombo was an anti-JRJ action.

IPKF causes fresh controversy

In the run-up to the provincial council election, the IPKF announced a controversial plan to form another para-military force on the pretext of providing additional muscle to the local police. President JRJ had no option but to accept the Indian proposal. The IPKF was to recruit, train and deploy several thousands of men throughout the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The IPKF asserted that the new force would perform a task similar to that of the home guards (New para-military force for N-E––The Island Nov 6, 1988). Although the military and the police realised the danger of forming another armed group, no one dared voice his concern. The IPKF openly promoted the EPRLF as its choice at the PC election. The IPKF threw its full weight behind the EPRLF to ensure its victory against the UNP. The proposed armed force was to provide security to the EPRLF administration. The Colombo based diplomatic community turned a blind eye to what was going on in areas under IPKF control. The UNP was struggling on the Southern front. President JRJ’s administration lacked the strength to oppose the Indian move to further militarise the northern and eastern districts.

The first indication of the IPKF’s new move came to light in the last week of Oct. 1988, though it was being discussed at the highest level in New Delhi. The IPKF told some members of the BCC of its decision to recruit about 300 youth from the Batticaloa District to augment the new para-military force.

On the eve of the Nov. 19, 1988 election, violence claimed the lives of two jawans, three civilians and ten LTTE cadres. The LTTE also fired at the Valaichenai police station.

The IPKF mobilised its entire strength to thwart LTTE plans to disrupt the election. At the behest of its political masters in New Delhi, the IPKF rigged the election for the benefit of the EPRLF. The UNP and the SLMC couldn’t challenge the EPRLF’s superiority. The IPKF’s military might made the EPRLF ‘invincible’. In spite of being the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, JRJ was helpless.

The EPRLF won the first NE provincial council polls comfortably.

Monday, 21 January 2013

A battering for the luckless people of B’loa

War on terror revisited : Part 96

April 2006 during Oslo-arranged CFA: At the behest of the LTTE, students and the staff of Manchanthoduvai Technical College, Batticaloa, hoist the Tamileelam Flag at the college premises at a memorial event for Annai Poopathy, whose fast unto death in April, 1988, against the IPKF, caused irreparable damage to India’s image. Poopathy launched her fast on March 19, 1988, at Mahmangam Pillayar Temple, to highlight the atrocities committed by the IPKF on the Tamil community. She demanded an immediate unconditional ceasefire between the LTTE and the IPKF. She died on April 19th, 1988.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The parish priest of St. Mary’s church, Batticaloa Rev. Father Chandra Fernando was assassinated on June 6, 1988. Some say he was attached to the Batticaloa Mission House at the time of his killing. The killing was meant to silence those opposed to atrocities committed by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Libation Front (EPRLF) and the LTTE. Both the PLOTE and the EPRLF operated in the temporarily-merged Northern and Eastern Provinces under the protection of the IPKF. They carried out IPKF directives regardless of the consequences. They operated both from IPKF bases as well as their own established close to IPKF detachments in line with the overall security strategy in place in the wake of the outbreak of hostilities between India and the LTTE.

Rev. Father Fernando, the then Vice President of the Batticaloa Citizens’ Committee (BCC), was particularly harsh on the IPKF for the failure on its part to stabilize the situation in Batticaloa. The 46-year-old priest earned the wrath of the IPKF high command in Batticaloa for being severely critical of its conduct. Rev. Father Fernado dared the IPKF publicly. In spite of repeated warnings from friends, Rev. Fernando alleged that the IPKF deployed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, in accordance with the Indo Lanka Accord (ILA), was nothing but a failure.

The Sri Lankan military, police and the elite Special Task Force (STF) were confined to their bases.

Rev. Father Fernando was among the few civilians living in Batticaloa willing to discuss the situation, though they realized the danger in provoking the IPKF. Unlike many senior priests in Batticaloa, Rev. Fernando didn’t turn a blind eye to unprecedented atrocities committed by the IPKF and its allies, in the guise of counter-insurgency operations.

IPKF urged to quit Batticaloa

The BCC called a meeting in late Jan. 1988 amidst unprecedented turmoil in the Batticaloa district. The LTTE regularly targeted IPKF patrols moving through heavily populated areas knowing the jawans’ reaction. The LTTE sometimes launched attacks in predominately Muslim areas. Such attacks were meant to provoke IPKF attacks on the Tamil speaking Muslim community. Having made representations to the IPKF and the Indian High Commission on numerous occasions regarding the worsening situation, the BCC felt it should step up pressure on the IPKF to restore normalcy in the region. But a section of BCC realized that the IPKF was the primary cause of the catastrophic situation. It was obvious nothing would change as long as the IPKF was in control. Although the IPKF knew its conduct was under fire, it felt reasonably confident none would dare to challenge its mandate publicly.

Outspoken politician and Tamil nationalist Sam Tambimuttu was at the helm of the BCC as its Secretary. Having succeeded Prince Casinader during the mid 80s, Tambimuttu worked closely with other members of BCC. Rev. Father Chandra Fernando played a significant role in the BCC, which had access to the IPKF high command in Batticaloa.

Addressing members of the BBC and a group of representatives from Tamil and Muslim communities, Rev. Father Fernando declared that there wouldn’t be peace unless the IPKF quit the district. The immediate removal of the IPKF would be a prerequisite for restoration of normalcy in the region. The people living in the Batticaloa district were unanimous in their view that the continued presence of the IPKF in the region was no longer appreciated, he said. Much to the discomfort of those present, the priest declared that Tamil speaking people needed a viable political solution. The deployment of a foreign army was not in the best interests of the people, he said, lashing out at the Indian government as well as Indian High Commissioner J. N. Dixit. Rev. Fernando alleged that India was not interested in the wellbeing of the Tamil community. Instead, India wanted to station its army in Sri Lanka, the priest (Call to remove Indian forces from Batticaloa-The Island Jan 23, 1988).

The call for the IPKF to quit Batticaloa was made about three weeks after Indian High Commissioner Dixit toured Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts to assess the situation. The visit was his first to the Eastern Province after the outbreak of hostilities between the IPKF and the LTTE in the second week of Oct. 1987. Dixit was accompanied by the IPKF’s Eastern Commander Maj. Gen. Jameel Mahmood. The visit took place in the backdrop of Sri Lankan police executing 20 civilians in Batticaloa to avenge the death of a colleague at the hands of the LTTE. During a meeting at the main IPKF base in Batticaloa, the BCC urged High Commissioner Dixit to take up the massacre with President JRJ. The BCC also urged Dixit to immediately shift the police station. (Dixit tours Trincomalee and Batticaloa-The Island Dec 31, 1087).

The meeting at the Mandressa camp was also attended by Sri Lankan security officials. They said that they couldn’t discuss the matter of police stations, without specific instructions from Colombo (Batticaloa citizens’ request to shift police complex refused-The Island Jan 3, 1988). The BBC also called for the removal of the IPKF from the Eastern University situated at Vantharamoolai. The IPKF maintained a heavy presence of ground forces at strategic locations to meet any eventuality. Although the LTTE couldn’t threaten major Indian bases in the Eastern Provinces, it regularly targeted troops on patrol as well as those on supply missions. By late May, Batticaloa was in chaos with the IPKF stepping up operations. The IPKF vowed to continue anti-insurgency operations until the LTTE renounced violence. The IPKF efforts supported by para military operations conducted by the PLOTE and the EPRLF caused substantial losses to the LTTE. But civilians, too, suffered at the hands of foreign troops and their local collaborators.

The assassination of Rev. Father Fernando should be examined in the backdrop of the battle for supremacy in Batticaloa between the LTTE and its one-time masters.

The killing was blamed on both the PLOTE and the EPRLF, which received arms and ammunition from the government of India through the IPKF.

Political recognition for terrorists

Both PLOTE and the EPRLF sought political recognition in late Jan. 1988 ahead of the first election for the temporarily merged North-Eastern Provincial Council later that year. They had the blessings of the Indian government. Indian High Commissioner Dixit discussed the pivotal importance of giving Tamil groups an opportunity to contest the forthcoming election by recognizing them as political parties. Dixit pushed hard for political recognition for Indian sponsored groups, which in spite of the ILA, openly carried weapons. The then Elections chief, Chandrananda de Silva, confirmed efforts made by Tamil groups to secure political recognition. The polls chief said that among those who sent in their applications were Tamil armed groups (Terrorist groups seek recognition as political parties-The Island Feb 4, 1988).

The EPRLF was the first Tamil group accepted by the Election Secretariat. It was recognized on Feb. 11, 1988. The recognition of the PLOTE was delayed much to the annoyance of Indian High Commissioner Dixit.

The government came under heavy Indian pressure to recognize armed groups in spite of them still carrying weapons in violation of the ILA. In fact, the amalgamation of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province was subject to the disarming of all Indian sponsored groups, including the LTTE, in accordance of the ILA. But President JRJ was compelled to conduct the election under the auspices of the IPKF. Colombo-based western embassies turned a blind eye to what was going on. Although President JRJ resented India’s dictatorial attitude and its effort to establish an administration in the NE Province loyal to New Delhi, he could not do anything. The UNP was struggling in the wake of the JVP stepping up attacks with the killing of the General Secretary of the party, Nandalal Fernando, on the morning of May 20, 1988 in the Wellawatte police area. Fernando was the second top UNP official assassinated by the JVP. UNP Chairman Harsha Abeywardena was shot dead on the morning of Dec 23, 1987 also in the Wellawatte police area. Under pressure on the southern front, the government easily succumbed to Indian pressure.

The UNP filled Abeywardena’s vacancy with tough talking Ranjan Wijeratne, who played a pivotal role in preparing the party for the PC polls. Wijeratne took the JVP challenge head-on. On his instructions, the police and the armed forces intensified their campaign. Although the JVP unleashed violence in a bid to discourage political parties from contesting the PC polls, it couldn’t stop the government from going ahead with the polls.

Polls on a staggered basis

The first PC polls were held on a staggered basis on April 28, 1988 in the North Western, North Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. The UNP comfortably won all four provinces with the main challenge coming from the United Socialist Alliance (USA) due to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) deciding against taking part in what the party described as an Indian exercise to divide the country on ethnic lines. The JVP, which was a proscribed party at that time, too, adopted a similar stance.

The PC poll for the Southern Province was held on June 9, 1988. The UNP secured the South, too, without a problem.

While the UNP was battling the JVP in the south, the IPKF was busy creating a situation conducive for its allies to capture power in the North – Eastern Province. The assassination of Rev Father Fernando should be examined in the backdrop of the IPKF’s efforts to silence dissent in the province. Nothing would have been as important as neutralizing a discordant voice, particularly in Batticaloa.

In the wake of Rev. Father Fernando’s assassination, the IPKF warned the people of Batticaloa to keep their distance from the LTTE or face the consequences. The announcement was made on the last Sunday in the month of July 1988 through public address systems. The IPKF declared that anyone assisting the LTTE would be punished regardless of his or her status in society. The IPKF went to the extent of declaring that anyone harbouring LTTE terrorists would be regarded as a terrorist and dealt with appropriately. A senior IPKF officer based at Mandressa camp told the writer that the Indian Army would not tolerate a civilian-LTTE link. The Citizens’ Committees in Batticaloa and Ampara were told to move away from the LTTE or face the consequences. (IPKF warns: don’t harbour LTTE-The Island July 29, 1988). Such a public warning had never been given by the IPKF, though different commands privately threatened Citizens’ Committees against having links with the LTTE. The IPKF warning highlighted the plight of Tamil speaking people living in the Northern and Eastern districts. President JRJ couldn’t interfere with the IPKF strategy.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Shocking execution of Federal Party stalwart’s son

War on terror revisited : Part 95

By Shamindra Ferdinando
Bishop of Batticaloa, Dr. Kingsley Swampillai makes representations before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva.

Indian Opposition Leader Swaraj Sushma visits Batticaloa at the conclusion of the eelam war

On the morning of Oct. 24, 1987, people found a bullet riddled body in the Kalawanchikudy police area in the Batticaloa administrative district. The killing sent shock waves through the Tamil community when the victim was identified as Chakravarthy, the son of one-time Federal Party Vice President and MP for Paddirippu, S. M. Rasamannikkam. At the time of his death, 29-year-old Chakravarthy was in the custody of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The victim was a father of two.

The IPKF captured him soon after a landmine explosion had ripped through a soft-bellied military vehicle killing several jawans, including one officer holding the rank of Captain on Oct 23, 1987. Although the Sri Lankan police initially placed the number of deal at four, the Batticaloa Citizens Committee (BCC), subsequently claimed the blast had claimed the lives of 20. The IPKF went on the rampage in the Kalawanchikudy area torching as it did a kovil, the regional educational office and many other buildings (Former MP’s son found dead following landmine explosion––The Island Oct 25, 1987).

The IPKF butchered 12 persons, including Chakravarthy and a female teacher. Jawans did not give a tinker’s damn about Rasamannikkam’s background; they were piqued and blinded by fury.

The Kalawanchikudy massacre was raised in Parliament by MP Anil Moonesinghe, though the government failed to take tangible action. It was the first major massacre in the Batticaloa District since the deployment of the IPKF in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) in early Aug. 1987. During the next three years, the IPKF executed many civilians, though they were not in any way involved in terrorism.

Violence erupted in Kalawanchikudy two days after the IPKF had declared an amnesty to those giving up arms. The amnesty was announced by the Indian High Commission following consultations with President JRJ less than two weeks after the LTTE thwarted a heli-borne operation spearheaded by Indian commandos on the Jaffna campus.

In the wake of the IPKF atrocities, the BCC urged the Indian High Commission, the Sri Lankan government as well as Colombo based diplomatic missions to inquire into what was going on. It accused Indian troops of destroying houses and raping women. The BBC also brought to the notice of the JRJ government the crisis at the Batticaloa General Hospital due to medical staff fleeing in view of the escalation of fighting. In the neighbouring Trincomalee District, the IPKF attacked Sinhala villages causing further damage (Batticaloa citizens call for inquiry –The Island Oct. 25, 1987).

The IPKF was not subject to any sort of investigation by the Sri Lankan government. In accordance of the ILA, the IPKF was responsible for security in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Sri Lankan government was debarred from intervening in IPKF operations. The hastily arranged ILA also deprived Sri Lanka of at least having a monitoring mechanism in place. The police declined to accept complaints against the IPKF in any part of the country, whereas Citizens’ Committees in the Northern and Eastern Provinces maintained records of IPKF atrocities.

The JRJ administration was busy countering a bloody insurgency in the South. An influential section of the UNP felt that the government should not interfere with IPKF operations. The group was of the opinion that all available resources should be utilised to counter the JVP, leaving the IPKF to deal with the LTTE. The government lacked the capacity to deploy military and police personnel in the North-East and the South, simultaneously.

IPKF hoist with its own petard

The IPKF never realised that the LTTE was simply carrying out what Indian instructors had told those undergoing training in India several years ago. The LTTE was told to mount attacks on Sri Lankan military and police patrols in populated areas knowing very well that troops would attack civilians. It was a key element in the overall LTTE strategy aimed at destabilising the country. Reprisals drove Tamil youth to its ranks and it would be important to keep in mind that the LTTE was not the only group which practised the despicable strategy. The IPKF played in to the hands of the LTTE, which carried out hit and run attacks causing considerable damage to the Indian troops. The LTTE effectively used a range of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines against the IPKF. In fact, IEDs and landmines remained the major threat to the IPKF during its deployment in Sri Lanka (July 30, 1987 to March 2, 1990). IEDs and landmines caused heavy losses among Sri Lankan security forces and the police during eelam war I (July 1983 to June 1987). According to statistics available with Army Headquarters, approximately 90 per cent of casualties during eelam war I were caused by IEDs and landmines. During the five-year period, the army lost 52 officers and 881 men, the SLAF 52 officers and men and the SLN 41. The number of wounded in all three services was placed at 180.

On Oct. 29, 1987, a landmine blast wounded five persons, including an officer believed to be the IPKF commanding officer in Batticaloa. The blast took place close on the heels of an explosion at Tirukkovil also in the Batticaloa District killing five IPKF personnel. The IPKF targeted every one suspected of having links with the LTTE. It arrested the President of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation (CTUF), Batticaloa branch at the People’s Bank office in Batticaloa. Interestingly, the IPKF took him in while the Batticaloa police looked on (IPKF, police arrest CTUF (B’caloa) President-The Island Oct. 30, 1987). His arrest was preceded by the detention of the CTUF’s Secretary who was nabbed in Urani while addressing an LTTE gathering.

The LTTE exploited the situation to alienate the Tamil community from the IPKF deployed particularly in the Batticaloa District. It also brought heavy pressure on the BCC to toe its line. Selected members were ordered to make representations on its behalf or face the consequences. Much to the discomfort and surprise of community leaders, the LTTE worked closely with some sections of the IPKF, though it mounted attacks on jawans in some areas. The LTTE killed Muslims to cause ethnic tension in the Batticaloa District.

Batticaloa remained the main theatre of operations outside the Jaffna peninsula throughout the IPKF deployment. The IPKF encouraged Tamil youth to mount attacks on Sri Lankan troops in Batticaloa, hence creating an explosive situation. The IPKF top brass used all groups trained in India to promote their agenda. The LTTE was not an exception, though it declared war on the IPKF subsequently. In spite of the ongoing battle between the IPKF and the LTTE, Indian intelligence maintained contact with the LTTE.

Many families fled Batticaloa fearing for their lives as the IPKF hit back hard at the LTTE causing loss of civilian lives. In spite of regular meetings between the IPKF top brass in Batticaloa and BCC, the situation continued to deteriorate with the people of the district subject to severe hardship.

Respected Batticaloa citizen, Prince Casinader remained in contact with the writer throughout the IPKF deployment. The Island could not have reported on the situation in Batticaloa without Casinader’s input due to reluctance on the part of the local police and the government to discuss the situation. One-time principal of Methodist Central, Batticaloa, Casinader was one of the few good contacts on the ground. He remained a reliable source during his tenure as a parliamentarian. Another was Sam Tambimuttu, an LTTE target. Tambimuttu and his courageous wife, Kala remained intrepid and outspoken to the last. Their son, Arun, sometimes answered the phone in his ancestral house in Batticaloa. Today, Thambimuttu junior is the SLFP organiser in Batticaloa having returned to the country after many years in exile after the eradication of the LTTE. Arun left the country after the LTTE assassinated his parents in Colombo (the issue will be discussed separately).

Assassination of prominent


The Muslim community reacted angrily to the assassination of former SLFP MP and Deputy Minister of Information Abdul Majeed at his residence on the night of Nov. 13, 1987. Muslims launched a protest campaign demanding action against the killers. The IPKF’s presence in Kinniya did not deter the assassin acting on the orders of those pushing for an all-out confrontation between the Tamil and Muslim communities in the Eastern Province. The Kinniya assassination accelerated the crisis in the East, with the Batticaloa Mothers’ Front launching a hartal to pressure the IPKF to be sensitive to public feelings. Mothers’ Front members alleged that Batticaloa women had been harassed by jawans on the pretext of security operations. They demanded the release of Tamil men in the custody of the IPKF.

An SLAF officer’s anguish

The situation in the Northern Province, too, was extremely bad. A former SLAF officer, Raja Mahendran, recalled the IPKF gunning down his 75-year-old mother, Lily Rajah and his sister Wasanthi’s three children, Suresh (17), Priyanthi (15) and Mahendrarajah (13) at Uduvil on the morning of Nov. 3, 1987. In an interview with this writer at The Island editorial two weeks after the incident, Mahendran said that IPKF troops atop armoured personnel carriers had surrounded Uduvil in the Jaffna peninsula causing panic among the hapless civilians. With tears in his eyes, Mahendran said that the IPKF had ordered his mother, sister and her sister as well as many civilians who rushed from their houses to walk towards the residence of Anandaraj, former Principal of St. John’s College, Jaffna, where they were ordered to kneel down. Wasanthi was married to Superintendent of Works, Local Government, Batticaloa. Mahendran visited The Island editorial with his brother-in-law, R. Indran in a bid to highlight what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Without the slightest provocation, the IPKF opened fire, at point blank range, killing Lily Rajah and Suresh on the spot. Suresh was known at Uduvil as the local Lylie Godridge. Mahendrarajah succumbed to his injuries before he could be moved to the nearby government hospital. Priyanthi managed to crawl to the residence of a bank employee and was rushed to the local hospital, where she died without receiving medical attention. The IPKF had turned the Northern and Eastern Province into a hellhole, though India promised to restore law and order, Mahendran alleged. An irate Mahendran said that his family could not bury the dead without the LTTE’s assistance (Ex-Air force officer recounts killing of mother and children––The Island Nov 22, 1987).

The then Kalutara District MP Anil Moonesinghe raised The Island report in Parliament, seeking an explanation from the then Deputy Minister of Defence T. B. Werapitiya as regards the deteriorating situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, due to atrocities committed by the IPKF.

The JRJ administration was helpless. The IPKF simply ignored Sri Lanka’s concerns. In fact, the IPKF on many occasions threatened to use force if Sri Lankan forces or police intervened in their operations.

The massacre of 15 civilians-nine Tamils and six Muslims - at Kumburumalai on the Batticaloa-Polonnaruwa road on Dec. 3, 1987 highlighted the plight of civilians living in areas under IPKF control. They were on their way from Colombo to Batticaloa. A highly agitated Batticaloa Citizen’s Committee (BCC) raised the massacre with Brig. D.P. Dhar, the senior officer in charge of the Mandressa camp. Strongly denying responsibility, Brig. Dhar accused the LTTE of killings, while pointing out the presence of the Special Task Force (STF) at Kumburumalai. The BCC pointed that nearly 45 Tamil speaking people and two Sinhalese had been slaughtered in two incidents at Ottamavadi and Kumburumalai on Dec. 2, 1987 and Dec. 3, 1987, respectively. Thirty two civilians (20 Muslims, ten Tamils and two Sinhalese) died at Ottamavadi allegedly at the hands of the IPKF, after the LTTE ambushed an IPKF convoy killing nine personnel, including an officer holding the rank of Major. The IPKF went on the rampage in Ottamavadi, Mancholai, Kiran and Kayankerni. The damage caused to houses and business establishments was estimated at Rs. 5 mn. The IPKF retaliation forced about 6,000 Muslims and 5,000 Tamils to leave the area temporarily.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A catastrophic heli-borne raid on Jaffna campus

War on terror revisited : Part 94


by Shamindra Ferdinando

The IPKF never realised the battlefield capabilities of the LTTE until it launched Operation Pawan in the second week of Oct. 1987 to capture Jaffna. The IPKF leadership was confident of evicting the LTTE from Jaffna within three days.

In fact, the IPKF was of the opinion that the LTTE was nothing more than an irritant, which could not pose a threat to the IPKF’s conventional fighting capability. It planned to rapidly advance from Palaly to Jaffna. Indian planners believed they had sufficient infantry, armour and artillery to meet any eventuality. But, it was obviously clueless about the fighting capabilities and tactics of the LTTE, in spite of having trained and armed the outfit. The IPKF did not even bother at least to consult the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) regarding the impending operation, though it could have easily done so.

Had the IPKF cared to consult the SLA, it could have avoided the loss of many lives. Although the LTTE had not developed a conventional fighting capability at that time, it retained sufficient forces to meet the IPKF advance on Jaffna.

Interestingly, in the second week of June 1987, India threatened to intervene if the SLA marched on Jaffna, regardless of its warning. At the time, two under strength Brigades led by Brig. Denzil Kobbekaduwa on the western flank and Col. Wijaya Wimalaratne on the eastern flank were ordered to halt their advance, after they had regained Tellipalai and Achchuveli, respectively. The Brigades consisted of only two infantry battalions each, including the 1 battalion of Gajaba Regiment (1 GR) commanded by the then Maj. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his memoirs titled A most Noble Profession, Gen. Gerry H. de Silva, the then Security Forces Commander, Jaffna reveals the circumstances under which the SLA had to call off the second phase of Operation Liberation. The Gemunu Watch veteran quoted the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) Gen. Cyril Ranatunga as having told him: "Stop the advance and consolidate the line you are holding or the Indians will come."

Although the SLA believed it could at least retain Vadamarachchi regained in the last week of May 1987 during the first phase of Operation Liberation as well as the area liberated in phase II, though it could not be completed, India forced President JRJ to vacate liberated areas in line with the Indo-Lanka Accord.

IPKF’s battle for Jaffna

Responding to a query by The Island, Gen. de Silva explained how the initial IPKF plan to seize Jaffna had gone awry. LTTE snipers targeted Indian officers, who led the infantry from the front. The only difference was unlike their counterparts, the Indian officers were in full uniform, with some of them wearing slouch hats. LTTE snipers easily recognised them, causing an unprecedented number of casualties among the officer corps. A stunned IPKF leadership quickly realised it had been blind to ground realities and deceived by those who conveniently failed to brief them on the LTTE’s real capabilities.

The LTTE effectively used a range of improvised explosive devices and snipers to cause heavy losses on the IPKF, which struggled to come to terms with Tiger tactics. At the time Operation Pawan got underway, the IPKF had approximately 6,000 personnel deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. The IPKF estimated the total strength of the LTTE in the Jaffna peninsula between 2,000 to 2,500. But, the IPKF strategists remained confident of crushing the LTTE in case of a confrontation. A section of the IPKF leadership believed the LTTE would simply disintegrate as the Indian infantry advanced on Jaffna. The SLA, too, appeared to have underestimated the LTTE’s resolve to take on the IPKF, regardless of the consequences. The IPKF strategists planned to target the top LTTE leadership, believed to be operating from the Jaffna University. A high profile raid there was planned. The LTTE brazenly used the university premises as its tactical headquarters, where senior Indian officers met LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Less than a week before the IPKF launched a disastrous heli-borne raid on the university, Overall Force Commander of the IPKF, Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh flew in for a powvow with Prabhakaran. The IPKF made a desperate bid to reach an understanding with the LTTE in the wake of 18 LTTE personnel, including Prabhakaran’s brother-in-law, Kumarappa, the then second-in-command of the group, taking cyanide at the Palaly air base. (A previous article dealt with the arrest of an LTTE group following a confrontation in the seas off Point Pedro in the early hours of Oct. 2, 1987 with the Sri Lankan navy).

Tension was running high in Jaffna as the navy had seized another LTTE vessel close on the heels of the detection in the early hours of Oct. 2, 1987 in northern waters. The second detection resulted in the seizure of a large vessel along with 36 LTTE cadres, 2,000 detonators, 23 rolls of wire and several small arms (Trawlers with arms captured-The Island, Oct. 4, 1987).

The meeting between Lt. Gen. Singh and Prabhakaran failed to produce the desired understanding. Had the IPKF disarmed the LTTE in accordance with the ILA within 72 hours after the suspension of hostilities, it wouldn’t have been in a quandary. Immediately after the signing of the ILA, President JRJ offered a general amnesty to those handing over their weapons. Although some terrorists gave themselves up to the SLA in Jaffna, the IPKF declined to accept their surrender without consulting the government. Undue delay in arriving at a decision on the part of India allowed Prabhakaran, who had been detained in New Delhi, to instruct his cadres not to surrender weapons until his return to Jaffna.

Raid on Jaffna University

Having received instructions from New Delhi to capture Jaffna, the IPKF worked out a battle plan. In support of the ground assault on Jaffna, the IPKF launched an ambitious heli-borne raid on the Jaffna University, believing Prabhakaran and his chief lieutenants remained there. It was widely believed that the LTTE had intercepted IPKF communications and was aware of the impending raid. The LTTE had ample time to prepare, though it may not have been aware of the identity of the raiding party. The IPKF most probably believed that the death or capture of the top LTTE leadership would pave the way for capturing Jaffna without much resistance. The IPKF went to the extent of telling senior SLA officials that the operation could be concluded in three days! The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 54 Infantry Division and his senior staff were so cocky. Some of the IPKF officers during conversations with SLA officers, revealed that troops received specialised training for the invasion of Sri Lanka. They also talked of air borne troops planning to seize airfields, whereas amphibious forces were to secure beach heads for large scale troop landings. In that background, raiding Jaffna University seemed relatively an easy task. But soon after the operation got underway in the early hours of Oct 12, the IPKF realised its folly. The top brass was aghast.

In hindsight, the IPKF’s failure to induct a large number of commandos, instead of just 40 due to the absence of sufficient number of helicopters led to a debacle. The IAF (Indian Air Force) had just four helicopters positioned in Palaly to shift commandos from Palaly to the Jaffna University premises. The SLAF was surprised to receive a request from the IPKF for the deployment of one helicopter gunship in support of the mission. The SLAF was tasked to carry out a diversionary attack near the university during the landing operation. Although the SLAF was successful in its mission, the IAF could induct only 40 commandos. The second pair of helicopters carrying 20 commandos had no option but to return to base due to the failure on the part of the first contingent to secure the ground. By that time, the LTTE had cut off the commando group on the ground. Although the second drop had to be aborted, the third succeeded though they could not take the initiative. Much to the surprise of Palaly based top brass of the SLA and the SLAF, the IPKF deployed normal infantry troops alongside commandos. By the time the IAF inducted 40 more commandos along with 30 infantry troops, the LTTE was in a commanding position with Indian troops fighting for survival. Although the IPKF had planned to induct a much larger force, the operation had to be abandoned after the induction of 120 commandos and 30 infantrymen. The debacle at the Jaffna University stunned the IPKF leadership. During the operation, the LTTE hit all four Mi-8 helicopters involved in the action, though none of then crashed. Even if the IPKF wanted to continue with air drops, Mi-8s could not be deployed due to the considerable damage caused by enemy fire. Later in the day, a disgraced IPKF had to launch a rescue operation spearheaded by main battle tanks to save the remnant of the raiding party. At the conclusion of the battle, the Indian High Commission reported the death of 29 out of 30 infantrymen and six commandos. Many commandos received injuries. The SLA knew what was going on due to constant monitoring of IPKF and LTTE communications. The SLA observed that those infantrymen deployed along side the commandos, weren’t given at least an adequate briefing. Ill-equipped troops were used in a high risk operation immediately after they had arrived from their home base in India.

First major debacle

The Oct. 12 battle claimed the lives of nearly 40 personnel, whereas the SLA lost 33 and about 200 wounded in the first phase of Operation Liberation. The LTTE proved that it was better than the high flying 54th air borne assault force commanded by Maj. Gen. Hakirat Singh. After a series of blunders at the expense of fighting forces, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 54 Division Singh was replaced. The IPKF realised the difficult position it was in. One of the largest armies in the world found itself in an unenviable situation. The LTTE proved beyond any doubt that it was better than its Indian trainers. LTTE tactics demoralised the IPKF, which never intended to engage in combat operations against the Sri Lankan Tamils India had trained and armed.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

JRJ, Premadasa survive assassination bid, total chaos averted

War on terror revisited : Part 93

The then Brigadier Shavendra Silva explains the ground situation to Al Jazeera journalists on the western front at the onset of major operations in late July 2008. Although a section of the international community accused the army of depriving the media from visiting the Vanni, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa authorized some media visits. The Colombo based BBC correspondent was one the journalists, who had the opportunity to fly over Paranthan soon after Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s Task Force I (TF I) liberated the town. During the last phase of the offensive, a group of Colombo based Indian journalists was with TF I/58 Division. The Indian team included The Hindu correspondent. Brigadier Silva was one of the few senior officers who exploited the media and used it as a tool against the LTTE. In fact, Maj. Gen. Silva, in his current capacity as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York, continued his efforts on the media front, hence became a target for a section of the international press supportive of the LTTE macabre project. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa and the then army Gen. Sarath Fonseka effectively used the media to carry the GoSL’s message. The Defence Secretary’s spearheading role was the single most important factor in countering the LTTE media, which always had the upper hand during previous phases of the conflict. The former Navy spokesman Capt. D. K. P. Dasanayake played a significant role in managing the war-time ‘Indian factor’ which at one point overwhelmed the GoSL.(Pic by Captain Wasantha Jayaweera, formerly of the Special Forces)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In the wake of the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA), the then President JRJ imposed a censorship on the independent media as it felt that suppression of the free flow of information could prevent the JVP from exploiting the deployment of the IPKF to fuel its subversive campaign. A powerful Competent Authority (CA) appointed by the government for that purpose debarred the independent media from reporting what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It killed reports relating to the IPKF and the JVP-instigated insurgency.

In the absence of privately owned television networks as well as the Internet at that time, JRJ’s strategy was somewhat effective. At the behest of those in power, the CA even went out of its way to harass the print media. Articles submitted for approval were held for hours without rhyme or reasons, thus causing them to miss the deadlines.

Censorship introduced

Having joined The Island in June 1987 as trainee reporter, the writer experienced the appalling conduct of the CA during his many visits to the Information Department to submit articles. In some instances, the CA approved sections of news reports, features and comments published by the print media, prompting Editor of The Island Gamini Weerakoon to front-page a note to keep readers reminded that the media was subject to censorship. Most of those campaigning for media freedom today dared not criticize the government action at that time.

However, the Indian High Commission in Colombo issued statements concerning security matters regardless of the censorship. Capt. B. K. Gupta of the Indian High Commission dealt with the issue of the Indian Navy and the Sri Lankan Navy launching joint patrols in the Palk Strait consequent to the ILA (Patrolling of Palk Strait begins today-The Island Aug. 15, 1987). Gupta discussed the issue close on the heels of JRJ’s CA censoring a section of news report on the cooperation between the two navies (Joint Indo-Lanka patrolling of Palk Strait –The Island Aug. 14, 1987).

The Competent Authority brazenly deleted anything it felt could antagonize the political leadership. Among the many articles censored was the one which dealt with difficulties experienced by the police in the absence of sufficient number of Tamil speaking law enforcement officers for deployment in the Northern and Eastern Provinces was censored (Tamil and Muslim policemen for N&E-The Island Aug. 18, 1987). The CA butchered a news report which dealt with the crisis caused by the government accommodating armed forces in some schools in Colombo and its suburbs and the South, following their withdrawal from the Northern and Eastern Provinces (Quandary over forces still in some schools-The Island Aug. 26, 1987). The CA found fault with The Island for not submitting the headline of that news item, while warning us to follow instructions or face the consequences.

The JRJ administration had to pull out the bulk of the forces from operational areas to meet the growing threat posed by the JVP. The Defence Ministry was forced to assign more troops to quell the JVP rebellion in the wake of the JVP grenade attack on a section of the government parliamentary group on the morning of Aug. 18, 1987 in Parliament. The unprecedented attack claimed the life of Keerthi Abeywickrema, Member of Parliament representing and the Matara District Minister. The then National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali was among those injured in the blast.

The grenade attack sent shock waves through the political establishment causing uncertainty and political turmoil. The SLAF was given the tough task of running civil administration in the JVP stronghold of Hambantota as the government intensified anti-insurgency operations. In support of the police and security forces operations, the UNP authorized some government members to undertake clandestine operations with the help of vigilantes. The police and the armed forces, too, conducted covert operations outside the scope of regular operations.

Indo-Lanka Accord exploited

The deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) fueled the JVP insurrection with many youth volunteering joining the outfit’s ranks. The Indian military presence facilitated the JVP’s second attempt to overthrow an elected government. The JVP believed that at least a section of the armed forces would revolt against JRJ, primarily due to the suspension of successful Operation Liberation in June 1987. The then Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Brig. Gen. Gerry H. de Silva in his memoirs tiled A most Noble Profession launched in 2011 discussed the IPKF’s assertion that about 40 per cent of the armed forces despised JRJ. In an interview with this writer, now retired Gen. de Silva (Commander of the Army 1994-1996) emphasized that the armed forces had always being loyal to the government in power. "We were surprised by the IPKF’s claim," a smiling de Silva said, adding that the IPKF officers soon realized their folly. The Indian intelligence services and the High Commission had erred in their assessment, the Gemunu Watch veteran said.

Indian sponsored terrorist groups could not have been unaware of India’s assessment. They, too, must have sought to exploit the situation. The same could be said about the JVP, which wrongly assumed that the armed forces, particularly the fighting forces consisting of rural youth, would switch their allegiance to the JVP. Much to the surprise of the JVP, it realized the armed forces remained loyal to the government, though a few personnel cooperated with the proscribed organization.

The JVP distributed leaflets urging the armed forces to turn their guns on the UNP government for having invited the Indian Army to take over the Northern and Eastern Province. In spite of its rhetoric, the JVP never wanted to take on the mighty IPKF, though a section of the media recently boasted of JVP operations in the East in the wake of the Kumar Gunaratnam affair.

Had the JVP attack in Parliament caused the deaths of the top UNP leaders, the insurgency would have taken a different course. The attacker subsequently identified as Ajith Kumara hurled two hand grenades into Committee Room ‘A’ of the parliamentary complex as the government group was having its bi-weekly meeting ahead of the first session of the House since the signing of the ILA. Those present at the meeting later told the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) an attacker lobbing two grenades towards them and President JRJ and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. The attempt on his life promoted JRJ to blame terrorists among the Sinhala community for the attack.

The JVP assassinated Hambantota District MP Jinadasa Weerasinghe on Aug. 1, 1987 at Angunakolapelessa. The situation continued to deteriorate in areas outside the Northern and Eastern Province due to JVP hit-and-run attacks. The JVP caused immense damage to the national economy by destroying public property. By late Sept. 1987, the armed forces had minimal presence in the two provinces leaving the IPKF in charge. Even those based there were under constant IPKF surveillance with restrictions imposed on their movements, whereas the LTTE and other Tamil armed groups operated freely. The Sri Lankan military was ordered not to step out of their bases without prior approval. Although the military brought the situation to the notice of JRJ, he could not do anything. The IPKF remained adamant that the Sri Lankan military had forfeited its right for deployment under any circumstances, consequent to the ILA.

Home guards asked to

surrender weapons

In Sept. 1987, the LTTE launched an attempt to disarm home guards deployed in areas vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The deployment covered the Eastern districts as well as adjoining areas. The LTTE demanded an immediate surrender of their weapons in line with the ILA. The Sri Lankan government ignored the demand, though the Tigers persisted. The LTTE launched a highly publicized fast unto death opposite Nallur Kandasamy kovil to draw international attention to its demand. The LTTE claimed that the IPKF should take charge of weapons in the hands of the home guards.  India promptly rejected the LTTE call (Home guards won’t handover weapons to IPKF-Indian Defence Advisor-The Island Sept. 19, 1987).

Hot on the heels of the LTTE’s call, the IPKF increased its strength in the Eastern Province. The then General Officer Commanding the Indian Army, Southern Command Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh was quoted by the Indian press as having said that he was ready to bring in more troops to maintain law and order. Lt. Gen. Singh would never have thought he was going to need thousands of troops, main battle tanks, helicopter gunships and a range of other equipment, the following month for a different purpose.

The LTTE strongly opposed the re-opening of new police stations in the Northern region and insisted that the ILA desist from helping the government restore a police presence in areas once dominated by the group.

 LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran felt that the re-establishment of police stations would be detrimental to the interests of the LTTE and intensified protests after the police launched recruitment drive in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE wanted to fill the vacuum. Having killed hundreds of members of other Indian sponsored groups, the LTTE believed it had the capacity to run the two provinces. It conveniently forgot it could have been in serious trouble if not for India’s intervention in June 1987. India intervened as the troops of Operation Liberation were consolidating its positions at Tellippalai (on the western front) and Achchuveli (on the eastern front). The two Brigades engaged in the second phase of Operation Liberation were pushing towards Jaffna.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Chance detection at sea derails IPKF strategy

War on terror revisited : Part 92


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Had the navy failed to thwart a secret mission undertaken by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s brother-in-law, Kumarappan, in early Oct 1987, the situation would have taken a different turn. Kumarappa’s clandestine mission would have succeeded if not for unparalleled extraordinary feat by the then Lt. Travis Sinniah and Leading Seaman Prematilleke, who risked their lives to abort a journey undertaken by a group of senior LTTE cadres.

The much talked about surrender of weapons by the LTTE to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in line with the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) within 72 hours was nothing but a farce.

Although the LTTE had handed over some weapons following the cessation of hostilities, the group retained its 100 per cent fighting capability and a range of weapons acquired over the years. They had plenty of explosives and the expertise to manufacture landmines and various improvised explosive devises in case fighting resumed. But they never expected a war with their benefactor, India, which remained supremely confident of meeting any eventuality.

The IPKF was strong enough to suppress any resistance by the Sri Lankan military in case it revolted against President JRJ in the wake of a section of the ruling party strongly opposing the ILA. The then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa strongly opposed the Indian intervention, though he did not want to say anything that may jeopardise his chance of being President JRJ’s successor.

Although India failed to disarm the LTTE, President JRJ had no option but to amalgamate the Eastern Province with the Northern Province pending a referendum before Dec. 31, 1988 in the Eastern Province to decide whether the arrangement should be made permanent.

The IPKF conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on the ground, with the LTTE still working closely with Indian Intelligence services in spite of refusing to hand over its arms. The LTTE and its benefactors felt that the group’s weapons should be retained regardless of clause 2.9 of the ILA. In fact, the IPKF acted as if it were not aware of the total number of weapons in the hands of the LTTE. In spite of JRJ applying pressure on India to ensure the implementation of the ILA, the LTTE was allowed to hold on to its armaments.

The IPKF very clearly indicated that it was not keen to disarm the LTTE, though the ILA specified a period for the disarming operation. The IPKF asserted that it could not adhere with a time frame hence the LTTE was given an opportunity to maintain its arsenal. IPKF realised its folly ten weeks after being deployed in Northern and Eastern Province to implement the ILA.

Army gives up Jaffna

India prevented the JRJ administration from discussing security aspects of the ILA with the military, particularly those deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. Much to the dismay of the military, especially those involved in Operation Liberation, ILA envisaged troops giving up the area liberated during the first and second phases of the offensive. Although the army swiftly completed the first phase of the offensive launched on May 26, 1987 within a week, it could not complete the second phase due to Indian intervention. Although the army felt humiliated, it refrained from at least publicly expressing concern over the controversial decision to return to pre-May 26, 1987 positions. The IPKF was blunt in its dealings with the Sri Lanka military. Troops were confined to their bases, while LTTE cadres were allowed to enter restricted areas in spite of complaints.

It would be pertinent to mention that the military was kept in the dark in the run up to the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement in Feb. 2002.

The then Brig. Gerry H. de Silva, the senior most officer based in Jaffna at the time of the IPKF deployment in the Jaffna peninsula, in his memoirs, A Most Noble Profession, reveals possible difference of opinion among the top brass as regards the Indian intervention and JRJ administration’s response. The Gemunu Watch veteran was the Security Forces Commander, Jaffna. Due to protests in Colombo and its suburbs as well as several other parts of the country, the government felt it had no option but to re-deploy units previously based in the northern and eastern provinces, to quell violence. The JVP took advantage of the crisis to launch its second attempt to grab power prompting JRJ to unleash the army on the Marxists.

Jaffna troops shifted to South

According to Gen. de Silva, on the night of July 29, 1987 he received a telephone call from Colombo informing him of the arrival of the IPKF at first light the following day. He was directed to abandon the entire area captured during Operation Liberation and prepare for re-deployment in the South. The Jaffna Commander received instructions from the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne and General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) Gen. Cyril Ranatunga to the effect that the Indian Air Force would swiftly airlift troops from Jaffna to Katunayake air base. Giant IL 76 transport aircraft bringing in IPKF to Palaly were to airlift the army. It was an unprecedented arrangement. When a concerned De Silva queried Gen. Ranatunga about the directives, Lt. Gen. Seneviratne had intervened. "When I questioned the GOC JOC on these orders, the army commander Lt. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne grabbed the telephone off General Ranatunga and told me to shut up and just follow instructions," de Silva said.

The army complied with the directive leaving Jaffna in the hands of the IPKF. JRJ administration drastically cut down on deployment of security forces and police, including the elite Special Task Force (STF) in operational areas. The flare-up in the South could not have come at a better time for the IPKF and the LTTE. Drastic drop in government strength in the Northern Province as well as Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts facilitated LTTE efforts to consolidate its power in the region. The IPKF, too, liked the withdrawal of government forces from the Northern and Eastern Provinces as its actual deployment in Sri Lanka was meant to neutralise a possible threat from the army. India deployed T 72 main battle tanks and a range of other equipment necessary to meet a conventional military threat. The IPKF was never meant to confront any of the groups sponsored by India. Instead the IPKF was fully geared to engage in operations against Sri Lankan forces. The immediate withdrawal of experienced fighting formations deployed in the Jaffna peninsula in the wake of the ILA defused a potential crisis. The IPKF realised that the army was not going to cause any trouble, whereas the LTTE continued to flex its muscles.

Alleged threat on JRJ

Responding to a query by the writer, De Silva asserted that the Indian military believed that a sizeable section of the armed forces was hostile to the government. On the basis of information gathered by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and other agencies, the IPKF estimated at least 40 per cent of the entire military strength was disloyal to President JRJ. In his memoirs, De Silva says the IPKF may have claimed there was a threat to President JRJ’s life from the army to justify the deployment of two frigates carrying troops in the outer Colombo harbour for two weeks. The Sri Lankan military was told of heli-borne Indian commandos coming to the rescue of President JRJ in case the army moving against the political leadership. But in hindsight the deployment of the Indian navy was probably in line with their overall deployment of forces in the event of the Sri Lankan military, resentful of the Indian adventure, launching attacks. India recalled frigates as relations improved between the two armies.

Contrary to reports, the military had always stood by the military leadership and there was no evidence whatsoever regarding a section of the military planning to seize power in the wake of the ILA, the former Army Commander said.

Perhaps the IPKF refrained from disarming the LTTE to use it against the army in case of hostilities between the Indian Army and the Sri Lankan military. Those preparing contingency plans would have definitely examined the options available for the IPKF in case of a possible threat from the Sri Lankan military. Had that happened, the IPKF would have had an opportunity to utilise not only the LTTE but all other groups against Sri Lanka. The IPKF was ready for any eventuality, though it underestimated the fighting capabilities of the LTTE in spite of it being trained by Indian personnel. The IPKF never realised the mindset of the LTTE fighting cadre until it was compelled to take on the group about 10 weeks after the signing of the ILA. The IPKF never bothered to study LTTE tactics until fighting broke out in the second week of Oct. 1987. Before discussing IPKF operation codenamed Pawan, it would be important to examine the events leading to the outbreak of hostilities.

A courageous act

The unexpected capture of an LTTE trawler named Kadalpura in the northern seas on Oct. 2, 1987 by the navy led to the swift collapse of the ILA signed on July 29, 1987. India was compelled to launch Pawan, after the group went on the rampage over those arrested onboard Kadalpura taking cyanide to avoid being airlifted to Ratmalana from Palaly. Among them were Pulendran and Kumarappa, two of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s closest associates.

The detection and seizure of Kadalpura was made by the crew of P 457, one of the Israeli-built Dvora MK 1, commanded by Lt. Commander Ariyadasa. His deputy was the then Lt. T. J. L. Sinniah now with the US diplomatic mission in Colombo. Having played a significant role in operations on the high seas targeting LTTE vessels during Eelam war IV, Sinniah retired about a year ago as Commodore.

Had P 457 missed Kadalpura, which was moving from Valvettiturai to Tamil Nadu, the IPKF wouldn’t have been forced to fight the LTTE.

Travis Sinniah recalled the circumstances under which the navy had apprehended the LTTE vessel. P 457’s crew comprised of 12 officers and men. In spite of Indian navy launching patrols in Sri Lankan waters consequent to the ILA, the Sri Lankan navy was not debarred from performing its duties, though there were certain restrictions as regards engagement of craft in the sea.

The detection was made during the morning watch at around 2.45 by Lt. Sinniah. P 457 shadowed/tracked and intercepted the LTTE craft about 45 minutes later approximately 35-40 nautical miles north-east of Point Pedro. P 457’s crew quickly realised the importance of the detection as one of those on board vessel identified himself as Kumarappa, brother-in-law of Prabhakaran. Newly married Kumarappa displayed his wedding ring to Lt. Sinniah as he was questioned. In his first public comments on the incident over 25 years ago, Commodore Sinniah said: "The vessel was a large modified trawler painted in battle grey. At night, we could have easily mistaken it for an Indian navy patrol boat. It was fitted with radar and state of the art radio equipment available at that time. There were 18 LTTE leaders on board, including Kumarappa, the then LTTE deputy leader who was married to Prabakaran’s sister as well as Trincomalee leader Pulendran wanted for Kittulottuwa massacre, where they attacked passenger buses on their way to Trincomalee. Among the victims were eight service personnel returning from leave on these buses. Five navy personnel were among the slaughtered. Some of the detained LTTE personnel were bodyguards assigned to protect leaders."

 The group carried a range of weapons. They were armed with personal weapons. The navy found several other arms, including M16s, Berettas, SMG, FNs sniper et al. 

"Once challenged they took up position with weapons but did not fire fearing we’ll retaliate. They kept on moving towards India and did not stop though repeatedly warned that we’ll take action," Commodore Sinniah said. Had the LTTE vessel reached Indian waters, P 457 couldn’t have done anything. At one point P 457 crew feared the LTTE craft was going to succeed as they declared they wouldn’t stop whatever the consequences. They identified their vessel as Kadalpura.

 P 457 made the detection during a nine-day attachment to the Northern Command, though it launched combat patrols from Trincomalee.

In fact Kadalpura could have escaped if not for two members of P 457’s crew volunteering to jump into the moving LTTE craft from the moving navy vessel in the choppy seas. Commodore Sinniah was reluctant to highlight his role in the detection. He is averse to publicity but explained the circumstances under which the navy seized the LTTE vessel. "I along with Leading Seaman Prematilleke jumped off the Dvora into the moving LTTE vessel and confront 18 LTE personnel. We were armed and ready for any eventuality. Although shots were fired during the confrontation no one was hurt seriously. We commandeered the LTTE craft and sailed it back to Kankesanthurai under the watchful eye of P 457." The distance from the scene of the confrontation to Kankesanthurai is 80 miles.