Thursday, 28 February 2013

Exodus of Muslims and a war-time ‘relationship’

* War on terror revisited : Part 111


By Shamindra Ferdinando

A group of Muslims protesting against an alleged attempt by interested parties to revive separatist sentiments in spite of eradication of the LTTE in May 2009.

Tamil speaking Muslims living in the Northern and Eastern districts incurred the wrath of the LTTE as well as other Tamil groups for being steadfastly supportive of successive governments.

Although a few Muslims had joined the LTTE, the vast majority, regardless of political differences, remained with mainstream political parties. The SLMC entered the political scene in 1981. Having gradually enhanced its power in the Eastern Province, the SLMC, during the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), had an opportunity to further consolidate its hold. With the rise of the SLMC in the Eastern Province as well as some predominantly Northern parts, the UNP slowly lost influence in those parts of the country.

Having had a political relationship with the TULF during the late 1970s, Mohammed Hussain Mohammed Ashraff and his associates formed the SLMC in late 1981. In Nov. 1986, the party was granted political recognition. Three years later, Ashraff entered Parliament.

Massacre of Muslims

The LTTE massacred 150 Muslims at Kattankudy mosques on the night of Aug. 3, 1990. Groups of LTTE cadres stormed mosques and shot those praying there. The attackers were disguised as Muslims. The second major LTTE operation targeting the Muslim community took place on Aug. 11, 1990. The attackers killed 104 men, women and children.

In the post-IPKF period, the SLMC took over the leadership of the community. The Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) of July 29, 1987, paved the way for the amalgamation of the Eastern Province comprising the administrative districts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara with the Northern Province. Ashraff spearheaded efforts to carve out a separate administrative unit for the Muslims in the temporarily merged province. The SLMC also wanted to bring predominately Muslim areas in the Northern Province under the purview of the proposed administrative unit.

The LTTE reacted angrily to the SLMC’s call for an exclusive administrative unit. Having considered the political and security situation, the LTTE ordered Muslims to leave the Northern Province or face the consequences. The unprecedented LTTE order was given in the third week of Oct. 1990. The LTTE declared that Muslims should leave Mannar Island and the mainland by Oct. 31, 1990. Failure to comply with the LTTE directive meant attacks similar to that at Kattankudy and Eravur.

Norwegian experience

The Colombo-based western diplomatic missions and the NGO community remained mum. Ironically, the expulsion of the Muslims during eealam war II figured prominently in the immediate aftermath of a massacre in Norway on July 22, 2011.

Thirty-three-year-old Anders Behring Breivik, who massacred 77 men, women and children is on record as having said that he was inspired by the LTTE action against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.

Breivik, in his 1,518 page manifesto, which was released 90 minutes before he carried out the massacre, said he had felt that Europe should follow the LTTE example of expelling the Muslims from the North of Sri Lanka. He had interpreted the expulsion of Muslims in October/November 1990, by the LTTE at gun point, as a move by the government of Sri Lanka to drive out the Muslim community! Citing the LTTE as a model to follow, Breivik justified the killings as part of a ‘war’ between the West and Islamists.

The killer’s manifesto also referred to the Anuradhapura massacre in 1985 and the slaughter of Muslims at the Kattankudy Mosque, in August 1990.

Mankulam debacle

The government lacked the military power to thwart the LTTE operation to force Muslims to vacate the Northern Province. The army was under heavy pressure in the Jaffna peninsula as well as in the Vanni. Its top brass was of the view that the army didn’t have sufficient strength to protect its bases, let alone deploy personnel in support of a particular community. The LTTE moved against the Muslim community after having taken the upper hand at the onset of eealam war II. The LTTE bid was to drive out Muslims from the Northern Province to districts outside the Eastern Province. Thousands of families sought refuge in areas outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The vast majority of them were attracted to the Puttalam District.

With the LTTE offensive in full swing, the country was in turmoil. The army was yet to take tangible measures to neutralise the terrorist threat.

In the second week of July, 1990, the LTTE overran the Kokavil camp. Two weeks later, the army withdrew from Kilinochchi leaving Mankulam vulnerable to an LTTE onslaught. By August, the army had just two camps in the Vanni, one at Mankulam and the other at Mullaitivu. Mankulam was under siege since the LTTE resumed hostilities on June 11, 1990. They could only be supplied by air in the absence of overland supply routes. Although the army had positioned troops at Elephant Pass, they, too, were under siege. Elephant Pass, too, received supplies by air. The government didn’t dare even to consider a military operation to thwart the LTTE plan, though President Ranasinghe Premadasa repeatedly assured the SLMC that he would intervene. The government did nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Muslims. The Muslim community urged the government to destroy the LTTE to facilitate their return to their homes and refused to go back until the army crushed the LTTE in the North.

In spite of the limited military operations by the army in the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE continued to consolidate its positions in that area. In the aftermath of the vacation of the Jaffna Fort and Mandaitivu Island on Sept. 26, 1990, the military presence was restricted to the Palaly and Kankesanthurai sectors. The army launched operation ‘Jayashakthi’ (Oct. 17-22) to expand the area under its control. On the night of Nov. 3, 1990, the LTTE hit back killing 12 soldiers and wounding 19 at Mawaddapuram, a village secured by troops engaged in operation ‘Jayashakthi’.

The army abandoned the Mankulam camp in the last week of November 1990. Troops withdrew in the immediate aftermath of a suicide attack where an explosives packed vehicle was used.

Although the army launched a heli-borne operation on July 15, 1990 to reinforce the Mankulam camp, the LTTE brought in additional forces to overwhelm the defenders four months later. A disappointed army chief, Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe ultimately had no option but to abandon Mankulam, thereby losing the entire Vavuniya-Elephant Pass road stretch to the LTTE. The LTTE was in command of the entire Vanni region except for the military presence in Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu. The majority of those who fled Mankulam, including its commanding officer, the then Major Daulagala managed to reach the army’s forward defence lines north of Vavuniya. Daulagala is still serving in the army in the capacity of a Maj. General.

SLAF plays commendable role

The SLAF played an admirable role in support of the beleaguered army camps at Kokavil, Kilinochchi and Mankulam. The SLAF lacked the required firepower to conduct sustained offensive and defensive actions. Although it felt the need for additional firepower, President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government wasn’t in a mood for acquisition of new aircraft and dedicated helicopter gunships. Air Vice Marshal MJT De S Gunawardana, who succeeded Air Vice Marshal Walter Fernando in Feb. 1990, faced a daunting task. Italian-built Siai Marchettis, light attack/trainer aircraft, were wholly inadequate to meet the growing commitments. The SLAF took delivery of Siai Marchetti 260 TP and Siai Marchetti 260 W in 1985 and 1990, respectively. Siai Marchettis operated in pairs and had to carry out several sorties targeting a particular target. The SLAF never had the required firepower to meet its commitments during eealam war II. Siai Marchettis remained its main attack aircraft until the acquisition of Chinese built F7s in 1991. It was the first supersonic aircraft deployed against the LTTE. The SLAF also took delivery of FT 7, a two seater supersonic jet trainer.

The fall of Mankulam highlighted the absence of a cohesive counter strategy to neutralise the LTTE threat. In spite of the camp being under siege since the second week of June 1990, the army pathetically failed to either reinforce Mankulam or at least evacuate those trapped.

A strange relationship

Following the LTTE’s declaration of war in the second week of June 1990, a desperate government sought an understanding with Tamil groups opposed to the LTTE. The then State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne played a pivotal role in reaching the agreement with Tamil groups, namely the PLOTE, the EPDP, the ENDLF, the TELO and the EPRLF. Some of them offered to deploy personnel in support of the army. It was nothing but a strange relationship. During peace talks between President Premadasa and Prabhakaran (May 1989 to June 1990), the LTTE hunted them. The Sri Lankan military looked the other way as the LTTE killed hundreds of rival cadres serving in the Civil Volunteer Force (CVF) and the Tamil National Army (TNA), created by the IPKF. On the invitation of Minister Wijeratne, Tamil groups moved into Colombo. They set up base with the knowledge of intelligence services. The government allowed them to carry weapons in Colombo. Interestingly, India backed the controversial arrangement. The Sri Lankan government was taking over the running of Indian trained terrorist groups. They now received arms, ammunition and vehicles courtesy the government. They were allowed to engage in various nefarious activities to raise funds. Extortion was virtually ‘legalised.’ Decision makers didn’t realise their folly. Instead of increasing the army’s strength, the government deployed those trained by India in support of the military. It was a costly operation.

EPDP leader Douglas Devananda explained the circumstances under which Tamil groups had reached an understanding with the government during an exclusive interview with the writer in early Nov. 1990 at his base situated at No. 22, Siripa Lane, Thimbirigasyaya. The meeting was his first with the Colombo based media since he received government approval to conduct anti-LTTE operations in Colombo. The EPDP as well as other groups hired by the government were authorised to detain suspects. Devananda wore a white sarong and a short sleeved T-shirt. The bearded Palestine trained Devananda placed a British pistol on his small table cluttered with newspapers and magazines, before he went on to explain his role in the fight against the LTTE.

Those arrested during operations were brought to Devananda’s base, questioned and handed over to security authorities. Devananda explained the arrest of one Ravindran, an LTTE operative masquerading as a member of the EPRLF. The EPDP questioned the suspect for 48 hours before the police moved in. It was not an isolated incident. Minister Wijeratne approved EPDP operations. The police were ordered to turn a blind eye to what was going on.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Shocking politico-military miscalculations

War on terror revisited : Part 110

The army liberated Kilinochchi in the first week of Jan. 2009. It had vacated kilinochchi in late July 1990. The town was regained again in late Sept. 1996, but the LTTE took it back two years later. The town remained the LTTE’s main bastion until Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s army defeated the LTTE. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the first head of state to visit Kilinochchi after the liberation of the town. President Rajapaksa with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Gen. Fonseka, Maj Gen. Jagath Dias and Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva.

 by Shamindra Ferdinando

Having destroyed the isolated Kokavil army detachment in the second week of July 1990, the LTTE intensified attacks on security forces camps in the Jaffna peninsula and the Vanni. The Kokavil debacle stunned security forces top brass beyond measure. The army was no longer able to move overland supply convoys to detachments north of Vavuniya along the Kandy-Jaffna road (A9). The loss of the overland Main Supply Route (MSR), sent shock waves through the security forces.

President Ranasinghe Premadasa didn’t even realise the gravity of the situation. Security forces chiefs as well as the President’s advisors, including Gen. Cyril Ranatunga remained mum. No one dared to explain to President Ranasinghe Premadasa the consequences of losing the MSR. It caused an irreparable loss to the military.

The poorly equipped SLAF had to undertake risky missions to supply bases situated north of Vavuniya. But the heavy build-up of LTTE forces in the Vanni prevented the SLAF from moving adequate supplies to the beleaguered Kilinochchi and Mankulam camps. The LTTE had thwarted SLAF attempts to evacuate the wounded, though some missions were successful. Those killed in LTTE attacks had to be buried within the camp premises.

The LTTE mounted a series of attacks on army camps at Mankulam, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass. Army headquarters quickly ordered the vacation of the Kilinochchi camp. Troops based at Kilinochchi moved to Elephant Pass, leaving the Mankulam camp situated midway between Vavuniya and Elephant Pass vulnerable to an LTTE onslaught. The then Army chief, Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe, couldn’t cope with the crisis. His army was facing a certain defeat in the Vanni. The loss of Vanni meant that forces based in Jaffna had to be supplied by air and sea, an unenviable task, given the paucity of fixed wing aircraft and ships.

The army faced multiple challenges in the Vanni and Jaffna peninsula. All its bases in the Northern Province were under fire. None of the bases could be supplied overland due to the LTTE being in a commanding position. Army chief, Lt. Gen. Wanasinghe was struggling in the face of the growing LTTE challenge. Both the UNP government and the military didn’t have a cohesive strategy to meet the LTTE threat.

The LTTE launched a major attack on the army camp at Mullaitivu in August 1990. The LTTE fired locally built mortars. Although those based at Mullaitivu repulsed many attacks, they didn’t have the strength to move out of the base to engage the enemy. The army lacked the strength to launch an operation on its own to reinforce the besieged Mullaitivu camp. The country was in chaos, with the army under siege in the Northern Province, while battling it out in the Eastern Province. The LTTE stepped up attacks on Mullaitivu immediately after the Army vacated Kilinochchi, close on the heels of the LTTE overrunning the detachment at Kokavil.

Govt. decides to quit Kilinochchi

The then Capt. Maithri Dias of the 6th battalion of the Sinha Regiment (6SR) arrived in Kilinochchi several days before the LTTE resumed hostilities with the massacre of hundreds of policemen in the Eastern Province. Dias was responding to a directive from Lt. Colonel H. R. Stephen, the then Coordinating Officer, based in Kilinochchi (Lt. Col. Stephen was killed on the morning of Aug.8, 1992 at Araly point, Kayts. He was one of the officers killed along with war veterans, Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Brig. Wijaya Wimalaratne. The dead included Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha, Lt Colonel G. H. Ariyarathne, Lt Colonel Y N Palipana, Commander Asanga Lankathilaka, Lt Colonel Nalin de Alwis, Lt Commander C. B. Wijepura and Private W J Wickremasinghe).

Brigadier Dias recounted the situation in Kilinochchi leading to the army headquarters directive to vacate the town in the last week of July 1990. Dias, currently based at Talladi, Mannar said: "I was tasked to function as a staff officer in Kilinochchi under Lt. Colonel Stephen. The deployment comprised one platoon of 6SR, another platoon of 3 SR (Volunteer) as well as support personnel. There were altogether about 90 personnel. As the then government was having talks with the LTTE, we never expected any trouble. Along the A9 road north of Vavuniya, we had several camps. North of Kilinochchi, troops were positioned at Elephant Pass, Jaffna Fort and Palaly. South of Kilinochchi, troops held Mankulam and Kokavil. Immediately after arriving in Kilinochchi, I was told by Lt. Col. Stephen to prepare to evacuate the troops. On the instructions of the Coordinating Officer, I met a Catholic priest in Kilinochchi to discuss transport arrangements for my men. Lt. Col. Stephen was away in Palaly. He was to go on leave following the conference in Palaly. Following the conference I received further instructions from Lt. Col. Stephen regarding the planned withdrawal. I was told to prepare a plan for an immediate withdrawal. As earlier discussed, I went out to meet the Catholic priest, who promised to help us move men and material from Kilinochchi to Elephant Pass. The sudden disappearance of the priest made me uneasy. The following day (June 11, 1990), the LTTE started attacking the police and the army in the Eastern Province."

It was evident that the then government had decided to abandon Kilinochchi even before the outbreak of hostilities in the second week of June 1990.

Kilinochchi police disarmed

Commenting on the situation immediately after the LTTE resumed hostilities, Brig. Dias, the General Officer Commanding (GoC) 54 Division said: "I received instructions from Maj. Gen. Stanley Silva on June 12, 1990 to make immediate arrangements to accommodate the entire police contingent at Kilinochchi in our camp. But to my surprise, the police declined to follow instructions. I was told of their decision to stay at the police stations. They probably felt the police station was safer than our camp! When the headquarters was informed of their refusal to move in to the Kilinochchi army camp, I was told to disarm them. We quickly removed all arms, ammunition and equipment along with two vehicles and a powerful motor cycle. Tamil policemen assured us that they would protect a group of Muslim policemen based there. There were 40 Muslims. At the time of the crisis, there wasn’t a single Sinhala policeman in Kilinochchi.

On the night June 12, 1990 I got up after hearing a Sergeant reprimanding a soldier who was found sleeping in spite of strict instructions to be on alert due to the rapidly deteriorating situation. I sat on a chair facing the road. Shortly thereafter, a lorry moved past the camp carrying a group of people. Within minutes, I saw the same vehicle moving back northwards. I felt uneasy. The terrorists attacked our camp around 2.30 a.m from the direction of the police station. Subsequently, we knew the LTTE had taken control of the police station before mounting its first attack on the Kilinochchi army camp."

"We lost three personnel, while seven received injuries. SLAF choppers made two abortive bids to land close to our camp to evacuate the wounded. We had one 120 mm mortar with about 200 rounds. The 120 mm tube and rounds had been kept in an abandoned house within the area held by the army. As the government was engaged in negotiations with the LTTE, we felt confident the mortar would never have to be used. Once they fired at the camp, I ordered those in charge of the weapon to prepare it for action. They pointed that the weapon couldn’t be deployed without the presence of an artillery officer. I pointed out that it was not the time to follow procedures. I ordered the immediate deployment of the weapon."

During the battle for Kilinochchi, the LTTE had deployed personnel to target SLAF choppers trying to carry out casualty evacuation. Dias said: "In a desperate bid to facilitate SLAF choppers to land safely, we ran towards one direction while firing our guns. Our action confused the attackers, thus giving time and space for two choppers to land. Lt. Col. Stephen and 11 soldiers got off the choppers, while the wounded got in. A few days later, Lt. Col. Stephen was on board an SLAF chopper, which brought fresh vegetables for us, as the government and the LTTE had reached an agreement on a fresh ceasefire. But the ceasefire didn’t materialize. The LTTE resumed attacks on the Kilinochchi army camp, again."

Troops lay landmines

Talking about defences at Kilinochchi, Brig. Dias said: "We began deploying landmines as defences. We reinforced our positions. Most importantly, we cut trenches. A soldier who received injuries couldn’t be evacuated due to heavy LTTE fire. With a heavy heart I turned back an SLAF chopper deployed on a special mission to evacuate the wounded. I felt we weren’t in a position to risk the lives of the SLAF crew.

At that time, Maj. Gen. Jaliya Nanmuni had been Security Forces Commander Jaffna. He was based in Palaly and in touch with camps in the region.

Brig. Dias said: "We heard heavy gunfire from the direction of Kokavil, where troops were fighting a desperate battle. The Kokavil debacle had a devastating impact on the army. A section of troops based at Kilinochchi declared their intention to vacate the camp, regardless of the consequences. Having calmed them, I took measures to further strengthen the defences until a large force could intervene to facilitate our withdrawal northwards.

Subsequently, the 6th battalion of the Gajaba Regiment (6 GR) and the 5th battalion of the Gemunu Watch (5 GW) moved from Elephant Pass to Kilinochchi in the last week of July 1990 to save those trapped at the Kilinochchi camp.

During the rescue mission, troops had almost lost communication with those coming to their rescue. "We ran out of fuel needed to maintain communications. Luckily, the two land cruisers, which we removed from the Kilinochchi police station, had fuel in their tanks and it was adequate to meet our immediate requirement."

Brig. Dias said that they had found one of the 40 Muslim policemen near the camp. He stayed in the army camp for a few days, but left immediately after the government announced a fresh ceasefire. He simply walked out of the camp and got into a vehicle going southwards, the Brig. said.

Interestingly, Brig. Dias is the first GOC of the re-established 54 Division. Army headquarters restored the Division on Sept. 10, 2010. The LTTE defeated the 54 Division headquartered at Elephant Pass in late April 2000. Heavy losses suffered by the Division compelled army headquarters to disband the formation. It was the worst battlefield defeat experienced by the army during the entire conflict.

Operation Sea Breeze

In Aug. 1990, the LTTE stepped up attacks on the Mullaitivu army camp. As the army lacked the wherewithal to launch a ground assault to break the siege on the Mullaitivu camp, a major sea-borne operation had to be conducted. Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa planned the operation. In spite of saving the Mullaitivu base, the army couldn’t launch a large scale operation to destroy LTTE bases in the Northern region. The LTTE sustained offensive operations both in the Jaffna peninsula and the Vanni. The army had no option but to respond to LTTE threats. That deprived the army top brass of an opportunity to launch an offensive campaign of its own against the LTTE. The LTTE always had the initiative.

 Jaffna fort, Mandathivu vacated

 Having boasted that the Jaffna Fort would be held at any cost, the then Deputy Minister of Defence Ranjan Wijeratne announced the government decision to vacate the Dutch Fort. The army occupied the Jaffna Fort in 1985 following a presidential directive. Immediately after making the announcement, Minister Wijeratne and Army chief, Lt. Gen. Wanasinghe left for Seoul to attend the South Korea National Defence Day celebrations. The army vacated both Jaffna Fort and Mandathivu Island after having sacrificed almost 200 personnel of the 1st GR and 1 SR, commanded by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka, respectively, to break the siege on the fort on Sept. 13, 1990. The army abandoned the fort two weeks later. In fact, the costly mission to save those trapped in the Jaffna fort was to pave the way for an assault on Jaffna. There had been about 50 soldiers and 120 police officers. While Fonseka’s battalion had been tasked to regain the telecommunications building and the Pannai causeway, Rajapaksa was given the daunting task of fighting his way into Jaffna town. Both failed to achieve their assignments. In hindsight, they could have managed to achieve their objectives if troops had moved into the fort as soon as they regained Mandaitivu, having caused substantial losses on the enemy. A delay on the part of the army top brass gave the LTTE time and space to bring in additional units. The army obviously underestimated the LTTE’s strength as well as the experience it had gained from fighting against the Indian army. It would have been an impossible task for two battalions to achieve the given tasks, including the capture of Jaffna. The LTTE’s International Secretariat in London declared that LTTE fighters had captured the Jaffna Fort after chasing out the Sri Lankan army. The Foreign Ministry didn’t even bother to counter LTTE propaganda.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Eelam War II: LTTE takes upper hand at the onset

War on terror revisited : Part 109


At the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s army built a special monument for those who sacrificed their lives at Kokavil

by Shamindra Ferdinando

A message from London

Having destroyed the Kokavil army detachment on the afternoon of July 13, 1990, the LTTE declared that its political wing, People’s Front for Liberation Tigers (PFLT), wouldn’t have any further role to play. Interestingly, the announcement was made by the LTTE’s International Secretariat in London after President Premadasa had postponed nominations for fresh PC elections in the temporarily merged province due to the rapidly deteriorating situation. (PFLT won’t contest polls––The Island July 15, 1990).

Having unilaterally ended a 14-month long ceasefire (May 5, 1989-June 10, 1990), the LTTE swiftly gained the upper hand in the Jaffna peninsula and the Vanni, though in the East it faced fierce resistance by combined security forces.

The LTTE targeted troops and police based at the Jaffna Fort at the onset of eelam war II. It had been the LTTE’s main target in the peninsula. By the last week of June, 1990, the LTTE had been exploring ways and means of overwhelming those beleaguered government security forces personnel after having cut off access to and from the base. The army couldn’t even evacuate wounded personnel.

Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe (Aug. 16, 1988––Nov. 15, 1991) had no option but to seek the help of the SLAF to rescue those trapped in the Jaffna Fort. The army couldn’t even muster a force to mount a limited ground assault to facilitate the SLAF operation. At the behest of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, Lt. Gen. Wanasinghe supervised the transfer of arms, ammunition and equipment to the LTTE to carry out attacks against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

In an interview with the writer soon after he was told of President Premadasa’s decision to appoint him as the Commander of the Army, the then Maj. Gen. Wanasinghe discussed ways and means of improving the combat readiness of troops. A jubilant Wanasinghe revealed his plans to expand the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) to meet any eventuality, while emphasising the importance of training troops in jungle operations (Wanasinghe new army chief––The Island Aug. 7, 1988). Wanasinghe was the 11th Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. He preceded Lt. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne.

Due to the failure on the part of the army to evacuate the wounded and send in reinforcements to Jaffna fort, the SLAF was asked to launch an unprecedented operation to airlift the wounded. The unparalleled operation was codenamed ‘Eagle.’

SLAF to the fore

The SLAF, too, was under heavy pressure to mount a rescue operation. It would be pertinent to mention here, that the SLAF didn’t have the capability to demolish LTTE positions situated close to the Jaffna Fort to enable helicopters to land in the fort. The government hadn’t felt the need to acquire jets, dedicated helicopter gunships or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to facilitate a complicated operation. The SLAF acquired supersonic jets (Chinese F7 and FT 7) in 1991, Kfirs in 1996 and MiG 27s in 2000. The SLAF took delivery of helicopter gunships (Mi 24s) in 1995 and UAVs the following year.

The SLAF initially scheduled Operation Eagle for July 4, 1990. At the eleventh hour, the SLAF advanced the operation by 24 hours. The SLAF decided to mount the operation at 4 a.m. on July 3, 1990.

With the Jaffna fort having been under siege for 21 days, the army top brass felt it was only a matter of days before the LTTE fought its way into the Dutch built fortress. In fact, many senior officers had given up hope of saving those trapped in the Jaffna fort, when the SLAF took up the daunting task.

The then Wing Commander, Jayalath Weerakkody (Later SLAF Commander, currently, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Islamabad), explained the rescue mission to a select group of journalists, including the writer shortly after the conclusion of the operation. On the day before the rescue bid, the SLAF deployed four Italian built Siai Marchettis to target LTTE positions close to the Jaffna fort. Siai Marchettis acquired in 1985 were used in counter insurgency operations. Close on the heels of the attack, helicopters targeted LTTE positions, paving the way for Y 12 and Y 8 transport aircraft to drop food, medicine and other urgently needed supplies. Wing Commander Weerakkody said that the SLAF action on July 2, 1990 was meant to deceive the enemy. The LTTE wouldn’t have expected a rescue operation in the immediate aftermath of a major re-supply effort.

The rescue mission was planned in the wake of two earlier abortive missions.

The real operation got underway at 4 a.m. on July 3, 1990, with four Siai Marchettis and four helicopters taking off from different bases. They reached their target at 5.20 a.m. While the Siai Marchettis under the command of Squadron Leader Shantha Gooneratne and three helicopters engaged LTTE positions, a US built Bell 412 piloted by Squadron Leader Lasantha Waidyasekera and co-piloted by Flying Officer Mirando landed on the Pannai causeway. While troops of the 6SR (Sixth Battalion Sinha Regiment) engaged the enemy, seven wounded troops were rushed out of the Jaffna Fort and put on board the chopper. Squadron Leader Roger Weerasinghe had been in command of the helicopters tasked to engage targets.

The SLAF launched the Bell 412 involved in the rescue mission from Kankesanthurai. Before taking in the wounded, six heavily armed troops got off the machine and ran towards the Fort. They were volunteers who joined a besieged base at the risk of their lives. The SLAF flew the wounded SR soldiers to Palaly, where they received medical treatment before being moved to the Ratmalana air base.

The then Air Force Commander, Air Vice Marshal Terrence Gunawardena and the late Group Capt. Anselm Peiris, who functioned as the mission commander, too, were present at Ratmalana when a fixed wing aircraft carrying the wounded touched down at Ratmalana at 8 a.m. (Dramatic rescue of injured men from Jaffna Fort––The Island-July 4, 1990).

Commandos lose over 40 in single ambush

Soon after the conclusion of the rescue mission, President Ranasinghe Premadasa visited SLAF headquarters to thank the officers involved in the rescue mission. Although the daring rescue mission boosted the morale of the army, it didn’t stop the rapid deterioration of the ground situation in the northern region. The LTTE was on the offensive, with the army struggling to counter the growing threat on all major bases in the Jaffna peninsula and the Vanni region. Officers and men had been thoroughly demoralised and as a result, desertions were extremely high in spite of troops making some headway in the Eastern Province. But, even in the Eastern Province, the army had suffered some stunning setbacks as the LTTE brought in experienced units in to the battle. Having quickly taken the upper hand in the Batticaloa District, the LTTE mounted attacks on Kinniya, Uppuveli and Muttur police stations. The LTTE quickly overran Kinniya, though the police at Muttur repulsed the attack with the support of troops based at the adjoining army detachment. As the army feared those defending Muttur could not manage the situation on their own, army top brass authorised a special operation to relieve them. The then Lt. Commander Lakshman Illangakoon, Commanding Officer of the landing craft ‘Kandula’ was tasked to ferry troops necessary for the operation (Illangakoon is the current Eastern Commander and holds the rank of Rear Admiral).

Unfortunately, the operation went awry though the navy managed to land a contingent of commandos led by Maj. A. M. Arzhad close to brown rock point, east of Muttur in the early hours of June 14, 1990. Having allowed the commandos to come ashore without a fight, the LTTE ambushed them a little distance away from the landing point, killing 40. Six commandos, who had survived the ambush, escaped in a boat and drifted for several weeks in the Indian Ocean though only four managed to reach the beaches of Bangkok in early August 1990. They told how two of their colleagues died during the unchartered journey. At the time of his untimely death, Arzhad was to marry the then State Housing Minister Imithiaz Bakeer Markar’s sister (Four commandos escape Tigers, land in Bangkok––The Island Aug 9, 1990). Arshad was a distinguished and much admired old boy of Balangoda Central College, according to current Navy spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya. For many, Arshad was an inspiring figure like Colonel Fazly Laphir, Commanding Officer of the 1 Special Forces Regiment, who, too, died in another disastrous rescue mission in July 1996. Laphir was leading troops to save those who had escaped the LTTE onslaught on the Mullaitivu base during the morning of July 18, 1996. Captain Wasantha Jayaweera, formerly of the Special Forces, and a veteran of many battles had been with Colonel Laphir during the ill-fated mission. Jayaweera says that men were willing to follow Colonel Laphir even at the risk of their lives.

First major setback on A9 road

Exactly a month after the resumption of hostilities with the massacre of over 600 police officers and men, Army chief, Lt. Gen. Wanasinghe placed Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa in charge of operations in the Northern region. The situation on the ground had deteriorated to such an extent, that Maj. Gen. Kobbekaduwa’s appointment as the Northern Commander didn’t make any difference. The LTTE had built fortifications around all camps in the Jaffna peninsula as well as in the Vanni. Prabhakaran brazenly took advantage of his ‘honeymoon’ with President Premadasa to build gun positions around bases. The LTTE also moved in to positions abandoned by the IPKF during the Oct. 1989-March 1990 period at the expense of the army. Besides, President Premadasa had ordered the army to vacate some of its bases, including strategically positioned troops at Valvettiturai and Point Pedro. The army could not either reinforce or vacate besieged bases at Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Kokavil, Manakulam, Mullaitivu and Jaffna Fort. The army top brass felt that an urgent offensive was needed to rescue troops in bases vulnerable to an LTTE onslaught. But, the overall planning was chaotic in the absence of a cohesive strategy to decipher the LTTE stratagem. In hindsight, the LTTE was obviously bent on smashing army bases situated along the Kandy-Jaffna A9 main road between Kokavil and Jaffna fort. The army top brass obviously failed to realise the danger posed by the massive LTTE build-up in the Vanni. Had they realised the threat on the main overland supply route to Jaffna, they would have acted swiftly and decisively. Unfortunately, the army lacked the wherewithal to reinforce bases situated along the A9. While the army was engaged in counter insurgency operations against the JVP, in support of the police, the LTTE (July 1987- Feb/March 1990), received much needed retraining. Having crushed the Indian sponsored Tamil National Army (IPKF) in a series of lightning operations, the Tigers had collected a massive arsenal supplied by India, whereas President Premadasa, too, provided a large stock of weapons.

Immediately after Maj. Gen. Kobbekaduwa assumed the northern command on July 11, 1990, the LTTE overran the isolated Kokavil detachment established to protect a Rupavahini tower. In spite of the detachment being under attack for almost a month, the army top brass failed to reinforce those defending the base. Lieutenant S. U. Aladeniya of the Sinha Regiment (Second Volunteer battalion) fought to the end, though he was given an opportunity to withdraw at an early stage of the battle. Refusing to abandon the base leaving behind casualties, Aladeniya called the army to engage his own base with long range artillery. Aladeniya was one of the few to receive the Parama Weera Vibhushana (PWV) posthumously, for his gallantry. Army headquarters pathetically failed to reinforce the Kokavil detachment comprising two platoons in spite of Aladeniya calling for reinforcements. They also ran out of ammunition. About 50 volunteers went down fighting at Kokavil. None of their bodies were recovered. Some of the captured volunteer Sinha Regiment personnel are believed to have been executed. Two soldiers who managed to escape by crawling through the LTTE cordon, managed to reach the army base at Mankulam, situated north of Kokavil. According to them, those captured were burnt alive.

President’s shocking complicity in massacre of policemen


by Shamindra Ferdinando

Having received an assurance from the then Indian Prime Minister V. P. Singh that the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) would complete its pullout in March 1990, President Ranasinghe Premadasa initiated a dialogue with the LTTE to decide on the post-IPKF security set-up in the temporarily-merged Northern and Eastern Province.

Minister A. C. S. Hameed led the negotiations on behalf of President Premadasa’s government. Both President Premadasa and Minister Hameed, the then Chairman of the UNP, had remained confident that tangible action could be taken to restore normalcy in war-torn areas once the IPKF completed its withdrawal.

The LTTE changed its tune soon after the IPKF pulled out from Sri Lanka on the morning of March 24, 1990. The government and the LTTE remained silent on their discussions as regards the post-IPKF security set-up in spite of sharp differences. The first indication of a simmering dispute over deployment of government forces came to light when the LTTE confronted an army convoy at Pandarikulam off Vavuniya. A heavily armed LTTE group fired at a convoy comprising two armoured personnel carriers and three trucks causing the death of one soldier and injuries to ten. The convoy was on its way to a base in the north. Much to the surprise of the army, the LTTE accused the contingent of troops, subsequently identified as of the Gajaba Regiment, of violating an agreement between the group and the LTTE as regards movement of troops. The LTTE alleged that the army had failed to obtain prior approval from its local commander before dispatching a convoy.

Defence top brass silent

The army top brass remained silent in spite of great humiliation. President Premadasa and his main trouble shooter Minister Hameed still believed the LTTE would remain in the peace process. They were so naïve as to believe that a negotiated settlement could still be achieved even after the LTTE had massacred several hundred policemen. Obviously, the UNP felt that an understanding with the LTTE was far more important than the lives of those police personnel.

The President’s office on the evening of June 16, 1990 declared that a ceasefire would come into operation effective 6.00 pm June 16, 1990. The announcement came after Minister Hameed, in his capacity as Chairman of the North-East Peace Committee had reached an understanding with the LTTE leadership in Jaffna. The government declared that a crucial breakthrough had been made after seven hours of talks and immediate measures would be taken to restore normalcy. The government also claimed that the LTTE would release all persons abducted at the onset of hostilities on June 10/11, 1990 in Batticaloa (Government and LTTE agree on ceasefire––The Island June 17, 1990).

Former Army Chief speaks out

One-time army chief Gen. Gerry H. De Silva has, in his memoirs, explained the circumstances leading to the eruption of fighting in Batticaloa on June 11, 1990. According to him, the situation there had rapidly deteriorated in the first week of June, 1990 with the LTTE obstructing the movement of security forces. The LTTE also interfered with the police maintaining law and order, while manning about 40 mini detachments in Batticaloa and its suburbs. President Premadasa turned a blind eye to what was going on. Instead of taking up the issue with the LTTE, the President directed the army to cooperate with the LTTE! Gen. de Silva has admitted that the army was taken by complete surprise when the LTTE swung into action in Batticaloa. A dispute between the LTTE and the Batticaloa police over the arrest of a Muslim who tailored uniforms for the group quickly led to the collapse of the fragile s ceasefire. The LTTE wiped out a group of Gemunu Watch soldiers on its way to Ampara from Kallady for their annual weapons training classification. According to the Gemunu Watch veteran, on orders from police headquarters, altogether 636 police officers and men surrendered. They were tortured and killed. However, the Gen. de Silva has not discussed the circumstances that led to their surrender and killing. Successive governments haven’t cared to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the massacre of policemen.

Tassie lambastes ex-President at LLRC

Retired Senior Superintendent of Police Tassie Seneviratne giving evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in early 2011 explained President Premadasa’s role in the massacre of the policemen .

SSP Seneviratne declared that the lives of over 300 police personnel could have been saved at the outset of Eelam War II in June 1990, had President Premadasa allowed the Air Force to launch attacks on the LTTE and deployed army reinforcements in support of the police personnel in the Kalmunai police division. Instead, President Premadasa had ordered the military not to back the beleaguered policemen in an attempt to work out a fresh ceasefire with the LTTE, Seneviratne alleged.

In a letter dated Jan. 31 submitted to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), after giving oral evidence on Jan. 24, Seneviratne alleged that the policemen who had surrendered could be divided into two separate groups, each comprising about 300 officers and men. Altogether there were over 600 of them, Seneviratne said.

Seneviratne reveals in his letter: "One category comprises those who had surrendered after their police stations were overrun, having complied with a presidential order not to confront the LTTE at any cost. This was a prevailing order issued before the outbreak of hostilities on June 11, 1990. When police stations were surrounded by the LTTE which threatened attacks if they didn’t surrender, police officers who had specific orders ‘not to confront at any cost’ had no option but to surrender. This, in fact, is how the orders were interpreted by the SSP in Charge of Batticaloa Division who gave the police personnel the order to surrender before the arrival of the IG Police Ernest Perera in Batticaloa on June 11, 1990; those police stations surrendered without firing a shot."

Boteju rejects presidential directive

Seneviratne alleged, in his written submissions, that the second category comprised the personnel of the Kalmunai Police Division under ASP Ivan Boteju, who refused to follow the presidential directive. Boteju and his men vowed to retaliate in case of an LTTE attack. In spite of a heavy attack, those holding the Kalmunai police station had stood their ground, causing heavy losses to the enemy, Seneviratne pointed out.

Seneviratne revealed that the LTTE had ample stocks of arms and ammunition supplied by the Premadasa government, while those who had served the country were denied reinforcements.

President Premadasa had IGP Ernest Perera flown to Batticaloa with specific orders to direct the fighting policemen to surrender to marauding LTTE cadres. The President, through the IGP, handed over 324 police officers to the LTTE, Seneviratne alleged. "This turned out to be a live sacrifice offered on a platter. Their case is unique and not comparable with those who were overrun without a shot being fired. It would be appropriate to recognise these 324 police officers as national heroes and to duly compensate their families."

Responding to a query by The Island, Seneviratne said that there could not have been a similar incident during the entire eelam war. Successive governments had never bothered to inquire into the circumstances under which over 300 fighting police personnel had surrendered only to be lined up and shot dead, the former SSP said, adding that had those who came to power after the assassination of President Premadasa launched an inquiry, the then IGP, too, would have been compelled to be a witness. The IGP would have been obliged to tell the truth to an officially empowered investigator, Seneviratne asserted adding: "It is not too late even now."

No official record of massacre

Seneviratne says in his letter to the LLRC: "As the then Director handling police officers’ grievances, I was entitled to know the truth, and I enquired from IGP Ernest Perera, who told me exactly what had happened. Although I have gone public with the truth, the truth has not been accepted officially and there is no official record of it. The IGP at that time did all he could within his scope to give temporary relief from the limited funds available to him. But in the absence of an official record of the truth, the 324 police officers have been denied proper recognition by the government, and their families denied proper evaluation of compensation due to them from the government. When compared to rewards of several lakhs of rupees each, taken by very senior police officers up to the rank of Senior DIG, for undisclosed acts of ‘bravery’ known only to the political masters, what deserving junior officers /their families received was ‘chicken-feed’."

Seneviratne, in a separate missive to the LLRC, a few days before his oral submissions alleged that Deputy Minister Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan aka Karuna had been directly involved in the massacre of over 600 policemen, including those fighting men, who had to cease action on a presidential directive.

Karuna, who appeared before the LLRC late last year denied his involvement in the massacre of the policemen. In a subsequent interview with The Island, Karuna, who played a critical role in the war against the LTTE, said that at the time of the police massacre, he had been in Jaffna.

Nevertheless, Seneviratne alleged that there was evidence before the LLRC regarding Karuna’s role in the massacre and the government shouldn’t turn a blind eye to past atrocities for political reasons.

Former SSP Seneviratne alleged that Karuna had been responsible for a mine attack on SSP Nimal de Silva on Oct. 8, 1987. The Batticaloa blast killed de Silva, the then coordinating officer for the eastern district. Seneviratne alleged that the Uzi automatic issued to SSP de Silva had been used by Karuna subsequently.

Seneviratne said that Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had shown concern over the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, and wanted "KP" handed over to India, though no political leader had bothered about over 600 men, particularly those who were forced to surrender, in spite of facing the enemy, courageously.

The LLRC also received evidence in camera, which supported Seneviratne’s allegations against the LTTE.

How the President bent backwards to please P’karan

 A deeply embarrassed President Premadasa struggled to keep Prabhakaran at the negotiating table even after the LTTE had overrun the Batticaloa police station. At the behest of President Premadasa, the elite police commandos tasked to protect LTTE representatives staying in five star comfort at the Colombo Hilton escorted three persons to the Ratmalana air base. Among them was the LTTE radio operator. They arrived at the heavily guarded airbase at 5.30 p.m. on June 11, 1990 carrying two assault rifles, several magazines as well as three large boxes. Some SLAF personnel at the air base reacted angrily with one technician threatening to prevent them from leaving for Jaffna. Having being, alerted by the STF, President Premadasa ordered the SLAF to ensure the LTTE representatives safe passage to Palaly. The President insisted that security forces couldn’t be emotional and orders should be carried out regardless of their private opinion. The SLAF flew them in a Chinese Y 12 aircraft to Palaly to a hostile reception. The military felt that the government should have held the LTTE group in a bid to negotiate for the release of those held captive by the LTTE. But President Premadasa and Minister Hameed thought otherwise. His security and international affairs advisors, Gen. Cyril Ranatunga and Bradman Weerakoon remained mum. Although Gen. Ranatunga had been subsequently critical of President Premadasa’s style of peacemaking, he never dared to express his opinion before the President’s assassination on the early afternoon of May Day 1993. Gen. Ranatunga is on record as having said that the army had little or no training for over a year during peace talks (May 1989-June 1990). Gen. Ranatunga revealed in an article titled Negotiating peace in Sri Lanka: the role of the military (Feb 1998) how President Premadasa summoned service commanders and allocated Rs. 5 billion to acquire arms and ammunition needed to fight the LTTE. The President’s move was too late, the Gen declared. Gen. Ranatunga’s revelation, too, had come too late.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The TNA factor

War on terror revisited : Part 107

Sooleeimedu, Madras 1986: Ossie Abeygunasekera, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Vijaya Kumaratunga, K. Pathmanaba and Ketheesh Logeswaran. Abeygunasekera was killed in an LTTE suicide attack directed at UNP presidential election candidate Gamini Dissanayake in Oct 1994, Chandrika K survived an LTTE suicide attack on Dec 1999, Vijaya was assassinated in Feb 1989 allegedly by the JVP. Pathmanaba and Kethees were killed in June 1990 and Aug 2006, respectively.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Had the militia formed by India and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) in late 1989 was able to establish itself in the then temporarily-merged North East Province, Sri Lanka would have been plunged into a new war.

Their original plan was to recruit as many as 30,000 men for the militia called the Tamil National Army (TNA). The TNA was placed under the command of the then Chief Minister of the North East Provincial Council Varatharaja Perumal, who intended to declare an independent state of Tamil Eelam once his militia was ready to meet any eventuality.

What India and the EPRLF obviously didn’t envisage was the change of administration in New Delhi in 1989. Had Gandhi retained power at the Nov. 1989 parliamentary polls, Sri Lanka’s destiny would definitely have been different. In the run-up to the polls, the IPKF trained thousands of men at its bases in accordance with an overall security plan to take on the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE. Gandhi was to maintain the TNA at the Indian taxpayers’ expense. The Indian government, obviously on the basis of assertions by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), believed that the TNA could be the IPKF’s proxy.

In hindsight, the Indian bid to establish a militia could be considered one of the most irrational and short-sighted decisions taken by the then Rajiv Gandhi government. In fact, the formation of a militia was even worse than setting up training facilities for Tamil groups operating in South India.

A growing threat posed by the TNA forced Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE to cooperate for a short period. They worked closely until the LTTE finished off the TNA in a series of lightning operations in the Vanni and the Eastern Province.

Although government forces and the LTTE refrained from launching joint operations, they directed attacks against the TNA. The TNA was meant to protect the EPRLF-led administration in the temporarily-merged North East Province after the IPKF pullout.

The NE Provincial administration came to being in Nov. 1988, following elections conducted under the auspices of the IPKF.

In early Oct. 1989, President Premadasa urged India to stop training and arming Tamil youth. The then presidential security advisor Gen. Cyril Ranatunga confirmed the government taking up the issue with New Delhi. Gen. Ranatunga alleged that the IPKF was continuing the TNA project in spite of Sri Lanka’s protest (Military training of Tamil youth: Sri Lanka protests––The Island Oct 2, 1989 and Training of Tamil youth goes despite protest to India––The Island Oct 11, 1989).

The TNA caused damage to five SLAF choppers during confrontations in the Ampara district and Chettikulam in the Vavuniya district in late 1989. The TNA hit four SLAF gunships deployed in defence of four police stations in the Ampara district in Nov 1989.

Acting on the instructions of the IPKF, the TNA made a bold move to drive the police out of some parts of the Ampara district as the IPKF gradually pulled out from the area. TNA cadres peppered SLAF choppers deployed in support of the police with automatic fire, causing substantial damages. A few weeks before the Ampara battle, TNA cadres in the presence of the IPKF fired at an SLAF chopper coming down to land at a helipad at Chettikulam. Automatic fire hit the door of the chopper as well as its fuselage. At that time, the SLAF estimated the damages caused to SLAF choppers due to TNA/IPKF action at $ 250,000.

The TNA comprised members of Tamil groups sponsored by India. Some of its senior cadres had been among those trained in India before the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) on the morning of July 29, 1987.

Ketheesh speaks out

Amidst confrontations between the IPKF backed EPRLF and the LTTE, some EPRLF frontliners moved to Colombo, where they remained in constant touch with the Indian High Commission. Ketheeswaran Loganathan was one of the key EPRLF strategists spearheading a campaign to justify the Indian/EPRLF action. The EPRLF Central Committee member known as ‘Ketheesh’ was considered a close associate of the then EPRLF leader K. Pathmanaba as well as a friend of India.

On the morning of Sept 14, 1989, Ketheesh and the then EPRLF MP Suresh Premachandran (now a Jaffna District MP representing the Tamil National Alliance), called a media briefing at the Taj Samudra to explain the EPRLF’s position. The writer was among a group of journalists representing local and Colombo based Indian journalists invited by the EPRLF. Both Ketheesh and Premachandran requested the media not to reveal that the briefing took place at the Taj Samudra, due to the presence of LTTE operatives in Colombo.

Ketheesh did not mince his words when he declared the EPRLF’s readiness to take on President Premadasa in case the government pushed for a military solution for the national problem. Ketheesh emphasised the EPRLF’s resolve to face any eventuality, even in the absence of the IPKF.

Much to the surprise of those covering the media briefing, Ketheesh declared that the EPRLF was in the process of forming a Tamil militia to fill the vacuum created by the IPKF pullout. The EPRLF wouldn’t allow the Sri Lankan government to take over security in the temporarily merged province, Ketheesh declared.

Commenting on the LTTE demand that the EPRLF should be dissolved before Oct 1, 1989, Ketheesh said that the group wouldn’t succumb to Prabhakaran’s pressure. The EPRLF called the media briefing in the wake of the LTTE killing seven EPRLF cadres at Kokkadicholai in the Batticaloa district.

Ketheesh and Premachandran pointed out the absurdity of President Premadasa accommodating the LTTE at the All Party Conference (APC) close on the heels of Prabhakaran issuing death threats against EPRLF members of the North East Provincial Council. They opposed the IPKF leaving Sri Lanka before the full implementation of the Indo Lanka Accord.

The EPRLF duo defended indiscriminate IPKF action at Valvettiturai on Aug 2, 1989 causing the deaths of over 70 men, women and children, following the killing of six jawans. They pointed out that the LTTE mounted the attack just to provoke the IPKF. The LTTE’s strategy was simple, they alleged, adding that Prabhakaran wanted to highlight atrocities committed by the IPKF at the expense of Tamil speaking people.

They accused the Sri Lankan army of accommodating LTTE cadres in bases in the north-central province, while acknowledging the EPRLF engaged in forced conscription of youth to strengthen its militia (EPRLF will fight if government attempts to impose a ‘military solution’––The Island Sept 15, 1989).

The LTTE wiped out a section of the top EPRLF leadership on June 19, 1990, a week after the resumption of hostilities between President Premadasa’s forces and the LTTE. An LTTE hit squad stormed an apartment at Zachria colony in Kodambakkam, Chennai, when the EPRLF leadership was having a discussion. Thirteen top EPRLF leaders, including its soft-spoken secretary-general K. Padmanabha, Finance Minister in the North Eastern Provincial Council P. Kirubakaran, and Member of Parliament Yogasankari, were killed. The hit squad reached Sri Lanka within 24 hours. Obviously the Indian Coast Guard and the Sri Lankan Navy didn’t interfere with the hit squad’s movement across the Palk Straits.

The LTTE operation directed at the EPRLF embarrassed India and its intelligence services. It was the single largest LTTE operation conducted across the Palk Straits. Did some disgruntled elements within the EPRLF alert the LTTE hit squad? The EPRLF never recovered from the setback suffered due to negligence on the part of those Indians responsible for protecting the EPRLF leadership taking refuge in Chennai. Killing the EPRLF leadership would have been child’s play for Prabhakaran’s assassins, who went to the extent of blowing up one-time Premier Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur near Chennai on the night of May 21, 1991. At least 14 others were also killed.

Ketheesh was assassinated by the LTTE on the night of Aug 12, 2006, at his unguarded residence at Vandervert Place, Dehiwela. At the time of the assassination, Ketheesh was Deputy Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Peace Process (SCOPP). It would be pertinent to mention here that Ketheesh and Varatharaja Perumal represented the EPRLF at the famous Thimpu talks in 1985. Ketheesh succumbed to his injuries while being rushed to the Colombo South hospital at Kalubowila.

Interestingly, Ketheesh was not targeted for his role in the EPRLF. Instead, he incurred the wrath of the LTTE for joining the SCOPP to back President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s peace initiative. Ketheesh joined the SCOPP in April 2006 on the invitation of the government.

EPRLF strategy goes awry

In the wake Keteesh’s media briefing at the Taj Samudra, which was the much preferred safe haven for those sponsored by India at that time, the EPRLF launched its second round of forced conscription (EPRLF’s second round of forced conscription begins––The Island Sept 20, 1989). The EPRLF probably felt that the formation of a Tamil militia would compel President Premadasa to be amenable to its far reaching proposals to the All Party Conference convened to discuss ways and means of resolving the national issue. Instead, the EPRLF strategy prompted President Premadasa to reach an understanding with the LTTE to finish off the EPRLF. It was a great miscalculation on the part of India and the EPRLF to intensify pressure on President Premadasa by way of a heavily armed militia.

While having direct talks with the LTTE, President Premadasa also made an attempt to involve the LTTE with other political parties through the All Party Conference (APC), which first met on Aug 12, 1989 at the BMICH. Some 26 political parties attended the APC, though the SLFP took part only in the first two rounds.

The APC process reached a high gear in early September with President Premadasa meeting with the main Opposition-five party alliance led by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike on Sept 8, 1989. Although they agreed in principle that all elements outside the political mainstream should be brought in to the democratic process, they couldn’t agree as to how to proceed. Although the LTTE participated as an observer, the JVP ignored the President’s invitation. (LTTE to participate in APC –The Island Sept 10, 1989).

President Premadasa seemed to have had faith in the APC process, though his colleagues were sceptical. In a bid to facilitate the negotiating process, President Premadasa went to the extent of getting the UNP Working Committee to recommend the dissolution of parliament. The decision was made on Oct 1, 1989.The UNP Working Committee also recommended the formation of a caretaker government. Surprisingly, the Opposition didn’t pursue the UNP offer (Five party alliance undecided on UNO offer––The Island Oct 5, 1989).

The APC identified 20 main issues for further discussions. According to President Premadas’ international affairs advisor Bradman Weerakoon, the UNP leader considered the LTTE’s presence at the APC for a short period as a signal achievement in his effort to get the LTTE to participate in mainstream politics. Weerakoon pointed out that the LTTE’s ally, the EROS, led by Balakumar, too, had been a constituent member of the APC (Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons edited by Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe). Weerakoon revealed how President Premadasa compelled the LTTE to register the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) as a political party, significantly, without the tag Tamil Eelam.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Tigers flex muscles, belittle President

War on terror revisited : Part 106


January 8, 1990 Koliyakulam: A smiling Gopalswamy Mahendraraja alias Mahattaya responds to media queries in the wake of the LTTE receiving political recognition. Except for the writer, seated on the right next to Mahattaya, others represented Indian media organizations. The LTTE later accused Mahattaya of being an Indian agent and executed him. In hindsight, could the Koliyakulam meeting have aroused Prabhakaran’s suspicion of a possible clandestine link between India and Mahattaya? (Pic courtesy the LTTE)

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of the LTTE receiving political recognition with President Ranasinghe Premadasa's blessings, Gopalswamy Mahendraraja aka Mahattaya, newly appointed leader of the People's Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) ruled out the possibility of the LTTE/PFLT reaching an agreement with Indian-sponsored groups.

Having announced the newly gained political status at a packed media conference in a five-star hotel in Colombo on the morning of Dec. 20, 1989, the LTTE called a media briefing in the north in the first week of Jan. 1990 to further explain its position to a select group of Colombo-based Indian journalists and Rita Sebastian, who at that time represented an international media organization. The writer, too, received an invitation from the LTTE to join the only formal media briefing held before the outbreak of hostilities on June 1990. The meeting took place at an LTTE safe house at Koliyakulam, in the northern part of Vavuniya, west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

May 3, 1989 at the SLAF grounds Colombo: LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham and his wife, Adele with Yogiratnam Yogi (in battle fatigues) after they were flown from Mullaitivu by the SLAF. The LTTE delegation met President Premadasa at ‘Sucharitha’ the following day (Pic Jude Denzil Pathiraja
Addressing the media, Deputy LTTE military commander and PFLT leader Mahattaya explained that there was no space for IPKF-sponsored groups in the temporarily-merged North East Province. He was joined by Yogiratnam Yogi, a key member of the LTTE negotiating team led by the group's theoretician Anton Balasingham having talks with President Premadasa.

The media briefing was held under the very nose of the IPKF, which still remained in charge of security in the province in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA).

Mahattaya and Yogi didn't mince their words when they reiterated that pro-LTTE groups would be eliminated at any cost. Dressed in jungle fatigues, the LTTE duo declared their plans to take over the districts of Jaffna and Trincomalee once the IPKF left the country. Most importantly, Mahattaya emphasized that the LTTE hadn't dropped its longstanding demand for a state of eelam, though it was engaged in negotiations with the Sri Lankan government(LTTE vows to eliminate pro-Indian Tamil groups-The Island Jan 10, 1990).

Mahattaya and Yogi were speaking in the wake of the LTTE stepping up operations in the province targeting the EPRLF, the TELO, the ENDLF, the PLOTE as well as the Tamil National Army (TNA), formed by the IPKF to prop up the crumblig provincial administration.

They denied allegations that the ongoing LTTE offensive had the backing of the Sri Lankan Army. Insisting that the SLA hadn't been involved in the LTTE-led operations, they asserted that the group didn't require the SLA's support to bring the operation to a successful conclusion. However, they appreciated government forces for not interfering in their operations.

Mahattaya explained action taken by the LTTE to neutralize rival groups with the blessings of President Premadasa. President Premadasa turned a blind eye to what was going on in the Northern and Eastern provinces. None of his advisors and ministers dared to warn the President of the danger in legitimizing LTTE operations. Bradman Weerakoon was his international affairs advisor (1989-1993), Gen. Cyril Ranatunga was security advisor, while Gen. Sepala Attyagalle held the post of Defence Secretary. Ranjan Wijeratne held the portfolio of State Minister for Defence. Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe, too, remained a mere spectator as the President went all out to appease the LTTE.

The government didn't even challenge the statement attributed to Mahattaya and Yogi that the LTTE would take over Jaffna and Trincomalee once the IPKF pulled out. The President was confident of steering direct negotiations with the LTTE to a successful conclusion. Gen. Ranatunga in an informative piece headlined 'Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: The Role of the Military' in a

published by Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe (Feb. 1998) quoted President Premadasa as having told the service commanders in the presence of an LTTE delegation that they would now have to find another enemy, as the LTTE had given up arms and entered the political process. Although Gen. Ranatunga hadn't revealed when and where the statement attributed to President Premadasa was made, during direct negotiations (May 1989-June 1990), it underscored the President's faith in Prabhakaran.

President Premadasa quietly accepted the LTTE's right to carry weapons. In fact, the then UNP government covertly encouraged the LTTE to neutralize those working according to India's agenda in the run-up to the IPKF pullout.

Provincial Councillor


The LTTE assassinated EPRLF heavyweight George Thambirajah and four of his bodyguards at Sampaltivu, about six miles away from Trincomalee on the Neelaveli-Trincomalee road in January 1990. The LTTE justified the assassination by identifying Thambirajah, an EPRLF member of the North East Provincial Council (NEPC) as a key figure in the TNA. Thambirajah was on his way to attend an EPRLF meeting.

The assassination took place in the wake of Varatharaja Perumal, Chief Minister of the NEPC, leaving for New Delhi in a bid to work out a post-IPKF security plan.

Arumugam Kandaiah Premachandran aka Suresh Premachandran accused India/IPKF of turning a blind eye to operations conducted by the LTTE with the support of the Sri Lanka Army. Following Thambirajah's assassination, Premachandran alleged that the LTTE and the army had killed over 200 members of rival groups during the month of Dec. 1989, while India looked the other way. Premachandran was a prominent member of the EPRLF at that time and was staying at Hotel Taj Samudra. Premachandran urged President Premadasa to stop the LTTE from hunting down members of rival groups (EPRLF wants government to twist PFLT arm-The Island January 7, 1990). Today, Premachandran represents the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Shortly after the conclusion of the second round of talks between President Premadasa's representatives and the LTTE in Colombo at the army headquarters sports pavilion during the period June 16 to July 2, 1989, Prabhakaran ordered the elimination of the TULF leadership.

The LTTE assassinated TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam at his Colombo residence in the presence of his wife on July 13, 1989. All three members of the LTTE hit squad were shot dead by Amirthalingam's police bodyguard, T. A. Nissanka. The 76-year-old Mrs. Amirthalingam, accompanied by her youngest son, Dr. Bahirathan visited Nissanka at his home at Ambanpitiya, Kegalle on May 29, 2009, ten days after the army killed Prabhakaran.

The press quoted Mrs. Amirthalingam as having said: "Every time these people came and murdered, they managed to escape, but Nissanka killed all of them."

Had Nissanka failed to kill the assassins, the LTTE would never have been implicated in the killings. Although the government made a desperate attempt to shield the LTTE, the recovery of bodies led to them being identified as members of the LTTE. Interestingly, they were part of the LTTE delegation in Colombo!

Amirthalingam and several other TULF leaders returned to Sri Lanka from India after the induction of the IPKF to ensure the implementation of the ILA. They returned, after having reached an understanding with the LTTE.

Those who had ordered the SLAF to ferry LTTE couldn't have been unaware how the organization brought a team of assassins from Mullaitivu to Colombo, during talks between President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the LTTE. The hit squad accompanied LTTE delegates airlifted from Mullaitivu to Colombo by the SLAF during the IPKF presence. Although the then Commandant of the elite Special Task Force (STF) SSP Lionel Karunasena had assigned a crack team of bodyguards under the then ASP Nimal Lewke, the LTTE delegation was allowed to bring in armed bodyguards. The use of SLAF choppers by LTTE assassins wouldn't have come to light if the assassins had managed to escape after killing TULF leader A. Amirthalingam and politburo member V. Yogeswaran. The LTTE cadres killed by PC Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa, assigned to provide security to Amirthalingam's residence, were identified as Visu, Aloysius and an accomplice who waited outside. The gunmen also targeted Yogeswaran's wife, Sarojini and TULF President, Murugesu Sivasithamparam.

The LTTE had taken umbrage over Amirthalingam's speech in Parliament in June 1989, pleading for the continuation of the IPKF presence in Sri Lanka. The LTTE probably felt that the TULF leader was speaking at the behest of India, which contemptuously ignored President Premadasa's demand for the IPKF pullout made on the morning of April 13, 1989.

President Premadasa reiterated his commitment for a negotiated settlement with the LTTE, even after the assassination of the TULF leader.

The Amirthalingams live in the UK, where they took up residence after the killings in Colombo. Sarojini was assassinated in Jaffna years later even after the liberation of the entire peninsula.

Warning signs

As the IPKF gradually pulled out large contingents from outlying areas in late 1989 after the change of government in New Delhi, the LTTE moved swiftly to fill the vacuum. The LTTE established bases all over the provinces as Sri Lankan forces remained confined to barracks. Having observed the rapid expansion of LTTE power in the Northern and Eastern districts, the government made an attempt to launch patrols in some areas. Close on the heels of the LTTE routing the IPKF trained TNA in Dec. 1989, the police and the army felt that they could resume routine security patrols in Batticaloa town and its suburbs. The LTTE strongly objected to the government move. The LTTE was blunt. The LTTE explained that government forces had no right to patrol Batticaloa or any other district as the LTTE was solely responsible for neutralizing the TNA. By January 1990, the IPKF, too, had suspended operations leaving the LTTE in full control of the province except for some parts of the Jaffna peninsula and Trincomalee (Tigers don't want security patrols with strap line Indian Army also suspends operations-The Island Jan 6, 1990).

The LTTE continued to flex its muscles as the IPKF stepped up the withdrawal of personnel. During, the second week of January, 1990, two jawans, two civilians, two members of the Citizens Volunteer Force (CVF), another militia loyal to the EPRLF and five LTTE cadres died in a confrontation.

Having allowed the LTTE to dominate the northern and eastern provinces in the wake of the gradual IPKF pullout, President Premadasa finally made an attempt to control the LTTE.
The LTTE was in a belligerent mood and it resented the government's call for suspension of ongoing operations. State Minister of Defence Ranjan Wijeratne admitted that the government had raised the issue with the LTTE/PFLT as it was concerned with the situation. The minister reluctantly admitted that the government had failed to obtain the desired result despite pushing for an immediate ceasefire.

The LTTE called for public meetings in predominately Tamil areas. When the police advised the LTTE not to organize such events in view of existing emergency regulations, the group told the law enforcement authorities not to interfere with its activity.

The LTTE emphasized that its campaign would continue. It took up the position that it had no option but to go before the people in view of the forthcoming elections to the NEPC. The LTTE insisted that dissolution of the NEPC and fresh elections were a prerequisite for a permanent peace in Tamil areas. Minister Wijeratne admitted that the LTTE was having meetings in spite of emergency regulations (PFLT to continue polls campaign in North-East-The Island January 20, 1990).

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

President throws lifeline to sinking Tigers

In the wake of resolute IPKF action


Although the IPKF was in the process of de-inducting troops from Sri Lanka, those trained and armed by Indian instructors caused chaos. The Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) was one of the worst offenders who ordered R.E. Anandarajah, Assistant Secretary of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) to vacate the party headquarters in Jaffna. ACTC leader Kumar Ponnambalam confirmed the ENDLF threats directed at Anandarajah, his wife and three grown up children. An angry Ponnambalam alleged that the ENDLF was engaged in terrorism. Ponnambalam claimed that in the absence of Indian High Commissioner Lakhan Lal Mehotra and those handling armed groups, he couldn’t settle the issue. (ENDLF orders vacation of Tamil Congress Hq-The Island January 4, 1990).

It later transpired that the IPKF, too, had demanded the ACTC to vacate its headquarters. Ponnambalam later made representations to the Indian High Commission in a bid to thwart the ENDLF plans (Kumar meets Indian diplomat on Hq. issue-The Island Jan 6, 1990). Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) brought members of several Tamil groups to form the ENDLF in 1987. The group comprised ex-members of the EPRLF, PLOTE and TELO and worked closely with the IPKF. In fact, Douglas Devananda, too, had been a member of the ENDLF before forming his own party. The ENDLF contested both the Nov. 19, 1988 Provincial Council polls as well as the parliamentary elections the following year.

 by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) conducted its last major offensive action in March 1989 in the jungles of Nittikaikulam, north-east of Vavuniya inflicting heavy damage on the LTTE. It was the first large scale IPKF operation after the swearing in on Jan. 2, 1990 of JRJ’s successor, Ranasinghe Premadasa as the second executive president. The IPKF assault on a wide front east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road was preceded by Operation Checkmate in the run-up to first Provincial Council election in the temporarily-merged North-East Province on Nov. 19, 1988.

During the March 1989 offensive, major battles took place south of Alampil with both the IPKF with the LTTE sustaining substantial losses. (During eelam war IV, the newly raised 59 Division fought its way to Mullaitivu after having captured Alampil. Mullaitivu was liberated in late Jan. 2009).

At the onset of the operation on March 2, 1989, Gurkhas clashed with the LTTE in close quarter combat. As the IPKF top brass realised that that the LTTE had been defending a major stronghold, it brought in additional forces into battle. By the third week of March 1989, the IPKF had deployed one whole infantry Division on the Alampil front with the Indian Air Force (IAF) launching a series of attacks on enemy concentrations. The IAF deployed Mi 25 helicopter gunships in support of ground forces. Mi 25s were used effectively to provide close air support in late Oct 1987 in the Jaffna peninsula.

At the onset of the IPKF operations on the night of Oct 10/11 1987, IAF would never have believed it would need such fire power to overcome the LTTE. Mi 25s carried a range of weapons, including 57 mm rockets. (At that time Sri Lanka hadn’t even felt the need to acquire dedicated helicopter gunships. Eventually, the SLAF obtained Mi-24s from Russia in 1996 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. No 9 attack squadron comprising Mi-24s played a critical role during eelam war IV. The SLAF acquired major assets, including Kfirs and MiGs in 1996 and 2000, respectively).

The IPKF action on the shores of Nayaru lagoon, too, may have influenced the LTTE’s decision to accept President Premadasa’s invitation for direct talks. In accordance with their understanding, President Premadasa demanded the IPKF’s withdrawal by July 29, 1989 on the second anniversary of the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord.

Having forced the LTTE out of Jaffna following a series of battles during the period of Nov.-Oct. 1987, the IPKF conducted two major operations in the Nittikaikulam jungles in April and June 1988. The offensive launched in March 1989 was the third in the area, though it was the first since the bloody Dec. 1988 election, which brought Premadasa into power.

The then Indian High Commission spokesperson, Primrose Sharma used to furnish details of the ongoing IPKF operations on a daily basis to the Colombo based media. The LTTE, too, provided regular updates, whereas the Sri Lankan army released unofficial situation reports as regards IPKF operations. Sri Lankan forces had access to battlefield reports as the IPKF operated from SL bases and the two armies were in close contact.

March 24, 1990: Indian High Commissioner Lakhan Lal Mehotra addressing the last batch of Indian officers and men of the IPKF onboard INS Magar at the Trincomalee harbour. State Minister for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne looks on. India completed the IPKF pullout on the morning of March 24, 1990, over seven months after the July 29, 1989 deadline given by President Premadasa (Pic Saranapala Pamunuwa)
The Sri Lankan military and Tamil political parties alleged that the IPKF action had caused deaths among civilians and destroyed many houses (Homes destroyed with strap line IPKF operations in Mullaitivu – The Island March 12, 1989). The worst affected was Kumulamunai, a major LTTE stronghold (The 59 Division captured Kumulamunai in Dec 2008). The LTTE launched some devastating attacks with one major incident claiming the lives of 25 IPKF personnel at Kumulamunai (25 IPKF and six terrorists killed in ambush-The Island March 25, 1989).

President Premadasa resented the IPKF action. According to President Premadasa’s international relations advisor, Bradman Weerakoon (1989-1993), the UNP leader was of the view that the Indian Army was here to stay (Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka:Efforts, Failures and Lessons-edited by Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe). Weerakoon said: "President Premadasa was absolutely convinced that the IPKF was here to stay forever or at least until the accord, particularly in as far as it applied to the devolution of power and the establishment of the EPRLF as the dominant power in the North-East Province, was a reality."

At the time Premadasa assumed the presidency, the IPKF had four infantry divisions deployed in Sri Lanka, plus para-military units. In the wake of President Premadasa-Prabhakaran entering into direct negotiations in early May 1989, the IPKF formed a militia, the Tamil National Army (TNA) to prop up the EPRLF-led administration in the North-East Province. President Premadasa had felt that he had no option but to help the LTTE to survive and then use it to cause maximum damage to the IPKF.

EPRLF flexes its muscles

The IPKF and the EPRLF openly challenged the government’s authority on many occasions. While the IPKF was fighting the LTTE in the jungles of Nittikaikulam in March 1989, the EPRLF abducted six police commandos, including Chief Inspector Tissa Ratnayake attached to STF base in Tirukkovil. The abductions took place when the commandos were on their way to back from Sagama, where the STF had another base. The EPRLF declared that the commandos wouldn’t be released until the government set free four EPRLF cadres arrested by the army. The army had taken the gang of armed EPRLF cadres into its custody at Digawapiya. The EPRLF declined to negotiate until the return of its leader and Chief Minister of the North-East Provincial Council, Varatharaja Perumal from India (Gen. Ranatunga awaits return of Chief Minister with strap line Talks on abducted commandos-The Island March 14, 1989). Obviously, the EPRLF wouldn’t have dared to move against the STF without the IPKF’s blessings. The government had to seek the IPKF’s intervention to secure the release of the commandos.

In late March 1989, the IPKF detained a group of policemen at Rotawewa off Horowpothana in the Anuradhapura District. The IPKF was operating outside the temporarily-merged Northern and Eastern Province. The IPKF swooped down on the police party, which was engaged in investigation into the alleged involvement of EPRLF cadres in a massacre of Sinhalese at Dutuwewa on Feb 11, 1989. Among the 34 victims were 22 children (Sri Lankan policemen quizzed by Indian army-The Island March 31, 1989).

The EPRLF made a strong move to evict Sinhala villagers from some parts of the Eastern Province. The EPRLF and other Tamil groups sponsored by the IPKF targeted both Sinhalese and Tamil speaking Muslims living in the Eastern Province. Although the LTTE was engaged in direct negotiations with President Premadasa, it terrorised Muslims in the Eastern Province. In spite of differences among various Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, they took a common stand against the Muslims. Unfortunately, President Premadasa and his colleagues didn’t realise the strategy adopted by terrorist groups. They intended to weaken the presence of the Muslim community in the Eastern Province ahead of the proposed referendum in the Eastern Province. The Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) signed on July 29, 1987 required President JRJ to devolve powers to the provinces and merge the Eastern Province with the Northern Province to make one administrative unit. The ILA envisaged a referendum before Dec. 31, 1988 in the Eastern Province to decide whether the merger should be permanent. However, President JRJ had the power to put off the referendum in accordance with the ILA.

Prabhakaran gains recognition

At the behest of President Premadasa, the then Elections Commissioner Chandrananda de Silva on Dec. 19, 1989, recognised the LTTE as a registered political party. The polls chief obviously didn’t have any other option then to grant an armed terrorist group political recognition. Had he refused, de Silva would have had to face the consequences. The LTTE handed over its application to de Silva on Dec. 4, 1989 following President Premadasa’s intervention (LTTE recognised as a political party-The Island Dec 20, 1989).

LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham, on the morning of Jan. 20, 1989 called the media to Galadari to announce the LTTE being recognised as a political party. The LTTE registered its political wing under the name of the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT). Having declared himself as the advisor to the PFLT, Balasingham spelt out the newly formed political outfit’s objectives. The writer had the opportunity to cover the media briefing held under the watchful eyes of police commandos in civvies, while armed LTTE cadres stood next to Balasingham and Yogiratnam Yogi, a member of the LTTE negotiating team. Responding to a query by the foreign media, Balasingham revealed having had talks with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi a week before receiving political recognition (LTTE turned PFLT spells out aims and objectives-The Island Dec 21, 1989).

Balasingham reiterated the LTTE’s call for the immediate dissolution of the N&E Provincial Council and fresh elections. Commenting on LTTE operations directed at the TNA in the Eastern Province with the focus on Batticaloa, Balasingham declared offensive action had been taken with the knowledge of the government as well as the security forces and police. The government remained mum, while senior army officers privately admitted that they had received strict instructions from Army headquarters not to intervene. The LTTE was given an opportunity to hunt down TNA cadres. The LTTE swiftly moved after issuing an ultimatum to the TNA to surrender or face the consequences.

Balasingham vowed that the LTTE would take care of the TNA. The LTTE opposed the deployment of Sri Lankan forces to disarm the TNA.

Veteran ground commander Gopalswamy Mahendraraja alias Mahattaya was named the leader of the PFLT. Less than two weeks after the PFLT had received political recognition, the IPKF gunned down two LTTE/PFLT cadres, including one holding the rank of ‘Captain’. The IPKF killed them at Chavakachcheri (Two military wing leaders of PFLT shot dead––The Island January 6, 1990). The LTTE lambasted India for targeting PFLT members, while the Indian High Commission insisted that the IPKF was acting in self defence. The Indian HC alleged that the LTTE provoked the confrontation at Chavakachcheri.

In the first week of Jan. 1990, the LTTE, with the tactical support of the Sri Lankan army mounted a devastating attack on a major PLOTE base at Periyakunchikulam in the Mannar District. The LTTE killed over 50 PLOTE cadres before removing a large consignment of weapons supplied by the IPKF. The LTTE killed over 200 rivals in the Mannar and Vavuniya districts as violence swept the country in the wake of IPKF stepping up the withdrawal of troops.

Close on the heels of the formation of the PFLT the EPRLF- led Tamil National Council (TNC) made an attempt to reach an agreement with the LTTE. The TNC offered ten seats in the N&E Provincial Council to the LTTE. The LTTE turned down the offer insisting that it wouldn’t agree to anything other than fresh elections in the temporarily-merged province.

 LTTE political wing leader Gopalswamy Mahendraraja alias Mahattaya with Prabhakaran in the Jaffna peninsula. Pic is believed to have been taken after the recognition of the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) as a political party on Dec 19, 1989.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The IPKF is off

War on terror revisited : Part 104

Former Indian Army Chief General VK Singh at the IPKF memorial in Sri Lanka
IPKF personnel seated in INS Magar, last troop ship to leave Trincomalee

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The LTTE pushed President Ranasinghe Premadasa hard on the political front. On behalf of the LTTE, its theoretician Anton Balasingham demanded the immediate abolition of the 6th Amendment to the Constitution as well as the dissolution of the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front )-led administration in the temporarily merged North-East Province. He insisted that the dissolution of the NE council was an important prerequisite for the LTTE’s entry into the political mainstream and the outfit felt that its demands should be met before the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) pulled out of Sri Lanka.

The LTTE refused to recognise the EPRLF administration elected at the Dec. 19, 1988 PC election conducted under the auspices of the IPKF. The ENDLF (Eelam National Democratic National Front), too, was part of the NE administration. The LTTE also wanted to neutralise the ENDLF, which India created in the post-July 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA). The ENDLF comprised splinter groups of various Indian sponsored Tamil militias operating alongside the IPKF.

The LTTE insisted that the ongoing peace initiative couldn’t move forward unless President Premadasa acted swiftly and decisively to met its proposals. President Premadasa, however, remained reluctant to give in to the LTTE’s political demands, though he was ready to compromise on security issues.

President Premadasa, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, obviously had no qualms about making far reaching concessions at the expense of the military at the onset of direct talks in Colombo (May 1989-June 1990). One-time Army Commander Lt. Gen. Gerry De Silva told this writer recently that the vacation of army bases at Valvettiturai and Point Pedro to facilitate the peace process had been a very bad mistake. The President probably felt that the LTTE would be satisfied with such concessions, though he couldn’t meet its political demands.

Retired career diplomat Dr. John Gooneratne, too, in response to a query by the writer, explained the circumstances under which the LTTE had taken advantage of direct negotiations with President Premadasa to enhance its military capability. Gooneratne alleged that the LTTE had cleverly exploited its understanding with President Premadasa to get rid some of vital military positions in the Jaffna sector. The government’s chief negotiator, Minister Hameed, had been essentially supportive of the President’s strategy, the veteran diplomat asserted. Their thinking was alike. They had been of the opinion that political concessions couldn’t be made at that particular stage of the negotiations, though the LTTE could be allowed to enhance its power. They articulated the position that the LTTE had no option but to strengthen its position due to the growing threat posed by the TNA (Tamil National Army), formed by the IPKF to prop up the EPRLF/ENDLF administration. They only realised their folly when the LTTE finally trained its guns on the Sri Lankan military in June 1990, having destroyed the militia under the EPRLF’s command.

The EPRLF, too, demanded the abolition of the 6th Amendment to the Constitution. Chief Minister of the NE Province Varatharaja Perumal declared that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution introduced in the wake of the July 29, 1987 ILA would be meaningless as long as the 6th Amendment remained in force. President Premadasa’s predecessor, J. R. Jayewardene, introduced the controversial piece of legislature. The 6th Amendment ensured the unitary status.

In accordance with the Provincial Council Act of 1987, the government couldn’t dissolve a Provincial Council without a valid reason. President Premadasa pointed out to the LTTE his inability to do away with Perumal’s administration. The only other option was for Perumal to recommend the dissolution to President Premadasa. The UNP leader asserted both LTTE proposals were beyond his power. Bringing in necessary constitutional changes to do away with the 6th Amendment well-nigh impossible as President Premadasa didn’t have a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The LTTE insisted that political negotiations at its earnest could begin once fresh Provincial Council elections were held in the merged North-East province. The LTTE was of the view that the dissolution of Perumal’s council was an urgent necessity, whereas President Premadasa maintained that he couldn’t step in unless the Chief Minister gave him an opportunity. Quite unexpectedly on the morning of March 1, 1990, Perumal gave President Premadasa an opportunity to dissolve the council.

Perumal declares eelam

Much to the consternation of President Premadasa, Perumal declared an independent state of eelam in the temporarily merged province. The Chief Minister said that the provincial administration would now function as the National State Assembly of the Free and Sovereign Democratic Republic of Eelam. Speaking to the writer from Trincomalee, the Chief Minister said that he was prepared to reconsider his decision if President Premadasa accepted the EPRLF’s 19-point plan to restore normalcy and political freedom in predominately Tamil speaking region. While vowing to campaign for international support for the EPRLF cause, the Chief Minister faulted India for not helping Sri Lankan Tamils to achieve their aspirations (Perumal declares independent State of Eelam-The Island March 2, 1990).

The unexpected declaration in Trincomalee was made in the wake of speculation of Perumal dissolving the council on his own. Perumal vowed to resist any attempt on the part of President Premadasa to remove him. Perumal knew the Sri Lankan army wouldn’t move against him as long as the IPKF remained in Sri Lanka.

Earlier in the day, the only UNP member, M. Z. Mashoor of the newly declared Tamil state walked out of a meeting in Trincomalee chaired by Perumal against the unilateral declaration of independence. Seven SLMC representatives boycotted the meeting. Perumal invited the LTTE to throw its weight behind the EPRLF as both groups stood for eelam.

Defence Secretary Gen. Cyril Ranatunga declined to comment on what he called Perumal’s political move while the Director Information said that the government wouldn’t comment on the situation in Trincomalee (Perumal declares independent State of Eelam-The Island March 2, 1990).

Responding to a query by the writer, Perumal declared that Sri Lankan forces would be asked to vacate the northern and eastern districts. The EPRLF strongman said that the presence of Sri Lankan forces would violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Tamil Eelam (Lankan army will be asked to leave––The Island March 2, 1990).

Perumal made this move close on the heels of a high level EPRLF delegation led by Transport and Highways Minister Abu Yusuf handing over the 19-point EPRLF’s peace proposals to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. It was a last ditch attempt to reach an understanding with the LTTE before the IPKF completed the pull out. The EPRLF realised that its militia was no match for the LTTE and nothing could be as important as an agreement with Prabhakaran before the IPKF left.

In fact, LTTE Deputy Leader Mahattaya was in the neighbouring Batticaloa District when Perumal declared independence after having had a special round of discussions with Minister Hameed at an LTTE base at Kallady. Anton Balasingham and Yogiratnam Yogi, too, were in Batticaloa in the first week of March.

Amidst turmoil in Trincomalee, Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne made an important announcement in Parliament. Wijeratne declared that the government had requested India to withdraw security given to the Chief Minister Perumal by the IPKF and evacuate him to India.

By the end of first week of March, the IPKF remained in the Jaffna peninsula and Trincomalee and its suburbs, As the IPKF abandoned its positions, the LTTE swiftly moved in to fill the vacuum. Sri Lankan armed forces were still confined to their barracks. Unfortunately, those who could have advised President Premadasa against the LTTE machination remained mum.

The Citizens’ Volunteer Force (CVF) and the Tamil National Army (TNA), trained and armed by the IPKF, simply vanished leaving behind their weapons. The IPKF project to use the CVF and the TNA to safeguard the EPRLF was in tatters. President Premadasa and his top advisors still failed to realise the danger of the emerging situation. The LTTE quickly consolidated its positions in the Vanni. By the end of third week of March, 1990, the LTTE was in a commanding position in the Vanni. Prabhakaran was ready to move in as soon as the IPKF vacated Jaffna and Trincomalee. The IPKF pullout was scheduled to be completed on the morning of March 24, 1990, with the withdrawal of the last contingent of jawans in the port city of Trincomalee.

LTTE takes control

The IPKF pulled out all its troops from the Jaffna peninsula on March 20, 1990. Even before the last Indian troop ship left Kankenanthurai, Mahattaya opened a new LTTE office at Kondavil a little distance away from the Jaffna town. Army Commander Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe was at Kankesanthurai to see the last jawans leave. Lt. Gen. Wanasinghe supervised the transfer of weapons to the LTTE at the behest of President Premadasa. Among those present at the Kondavil LTTE office were Balasingham and Yogi.

The writer had an opportunity to go on board INS Magar along with staff photographer Saranapala Pamunuwa on the morning of March 24, 1990. The LTTE moved in to Trincomalee in force as the last batch of over 2000 IPKF personnel boarded INS Magar while Indian frigates flanked the troop carrier. The IPKF believed that the LTTE could launch a suicide attack on the troop carrier just to humiliate India.

A Sri Lanka military band played Auld Lang Syne as INS Magar while senior Sri Lankan military officers looked happy at the long procession of jawans going on board the troop ship. Addressing the crowd, IPKF commander, Lt General A S Kalkat declared: "We came as a proud force and are leaving as a proud force." It was just a politically correct statement.

State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, who played a critical role in arming the LTTE during the Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon, joined Indian High Commissioner Lal Mehrotra in praising the IPKF for what they called a job well done. The Indian envoy declared: "History will record your achievements and memories of those who had laid down their lives to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of a friendly neighbour will last in our hearts forever". Mehrotra was addressing IPKF personnel on board INS Magar. Mahrotra went on to thank the Sri Lankan forces for the support extended to the IPKF during its 32-month deployment in Sri Lanka. A smiling Wijeratne invited the departing IPKF personnel to visit Sri Lanka again.

Among the senior officers present in Trincomalee to see the last Indian troop ship leave were the Principal Staff Officer (PSO) of the Joint Operations Command Brig. Tilak Paranagama and Brig. Wijaya Wimalaratne (The IPKF is off-The Island March 25, 1990). Brig. Wimalaratne was one of the few officers who realised the LTTE couldn’t be trusted and it was only a matter of time before Prabhakaran renewed hostilities.

During its deployment here, the IPKF lost as many as 1,155 troops while 2,984 were wounded, according to official figures, though the actual losses may have been much higher.

Brig. Sivaji Patel, the one-time Officer Commanding a Brigade deployed in Trincomalee town was the last to leave Trincomalee, thus ending the Indian army presence in Sri Lanka.