Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Playing ball with Tigers

War on terror revisited : Part 102


An unsuspecting President Ranasinghe Premadasa unwittingly threw a fresh lifeline to the sinking Tigers in May 1989. The President’s controversial action was prompted by his thinking that the IPKF would not go back unless he inflicted heavy losses on it. Having decided on a partnership with the LTTE, a naïve President moved swiftly and rapidly to appease Prabhakaran, who exploited the situation to get cement, steel for construction purposes, T-56 assault rifles, ammunition and money from the SriLankan government. At the behest of President Premadasa, the national carrier, Air Lanka flew top Tigers, including one-time Jaffna commander, Sathasivam Krishhnakumar alias Kittu to Heathrow airport, whereas Prabhakaran’s wife and two children were flown back to the Katunayake International Airport. President Premadasa felt the peace initiative would primarily depend on concessions given to the LTTE. When Prabhakaran pushed for significant reduction in military presence in the Jaffna peninsula, President Premadasa readily agreed to vacate strategic Point Pedro and Valvettiturai bases, which remained in the hands of the LTTE until the troops of Operation Riviresa liberated them during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s time.

 By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Ranasinghe Premadasa quietly ordered the release of top LTTE operative, Ms Manori Daniels serving a six-year term of Rigorous Imprisonment in late Oct 1989. She was one of those involved in a car bomb explosion opposite Zahira College, Maradana on Nov. 9, 1987. On the instructions of President Premadasa, the then Attorney General directed the release of Daniels from the high security Welikada Prison.

President Premadasa was responding to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s request for the convict’s release (Maradana bomb blast woman released – The Island, Oct 30, 1989). The President set an extremely bad precedent by releasing a terrorist found guilty of a specific operation targeting civilians. The Maradana blast claimed the lives of about 40 persons, while over 100 were injured. Ms Daniels was among a group of terrorists given a presidential pardon during the 14-month long ceasefire (May 1989 to June 1990).

Ms Daniels was aka Manoranjini Moorthathi and Manorani Watson. The released bomber was a mother of two serving at a government school in the Batticaloa District at the time she carried out the attack. The police took her into custody on Dec. 12, 1987 under emergency regulations. She was sent to prison on Feb 6, 1989 only to be released due to presidential intervention. During her short stay at Welikada, she won a beauty contest organised by the prisons authorities.

Ms. Daniels was sentenced to six years RI by the then High Court Judge of Colombo, H. W. Senanayake. She had been indicted under Section 5 of the Prevention of Terrorist Act (PTA) for failure on her part to divulge information as regards terrorist related activity to law enforcement authorities. Ms Daniels was directly involved with Gagendran, who took cyanide and died when police apprehended him. The police zeroed in on them at Aranthalawa, as they were on their way back to Batticaloa.

Investigations revealed that Ms. Daniels and Gagendran had arrived in Colombo from Batticaloa on Nov. 15, 1989, in a car carrying the bomb. Interestingly, the duo had offered a lift to four army personnel in a bid to avoid possible checks on the way from Batticaloa to Colombo.

Later it transpired that Gagendran had been directly involved in the Gas Works Street bomb blast on April 21, 1987, which claimed the lives of over 100 civilians and wounded over 200.

According to statistics available with the Justice Ministry, Presidents, JRJ, Ranasinghe Premadasa and D. B. Wijetunga released 72 convicts during the period from 1978 to 1994. But it was only President Premadasa, who set free LTTE cadres.

At the behest of President Premadasa, the Defence and Foreign ministries facilitated the departure of LTTE Deputy Leader, Sathasivam Krishhnakumar alias Kittu departure to the UK for medical treatment. President Premadasa and Minister A. C. S. Hameed, who functioned as the government’s chief negotiator gave in to LTTE’s demands regardless of the consequences. They obviously felt that ongoing peace talks had to be sustained at any cost (Kittu off for treatment – The Island, Oct 30, 1989).

The Island incurred the wrath of a section of the then government for reporting the release of Ms Daniels and Kittu’s departure for the UK. The government alleged that such revelations could cause irreparable damage to the peace process.

In spite of Kittu being one of those personally involved in killing of members of rival groups in the Jaffna peninsula as well as a spate of attacks on the army, the Foreign Ministry worked closely with the British High Commission to facilitate Kittu’s transfer. The President directed the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK to provide anything required by Kittu, one-time LTTE’s Jaffna commander. President Premadasa never realised the LTTE’s influence in Western capitals, particularly in London, due to the presence of LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham and Adele, his Australian born wife. Balasingham carried a British passport. The duo had excellent contacts with British officials due to Balasingham being a former employee of the British High Commission in Colombo. They played a high profile role in promoting the LTTE in Europe and India in the run-up to the signing of the Indo Lanka Accord (ILA), on the morning of July 29, 1987.

Balasingham speaks out in Colombo

Balasingham explained the LTTE’s position on a range of issues in an exclusive interview with the writer at his heavily guarded suite at the Galadari Meridien during the second week of Oct 1989 (LTTE doubts Indian intentions in Sri Lanka – The Island, Oct. 15, 1989). On the instructions of President Premadasa, a squad of elite Special Task Force (STF) personnel were in charge of Balasingham’s security. It would be pertinent to mention that at that time the STF was in charge of President Premadasa’s security as well. The STF’s loyalty to the government in power had never been questioned. In fact, some wrongly tended to associate the STF with the UNP, particularly due to its formation during the JRJ administration.

Balasingham spoke candidly about the ongoing peace process and what the group expected President Premadasa to do.

Responding to ‘The Island’ ahead of the impending third round of talks at Sucharitha in Nov, 1989, Balasingham called for the dissolution of the EPRLF-run North-East Provincial Council (NEPC) in the run-up to the IPKF’s withdrawal. The LTTE wanted fresh elections for the temporarily merged North-East Province immediately after the IPKF pullout. Unlike President Premadasa, Balasingham had a realistic view of the IPKF withdrawal. The former ‘Virakesari’ staffer expressed confidence that the IPKF could complete its pullout by end of 1989. The LTTE most probably felt that the then Premier Rajiv Gandhi would lose the parliamentary polls in Nov. 1989. V. P. Singh won the parliamentary poll paving the way for the IPKF’s pullout.

Balasingham lambasted India for forming a new militia called Tamil National Army (TNA) to strengthen the EPRLF administration in the North-East Province. The LTTE representative expressed serious doubts over India’s intention and claimed that India wanted to unite all armed groups under one flag and place it under the EPRLF command. Such a force would be a major threat to security and political stability of the country, he asserted.

Balasingham said that President Premadasa would have to take punitive action against Chief Minister of the NEPC Varatharaja Perumal, whose militia as well as the so-called Citizens’ Volunteer Force (CVF), continued to operate under IPKF command, regardless of President Premadasa’s wishes. The LTTEer warned that there could be a bloodbath unless the government took tangible measures to neutralise the threat posed by the combined strength of the TNA and the CVF.

Balasingham declared that the PC system established under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was wholly inadequate to meet the aspirations of the Tamil speaking people. The LTTE was ready to drop its original demand for a separate state if President Premadasa could offer an alternative, acceptable to the LTTE, Balasingham revealed, declaring that the group was satisfied with President Premadasa’s efforts to bring about national reconciliation. The LTTE wouldn’t hesitate to resume hostilities if it couldn’t secure the legitimate rights through negotiations, Balasingham warned.

When the writer raised the possibility of the JVP receiving weapons training as well as armaments, particularly landmines from the LTTE, Balasingham emphasised that the group wasn’t in any way linked with the southern insurgency. Although he didn’t name any particular group involved with the JVP, he claimed that the JVP could be receiving some support from some other Tamil group.

JVP mounts landmine attacks

The JVP is believed to have received training in the use of landmines by the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). A select group of JVPers had an opportunity to receive training under PLOTE instructors somewhere in the Vavuniya-Mannar region. The sudden appearance of landmines in the South sent shock waves through the security establishment. Although the army and the police managed to detect some landmines, several explosions caused consternation among troops as the top brass faced the daunting task of maintaining regular patrols. The JVP’s strategy was basically the same as that of northern terrorist groups. The group felt that successful landmine warfare could severely restrict the movement of the army in the province, hence giving it an opportunity to consolidate its power. A successful campaign could have plunged the armed forces into a major crisis. The JVP could have achieved its military objectives with a spate of well planned mine attacks.

Who facilitated the JVPers to receive training under PLOTE instructors? Could the PLOTE provide training as well as explosives to the JVP without the IPKF’s knowledge? Did the PLOTE personnel conduct joint operations with the JVP? The PLOTE could have had a hand in JVP landmine attacks.

The writer and staff photographer Jude Denzil Pahiraja were the first journalists from Colombo to visit Kapparatora, Weligama, where the JVP carried out its landmine attack on the morning of July 21, 1988. The JVP had targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying a group of UNP Southern Provincial Council members to Galle. Those standing near the scene of the blast alleged that it could have caused deaths among students of the nearby Sangananda Kapparatota Vidyalaya. Fortunately, there hadn’t been any children on the narrow road when the targeted convoy passed the spot.

The Kapparatota blast was the first mine blast carried out by the JVP. The blast took place in the wake of the then President JRJ placing the security in the entire Southern Province comprising the districts of Galle, Matara and Hambantota under the army. Lt. Colonel Vipula Boteju of the Gemunu Watch took over Hambantota, whereas Lt. Colonels, L. Wijeratne and Patrick Fernando moved to Matara and Galle, respectively. The late Brig. Lakshman Algama, Security Forces Commander, South and Maj. Gen. Asoka Jayawardene, the General Officer Commanding troops deployed in the Southern region (JVP attempts forced teetotalism – The Island’July 24, 1988).

We were on our way to Hambantota to report on a highly publicised JVP attempt to ban liquor when the JVP triggered a landmine explosion. The then Southern Province Chief Minister M. S. Amarasiri was of the opinion that landmine warfare could cause a major setback to their efforts against the JVP. Amarasiri was speaking to the writer, having met the army top brass in charge of security in the South on July 26, 1988. The meeting took place at the Chief Minister’s office. Foremost on the veteran politician’s mind was the introduction of landmines (22 persons killed since July 10 – The Island, July 27, 1988). The dead included four relatives of the then Southern Province DIG Premadasa Udugampola.

The Kapparatota blast took place immediately after the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne had taken over the security in the Southern Province. In accordance with the security strategy, the Defence Ministry moved the Air Force as well as the elite Special Task Force (STF) out of the Southern Province (Army Chief flies South to assess situation – The Island’July 21, 1988).