Sunday, 22 September 2013

First NE polls:Indian army engineers EPRLF victory



Good times in Jaffna before the LTTE declared war on the IPKP in early Oct 1987: (From L-R): Vaithilingam Sornalingam alias Shankar spearheaded the project to establish the ‘Air Tigers’ (subsequently promoted to the rank of ‘Colonel’ by Prabhakaran, he was killed by the SLA at an early stage of eelam war IV), Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan alias ‘Colonel’ Soosai commanded the ‘Sea Tigers’. He was killed during the final phase of eelam war IV), Velupillai Prabhakaran and ‘Colonel’ Swarnam, veteran fighter (killed during the final phase of the conflict) and an unidentified senior IPKF officer. The SLA identified the person standing behind the IPKF officer as Gadafi, one-time bodyguard of Prabhakaran (this picture was among hundreds of pictures found by the army during the Vanni battles).

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In the wake of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) securing the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) at Saturday’s first ever Northern PC polls, it would be pertinent to examine the circumstances under which the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) took control of the North-East Provincial Council (NEPC) at an election conducted by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

Since the liberation of the Eastern Province in mid 2007, the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) was elected twice (2008 and 2012), though the NPC poll was delayed until the government achieved substantial progress in the post-war recovery project.

The military brought the war to an end on the morning of May 19, 2009, when troops shot dead LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

In June 1987, the then Indian government forced Sri Lanka to call off the largest ever combined security forces offensive codenamed ‘Operation Liberation’ aimed at regaining Jaffna to pave the way for the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) on July 29, 1987. The offensive was launched after the collapse of the Thimpu initiative in August 1985. The Indian bid failed primarily due to the LTTE’s inflexible attitude, leaving President JRJ with no other option than an all out offensive directed against the LTTE.

The ILA was meant to confine the Sri Lankan military to barracks and devolve powers to the provinces after having merged the Eastern Province with the Northern Province as one administrative unit. There was also provision for a referendum to be held by December 31, 1988 in the Eastern Province comprising Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts to decide whether the merger should be permanent. But the then Sri Lankan President JRJ had the power in accordance with the ILA to postpone the referendum at his discretion.

In spite of strong objections by the then main Opposition, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by former Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, President JRJ on November 14, 1987 ensured the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as well as the Provincial Councils Act No 42 to create the PCs. The President’s move caused instability, with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) stepping up second uprising. A section of the UNP too, opposed President JRJ though he issued proclamations on September 2 and 8, 1988 enabling the Northern and Eastern provinces to be one administrative unit administered by one elected council.

President JRJ insisted that the merger was meant to be a temporary measure and those living in the Eastern Province had the power to exercise their franchise at a referendum on or before Dec 31, 1988 to decide whether it should be a permanent merger.

India felt that the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) would be comfortably able to secure the NEPC at the forthcoming elections. The Indian move went awry due to unforeseen circumstances which changed the political history of Sri Lanka and India. Successive governments refrained from calling for a referendum in the Eastern Province until the JVP, the then political ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa moved the Supreme Court against the merger. Having examined three separate petitions filed by the JVP seeking a separate Provincial Council for the Eastern Province, the Supreme Court on October 16, 2006 ruled that the proclamations issued by President Jayewardene were null and void and had no legal effect. The NE Province was formally de-merged into the Northern and Eastern provinces on January 1, 2007.

Interestingly, even before President JRJ issued proclamations merging the Eastern Province with the Northern Province, the government conducted PC polls in other regions during the period of April 28, 1988 and June 9, 1988. Having established PCs in the Southern, Western, North Central, Sabaragamuwa, Uva, North Western and Central Provinces, President JRJ set the stage for the first election for the temporarily merged NEPC.

Unexpected development

India wanted the TULF to contest the NEPC polls. In fact, India guaranteed the TULF of a polls victory. Contrary to President JRJ’s opinion, India insisted that Sri Lankan security forces and the police couldn’t get involved in security in the province in accordance with the ILA. Automatically, the IPKF took charge of the operation. The Colombo based diplomatic community and civil society turned a blind eye to what was going on the NE Province. The TULF decided against contesting the polls as it didn’t want to earn the wrath of the LTTE. In spite of being expelled from the Jaffna peninsula by the IPKF, the LTTE remained strong in the Vanni. The LTTE also conducted hit and run attacks on the IPKF and its allies in the Jaffna peninsula as well as in the Eastern Province. The TULF opposed elections at any level before the IPKF and the LTTE suspended hostilities. The TULF also strongly opposed India’s decision to arm groups opposed to the LTTE on the pretext of forming a Citizens Volunteer Force (CVF). In fact, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), too, strongly opposed the formation of another armed group, as it threatened the interests of the community, particularly in the Eastern Province. But India was adamant.

Another contentious issue was having separate elections in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, though the elected members would form a single administrative unit. The TULF urged India to take tangible measures to restore normalcy before going ahead with the polls, though members expressed their reluctance to contest due to LTTE threats. The LTTE warned the TULF to boycott the polls or face the consequences. The TULF refused to contest, though India assured the leadership of protection. The TULF quite rightly realized that LTTE leader Velupllai Prabhakaran would never allow the NEPC to function as long as India didn’t come to an understanding with him. Irate Indian officials threatened the TULF with punitive action unless it went along with their strategy. Still the TULF refused.

A bloody war erupted in the wake of the IPKF launching a massive operation on the night of October 10/11, 1987 in response to a spate of LTTE attacks on its troops. Although India subsequently made attempts to reconcile with the LTTE, Prabhakaran refused to collaborate, hence upsetting the entire Indian strategy.

India turns to EPRLF

India had no option but to turn towards EPRLF leader, K. Pathmanaba, who swiftly accepted the opportunity to contest the NEPC with the backing of the IPKF. The EPRLF leadership realized that the political project couldn’t go wrong due to the direct involvement of the IPKF, which worked closely with the group. The Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) and the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) declined to contest. The IPKF threw its weight behind the EPRLF, which promised the electorate peace, democracy and unity. In spite of the EPRLF being an armed group, the then Elections Commissioner Chandrananda de Silva recognized it as a political party at the behest of the government. The LTTE vowed to annihilate the EPRLF, regardless of IPKF security at its disposal.

At the behest of India, Madras based TULF leader A. Amirthalingam issued a statement urging the Tamil speaking people to exercise their franchise to consolidate gains made by the community through the ILA. The failure on the part of India to convince the TULF to participate in the electoral process made the first NEPC polls a futile exercise. The election was eventually held on November 19, 1988 under the supervision of the IPKF. Although the LTTE launched a series of attacks in the Eastern Province, it couldn’t sabotage the election process.

The JVP too, warned those exercising their franchise with death. The JVP directed its threats particularly at the Sinhalese living in Trincomalee and Ampara districts. However, unlike the LTTE, the JVP didn’t have the wherewithal to carry out its threats.

India exploited the ground situation as well as the provision that separate elections would be held in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces to facilitate a comfortable victory for the EPRLF. President JRJ watched helplessly while the then Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, J. N. Dixit arranged a no contest pact in the Northern Province to the benefit of Padmanaba’s group. In the Eastern Province, too, the IPKF worked overtime to ensure the EPRLF’s victory. The EPRLF secured 41 out of 71 seats in the NEPC. On October 10, 1988, India installed Varatharaja Perumal as the Chief Minister of the NEPC.

Lt. Gen. Kalkat speaks out

Addressing the media in Trincomalee on November 19, the IPKF chief, Lt. General A.S. Kalkat alleged that the LTTE planned to cause a bloodbath in the temporarily merged province. The Reuters quoted Lt. Gen. Kalkat as having said: "But many voters defied a boycott call by Tamil terrorists and Sinhala extremists and went to the polls. The LTTE had vowed not to let the democratic process go through. They had promised a bloodbath."

Due to LTTE threats directed at the polling staff, India had to request President JRJ to send public servants from Colombo to man polling booths in the Eastern Province. The Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) airlifted hundreds of polling staff from the Ratmalana air base to China Bay. Polls chief, Chandrananda de Silva said that he had to depend on polls staff from the South due to the reluctance on the part of public servants in the Eastern Province to man polling booths. De Silva estimated that approximately 4,000 polling staff was needed to be deployed in the Eastern Province to man nearly 600 polling booths (Polls staff airlifted –The Island November 18, 1988).

Lt. Gen. Kalkat alleged that the LTTE had ordered the killing of five civilians every night from every village between November 12 and 19 (Poor turnout of Sinhala voters in East with strap line heavy polling reported in certain areas-The Island Nov 20, 1988). Although the LTTE mounted a series of attacks in the Eastern Province, a substantial number of Tamils and Muslims exercised their franchise. However, the vast majority of Sinhalese living in the Eastern Province kept away from voting. The IPKF and the EPRLF brought voters to polling booths under the very noses of the election staff. The EPRLF ordered the electorate to vote for its candidates or face the consequences.

With the setting up of Perumal’s administration, the IPKF intensified its operations targeting the LTTE. Unfortunately, the EPRLF failed to consolidate its base and further expand on it much to the anxiety of the Indian government. In spite of winning the NEPC with the IPKF’s patronage, the EPRLF couldn’t win over the hearts and minds of Tamil speaking people. In hindsight, both India and the EPRLF failed to comprehend the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa’s strategy. Perhaps, they felt President JRJ would pave the way for either Gamini Dissanayake or Lalith Athulathmudali to contest the presidential election in December 1988. Had that happened, the EPRLF could have had an opportunity to consolidate its position in the NE province without difficulty. India firmly believed that it could come to an understanding with Dissanayake or Athulathmudali to ensure the implementation of the ILA. The Indian strategy collapsed when Premadasa secured the UNP presidential nomination in early November 1988. Much to the disappointment of India, both the UNP presidential candidate, Ranasinghe Premadasa and his main challenger, Sirimavo Bandaranaike vowed to abrogate the ILA. They declared that the IPKF would be asked to leave immediately after their victory. Amidst bloody violence perpetrated by the LTTE in the NE province and the JVP in the South, Premadasa won the country’s second presidential election held on December 19, 1988. Premadasa secured 50.43 per cent of all votes cast at the election to defeat Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who obtained 44.95 per cent of votes. Those living in areas under LTTE control couldn’t vote for want of polling booths.

In fact, both India and EPRLF knew the trouble they were heading for even before the November 19, 1988 NEPC polls as Premadasa handed in his nomination for the presidential election on November 10, 1988. Soon after securing the nomination, Premadasa told his close associates of his intention to reach an understanding with the JVP as well as the LTTE, much to the discontent among party men. The President felt that he could win over Tamil speaking people and the majority community by getting rid of the IPKF as both the LTTE and the JVP opposed the ILA. The war on terror series had dealt extensively with the consequences of President Premadasa’s ill-fated strategies.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

JVP’s bid to cripple Torrington Square media complex thwarted

War on terror revisited : Part 166


In the background of the SLAF chopper used for VIP flights, President Ranasinghe Premadasa stands with his son, Sajith and daughter, Dulanjali at his Ambanpola estate, during the ceasefire with the LTTE. Babu, tasked with assassinating the President sometimes accompanied him to Ambanpola, also in SLAF choppers. A young SLAF pilot, Roshan Goonetileke stands next to the President (Recently retired from the post of Chief of Defence, with the rank of Air Chief Marshal)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

At the height of the JVP-led second insurrection (July 1987-early 1990) the government placed the elite Special Task Force (STF) in charge of security at the SLBC/Rupavanini /ITN complex at Torrington square. Amidst JVP efforts to sabotage the complex, the STF was given the unenviable task of ensuring uninterrupted services. The then ASP (Operations Colombo) Nimal Lewke recalled STF Commandant Lionel Karunasena instructing him to establish a base at the complex to enhance security (Having served the STF as its Commandant during a crucial period in the war against the LTTE, Lewke retired at the conclusion of the conflict, with the rank of Senior DIG).

According to Lewke, the then Defence Secretary, Gen. Sepala Attygalle had wanted the STF to be in charge of security at the complex. Lewke said: "The then Chief Inspector Upul Seneviratne functioned as the officer-in-charge of the complex. A group of commandos took up position at the complex. We worked closely with other services to thwart JVP plans." (Seneviratne was killed in a claymore mine blast on the morning of July 7, 2006 at Digana as he was on his way to the Katukurunda STF training base. Seneviratne held the rank of SSP at the time of his death).

Due to growing JVP threats directed at employees of the three institutions, the STF went to the extent of accommodating them at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI). However, some employees, including those who had been engaged in news reading quit, compelling the military and the STF to assign news readers and in some instances camera crews for media coverage. Lewke said that an SLAF crew accompanied the government’s chief negotiator, Minister A.C.S. Hameed on a special mission across army frontlines in Palaly for a clandestine confab with the LTTE (previous piece dealt with Minister Hameed’s mission which almost ended up in disaster on June 16, 1990). It was the only such mission undertaken by the government after the outbreak of hostilities on the night of June 10, 1990.

Thevis Guruge warned

As the JVP was known to have infiltrated the armed forces and the police, those in charge of counter-insurgency operations had to take precautions to prevent infiltration of the Torrington complex. Lewke recalled warning the then SLBC Chairman Thevis Guruge of a possible attempt on his life and the presence of a JVP mole within the complex a few days before his assassination on July 23, 1989. The JVP killed the versatile Rupavahini personality Premakeerthi de Alwis (42) on the night of July 31, 1989. Lewke said: "We were seriously concerned about the threat to Guruge as well as several other employees. Subsequent to the killing of Guruge and Alwis, the JVP also killed SLBC News Editor Kulasiri Amaratunga (62), as it stepped up violence in the wake of the government entering into a fresh dialogue with the LTTE in May 1989." Amaratunga was shot in the neck by a gunman at his Mount Lavinia residence in August 1989.

Lewke recollected the severe difficulties caused by the assassination of media personalities. Obviously, the JVP felt that the government could be seriously undermined by crippling the SLBC and the two state-run television stations.

The attempt to sabotage the Torrington complex should be examined in the backdrop of the JVP targeting the Lake House distribution network in the provinces. The JVP ordered people not to buy Lake House publications or face the consequences. The government ordered the military and the police to distribute the Dinamina, Daily News and the Observer, free of charge.

Insurgents released,
terror intensified

Having won the parliamentary polls in early April 1989, President Premadasa caused a devastating setback to counter-insurgency operations by releasing hundreds of insurgents. Although the President’s political colleagues and the military top brass realized the stupidity of the President’s move, none dared dispute him. With the release of suspects, the JVP stepped up its campaign with an all out assault on the government media. Lewke stressed the importance of the work undertaken by the military and the police to ensure that the Torrington complex remained operational. Lewke said: The "collapse of operations there could have had a devastating impact on the overall government counter insurgency strategy. There could have been chaos if the state media failed at that time."

However, government forces could concentrate fully on the JVP threat due to the LTTE returning to the negotiating table (May 1989-June 1990). Although the military brought the JVP to its knees in November/December 1989, it remained involved in the Torrington square media operation.

It would be pertinent to mention that the STF was also responsible for the safety and security of the LTTE delegation during its stay in Colombo. The STF remained in charge of visiting LTTE delegates’ security from May 1989 until June 1990 a small contingent was escorted to the Ratmalana air base, for transfer to Palaly.

The then Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) P.W. Dissanayake, a member of the four-man SLAF crew led by the then Flying Officer Andrew Wijesuriya which accompanied Minister Hameed into enemy-held territory recalled joining the then State Minister for Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne on a special mission in late March 1990. Dissanayake (retired in Dec 2008 with the rank of Warrant Officer) said: "Close on the heels of the last Indian army contingent leaving Sri Lanka on March 24, 1990, State Minister for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne visited major security forces bases in the northern and eastern districts. The minister explained the situation to the officers and men and their new responsibilities in the wake of the Indian pullout. Having visited the camps, the minister returned to Colombo, to brief President Premadasa at Sucharitha."

Dissanayake stressed that Minister Wijeratne never indicated the possibility of resumption of hostilities or any problem with the LTTE. Instead, he underscored the importance of the ongoing ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, though some feared Prabhakaran quitting the negotiating table. The STF was also deeply involved in President Premadasa’s security. Both President Premadasa and his predecessor, JRJ largely depended on the elite force for important projects.

Gamini, Lalith earn
Premadasa’s wrath

President Premadasa felt he could exploit the Indian pullout to his political advantage. The president’s assertion was based on the premise that his understanding with Prabhakaran could be transformed into a permanent peace agreement. Although a section of the UNP as well as the military top brass feared the President’s project could go wrong, none of them wanted to voice their concerns. The LTTE cleverly propagated that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was still continuing its destabilization project though the Indian army quit the country. The LTTE identified one-time Mahaweli Minister and JRJ confidant Gamini Dissanayake as the person spearheading the Indian agenda here. On the other hand, one-time National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali was branded as a person promoting Israeli interests here. The allegation was made subsequent to the closure of the Israeli Interests Section on April 20, 1990. President Premadasa lambasted Athulathmudali in parliament though he was not identified by name. The state-run media gave wide coverage to President Premadasa’s criticism directed at Athulathmudali who expressed doubts about the UNP leader’s strategy. President Premadasa resented Dissanayake and Athulathmudali for being critical of his handling of the peace process. When Dissanayake and Athulathmudali teamed up later to move an impeachment motion against President Premadasa, an angry President declared in parliament: "…I had the Israeli Interests Section removed. In such a context, there is nothing to be surprised about Mossad rising against me. Please remember that there are among us those who have gone to Israeli universities and lectured there and earned dirty money."

Athulathmudali voiced his concern that the military could find itself in an extremely difficult position in case the LTTE resumed hostilities. Athulathmudali asserted that the vacation of Point Pedro and Valvettitutai during the ceasefire and the failure on the part of the government to redeploy troops in the immediate aftermath of the Indian pullout could cause an unprecedented crisis. Obviously, Athulathmudali’s successor, State Minister for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne too, went along with President Premadasa’s strategy. Minister Wijeratne remained silent about major concession made by President Premadasa, though he realized the LTTE was exploiting the situation.

Baseless theory

Some have speculated that President Premadasa, with the help of a faction led by Gopalswamy Mahendraraja alias Mahattaya plotted to eliminate Prabhakaran in a lightning operation. That couldn’t have been the case in the backdrop of assertions that Mahattaya had been under the influence of the Indian intelligence and Minister Dissanayake too, was plotting against President Premadasa, with the connivance of India. Instead, President Premadasa allowed Prabhakaran to flex his muscles by restricting the military presence in Jaffna as well as the Vanni theatres to very much less than two battalions. A simple examination of the military deployment would reveal that the President and his advisors never planned for any eventuality. Although President Premadasa could have beefed up the military presence in the Northern region, consequent to the eradication of the JVP threat in November/December 1989 and the Indian army pullout in March 1990, he did absolutely nothing. Had there been some sort of understanding with Mahattaya, it would have been shown on the ground. At the time, the LTTE resumed hostilities during the second week of June 1990, the army deployment in the Eastern Province comprised just three infantry battalions and less than two in the entire Northern region.

When fighting erupted, the army didn’t even have adequate transport to move troops from the South to the northern and eastern districts. The then President Premadasa’s security advisor General Cyril Ranatunga revealed in his memoirs, the army using private transport to move troops. Arms and ammunition too, had been in short supply due to the UNP administration neglecting the armed forces’ needs due to the Indo-Lanka Accord and the subsequent honeymoon with the LTTE. Unfortunately, the likes of Ranatunga and the then army commander Lt. General Hamilton Wanasinghe remained passive onlookers as the situation rapidly deteriorated in the northern and eastern provinces.

The Indian pullout was meant to speed up the national reconciliation process with the LTTE promoting PFLT (People’s Front of Liberation Tigers) in the northern and eastern districts. Instead, the LTTE overnight changed its attitude when the last Indian contingent left Trincomalee. Although the state-run media as well as those in the privately owned media worked overtime to portray a rosy picture, the situation continued to deteriorate rapidly with the LTTE imposing restrictions on the military. The LTTE went to the extent of detaining officers who defied its diktat. The LTTE took up the position that all movements between security forces camps in the Jaffna peninsula should be strictly subject to its prior approval. The situation in the Eastern Province was better, though the LTTE repeatedly interfered with the security forces and police, much to the resentment of those deployed there. Until war erupted in June 1990, the President did absolutely nothing to review the situation. Instead, he bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The President remained committed to peace at any cost until the war erupted during the second week of June 1990, with the execution of over 600 policemen.