Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A secret Norwegian missive to ‘Dear Mr Prabhakaran’ in the wake of Kadirgamar assassination



By Shamindra Ferdinando
Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga during a two-day visit to Jaffna beginning Aug. 11, 2016 took credit for scoring impressive battlefield victories during her tenure as the President (Nov.1994 to Nov.2005).

Addressing the media, the former President who had been the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces declared that she finished off 75 per cent of the war.

Mrs Kumaratunga played down her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa’s role (Nov 2005 to Jan. 2015) while accusing former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of misappropriating funds in the acquisition of six MiG 27s. The former President claimed that of the six MiGs ordered by the then Defence Secretary one went down on its way to Sri Lanka.

The former SLFP leader declared that as arms, ammunition and equipment required to wage war had been acquired during her presidency in addition to impressive battlefield victories, the Rajapaksas couldn’t claim credit for defeating the LTTE.

Mrs. Kumaratunga also mentioned successful offensives undertaken by the UNP before she led the then People’s Alliance to victory in Aug.16, 1994, also, contributed to the LTTE’s ultimate defeat. The former President asserted that the Rajapaksas’ contribution to the defeat of terrorism was negligible though they took credit.

Former Defence Secretary contradicted Mrs Kumaratunga’s claims while explaining the circumstances under which MiGs had been acquired during her tenure as the President and subsequently. The former Defence Secretary issued a detailed statement on Monday (Aug. 15) in this regard.

Troops of Operation Riviresa brought the entire Jaffna peninsula under government control, in early 1996. Combined security forces launched Riviresa in August 1995 after the LTTE resumed hostilities in April 1995. The armed forces thwarted several LTTE attempts to regain Jaffna peninsula over the years.

Mrs Kumaratunga flew to Palaly air base in a 16 seater Chinese Y 12 transport aircraft. Incidentally, after having taken off from the Katunayake SLAF base last Thursday the plane carrying Mrs Kumaratunga had to return to the base due to engine trouble. The former President had been compelled to take another Y 12 hence the late arrival in the peninsula. The Y 12 touched down at Palaly around 10.20 am.

The passage of the controversial Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Bill took place in parliament on the same day during Mrs Kumaratunga’s visit to Jaffna.

Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe on the following day declared that the OMP Bill had the backing of a staggering two-thirds majority in Parliament, though the Joint Opposition (JO) behaved as if it could have thwarted that important piece of legislation.

The Bill needed only to be passed with a simple majority.

Mrs Kumaratunga declaration in Jaffna should be examined against the backdrop of the passage of the OMP Bill in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). Now that former President Kumaratunga had claimed credit for eradicating terrorism to a larger extent, it would be pertinent to examine the accountability on the part of her administration as regards alleged war crimes.

In fact, Rev Dr S.J. Emmanuel had castigated the then President Kumaratunga for waging a bloody offensive against Tamil speaking people. The Rev. called Mrs Kumaratunga ‘mother of all wars’ while blaming her for the breakdown of talks between her government and the LTTE. The accusation was made long before the formation of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in Feb. 2010 at the House of Commons with the patronage of major British political parties. Had the GoSL failed to bring the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009, the GTF wouldn’t have been probably set up to pursue an international war crime investigation.

Had former President Rajapaksa handled just 25 per cent of the overall war against the LTTE, contentious issue of accountability should be shared by Mrs Kumaratunga and UNP leaders as well.

Rev. Dr Emmanuel discussed the events, leading to the outbreak of eelam war III, in April, 1995, at a conference held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July, 1997. Let me examine some critical points raised by Rev. Dr Emmanuel (The writer is grateful to the GTF leader for making his submissions at Lausanne conference available to The Island).

Rev. Dr Emmanuel condemned Mrs Kumaratunga for conducting a brutal war, consequent to the breakdown of talks. The priest declared: "The war, as conducted by the Kumaratunga regime, added a new horror element to the ethnic war – internationalizing her efforts of war through a powerful propaganda machinery to make it appear as a justified ‘war for peace’, as a war against terrorism, and at the same time conducting it on the ground as a war behind closed doors to all local or international media, amounts nothing less than a genocide with an international license."

Rev. Emmanuel went on to allege: "While retaining the old international credential, and accolade, which she received as she came to power with promises to end the war and create peace, she has turned 180 degrees to conduct the mother of all wars in the name of peace."

"Mrs Kumaratunga’s government did not understand the LTTE as the representatives of an aggrieved and oppressed people. Nor did they recognize the LTTE demands as the demands of the people."

Rev. Dr Emmanuel explained events leading to the LTTE withdrawing from the negotiating process on April 19, 1995. The priest recalled Thamilselvam, who led the LTTE delegation for the fourth round of talks with Mrs Kumaratunga’s representatives, in Jaffna, on April 10, 1995, reiterating Prabhakaran’s decision to quit the negotiating process unless all its demands were met.

Rev. Emmanuel said: "The LTTE announcement of its withdrawal from the peace process was not unexpected as is being made out. As early as March 16, 1995, in releasing 14 prisoners of war, LTTE leader, Prabhakaran, sent a letter to President Kumaratunga, specifically stating that if the outstanding issues, between the two parties, were not resolved before March 28, 1995, they would be compelled to take a decision to withdraw from the peace process. The government chose to ignore the deadline. Realizing that the time frame might be too short and, particularly, because of what the LTTE noted to be a positive response from the President indicating the lifting of the ban on fuel and fishing rights, the LTTE put off the deadline, by three weeks, for April 19, 1995."

Rev. Dr Emmanuel conveniently forgot at least, to mention the LTTE taking the upper hand in eelam war III at the onset with some devastating attacks. The LTTE blew up two Chinese built gunboats, anchored at the Trincomalee harbour, on the night of April 19, 1995. On April 27, 1995, the LTTE mounted a sea borne attack on the army, based at the Kayts Island, killing 18 soldiers. The LTTE also opened a new phase in the conflict with a heat seeking missile attack on an SLAF transport aircraft, taking off from the isolated Palaly air base. Within 24 hours, the LTTE brought down another SLAF transport aircraft, coming to land at Palaly. Nearly 100 security forces officers and men died in the twin missile strikes.

Mrs Kumaratunga courageously faced the LTTE’s military challenge. President Kumaratunga gave the political leadership to bring the peninsula under government control though her subsequent plans went awry due to failures on the part of the military. To Mrs Kumaratunga’s credit, she substantially enhanced the firepower of the security forces. The Kumaratunga government acquired Kfirs, MiG 27s, multi barrel rocket launchers, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi 24 attack helicopters and a range of other weapons, though the military lacked an efficient strategy. Having liberated the Jaffna peninsula, Mrs Kumaratunga suffered a spate of devastating battlefield defeats since 1996. In December, 2001, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating her in Colombo to pave the way for a UNP administration. The attempt on her life was made at a time she was having secret talks with the LTTE. Her Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had been one of the few who had been involved in the Norwegian-led peace process. Although, the LTTE failed to assassinate Mrs Kumaratunga, the People’s Alliance (PA) lost the Dec 2001 general election to pave the way for Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement between the LTTE and the newly elected UNP-led UNF government.

During Mrs Kumaratunga’s visit to Jaffna, on the invitation of the GoSL Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg delivered the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture 2016, ‘Sustainable Development Goals: Working together for our Common Good’ at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) on Aug. 12. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Chairman of the Board of Management of the LKIIRSS in his introductory referred to Kadirgamar’s assassination during CFA supervised by a group of Scandinavian countries led by Norway. In addition to being the facilitator of the peace process, Norway functioned as one of the Co-Chairs to the Sri Lanka peace process.

Referring to Kadirgamar as one of Sri Lanka’s finest sons, Minister Samaraweera said that he was lost to a sniper’s bullet 11 years ago. "Lakshman Kadirgamar dreamt of a prosperous and peaceful Sri Lanka, united in its diversity and he sacrificed his life in search of durable peace."

Minister Samaraweera declared that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration was in the process of winning the peace, restoring democracy and securing the bright and prosperous future for all Sri Lankans. The foundation of a new Sri Lanka has been laid on the three pillars of democratisation, reconciliation and development.

The Norwegian Premier told the gathering that "Lakshman Kadirgamar, who gave his name to this institute, lost his life in search of a path to peace. This tragedy tells us how costly and difficult achieving peace can be.

"Foreign Minister Kadirgamar recognized that significant change was needed to enable Sri Lanka’s communities to live together peacefully. His vision for Sri Lanka was a national identity based on pluralism. He has said that – and I quote: ‘People who live in Sri Lanka are first and foremost Sri Lankans, then we have our race and religion, which is something given to us at birth’.

"This institute is keeping Kadirgamar’s vision for Sri Lanka alive by providing valuable analysis of the country’s strategic interests in a context of changing global realities."

The Norwegian Premier’s visit followed Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Norway’s State Secretary Tore Hattrem visits to Sri Lanka in January and May-June 2016 respectively, and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s visit to Oslo in June 2016. Hattrem had been Norway’s ambassador in Colombo during the Vanni offensive and is in a position to explain the ground situation, particularly their failure to convince the LTTE to give up human shields.

Obviously, the world should be reminded of the circumstances under which the LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar as well as the secret Norwegian – LTTE talks regarding the killing. The world wouldn’t have known about the Norway-LTTE contacts at the highest level if not for whistle blower website Wikileaks. Those demanding accountability on the part of the previous government shouldn’t forget peace wouldn’t have been a reality as long as Prabhakaran survived. The former President Rajapaksa had the strength to keep the offensive on track in spite of heavy Western pressure until troops crushed the LTTE resistance on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in May 2009.

Let me reproduce a US diplomatic cable which dealt with Norway–LTTE talks in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination. Even after the LTTE assassinated, Norway continued to mollycoddle terrorists while Western powers demanded that the peace process remained on track regardless of the provocation. Norway refrained from criticizing the LTTE. The TNA remained silent. The civil society looked the other way. The Norwegian funded National Peace Council (NPC) declared the Kadirgamar assassination was tragic but inevitable. A section of the international community felt that Kadirgamar had been an obstacle to the Norway-led peace process, particularly in the wake of him taking up a large scale LTTE built up in close proximity to the strategic Trincomalee naval base in the run up to eelam war IV. The US diplomatic cable posted by Wikileaks dealt with a meeting between Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and his deputy, Vidar Helgessen and LTTE theoretician and British passport holder of Sri Lankan origin Anton Balasingham.

The cable revealed Norway’s dilemma and the LTTE’s culpability in the Kadirgamar assassination. Had Norway made its position clear immediately after Kadirgamar’s killing, the LTTE would have come under international pressure to adhere to the CFA. By the time WikiLeaks exposed those diplomatic cables, the LTTE had been annihilated. The Norwegian delegation met Balasingham while on their way back to Oslo after paying their last respects to Kadirgamar. The delegation also met President Kumaratunga before leaving for London. On behalf of the Norwegian government, Petersen handed over a letter to Balasingham requesting its immediate translation and transfer to Balasingham.

The letter sent by the Norwegian Foreign Minister to Prabhakaran is of crucial importance. The following is the full text:

Dear Mr Prabhakaran,

As I am sure you realise, the peace process is in a critical situation. The killings and counter killings over the last few months have been watched with mounting concern by Norway and the international community. Along with the continued recruitment of children to the LTTE, this has created distrust about the LTTE’s intentions as regards the peace process. The assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has exacerbated the situation. It is not up to Norway to draw conclusions about the criminal investigations now underway in Colombo, or on any other judicial matter in relation to the killings. However public perception both in Colombo and internationally is that the LTTE is responsible. This public perception is a political reality. The LTTE needs to respond to this situation in a way that demonstrates continued commitment to the peace process.

I see it as my obligation to make clear to you the political choice now facing the LTTE. If the LTTE does not take a positive step forward at this critical juncture, the international reaction could be severe.

Against this backdrop I would ask you urgently to consider the following steps:

1. To accept the Norwegian Government’s invitation to participate in a review of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in order to find practical ways of ensuring full compliance by both parties.

2. To establish direct communications between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army in the East, in order to improve security.

3. To accept without delay the Sri Lanka monitoring mission proposal for transportation of LTTE cadres.

4. To collaborate in a practical way with Govt. initiatives to speed up reconstruction in the North and East. The LTTE’s continued commitment to the P-TOMs agreement is vital in this regard.

5. To take effective steps to halt killings and to cease the recruitment of underage combatants.

I trust that you appreciate the gravity of the present situation and will take steps to demonstrate to the international community that the LTTE is committed to the peace process.

Yours sincerely,

Jan Petersen

Norway never publicly commented on the Wikileaks revelation. Norway shared a copy of the letter sent to Prabhakaran with the US subject to an understanding the GoSL wouldn’t be briefed in this regard. Clandestine Norwegian project remained secret until the Wikileaks exposure. Kadirgamar played a pivotal role in the proscription of the LTTE by the EU. In fact, the US diplomatic cable which dealt with the secret Norwegian letter to Prabhakaran also discussed Sri Lanka’s push in Brussels against the LTTE. In hindsight, Kadirgamar obviously earned the wrath of the LTTE for pushing for EU ban and the JVP bid to promote him as the Prime Minister of the government elected following the April 2004 general election may have contributed to Prabhakaran’s directive. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) too refrained from blaming the LTTE. Instead, head of the mission Hagrup Haukland urged the government and the LTTE to maintain the CFA and to implement confidence building measures.

Top LTTE women’s cadre Lt. Colonel Thamilini in her posthumously launched memoirs ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ confirmed Prabhakaran ordering Kadirgamar’s assassination. Thamilini quoted Prabhakaran as having confirmed the LTTE carrying out the assassination. Interestingly, the Sinhala translation of ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ was launched two days after former Justice Ministry Secretary Dr Nihal Jayawickrama raised the issue of Kadirgamar’s assassination. Delivering Dr P.R. Anthonis memorial lecture, titled ‘Healing the nation: A question of leadership’, at the Sasakawa Hall auditorium, Dr Jayawickrama said Kadirgamar’s killing had been still classified and shrouded in mystery.

Dr Jayawickrama made the statement in respect of the former Foreign Minister’s assassination immediately after accusing the previous government of carrying out 300 political killings in 2005, and 700 extra-judicial killings in 2006 and 2007.

 Both Prabhakaran and Thamilchelvn believed that Kadirgamar’s assassination proved their ability to strike deep within the enemy territory, according to Thamilini. They also asserted that the EU proscribing of the group in the immediate aftermath of Kadirgamar’s assassination reflected the international community recognizing the group military power.

According to Thamilini, the LTTE had been blinded by its perceived military capability, hence provoked the military. The top LTTE leadership strongly believed in a swift and decisive war could lead to their victory. (In his first interview with the media after his capture in August 2009 in Malaysia, Kumaran Pathmanathan told the writer the LTTE believed that the Army could be overwhelmed in two years. The Directorate of Military Intelligence allowed the interview in July, 2010)