Sunday, 4 September 2016

Sharing credit for eradicating terrorism: India’s contribution



Aug. 15, 2016, Palaly: Jaffna-based Indian Consul General, Shria Natarajan, placing flowers at a monument built in honour of Indian troops killed in Sri Lanka. (Right) Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake accompanying Natarajan to the venue. Having destabilized Sri Lanka, in the 80s, India, subsequently, militarily intervened. The project went awry in the wake of the LTTE declaring war on the Indians. Over 1,500 Indian officers and men died during Oct 1987-Dec 1989. India quit Sri Lanka, in March, 1990. The LTTE assassinated Congress I leader Rajiv Gandhi, in May, the following year, fearing him regaining power.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A despicable attempt is being made to belittle the Rajapaksas’ role in Sri Lanka’s unique triumph over terrorism. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, during a two-day visit to Jaffna (August 11 and 12, 2016) declared that three-fourths of the war, against the LTTE, had been won by the time she relinquished office, in November, 2005.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused of overseeing massive and systematic human rights violations, during eelam war IV (August 2006-May 2009) whereas the previous administrations received credit for paving the way for Rajapaksa to achieve victory.

Twice President Kumaratunga also made reference to the UNP’s contribution to the annihilation of the LTTE. Mrs Kumaratunga secured her first presidential term, in November 1994, having led the then SLFP-led People’s Alliance (PA) to victory at the August, 1994, general election.

The former Commander-in-Chief dismissed assertions that the Rajapaksas had played a significant role in the campaign.

Mrs Kumaratunga went to Jaffna, in her capacity as the Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, one of the mechanisms meant to address the post-war national reconciliation process.

The former President returned from Jaffna, on August 12.

Former President Kumaratunga conveniently refrained from mentioning India’s war against the LTTE. Having sponsored several terrorist groups, including the creation of the monster LTTE, India had no option but to wage a bloody campaign, in Sri Lanka (October, 1987 to late 1989) against the LTTE before pulling out troops in March, 1990. India had also intervened in the Maldives after Sri Lankan terrorists (members of the PLOTE) launched an unprecedented sea-borne raid on the Maldives, in early November, 1988. Timely Indian intervention saved the then Maldivian government.

A few days, after Mrs Kumaratunga’s departure from Jaffna, where she hammered the Rajapaksa brothers, the country was again reminded of the heavy price India had to pay for causing terrorism in Sri Lanka. The LTTE also assassinated Congress I leader, Rajiv Gandhi, in May, 1991.

The Indian Army inflicted severe losses on the LTTE during intense fighting in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka. India deployed heavy armour and also brought in Mi-24 helicopter gunships in support of her ground forces. The LTTE had been on the verge of collapse, and was mainly restricted to the Vanni, when the then UNP leader Ranasinghe Premadasa intervened, on behalf of the LTTE. President Premadasa’s intervention in April/May, 1989 saved the LTTE and set the stage for a series of humiliating battle-field defeats for the army.

On the morning of August 15, 2016, Consul General of India, in Jaffna, Shria Natarajan, and Security Forces Commander, Jaffna, Major General Mahesh Senanayake, paid floral tribute at an impressive memorial built in blue black granite, at Palaly, in honour of Indian Army personnel killed in action at the onset of hostilities in Jaffna, during the second week of October, 1987. The slain included Lt. Colonel Kumar Chhabra. All their names are inscribed on a plaque mounted on a granite platform with pillars at the four corners bearing the majestic Lion Capital of Emperor Ashoka.

The writer had an opportunity to attend, in February, 2013, the unveiling of the monument for the Indian para-commandos, killed during the abortive raid on the Jaffna University, on the night of Oct 11/12, 1987. The then Indian High Commissioner, Ashok K. Kantha and his wife, had been there, along with the then Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe.

The monument, erected within the Palaly air base, is the first of its kind built in memory of IPKF personnel attached to a particular unit, in this instance 10th Para Commando.

The IPKF raid, launched from Palaly, to capture or kill top LTTE leaders, including Velupillai Prabhakaran and Gopalswamy Mahendraraja a.k.a Mahattaya, involved 120 members of the 10th Para Commandos and about 360 troops from the 13th Sikh Light Infantry, went awry causing some humiliating losses. The Sikh Light Infantry lost 30 personnel in action. There are three IPKF memorials in Sri Lanka. In addition to the one built at Palaly, there are two more, one near parliament. The black granite structure, placed on a raised platform, has the names of over 1500 Indian officers and men inscribed on it. An older memorial is in Batticaloa within the compound of "Manresa" a Catholic institution two kilometres out of the town. The plaque was erected by Maj. Gen. Ashok Mehta who had used Manresa as his headquarters when he commanded the IPKF in Batticaloa – Ampara sector.

War-winning President Rajapaksa neglected his responsibility to commission a thorough examination of the eelam conflict and events leading to large scale hostilities in mid-80s. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) lacked the mandate, as well as the expertise, to undertake such a comprehensive study. Had the war-winning leadership acted in the best interests of the country and commissioned comprehensive study, the world couldn’t have been deceived as regards the ground situation under different political leadership. Such a study would have surely revealed the circumstances under which the Tamil political leadership had to operate at the LTTE’s behest. It would have also clearly established India’s role, as well as that of NATO member Norway. The rich Scandinavian state offered its services both to the then government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.

Norway made its move in the wake of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa being tricked by the LTTE to demand immediate Indian pull-out. The LTTE resumed the war less than three months after India withdrew, in March, 1990. President Premadasa pushed veteran politician A.C.S. Hameed to reach an understanding with the LTTE, consequent to the Army losing the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road, beyond Vavuniya, right up to Elephant Pass, in mid 1990. According to Norway commissioned Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009, released in late 2011, the then minister Hameed had held secret talks with the LTTE, in Geneva. President Premadasa never recovered from the LTTE onslaught. Having had direct negotiations with the UNP leader (May 1989-June 1990), the LTTE swiftly executed a series of devastating operations to bring the road, north of Vavuniya, under its control. The LTTE success, in the Vanni, isolated the Jaffna peninsula. President Premadasa caused irreparable damage to national security. The country had forgotten President Premadasa ordering the vacation of army bases in Jaffna to appease the LTTE during talks. The President also released a woman terrorist directly involved in a massive explosion at Maradana. The LTTE caused political turmoil by assassinating Premadasa on May Day 1993.

President Premadasa’s successor D.B. Wijetunga adopted a tough stand against terrorism. However, the Army remained demoralised and incapable of meeting the growing challenge. Wijetunga suffered debilitating military debacles, in late July, 1993, early November, 1993 in the northern theatre of operations. The LTTE overran Janakapura and Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai complex, respectively. The Army lost hundreds of men at Pooneryn whereas the Navy abandoned its Nagathevanthurai base especially set up to thwart illegal movements across the Jaffna lagoon. In the run-up to the general election, in August, 1994, the LTTE stepped-up pressure. On the eve of the election, Sea Tigers blasted a ship at the Kankesanthurai harbour.

Just over a month, after Mrs Kumaratunga spearheaded a People’s Alliance victory, the LTTE sank the large patrol vessel, "Sagarawardena" off Mannar. Although the navy had been aware of the possibility of an LTTE attack (certainly there hadn’t been specific intelligence in respect of a possible strike on that particular ship), the Kumaratunga administration never anticipated sinking of the ship. The LTTE succeeded in capturing Commanding Officer of the ship Commodore Ajith Boyagoda, the senior most security forces officer held by the LTTE during the entire conflict. Boyagoda suffered in LTTE captivity until the UNP-led UNF government secured his release in September, 2002. The LTTE exchanged Boyagoda with top LTTE cadre, known as Kennedy, captured during a successful LTTE raid on Palaly air base, in 1994. The writer was among those journalists present at the exchange of prisoners north of Vavuniya.

In October, 1994, the LTTE assassinated UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake, Mrs Kumaratunga’s main rival at the November presidential polls. In spite of Dissanayake’s assassination, the People’s Alliance went ahead with peace talks. The government lacked the capacity to identify the LTTE strategy. By then, the LTTE had claimed the lives of top UNP leadership and was eying the PA.

Having finalized a written agreement, on a truce, in January 1995, the LTTE resumed hostilities, in April, 1995. A series of devastating attacks caused the destruction of two gun boats and two transport aircraft at Trincomalee and over Palaly. The LTTE laid siege to Palaly complex, in the Jaffna peninsula. However, President Kumaratunga thwarted the LTTE plans. The armed forces launched Operation Riviresa in August, 1995, to bring the entire Jaffna peninsula under their control, by early 1996. Regaining Jaffna had been President Kumaratunga’s finest achievement. Had she failed to dislodge the LTTE from Jaffna, the war would have certainly taken a turn for the worse.

Unfortunately, the Army lacked the wherewithal to sustain offensives on the Vanni front. Efforts to regain the Vanni region failed with the Army suffering a series of humiliating debacles. Mrs Kumaratunga experienced major battle-field losses in the run-up to the presidential poll in December, 1999. By then, the LTTE had captured the entire Vanni region and was in the process of attacking the strategic Elephant Pass base. The Army abandoned Elephant Pass, in April, 2000. In the wake of the worst single defeat, during the entire war, Sri Lanka swiftly established full diplomatic ties with Israel. The Fully-fledged 54 Division, headquartered at Elephant Pass, couldn’t defend the territory under its control. A stunned Army leadership, in an obvious bid to deceive masses, claimed that it had been a strategic withdrawal. Having overrun Elephant Pass, the LTTE had the wherewithal to challenge any front-line base on any sector. On the eve of the December, 1999, presidential polls, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate President Kumaratunga at her final campaign rally at Town Hall. Around the same time, the LTTE launched a second suicide attack at Ja-ela, north of Colombo, killing former Army Chief of Staff Maj. General Lucky Algama.

Had the LTTE succeeded on that day, Mrs Kumaratunga’s decision in May, 1999 to formally invite Norway to arrange a secret dialogue between her government and Prabhakaran wouldn’t have come out in the wake of the failed assassination bid. The two parties had been in contact when the LTTE made its move to remove Mrs Kumaratunga. But, they had been in touch through Norway even before Mrs Kumaratunga’s formal invitation. Although, Mrs Kumaratunga had won a second presidential term, interested parties engineered a series of crossovers to weaken her hold. An irate President had no option but to call for fresh general election in the wake of failed parivasa government with the JVP. By then, the LTTE had the upper hand in both the northern and eastern theatres of war. The last major ground offensive, codenamed Agnikeela, launched in early 2001, with the then Commander-in-Chief Kumaratunga’s approval ended disastrously. The enormity of the defeat, on the northern front, shook the Army. An LTTE commando raid on the Bandaranaike International Airport and the adjoining Katunayake airbase caused massive losses. The LTTE threatened national economy. Sri Lanka faced defeat. In spite it being proscribed, in Western countries, the LTTE freely raised funds required to operate, non-stop the arms, ammunition and equipment supply line to northern Sri Lanka. The LTTE also commenced building airfields capable of accommodating big aircraft.

Western powers pushed Sri Lanka to reach an agreement with the LTTE under the aegis of Norway. The UNP went ahead with the Norwegian project, regardless of strong opposition from President Kumaratunga. The top UNP leadership insisted that President Kumaratunga couldn’t be allowed to sabotage the process, hence their decision to conclude the Ceasefire Agreement without consulting the President or the armed forces. Norway operated under the notion that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated, under any circumstances, therefore a negotiated settlement was nothing but a necessity. The LTTE greatly expanded its fighting capability during the UNP-led UNF administration before Mrs Kumaratunga called fresh elections, in April, 2004, to pave the way for Mahinda Rajapaksa to become the Prime Minister. Having won the presidency, in November, 2005, President Rajapaksa, too, pledged commitment to the Norway - led peace process and twice sent negotiating

teams to Geneva for direct talks with the LTTE. President Rajapaksa also engaged in secret talks with the LTTE in a bid to reach an understanding, even after large scale hostilities commenced. The LTTE simply ignored President Rajapaksa’s efforts to reach an understanding. NGO guru, Kumar Rupesinghe, earned the wrath of the Norwegian government for seeking to work out an arrangement with the LTTE on President Rajapaksa’s behalf. Soon after the LTTE had brought Dr Rupesinghe’s secret mission to the notice of the Norwegian government, Oslo immediately cut him off from the generous funding made available to several Sri Lankans to promote their project. Having disrupted Dr Rupesinghe’s projects, Norway had the NGO activist investigated before revealing the exact amount received by him during a three-year period. The Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 revealed that Dr Rupesinghe had received $ 6mn out of a staggering $ 28 mn distributed among peacemakers.

The combined security forces launched a large scale offensive action, in early September, 2006, at Muttur, and sustained offensive action until the war was brought to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009. A proper assessment would reveal that the LTTE’s fighting capability remained intact though the military deprived the group of the Jaffna territory. Once the military compelled the LTTE to vacate the Eastern Province, in mid 2007, leaving small groups to mount hit and run attacks, Prabhakaran concentrated all its forces on the west and east of the Kandy-Jaffna road. The LTTE transformed the Vanni to one large stronghold capable of withstanding several fighting formations. At the height of the Vanni battle, the LTTE fought Task Force I on the Western front, 57 Division on the Central front, and 59 Division on the Welioya front, simultaneously. At the same time, the LTTE had the strength to hold two Divisions, namely 55 and the elite 53 Division on the Jaffna front. The group also fought fighting formations on the offensive across the Kandy-Jaffna road. The LTTE conducted both offensive and defensive operations on all fronts. Veteran journalist and foremost expert on the group, Canada-based D.B.S. Jeyaraj, as late as December, 2008, emphasized the LTTE retained the wherewithal to defeat the Army on the Vanni front and launch a counter offensive of its own. Jeyaraj believed in Prabhakaran’s strategy, even after the Army had brought Pooneryn under its control, in November 2008. The liberation of Pooneryn had been a significant achievement on the western flank. Success at Pooneryn cleared all available forces, deployed on the western and central flanks, to move against Kilinochchi, while the two Jaffna-based Divisions, too, pushed southwards of Elephant Pass. Former President Kumaratunga cannot justify her claim that her successor faced a weakened force. It would be also pertinent to mention that the LTTE ran a large scale network to acquire weapons overseas and transfer them via sea. The Navy had to adopt special tactics, beginning 2006, to cut off supplies from Tamil Nadu, as well as other sources. The Navy’s success was largely due to the then Navy chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s decision to call off the costly Varunakirana operation meant to block the sea supply route to Mullaitivu and deploy all available large assets to hunt down floating arsenals. Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), acquired from India, also participated in the hunt for LTTE ships.

Whatever the political opponents say today, President Rajapaksa’s achievement cannot be disputed. Victory over the LTTE wouldn’t have been a reality without Sinha Regiment veteran the then Lt. General Sarath Fonseka’s leadership. That is the undeniable truth. The then

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa played a significant role. Had he not returned from the US, the triumph over the LTTE wouldn’t have been possible. A leaked US diplomatic cable, originating from Colombo, in mid-January, 2010, called the Rajapaksa brothers, and Fonseka, war criminals. Then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis cable reflected the thinking among the Colombo-based diplomatic community. Surely, the war winning administration certainly achieved much more than Mrs Kumaratunga wanted the public to believe. Winning one fourth of the war is a blatant lie.