Decimation of Lanka’s political leadership
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 202
By Shamindra Ferdinando
"Today, terrorism has become the major impediment to development and threatens us all. No cause justifies the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians. Yet there are countries that still use it as an instrument of state policy. We must show zero tolerance for State sponsored terrorism. The perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of terrorism must be isolated and face action of all societies that cherish freedom.": Indian Law and Justice and Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad declared in Colombo on January 15, 2018.
Prasad said so delivering the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture, titled the evolution of India’s Constitution and democratic polity, at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIRSS), in Colombo.
The Indian minister was here on the invitation of Mrs. Suganthi Kadirgamar who has been organizing the memorial lecture for the past 12 years.
Foreign Minister Tilak Maparana, PC, a former Attorney General, who delivered the introductory remarks, referred to Kadirgamar’s assassination. Let me reproduce the relevant paragraph verbatim: Late Sri Lankabhimanya Lakshman Kadirgamar, in whose memory this lecture is held, is an illustrious son of Sri Lanka. After an extensive practice in Civil Law, as a President’s Counsel, and a number of years service as Head of Asia Pacific Division of the World Intellectual Property Organization, Mr Kadirgamar entered politics as an appointed member of Parliament in 1994, and was appointed as the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, a portfolio that he held twice, from 1994 to 2001, and from April 2004 to August 2005, until his assassination.
On the front row, seated with Mrs Kadirgamar, was the Leader of the Opposition, Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, MP, and Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Taranjit Singh Sandhu. Singh had served as Counsellor (Political) in the High Commission of India, Colombo, from December 2000 to September 2004.
Marapana, who is also the Chairman of LKIRSS, as well as Prasad, a lawyer by profession, hadn’t at least briefly discussed the circumstances under which 73-year-old Kadirgamar was assassinated at his heavily guarded residence at Buller’s Lane, on the night of Aug. 12, 2005. Kadirgamar had just finished a swim and was getting inside his home when he was sniped. The much respected politician was killed in spite of Norway arranged Ceasefire underwritten by the US, Japan and EU in place.
A few hours before he was targeted, Kadirgamar attended a public function to launch the first journal of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, in which the then Indian High Commissioner, Nirupama Rao, participated. The journal was titled ‘International Relations in a Globalised World.’
Prasad, at the onset of his speech, offered warm personal regards to Mrs. Kadirgamar who had visited New Delhi personally to invite him to deliver the Kadirgamar memorial lecture. "I am deeply touched by her extraordinary gesture."
In spite of declaring that no cause justified the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians and there were countries that used it as an instrument of state policy, Prasad lacked the strength to make reference to the murderous Indian intervention here. Had Prasad acknowledged the despicable Indian destabilization project here, he wouldn’t have been able to demand zero tolerance for State-sponsored terrorism. The Indian minister’s declaration that perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of terrorism must be isolated and face action of all societies that cherish freedom sounded silly against the backdrop of one-time Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit’s (1991-1994) admission of India’s guilt in his memoirs: ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, launched in 2004.
India never apologized officially for ruining Sri Lanka, though New Delhi threw its weight behind the US-led Geneva project.
Destabilization of a neighbour
In a chapter, titled An Indo-centric Practitioner of Realpolitik in Makers of India’s Foreign Policy, Dixit, who had been New Delhi’s High Commissioner in Colombo (1985-1989) thoroughly explained how India fomented terrorism in Sri Lanka, primarily for two reasons, to counter the US, in the context of Cold War rivalry, and thwart the emergence of Tamil separatism in India as a result of New Delhi’s refusal to back, what he called, aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils.
At the time Dixit launched his memoirs, he was India’s National Security Advisor (2004-2005). Dixit died, in January, 2005.
Dixit faulted the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for sponsoring terrorism in Sri Lanka. In fact, Dixit found fault with Mrs Gandhi for two foreign policy decisions, the other being tacit support for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in Dec 1979.
Perhaps Dixit, in spite of being the one who had been tasked with implementing the lethal Indian policy, leading to the forcible deployment of the Indian Army, in July 1987, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka, didn’t really fancy what he had to do. The killings of veteran former TULF MPs, M. Alalasundaram and V. Dharmalingam on the morning of Sept. 3, 1985, shocked Sri Lanka. The LTTE was immediately accused of the killings though it later transpired that the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) carried out the assassinations at the behest of India.
Twelve years after the double murder, in an exclusive interview with the writer, Dharmalingham Siddarthan (Vanni district MP), the only son of Visvanather Dharmalingham, discussed the circumstances under which his father had been killed along with his parliamentary colleague, Alalasundaram (My mother prepared thosai for us; Prabhakaran was a regular visitor to our home––The Island Dec. 7, 1997). Siddarthan didn’t mince his words when he blamed India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for the assassinations. The then Vanni District MP (Democratic People’s Liberation Front) 49-year-old Dharmalingham Siddarthan claimed that Prabhakaran would have had definitely intervened on his father’s behalf if he had been aware of the RAW plot to kill him. Siddarthan said that the LTTE had the wherewithal to thwart the assassination bid if the RAW-TELO project had been brought to Prabhakaran’s notice.
At that time, TELO had been one of those terrorist groups that had been run by the RAW.
Today, Sampanthan-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is made up of three groups, Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), TELO and PLOTE. Siddarthan represented the PLOTE. It would be pertinent to keep in mind that at the time, the LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar, the TNA represented the LTTE’s interests in parliament. Having recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, in late 2001, the TNA comfortably won the lion’s share of electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, at the April 2004 general election with the LTTE stuffing ballot boxes to ensure their victory. The EU Election Observers having witnessed the sordid act accused the TNA of winning the majority of seats in the then temporarily merged Province with the backing of Prabhakaran. The TNA never contradicted the EU allegation. Interestingly, the Election Department, the government, or Western powers, never raised the EU allegation with the TNA.
The LTTE had been the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, at the time the group assassinated Kadirgamar, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. Having publicly pledged its support to Prabhakaran, in late 2001, the TNA remained loyal to the LTTE until the very end. Even the evil LTTE decision to use the Vanni population, numbering over 300,000 men, women and children, as a ‘strategic human shield’ in the final phase of the Army offensive, couldn’t influence the TNA to denounce the LTTE. But, Trincomalee District MP Sampanthan, in his capacity as the Leader of the Opposition, sat in the front row of LKIRSS auditorium as top Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) member Prasad delivered the Kadirgamar memorial lecture.
Had it not been for the monstrous Indian project here, Prasad wouldn’t have been here to deliver the memorial lecture of Kadirgamar, one among perhaps as many as 40 members, and former members of parliament, assassinated and wounded by terrorist groups, formed by India.
The writer was privileged to receive Kadirgamar’s assessment of political and military situations on many occasions during Kumaratunga’s presidency. Although many believed, asserted and propagated, that Kadirgamar had earned Prabhakaran’s wrath for tirelessly campaigning for the banning of the LTTE, overseas, the possibility of the assassination being purely ‘politically’ motivated cannot be ruled out. Perhaps, the LTTE, and those who had been playing politics with Prabhakaran, felt seriously threatened by the likelihood of Kadirgamar securing the post of Prime Minister, under an SLFP-led government. Although, the issue had never been dealt adequately, in both the Sinhala and English media, the then General Secretary of the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena, in March 2010, shed light on a JVP initiative to bring in Kadirgamar, an UPFA National List member, to parliament, as Prime Minister, under Kumaratunga’s presidency.
At that time, the SLFP held its regular political briefings at the Mahaweli Center and the writer was one of the few journalists to receive Maithripala Sirisena’s memoirs, titled Aththai Saththai, from him, personally, a few weeks before the April 2004 parliamentary polls. In a chapter, titled ‘Prime Minister’, Sirisena, explained the circumstances under which Kumaratunga had pushed him on the morning of April 11, 2004, to endorse Kadirgamar as the Prime Minister as proposed by the JVP in the run-up to the April 10, 2004, general election. Maithripala Sirisena reproduced a confidential letter, dated April 5, 2010, written by JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva to Kumaratunga.
Sirisena quoted Kumaratunga as having said that the SLFP couldn’t have denied the JVP request as the Marxist party wielded immense political power due to it securing almost 40 seats. The JVP had 36 elected members and three National List members though under the original plan the JVP was to receive five National List seats. The JVP contested that general election on the UPFA ticket.
Silva stressed five points, on the basis of a discussion the JVP had with Kumaratunga, on April 4, 2004: (1) We strongly believe Lakshman Kadirgamar is the most suitable person to be the Prime Minister (2) The UPFA can immensely benefit due to Kadirgamar having international recognition as well as his acceptance locally (3) Kadirgamar has earned the respect of the Sinhala Buddhist community. There is absolutely no basis for claims that Sinhala Buddhists will oppose Kadirgamar’s appointment as Prime Minister (4) We believe you’ll (Kumaratunga) realize the requirement to have a faithful Prime Minister to implement proposed constitutional changes (5) If, only a Sinhala Buddhist is acceptable as Prime Minister, we propose Anura Bandaranaike or Maithripala Sirisena for the post.
Silva warned of dire consequences unless Kumaratunga accepted the JVP’s proposal.
Sirisena revealed how Kumaratunga sent an SLAF chopper, to Polonnaruwa on the morning of the day after the April 2, 2004 general election for Maithripala to join in the discussions at the President’s House, Fort, chaired by her. Among those who had been present, when Maithripala Sirisena walked in, were Kadirgamar and the then presidential secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi. When Kumaratunga had sought Maithripala Sirisena’s opinion as to who should be the Prime Minister, the then SLFP General Secretary retorted; "The people of this country expect Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. An annoyed Kumaratunga said: "How can Mahinda be appointed when the JVP is strongly opposed to him. Maithripala Sirisena: "Madam, we should do what the people expected of us not what the JVP wanted. If, we ignored public concerns, there’ll be serious crisis in the SLFP."
After a disappointed Kadirgamar left the President’s House, Kumaratunga sent Maithripala Sirisena and Balapatabendi to speak to him again and explain the difficulty in carrying out the JVP’s directive. According to Maithripala Sirisena, the JVP had convinced Kadirgamar that he should be the Prime Minister, though Balapatabendi was strongly opposed to the move and finally Kumaratunga agreed to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Maithripala Sirisena told Kumaratunga that it was the most correct decision taken by her.
Maithripala Sirisena later also backed strongly PM Rajapaksa as their presidential candidate, much to the disappointment of Kumaratunga, though the then president wanted her brother Anura. The final decision on the presidential candidate was made in August 2005.
Had President Rajapaksa acknowledged Maitripala Sirisena’s pivotal role in thwarting the JVP-Kumaratunga plot, in 2004, as well as Sirisena’s support for him to secure endorsement as the presidential candidate, at the Nov 2005 polls, perhaps the country wouldn’t have been in current turmoil. When the writer, having perused Maithripala Sirisena’s memoirs, inquired from him, at a SLFP briefing, at Mahaweli Center, whether he felt he should be the next Prime Minister, the SLFP General Secretary smiled and said wait till the conclusion of the general election.
Thamilini on LK assassination
Nearly a decade after Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, the country is yet to undertake a comprehensive examination of the conflict. Subramaniam Sivakamy, alias ‘Col’ Thamilini, a few years after the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, recalled how Prabhakaran boasted of Kadirgamar’s assassination at a meeting of top commanders, on the day after the killing.
The launch of ‘Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata’ (In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword) the Sinhala translation of her book ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ - life story of high ranking LTTE cadre, took place at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on May 13, 2016.
‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ was launched earlier on March 19, 2016, in Kilinochchi, a one-time LTTE bastion.
Thamilini’s husband, Jeyakumaran Mahadevan, British national of Sri Lankan origin, earned the wrath of an influential section of Tamil politicians, as well as Tamil Diaspora, for releasing the book. They made a desperate bid to thwart the revelations, made by Thamilini, one of those senior personnel who had access to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and top battlefield commanders, throughout the eelam war IV. The book was launched after her death from cancer.
According to Thamilini, Kadirgamar’s assassination was meant to show the LTTE prowess in infiltrating the best guarded targets, as a warning to Colombo.
Kadirgamar, on behalf of Kumaratunga, had been engaged in secret negotiations with the LTTE, since 1999, with the knowledge and support of Norway. In addition to Kadirgamar, Prof. G.L. Peiris, too, had been engaged in secret talks, according to the Norwegians. In spite of talks, the LTTE assassinated TULF lawmaker, Neelan Tiruchelvam, in July 1999, and almost succeed in eliminating Kumaratunga, at the final presidential polls campaign rally, in Colombo, in Dec 1999. An angry Kumaratunga revealed how the LTTE made an attempt to eliminate her amidst Norwegian facilitated talks. Interestingly, at the time of Kadirgamar’s assassination, Norway oversaw Sri Lanka’s peace process.
Had the LTTE succeeded, UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe would have comfortably won the 1999 presidential poll. Kumaratunga won a second term, amidst a massive battlefield defeat on the Vanni front. In April 2000 Sri Lanka suffered its worst battlefield defeat when the LTTE captured Elephant Pass. The LTTE held Elephant Pass till early January 2009.
At the previous presidential poll, the LTTE paved the way for Kumaratunga’s victory by eliminating UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake in Oct 1994.
The LTTE ensured Kumaratunga’s victory, at the 1994 presidential election, and then unleashed war in April 1995.
At the Nov. 2005 presidential poll, the LTTE/TNA engineered UNP leader Wickremesinghe’s defeat by ordering northern Tamils not to exercise their franchise. Following the LTTE’s eradication, the TNA, voted for war-winning Army Chief the then General Sarath Fonseka and the former SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, at the 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, respectively, with the second US managed project succeeding to pave the way for a change of administration, resulting in the LTTE proxy, the TNA, named the main Opposition in parliament and its leader invited for the Kadirgamar memorial lecture.
Sri Lanka’s decision to do away with the annual Victory Day parade in 2015 should be studied and examined in the context of efforts to gradually erase the memory of a war, caused by a neighbour, while the victor is being hauled up in Geneva.
Let me reproduce what former Ambassador and one-time head of Peace Secretariat, Jayantha Dhanapala, told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in late 2010: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harboured; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy the arms and ammunition that cause the deaths, the maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nation States from that kind of behavior on the part of members of the international community, and I think this is something that will echo with many countries in the Non Aligned Movement where Sri Lanka has a very respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."
Indian Law and Justice and Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad comment on international terrorism seems frivolous when taken with Dhanapala’s assertion. Dhanapala was the Peace Secretariat head at the time the LTTE eliminated Kadirgamar during Norway facilitated talks. The National Peace Council, the major recipient of Norwegian funding, declared immediately after Kadirgamar’s assassination that it was tragic but inevitable.
Mangala Samarawweera, who held the Foreign Ministry portfolio in January 2017, (now he serves as Finance and Media Minister) referred to Kadirgamar, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, on January 11, 2017, though he refrained from commenting on the circumstances under which Kadirgamar died. Samaraweera said: "Several of my predecessors, too, have spoken here at Chatham House. This includes the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, who spoke at length here, in 1998, about the danger faced by our nation at the time, and democratic societies everywhere, from terrorism."
Thanks to Wikileaks, the world is aware how Norway had talks, in London, with top LTTE representative, Anton Balasingham, to explore ways and means of tackling the fallout of Kadirgamar’s assassination.
Even after Kadirgamar’s assassination, Western powers refused to acknowledge that there couldn’t be a peaceful end to the conflict as long as the LTTE retained conventional military capability. Let me reproduce verbatim statements issued by key players in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination to prove their determination to continue with the Norway-led process whatever the consequences. They never had Sri Lanka’s interests in mind.
The then US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of peace Co-Chair said: "We must honour Kadirgamar’s memory by re-dedicating ourselves to peace and ensuring the CFA remains in force."
The then European Union Commissioner, Ferrero-Waldner said on behalf of peace Co-Chair EU: "We must all honour the passing of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar by continuing his work for peace and maintaining the CFA."
Peace Co-Chair Japan issued the following statement, through its Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura: "I strongly hope for calm response by all parties at this moment so that the move towards the peace process will not be hindered."
In the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination, peace facilitator and Co-Chair Norway declared: "… It is now of great importance that both parties to the conflict do their utmost to fully fulfill their obligations according to the CFA."
What a pity, we as a nation had conveniently forgotten the past.