Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Did RAW eye Prez, ex-Defence Secy?



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Just hours after Ports and Shipping Minister and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe last Thursday (Oct.18) categorically denied Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) role in an assassination plot, targeting President Maithripala Sirisena, Shiral Lakthilaka, one of the closest associates of Sirisena, reiterated serious concerns over the Sri Lankan leader’s safety and security.

Samarasinghe cleared India of any involvement, whatsoever, in a plot allegedly hatched by former head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), interdicted DIG Nalaka Silva, at a packed media conference at the SLFP party office on T. B. Jayah Mawatha. Lakthikala, a former UNP Provincial Councillor and civil society activist, addressed the media at Hotel Nippon, Slave Island. One-time UNP National List MP, former Ambassador in Berlin and ex-Sirasa employee, Sarath Kongahage sat next to Lakthilaka.

The alleged assassination controversy takes place amidst Sri Lanka’s refusal to allow Indian takeover of the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port as well as President Sirisena’s opposition to Indian role in the development of the Palaly Airport.

Lakthilaka declared that Sirisena took undisclosed security measures against the backdrop of police informant Namal Kumara who revealed the alleged assassination attempt on Sept 13, 2018. It would be pertinent to mention that Samarasinghe didn’t make reference to the threat on former Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa, as claimed by Namal Kumara. Namal Kumara is on record as having said that DIG Nalaka Silva expressed fears of Sirisena and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa getting together in the run up the to the forthcoming national elections.

"The president has taken the threat very seriously," Lakthilaka told reporters in Colombo. "The president’s security has been increased."

Lakthilaka quoted Sirisena as having told his cabinet of ministers of local media reports about the involvement of an Indian intelligence agency. "He did not name the agency."

The Nippon briefing, too, was organized by the Presidential Media Division (PMD). It would be pertinent to mention that Kongahage, currently Chairman of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), too, functions as an advisor to the President.

Less than 24 hours before the media briefings given by Samarasinghe, and the Lakthilaka and Kongahage duo, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Office announced receiving an assurance from President Sirisena that he categorically rejected the reports in sections of media about him alluding to the involvement of India in any manner whatsoever in an alleged plot to assassinate the President and a former Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka (Gotabhaya Rajapaksa).

The PM’s Office said: "He (President Sirisena) mentioned that the mischievous and malafide reports were utterly baseless and false, and seemed intended to create misunderstanding between the two leaders as well as damage the cordial relations between the two friendly neighbours.

"The President apprised the Prime Minister of the urgent steps taken by him personally and the Government of Sri Lanka to publicly reject these reports."

The bottom line is that Presidential Advisors Lakthilaka and Kongahage had basically confirmed media reports pertaining to the assassination attempt on President Sirisena, a day after Cabinet spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Foreign Ministry and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe denied Indian involvement.

Although, the government tried, desperately, to reject reports of President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe exchanging words over the former’s refusal to allow Indian take over of the East Container Terminal, at the cabinet meeting, an unprecedented ‘battle’ took place, causing irreparable damage to their fragile relationship.

In fact, the writer had to remind Minister Samarasinghe, at last Thursday’s media briefing, that those denying any Indian involvement had conveniently forgotten that an Indian, in his forties, is in custody in terms of the Prevention of Terrorist Act (PTA). Samarasinghe was also told of DIG Nalaka Silva, former head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), being interdicted following Namal Kumara’s shocking claims.

Speaking of those who had disputed the credibility of reports, pertaining to the threat on President Sirisena’s life, Lakthilaka said: "They try to play the role of judge and jury both and create an opinion which suits their agenda. They did not want to allow the CID investigations to be concluded."

The Hindu has emphasized that it stood by its original story thereby contradicted denials issued by SLFP spokesman Minister Samarasinghe, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Ministry. Did President Sirisena really believe his life is in danger?

The writer personally doesn’t think of RAW role in the current situation but nothing can be ruled out until a thorough inquiry is carried out. The investigation must be conducted with the past RAW record here in mind.

RAW project through the eyes of Thamilini

India established RAW in 1968 in the wake of the disastrous Indo-China border war, four years before. Having realized how the intelligence failure contributed to India’s 1962 defeat, New Delhi worked tirelessly to meet the Asian giant’s covert and overt objectives. Primarily meant to counter India’s powerful adversaries China and Pakistan, RAW played a major role in ‘destabilization the Sri Lanka project’ in the 80s. Those who had authorized that project wouldn’t have taken into the consideration the possibility of their monstrous creation killing the very person largely responsible for the situation. The LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991, in Tamil Nadu.

Subramaniam Sivakamy, 43, or Thamilini Jayakumaran, formerly a senior cadre of the LTTE seven years following the LTTE’s humiliating battle-field defeat, completed her memoirs though she couldn’t release it before succumbing to cancer on Oct 18, 2015. Having participated in several LTTE operations against the Sri Lankan military, ‘Colonel’ Thamilini headed the LTTE Political Wing at the time she surrendered to the military. She was held in Welikada prison for three years, before being moved to the Poonthottam rehabilitation camp, in the western part of the Vanni. She was released to her family in June 2013. In her memoirs, published by Jeyakumar, her husband, a British citizen of Sri Lankan origin, with the support of Gamini Viyangoda and Dharmasiri Bandaranayake of Purawesi Balaya in March 2016, the top LTTEer dealt with an alleged RAW attempt to eliminate LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The LTTE executed the LTTE’s No 02, Mahattaya over the alleged RAW plot. Thamilini quoted senior LTTE cadres as having told the cadre how commander Sornam had arrested Mahattaya at the latter’s base at Manipay, in the Jaffna peninsula, for being involved in a RAW - engineered assassination plot.

Thamilini also explained how the LTTE changed projects launched by Mahattaya, in his capacity as the Deputy Leader of the organization. The LTTE transformed PFLT (People’s Front of Liberation Tigers), the political unit to Political Section, and it was placed under S.P. Thamilselvam, the then Special Commander in the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE also disbanded a special study group, comprising 50 persons, formed by Mahattaya. Members of the disbanded group had been attached to other sections.

According to Thamilini, a base set up by Mahattaya at Kokuvil, in the Jaffna peninsula, for the PFLT, had been placed under the command of Thamilselvam, the new leader of the Political Section. Thamilini discussed how members of the PFLT/Political Section had served the fighting formation. The RAW obviously, felt that Prabhakaran obstructed its grand strategy in Sri Lanka; hence attempts were made to assassinate the LTTE leader. According to Thamilini, the Indian Intelligence agency had conspired to get Mahattaya to shoot dead Prabhakaran, and another LTTEer, identified as Kiruban, to kill Mahattaya in turn, thereby paving the way for the latter to take over the leadership. Kiruban was described as a RAW agent who pretended that he managed to escape from Indian custody though in reality Indian authorities released him to carry out the operation to eliminate Prabhakaran.

The LTTE ‘officially’ revealed the RAW operation at the opening of the Kodikamam memorial for those men and women killed in battle with the military. Although many believed Prabhakaran would attend the event, finally, it was LTTE Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman who declared open the memorial. The fighting cadre was also told how Mahattaya went out of his way to win hearts and minds of the members in a bid to fulfill the RAW objectives.

Thamilini also dealt with how the LTTE targeted those who had been suspected of having been part of Mahattaya’s conspiracy.  Alleging involvement in the conspiracy, the LTTE had detained many senior and experienced combat cadres. Thamilini recalled an LTTE Intelligence wing cadre at the then Political School, in the Jaffna peninsula, declaring charges against a group of senior cadres in their custody over the RAW plot. She remembered one of the detained as Suseelan who commandeered a T-55 main battle tank during the battle for Pooneryn, in early Nov 1993. Thamilini acknowledged that such a fighter couldn’t have gone against the leadership.

Assassination of Jaffna MPs

The RAW can never absolve itself of creating the monstrous Tamil terrorism movement which also claimed the life of Rajiv Gandhi and over 1,200 Indian Army officers and men. Sri Lanka never made a genuine attempt to examine the role played by RAW throughout the conflict and post-conflict period.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan told this writer, many years ago, how his father V. Dharmalingham (Manipay MP) and another MP M. Alalasunderam were abducted and killed by TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) in late Sept,1985 at the behest of RAW. Dharmalingham said the RAW assassinated them to weaken the Jaffna political leadership, to strengthen armed groups and also to increase its influence over negotiations between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamils. Dharmalingham, as the political leader of the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam), discussed RAW operations directed at Tamil political parties here, with the writer, years after his party entered the political mainstream.

Sri Lanka needs to examine the Indian role here thoroughly, and the proposed project to record Sri Lanka’s war history should definitely take into consideration the Indian hand here. If not for India, there wouldn’t have been a war here though Tamil armed groups could have caused some nuisance. But, India transformed largely a domestic problem to an international security issue.

The reportage of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recently concluded visit to New Delhi revealed that the Modi Government is keen on securing the East Terminal regardless of President Sirisena’s declaration that it wouldn’t be handed over to any party under any circumstances. India and the UNP seem continuing with the Palaly Airport modernization project though Civil Aviation and Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, on behalf of President Sirisena, repeatedly said that the Palaly project would be handled by the government and its new runway would be handled by the Air Force.

The high profile Indian project to exploit terrorism in Sri Lanka to influence the country resulted in massive death and destruction. Having lost control of its own project, India struggled to cope with the monstrous organizations created by her intelligence service - one of them; the LTTE took on the Indian Army in Oct 1987. In spite of the LTTE going back on the Indo-Lanka Accord, Indian intelligence still worked with the group. It would be interesting to investigate the failure on the part of the RAW to thwart suicide missions, originating in northern Sri Lanka.

Former UNP MP’s claim

One-time UNP MP J. Sri Ranga, appearing on Sirasa Dawasa, hosted by Buddika Wickremadhara, on Oct 18, 2018, flayed India for its intervention in Sri Lanka. Pointing out that the conspiracy wouldn’t have come to light if not for police informant Namal Kumara spilling the beans, Ranga asserted that the threat to the lives of President Sirisena, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was real.

Referring to a statement issued by the Indian High Commissioner, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, in the wake of the arrest of an Indian allegedly involved in the conspiracy, Ranga asked Wickremadhara and Sydney Chandrasekera, the third participant in the programme, whether they had ever heard of an arrested person described as a mental patient. Ranga questioned the circumstances under which the Indian High Commissioner Sandhu issued a statement claiming the arrested person had a history of mental illness since 2000.

"Taking a serious note of the matter and acting on limited information provided to us by Sri Lankan authorities, we immediately alerted Indian counterparts to conduct a background check of the said individual", a High Commission communiqué said. According to the HC, the arrested person has had a history of mental disturbance since 2000.

The police arrested the Indian while he was visiting the Warakapola home of Namal Kumara late last month.

Ranga directly accused Sandhu, who had earlier served in Colombo as the Head of the Political Wing in the High Commission of India, Colombo, from December 2000 to September 2004, of interfering in a domestic affairs. The former MP recalled Sandhu intervening in political battle between the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in the wake of the signing of the Norway-run Ceasefire Agreement. Ranga alleged Sandhu intervened in the Kumaratunga take-over of three ministries held by UNP Ministers. Nirupam Sen had been the Indian High Commissioner (2002-2004) in Colombo at that time. Ranga asked Wickremadhara whether the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi could intervene in a domestic political issue there. The former MP also claimed that Sandhu intervened to save Premier Wickremesinghe from the Joint Opposition moved No Confidence Motion against the UNP Leader in April this year over his alleged involvement in treasury bond scams in 2015 and 2016.

Ranga alleged that Sri Lanka had never benefited from agreements with India. India pursued policies inimical to Sri Lanka, Ranga said, pointing out that the Indian now in custody was an Indian Tamil. Had the conspiracy been brought to a successful conclusion, it would have conveniently blamed the assassination/assassinations on the killing of someone some time ago. Had the LTTE been around, the conspirators would have taken advantage of the situation. The presence would have made it easier for them, the former MP charged. Basically the programme blamed India for, current plight of Sri Lanka, as well as being covertly responsible for the change of the 2015 Rajapaksa administration.

Ranga twice stressed that Shamindra Ferdinando, News Editor of The Island, couldn’t bear when he (Ranga) blamed the Indian High Commission/High Commissioner Sandhu. The writer sought an opportunity to respond to Ranga, who participated in the programme as a journalist and media personality. Ranga, over the years, made some controversial statements. Some time back, he raised the possibility of the Army using poison gas on the Vanni east front. It would be pertinent to ask Ranga whether he took up war crimes in and outside parliament after having entered parliament in April 2010 on the UNP ticket. Ranga certainly owed an explanation to the Tamil speaking people as to why he switched allegiance to war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa after having entered parliament through the UNP. Ranga joined Mahinda Rajapaksa’s delegation to New York, in Sept 2010, several months after the releasing of the UN PoE report that accused Sri Lankan military of killing at least 40,000 Tamil civilians. The then UNP MP accompanied government delegation, comprising President Rajapaksa, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and MP Namal Rajapaksa. In fact, the then government released photographs of the Rajapaksa-led delegation with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and one-time peace facilitator Erik Solheim. Ranga also owed an explanation as regards his inclusion in the UPFA National List at the August 2015 parliamentary polls after the change of government, in January 2015.

The writer challenges the former UNP MP to explain his claim that I couldn’t bear criticism of the Indian High Commission/High Commissioner Sandhu as regards Indian interventions in Sri Lanka. Ranga should be able to point out any articles authored by the writer or statements made on television channels backing Indian policy on Sri Lanka during his 31-year career. India can never absolve itself of culpability for destroying its tiny neighbour. Can India ever forget how Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists (PLOTE) who nearly assassinated the Maldivian President Gayoom in early 1988? Did RAW know about the sea borne PLOTE raid on Male? Could PLOTE have mounted the operation without RAW knowing it? And, finally, who ordered the assassination of PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran outside the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo? It was Maheswaran who organized the raid on Maldives by two trawler loads of PLOTE cadres.