SPECIAL REPORT : Part 246November 27, 2018, 9:28 pm
Periyamadu, Nov 19, 2018: Some members of the England cricket team accompany Mine Advisory Group (MAG) personnel to an area cleared of explosive devices. From Left : Joe Root, Keaton Jennings, Jonny Bairstow, Olly Stone and British High Commissioner Dauris (partly covered) at the back (pic courtesy BHC, Colombo)
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having visited one-time LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) dominated Periyamadu on Nov 19, morning, Englishman Olly Stone tweeted: "GREAT DAY UP IN NORTH SRI LANKA VISITING THE MINEFIELDS WITH MAG (Mine Advisory Group), AN AMAZING JOB THEY ARE DOING WITH THE LOCAL PEOPLE TO HELP MAKE THE PLACE SAFE AGAIN AND GROW THE COMMUNITY!"
Twenty five-year-old Stone is a right-arm fast bowler and right-handed batsman of the visiting English team. Stone was one of the four members of the English team to experience the life in former battlefield east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. Captain of the team Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Keaton Jennings, too, visited an area declared cleared of mines.
Root tweeted: "IT’S BEEN BRILLIANT TO COME HERE AND SEE THE GREAT WORK MAG IS DOING. WITH THE MINES BEING SO DIVISIVE IN TERMS OF SEPARATING COMMUNITIES AND DOING SO MUCH DAMAGE, AND SEEING ALL THAT BEING TURNED AROUND HERE, IT HAS BEEN REALLY IMPRESSIVE."
Jennings tweeted: SUCH AN EYE-OPENING AND HUMBLING EXPERIENCE IN MANNAR DISTRICT WITH MAG YESTERDAY. THE CLEARING WORK THEY HAVE DONE AND CONTINUE TO DO FOR THE COMMUNITY IS INCREDIBLE."
Manchester-headquartered international mine clearing organization, MAG declared in its website: "The site in Periyamadu, in the north west of the country, is nearly 1.3 million square metres – 59 times the size of Lord’s Cricket Ground – and is being made safe to rehouse families and build schools to support people…."
MAG launched mine clearing operations here in 2002 close on the heels of the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan media, both electronic and print, including The Island, failed to provide sufficient coverage to this really significant event, though being aware of the impending visit, thanks to a media advisory issued by the British High Commission in Colombo. The following is the full text of the media advisory, dated Oct 24, 2018, from the BHC:
Members of the England Cricket Team will be travelling to a UK-funded demining site, in Periyamadu, in the Mannar District, on the 19th of November. They will observe the demining operation by MAG (Mine Action Group) and engage in a game of cricket with children from recently resettled families in the area. (We kindly request that you do not publicise any of this information until the day of the event).
As we have limited capacity at the demining site, we need to take a count of how many persons will be at the event – in order to make arrangements for the same.
We would like to request that those of you who would be interested in covering the event and have the capacity to send across a crew, journalist or photojournalist to the event – please submit your interest and the details of your staff. Kindly do so by Monday 29th October.
If you have any further questions regarding the event, please contact me on the number given below or by responding to this email. Thank you and looking forward to having your representatives at the event."
Obviously, the BHC in Colombo didn’t anticipate President Maithripala Sirisena causing massive political chaos a day later by staging a constitutional coup that brought an unceremonious end to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe political marriage. Had the sacking of Wickremesinghe’s government taken place a couple of weeks before, the seven-week long tour could have been jeopardized.
President Sirisena dissolved parliament, on Nov 09, 2018, and set parliamentary polls for January 05, 2019, after having sacked Wickremesinghe on Oct 26, 2018.
President Sirisena could have avoided dissolution if he could have mustered a simple majority. The project went awry due to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combine failing to engineer the required number of crossovers.
Although some Western powers, in the wake of the political crisis here, sought to discourage foreign visitors to Colombo as part of their overall strategy to undermine the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine, the English team continued with its highly successful tour.
Certainly, the Sirisena-Rajapaksa project hadn’t been finalized at the time the English team arrived in Sri Lanka on Oct 1, 2018, in two separate flights, EY266 and EY264.
England plays five ODIs, a one-off T20 and three Test matches in a series taking place from 10 October to 27 November. The Englishmen defeated the hapless Sri Lankans in all three forms of the game. In spite of that Sri Lanka should be grateful for them continuing with the tour and also sending a section of the team to Periyamadu.
The BHC couldn’t attract the required media coverage to the Englishmen’s Periyamadu visit due to chaos in parliament. In the run-up to the Englishmen’s visit to the former battle zone, parliament erupted with the reconvening of parliament on Nov 14 thanks to the temporary suspension of the dissolution order, pending ruling on Dec 7, 2018. Western envoys, including the British, reacted sort of angrily to the crisis caused by President Sirisena. Obviously, they felt betrayed by President Sirisena’s move that threatened to reverse a grandiose project to thwart China consolidating its position here. On the invitation of the UNP, and the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Western diplomats flocked to parliament during the third week of November, 2018. The British were among them. British High Commissioner in Colombo James Dauris, rebuked unruly Sri Lanka politicians following an extremely serious fracas on the afternoon of Nov 15, 2018. In a strongly worded statement, dated Nov 16, 2018, BHC James Dauris deplored the violence unleashed by a section of Rajapaksa loyalists, of the current Sri Lankan government, in parliament against the opposing MPs and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Dauris, who is also UK’s Ambassador to the Maldives, said all Sri Lankans witnessed deplorable behavior by some members of Parliament, unbecoming of MPs belonging to the noble institution.
"Voters across Sri Lanka elected Members of Parliament to do an important job. But today Sri Lankans have again seen deplorable behaviour by some MPs, unbecoming of them and of their noble institution.
Dauris asserted that no parliament could perform its role, when its own members prevented it from doing so.
Dauris is certainly right. There is no dispute over the deplorable behaviour of Sri Lankan lawmakers. Perhaps, the diplomatic community should be reminded of how Sri Lankan political parties and their members behaved during the conflict and after. But, before that, let me discuss how Periyamadu which attracted international attention due to the English cricketers Nov 19 visit, was brought under control in late June 2008 during a vital stage of the Vanni offensive, west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.
Periyamadu link up
The military brought Periyamadu under its control during the last week of June 2008. Two fighting formations, namely Task Force II (subsequently 58 Division) and 57 Division, deployed west of the Kandy-Jaffna road, linked up southwest of Periyamadu as the enemy retreated northwards. Subsequently, the two formations intensified operations with TF II making rapid progress northwards while the 57 advanced laboured towards Kilinochchi. The LTTE deployment west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road collapsed in the wake of the TF II seizing Pooneryn in mid-November, 2008, and turning eastwards. Just six weeks later, TF II troops crossed the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road, cleared LTTE fortifications north of Paranthan and moved southwards to take Kilinochchi while the 57 brought part of Kilinochchi under its control. By the first week of January, 2009, the military fully dominated the entire region west of the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road. Less than five months later, the military cleared the entire Vanni east and brought, what some experts believed could not be solved through military means, to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009. Several other formations, including once Jaffna-based 53 and 55 Divisions, 59 Division that launched offensive action from Mullaitivu in January 2008, crushed the LTTE conventional military power totally.
The British were devastated. Having had provided strategic support to the separatist project in Sri Lanka, since the 80s, with the LTTE’s theoretician Anton Balasingham allowed to exploit British citizenship until the very end, the British went out of their way to throw a lifeline to the LTTE. The then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, on April 29, 2009, flew in here to pressure President Rajapaksa to suspend the offensive. The British official visited Menik Farm where Tamil civilians fleeing the LTTE-held areas were accommodated. Miliband was accompanied by his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. President Rajapaksa told them in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t accept anything short of an LTTE surrender. The LTTE leadership, until the very end, foolishly believed in a US-led military operation to evacuate its hardcore leadership.
Miliband and Kouchner raised three key issues (1) an immediate ceasefire (2) unhindered access to the displaced held at Menik Farm and (3) timetable for the return of the war displaced. The government ruled out ceasefire under any circumstances as the LTTE was on the verge of collapse and a truce at their insistence would only allow the LTTE a chance to regroup.
A high profile security breach that led to the releasing of classified US diplomatic cables exposed Miliband, who played politics on his behalf as well as that of his political party. Thanks to WikiLeaks, Miliband’s despicable effort to secure British votes of Sri Lankan origin is in the public domain. Miliband championed international intervention leading to truce at the expense of Sri Lanka to win support of expatriate Tamils living in key Labour marginal seats, a UK-based US diplomat Richard Mills quoted a British Foreign official as having said.
Tim Waite, a Foreign Office team leader on Sri Lanka, was quoted in a leaked US Embassy cable explaining why Miliband was lavishing so much attention on Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE.
"Waite said that much of (the government) and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the ‘very vocal’ Tamil diaspora in the UK, numbering over 300,000, who have been protesting in front of parliament since 6 April 2009," political officer Richard Mills at the US Embassy in London wrote.
"He (Waite) said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60 per cent of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka." Mills sent the cable to Washington in May 2009.
Had Western powers succeed in arranging a ceasefire, by now the LTTE could have regrouped and launched a fresh campaign and caused so much destruction, Sri Lanka was likely to have lost the capacity to host an international team.
Members of the English cricket team staying at Shangrila-La, are unlikely to know that those who once held the northern region, including Periyamadu, assassinated Commander of the Navy Vice Admiral Clancy Fernando on the morning of Nov 16, 1992 on the road facing the hotel they were staying in. The Englishmen would be surprised the same lot on the morning of January 31, 1991 blasted the Central Bank situated about a Kilometre away from the hotel they are staying. The ousted UNP led administration ‘stormed’ the Central Bank twice in Feb 2015 and March 2016. BHC Dauris did not publicly find fault with those lawmakers who perpetrated the treasury bond scams. Perhaps, Western powers and international lending agencies they could have easily saved the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government if pressure was brought on the UNP to reverse the Feb 2015 bond scam. Had there been a meaningful intervention on the part of the British and its allies, the ousted government could have mended its ways. Unfortunately, Western powers did nothing to discipline the then government until it was too late.
Threats on Parliament and its members
At the height of the war, the government feared the possibility of the LTTE using lawmakers or House employees to smuggle in explosive devices into parliament. The then Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara directed lawmakers not to bring in laptops or some other electronic equipment to thwart the LTTE using such to smuggle in explosives. (House bans laptops to prevent LTTE infiltration-The Island, June 30, 2008).
The JVP mounted a grenade attack on the morning of Aug 18, 1987, in parliament. It was directed at the then government group and claimed the life of Matara District MP Keerthi Abeywickrema. Twenty-two persons received injuries when two grenades (some said three) were tossed into a meeting room about 40 minutes before Parliament was to reconvene for the first time since the then President Jayewardene signed the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord.
The writer covered Abeywickrema’s funeral, held in Matara. Having joined The Island, in June 1987, as a trainee, it was the writer’s first experience in covering the funeral of an assassinated politician.
Today, the JVP works alongside the UNP and the TNA in parliament. It would be pertinent to mention that the JVP backed the candidature of General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, respectively.
Norbert Senadeera, an official with the Parliament staff, died later of a shrapnel wound to the head. Sixteen others including National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, Prime Minister Premadasa and Ministers Gamini Jayasuriya, Montague Jayawickrema and E.L.B. Hurulle suffered injuries, though in most cases they were superficial wounds. President J.R. Jayewardene escaped injury. May the writer take this opportunity to remind the readers that the second JVP insurgency should be examined against the backdrop of Indian intelligence and then military intervention in Sri Lanka. The JVP terror campaign received a big boost by way of Indian intervention in Sri Lanka and for want of a proper policy Sri Lanka is yet to discuss vital issues in a proper context.
India forced Sri Lanka to accept the Indian Army deployment in July 1987 after having compelled President JR Jayewardene to call off the first large scale Jaffna offensive against the LTTE.
Perhaps against the backdrop of the Englishmen’s visit to the once mine-infested Periyamadu, the reader would like to know a bit about the introduction of mine warfare way back in the 80s. India trained Tamil terrorists in mine warfare. Several Tamil groups received the know-how and one of them (PLOTE) also provided the required expertise to the JVP. The JVP mounted several landmine attacks in the South. The military retaliated indiscriminately. The writer accompanied by photographer Jude Denzil Pathiraja visited the scene of the first mine blast at Kapparatota, Weligama, on the morning of July 21, 1988.
Who facilitated the JVP to receive training under PLOTE instructors? Could the PLOTE provide training as well as explosives to the JVP without the IPKF’s knowledge? Did the PLOTE personnel conduct joint operations with the JVP? The IPKF quit Sri Lanka in March 1990.
The writer and staff photographer Jude Denzil Pahiraja were the first journalists from Colombo to visit Kapparatora where the JVP carried out its landmine attack. The JVP had targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying a group of UNP Southern Provincial Council members to Galle. Those standing near the scene of the blast alleged that it could have caused deaths among students of the nearby Sangananda Kapparatota Vidyalaya. Fortunately, there hadn’t been any children on the narrow road when the targeted convoy passed the spot.
The blast took place in the wake of the then President JRJ placing the security in the entire Southern Province comprising the districts of Galle, Matara and Hambantota under the army.
Western powers and the civil society didn’t find fault with the LTTE for assassinating lawmakers. They turned a blind eye to allegations that Indian Intelligence used Sri Lankan terrorists to assassinate TULF politicians. They remained silent when now their darling the TNA recognized the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamil community way back in 2001 and in turn the grouping ordered northerners not to exercise their franchise at 2005 presidential poll, having secured 22 seats at the parliamentary polls in the previous years with direct LTTE help.
The EU Election Observation Mission report bared the LTTE-TNA direct nexus though the Rajapaksa government did absolutely nothing to inquire into wrongdoings. Shocking video footage of TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran directing UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella in the presence of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe during parliamentary proceedings on the morning of Nov 23 is evidence of the grouping’s growing influence in the UNP led group.