Saturday, 29 December 2018

Former Lanka Peace Co Chairs’ agenda back on track




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Five days after the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Japan welcomed, what it called, the recent development towards political stability in Sri Lanka. It was a direct reference to Rajapaksa’s resignation, following several weeks of intense political turmoil. The following is the full text of the statement, dated Dec 20, 2018 issued by Japan, titled ‘The recent political situation in Sri Lanka’: As a long-standing friend, Japan welcomes the recent development toward political stability in Sri Lanka, including the appointment of the new cabinet, through due process, in accordance with the law, and commends all the parties for their efforts.  Japan, in cooperation with the Government of Sri Lanka, commits to further strengthening our "Comprehensive Partnership" in order to achieve peace, stability and prosperity in Sri Lanka and the Indo-Pacific region.’’

 The European Union, in agreement with Norway, on Dec 17, 2018, issued the following statement:"As steady friends of Sri Lanka, we welcome the peaceful and democratic resolution of the political crisis, in accordance with the Constitution. We commend the resilience of Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions and will continue to support its efforts towards national reconciliation and prosperity for all."

 The US, too welcomed developments, subsequent to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation, which upheld Sri Lanka’s democratic and constitutional norms.

"Sri Lanka is a valued partner in the Indo Pacific and we look forward to continuing to develop our relationship with the government and people of this country." 

The US, EU and Japan and Norway functioned as Co-Chairs to Sri Lanka peace process in the aftermath of the Dec 05 2001 parliamentary polls, won by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Co-Chairs guaranteed the Norway-led peace initiative, finalized on Feb 21, 2002. Japan, in addition to being a member of Co-Chairs, played a significant role in the peace process, with its own Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi pursuing an agenda of his own. 

Both Japan and the US, in their statements, underscored the importance of Sri Lanka in the overall Indo-Pacific strategy. The EU and Norway strategies, in respect of Indo-Pacific region, are certainly compatible with those of the US, Japan, as well as India.

 A three-day visit, undertaken by Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kazuyuki Nakane, in late August, 2018, underscored the pivotal importance of further consolidating the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ between the two countries.

The first such post-World War II Japan-Sri Lanka agreement was reached in early Oct 2015, soon after the last parliamentary polls, in Aug 2015. The far reaching agreement came into being, following Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s three-day visit to Japan, beginning Oct 4, 2015, on the invitation extended by Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe.

The joint declaration, issued at the end of the visit, dealt with the Japan-Sri Lanka naval cooperation among other issues. Abe and Wickremesinghe agreed on close military cooperation between the two countries, particularly on maritime security, including port calls by the vessels of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). Interestingly, Japan praised Sri Lanka for co-sponsoring the Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution. In fact, all Co-Chairs appreciate Sri Lanka co-sponsoring a Resolution against its own interests, at heavy political expense, back at home. Strange isn’t it?

 Japanese moves here cannot be examined without taking into consideration Tokyo’s post World War II defence pact with the US. Japan is a base for powerful US forces whose deployment there is a continuing concern for a section of the population. It would be pertinent to mention here that Norwegian and Japanese roles in Sri Lanka’s peace process, in 2002, were meant to give them international recognition. Obviously, both didn’t receive the desired results, due to the LTTE resuming war in August 2006. The rest is history.

Co-Chairs, though irrelevant in the wake of the annihilation of the LTTE, nearly a decade ago, are still pursuing their original agenda, in spite of setbacks. Before further comment on their strategy, it would be pertinent to mention the growing US-Japan-India military cooperation, to counter China, constantly named as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political ally.

 One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, launched in Oct 2016, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations. Menon alleged that Rajapaksa received Chinese political funding - an extremely serious accusation coming from, former top official who once functioned as India’s National Security Advisor.

Western agenda back on track

The Midweek piece, dated Dec 19, 2018 extensively dealt with the US recognition of Sri Lanka as a military ‘supply point.’ Former Peace Co-Chairs moved swiftly and decisively in the immediate aftermath of President Maithripala Sirisena sacking his yahapalana partner Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Oct 26, 2018.

 In spite of intense speculation of an impending reunion, many, including the writer, felt President Sirisena wouldn’t undertake such a project as it wasn’t feasible. In the wake of President Sirisena’s move, Western powers and their allies threw their weight behind the ousted UNP leader Wickremesinghe. They played a significant role in the counter-attack in the wake of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa failing to secure the required simple majority in parliament.

 Having failed to engineer the required number of crossovers, President Sirisena, in consultation with the then Premier Rajapaksa, dissolved parliament on the night of Nov 09, 2018. President Sirisena called parliamentary polls on January 5, 2019. The Sirisena-Rajapaksa project went awry on Nov 14, 2018, when the UNP succeeded in proving its majority in parliament, even under controversial circumstances. Heavy presence of Colombo-based diplomatic community, in the Speaker’s gallery, considerably strengthened the UNP’s position. The diplomatic community remained committed to the Opposition’s cause until the war-winning President had no option but to quit the premiership on Dec 15, 2018, soon after the Supreme Court delivered him a knockout blow.

The apex court’s refusal to abolish the Court of Appeal suspension on the cabinet of ministers left the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine with no alternative but to give up their project. The failed project has paved the way for a UNP government, under Wickremesinghe, though still unable to secure a simple majority it can always depend on the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in case of an emergency. The UNP-TNA-JVP has functioned as a team at the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections in support of General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, respectively.

In addition to the former Peace Co-Chairs, India, Canada and Australia, as well as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, welcomed the return of Wickremesinghe. During the last day (Dec 21) of the legislature for 2018, the UNP and the TNA voted 102 to six to approve an interim budget for January-April, 2019 period. The UNP and the TNA voted together whereas the JVP voted against.

During the Oct 26, 2018-Dec 15,2018 power struggle, three international credit rating agencies downgraded the country, thereby making foreign borrowings far more expensive. Their thinking, too, is in line with Western strategy meant to make it difficult for the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine to consolidate its position. The Western strategy worked.

 The new administration is certainly not the one that existed prior to the Oct 26, 2018 sacking of Wickremesinghe. Rajapaksa’s ouster has paved the way for a UNP government hell-bent on implementing neo-liberal policies, regardless of the consequences.

 The Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine received humiliating treatment in the hands of a section of the international community. A case in point was Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha recently having to represent the government at a reception held at the Japanese Ambassador’s residence to mark the Emperor’s birthday. The Foreign Secretary had to do the honours as Japan refrained from recognizing Rajapaksa as Wickremesinghe’s successor.

Co-Chairs reaction to Kadirgamar’s assassination

Following the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009, Western powers worked overtime to bring the Rajapaksa administration to an end. The Rajapaksas earned the wrath of foreign powers for not heeding their call to halt the combined security forces offensive, on the Vanni east front, in early 2009.

 The US, EU, Japan and Norway worked out a four-point plan to bring the offensive to a halt. (A) Amnesty for the fighting cadre (B) The UN to accept LTTE arms, ammunition and equipment (C) The UN or the ICRC to take charge of hardcore LTTE leaders and (D) A role for Co-Chairs in political negotiations.

The operation involved the deployment of USN for evacuation of LTTE cadres, trapped in the Vanni east theater, to Trincomalee, whereas an international presence in the Vanni by way of the UN envisaged strategy obviously at the behest of the West.

Now that the LTTE had been militarily eradicated, once and for all, Co-Chairs are engaged in deliberations with the LTTE’s cat’s paw - the TNA-seeking a federal structure in the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the expense of Sri Lanka’s unitary status. In other words, those who represented Co-Chairs still believe plan D can be successfully implemented as recommended by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June 2016.

Obviously the US, EU, Japan and Norway felt betrayed by President Sirisena’s dismissal of Wickremesinghe. They feared the return of Rajapaksa could jeopardize a meticulously planned high profile expensive project that brought about a change of government, in January 2015. No less a person than former US Secretary of State John Kerry is on record as having said that in addition to Nigeria and Myanmar, the US invested in Sri Lanka to restore democracy. 

It would be pertinent to examine the Co-Chairs stand on Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination on the night of Aug 12, 2005, vis-a-vis Wickremesinghe’s dismissal. The LTTE, probably assassinated Kadirgamar as it felt confident in facing a major military challenge in the North, in spite of the devastating split caused by one-time its top commander Karuna the previous year. The assassination was meant to create maximum turmoil in the run up to the Presidential poll, three months later. Co-Chairs, the UN and others continued to mollycoddle the LTTE though they realized Velupillai Prabhakaran had perpetrated an unpardonable treacherous act. 

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. Had they been genuine in their much-touted concerns and took tangible measures to rein in the LTTE, Eelam War IV could have been certainly avoided. Unfortunately, Western powers erroneously believed a weakened LTTE could allow Sri Lanka to adopt a far stronger stand at the negotiating table. They believed the Norway-arranged CFA, underwritten by them, should proceed, regardless of Kadirgamar’s assassination.

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."

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.

 Balasingham passed away, in Dec 2006, in the UK. The British national, of Sri Lankan origin, departed the world as the LTTE was fighting in the East. The LTTE remained confident of its military prowess even after the combined forces brought the Eastern Province under their control in mid-2007. By then, the Vanni campaign was underway with one newly raised Division fighting west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

The LTTE quit the negotiating table, in April 2003. The LTTE launched Eelam War IV in the second week of Aug 2006 with simultaneous large scale attacks on the northern and eastern theaters. Although, the LTTE made swift progress on the northern front, initially, the military halted the advance and gradually turned around the situation. The LTTE lost the Eastern Province, by mid-2007. By January 2009, the LTTE faced defeat on the northern front with remaining units surrounded. 

Nevertheless Peace Co-Chairs never made a real attempt to force the LTTE to surrender. Instead, they sought to arrange a face-saving arrangement for the LTTE to bring the war to an end. Such an arrangement would have been acceptable to the Rajapaksa government if the LTTE gave up its battle immediately after losing Kilinochchi. In late Feb 2009, Co-Chairs, on behalf of the LTTE, requested the government for a ceasefire on the basis of a letter dated Feb 24, 2009 received from Velupillai Prabhakaran. In spite of a heavy beating, on the Vanni east front, the LTTE command and control structure remained intact to a certain extent. Co-Chairs continued to pursue its foolish strategy meant to arrange a respectable surrender. The TNA remained silent. In the first week of April 2009, the LTTE suffered irreparable losses in Puthukudirippu east which destroyed its conventional fighting capacity.

It was the first classical encirclement operation carried out by the Army, under extremely difficult circumstances, on the Vanni East front, though it had overwhelming firepower as well as unlimited ground forces. The defeat of the LTTE formations at Anandapuram made the outcome of the conflict a foregone conclusion, in spite of a section of the international community trying to throw a fresh lifeline to the LTTE.

The then Brig. Shavendra Silva’s celebrated 58 Division carried out the operation, which involved Brig. Kamal Gunaratne’s 53 Division, though at that time the Gajaba Regiment veteran was away. Brig. Chagi Gallage had been in charge of the 53 Division.

 A section of the international community caused mayhem in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka never really examined how foreign powers contributed to Sri Lanka’s misery.

 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."

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

US sets up logistic hub in Sri Lanka amidst political chaos




The US Navy first operated the air logistic hub in late August 2018, before President Sirisena and Premier Wickremasinghe clashed over the latter’s move to form Public Private Partnership (PPP) with US ally, India, to run the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo harbour. The battle over ownership of the ECT and other matters, including an alleged assassination plot to eliminate President Sirisena, led to the sacking of Wickremesinghe.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In the midst of the simmering political turmoil, caused by the sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 26, 2018 by President Maithripala Sirisena, the US Navy announced the setting up of what it called logistic hub in Sri Lanka to secure support, supplies and services at sea.

The announcement was made towards the end of the first week of December, 2018. President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, installed on October 26 twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, but the project failed due to their failure to engineer the required number of crossovers to prove a simple majority in parliament.

Interestingly, the US, having granted logistic hub status by Sri Lanka in August 2018, warned of the Hambantota port becoming a forward military base for Chinese Navy. No less a person than US Vice President Mike Pence made this assertion.

Addressing a gathering at top US think tank Hudson Institute in early Oct. 2018, Pence alleged: "Just ask Sri Lanka, which took on massive debt to let Chinese state companies build a port with questionable commercial value. Two years ago, that country could no longer afford its payments – so Beijing pressured Sri Lanka to deliver the new port directly into Chinese hands. It may soon become a forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy."

Perhaps Pence hadn’t been aware of US being granted logistic hub status by Sri Lanka several weeks before.

The Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine never recovered from the defeat it suffered in parliament, on the afternoon of Nov. 14, 2018, when Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ensured the passage of a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against Premier Rajapaksa, under controversial circumstances.

On behalf of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa government, UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Joint Opposition) expressed concern over the latest development in the US-Sri Lanka military relationship. Addressing the media, at Dr. N. M. Perera Centre, Cotta road, Borella, Nanayakkara flayed the ousted UNP-led administration for giving in to the US project. Mahinda Rajapaksa commented on the US-Sri Lanka project soon after giving up premiership to enable Sirisena to reappoint Wickremesinghe.

The UNP leader, surrounded by key lawmakers, was reappointed PM on Dec 16, 2018. Addressing people at his Tangalle residence, Rajapaksa, on Dec 16, 2018, warned of possible implications to Sri Lanka by giving US access to Trincomalee and getting entangled in superpower rivalry.

Did the UNP consult President Sirisena regarding the setting up of the US logistic hub in Sri Lanka? Had the issue at hand been discussed at cabinet level and also with relevant parties?

The US Navy first operated the air logistic hub in late August 2018, before President Sirisena and Premier Wickremasinghe clashed over the latter’s move to form Public Private Partnership (PPP) with US ally, India, to run the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo harbour. The battle over ownership of the ECT and other matters, including an alleged assassination plot to eliminate President Sirisena, led to the sacking of Wickremesinghe.

President Sirisena, obviously much to the embarrassment of the top UNP leadership, repeated devastating accusations in his address to the nation immediately after swearing in Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister at the Presidential Secretariat (Old Parliament).

A report from the 7th Fleet

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Grant G. Grady, in a report headlined ‘USS John C. Stennis Leverages Logistics Hub in Sri Lanka’ posted on the 7th Fleet website on Dec 06 discussed the new US move to formulate standards for US Navy operating in the Indian Ocean.

The following is the full text of Grady’s report: INDIAN OCEAN – Taking advantage of a growing naval partnership with Sri Lanka, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) established a logistics hub in Sri Lanka to receive support, supplies and services at sea.

A C-2 Greyhound carrier on-board delivery aircraft accessed the hub’s strategic location before bringing supplies to John C. Stennis. Established on a temporary basis, in the island nation, the hub provides logistics support, to U.S. Navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean.

The temporary air logistics hub concept allows for the use of an airstrip and storage facilities to receive large-scale shipments to move out in various directions in smaller shipments, allowing ships to continue operating at sea by receiving the right material at the right place and time. The hub can also be established to provide expeditionary logistics support during humanitarian and disaster relief missions (HADR).

"The primary purpose of the operation is to provide mission-critical supplies and services to U.S. Navy ships transiting through and operating in the Indian Ocean," said Lt. Bryan Ortiz, John C. Stennis’ stock control division officer. "The secondary purpose is to demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s ability to establish a temporary logistics hub ashore where no enduring U.S. Navy logistics footprint exists."

The air logistics hub was first operated in August when USS Anchorage (LPD 23) visited Trincomalee, Sri Lanka and supported the Essex Amphibious Ready Group as it transited the western boundary of the 7th Fleet area of operations.

"The log hub is a great opportunity to leverage private industry in Sri Lanka to enhance the U.S. Navy’s operational reach," said Lt. Austin Gage, 7th Fleet Logistics Readiness Cell chief. "We are generating standard operating procedures to optimize our supply chain to be more agile and mobile and utilize strategic locations in the Indian Ocean."

Building the necessary logistical footprint requires cooperation from all sides of the operation.

"In addition to the deployed team, we have had excellent support from the fantastic professionals at the supporting agencies: Naval Supply Systems Command, Commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Embassy staff; this has truly been a global effort," said Gage. "The Sri Lankan people have been incredibly hospitable hosts as we work on this shared endeavor."

John C. Stennis Sailors play a major role in expanding the logistics hub concept. Moving forward, the team hopes to set a logistical standard for U.S. Navy vessels operating in the Indian Ocean.

"The cumulative efforts of numerous stakeholders to facilitate the logistics hub in Sri Lanka will pay dividends for all future transiting units in addition to make our Navy more sustainable and a more formidable force throughout the Pacific theater," said Lt. Cmdr. Frederick Espy, Commander Task Force 70 Maintenance, Material, Logistics, Readiness representative."

US-Sri Lanka military-to-military

relations ‘update’

In spite of compelling Sri Lanka (Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration) to co-sponsor a Resolution against its own armed forces on Oct 1, 2015, the US provided crucial support to eradicate the LTTE. US intelligence output paved Sri Lanka Navy during tenure of Vice Admiral Wasantha Karanngoda to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals on the high seas. Karannagoda, in his memoirs, ‘Adishtana’, launched on Nov 17, 2014, discussed the circumstances under which the US provided specific intelligence that led to the destruction of four LTTE vessels loaded with arms, ammunition and equipment. ‘Adishtana’ is a must read for all those interested in knowing the role played by the Navy in the conflict.

The US included Sri Lanka in its military programme at the onset of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga presidency. Over the years, Sri Lanka greatly benefited from US weapons and equipment as well as training. A range of armaments, including 30 mm Bush Master cannon as well as Trinity Marine Fast Attack Craft (FACs) strengthened the military.

In March 2007, Sri Lanka entered into Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the US. The then Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and then US Ambassador Robert Blake signed the ACSA in Colombo. Left parties at the time condemned the ACSA, both in and outside parliament. Vasudeva Nanayakkara was among those who opposed the agreement.

The agreement, valid for 10 years, is meant to facilitate transfer and exchange of logistics supplies, support and re-fueling services. Although the ACSA hadn’t been officially extended, recent announcement of US setting up of a logistic hub in Sri Lanka meant the US agenda was proceeding.

Indo-Lanka Defence Forum in its latest edition (Volume 43, Issue 02) dealt with the transformation of Sri Lanka into a global maritime hub. The article attributed to Forum Staff referred to India protesting Chinese submarine Colombo port call in 2014.

The Rajapaksa government allowed a Chinese submarine and a warship to dock at the Colombo port on Oct 31, 2014, in spite of concerns raised by India. Submarine Changzheng-2 and warship Chang Xing Dao arrived at the port on Friday, seven weeks after another Chinese submarine, a long-range deployment patrol, called at the same port.

The latest edition also included a Special Supplement that dealt with major forces locations, military exercises and engagements coming under the purview of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) - the oldest and largest military command. Early this year, the Trump administration renamed the Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command, in a largely symbolic move to signal India’s importance to the US military in the wake of heightened tensions with China over the militarization of the South China Sea.

Both India and Sri Lanka are listed as allies in the Special Supplement. Other listed countries are Japan, South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Guam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Thailand, Mongolia, Brunei, Timor-Leste, Tonga and Mongolia.

The US-led grouping is meant to counter China repeatedly accused of allegedly adopting illegitimate means to expand its influence over smaller economies. Sri Lanka has been cited as a case in point by Western powers and a section of the media. In the wake of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat at the January 2015 presidential election, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government adopted an extremely hostile approach towards China with the Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake openly critical of China. The then Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Yi Xianliang hit back hard after Karunanayake accused Beijing of charging exorbitant interests on loans provided to Sri Lanka. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government went to the extent of stopping the China-funded Colombo port city project in the wake of Rajapaksa’s defeat. The Rajapaksas were repeatedly accused of receiving Chinese assistance. The Rajapaksas never responded to one-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon’s accusations in ‘Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy.’ Menon launched his memoirs in Oct 2016. The veteran diplomat indicated that New Delhi had reason to want a change of government in Sri Lanka due to the then President Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.

Menon accused Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path, which New Delhi believed threatened its security interests. Menon’s assertion that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier, parked 14 miles off the Indian coast, clearly underscored New Delhi’s serious concerns regarding Sri Lanka being too close to China.

Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisor, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014. The incumbent Ajit Doval succeeded Menon. Doval is on record as having told Gotabhaya Rajapaksa the Sri Lanka being a small country does not need big infrastructure projects. Doval had pressed Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to do away with major Chinese funded operations including flagship USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City project.

Having commented on the conduct of former President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Menon accused Sri Lanka of reneging on bilateral understanding with India. Menon directly alleged that the former President received Chinese funds for his political campaigns, and projects. The veteran diplomat didn’t indicate when the war-winning President first received Chinese funding.

The New York Times alleged early this year that the Rajapaksa Campaign, for the January 2015 re-election bid received Chinese funding amounting to USD 7.6 mn. In addition to that the Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT) acknowledged that it made a donation of millions of rupees to a private fund linked to the Rajapaksa family. CICT made an announcement in this regard amid allegations that the Chinese funded the former President’s failed re-election bid. The CICT acknowledged it paid nearly 20 million rupees to the Pushpa Rajapaksa Foundation as part of the company’s ‘corporate social responsibility.’

Recently, Ven Dambara Amila claimed that he received Rs 95,000 monthly payment from government-owned business undertaking, Litro Gas, in terms of that company’s corporate social responsibility. Those who faulted Ven. Amila for receiving government grants in terms of so called corporate social responsibility initiative should examine all such payments, including the one received by Pushpa Rajapaksa.

Although, massive US funding for Sri Lanka at the time of the last presidential and parliamentary polls in January and August 2015, respectively, had been raised by UPFA MP Shehan Semasinghe (Joint Opposition), the National Election Commission (NEC) remained silent on the contentious issue. Sri Lanka refrained from inquiring into US funding in spite of the then American Secretary of State John Kerry revealing that USD 585 mn were spent on projects in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to restore democracy.

Having ‘invested’ heavily in Sri Lanka to install an administration free of Chinese influence, the US reacted angrily to President Sirisena’s Oct 26, 2018 move. The US along with its allies strongly opposed Rajapaksa’s re-appointment as Premier. A section of the Colombo-based diplomatic community openly sided with the UNP-led grouping in its battle both in and outside parliament, finally leading to the re-installation of Wickremesinghe.

Prez outburst

Although, some political parties and a section of the media, particularly those representing foreign media organizations, asserted that the political crisis had been resolved by Wickremesinghe’s reappointment, President Sirisena didn’t mince his words when he delivered the strongest criticism of the Wickremesinghe-style of governance. New Delhi, too, appeared to have misconstrued the situation. President Sirisena, in no uncertain terms expressed suspicions whether they could continue their administration due to sharp discrepancy in policies in respect of key issues. Addressing Wickremesinghe and key members of the UNP-led United National Front (UNF) at the Presidential Secretariat, immediately after Wickremesinghe’s swearing in the President lambasted the UNP over handling of the post-war accountability process. Among those present were Mangala Samaraweera (January 2015-May 2017) and Ravi Karunanayake (May 2017 to August 2017) - two UNP seniors who held foreign ministry portfolio - and Wickremesinghe himself.

President Sirisena questioned the propriety of armed forces officers having to face accountability process whereas LTTE cadres received freedom and those in prison, too, demanded their release following the end of the conflict. An irate President Sirisena suggested that the government should have sought a consensus on accountability cases involving both parties. However, President Sirisena, too, should accept responsibility for not taking up this issue before his administration finalized the Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015. President Sirisena failed the armed forces by not representing their interests even after the UK House of Commons was told in Oct 2017 that accusations pertaining to the Resolution weren’t true. In spite of President Sirisena assuring the media, at a special meeting at the President’s House, that he would take up the issue at the last UNGA, in September 2018, as well as Geneva UNHRC, the Commander-in-Chief badly let down the armed forces.

President Sirisena certainly owed an explanation as to why his government never officially requested Geneva to examine the revelations made by Lord Naseby in the House of Commons over a year ago on the basis of wartime British HC dispatches (January 1, 2009, to May, 2009). The war-winning government, too, conviniently refrained from exploiting a declaration made by US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in June 2011 in Colombo on behalf of Sri Lanka. The most important international statement made by the top military official representing the world sole super power over two years after the conclusion of the war cleared the Army of war crimes. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa administration NEVER made a serious effort to use the US statement to Sri Lanka’s advantage. Instead, the then government pursued a wasteful strategy that caused colossal loss to the national economy by way of massive payments to US public relations firms. The war-winning government too certainly owed an explanation why the armed forces were denied the best possible defence.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

How CDS became Prisoner 9550 and Welle Suda’s neighbour



Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne arriving at the Fort Magistrate Court on the afternoon of Nov 28, 2018. Wijegunaratne was ordered to come back in civies after he surrendered earlier in the day in uniform. The CDS was remanded till Dec 5. He was given bail on Dec 5. The case will be taken up again on January 16, 2019

(pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

An ongoing high profile case before the Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake into the then Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Chandrasiri Wijegunaratne allegedly helping Lt. Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, a suspect in the alleged wartime abduction and disappearance of 11 Tamil youth, to flee the country in early last year, took a dramatic turn on Dec 05, 2018.

Hettiarachchi continues to be in the service though remanded in connection with the disappearance case.

Having repeatedly accused Admiral Wijegunaratne of secretly sending Hettiarachchi out of the country in a Fast Attack Craft (FAC), the CID on Dec 05, 2018, admitted in court that in the absence of evidence to prove Hettiarachchi left the country legally, the outfit assumed the wanted man had been moved out in a naval craft.

The CID, in June 2018, told Fort Magistrate how Wijegunaratne aided and abetted Hettiarachchi to flee the country. At the time allegations were directed at Wijegunaratne, he was the CDS.

Inspector Nishantha Silva, of the Organized Crime Investigation Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), inquiring into the case, made the shocking admission in response to a query posed by President’s Counsel Anoja Premaratne appearing for Wijegunaratne. Premaratne pointed out the police arrested Hettiarachchi in Colombo in August this year after having alleged he fled the country in a FAC.

No less a person than Director, CID, SSP Shani Abeysekera, in April 2018, alleged that Wijegunaratne had aided and abetted Hettiarachchi to flee the country. The other much-touted allegation that Hettiarachchi had received Rs. 500,000 from Wijegunaratne, too, ‘failed’ for want of evidence as an investigation of relevant accounts did not support the charge.

Having relinquished the Office of the Commander of the Navy, Wijegunaratne received appointment as CDS on Aug 22, 2017. Wijegunaratne received the command of the Navy on July 11, 2015. Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah, who played a significant role in the destruction of the floating LTTE arsenal, succeeded Wijegunaratne as the 21st Commander of the Navy.

In the wake of the dismissal of two out of three charges, the Fort Magistrate released Wijegunaratne on two sureties of Rs. 1 million each. The CID did not object to his release.

Wijegunaratne surrendered to the Fort Magistrate court on the morning of Nov 28, 2018. The CID sought to record Wijegunaratne’s statement on Sept. 10, 2018, the day he was leaving for Mexico an official assignment Wijegunaratne asked for a date after Sept. 19 as he wanted to provide a statement immediately on his return from Mexico. Subsequently, the CID called the CDS on Nov 27 and he surrendered to Fort Magistrate court on the following day. The Magistrate fixed the next hearing for January 16, 2019.

Sri Lanka Navy celebrated its 68th anniversary on Dec 09, 2018, with one of its former commanders, the current CDS, under investigation.

The alleged of abductions were supposed to have been carried out in Colombo and its suburbs.

The CID probe has come under the scrutiny of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

At the time of Hettiarachchi’s alleged disappearance, in late March 2017, he had been attached to the Navy welfare section, at headquarters, in Colombo.

At the onset of the case, the CID brought to the notice of the Fort Magistrate the circumstances leading to Hettiarachchi’s disappearance, in spite of two specific requests, made in March 2017, to hand him over to the CID.

The CID alleged that high ranking officers prevented the police from questioning Hettiarachchit. The Navy was accused of facilitating the alleged disappearance of the former intelligence officer to mislead the investigators.

The Island raised the issue with Admiral Wijegunaratne, in late April this year, after SSP Shani Abeysekera accused him of having facilitated Hettiarachchi’s escape. The serious allegation was made in Wijegunaratne’s presence, at a meeting, also attended by the then Ministers Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, D.M. Swaminathan, Ajith P. Perera, Navy Commander Sirimevan Ranasinghe, President’s Counsel J. C. Weliamuna and senior officials of the CID and the FCID (Financial Crimes Investigation Division).

SSP Abeysekera alleged that Wijegunaratne had provided Rs. 500,000 to Hettiarachchi and moved him out of Sri Lankan waters, in a FAC. Wijegunaratne told the writer last April that he would quit if allegations against him could be proved.

Having declined to discuss the issue with the writer further, the highest ranking serving officer stressed, "Navy Commanders don’t get involved in human smuggling."

Having failed to locate Hettiarachchi, the police sought public assistance to trace him. Hettiarachchi is among five suspects, including three Navy personnel, who faced indictments over the assassination of TNA Jaffna District MP, Nadarajah Raviraj, and his police bodyguard Sergeant Lakshman Lokuwella. They were acquitted by the Colombo High Court, in Dec. 2016. Following that acquittal the widow of Raviraj appealed against it.

The police wrongly and deliberately identified Hettiarachchi as ‘Navy Sampath’, though he had not been previously known by that alias. The police arrested Hettiarachchi in the second week of August this year.

Of those arrested in connection with the alleged 11 disappearances, six Navy personnel, including Commodore D. K. P. Dassanayake and Commander R. P. S. Ranasinghe, received bail from the Colombo High Court, this year.

In addition to them, Lt. Commander Sampath Munasinghe, Security Chief of wartime Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, was also arrested in connection with the disappearance case and given bail. Subsequently, Munasinghe was asked to submit papers and quit the Navy.

The alleged disappearances came to light, in early 2009, soon after the successful conclusion of the war. Karannagoda initiated an inquiry after receiving representations from a close relative of one of the missing persons, through the intervention of one-time Navy spokesman, J. J. Ranasinghe, incumbent Vice Chancellor of the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU).

Lt. Commander Munasinghe quit the Navy several weeks after Karannagoda had complained to police of the recovery of some national identity cards and other items belonging to the missing persons, from his chief security officer’s locker.

The CID initiated a fresh investigation after the change of government in January 2015.

The CID recorded statements, from over 50 officers, including former Navy Commanders, Admiral Karannagoda and Admiral Travis Sinniah.

Sinniah succeeded Wijegunaratne, in August 2017. Sirimewan Ranasinghe replaced Sinniah in Oct 2017.

Lt. Commander K. C. Welagedara, who had been the second-in-command to the then Trincomalee-based Commander R. P. S. Ranasinghe, one of those arrested in connection with the disappearances, was questioned by the CID, in 2013.

The police alleged D.K.P. Dassanayake had supervised Ranasinghe and Hettiarachchi allegedly responsible for the abductions at issue.

Police alleged those Navy personnel, under investigation, had carried out the abductions to extort money.

Wijegunaratne, however, is still under investigation for allegedly threatening a key witness Lt. Commander Laksiri Galagamage within the Navy headquarters.

Welle Suda’s neighbour

Wijegunaratne was remanded on Nov 28 till Dec 5 in the wake of the CID asserting that the highest ranking serving security forces officer could hamper investigations if given bail. Wijegunaratne, too, should take responsibility for what had happened at the Fort Magistrate court premises on the afternoon of Nov 28 when some Navy personnel, in civies, obstructed the media covering the event. Wijegunaratne should have ensured that Navy personnel in civies shouldn’t enter the court premises, under any circumstances, on that day. Wijegunaratne paid a heavy price for the foolish conduct of some of his men. The CDS appeared to have conveniently forgotten how his own conduct as the Commander of the Navy, at the port of Hambantota, on Dec 10, 2016, caused him irreparable damage. The then Vice Admiral Wijegunaratne earned the wrath of the media for manhandling a local journalist covering the Navy trying to break up port workers’ protest.

President’s Counsel Premaratne failed to convince the Fort Magistrate to give Wijegunaratne bail, having allegedly threatened key witness Lt. Commander Laksiri Galagamage. Wijegunaratne had caused himself immense harm by unnecessarily inquiring into Galagamage’s conduct on the afternoon of Nov 25, in Navy headquarters, where he had consumed liquor. The incident triggered allegedly by Wijegunaratne’s intervention three days before he surrendered to court directly without reporting to the CID on Nov 27 obviously caused the CDS harm. His action earned him bad press. Wijegunaratne and those accompanying him at the time of the Nov 25 incident should blame themselves for giving the other party an opportunity to exploit the situation.

Wijegunaratne, with nearly 40 years of military service and a recipient of four gallantry awards, including Sri Lanka’s second highest Weerodhara Vibhushana was sent to the Magazine Prison in a Black Maria. Wijegunaratne was directed to hand over his valuables to his Personal Security Officer (PSO). In addition to plastic money, nine-gems embedded ring which Wijegunaratne had received from his wife Yamuna in 1989 and his ‘fit bit wrist watch’ which measured the CDS daily exercise regime.

Wijegunaratne received Prisoner No 9550. The highest ranking officer was reduced to just a Number. Prison authorities also expressed concern as there were hardcore LTTE cadres held at the Magazine Prison. Subsequently, No 9550 was transferred to the ‘High Security Section’ at Welikada where Wijegunaratne was ‘accommodated’ in a British colonial era stable - much better accommodation given to ordinary prisoners. Wijegunaratne received a mat, chair, pillow, two white bed sheets and granite bench. In addition to them, there was a toilet with a squatting pan and water tank with a bucket.

On the following day (Nov 29), a condemned prisoner delivered a hot cup of tea to Wijegunaratne, whose neighbour was Welle Suda, notorious narcotics dealer whose arrest in Pakistan was made possible by support extended by the Pakistan Military. Pakistani authorities arrested Welle Suda, living in luxury, close to Pakistan Navy War College at Lahore.

Navy’s role in triumph over terrorism

Wijegunaratne earned the respect of colleagues when he volunteered in early Nov 1993 to join troops assembled to rescue those who had been trapped in isolated Nagathevanthurai detachment. The detachment established during the tenure of Vice Admiral Clancy Fernando to intercept LTTE movements across the Jaffna lagoon played a critical role in the then overall security strategy meant to isolate the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE responded by assassinating Fernando in Nov 1992 on the Galle Road, opposite Taj Samudra. Having received valuable experience with Special Forces of the Indian Navy during the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Northern Sri Lanka, Wijegunaratne, in 1993, played pivotal role in forming Sri Lanka’s own Special Boat Squadron (SBS). Special Forces of the Indian Navy hadn’t been previously engaged in actual operations at the time of their deployment here in terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord forced on the then President JR Jayewardene by India. It would be pertinent to mention that at the time the Navy established Nagathevanthurai boat point on the Vanni mainland, SBS hadn’t been envisaged. In spite of on and off setbacks, the Navy played a significant role in the war against the LTTE, with ensuring regular supplies to Jaffna-based forces by sea being the extremely difficult task. The Navy, with the support of the Air Force, ensured supplies to the peninsula though there were deficiencies.

With nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, the Navy should really examine its role in the war and post-conflict period. Unfortunately, except for The Aerial Tribute: The Role of Air Power in Defeating Terrorism in Sri Lanka that extensively dealt with the air campaign during Eelam War IV, the Army and the Navy are yet to release their own versions.

Authored in Feb 2014 by Nirosha Mendis, a medical practitioner, the 350-page book dealt with the extremely difficult circumstances under which the SLAF conducted the campaign. The well-researched book wouldn’t have been a reality if not for the then SLAF Chief Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama, wartime Director Operations/Air Operations inquiring from Dr. Mendis whether he could accept the challenging task.

With disrespect to no one, it must be stated that the Navy really got its act together following Rear Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda receiving the command on Sept 1, 2005. Having called off longstanding ‘Operation Waruna Kirana’ off Mullaitivu meant to intercept LTTE vessel movements, Karannagoda re-deployed available assets to hunt down floating LTTE arsenals on the high seas. The Navy launched ‘Operation Waruna Kirana’ in May 2001. Acting on information received from the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), the US as well as its own, the Navy, within a matter of months crippled the once powerful LTTE sea supply route. Admiral Karannagoda, on his own succeeded in securing vital US intelligence output which enabled the Navy to destroy LTTE weapons stores on the high seas. In spite of undertaking high risk operations on the high seas, the Navy deployed required assets to thwart LTTE attempts to use Tamil Nadu as a strategic transit point for arms, ammunition and equipment. But perhaps, the most difficult and dangerous operation sustained by the Navy was moving the converted passenger vessel Jetliner between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai during Eelam War IV.

The destruction of eight LTTE ships, categorized by the SLN as floating arsenals, in four separate forays on the high seas, delivered the enemy a knockout blow. According to the SLN, the ships, which were between 45 to 75 meters in length, had the capacity to carry 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes of cargo each. The seven ships sunk in 2007 and the vessel destroyed on September 17, 2006, off  Kalmunai, had been loaded with several thousand tonnes of military cargo at the time of their respective destruction.

 The SLN had access to some of those involved in the transfer of LTTE armaments when the Maldivian Coast Guard intercepted an Indian trawler commandeered by the LTTE carrying arms in Maldivian waters, in May 2007. Maldivian assistance certainly made things easier for the Navy.

The Navy was also successful in curbing the Gulf of Mannar supply route by increasing patrols in the region. The LTTE’s efforts to move supplies, in many instances with direct or indirect involvement of Tamil Nadu fishing fleet to Vidathalthivu-Pooneryn area on the west coast, were thwarted by stepped up naval operations.

The Navy prevented Sea Tiger movement with reinforcement of cadres and supply arms and ammunition hugging the coast using indigenously built "Arrow" and "Wave rider" boats.

Triumph over the LTTE would never have been possible without unprecedented success achieved by Karannagoda’s Navy. The Navy accomplished unthinkable success in spite of the intimidating challenge posed by Sea Tigers, especially ‘sea suicide squads.’ Those who knew the deployment of a range of assets and placing Katunayake-based jet squadrons on alert on the days Jetliner carrying 3,000 officers and men moved between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai realized the massive threat. Had Sea Tigers succeeded on smashing through the FAC cordon, the outcome would have been catastrophic and created a situation that may have led to the termination of the vital sea supply route. It wouldn’t have been too hard to realize the crisis against the backdrop of the Army losing the overland Main Supply Route (MSR) to Jaffna way back in 1990 and the SLAF lacking sufficient aircraft to ensure required supplies.

The Navy deployed around 24 FAC (Dvora craft), 4 FGBs, 2 OPVs and over 80 Arrow and Wave rider craft during this once-a-week movement. The Jetliner left Trinco harbour with troops by first light (before 5 am) and returned to Trincomalee by 6 pm. The preparations started 12 hours before the departure of "Jetliner" by deploying over 16 FACs, 4 FGBs and 2 OPVs ithe previous evening to sweep the path to ensure that there are no floating mines, suicide boats disguised as fishing boats waiting in ambush, etc. After they give the all clear signal only the main body left the harbour escorted with 8 to 10 Facs. The craft/ships that left the harbour, the previous evening, maintained their positions along the route until the "Jetliner" returned to the Trinco harbour in the evening. The entire Navy got involved in this operation and all the Area Commanders, including the Southern Commander, were present in the operations room from 3 am until the task was over

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Rehabilitated Tigers strike in the wake of political chaos



Prabhakaran, flanked by Suppayya Paramu Thamilselvan alias S.P. Thamilsevlam, one-time Jaffna ‘Commander’, negotiator and head of the LTTE’s political wing, and TNA leader, R. Sampanthan, in Kilinochchi during the Norway-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). This rare pictures was taken several years after the Illmkai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA declared the LTTE as the sold representative of the Tamil speaking people.The SLAF killed Thamilselvan on Nov 2, 2007 in Kilinochchi. The SLA killed Prabhakaran on May 19, 2009.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Killing of two police personnel-one from the South and the other an Easterner at Vavunativu, Batticaloa, last Friday (Nov 30) sent shock waves through the country.

Former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) executed the policemen in the once volatile Eastern Province. The killings took place at the height of continuing constitutional crisis caused by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s failure to prove his majority in parliament. At the time this edition went to press, the country is in unprecedented turmoil with PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Group moving Supreme Court against a Court of Appeal decision to suspend him, his cabinet as well as State and Deputy Ministers pending notice issued on them returnable on Dec 12. The SC was moved close on the heels of President Maithripala Sirisena declining to re-appoint UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the PM even if he was acceptable to all 225 members of parliament.

Sri Lanka released over 11,000 LTTE cadres after putting them through a rehabilitation programme before the change of government, in January 2015. So far, three ex-LTTE personnel have been arrested.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s apparent belief Rajapaksa could swiftly gain control of parliament hasn’t materialized, thereby plunging the country into, unprecedented political chaos. Killings in the Eastern Province couldn’t have taken place at a worse time with the UNP, TNA and JVP alliance taking a common stand. The alliance has the support of 122 lawmakers.

The TNA comprises Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and three former terrorist groups - Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). At the onset, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), too, was part of the original outfit.

They functioned together since the 2010 January presidential polls. The grouping backed the presidential candidature of war-winning Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka. The grouping succeeded five years later at the last presidential polls though its first projected failed. They moved against the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine on the afternoon of Nov 14 in parliament. The grouping is intact though, JVP leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, in the wake of February 10, 2018 Local Government polls, declared, in parliament, they wouldn’t work together again.

Let me reproduce a letter dated Non 29, 2018, written by 14 members of the TNA to President Sirisena: "We write to you in regard to the above in the background of all that has happened since 26th of October.

"The Member of Parliament appointed as Prime Minister, on the 26th of October, has not been able to prove that he commands the confidence of Parliament though one month has lapsed since the said appointment and though Parliament has met several times during this period. On the other hand, Motions of No-Confidence in the said Hon. Member as Prime Minister have been passed in Parliament on 14th and 16th November.

"The voice votes taken in Parliament have been confirmed by 122 Members signing and transmitting to both your Excellency and the Hon. Speaker statements to that effect.

"The view of the majority of the Hon. Members of Parliament on the issue of whether the said Hon. Member commands the Confidence of Parliament to be the Prime Minister has been negative and has been demonstrated beyond doubt.

"We wish to point out that, (1) The inability of the Hon. Member to prove that Parliament has confidence in him as Hon. Prime Minister, (2) the votes of No-Confidence passed against the said Hon. Member on the 14th to 16th November pertaining to his claim to be the Hon. Prime Minister; have created a controversy in the Country as to whether the country is without a Prime Minister, a Cabinet of Ministers, and a lawfully constituted Government for more than a month.

"We respectfully submit that this situation should not continue.

"In the circumstances to ensure that an Hon. Member of Parliament is able command the confidence of Parliament as Prime Minister we the Members of Parliament of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, will support the restoration of a Government, headed by the UNF, as it existed prior to 26th October; the Appointment of a nominee of the UNF who in the opinion of Your Excellency is able to command the confidence of Parliament as Prime Minister."

"It would be pertinent to mention that the TNA had so far lost two out of its 16-member parliamentary group, hence only 14 signatures on that letter."

Batticaloa District TNA MP S. Viyalendiran representing Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) switched his allegiance to the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine soon after the change of government on Oct 26, 2018. Viyalendiran received appointment as Deputy Minister of Regional Development (Eastern Development). Sivashakthi Anandan of the EPRLF has distanced himself from the TNA and now functions as an independent member of parliament.

PM’s Office briefing

Housing and Social Welfare Minister Wimal Weerawansa, on Nov 22 accepted responsibility on behalf of the previous Rajapaksa government for the then administration’s failure to initiate action against the TNA for its active involvement with the LTTE.

Weerawansa was flanked by MPs Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, and Dullas Alahapperuma. The latter said they in addition to accepting responsibility apologized for their failure to take tangible measures against the TNA as well as those who funded and financed the LTTE. The reference was to the funding and arming of the LTTE during Ranasinghe Premadasa tenure as the president.

Anura Priyadarshana Yapa refrained from commenting on the issue.

Weerawansa and Alahapperuma said so when the writer sought an explanation at a media briefing called by the government at the Prime Minister’s Office as to why the previous Rajapaksa government conveniently forgot to inquire into despicable TNA role during the war, especially recognition of the LTTE terrorist group, in 2001, as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, receiving the LTTE help to stuff ballot boxes at the 2004 parliamentary polls, ordering the northerners not to exercise their franchise at the 2005 presidential election and essentially standing with the LTTE till the very end of the war in 2009.

The writer proposed that the side they represented refrained initiating legal action against the TNA at any level therefore there was no point in complaining now. (Subsequently, Alahapperuma, twice deeply regretted their failure to take tangible measures against those who cooperated with the LTTE. The Matara District also recalled the circumstances under which the LTTE carried out a devastating attack on the Bandaranaike International Airport, in July 2001, at a time of severe political turmoil. The MP compared the attack on the BIA with the recent Batticaloa killings)

At the onset of the media briefing, Weerawansa alleged that the UNP-JVP-TNA alliance was working according to a plan to ruin the country. Weerawansa compared their current strategy with the one implemented during the fourth phase of the Eelam war (2006-2009). Weerawansa said that the TNA recently called for Western powers’ intervention as it feared recent political changes could reverse the Geneva process aimed at either bringing in a new Constitution or introducing constitutional changes to facilitate the creation of a federal state.

Minister Weerawansa lambasted the JVP for carrying out disruptive political and trade union activities to sabotage the war effort. Today, the JVP lacked strength to exercise power over workers hence the various other attempts to belittle the new government, Weerawansa said.

The National Freedom Front (NFF) leader said that the JVP was working overtime for the UNP, in return for money received from that party – a charge vehemently denied by the JVP over the years.

Alahapperuma alleged that the UNP-led unholy alliance made a desperate bid to thwart the Rajapaksa administration acquiring required firepower at a crucial stage of the war. The SLFPer alleged that the grouping tried to block acquisition of multi-barrel rocket launchers.

Weerawansa also acknowledged that the previous government failed to capitalise on the UNP-JVP-TNA alliance backing General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at the 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, respectively. The minister said so in response to The Island observation that though they complained now about the TNA and its allies, the Rajapaksa government never bothered to inquire into such allegations until it was ousted in January 2015.

Alahapperuma recalled how the Premadasa administration provided weapons and funds to the LTTE during the 14-month long truce which ended in June 1990. Reference was made to the massacre of several hundred policemen in the East at the onset of hostilities.

However, we should never forget the circumstances under which President Premadasa had to deal with the LTTE. Having won the presidency, in Dec 1988, Premadasa, within months, reached an agreement with the LTTE under which he provided funds and weapons to it. The Sri Lankan military at the behest of the Commander-in-Chief provided tactical support to terrorists. Premadasa’s controversial decision should be examined against the backdrop of large scale Indian military presence in the temporarily merged North-East Province. Premadasa feared New Delhi having sinister intentions. The UNP leader felt New Delhi with may seek to extend its military presence on some false pretext hence his decision to cause maximum possible losses to the Indian Army. Premadasa had no option but to wage bloody war against the JVP until the group was brought to its knees in late 1989. His tactics included the wide use of death squads that tortured to death JVP suspects.

The LTTE resumed hostilities in the second week of June 1990 with the massacre of surrendered law enforcement officers and men. The police paid a very heavy price for following Premadasa’s directive, meant to avoid war. Premadasa’s confidence building measure caused a catastrophe.

Tassie before LLRC

Retired Senior Superintendent of Police Tassie Seneviratne is on record as having said the lives of over 300 police officers could have been saved, had Premadasa allowed the Air Force to launch attacks on the LTTE and deployed the army reinforcements in support of the police personnel in the Kalmunai police division. Instead President Premadasa ordered the military not to back the beleaguered policemen in an attempt to work out a fresh ceasefire with the LTTE, he alleged.

The allegations were made before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) established in 2010 by the then President Rajapaksa during his second term. The LLRC headed by the late C. Silva, the retired Attorney General, examined the conflict. The writer covered the entire LLRC proceedings.

In a letter dated Jan. 31, 2011, submitted to the LLRC, after giving oral evidence on Jan. 24, Seneviratne alleged that the policemen who had surrendered could be divided into two separate groups, each comprising about 300 officers and men.

Seneviratne revealed in his letter: "One category comprises those who had surrendered after their police stations were overrun, having complied with a presidential order not to confront the LTTE at any cost. This was a prevailing order issued before the outbreak of hostilities on June 11, 1990. When police stations were surrounded by the LTTE threatening with attacks if they didn’t surrender, police officers who had specific orders ‘not to confront at any cost’ had no option but to surrender. This, in fact, is how the orders were interpreted by the SSP in Charge of Batticaloa Division who gave the police personnel the order to surrender before the arrival of the IG Police Ernest Perera in Batticaloa on June 11, 1990; those police stations surrendered without firing a shot."

Seneviratne alleged, in his written submissions, that the second category comprised the personnel of the Kalmunai Police Division under ASP Ivan Boteju, who refused to follow the presidential directive. Boteju and his men vowed to retaliate in case of an LTTE attack. In spite of a heavy attack, those holding Kalmunai police station defended their position causing heavy losses on the enemy, Seneviratne pointed out.

Seneviratne claimed that the LTTE had ample stocks of arms and ammunition supplied by the Premadasa government, while, those, who had served the country were denied even reinforcements.

President Premadasa had IGP Ernest Perera flown to Batticaloa with specific orders to direct the fighting policemen to surrender to marauding LTTE cadres. The President through the IGP handed over 324 police officers to the LTTE, Seneviratne alleged. "This turned out to be a live sacrifice offered on a platter. Their case is unique and not comparable with those who were overrun without a shot being fired. It would be appropriate to recognise these 324 police officers as national heroes and to duly compensate their families."

Responding to a query by The Island, following his appearance, before the LLRC, Seneviratne said that there could not have been a similar incident during the entire Eelam war. Successive governments had never bothered to inquire into the circumstances under which over 300 fighting police personnel had surrendered only to be lined up and shot dead, the former SSP said adding that had those who came to power after the assassination of President Premadasa launched an inquiry, the then IGP would have been compelled to be a witness. The IGP would have been obliged to tell the truth to an officially empowered investigator, Seneviratne asserted in Feb 2011, adding: "It is not too late even now."

But retired police chief Perera passed away in August 2013.

Seneviratne stated in his letter to the LLRC: "As the then Director handling police officers’ grievances, I was entitled to know the truth, and I inquired from IGP Ernest Perera, who told me exactly what had happened. Although I have gone public with the truth, the truth has not been accepted officially and there is no official record of it. The IGP, at that time, did all he could within his scope to give temporary relief from the limited funds available to him. But in the absence of an official record of the truth, the 324 police officers were denied proper recognition by the government, and their families denied proper evaluation of compensation due to them from the government. When compared to rewards by several lakhs of rupees each, taken by very senior police officers up to rank of Senior DIG, for undisclosed acts of ‘bravery’ known only to the political masters, what deserving junior officers / their families received was ‘chicken-feed’."

Seneviratne, in a separate missive to the LLRC, a few days before his oral submissions alleged that Deputy Minister Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan aka Karuna had been directly involved in the massacre of over 600 policemen, including those fighting men, who had to cease action on a presidential directive.

Karuna, who appeared before the LLRC, late 2010, denied his involvement in the massacre. In a subsequent interview with The Island, Karuna, who came to play a critical role in the war against the LTTE by defecting from it, claimed that at the time of the police massacre he had been in Jaffna.

Nevertheless, Seneviratne alleged that there was evidence before the LLRC regarding Karuna’s role in the massacre and the government shouldn’t turn a blind eye to past atrocities for political reasons.

Former SSP Seneviratne alleged that Karuna had been responsible for a landmine attack on SSP Nimal de Silva on Oct. 8, 1987. The Batticaloa blast killed de Silva, the then coordinating officer for the eastern district and then Government Agent there Anthony Muttu, among others, when their vehicle was blown up by terrorists. Seneviratne alleged that the Uzi automatic issued to SSP de Silva had been used by Karuna subsequently.

Seneviratne said that the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had recently shown concern over the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, and wanted "KP" handed over to India, though no political leader had bothered about over 600 men, particularly those forced to surrender in spite of facing the enemy courageously.

The LLRC is believed to have received evidence in camera, which supported Seneviratne’s allegations against the LTTE.

Sri Lanka never conducted a proper inquiry into the single worst loss of life suffered by the police during the entire conflict.

In the wake of the recent killing of two policemen in Batticaloa, Karuna, a former Deputy Minister in the Rajapaksa administration accused some UNP lawmakers of attempting to drag his name into it. Denying any knowledge of the incident, Karuna warned of legal action against those propagating lies.

Current political crisis may prompt various interested parties to exploit the situation. Those responsible for the recent Batticaloa killings are certainly among them.