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. R.de 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.