Posted on July 7th, 2009

By Walter Jayawardhana

During the interview by the Editor in Chief of the Hindu, N. Ram with President Mahinda Rajapaksa it was revealed how Eric Solhiem once bragged about the military ingenuity of Prabhakaran with the President, and how the President retorted back by telling Solheim while the LTTE leader was from the jungles of the North he was from the jungles of the South.

The Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga who was with the President during the interview told Ram, “Mr. Solheim came to see H.E. after he became President, and said, in the midst of other things: “Prabakaran is a military genius. I have seen him in action,” and this and that. The President said: “He is from the jungles of the North. I am from the jungles of the South. Let’s see who will win!” It was very prophetic. Later the President met Minister Solheim in New York and reminded him of their conversation on the “military genius,” the jungles of the North and South, and who would win. The East had by that time, in 2007, been cleared and the President said: “Now see what’s going to happen in the North. The same.”

It was also revealed in the second part of the published interview that before the war President Rajapaksa sent Lalith Weeratunga and later the late Jeyaraj Fernandopulle to negotiate with the LTTE leaders.

The President said he wanted the LTTE to contest elections and then negotiate with them as an elected group , to which Prabhakaran never agreed.

The following is what the Hindu published as the second part of the interview:

In this second part of an extended interview to The Hindu at Temple Trees in Colombo on June 30, President Mahinda Rajapaksa answers N. Ram’s questions on his outlook on the LTTE, his approach to it in peacetime and in armed conflict, and his assessment of its fighting capabilities and of Velupillai Prabakaran’s strategy during the endgame. The first part was published on July 6.

N. Ram (NR): Mr. President, when you were elected in 2005 what was your expectation of this conflict? This is what you said in your 2005 presidential election manifesto, Mahinda Chintana: “The freedom of our country is supreme. I will not permit any separatism. I will also not permit anyone to destroy democracy in our country”¦I will respect all ethnic and religious identities, refrain from using force against anyone, and build a new society that protects individuals and social freedoms.” In that policy statement, you also projected the “fundamental platform” of your initiatives as “an undivided country, a national consensus, and an honourable peace.” So what was your real expectation when you assumed the office of President? You had no plan, it appears, to go on an offensive.

President: I was very clear about terrorism. I didn’t want to suppress the Tamils’ feelings. But I was very clear about the terrorism from the start. That’s why as soon as I knew that I was going to win, I invited Gota [his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who took charge as Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order on November 25, 2005; a battle-hardened professional with 20 years of service in the Sri Lankan Army, he played a key role in the successful Vadamarachchi Operation against the LTTE in 1987 and subsequently, in 1990, in Operation Thrividabalaya to rescue Jaffna peninsula and the Jaffna Fort from LTTE control.] I said to him: “You can’t go. You wait here.” That’s why I selected as commanders of the Armed Forces people who would get ready to do that.

Then I sent the message to the LTTE: “Come, we will have talks, discuss.” I was trying to negotiate. I was very practical. I said: “You can get anything you want. But why don’t you all contest for this, have elections? Now you are people who have weapons in your hands. Ask the people to select. Have elections for the Provincial Council. Then we will negotiate. I can negotiate with an elected group. But with a man with weapons, I can’t negotiate.” The biggest mistake he [Prabakaran] made was this. He said I was a practical man, a pragmatic man.

Lalith Weeratunga (Secretary to the President; LW): H.E. [His Excellency] was appointed on the 19th of November [2005] when he made his inaugural speech, where he invited this man. Then on the 27th of November came Prabakaran’s Maaveerar speech, in which he said the President was a pragmatic, practical man [the LTTE supremo announced that his organisation would “wait and observe” the new President’s approach to the peace process “for some time” because “President Rajapaksa is considered a realist, committed to pragmatic politics”]. When he said that, H.E. said in a speech: “I am willing to walk that last mile.” Then on the 5th of December, they attacked 13 innocent soldiers who were taking meals to their comrades and they were without weapons. That is how it started.

President: Even then I didn’t do anything. But then I knew what was going on. Then only I started my defence, I would say. Then Gota said we would have to increase the strength of the Army. All that was planned by them [the professionals]. I said: “What do you want? Get ready.” But I went behind them [the LTTE] pleading. But I knew people were getting worked up in the South. Then I warned the LTTE: “Don’t do this. Don’t push me to the wall.”

LW: Then you sent me to talk to one of their leaders.

President: I sent him. I sent Jeyaraj [Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, a veteran politician hailing from the Tamil minority group of Colombo Chetties and Cabinet Minister of Highways & Road Development; he was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber on April 6, 2008].

LW: In 2006, I went through many checkpoints without being checked. H.E. said: “Just go. Don’t identify yourself.” Later he told them: “I sent someone. You people couldn’t even find out who it was.”

President: I pulled up the Defence people, saying: “If I can send a man there, what is your security?” I told them after several months: “He [Lalith Weeratunga] is the man who went there. Do you know that?”

LW: To that extent he went.

NR: To see the weaknesses?

LW: No, to negotiate.

President: To negotiate and see the weaknesses also! Then I sent Jeyaraj. He told them some home truths in Sinhala, which they understood. “You will be killed [if they continued along this path].”

NR: Then came the Mavil Aru incident.

President: That was the time they gave me the green light!

NR: But you were well prepared by then, August 2006?

President: Yes. But before that, they tried to kill the Army Commander.

LW: In April 2006, when they tried to assassinate the Army Commander, the President said “”‚ this was in the next room “”‚ “as a deterrent, just one round of bombing, then stop it.”

President: Yes, I said: “Just go once.” We were very careful. We did our best to find a way out through talks.

LW: There was a whole series of negotiations, in Geneva and elsewhere. They [the Tigers] didn’t even want to talk.

President: So these military operations did not come without negotiation or without any reason. But from the start, I was getting ready for that [the military operations]. I knew “”‚ because I had the experience, you see. We knew that they would never lay down arms and start negotiating.

LW: In this connection let me tell you about the President’s interesting conversation with Mr. Solheim [Eric Solheim, the Norwegian politician and Minister who helped negotiate the 2002 ceasefire and was a controversial participant in the Norwegian mediatory efforts]. I was there, it was about March 2006. Mr. Solheim came to see H.E. after he became President, and said, in the midst of other things: “Prabakaran is a military genius. I have seen him in action,” and this and that. The President said: “He is from the jungles of the North. I am from the jungles of the South. Let’s see who will win!” It was very prophetic. Later the President met Minister Solheim in New York and reminded him of their conversation on the “military genius,” the jungles of the North and South, and who would win. The East had by that time, in 2007, been cleared and the President said: “Now see what’s going to happen in the North. The same.”

NR: When did you first get an idea that the Tigers were vulnerable, that they were hollow in some sense, that you could hit deep?

No underestimation

President: From the beginning I had the feeling that if you gave the forces [the Sri Lankan armed forces] proper instructions and whatever they wanted, our people could defeat them. Because I always had the feeling that what they [the LTTE] were showing was not the reality. But in a way, we were wrong. They had numbers, they had weapons. They would have attacked not just Sri Lanka, they would have attacked South India. The weapons they had accumulated could not have been just for Sri Lanka! The amount of weapons our armed forces are discovering is unbelievable. And I knew when our intelligence was saying: “They have only 15,000 fighters,” I knew it was not that number. I was not depending on one source. I knew that the LTTE had more than that. One thing I never did was to underestimate the LTTE.

NR: So you say they were the most ruthless and most powerful terrorist organisation in the world.

President: Yes, the most ruthless and richest terrorist organisation in the world. And well equipped, well trained.

LTTE’s final strategy?

NR: What do you think was their final strategy? Prabakaran holed out with all the LTTE leaders and their families in that small space, that sliver of coastal land. It shocked the world. But what were they expecting? D.B.S. Jeyaraj, who writes for us, has a theory that they wanted to do a daring counter-attack.

President: I think what they wanted was to escape. In the final phase, they were waiting for somebody to come and take them away. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone there. Because they had the Sea Tiger base: that was the only place where they could bring a ship very close “”‚ even a submarine. They selected the best place for them: on one side the sea, then the lagoon, and there was a small strip. But then it was not they who actually selected the place: they “ƒ”¹…”selected’ it but the armed forces made them go there. The No-Fire Zones were all announced by the armed forces. After Kilinochchi, they were saying: “No-Fire Zones, so go there.” So all of them [the LTTE leaders and fighters] went there. These were not areas demarcated by the U.N. or somebody else; they were demarcated by our armed forces. The whole thing was planned by our forces to corner them. The Army was advancing from North to South, South to North, on all sides. So I would say they got cornered by our strategies.

LW: Kilinochchi was captured on the 1st of January 2009. And the whole operation was over on the 19th of May. So there was ample time [for them to get away].

Conduct of armed forces

President: Yes, I can’t understand why they had to fight a conventional war. Prabakaran could have gone underground. If I was the leader of the LTTE, I would have gone underground and I would have been in the jungles “”‚ fighting a guerrilla fight. They couldn’t do that now because we, our Army, mastered the jungles. They were much better than the LTTE in this [mode of warfare]. Thanks to the Special Forces, the Long-Range Forces, and the small groups, the group of eight. That worked very well. And I salute our forces for their discipline.

LW: For example, there was not a single instance where the Army was found to be wanting in its conduct towards women.

President: That girl, when she surrendered “”‚ they were deciding, there were six or seven [LTTE women fighters] “”‚ she says in her statement: finally, two or three ate cyanide and killed themselves; and then two or three girls said, “all right, we will see whether we will be raped, whether we will kill ourselves or be killed by rape, we will take this risk.” The schoolteacher, this educated girl, surrendered. Nothing happened. She can’t believe this. She was paid by the government for fighting us! By the way, we are now going to get all the government servants [from the Northern areas that used to be controlled by the LTTE] and I am going to tell them: “Forget your past. You work there in these organisations, you can’t just wait there. We are paying you.” Now teachers must go and teach and others must go to their posts and work.

And the money that they [the Tamil civilians fleeing the LTTE] deposited: on the first day it was 450 million [Sri Lankan rupees] together in the two banks, People’s Bank and the Bank of Ceylon. And considerable quantities of gold. The Army has become a very disciplined force.

Part III will follow


  1. Abbey Says:

    An Interesting Raja Gedara Yarn

    Recent interview that the President of the country had with an Indian Journalist was an interesting story that brought some ideas to my mind. My rejoinder to this interview, I hope, will be of interest to many people like me watching the tides of humanity in the island. We are all very conversant with telling tales about our past leaders when they have long gone from the political arena. However, I thought of talking about the current set of politicians, as it is not my tradition to talk about the bad of dead and dieing. I also hope there is something in this tale that may arouse the minds of those who care about the future of Sinhala community as well.

    This story is told by a leader in power at its pinnacle, and has great details of inner workings. Being told to an outsider, specifically an Indian journalist, this carries more significance. As the tales are complemented by the leader’s own secretary, the story looks like a teledrama played live on the TV. The eye witness accounts an supporting role played by the Secretary makes it similar to tasting a delicious meal prepared by a great chef and tasted by the chef’s most trusted deputy. This secretary also proves to be the perfect yes man for any other leader reminding of someone else from the past.

    Detailed inscriptions of the tale widely published by the journalist in a popular outlet and the inquisitive nature opens a new page whether it was an exercise in mind reading, a parroteered (my word, left for your interpretation) custom of Hindu origin.

    This tale has its own merits given the two-fold nature of the relationship described by both parties involved in this tale, when analysed what come out from Indian power house. Though I had little interest in the content, there are some thoughts that came to my mind after reading part of the long tale.

    Given the conflicting comments from both sides of the Palks straits, it is timely to ask the position of the current leader of the country. Is the leader being treated as a local representative of Indian interests or an unwitting partner of free media talking to a preferred journalist of subcontinent who happens to have a favourable opinion? Is the journalist using the pretence of this favourable opinion to reach out to the leader with some other motive? Given the nature of the content in the tale, some are exclusively inner workings of a leader actively engaged in running the country, which could not be revealed or should be held onto as secrets for many years before releasing in many other countries. On the other hand, is it a tale with a lot of twists and turns to mask the truth about recent achievements that were considered nearly impossible by many others? Does the leader have good intentions above the country and its future? Unfortunately I am not sure what to say (I mean yes or no), but I am confident that time will tell that someday, and hope truth will come out as the true stories of other past leaders. But if it was the ancient art of mind reading, I am very sure that those who tried it should be more confused than before.

    It is a timely measure to shelve the concept of federalism. This arrangement is unique to extension of occupied lands under imperialistic rule and Sri Lanka is never an extension of any such empires. As a person who has first hand experience of living in different states with a strong federal (I should say feral) government, it is a nightmare to adjust to many different versions of dictates attached to the same task carried out by an individual under different jurisdictions. This has worked for larger countries to some extent where movement was not common between the states and where many are of criminal descents that do care very little about the so-called laws of the authorities. Given the small nature of the island, it is insanity to implement a federal solution, which will exacerbate the current turmoil. In fact those who promote such ideas are as good as anarchists and should never have been part of the country.

    The Provincial Councils are a quasi-federal set up imposed by Hindu-dominated Indian hegemony with the clear and pre-planned objective of using a minority of Indian origin to control the country. It is already proven to be an unworthy program and further strengthening of powers, especially without any central control will ultimately lead to anarchy. Whatever we may try to project, The outdated English-created system of governance operated by their chosen group of individuals have not changed much in their conduct. In many occasions, it was bent and ignored in many ways to accommodate the skewed interests of the population to reflect the intentions of the power-hungry politicians. Given the prevailing ethnic ghettos and the English concept based land division where nobody but the queen owned the land, things are going to get very ugly in the near future if continued with this set up. Those who try to engineer their way through this set up will be the victims fallen on their swords of trickery.

    There is a very high image of the Political and Military Leadership built on recent gains over Tamil separatist terrorism. With so much pain and suffering during the last three decades, the finishing off of the terror outfit in grand style has attracted legendary status. Obviously, there were real talent behind these achievements and most likely even had the godly help that shunned the mind of those devils who were a disgrace to humanity in whatever scale. Are these the talents of the front-runners in contention or of some others who gave their knowledge to the leadership in the hour of need? Were these top members not there earlier in influential positions to make such achievements to other leaders who were looking for miracles to save their skins? If anyone could do it many years ago, we could have saved many more lives and resources. Having the accidental exposure to some of the guiding forces behind the scene among the scum of all sorts, long before their rise to positions of influence, it is my belief that they were the real contributors to this victory, though I consider the victory just as a relief given the other challenges facing the country.

    Being an ex- ardent supporter of SLFP, I find it interesting to see the creation of the Rajapaksa Clan holding all the cards and remind the times of Bandaranayaka clan holding power. However, they are yet to become a matter of ridicule though there are emerging rumblings. As a southerner, I come from a background with detailed knowledge of who created the power base for this clan, which was driven by strong principles of their own. If we believe the great talents and convictions that we see today attributed to these leaders, I believe, they should have come to power in mid eighties, when the Bandaranayakas were given a descent fare well. Since it was not the case, the tide turned back to Bandaranayakas and selected one of them as leader ending with the last nail in the coffin of their clan combined with other mysterious events. There was a time in mid-eighties, that the current leaders did not have many places to hold a public meeting. Having held a major meeting in my own ancestral home in the south, I do admire the tenacity of these leaders for sticking with SLFP under trying conditions though we do not have an iota of the kind of such traits, but other forms of tenacity for matters that are relevant to us. With such close knowledge, I will be able to write a longer tale when their tenure ends some day in the future.

    Today, we have a sort of bully in the subcontinent representing the Tamil rights and aspirations. Before going to this very important issue, I thought of telling a sorry tale of our society that has become an open wound. Our country is engulfed in a Dansal Culture that is limiting all our aspirations and I am glad to see how the current leaders survive such a calamity. As I see, alien religious and political influences have made many humans living in the country that became resident under various conditions today, to totally depend on others to work harder for their living. There are a vast majority of humans doing trivial things under posh and benevolent terminologies that produce nothing to the living economy, but sapping the effort of true contributors. The free education, free medicine, free that and this (though there are not many free things of worth in reality), cost the country and the native Sinhala population though these actions are reflective of their certain attributes. In contrast, truly Sinhala people are donors, but not willing recipients unless they are offered by someone very dear to them. In general, it is an expectation of Sinhala community to make a contribution in return for what someone receives. Good faith, reasoning and honesty are vital to recognition and use of force, intimidation, deception or concocted arguments (eg: historically or politically backed up pseudo-genuine claims) do very little to convince them or to achieve any objectives of anyone.

    The Tamil rights and aspirations are a far cry from the truth, and Sinhala people got nothing to do with them. If there are any, they should be originated with Tamil Nadu leadership who are currently responsible for their plight. Any attempt to take away the rights of Sinhala people and standing in the way of their aspirations will prove fatal for the Tamil or any other community as proven by the history. Considering the historical events over many centuries leading to current turmoil, I am surprised for no collective Sinhala response to put an end to this menacing situation settled for once and all. Some of the historical and conscience based emotional issues prevailing among Tamils and Hindus against Sinhala people are a self creation of absurd conjectures to cover up their own failures in the face of natural challenges. One of the most agonising claims is the homeland concept perpetuated by false and criminal means. Having slaughtered the native Sinhala population in the northern part of the country and evicted under horrible criminal conduct during many invasions over the history, such claims of ownership will have very serious adverse effects on those championing such rights. Though Sinhala people do not look like others, no body should underestimate their potential capabilities to claim their identity or rights if desired to do so. I do not believe that there will a single truly Sinhala person, who would ever oppose a Tamil to be a 100% Tamil. But blames of inequality are a concocted theory even if someone sees the recent collective conduct of Tamil community in total contrast to Sinhala aspirations. Instead of pushing boundaries to marginalise Sinhala community with serious consequences not foreseen to date, Tamils living in the country should accept what comes their way just as the Sinhala people do without becoming pawns for someone else. If needed, seek help, but never demand.

    Now I am going to the best part of my tale. While many of us are stargazing, there are some Geological Events that are taking place around us. While fighting for territorial ambitions, there is a very likely chance of disappearing the landscape that is know to us for eternity due to our own contributions under pathetic leaderships and some beyond our contention. Though the self-appointed intellectuals of western descent are waiting for their masters to tell them just like every other thing they utter, we may miss the preparatory stage of the nature’s fury and will fly in to the eye of the storm like flies. If properly managed, we will have a much-enlarged island to accommodate my vision of expanding the Sinhala population to 400 million heads to counter the perennial threats directed from the subcontinent.

    Though the future of Sinhala community does not depend on the leaders operating this increasingly dysfunctional and outdated English System of government that will grind them slowly and surely to their graves along with the father-institutions in the west, those engulfed in this whirlpool can be saved only by total destruction of this self-destroying evil system and extending the truly native system of governance now functioning in the background with all its latest knowledge, which will allow the realisation of rights to life and aspirations of life for all. If not, it will raise its head high in the near future by Maha Sammatha consent as happened a long time ago or in the worst case by unimaginable scale of destruction. I hope the current leaders have a desire to reach out for life and avoid any horrible end to any living being. Instead of focusing on making a living out of crumbs falling from others, true leaders have the wisdom and capacity to come out with solutions within. Let the best part of my story be written by someone else in the near future.

    By P Abbey – Sinhala Upakaraka and Purvakaraka ekakaya

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