Posted on December 29th, 2014

By Don Wijewardana

Recent domestic and global developments clearly indicate LTTE-related issues are re-emerging as major influences impacting on Sri Lanka’s security and stability.  But the opposition Common candidate Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto does not address any of the related issues of reconciliation, terrorism, or separation.  When asked, he has said his main focus is the 100-day plan and this was an issue to be addressed later. This evasive response is surprising since it is an issue central to peace and political stability of the country and is an integral part of President’s responsibility.  But subsequent disclosures indicate it is due to the existence of a hidden agenda. This note discusses why the subject is important and the direction he takes will lead to undoing the achievements of our war heroes.

Rajapaksa came to power in 2005 when the morale of the nation was at an all time low. Hundreds of innocent people were dying each week at the hands of the terrorists and the public was disillusioned with leaders who had failed to find a solution for thirty years.  Armed forces confined to barracks as a result of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) were not feeling any different.

At the same time the LTTE was having a free reign in all areas under its control in north and east. While they could travel anywhere in the government-controlled areas the armed forces could not step into the LTTE controlled regions. With the three years of freedom since signing the CFA terrorist group had imported all the big and small arms needed, and its cadres were ready and waiting for the final assault, the Eelam War IV, to establish a separate Tamil state. Hans Bratskaar, Norwegian ambassador overseeing the peace process was so impressed that he warned government officials to not even try to fight the LTTE for the armed forces were no match for the well oiled LTTE war machine.

This was the unenviable situation Rajapaksa found himself in, when he assumed office. Needing time to get his feet under the desk Rajapaksa publicly and through emissaries sought Prabhakaran’s agreement for a halt to attacks just for two weeks. But the LTTE leader wanted to grant no quarter to the new comer and rejected the request.  Matters were further complicated with INGOs sympathetic to the LTTE watching every move of the government for human rights violations. For Rajapaksa it was a baptism by fire.

But Rajapaksa’s woes did not end there. In the international arena the Tamil Diaspora that bankrolled Prabhakaran’s venture exerted maximum pressure on western governments to facilitate a LTTE victory. In the meantime George W Bush had left office and Obama and Clinton duo, whose election campaigns had been funded by the Diaspora, were leading the US charge against Sri Lanka. Similar pressure was mounted in Britain and France.

Bernard Kouchner, French Foreign Minister and David Miliband British Foreign Secretary flew into Colombo a few weeks before the end of the war to ask Rajapaksa to stop the war and let Prabhakaran go.  Rajapaksa in response told Miliband, Mr Foreign Secretary, we are no longer a British Colony, there will be no ceasefire unless Prabhakarn surrenders to the armed forces.” It is at instances like this you feel proud of your leader who can stand up to international bullies.  Meanwhile on the US front a logistics team had arrived to take Prabhakaran and 50 of his top aides and their families to a third country as part of a ceasefire arrangement. The President told them too that the warzone was a no-go area and the war will continue to an end.

In the meantime, to push Rajapaksa to accept their advice to stop the war western countries refused to supply arms.  That would have been the end of the road with any other leader. But Rajapaksa was able to find alternative sources. China, Russia and Pakistan came to the rescue to fill the gaping hole left by the unilateral decisions of western powers that refused to honour their contractual obligations.

Rajapaksa also developed good relations with India to ensure their concurrence to his key decisions.  Having India on the side was helpful to keep western nations quiet. But it nearly cost him winning the war, for the final assault had to be delayed by a week following a request by the then Indian Prime Minister, until the last of the Indian general election was held. This was to ensure that defeat of the LTTE did not impact on the election result. That was also the time when the western conspiracy to rescue Prabhakaran was at the final stages and they could have applied further prssure to force Rajapaksa against continuing the war.

In the domestic front, with soldiers under relentless attack from the powerful enemy, frantic action was needed to enlist new recruits. More than the normal number of soldiers was needed since the President ordered minimum of civilian casualties in the fighting.  Along side meeting these responsibilities Rajapaksa also had to carry the public with him as he diverted more and more resources away from public services, towards the war effort.

In the end the person Prabhakaran dismissed as an amateur was performing exceptionally well on all fronts. It is anybody’s guess how Kumaratunga or Wickramasinghe would have reacted to such challenges. But their actions in offering Prabhakarn a free reign in the north and east which allowed him the freedom to import arms under the CFA, made Rajapaksa’s job doubly difficult.

There was another reason why previous leaders failed. Their greatest fear was not Prabhakaran but a winning Army commander who could become more popular than the President or Prime Minister and oust them from power.  As a result the armed forces were always held on a short leash just enough to respond to LTTE attacks but never enough to defeat them. The ensuing anguish and cost to the public was of no concern. Rajapaksa did not have such fears for he had very capable siblings to delegate responsibilities. The rest is history.

And after the war ended the irate West, urged on by the Diaspora, commenced hounding Rajapaksa through the UN Human Rights Council. The basis of accusations against the government was the Darusman report prepared by a panel of experts with demonstrated anti-Sri Lankan stance, appointed by the UN Secretary General. Many critics have proved the fallacy of its major findings but that has not made any difference.  The Diaspora, whose nine billion dollar dream of a separate state was shattered, is pushing the western governments to press for revenge against Rajapaksa. Now it is a concerted effort to oust Rajapaksa. Their designs were made clear by Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Director of Strategic Initiatives, Suren Surendran who said in a recent Al Jazeera interview, The day that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is beaten in the elections and loses the privileges of a Head of State, he will be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for committing war crimes”.

Continuing Diaspora pressure on western governments is seen in a letter the ‘Tamils for Obama’ wrote to the US President after his re-election in 2012: We hope to see an independent Tamil homeland–Tamil Eelam–merge in northeastern Sri Lanka. We hope that you and your next secretary of state will have an active part in helping Tamil Eelam to be born”[i]

Is the LTTE threat over for Sri Lanka?

Diaspora pressure on western governments is matched by similar effort within Sri Lanka. Contrary to the belief that the LTTE was eliminated with the end of the war, now there is a major international effort to revive it. It all became apparent early this year when the Kilinochchi Police noticed someone pasting posters on walls.  Investigations that followed found that three LTTErs who had lived overseas had returned to Sri Lanka with orders to commence work in resurrecting the terrorist group. Theiveegan, Appan and Gobi were working as a team: to recover caches of arms buried by the retreating LTTE, to recruit new members and to set up safe houses.

After examining the contents of 64 computers seized during the course of investigations they discovered interlinks to a network at home and abroad. Gobi who carried a map of LTTE’s hidden arsenals had already dug up some, using the five metal detectors stolen from the NGO, Devlon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH) involved in demining in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu districts. Funding the movement had come from the Diaspora in several countries. The individuals who finally transferred the funds to support the exercise were: Yathavan alias Santhosham master in Switzerland, Veeramani alias Regan in France, Shanthi in Germany, Deva in Canada and Soori in Britain[ii] What troubled the security authorities was the concerted effort by an otherwise divided Diaspora to resurrect the terrorist group.

While the investigation was going on at one stage the team was at a dead-end and could not proceed without undertaking a large-scale interrogation to find a breakthrough. But unfortunately the timing coincided with the UNHRC sessions in Geneva where the resolution against Sri Lanka was being discussed. It was feared that such a massive search would have gone against Sri Lanka. A delay, on the other hand, could have meant losing valuable information. The President had to make a decision. He concluded that national security was far more important than the Geneva vote and decided to go ahead with the search without delay.

Gobi escaped the first attempt to arrest him after shooting a policeman. Fortunately the officer survived. With intensive work by the investigating team and some luck, that affair was eventually brought to a conclusion with all three culprits eliminated in a confrontation with armed forces.

It is naïve to believe it will not happen again. With the existence of ideal conditions for a LTTE revival: a Diaspora willing to fund, arms only to be dug out of the ground and a large pool of potential recruits available at hand, it will be only a matter of time. That is why constant vigilance is an absolute necessity.

 A breakaway Muslim state?

 While the EX-LTTE cadres are attempting again to carve out a separate state in the north there is a move by Muslims to establish their own territory in the east. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress recently quit the ruling coalition because President Mahinda Rajapaksa had turned down its demand to establish a separate Muslim administrative unit in the Digamadulla electoral district. They have since joined Sirisena, for obvious reasons.

 Developments in India

Events taking place over the Palk Strait give more cause for concern. Officials from New Delhi and Tamil Nadu recently made representation to Delhi High Court Tribunal set up to review whether the ban on LTTE should continue for another five years. Their argument for the proscription to continue was that the LTTE remained committed to creating ‘greater Tamil Nadu’ including the state of Tamil Nadu, part of Kerala, part of Karnataka, part of Andhra Pradesh and Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces[iii].

The massive quantities of LTTE’s buried arms already discovered in Sri Lanka suggest the stockpile was sufficient for several wars similar to the Eelam war IV.  Such an accumulation tends to confirm designs for a much wider war in the future as suggested by Indian officials.

These officials have also told the special tribunal the LTTE had links with anti-Indian organizations like the UK chapter of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Kesri Lehar Movement, Sikh Activist Network, etc. And the Tamil Nadu government has said: “The LTTE, even after its military defeat in May 2009 in Sri Lanka, has not abandoned the concept of a separate nation for Tamils … Lifting of the ban on LTTE would imply allowing a deadly foreign terrorist organization to operate from India … giving a psychological boost to the LTTE as well as the secessionist Tamil forces in India”.

Need for a swift response

Speedy action to deal with the attempt to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka was made possible because the army was readily at hand in the North and it was able to work in coordination with the police. What would have happened if the army was not stationed in the north as demanded by the TNA, the Northern Provincial Council, INGOs and foreign governments? What would have been the situation if there was a local police force under 13th amendment which had to be relied on to do such investigations?

Concerns for the voter

These developments within and outside the country raise three basic concerns for the voter:

  1. It was our war that Rajapaksa fought. What kind of human beings are we if we now abandon him for the international vultures ganging up to lynch him?
  2. Do we give in to the clamour of the TNA, Diaspora, INGOs, western governments and others and scale down the presence of the armed forces in the North at the risk of allowing the LTTE to re-emerge?
  3. Do we offer land and police powers to Provincial Councils in terms of the 13th amendment to the constitution and preclude central government service personnel from dealing with crimes that could affect the security of the nation?

 Position of the Common candidate

 Voters need straight answers to these questions. What is disturbing is the Common candidate or the coalition backing him, has not identified their position with regard to any of these critical issues. So far voters had to rely on glimpses of statements by members of the coalition to learn about Sirisena’s position. When questioned about the issue he had told reporters initially that those matters will not be addressed by him and will be considered after the election. UNP Deputy leader Sajith Premadasa told UNP supporters at a public meeting that Sirisena has already written off the leadership to Ranil in a binding agreement and the latter will decide policy actions of the government on key issues. JHU MP Ranawaka stated unless the electorate got rid of the Rajapaksas, the international community could isolate the country”. In other words ‘let us sacrifice him for our job has been done’.

Now we find why Sirisena has been cagey in talking about the issue publicly. It is because of an apparent confidential agreement already signed with the UNP leader Wickramasinghe. When it was published by the media, predictably, they both have disputed their signatures but have not denied its contents.

Following are the relevant provisions of the agreement:

  • Within 24 hours appoint Ranil Wickramasinghe as Prime Minister;
  • Within 100 days reduce by 50% the number of soldiers stationed in the north.
  • Within two years remove all high security zones and return the land to original owners.
  • Grant more powers to the Provincial Councils than those devolved under the 13th Amendment to meet the aspirations of Tamil people;
  • Work with the UN Human Rights Council and implement all its recommendations on human rights violations by Sri Lanka
  • Since the war has ended reduce the budget of the Ministry of Defence by 40% and use it to develop northern and Eastern provinces.

These guarantees given by Sirisena  make the common candidate’s answer to the three questions raised above a categorical ‘Yes’. Not only that, these actions will undo the three decades of sacrifices made by the armed forces as well as the ordinary public and return the country to fear, insecurity and instability.  The most reprehensible element of the agreement is the commitment to transfer power within 24 hours to the man who, through an illegal agreement with Prabhakaran, handed over the north and east to the LTTE and created almost insurmountable obstacles to ending terrorism.

Either Maithripala Sirisena does not understand the implications of his commitments, or he is desperately attempting to gain power that he does not care at what cost it is to the nation.




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