How referee India joined the fray
Posted on October 2nd, 2017

By Sugeeswara Senadhira Courtesy Ceylon Today

On 2 October 1987, the Sri Lanka Navy received a tip off about a boat seen in the Palk Strait and that it may be carrying a large stock of arms. The follow up action by the Navy resulted in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), that came to Sri Lanka as peace keepers, to monitor the truce between Sri Lankan Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending up fighting the LTTE.

The incident – later named ‘Cyanide Drama’ – not only ended the truce, but also changed Indian policy towards the LTTE and finally it claimed the life of former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Inside facts of that interesting episode were never revealed until much later and the research article written by this columnist was published in the book Broken Palmyra as Annexure 1.

The facts were gathered after talking to many people including the Tigers, the IPKF officers and senior Sri Lankan military officials and a senior minister.

According to reliable sources, the tip about the boat carrying weapons came from the IPKF. Under the truce, the Sri Lanka Army was confined to barracks and the IPKF supervised the land area. However, sea patrols were conducted by the Sri Lanka Navy.

After receiving the tip, a Sri Lankan naval patrol craft was dispatched to the area. Navy personnel saw a fast boat trying to cross over to Sri Lankan waters. They gave chase and caught up with it. When they approached the boat, the sailors saw the mounted gun and realized it was a vessel carrying LTTE cadres. As a truce was in effect after the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 29 July 1987, the Navy did not shoot at the boat, and when they ordered the seventeen Tigers in the boat to surrender, they did so without a fight.

But the Navy did not know they had a prize catch until they brought the prisoners and the huge stock of arms found in the boat to Kankesanthurai Port, where LTTE Colonel, Pulendran was recognized by a soldier. Colonel Pulendran was the commander of the Trincomalee District (LTTE). He was the dreaded terrorist leader, who together with a group of guerrillas stopped two buses at Kithulotuwa in Habarana and massacred 126 civilians. Later, they recognized another senior LTTE leader, Colonel Kumarappa among the 17 prisoners.

Colonel Pulendran, Colonel Kumarappa, and fifteen LTTE cadres were handed over to the Commander, Security Forces Headquarters – Jaffna, Brigadier Jayantha Jayaratne.

The prisoners were frisked and their cyanide capsules were removed. According to the then LTTE spokesman, Dilip Yogi, the Tigers did not protest because they thought they would be released as there was a general amnesty.

Brigadier (later promoted to Major General) Jayaratne immediately informed his superiors and he was told that a special plane would be sent to bring them to Colombo. By then, the Tigers had come to know about the arrest of their colleagues and they requested the IPKF Commander, General Rodriguez, to get them released as the Government of Sri Lanka granted a general amnesty to Tamil militants.

Sending prisoners to Colombo

General Rodriguez asked Brigadier Jayaratne either to release them or hand them over to the IPKF. After speaking to his superiors in Colombo, Jayaratne informed his Indian counterpart that the prisoners would be sent to Colombo, but he agreed to allow a few LTTE leaders, including their theoretician, Dr. Anton Balasingham, to visit the prisoners.

The IPKF chief wanted to keep some Indian soldiers to guard the prisoners and Brigadier Jayaratne agreed to allow the Indians to stand about 10 yards behind the Lankan troops guarding the prisoners.

Realizing that the prisoners will not be released, the LTTE swung into action. Within a short time, more than 3,000 women and children arrived at the Palali Camp, demonstrated, and demanded the release of the seventeen prisoners.

Rodriguez, who was under tremendous pressure from Balasingham, walked into Brigadier Jayaratne’s makeshift office at Palali and once again demanded the release of the LTTE cadres. “If you try to take them to Colombo, the demonstrators will forcefully enter the camp. How can we control them? We can’t shoot women and children,” he argued. Brigadier Jayaratne explained that he had to obey orders.

When he went to the hanger, where the prisoners were kept to ask them to board the plane, he was in for a surprise. The seventeen Tigers took cyanide capsules out and warned that they would swallow them if there was an attempt to take them to Colombo (LTTE leaders including Balasingham had handed over the cyanide capsules to them when they had met them).

Lalith Athulathmudali

Jayaratne immediately called National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali and reported the latest development.

Athulathmudali instructed him to send the Tigers to Colombo immediately.

As soon as Jayaratne put the phone down, the IPKF Commander walked in again and said, “Don’t send them to Colombo. If they die there will be a bloodbath.”

“No I have my orders. I have to send them to Colombo,” Jayaratne replied.

“You may have your orders, but you are the man on the spot. It is your responsibility to avoid any step which could have disastrous consequences,” Rodriguez argued.

When Jayaratne refused to change his decision, Rodriguez asked him to delay the departure of the plane by 12 hours. “Dixit (Indian High Commissioner) is in Delhi now and he is expected to land at Katunayake at 5:00 p.m. today. He can drive to the President’s House and obtain an order from President Jayewardene for the prisoners to be handed over to the IPKF,” the Indian Commander said.

When Jayaratne refused to budge, Rodriguez tried to bully him. “I will not allow your plane to take off with the prisoners. I’ll order BMPs (armoured cars) onto the runway,” he threatened.

“I’ll shoot your bloody BMPs sir,” was the reply given by the Sri Lankan General.

Another attempt

Jayaratne phoned Colombo again and made another attempt to which Athulathmudali’s reply was, “If you don’t send the prisoners to Colombo within the next two hours, you hand over your charge to your second-in-command and come to Colombo under arrest.”

Jayaratne selected thirty four of his best soldiers and told them to rush into the hanger when they received his signal and prevent the LTTE cadres from taking cyanide. He kept the doctors, ambulances, and stomach pumps ready.

Then, he walked into the hanger with his soldiers, but they could not stop the Tigers from biting into the capsules. Colonel Pulendran, Colonel Kumarappa, and seven others died immediately, four died in hospital, and four were saved.

Within hours, the LTTE killed several Sinhalese civilians in the North in retaliation. When the attacks continued, President Jayewardene called Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and explained the situation. Prime Minister Gandhi did not have any option other than ordering the IPKF to ‘disarm’ LTTE cadres. That led to the war between the IPKF and LTTE lasting for two years. Thousands of Tigers and one thousand two hundred and fifty Indian soldiers perished in the battle.

One Response to “How referee India joined the fray”

  1. SA Kumar Says:

    one thousand two hundred and fifty Indian soldiers perished in the battle.- We Kicked IPKF out with PR help , they are back again with different face (Indian flag is flying in Jaffna & Hamadoda) ,
    We will kick them out again out if MS/RW help us than We can start our unfinish Eelam war V from Mulli Vaikkal .

    Velu where are you ???

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