Posted on July 12th, 2020


Sri Lanka is now in approaching its fourth round of western rule, this time under the United States of America. When the British left Ceylon in 1948, USA was ready to take over, but in the euphoria of independence, this went unnoticed.

Britain had anticipated that its empire would end some day.   It was too huge, too expensive to run and the colonies were starting to kick. Britain had therefore   made all the necessary arrangements   to help its successor take over the island of Sri Lanka.

The importance of Sri Lanka lay in its coast, not the interior. Sri Lanka coast gave access to the Bay of Bengal on the right and to south India on the left. The prime attraction was the ready made capacious harbor at Trincomalee, but there was also the Pulmoddai mineral sands, and,   much  later on, the possibility of oil near Mannar.

Britain therefore created three    coastal provinces, which they called, the Northern, Eastern and North Western provinces.  These are not natural provinces. They are not historical provinces either. They were artificially created by the British. The Northern and Eastern Provinces were created in 1833 and the North Western Province in 1845.

Northern Province is 8,884 square kilometers and Eastern province 9,996 square kilometers. The Eastern Province went right down the Eastern flank of the island. It was kept separate from the interior. The Eastern Province faced the Bay of Bengal, and had within it, the harbor of Trincomalee.  These three provinces joined together, (minus Kurunegala district) make Eelam”.

Northern and Eastern
Map of Eelam

The British invented two bogus races, the ‘Ceylon Tamil’ and the ‘Ceylon Moor’ and allocated these three coastal provinces to them. ( Denham. Census of Ceylon 1911). These two bogus races, particularly the bogus ‘Ceylon Tamil’ race was created to function as a disruptive entity working against the unity of the island.

Britain retreated from Ceylon, leaving a pro-west government in place.  This was no accident. Britain sent D.B. Jayatilaka to India, ignored SWRD Bandaranaike, and selected D.S.Senanayake (1947-1952) to lead the newly independent Ceylon. DS Senanayake was not very educated nor well travelled. He was very pro-British.

When he died,  D.S.  Senanayake’s son, Dudley was chosen as Prime Minister by the Governor General, Lord Soulbury, ‘to the surprise of many ‘.Dudley did not last long as Prime Minister and was followed by Sir John Kotelawala, (1953-1956) who, to the delight of USA, was utterly anti Communist.

The US had established a presence in Sri Lanka in the 1950s. Philip Gunawardena observed in 1956, that an American NGO, CARE, had been invited by the UNP government to distribute milk powder. CARE was an acronym for Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere’. Philip objected to CARE distributing milk powder. It could be done by local agencies. Also what was the need for CARE to set up an office here, for the mere supervision of distribution. Why  did the previous government allow a voluntary  organization to set up a branch office in Ceylon. Philip was suspicious. ‘I fear the Greeks  even when they offer gifts ‘he said.  Philip  had  tried to change the agreement ,but  found that was not possible. ‘I looked,’  he said. ‘

US  showed that it could take aggressive action when necessary. When the Rubber Rice pact of 1952 was signed, USA promptly cut off aid to Sri Lanka, under its rule of not giving aid to countries that sold strategic materials to Communist countries. USA also stopped the sale of its sulphur fungicide, needed by Sri Lanka rubber plantations.  

The US had supporters in high places. Bandu de Silva observed that the Rubber Rice Pact was heavily opposed by some members of Parliament, notably J.R. Jayewardene, Minister of Finance. When the Pact came up for renewal in 1957, certain parties attempted to sabotage the   Pact. The prominent name was J.R. Jayewardene, continued Bandu.  The press had published some  secret communications on the matter, and it was suspected that the source was “Yankee Dickie”,  added   Bandu de Silva.

The next Prime Minister, SWRD Bandaranaike  (1956-1959)  initiated diplomatic relations with Russia and China and  favored non alignment. This would not have pleased the US. The MEP  government of the period was in constant turmoil   over local issues,  such as Sinhala Only and the Paddy lands Bill. The focus was on  internal matters .

But Philip Gunawardene saw signs of   active foreign intervention. Philip   was familiar with international intrigue, having seen it at first hand   when he was working with socialist groups in France, Germany and Spain. Therefore Philip, unlike the rest, could detect foreign intrigue in Sri Lanka, when he saw it.

Certain embassies, were developing close connections with the armed forces, Philip Gunawardene  said.  He specially mentioned US embassy.  Powerful forces are work, he said in Parliament in 1958. A group was working to overthrow the MEP government and set up dictatorship.   Philip   anticipated the creation of a junta. NM Perera agreeing, spoke of a possible coup d’état. Philip ended his speech saying to SWRD, Sir, your life is in danger.

SWRD was assassinated in  September 1959 by a Buddhist priest, Somarama, on the verandah of his home. This was the USA’s first assassination in Sri Lanka and its first attempt at regime change in Sri Lanka . The assassination was planned. That was obvious. But it was not difficult to execute. Bandaranaike had no security protection whatsoever.  Anyone could kill him anywhere. 

At that time the public readily swallowed the explanation that the person responsible for the assassination was the High Priest of Kelaniya, Buddharakkhita. They accepted the ridiculous argument that Buddharakkhita got Bandaranaike killed because Bandaranaike had refused to give Buddharakkhita a contract to import rice and another to set up a sugar factory. Heads of state are not assassinated for such flimsy reasons.

There is an interesting religious twist to the Bandaranaike assassination. The participation of the Sangha in this assassination was expected to be a triumph for anti-Buddhist forces and a terrible blow to the powerful Buddhist movement of the time. But that did not happen.

Somarama   gave up robes during the trial and weeks before his execution was converted to Christianity and was baptized in his cell by the Anglican priest Mathew Peiris. Somarama had used a revolver which had belonged to a notorious underworld figure, Ossie Corea. Ossie Corea was a Catholic. Vimala Wijewardene, another accused, converted to Catholicism and gifted her houses and land to the Catholic Church.

Satchi Ponnambalam writing in 2009   wondered whether the CIA was behind the Bandaranaike assassination. Was any ‘foreign hand’ involved, he asked.  Did Buddarakkitha have any contacts with international agents.’ it is now well known that between 1959 and 1962 the CIA had made several assassination and assassination attempts on political leaders who were pro-Left, why not SWRD. The death of Buddarakkitha in prison at the relatively young age of 46, during a UNP government may also be significant, he said.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj (2014)  also openly questioned whether any ‘foreign hand’ was involved in Bandaranaike’s assassination. Did Buddharakkhita and Somarama act on their own. He points out that USA had a strong anti-communist policy at this time. It was well known, he said, that between 1959 and 1962, the CIA was involved in assassinations,  and failed attempts at assassination, of political leaders who were pro-Left, like Lumumba, Sukarno and Fidel Castro. In the 1990s it was found that the CIA had given money to the Dalai Lama who was opposing Communist China’s takeover of Tibet. (

The intended regime change, after the death of SWRD,  did not take place .SWRD was replaced by Sirimavo, which the US did not expect.  Bandaranaike’s wife, Sirimavo took his place as Prime minister in the SLFP led government of 1960  and, to the surprise of everybody, including probably, Sirima herself, ran the country better than SWRD had done.  She     took firm decisions as PM, without dithering, and was excellent in her foreign policy.

She seemed set to go on forever. Another round of ‘regime change’ was necessary. Philip Gunawardene warned Sirimavo in 1960 of the danger of a military coup. Such a coup was planned to take place on  27 January 1962. If it had succeeded,  Sirimavo would have been killed.

The coup was planned by an assortment of army and police officers.  They were almost entirely, Christian, upper class, westernized, right wing and UNP. The leaders were F. C. de Saram, Commanding Officer, Ceylon Artillery  who later made a confession assuming full responsibility, Maurice De Mel, former Chief of Staff of the Army and Royce de Mel, Captain of the navy. They were joined by  five subordinate officers  from the Ceylon Artillery, several commanding officers from the Ceylon Signals Corps, and one from Ceylon Electrical and Mechanical Engineers .The Police  was represented by C.C.Dissanayake Deputy Inspector General of Police, Sidney de Zoysa, former Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) , three Superintendents of Police and two Assistant Superintendents  of Police.

The coup was to be carried out by troops from the 3rd Field Regiment, 2nd Volunteer Antiaircraft Regiment of the Ceylon Artillery, almost the entire officer corps of these regiment were involved, 2nd (V) Field/Plant Regiment of the  Ceylon Engineers, 2nd Volunteer Signals Regiment of the  Ceylon Signals Corps, the  Armored cars of the Sabre troop of the Ceylon Armoured Corps and some members  of the Police.

It was to be a swift, surgical strike, accomplished within a few hours from midnight on the 27th.Police cars equipped with radio and loudspeakers were to go around Colombo and outskirts at midnight, announcing a 24 hour curfew. People had to remain indoors. Anyone seen outside would be shot on sight. Soldiers with vehicles and radio equipment were to be stationed at key locations in suburban Colombo and strategic junctions within Colombo city. Armoured cars and army vehicles fitted with radio equipment were to be stationed at the two Kelani bridges.

Police headquarters, Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the Central Telephone and Telegraph exchanges would be taken over and all tele-communication suspended until further notice. A special telephone line from the Army headquarters to the Army barracks in Echelon square in Fort had been set up earlier, to be used for urgent intra-army communication. Fully armed Signals corps dispatch riders on motor cycles were to be positioned from 11 pm  at Torrington (Independence) square, to storm Radio Ceylon” and take it over when the password ‘Holdfast ‘ was given.  Lake House and Times of Ceylon were also to be taken over and newspapers were to cease publication for a few days. At Temple Trees the duty officer for the night had been replaced.

After 1956, many Sinhala-Buddhists were taken into the armed forces to counter the large number of Christians who had been recruited in British times. These soldiers it was anticipated would be loyal to the government. The coup leaders had to therefore prevent a potential counter-strike by such officers and troops.  Soldiers stationed at the Panagoda cantonment had to be prevented from entering Colombo at all costs, until the transfer of power was completed. Armoured cars and army vehicles fitted with radio equipment were to be stationed at the Kirillapone Bridge.

The Prime Minister , Cabinet Ministers,  Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and External affairs (Felix Dias Bandaranaike), Permanent secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External affairs (N. Q. Dias),  Army Commander,  acting Captain of the Navy,  Inspector General of Police as well as DIG (CID) (S A. Dissanayake) and SP (CID) (John Attygalle) were to be arrested and taken to the Army Headquarters, where they would be held as prisoners in the ammunition magazine, which was an underground bunker. Government members of Parliament and all LSSP, MEP and CP members of the opposition were to be detained en masse at e the Sravasti” MP’s hostel. Other officials, including service commanders, were to be placed under house arrest in their own homes in Colombo.

Maurice de Mel was to coordinate from Army headquarters, F.C. de Saram from Temple Trees” where the password  was to be British Grenadier” and Dissanayake from President’s House, then known as ‘Queens House”, password was Dowbiggin”. Queen’s House was the official residence of the Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke. Once the coup was successful, the coup leaders would meet Sir Oliver, request him to dissolve Parliament and take direct control. The country would then be run by a ‘junta’ of ex-Prime Ministers, Dudley Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawela.

The coup never happened. The government was alerted by P de S Kularatne, who had been told about it by his son in law, Stanley Senanayake. the leaders were rounded up, charged and found guilty. They got off on an appeal to Privy Council, London.

The coup was not led by the head of the army which meant that other high ups were masterminding it.. It was alleged that several VVIPs were in on this. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, who was never charged,  resigned as Governor-General and went into self-imposed exile in Britain. The public had  suspected  for decades that  JR may have had a hand in it. this was confirmed in his biography which recorded some advice that JR gave to Sydney de Zoysa, reported analysts.

I cannot recall what the public thought of this coup at the time, but people started saying, decades later,  on the Internet, that western powers were probably behind it. One commentator said the coup was Plan B. Plan A was the assassination of Bandaranaike, which was easily achieved but did not bring the expected outcome

Another said in 2014,  that  he thought the CIA, MI5 and ‘other such organizations’ were trying to set up puppet governments in the emerging nations. A third commentator, Nicky Karunaratne, also 2014,  wondered whether ‘those guys handling the 1962 coup  were being groomed by the CIA to carry out their agendas. Such actions were openly carried out in other countries’.

The United States has interfered in at least four elections in Sri Lanka , in support of UNP, said Prof. Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon university, a leading expert on American and Russian interventions in foreign elections. Prof. Levin says he has found no evidence of Soviet meddling  in any of the Sri Lankan elections he studied.   

Levin observed that John Foster Dulles visited in March 1956  before the General election of 1956.  He was the first US Secretary of State to visit the island .He spoke with Prime Minister , John Kotelawala.  UNP signed an aid pact with  the USA for 5 million USD aid ,in April just days before the 1956 General  election.

 There was covert CIA  support  to the UNP In the two 1960 general elections, as well. Members of the UNP directly requested help from the US embassy in both elections and were directed to the CIA.    The US sent campaign advisers to help the UNP and probably gave covert funds to the party, Levin said.

 In 1965 election, too, there was similar covert interference by the US. Levin’s research is supported by information from elsewhere. Diplomat Robert Keeley   said that the US intervention in Sri Lanka in 1965 installing the UNP in power was held up as an example by  US embassy staff in Athens as they discussed proposals for a possible massive intervention by the CIA, in Greece’s elections of 1967. UNP’s  acceptance of US/CIA covert aid in the 1965 elections  was  considered a possible model for US intervention in Greece.  This is said in Keeley’s book  The Colonel’s Coup and the American Embassy: A Diplomat’s View of the Breakdown of Democracy in Cold War Greece” .

The 1965 election was closely followed by US media which hailed the UNP’s crushing victory” as a   triumph for America itself, commented Hassina Leelaratna. Dudley Senanayake was frequently referred to as either pro-Western” or pro-American” and praised for his promises of improving relations with the US, opening the island toforeign investors, and compensating the  American oil companies, Esso and Caltex, and British oil company, Shell nationalized by Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government. The US media  called the UNP’s win an American victory, for Senanayake prefers American foreign aid to Soviet aid.”. ( continued)

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