Posted on May 24th, 2023


 President Premadasa‘s outrageous attitude to the Eelam war has not received the critical attention it deserves. He did not understand his duty in the matter. As Head of State, his first duty was to protect the territory and sovereignty of the country of which he is the leader.  Instead he took no interest at all in winning the war.

He gave no support to the army and the police, but leant over backward to accommodate the LTTE. The reason is obvious. Premadasa did not want a strong army, he feared a military coup.  LTTE, Premadasa thought, could be used to bolster his position as President. The LTTE strategists knew this and played the game accordingly.

President Premadasa had initially refused to take over the Defence portfolio, saying he disliked getting involved in wars. It was pointed out to him, that under the Constitution the President was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and it was mandatory for the Defence portfolio to be under him. President Premadasa agreed reluctantly to take over the Defence portfolio, but   did not chair meetings of the National Security Council. Prime Minister D.B. Wijetunge chaired them.  My guess is that he did not attend them at all.

Premadasa’s unilateral decisions, in respect of the LTTE, caused immense harm, said one critic. Premadasa’s blunders caused irreparable losses, said another.  Critics have observed that such outrageous mishandling of a vital national issue would have been grounds for impeachment elsewhere in the world.  

Premadasa’s handling of the Eelam issue was disgraceful. He did not know how to deal with the LTTE and was completely out of his depth. He thought the LTTE was invincible and that the only course of action was to appease them.  He believed whatever the LTTE told him, including their false assurances, and he did exactly as they asked. His chief negotiator A.C.S. Hameed also     supported the LTTE.  LTTE was able to attack and eliminate all rival Tamil groups, during the time of Premadasa.

As soon as he became President, Premadasa released a large number of insurgents from prison. In the process he released a large group of LTTE terrorists, from prison,   including a known bomber.  This was a devastating setback to counter insurgency operations. The military top brass realized the stupidity of this move but did not dare say so.

 In 1989 the LTTE was registered as a political party under the name People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) though it was an armed outfit.  Local and foreign journalists were invited by Anton Balasingham to the Colombo Hilton where he announced the emergence of the new political party, reported Shamindra Ferdinando. Balasingham declared proudly that their emblem would be a Tiger in a red flag of rectangular shape,   a few months later, LTTE resumed Eelam War II.

In May 1989 Premadasa started three rounds of talks with the LTTE .Anton Balasingham came from London.  LTTE leaders were brought by helicopter from their hideout in Vanni by the army and accommodated on 8th floor of the five star Hilton. The army deeply resented this.

 Mahattaya, who was directly       responsible for the attacks on Sinhala border villages and army camps killing so many, attended the third set of talks, dressed in white with broad smile on his face.  Premadasa was highly impressedby Mahattaya. Premadasa had said Mahattaya is a real gentleman, reported Kamal Guneratne.

When Premadasa took over as president, The IPKF was giving LTTE a sound beating. IPKF was winning and would soon rout the LTTE. LTTE used Premadasa to get rid of the IPKF. At the request of the LTTE, President Premadasa asked the Indian Peace Keeping Force, which was giving the LTTE a beating, to withdraw.  This gave the LTTE, who were reeling under the IPKF, a new lease of life.   Premadasa had saved the LTTE

As soon as the IPKF pulled out in 1990, LTTE took control of the north.   In 1990 the LTTE took control of the overland Kandy- Jaffna route used by the military.  This was a great blow to the armed forces. With this route blocked, the government had to send supplies to the army by sea and air.  This placed a great burden on the Navy and added to the costs of the war.

For instance, when the north east monsoon was on, supplies for the army in the east had to be brought to Comar, and then moved overland to Nagathevanthurai and ferried to the east in boats. The Kandy-Jaffna route stayed under LTTE control for the next 17 years.

Premadasa’s other contribution to the ongoing war was to declare a unilateral ceasefire from June 16, 1990. The LTTE used the ceasefire to consolidate their position and continue fighting.  LTTE launched major attacks on Jaffna and Vanni theatres. LTTE overran Kokavil, army abandoned its base at Kilinochchi, and LTTE then got the army to vacate Mankulam.  The largest number of amputees were from the 1991 Akunu Pahara.  

During the ceasefire, LTTE built bunkers within firing range of security establishments.  Premadasa lifted restrictions on a range of materials, including cement, and LTTE use this to fortify their bases.   

They continuously provoked and humiliated the army knowing that the army could not retaliate. Premadasa had instructed the army not to do anything that could be considered hostile.   LTTE imposed restrictions on the military, detained officers who defied their diktat, and said that all movement between security forces in the Jaffna peninsula should first be approved by them.  

LTTE did not care much for Premadasa either. When Hameed went to negotiate with the LTTE on behalf of Premadasa, in the 1989-90 period, on his return, the LTTE had been firing indiscriminately at Palaly airfield, while he was walking towards his plane.

Premadasa actually ordered the Sri Lanka army to give a large stock of arms, ammunition and equipment to LTTE, ignoring the pleadings of the military. This is unbelievable but true, it is mind boggling, but it happened.

In April 1989, truck loads of brand new weapons and ammunition imported from China still wrapped in polythene, were handed over to the LTTE. The transfer took place deep in the jungles of Vanni  , in the Weli oya region close to Mullativu jungles.  This was done secretly and no one knew until the media broke the news. Bradman Weerakoon has learnt about it from the Island newspaper.     Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Tassie Seneviratne and Cyril Ranatunge independently confirm that this weapons transfer took place.  

Senior officers at Weli Oya handed over weapons, while soldiers watched with deep resentment. LTTE took  the weapons with greetings, warm hugs and arrogant smiles. But we knew that these weapons would be   used against us later, said Kamal Guneratne.  These   weapons were indeed used against the Sri Lanka army later.

 Some soldiers had tried to steal a few weapons and ‘honest soldiers who did not approve of this untrustworthy and un- officer like behavior’ had informed the authorities and the culprits were punished severely.

The army in the meanwhile received step motherly treatment from Premadasa. Instead of beefing up the military presence in the north Premadasa   restricted the military presence in Jaffna and Vanni to two battalions. The LTTE acquired   arms and ammunition supplied by the Premadasa government, but the state military received nothing, observed critics. 

Had Premadasa allowed the military to strengthen itself during the 14 month long truce, the LTTE would not have been able to seize the north at the onset of Eelam War II. In 1990 they lost the A9 main supply route. LTTE also took Kokavil in 1990 Army vacated Kilinochchi and Mankulam in 1990 thereafter.  The Sri Lanka Army lacked the strength to oppose. It did not even have adequate transport to move troops from the south to the north and east.

Premadasa allowed the LTTE to execute 600 police officers. This was a shameful episode and should never be forgotten. This is how it happened.

While ‘peace talks’ were going on in Colombo in 1990 and the LTTE  delegation  was housed in five star hotels under the protection of the STF, LTTE cadres had surrounded the police stations at  Batticaloa, Kalmunai, Vellaveli, Valachenai, Kalavanchikudi, Eravur, Samanthurai, Akkaraipattu  and ordered the police to surrender.

LTTE had assured Premadasa that the policemen would not be harmed, they would be taken to Ampara and released.   Premadasa ordered IGP Earnest Pereira to direct the policemen to surrender.  The policemen surrendered.  LTTE took them to Tirukkovil jungle and killed them. They were made to lie face down, blindfolded with hands tied, then bullets were sprayed into them.   A farmer who had been ordered to bury the bodies had seen this.

At Kalmunai Ivan Boteju, ASP refused to follow the Presidential directive.  Botejue had by then, completed his compulsory spell in the operational area but had volunteered to carry on as no one was willing to take his place.   His unit had already successfully fought off the LTTE in November 1989.  He and his men opted to face that LTTE, saying that if they surrendered they would be tortured and killed.  

Botejue ordered his men to take up positions  and requested air and military support.The LTTE attacked Kalmunai police station and policeman returned fire in defense. Volleys of fire and defiant words were exchanged.  There were more causalities on the LTTE  side even though the LTTE had more sophisticated weapons, gifted them by President Premadasa.

When the police were ordered to surrender, Botejue walked out of the police station with his men, sobbing and obeying. Tassie Seneviratne suggests that Ivan Botejue be honored posthumously.   He would have risen to be DIG, because if he had left the area, he would have got his promotion.  

Seneviratne   observed that there is no official record of this event.  If an inquiry had been launched immediately after President Premadasa died, then the story would have come out, he said,  but successive governments  had not inquired into this matter.. It was unlawful to issue an order to surrender when death was imminent.

These police officers should be considered war heroes and their families duly compensated   and their names publicized.The families have so far not received the compensation due to them. Seneviratne points out that it is it is not too late even now to conduct an inquiry.

 Seneviratne also said that Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan (Karuna) had been directly involved in the massacre of these 600 police men. Karuna had denied this. Seneviratne alleged that there was evidence to show that Karuna was involved.   Presidential commission to investigate missing persons has been asked in 2014, to look into this matter. Particularly whether compensation, salaries, pensions were paid to the families and whether these policemen have been honored posthumously.  ( Continued)

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