War on terror revisited: Part 12June 28, 2012, 7:31 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Although the SLFP-led UPFA vowed to amend the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) soon after winning the parliamentary polls on April 2, 2004, it soon realised the change of government had had no impact on the LTTE. The UPFA leadership quickly changed its approach to appease the LTTE. Then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, had no option but to assure Norway of his support for the peace process in line with President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s decision to go forward with the Norwegian-led initiative.
Even before then Opposition Leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as Prime Minister on April 12, 2004, the new government had to face a major crisis in the Eastern Province. Having warned the UPFA not to interfere in its operations against the breakaway faction led by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan aka Karuna Amman, the LTTE ordered a major offensive. Sea Tigers ferried hundreds of heavily armed cadres from LTTE bases on the Mullaitivu to the Batticaloa coast, while the government, too, facilitated the movement of additional cadres under the supervision of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).
In the face of the heavy LTTE build-up in Batticaloa, Karuna Amman gave up his fight on April 9, 2004 and sought refuge in Colombo, three days later.
Both President Kumaratunga and former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe assured the Norwegians that they wouldn’t seek to exploit the situation. Kumaratunga ordered the armed forces not to extend assistance to the dissidents, though an influential section of the military obviously reached an understanding with the group.
But the situation continued to deteriorate in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The UPFA had no option but to bend over backwards to appease the LTTE, which continued child recruitment in both provinces. For want of cohesive counter-measures on the part of the government, the LTTE felt it could get away with any crime. The Kilinochchi leadership directly challenged the government over the arrest of 10 LTTE cadres in separate incidents in the East. The UPFA on Oct 14, 2004 gave in to LTTE pressure to release six LTTE men and four women to secure the release of two home guards held hostage by them (LTTE wins the day –– The Island of Oct 15, 2004).
Interestingly, they had been arrested in government-held areas in the Batticaloa District during the previous UNF government. They faced charges under the Offensive Weapons Act for carrying arms, ammunition and explosives which was a nonbailable offence. A deeply embarrassed government went ahead with a ‘prisoner swap.’
In spite of the government vowing not to give in to the LTTE’s unreasonable demands, it released 10 LTTE cadres on Oct 14, 2004. But the LTTE freed the home guards held in captivity since August 2004 on Oct 16, 2004 through the SLMM. The agreement on the swap’ materialised in the wake of President Kumaratunga’s spokesperson, Harim Peiris visiting Kilinochchi to further explore ways and means of resuming the stalled negotiating process (Harim meets LTTE –– The Island of Oct 17, 2004). The LTTE quit the negotiating process in April 2003, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as Prime Minister. The LTTE made its move after having taken part in six rounds of talks at overseas venues under the auspices of the Norwegians. The LTTE steadfastly refused to return to the negotiating table unless the party in power accepted an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA), as a precondition for the resumption of the negotiating process.
About a week after the unprecedented ‘prisoner swap’, the government facilitated Sea Tiger leader, Soosai, to leave for medical treatment in Singapore. The Sea Tiger chief and several other LTTE cadres were airlifted from Kilinochchi to the Katunayake air base and driven to the nearby star class Airport Garden Hotel (now re-named as the Gateway) for a sumptuous meal before being put on board a Singapore bound flight. Like UNP and SLFP politicians, who rushed to Singapore for medical treatment, the LTTE leaders, too, had the best medical care. (P’karan gets Soosai out with government help –- The Island of Oct 20, 2004).
President Kumaratunga promoted newly set-up ‘National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation’ (NACPR) as an alternative to the CFA angered the UNP. The UNP alleged that President Kumaratunga was making a bid to deceive the international community. The UNP said that the government had also indicated its readiness to submit its own proposals, while promoting NACPR as an all-party mechanism to take forward the peace process. In fact, even the UPFA’s coalition partners were surprised by President Kumaratunga’s move. The UNP refused to participate in the NACPR process.
The LTTE dropped a bombshell. In a critical analysis of the peace process in his new book, War and Peace, former British High Commission employee turned LTTE theoretician, Anton Balasingham questioned the very basis and the concept of the ‘Oslo Declaration.’
Balasingham, the UK-based leader of the LTTE negotiating team emphasised that there had been no specific proclamation titled ‘Oslo Declaration’ and the LTTE reserved the right to what he called ‘external self-determination as well as secession.’ A stunned UNP leadership sought a clarification from the Norwegians as the LTTE shifted the goal posts again. Following consultations among the Norwegians, the UNP and the UPFA, UNP General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake, MP, declared that the UNP would stand by the ‘Oslo Declaration.’ Attanayake stressed that the UNP and President Kumaratunga agreed with their stand. The then UNP Deputy General Secretary said that Balasingham’s claim would have no impact on his party’s stand. (UNP sticks by Oslo Declaration –– The Island of Oct 2004).
MP Attanayake talked confidently of the UNP having a consensus on this issue with President Kumaratunga. It would be pertinent to examine the relationship between the UNP and the President in the backdrop of the SLFP leader’s hostility towards her own Prime Minister, Rajapaksa. Having realised the on-going power struggle between President Kumaratunga and PM Rajapaksa, the LTTE felt that a divided government wouldn’t challenge its military supremacy. The LTTE acted decisively to strengthen its position.
Having failed to deprive then Opposition Leader Rajapaksa of the premiership, President Kumaratunga lashed out at SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, who threw his weight behind Rajapaksa, in spite of being a CBK loyalist for many years (We dealt with the CBK-JVP operation targeting Rajapaksa on Wednesday, June 27, 2004). The former Opposition Leader was sworn in as the PM on April 12, 2004. At a meeting called by President Kumaratunga at President’s House on the day after the swearing in of the new PM, trouble erupted at the SLFP Central Committee. No sooner had President Kumaratunga said that the government would have to decide on the post of the Leader of the House than PM Rajapaksa proposed Maitripala’s name for the post. It was endorsed by Alavi Moulana. No one dared propose another name, though many believed the President had planned to install a loyalist in that particular post. In his memoirs, Minister Sirisena alleged that President Kumaratunga resented the PM’s move. According to him, the President had on numerous occasions wanted him to give up the post of the Leader of the House, citing the difficulties in handling three important positions simultaneously.
At that time, the Polonnaruwa District MP held the post of SLFP General Secretary as well as an important Cabinet portfolio. He has this to say in his memoirs: "The President constantly exerted pressure on me to give up the post of the Leader of the House. She despised me as I was PM Rajapaksa’s nominee." He quotes President Kumaratunga as having said quite often: "Thamuse Sabhanayakakamata yojana kale Mahindayane (You were proposed to the post of the Leader of the House by Mahindaya)"
Although, many felt that the next presidential poll would be held in 2006, by late 2004, a section of the media fuelled speculation of the possibility of it being advanced to late 2005 due to a technicality. Had the LTTE succeeded in assassinating her at the final meeting of the bloody presidential election candidate in December 1999, the war would have taken a different turn. That attempt was made in the wake of a stunning LTTE battlefield victory in the Vanni (LTTE battlefield success in 1999 would be discussed separately later). On the day, the LTTE targeted the President, it blew up Maj Gen (retd) Lakshman Algama, while he was at a UNP stage at Ja-Ela.
Although President Kumaratunga insisted that the next presidential poll would be held in 2006, many pushed for an early poll. The UNP called for the presidential poll in 2005. Wickremesinghe organised protests in Colombo to pressure the government to call for early polls, while the Hela Urumaya moved the Supreme Court. The Hela Urumaya believed that the Supreme Court should decide on the issue.
The LTTE assassinated Major, T. N. Muthalif of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Colombo on May 31, 2004 while he was on his way to the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU). He was hit thrice, as his vehicle slowed down near the Polhengoda traffic lights. Muthalif, posthumously promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel, was the most senior office killed since the signing of the CFA in Feb 2002.
The UPFA was in deep political crisis due to the JVP quitting the alliance on June 16, 2004, over President Kumaratunga’s decision to go ahead with the hotly disputed P-TOMS (Post-Tunami Operational Management Structure), with the LTTE. The UPFA was also, busy on the political front, with the President and the PM on a collision course. Amidst a simmering row, then Ports and Shipping Minister, Mangala Samaraweera proposed that Mahinda Rajapaksa and Anura Bandaranaike be simultaneously named the UPFA’s presidential and prime ministerial candidates respectively. Samaraweera, who toiled hard for the formation of the UPFA with the help of the JVP, revealed his formula at a meeting held at President’s House on the night of May 26, 2004. The President’s meeting with a committee tasked with naming the UPFA’s presidential candidate got underway about three hours late due to another engagement. Ironically, both Rajapaksa and Bandaranaike had been members of that committee. Having obtained the JVP’s backing in spite of it quitting the alliance over the P-TOMS issue, MP Samaraweera outlined his plan. (Mangala formula averts SLFP crisis –– The Island July 30, 2005).
According to Minister Sirisena, President Kumaratunga strongly campaigned for her brother as the presidential candidate, though many felt that Rajapaksa was the better of the two. At a Central Committee meeting of the SLFP, Rajapaksa was named the presidential candidate, much to the anger of the President. Anura Bandaranaike was named the prime ministerial candidate. Despite the rapid deterioration of Anura Bandaranaike’s health, the President felt that her brother would be fit to contest the presidential election.
The then Elections Commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake hinted at the possibility of having early polls following PM Rajapaksa urging the official to end the controversy as regards to the date of the crucial election. The PM made his call during a public rally, in Anuradhapura. (Dayananda shows his hand –– The Island of July 24, 2005).
A section of the UPFA continued to undermine the PM’s campaign by submitting a private member’s motion to introduce far reaching constitutional reforms. Although the proposal had no realistic chance in winning parliamentary approval, Rajapaksa loyalists felt that it could have had a detrimental impact on the presidential campaign. The UNP alleged that Kumaratunga was making an attempt to put off the polls. But what it didn’t say was that the President’s move strengthened Wickremesinghe’s position at the expense of her own PM. (UPFA hand in attack on PM Rajapaksa? –– The Island of July 24,2004). SLFP National List MP, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe proposed that Parliament be given the opportunity to elect the President from one among their number and transfer many of the present executive powers of the presidency to the prime minister.
Rajapakshe confirmed in an interview with this writer that his initiative had the backing of President Kumaratunga.