War on terror revisited : Part 108February 19, 2013, 7:43 pm
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Having received an assurance from the then Indian Prime Minister V. P. Singh that the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) would complete its pullout in March 1990, President Ranasinghe Premadasa initiated a dialogue with the LTTE to decide on the post-IPKF security set-up in the temporarily-merged Northern and Eastern Province.
Minister A. C. S. Hameed led the negotiations on behalf of President Premadasa’s government. Both President Premadasa and Minister Hameed, the then Chairman of the UNP, had remained confident that tangible action could be taken to restore normalcy in war-torn areas once the IPKF completed its withdrawal.
The LTTE changed its tune soon after the IPKF pulled out from Sri Lanka on the morning of March 24, 1990. The government and the LTTE remained silent on their discussions as regards the post-IPKF security set-up in spite of sharp differences. The first indication of a simmering dispute over deployment of government forces came to light when the LTTE confronted an army convoy at Pandarikulam off Vavuniya. A heavily armed LTTE group fired at a convoy comprising two armoured personnel carriers and three trucks causing the death of one soldier and injuries to ten. The convoy was on its way to a base in the north. Much to the surprise of the army, the LTTE accused the contingent of troops, subsequently identified as of the Gajaba Regiment, of violating an agreement between the group and the LTTE as regards movement of troops. The LTTE alleged that the army had failed to obtain prior approval from its local commander before dispatching a convoy.
Defence top brass silent
The army top brass remained silent in spite of great humiliation. President Premadasa and his main trouble shooter Minister Hameed still believed the LTTE would remain in the peace process. They were so naïve as to believe that a negotiated settlement could still be achieved even after the LTTE had massacred several hundred policemen. Obviously, the UNP felt that an understanding with the LTTE was far more important than the lives of those police personnel.
The President’s office on the evening of June 16, 1990 declared that a ceasefire would come into operation effective 6.00 pm June 16, 1990. The announcement came after Minister Hameed, in his capacity as Chairman of the North-East Peace Committee had reached an understanding with the LTTE leadership in Jaffna. The government declared that a crucial breakthrough had been made after seven hours of talks and immediate measures would be taken to restore normalcy. The government also claimed that the LTTE would release all persons abducted at the onset of hostilities on June 10/11, 1990 in Batticaloa (Government and LTTE agree on ceasefire––The Island June 17, 1990).
Former Army Chief speaks out
One-time army chief Gen. Gerry H. De Silva has, in his memoirs, explained the circumstances leading to the eruption of fighting in Batticaloa on June 11, 1990. According to him, the situation there had rapidly deteriorated in the first week of June, 1990 with the LTTE obstructing the movement of security forces. The LTTE also interfered with the police maintaining law and order, while manning about 40 mini detachments in Batticaloa and its suburbs. President Premadasa turned a blind eye to what was going on. Instead of taking up the issue with the LTTE, the President directed the army to cooperate with the LTTE! Gen. de Silva has admitted that the army was taken by complete surprise when the LTTE swung into action in Batticaloa. A dispute between the LTTE and the Batticaloa police over the arrest of a Muslim who tailored uniforms for the group quickly led to the collapse of the fragile s ceasefire. The LTTE wiped out a group of Gemunu Watch soldiers on its way to Ampara from Kallady for their annual weapons training classification. According to the Gemunu Watch veteran, on orders from police headquarters, altogether 636 police officers and men surrendered. They were tortured and killed. However, the Gen. de Silva has not discussed the circumstances that led to their surrender and killing. Successive governments haven’t cared to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the massacre of policemen.
Tassie lambastes ex-President at LLRC
Retired Senior Superintendent of Police Tassie Seneviratne giving evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in early 2011 explained President Premadasa’s role in the massacre of the policemen .
SSP Seneviratne declared that the lives of over 300 police personnel could have been saved at the outset of Eelam War II in June 1990, had President Premadasa allowed the Air Force to launch attacks on the LTTE and deployed army reinforcements in support of the police personnel in the Kalmunai police division. Instead, President Premadasa had ordered the military not to back the beleaguered policemen in an attempt to work out a fresh ceasefire with the LTTE, Seneviratne alleged.
In a letter dated Jan. 31 submitted to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), after giving oral evidence on Jan. 24, Seneviratne alleged that the policemen who had surrendered could be divided into two separate groups, each comprising about 300 officers and men. Altogether there were over 600 of them, Seneviratne said.
Seneviratne reveals in his letter: "One category comprises those who had surrendered after their police stations were overrun, having complied with a presidential order not to confront the LTTE at any cost. This was a prevailing order issued before the outbreak of hostilities on June 11, 1990. When police stations were surrounded by the LTTE which threatened attacks if they didn’t surrender, police officers who had specific orders ‘not to confront at any cost’ had no option but to surrender. This, in fact, is how the orders were interpreted by the SSP in Charge of Batticaloa Division who gave the police personnel the order to surrender before the arrival of the IG Police Ernest Perera in Batticaloa on June 11, 1990; those police stations surrendered without firing a shot."
Boteju rejects presidential directive
Seneviratne alleged, in his written submissions, that the second category comprised the personnel of the Kalmunai Police Division under ASP Ivan Boteju, who refused to follow the presidential directive. Boteju and his men vowed to retaliate in case of an LTTE attack. In spite of a heavy attack, those holding the Kalmunai police station had stood their ground, causing heavy losses to the enemy, Seneviratne pointed out.
Seneviratne revealed that the LTTE had ample stocks of arms and ammunition supplied by the Premadasa government, while those who had served the country were denied reinforcements.
President Premadasa had IGP Ernest Perera flown to Batticaloa with specific orders to direct the fighting policemen to surrender to marauding LTTE cadres. The President, through the IGP, handed over 324 police officers to the LTTE, Seneviratne alleged. "This turned out to be a live sacrifice offered on a platter. Their case is unique and not comparable with those who were overrun without a shot being fired. It would be appropriate to recognise these 324 police officers as national heroes and to duly compensate their families."
Responding to a query by The Island, Seneviratne said that there could not have been a similar incident during the entire eelam war. Successive governments had never bothered to inquire into the circumstances under which over 300 fighting police personnel had surrendered only to be lined up and shot dead, the former SSP said, adding that had those who came to power after the assassination of President Premadasa launched an inquiry, the then IGP, too, would have been compelled to be a witness. The IGP would have been obliged to tell the truth to an officially empowered investigator, Seneviratne asserted adding: "It is not too late even now."
No official record of massacre
Seneviratne says in his letter to the LLRC: "As the then Director handling police officers’ grievances, I was entitled to know the truth, and I enquired from IGP Ernest Perera, who told me exactly what had happened. Although I have gone public with the truth, the truth has not been accepted officially and there is no official record of it. The IGP at that time did all he could within his scope to give temporary relief from the limited funds available to him. But in the absence of an official record of the truth, the 324 police officers have been denied proper recognition by the government, and their families denied proper evaluation of compensation due to them from the government. When compared to rewards of several lakhs of rupees each, taken by very senior police officers up to the rank of Senior DIG, for undisclosed acts of ‘bravery’ known only to the political masters, what deserving junior officers /their families received was ‘chicken-feed’."
Seneviratne, in a separate missive to the LLRC, a few days before his oral submissions alleged that Deputy Minister Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan aka Karuna had been directly involved in the massacre of over 600 policemen, including those fighting men, who had to cease action on a presidential directive.
Karuna, who appeared before the LLRC late last year denied his involvement in the massacre of the policemen. In a subsequent interview with The Island, Karuna, who played a critical role in the war against the LTTE, said that at the time of the police massacre, he had been in Jaffna.
Nevertheless, Seneviratne alleged that there was evidence before the LLRC regarding Karuna’s role in the massacre and the government shouldn’t turn a blind eye to past atrocities for political reasons.
Former SSP Seneviratne alleged that Karuna had been responsible for a mine attack on SSP Nimal de Silva on Oct. 8, 1987. The Batticaloa blast killed de Silva, the then coordinating officer for the eastern district. Seneviratne alleged that the Uzi automatic issued to SSP de Silva had been used by Karuna subsequently.
Seneviratne said that Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had shown concern over the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, and wanted "KP" handed over to India, though no political leader had bothered about over 600 men, particularly those who were forced to surrender, in spite of facing the enemy, courageously.
The LLRC also received evidence in camera, which supported Seneviratne’s allegations against the LTTE.
How the President bent backwards to please P’karan
A deeply embarrassed President Premadasa struggled to keep Prabhakaran at the negotiating table even after the LTTE had overrun the Batticaloa police station. At the behest of President Premadasa, the elite police commandos tasked to protect LTTE representatives staying in five star comfort at the Colombo Hilton escorted three persons to the Ratmalana air base. Among them was the LTTE radio operator. They arrived at the heavily guarded airbase at 5.30 p.m. on June 11, 1990 carrying two assault rifles, several magazines as well as three large boxes. Some SLAF personnel at the air base reacted angrily with one technician threatening to prevent them from leaving for Jaffna. Having being, alerted by the STF, President Premadasa ordered the SLAF to ensure the LTTE representatives safe passage to Palaly. The President insisted that security forces couldn’t be emotional and orders should be carried out regardless of their private opinion. The SLAF flew them in a Chinese Y 12 aircraft to Palaly to a hostile reception. The military felt that the government should have held the LTTE group in a bid to negotiate for the release of those held captive by the LTTE. But President Premadasa and Minister Hameed thought otherwise. His security and international affairs advisors, Gen. Cyril Ranatunga and Bradman Weerakoon remained mum. Although Gen. Ranatunga had been subsequently critical of President Premadasa’s style of peacemaking, he never dared to express his opinion before the President’s assassination on the early afternoon of May Day 1993. Gen. Ranatunga is on record as having said that the army had little or no training for over a year during peace talks (May 1989-June 1990). Gen. Ranatunga revealed in an article titled Negotiating peace in Sri Lanka: the role of the military (Feb 1998) how President Premadasa summoned service commanders and allocated Rs. 5 billion to acquire arms and ammunition needed to fight the LTTE. The President’s move was too late, the Gen declared. Gen. Ranatunga’s revelation, too, had come too late.