Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Shocking police nexus in Jeyaraj's assassination

On the trail of LTTE terror mastermind Morris




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The assassination of Highways and Road Development Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, at Shanthi grounds, Weliweriya on the morning of April 6, 2008 had also been masterminded by Colombo-based LTTE operative Morris, two years after his failed bid to eliminate Army Chief, the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. 

Minister Fernandopulle was 55 years at the time of his killing. The influential Catholic Minister held the post of the SLFP Treasurer and was one of the staunchest defenders of the ruling coalition, both in and outside Parliament.

A male LTTE suicide cadre blew up Fernandopulle as the politician was about to flag off a marathon to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. The blast claimed the lives of a dozen persons, including K.A. Karunarathna, one-time national marathon champion and South Asian marathon gold medallist as well as Luxman Alwis, the national athletic coach.

Fernandopulle's chief bodyguard Chief Inspector Kannangara of the elite Special Task Force (STF), who had been a veteran in counter insurgency operations, in the East, was among the dead.

About 85 men, women and children received injuries. Among the dead, and the wounded, were several competitors taking part in the competition, sponsored by Nestle.

Fernandopulle's assassination was an integral part of the LTTE's overall strategy to deter the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa from pursuing the Vanni offensive.  Having given up the Eastern Province, by mid-2007, the LTTE was fiercely resisting the Army on multiple fronts in the Vanni theatre. In the immediate aftermath of Fernandopulle's assassination, both President Rajapaksa and the then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake publicly vowed to annihilate the LTTE, at any cost.

 The LTTE assassination plot remained a secret until the chance apprehension of an LTTE operative identified as Saraman, in early August, 2009, which swiftly led to the arrest of Morris who executed suicide attacks on Fonseka and Fernandopulle. This column dealt with the arrest of Saraman and Morris in separate raids carried out in Colombo by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). The then OIC, TID (now an ASP serving in the deep South) played a pivotal role in the high profile investigation.

The Morris-Saraman team probably would have escaped detection had it not been for a Sub Inspector (the officer holds a higher rank now), who had elicited information from an LTTE operative, who had been based at the LTTE side of the Omanthai entry/exit point, during eelam war IV, leading to the arrests in Colombo.

The country should not forget that the deadly Morris-Saraman duo had been arrested four months after the conclusion of the war during the third week of May, 2009, with the destruction of the LTTE's conventional fighting capability.

Their arrests, and strenuous interrogation, revealed the direct involvement of Assistant the Superintendent of Police (ASP) Lakshman Cooray in Fernandopulle's assassination. The TID arrested Cooray on the night of August 12, 2009, four days after the capture of Morris. Cooray had been a close associate of Minister Fernandopulle, who always threw his weight behind the police officer. Cooray brazenly exploited his friendship with Fernandopulle to the hilt. In fact, Cooray had cunningly secured the responsibility for overseeing Fernandopulle's security on the day of the assassination. Cooray had personally requested the police officer, an officer holding the rank of ASP, who had been in charge of the area, to give him (Cooray) the responsibility to ensure perfect execution of the suicide attack'.  Police headquarters lacked a system to prevent a senior officer from switching responsibilities to facilitate an agenda inimical to the department.

Shortly before the blast, Cooray had assured Fernandopulle of his safety and security before leaving the danger zone. Cooray had been responsible for Dompe, Pugoda and Kirindiwella. Weliweriya had not been under his care though he brazenly switched responsibilities with the ASP in charge of Weliweriya.

Under interrogation Morris revealed the despicable role played by Cooray in Fernandopulle's assassination. On the day before the assassination, Cooray had taken Morris, Saraman as well as the male suicide cadre, who had been assigned for the mission, to Kanthi grounds at Weliweriya, where the assassination was to take place. Cooray had used his official vehicle for this purpose. An officer, who had been closely involved with the investigation, explained to the writer the circumstances under which the police officer obtained a super luxury Montero from a friend to continue the journey after his vehicle developed a problem while passing Biyagama.

As the senior law enforcement officer in charge of the area on the day of the assassination, ASP Cooray had been among those asked to furnish statements to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Having walked out of the CID headquarters, Cooray had phoned Morris to inquire about the suicide cadre whom he called as their friend in red t-shirt. An angry Morris had castigated Cooray for risking clandestine operations. Morris had warned Cooray not to behave recklessly.

Obviously, the CID had no reason to believe Cooray's involvement in the plot. In fact, Cooray until his arrest during the second week of August, 2009 continued to pretend his unwavering loyalty to the Fernandopulle family.

The Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa directed the elite Special Task Force (STF) to take over Fernandopulle's security soon after the LTTE assassinated Nation Building Minister Dassanayake Mudiyanselage Dassanayake on the morning of January 8, 2008. The LTTE directed a claymore mine blast at the Puttalam District Minister as he passed Ja-ela. Although some believed the LTTE mistook D. M. Dassanayake's vehicle to that of Fernandopulle, such a blunder couldn't have been made under any circumstances. Perhaps the Ja-ela assassination was meant to warn Fernandopulle. However, a section of the security apparatus wrongly asserted the claymore mine blast which ripped through Dassanayake’s vehicle would have been meant for Fernandopulle, one of the strongest critics of the LTTE.

Fernandopulle first entered Parliament in 1989, from the Gampaha District. In August 1994, he polled over 100,000 votes and came only second to the then Prime Ministerial candidate Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga. After joining the government service in 1972, as a science and maths teacher, he had entered Law College, in 1974, and passed out in 1977.

 Fernandopulle earned the wrath of the LTTE for publicly throwing his weight behind the breakaway LTTE faction headed by Karuna Amman.

Fernandopulle strongly defended the government’s controversial decision not to disarm the breakaway LTTE group called TMVP.  

The outspoken politician said the TMVP would continue to retain arms as long as the LTTE posed a threat to the breakaway group.

Perhaps, the LTTE assassinated Minister Dassanayake on January 8, 2008 against the killing of Shanmuganathan Ravishankar, alias Col Arulventhan a.k.a Charles, north of Mannar, in an operation carried out by the Army and renegade LTTE cadres. The LTTE took the available soft target (D.M. Dassanayake) to avenge the death of Charles, the undisputed leader of LTTE Military Intelligence. Minister Dassanayake had a few police bodyguards and was never considered a target for the LTTE. 

The TID believes that Cooray had been one of the most important LTTE assets in the South. In fact, he could have been the most vital asset, working with Morris. Other LTTE networks, operating in Colombo and its suburbs, certainly had different assets though none could have been compared with Cooray.

 The war winning previous government failed to ensure a comprehensive investigation into alleged involvement of security forces and police officers with LTTE Intelligence. The possibility of the LTTE rump seeking their services again can never be ruled out hence the urgent requirement to thoroughly investigate the Chavakachcheri explosives haul.

 'Jeyaraj' authored by Cyril Enderamulla, revealed SP Cooray's role in Fernandopulle's assassination. Unfortunately, 'Jeyaraj', launched in 2011 failed to impress the previous government. Western Provincial Councillor Lalith Wanigaratne, a relative of the assassinated Fernandopulle recollected a telephone call received from the minister, the day before the assassination.

 Having discussed arrangements, pertaining to a meeting of the SLFP Balamandalaya, on the following day, Fernandopulle had told Wanigaratne of his fateful decision to join the event at the Kanthi grounds, Weliweriya. A tearful Wanigaratne quoted Fernandopulle as having told him on the night of April 5, 2008, that one-time national marathon champion, Karunaratne pushed for his presence. "SP Lakshman Cooray too wants my participation. Cooray assured me of my security and urged me not to fear. However, my security officers opposed the move. Sudarshini too didn't like my participation at the event. However, I'll go ahead with it."

Among many others who had been interviewed by Enderamulla were former Ravaya editor, Victor Ivan, and H.R.P. Perera of the Ministerial Security Division (MSD). Perera had joined Fernandopulle's security contingent, in 1999, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's presidency. Perera had been initially reluctant to take the assignment as Fernandopulle was widely considered a thug, associating closely with the underworld. Perera also believed Fernandopulle provided protection to the underworld, hence his reluctance to join the ministerial security contingent.

 Having cleverly discouraged Fernandopulle to discontinue the services of private bodyguards who caused mayhem, Perera had received the leadership of Fernandopulle's security contingent during 2000/2001. The MSD veteran remained in charge until the STF moved in February. In spite of the STF taking over the security with CI Kannaagara placed in charge of overall command, Perera continued to play an important role.

 The CID alerted Fernandopulle regarding an alleged LTTE attempt to assassinate him in early 2008. The warning had been given on the basis of information provided by a CID informant identified as Ganesh (certainly not the real name). Having discussed the emerging threat with Fernandopulle, the CID had wanted one of his MSD bodyguards to establish contact with Ganesh working with the police. The CID operation was meant to apprehend LTTE intelligence cadre sent on special assignment to coordinate Fernandopulle's assassination. Perera had volunteered to play the role of a disgruntled MSD officer who had been deceived by a political associate of Fernandopulle engaged in sending people to Italy. Perera: "I played the role of an officer, who had lost several lakhs of rupees taken as a loan to pay for a job agent known to Fernandopulle. I offered to support LTTE operation to eliminate Fernandopulle if the LTTE helped me to settle the loan."

An LTTE operative, identified as Anton (certainly not the real name) who had come from the Vanni, booked a room at Full Moon hotel situated close to the 18th mile post on the Colombo – Negombo main road. Subsequently, Ganesh and Anton had visited Fernandopulle's Welihena residence to meet Perera who assured his cooperation. According to Perera, Anton had inquired whether he could place a bomb under the almirah in Fernandopulle's room. Perera had explained his inability to do that as he was no longer responsible for security within the house in the wake of the STF taking over Fernandopulle's security. Anton had also requested Perera to find accommodation for an LTTE hit squad coming to assassinate Fernandopulle. The CID had swiftly done that. Having stayed at Full Moon for several days, Anton had left for Kilinochchi before contacting Perera over the phone. The LTTEer had claimed that the assassination plan had been put off temporarily as he was wounded in a bomb explosion.

In hindsight, the operation launched by the CID, on the basis of information received from Ganesh, could be a ploy to deceive Fernandopulle and those who had been responsible for his security. The call given by Anton to Perera informing the latter of putting on hold the assassination plan could have given a false sense of security. Obviously, the LTTE didn't require services of any other police officer to facilitate the project as ASP Cooray was on its payroll.

ASP Cooray had won Fernandopulle's confidence to such an extent he could have brought in an LTTE assassin into Fernandopulle's Welihena residence without being stopped by the STF or the MSD. Cooray had unrestricted access to Fernandopulle's residence and was widely considered as one of those in uniform, closest to the minister.

Perera also revealed that a very important person known to Fernandopulle had assured him that the LTTE wouldn't harm him under any circumstances therefore he could work freely. Claiming that they couldn't identify that person, Perera alleged that such an assurance was given to persuade the minister to lower his guard. The MSD officer alleged that VIP was certainly part of a conspiracy to eliminate Fernandopulle. 

Fernandopulle had left his Welihena residence at about 5.30 on the morning of April 6, 2008, for a funeral at Huriyagahamula, Minuwangoda. Having visited Huriyagahamula Fernandopulle accompanied by his bodyguards, reached Shanhi grounds between 6.30 am-6.45 am.  Except for SP Lakshman Cooray, there hadn't been anyone at Kanthi grounds, according to Perera. Cooray had walked towards Fernandopulle, from a vehicle parked at a corner of Kanthi grounds. Fernandopulle had inquired about security. Perera had heard Lakshman Cooray assuring Fernandopulle that there was no problem and full security measures were in place. As those who had organised the marathon weren't present Chief Inspector Kannangara, of the STF as well as leader of the MSD team Perera, had strongly urged Fernandopulle to leave the grounds. Fernandopulle had agreed to leave the scene. Fernandopulle and his bodyguards left for Kanduboda temple where they had tea. Subsequently, Fernandopulle wanted to visit another temple. While on their way to that temple, Perera had received a call on Fernandopulle's hand phone from a person at Kanthi grounds requesting the minister to come there soon. Perera had suggested to Kannangara that Fernandopulle should skip the event at Kanthi grounds. However, CI Kannangara had asserted Fernandopulle should go ahead with it.

Having reached Kanthi grounds, Fernandopulle proceeded to flag off the marathon. Perera survived the blast as he couldn't cross the road with Fernandopulle to the place where the minister was to flag off the marathon. A massive blast hit the crowd as Fernandopulle flagged off the marathon. Perera recalled Lakshman Cooray inquiring from him about Fernandopulle.

Cyril Enderamulla's 'Jeyaraj' also dealt with Victor Ivan assertion in respect of Fernandopulle's assassination. According to Ivan, TNA leader R. Sampanthan, MP, the then TNA MP Suresh Premachandran and MP Mavai Senathiraja as well as Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne and Lanka Seva (NGO) chief Harsha Navaratne had been at a discussion at NGO guru Kumar Rupesinghe's residence. Castigating the Sinhala leadership for the war, Sampanthan has acknowledged that it wasn't a genocidal war directed at the Tamil community. When the TNA accused the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa of failing to settle differences through talks before waging war, Harsha Navaratne had revealed desperate attempts made by the former President to reach an understanding with the LTTE.

On President Rajapaksa's instructions, Harsha Navaratne had accompanied Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga to Killinochchi; close on the heels of the LTTE resuming mine attacks in the North to explore ways and means of reaching an understanding. The LTTE launched mine attacks during the first week of Dec 2005 soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed presidency. According to Harsha Navaratne, the LTTE had declined to stop the attacks.

Harsha Navaratne also revealed President Rajapaksa sending him and Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle to meet the top LTTE leadership in the wake of Mavilaru in mid-2006.

 Fernandopulle and Sea Tiger leader Soosai had exchanged strong words during talks in Kilinochchi according to Harsha Navaratne. Ivan asserted that Fernandopulle had earned the wrath of the LTTE on that day and that, too, contributed to the LTTE's decision to eliminate him at a crucial time of the military campaign.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

On the trail of LTTE terror mastermind Morris...



Wife of LTTE Military Intelligence ‘Colonel’ (in saree) garlanding her husband’s remains. Troops operating behind LTTE lines killed Charles on January 5, 2008, north of Mannar. Charles and Morris (still in State custody) carried out scores of high profile assassinations in Colombo over the years (pic courtesy Tamilnet)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Had a veteran police investigator, temporarily stationed in Vavuniya, ignored a tip-off received from an informant, in late July/early August 2009, the mastermind of a spate of high profile killings, including the assassination of Highways and Road Development Minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, on the morning of April 6, 2008, could have avoided arrest.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the hard-core LTTE intelligence wing cadre also masterminded the abortive bid on the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka on the afternoon of April 25, 2006, inside Army Headquarters.

The suicide attack was meant to cause instability among the top brass, in the run-up to eelam war IV. The LTTE quite rightly believed that the war-weary Army could be demoralized by eliminating the tough-talking war veteran, at the onset of their campaign. Although Lt. Gen. Fonseka survived, he had to be moved to Singapore, where he underwent surgery; eelam war IV erupted during the second week of August 2006. Lt. Gen. Fonseka returned a few months later to spearhead the military campaign.

 Recently, Field Marshal Fonseka urged President Maithripala Sirisena to pardon the terror mastermind, identified as Morris. It would be pertinent to examine operations carried out by Morris against the backdrop of Democratic Party leader Fonseka’s request, as well as the chance recovery of an explosives haul in the Chavakachcheri police area.

The Vavuniya-based policeman, holding the rank of Sub Inspector, acted swiftly and decisively after being told of an LTTE operative who had stayed at the LTTE-run entry/exit point at Omanthai before the closure of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, in mid-June, 2006.

The officer had been part of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) squad, deployed in Vavuniya to identify LTTE cadres mingling with civilians in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat in May, 2009.

Having arrested the LTTE operative, pointed out by the informant, the TID interrogated him in Vavuniya. The LTTE operative revealed LTTE intelligence chief Shanmugalingam Sivashankar alias Pottu Amman dispatching a young handsome man during eelam war IV to Colombo on a special mission. The youth was subsequently identified as Saraman, a name given by the LTTE. Interrogation of the LTTE operative led the TID to Saraman’s parents, living at Slave Island. The LTTE operative also revealed a brother of Saraman’’s mother working at the Kantale CTB depot.

The TID acted fast with its then Officer-in-Charge (now an ASP) spearheading the inquiry. At the time of the TID raid, the Saraman hadn’t been there. At the behest of the TID, the woman (over the phone) requested her only son to visit her. The TID arrested the parents and their son Saraman. Under interrogation, the boy revealed the presence of Morris, an LTTE mastermind in Colombo, widely believed to be the brains behind a spate of high profile operations. Morris had been Pottu Amman’s personal choice and was given further responsibilities consequent to the Army, with the support of renegade LTTE cadres, loyal to Karuna Amman, killing Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias Colonel Charles, north of Mannar, on January 5, 2008. Ravishankar, head of the LTTE’s Military Intelligence, had been the senior most operative responsible for high profile operations in the South.

The LTTE obviously believed Morris could still achieve its major objectives, in spite of losing Ravishankar. Although Saraman had been a key member of the team, led by Morris, he wasn’t authorized to summon the latter for a meeting. Saraman had received funds from overseas, on behalf of Morris, tasked with eliminating key political and military leaders. The TID faced the daunting task of apprehending Morris before he could strike again. Intelligence services realized that LTTE intelligence was continuing in spite of the group being annihilated on the Vanni east front.

The TID, however, received the much wanted breakthrough, thanks to Saraman, who suddenly remembered meeting Morris outside an ATM machine, belonging to a private bank, in the Wellawatte police area. Saraman had been able to give sleuths the exact date Morris had walked out of the ATM machine, after having taken money. The management of the private bank swiftly responded to TID’s request for immediate access to video footage of the customers using that particular ATM machine. Saraman identified Morris. Thanks to the support, extended by the bank, the TID, in addition to a photograph of the terrorist, also received his Colombo address. The TID also got information regarding Morris having a scooty. The TID mounted an immediate surveillance on the house at 220 Watte, close to the Kuppiyawatte temple. Armed with light weapons, the TID squad waited for several hours for his arrival. Fearing Morris could notice police presence, prompting him to flee, the TID discontinued the surveillance. The squad withdrew after having requested a boy living nearby to telephone an officer as soon as Morris arrived there. The TID gave him a telephone number of an officer, stressing the pivotal importance of his support. One of those TID officers, who had been involved in the operation, told the writer: "Having received a tip off from the boy, we moved fast. Those assigned for the task moved to the targeted area, from different directions. The TID team, led by the then OIC, driving from the direction of Dematagoda police station’ towards Maradana’ spotted the wanted man. The police jeep deliberately collided with the scooty, thereby toppling Morris."

The TID trapped Morris between 11 and 11.45 am.

Immediately, realizing that his cover had been blown, the fallen LTTE operative crushed two cyanide capsules which he kept in his mouth. The TID responded swiftly. The TID rushed Morris to the National Hospital in a bid to save him. An officer said: "Although, the TID was aware of the status of Morris in Colombo, we never really knew the level of his operational involvement. We needed to question him."

The TID team hadn’t been satisfied with the response of those initially tasked to save Morris. Fearing Morris could succumb to cyanide, unless proper treatment was made available, the TID team, responsible for the arrest, alerted the then Director TID SSP Chandra Wakista, who immediately sought the then Secretary of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s intervention. Following Rajapaksa’s intervention, the top administration, of the National Hospital, swung into action. The medical staff struggled for over two days to save Morris. The terrorist received treatment under police guard for three days. Morris, having survived two capsules of cyanide, ended up at the headquarters of the TID.

Under interrogation, Morris admitted that he pretended to being a Muslim and lived at Kammalwatte in the Dematagoda police area, though he also used a safe house at 220 Watte, near the Kuppiyawatte temple. Morris carried identification papers which identified him as Mohamed Nisthar, a bearded youth who maintained an extremely close relationship with the Muslim community at Kammalwatte. Morris had lived on the top floor of a two storeyed house. The first floor was used as a place to teach Islam. Morris had been surrounded by unsuspecting Muslims who received his financial help. The TID established that Morris had permission to spend lavishly to secure the support of the community. But those Muslims beneficiaries hadn’t been aware of his true identity. In addition to the scooty, Morris had a caravan van and a car.

However, the TID didn’t find any weapons or explosives at the hard-core terrorist’s Kammalwatte hideout.

During interrogation, Morris accepted responsibility for a series of high profile attacks carried out in Colombo. War veteran Fonseka had been one of the most difficult targets given to Morris by the LTTE leadership.

Claiming a relatively a brief friendship with Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s cook, Siddique, the LTTE Colombo mastermind explained the circumstances under which he exploited that friendship to infiltrate Army Headquarters. Having suffered injuries due to an accident, Siddique had been warded at the Army Hospital. Morris took advantage of the situation to bring in a woman suicide cadre, on the morning of April 25, 2006 to finish off Sinha Regiment veteran Fonseka. Siddique knew the true identity of Morris and was fully aware of his mission. Siddique threw his weight behind the LTTE plan. Soon after Morris revealed Siddique’s involvement, the TID moved swiftly to arrest the soldier who held the rank of Sergeant and was stationed at Armoured Corps Rock House camp at Modera. Having informed the relevant military authorities, the TID arrived at Rock House camp and took Siddique into custody. Among those assigned for this task was the officer responsible for making a vital breakthrough in Vavuniya, in late July/early August, 2009. A TID officer had told Siddique to wear slippers. The TID felt that there was no requirement for terrorist to wear boots. Although, Siddique believed he hadn’t been exposed, the TID knew of his deep involvement in the Fonseka assassination plan. Siddique had explained that he was comfortable in boots due to injuries suffered in an accident which paved the way for him to receive treatment at the Army Hospital. Siddique strongly denied his involvement in the suicide attack on Fonseka during initial interrogation at the TID headquarters. An officer said: "We questioned him at the office of OIC, TID, on the second floor. Siddique seemed confident in his defence. Siddique obviously believed he would be safe as long as Morris wasn’t in our custody. We gave Siddique a shock when he was shown, through a glass panel, Morris seated opposite the office of a senior TID officer, situated about 15 meters away from the OIC, TID’s office."

Having accepted his involvement with the LTTE Intelligence, Siddique promised to reveal everything. Pending further interrogation, the TID moved Siddique to the sixth floor cell where he was placed in solitary confinement. The TID later found Siddique hanging in the cell.  An investigator said: "The Sergeant used long laces of his boots to hang himself. Perhaps, he wore boots even after we told him to come in slippers to take his life in case he got implicated in the conspiracy."

Investigations revealed Morris visited Siddique’s wife, living at Akurana, and provided the family financial assistance. Morris had brought in the woman suicide cadre, assigned to kill Lt. Gen. Fonseka into the Army Headquarters premises to familiarise herself with the environment before the day of the attempt. On the instructions of Morris, the assassin had disguised herself as a pregnant woman. She threw herself at Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s car as it passed the hospital situated between the Army Chief’s office and his quarters, within the premises.

In addition to Morris, two others involved in the Fonseka assassination plot are currently held at Welikade.

Morris also revealed how he found accommodation for the woman, assigned to wipe out Fonseka at Rambukkana.

Morris had served what the LTTE identified as the Muththampam’s unit. Those who had been placed under the command of Morris operated independently. Morris had the services of several dedicated men and women and plenty of arms, ammunition and explosives caches in several places, in Colombo, and its suburbs. Soon after the arrest of Saraman, the TID raided a shoe-shop at Jinthupitiya, as well as safe houses at Wellawatte and Dehiwela, where the unit found a range of armaments, including a sniper gun, C4 explosives, claymore mines and pistols.

In spite of successful operations undertaken by the military, intelligence services and the police, the LTTE managed to smuggle in arms, ammunition and explosives to Colombo and its suburbs. The LTTE also placed a sizable number of dreaded Black Tigers, both men and women at the command of Morris, who earned the respect of the top leadership for daring plans. Although Lt. Gen. Fonseka survived the suicide blast, the LTTE leadership recognised the exceptional leadership skills shown by Morris, who infiltrated the Army Headquarters. The LTTE had never been able to infiltrate the Army Headquarters before though the group explored ways and means to achieve a target within the heavily guarded base. Morris had the support of a vast LTTE network which ensured continuous supply of weapons, across the army-held lines, including the Omanthai entry/exit point, as well as by sea, to sustain clandestine operations in the South.

During investigations, the TID with information provided by the person who had facilitated the arrest of Saraman, and  leading to the subsequent apprehension of Morris, established the involvement of top Vavuniya-based Director Education in a network tasked with moving explosives and other small arms to the South. A squad of TID personnel detained Director Education, Vavuniya after the informant revealed him receiving large stock of explosives. An officer involved in the inquiry told the writer: "When we visited him in Vavuniya and explained the requirement to question him, he quickly admitted his involvement. The official revealed the spot where the LTTE had buried 32 mines, each weighing 3 kilos."

The Education Director received a one year suspended sentence though he lost his job. Perhaps he had no option but to cooperate with the LTTE or face death. His wife served as a lecturer at Poonthottam University and the family earned the respect of the community.

Did Director Education, Vavuniya manage to transfer explosives before his chance detection? Did he receive money from the LTTE during the conflict?

The Education official was lucky to get away with a suspended sentence after having cooperated with the LTTE to cause chaos in Colombo. The case was heard in Vavuniya . Had it been heard in a Colombo court, the official could have certainly received a tougher verdict.

The TID later found mines in Badulla, very much similar to the ones recovered from the premises of Director Education, Vavuniya during an investigation into Morris making an attempt on the life of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

Expect more next week on clandestine operations undertaken by Morris, including assassination attempts on the then President Rajapaksa as well as the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Chava explosives cause turmoil



Amidst continuing upheaval in the wake of Chavakachcheri explosives recovery, President Maithripala Sirisena declared open the Deshamanaya N.U. Jayawardena room on the second floor of Jetwing Jaffna. Among those present were Ministers John Amaratunga, Faiszer Musthapha, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardhana, MMBL - Pathfinder Group Head and Founder, Milinda Moragoda, Governor of the Northern Province, Reginald Cooray, Mrs. Wijayakala Maheswarn M.P. and Divisional Secretary, Jaffna, K. Ganesh, were also present. Jetwing Hotels, MMBL – Pathfinder Group, Regency Teas and several others invested over a billion rupees on the project launched during the previous administration. Among the institutional investors is Leon Holdings, headed by a Sri Lankan expatriate hailing from Jaffna, who is a partner of a successful business venture in Europe. The government needs to take maximum possible security measures to thwart LTTE rump from causing chaos again in Jaffna.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Canada celebrated ‘International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action’ at Canada House, in Colombo, on April 4. Among those who had been invited, for the event, were Minister for Prison Reform, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs, D.M. Swaminathan, as well as members of the Colombo-based diplomatic and donor communities, de-mining organizations, and civil society.

Canadian High Commissioner, Shelley Whiting, strongly stressed the pivotal importance of collective efforts to ensure a mine-free Sri Lanka, by 2020. Whiting also referred to the significant progress made, in mine clearing operations, since the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009.

The Canadian High Commission, in a statement issued to the media, quoted HC Whiting as having said: "The critical importance of demining work in Sri Lanka is obvious. Clearance of landmines is a necessary prerequisite to long-term peace and security for all Sri Lankans and a key component of Sri Lanka’s broader plans for reconciliation and resettlement. Demining also supports economic recovery and livelihoods, and poverty reduction in the immediate and long term".

The Canada House event took place against the backdrop of the chance detection of four claymore mines, three parcels containing 12 kgs of TNT explosives, about 100 rounds of 9 mm ammunition, as well as one suicide jacket, by the Chavakachcheri police. The police also recovered two battery packs required to detonate side chargers.

The Canadian HC statement avoided reference to emerging threats to post-war reconciliation and resettlement process. Halo Trust and MAG, engaged in mine clearing operations here, have received over 3 mn Canadian dollars, since 2009.

It would be pertinent to mention that HC Whiting had been so concerned about possible setbacks, she went to the extent of urging the previous government to do away with the annual victory day parade to celebrate Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE.

Deputy British High Commissioner Laura Davies, too, discussed ongoing mine clearing efforts in the Northern Province, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting, during the conflict. In a piece headlined ‘Clearing the way home: a blog for International Mine Action Day’, Davies dealt with British efforts, with focus on individuals affected by war. Davies declared: "Anyone wondering why humanitarian demining agencies are still working here, years after the end of the war, need look no further than the achievements of UK-funded deminers, in just two months, this year. During February and March, the men and women of The HALO Trust (52% of deminers are women) working, with UK support, cleared 3,099 anti-personnel mines and 698 other items of unexploded ordnance, including bullets, mortars and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from former conflict areas. Their efforts have made safe nearly 73,000 square metres of land in the former High Security Zone, in Jaffna, and at the Muhamalai minefield, in Kilinochchi. These are the highest priority areas for resettlement of long-term displaced people."

According to Davies, the UK has spent over £5 million on de-mining projects here, since 2010. The UK has committed a further £1.2 mn, over the next three years, in support of demining operations here.

Davies, too, avoided the issue at hand.

The government played down the chance detection. Much to the dismay of the former President, the government sought to replace his elite Army Commando contingent with the Ministerial Security Division (MSD). The move caused political turmoil. However, President Maithripala Sirisena halted the UNP move though he publicly lambasted his predecessor for demanding Army Commandos.

Defence Secretary, Karunasena Hettiarachchi, promptly declared that Chavakachcheri explosives didn’t pose a threat to national security. A section of the media, obviously, at the behest of the Yahapalana government propagated Chavakachcheri haul was the latest in a series of detections since the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009. The recovery was described as routine. One report quoted authorities as having said that the explosives had been brought to catch fish.

The Joint Opposition sought to exploit the situation. There is absolutely no basis for Joint Opposition accusations that the government suppressed the actual number of suicide jackets and other items recovered, on the night of March 29.

The undeniable truth is that Chavakachcheri had been liberated by troops, of Operation Riviresa, way back, in 1995/96, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President. Although the LTTE evicted the Army from Chavakachcheri, during early 2000, troops subsequently regained the area. Since then there had never been an LTTE threat on Chavakachcheri, neither a major recovery.

There had been two major suicide attacks in the Jaffna peninsula. Brigadier Ananda Hamangoda died in a suicide attack, directed at Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva, on July 4, 1996. The Minister survived the blast, though he suffered severe injuries. The LTTE killed Brigadier Liyana Aratchige Rupasiri (Larry) Wijeratne on May 14, 1998. Wijeratne was the outgoing 52.4 Brigade Commander. He was the second Brigade Commander to die since the liberation of the Jaffna peninsula. Brigadier Hamangoda was killed by a female suicide bomber at Stanley Road, Jaffna. Brigadier Wijeratne flew into Jaffna the day before the blast, in what was to be his last official visit. He was relinquishing command as Brigade Commander. The then Colonel Sanath Karunaratne (former military spokesman) had also arrived in Jaffna to replace Brig. Wijeratne. Both Hamangoda and Wijeratne were promoted Majors General, posthumously.

The explosives had been brought to Chavakachcheri, on the night of March 27, and the recovery made on Tuesday, March 28, following a tip off from a woman, living with the man who moved in the deadly items. Having served the LTTE, since the age of 13, the 32-year-old LTTEer appeared to have remained committed to the LTTE’s macabre project. The terrorist hadn’t undergone government-sponsored rehabilitation, though the war ended in May, 2009. As many as 4,000 LTTE cadres are believed to have escaped rehabilitation. Even the rehabilitated LTTE cadres can throw their weight behind a fresh effort, depending on the success of attacks. The Chavakachcheri explosives haul should be examined. The government cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the possibility of the LTTE rump planning a suicide attack in Jaffna. The government will have to examine whether the LTTE rump had plans to target the military or a visiting politician. In spite of the Chavakachcheri detection, President Maithripala Sirisena flew into Jaffna for the opening of Jetwing Jaffna – the latest addition to the Jetwing Hotels family. Located on 40 perches of land, in the heart of the town, the seven-storey building was completed in four years. Although, Jaffna had been liberated in 1995/1996, the hotel project didn’t get underway until 2010 for obvious reasons. Investors shunned Jaffna as long as the LTTE held Vanni, where they maintained large fighting formations capable of taking on the military until the late 2008/2009 period.

Former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, is on record as having said that some hardcore LTTE cadres, now in government custody, had vowed to achieve LTTE ‘s objectives. War veteran Rajapaksa based his claim on experts’ interviews with some of those terrorists.

Canada and the UK should pressure Tamil groups, based in their territory, that resumption of violence will not be tolerated under any circumstances. In fact, all those countries, which backed the Geneva Resolution of Oct, 2015, should warn Diaspora groups, as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), not to resort to violence. Colombo-based diplomatic missions are well aware of TNA Northern Provincial Council member M.K. Sivajilingham’s declaration that Chavakachcheri explosives didn’t belong to the LTTE. Sivajilingham was in parliament during the war. He had been extremely supportive of the organisation. The police turned a blind eye to Sivajilingham’s claim though they questioned Jt. Opposition spokesperson Prof. G.L. Peiris as regards a statement he made at Dr. N.M. Perera Centre.

Western powers should bring maximum pressure on those who represented the LTTE’s interests to ensure post-war peace. A single high profile attack can cause an irreparable setback to the national reconciliation process. Civil society, particularly those receiving large amounts of foreign funds to pursue various projects, should speak against the resumption of violence. Interestingly, the recovery of claymore mines has been made as Sri Lanka rapidly engaged in mine clearing operations. The military and the international community are confident of achieving a mine-free Sri Lanka within the four years. But a fresh bout of violence can upset plans.

Clearing deadly mines, ranging from tiny anti-personal mines to monster anti-tank mines, unexploded ordnance, is a growing industry.

Developed countries and mega NGOs play an increasingly critical role in clearing mine fields in countries ravaged by years of bloody conflicts and in many instances NGOs work alongside governments to alleviate the sufferings of the civilian community. Sri Lanka is one of the countries immensely benefited by government-NGO partnerships to fight the landmine menace.

Although the NGOs largely depend on overseas funding to maintain their services, the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI) had brought down the Supremes’ Diva Mary Wilson, during the war, for what it called a Black and White Evening – a charity concert in aid of Sri Lanka’s landmine victims. The concert, organized in partnership with OneSriLanka Foundation and the Cinnamon Grand, Colombo, attracted the rich. With tickets priced at Rs 10,000 and Rs 7,500, the ordinary people couldn’t have afforded the opportunity to see an original member of the legendary Supremes which inspired the Oscar winning film ‘Dreamgirls’.

Thanks to Wiki Leaks, we know the US embassy in Colombo having discussions with the then Army Engineers Mine Action Coordinator Brigadier Chrishantha de Silva (present Army Commander) as regards mine clearing operations. A leaked US embassy document dealt with the situation in the Jaffna peninsula, in late 2006, at the onset of eelam war IV. The US quoted Brig. De Silva as having commented on the situation, in the Jaffna peninsula, in late 2006. "I saw the military’s immense responsibilities in Jaffna, and couldn’t convince Security Forces Commander, Jaffna, Maj. Gen. Chandrasiri. Maj. Gen. Chandrasiri promised me that the moment there is respite in the fighting he will release 30 deminers to work in Jaffna and the East."

Sri Lanka should be grateful to the US for training the Sri Lanka Army humanitarian mine action unit during the war.

In a statement issued to mark the second annual International Day of Mine Awareness and Mine Action, on April 4, 2006, US Ambassador, Robert O Blake, said, "We are proud to be a close partner with Sri Lanka in increasing the local capacity to detect and clear mines. Despite return to violence, dedicated de-mining squadrons, from the Sri Lanka Army, INGOs such as the HDI and the HALO Trust, and private partnerships from Land O’ Lakes, are still dedicated to removing mines and economic development. We hope we’ll be able to assist the government in making Sri Lanka mine-safe and productive, so Sri Lankans can go about their daily lives free from the fear of mines."

The US has provided a massive boost to Sri Lanka Army’s mine fighting capability. In fact, a State Department-funded partnership, between the SLA’s Engineering Brigade and RONCO, has sizably strengthened Sri Lanka’s capability. The US has spent millions of USD to train and equip hundreds of Sri Lankan troops. The US provided vehicles, computers and specialised equipment to the Engineering Brigade, undoubtedly the most productive unit engaged in mine clearing in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka.

The US shared innovative mechanical technology, including the MAXX clearance system - a modified mini excavator with rotating blades, for field evaluations of technology with Sri Lanka. The US assistance has greatly enhanced the Engineering Brigade’s capacity as security forces take up new challenges.

Japan, too, has provided sizeable funds towards mine clearing operations in Sri Lanka.

But, strangely, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), a known LTTE front, also received funds to carry out mine clearing operations. Funds had been channelled to Humanitarian De-mining Unit (HDU), the implementing arm of the TRO, to carry out operations. The Norwegian People’s Aid, British Mine Advisory Group and Danish De-Mining Group, had given both financial and technical assistance to the LTTE front.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know the origin of funds received by the LTTE front? Did they receive funds made available to NGOs by Japan, Norway or any other European government?

Despite being target of investigations, in several parts of the world, the TRO received sizeable funds. The group was among 30 NGOs which received a staggering 73 per cent of Rs 40.1 billion received as tsunami aid and it continued to raise funds overseas.

The arrest of two persons - Nagarasa Jayaraj (31) and Mariyadas Devaseelan (27) early December, 2004, as they crossed the Muhamalai entry/exit point in an ambulance (WP HH 0608) belonging to Norwegian People’s Aid - revealed the danger in the LTTE taking advantage of even the mine clearing programme. The army recovered five mines, concealed under a carpet in the vehicle. They were members of the Humanitarian De-mining unit, the implementing arm of the LTTE FRONT TRO. Although the chance arrest revealed the possibility of some of the mines, recovered by the Norwegian group or perhaps some other group, ending up in the LTTE arsenal, the government never conducted a thorough investigation.

A devastating attack on HALO Trust at Nallur, Jaffna, in June, 2004, undermined mine clearing operations. The attack, allegedly carried out by several disgruntled ex-workers of the British group, with the tactical knowledge of the LTTE, revealed the difficulties faced by NGOs. The damages were estimated at USD 50,000.

The LTTE introduced mine warfare in the early 80s. Ill-equipped and unprepared government forces and police suffered heavy losses as Indian-sponsored Tamil groups effectively restricted their movements. The first major landmine attack on the army at Thinnaveli, on the Jaffna-Palaly road, triggered unprecedented violence in the city and its suburbs where several hundred Tamil civilians were killed. The mine attack on a three-vehicle patrol, commanded by Second Lieutenant Vas Gunawardene of the CLI, delivered a stunning blow to the army. In fact, it paralyzed the army. The patrol from Madagal camp lost 13 men. It was no secret that India gave them the capability.

Four years later, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which was deployed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, had to face the bloody consequences of their folly. Of some 1,400 IPKF officers and men killed in action, and over 2,500 wounded, the majority were victims of mines and various explosive devices.

The JVP, too, received training in mine warfare. Although the Marxist Party managed to secure the assistance of PLOTE to mount mine attacks in the South, at the height of the insurgency against President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government, it didn’t have the capacity to carry out mine attacks effectively.

To the Army’s credit, it had never been accused of using civilians to clear mine fields. Many armies have routinely used civilians and, in some instances, captured prisoners and suspects to walk ahead of troops. During the ten-year Vietnam War, the US military deployed civilians and captured Viet Cong cadres to clear mine fields. The use of human mine detectors had been widely practiced, despite widespread international and domestic condemnation. The My Lai massacre, on March 16, 1968, revealed the systematic existence of this brutal practice. US soldiers, who massacred over 500 men, women and children, spared about 25 civilians. An Army Court of Inquiry was told that two dozen civilians were spared in case the men involved in the My Lai massacre had to negotiate a mine field.