By Anura Bandara Rajaguru
?: Where are you from?
?: Your parents?
A: My father was Siron Lewke, a doctor by profession. My mother was a Bandaranaika from Udukawela Walawwa of Meda Mahanuwara. I was the youngest of a family of five.
?: Your school?
A: I studied in St. Sylvester College and played cricket for the school. I was a member of the Central Province cricket team also. I played rugby for the Kandy team. Later I played for the National team and worked as the National coach. I also worked as chairman of the Asian Rugby Association.
?: Are you a boxer?
A: Yes. I was a National champion of boxing as a school player and represented Sri Lanka in international tournaments.
?: Your siblings?
A: My elder sister is a principal. The other two sisters are also graduates. My brother is a retired general manager of People’s Bank.
?: What did you do after leaving school?
A: I joined the Police in 1972 as soon as I left school as an IP. I was stationed in Colombo since I engaged in sports.
While I was training as a Police officer, Mr. Tyrrell Gunathilaka interviewed us and seven of us were recruited to CID after three years. After several years of service, I had special training in England on use of firearms.
?: In which year?
A: Mmm, I married in 1982 and I left for England in 1983. I joined STF after August 1984.
?: Whom did you marry?
A: My chief S.L. Silva’s daughter. He was a former opening batsman of Ananda College. My wife is Krishanthi Lewke. I have a son and a daughter. Son represents Sri Lanka rugby team as a Royal College student. My daughter is a lawyer, doing her Masters Degree in the Colombo University. She works for Dialog. My wife is the principal of the Visakha nursery.
?: What about STF?
A: It was started by Ravi Jayewardena, son of former President J.R. Jayewardena. I used to go for target practice at the Kalutara Police Training College every weekend. Ravi Jayewardena also comes. He was a humble man who travelled in the same vehicle with us and would eat from any roadside café that we chose to stop at.Serney Wijesuriya was the STF Commandant then. One day when I was cleaning my gun before target practice, he said they were training the STF and was looking for a person to be the OIC.When Ravi Jayewardena stood side by side with me for target shooting, he said he was happy that I had decided to join STF. But, I said I had still not given a word.
?: Why didn’t you give consent quickly?
A: My wife was 22 years old and my son was just six months old then. I told Mr. Ravi Jayewardena about them. He said, “Let’s see to them. We are looking for someone like you.”When I told my wife about this at home, something strange happened. Half an hour later the Commander of Police Field Force called me and asked me to report immediately. He ordered me to take charge of four bodies of STF personnel which were flown to Ratmalana. They had died when their vehicle bringing in salary money was destroyed in a landmine at Tikkam, Jaffna. Present IGP Ilangakoon was in the STF in Velvetithurai then.That was just half an hour after the first time we spoke about STF at home.
?: You joined STF despite this bad omen?
A: Yes. We were trained by the Kini Mini Service, consisting of British ex-SAS officers stationed in Oman. The Police Chief of Oman was a Sri Lankan and a friend of Ravi Jayewardena.When STF was established, Ravi Jayewardena aimed to build a professional ‘Army’ from the Police. He said this was a war of foot soldiers, a small scale guerilla war and therefore needed a professional Force trained in guerilla warfare. It was a landmark decision when we look back.
?: Was it 1984?
A: Yes. Present IGP Ilangakoon and I were the first STF officers to go East. He was Chief of Kalladi Camp and I was Chief of Kalavanchikudi Camp. We had only two camps and we accepted the entire Province from Army.
We must understand the situation then. There were small terrorist groups. PLOTE was led by Uma Maheswaran. TELO was led by Sri Sabaratnam. EPRLF was led by Padmanabha. EROS was led by Eliyathambi Ratnasabapathi. Ravi Jayewardena’s idea was to train a Special Force to engage in guerilla warfare. Army had not been trained for such warfare. They were ready for face to face war.I visited Crime Records Division at Longden Place before I went to East. I requested the photos of all the terrorists recorded in CRD. The Director of CRD P.V.W. de Silva provided me with photos of persons like Victor Oscar, Nithyananda, Douglas Devananada etc.Then I visited CID in which I was employed before. Sisira Mendis was the OIC of the Anti-terrorist Unit. He was later promoted as a DIG. I got the Gazettes pertaining to terrorism from him.When we went to Batticaloa, EPRLF was strong there not LTTE. Shivalingam was EPRLF Leader in Batticaloa. Douglas Devananda was hiding in Mandur.There were PLOTE, EROS and another group called Thamil Makkal Padapugam led by Chellappa Nagarasa who set up the first landmine there.
?: Do you mean that you went to East with a good knowledge?
A: Exactly. I made all the officers who went with me aware. We never considered all Tamils as terrorists. We hunted the terrorist among the people. We introduced the concept of the small eight personnel team, which was later used by the other forces.
?: Did you first station in
A: We stationed in a building of Irrigation Department. Kaluwanchikudi Police was in front of it. When we were building the front fence, I saw the OIC’s vehicle leaving around 6 p.m. Soon, a big sound was heard. We inquired from the Police Station.
“Sir, our OIC went to Kokkadicholai. We are afraid of any trouble there,” the officers said.It was our second day and we were building our camp. We asked someone to join us to go. We did not know where Kokkadicholai was. About five kilometers on our way to Kokkadicholai we saw the OIC Masamja and the other officers killed, their vehicle caught in a landmine. That was the first time I saw such a terrible scene.
?: Were you trained by Mossad as reported then?
A: Yes. First I was trained here for three years. Then I had that Mossad training in Israel. We were trained especially on explosives. I had special training on VIP security in Israel and US.
?: Is it true that Mossad trained LTTE also?
A: No. It is a wrong idea which was spread by the Tamil Diaspora. As far as I know, Israel does not train terrorists. That training was very difficult. It is not like British training. They trained us from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Again the training started the next morning at 7 a.m.I think the training was given under great mental and physical stress according to its strategy. STF could be strong in areas the terrorists were operating due to our knowledge in explosives. The terrorists used land mines, pressure mines, side mines etc.
One day as two teams were in a search operation in the jungle, the chief of the other team told me via radio that they saw a cart with a bullock. I asked not to touch it and to pull it using hook and line from far. After several minutes, we heard a massive explosion in the jungle. It was a booby-trap.Look at this photo I keep under the glass of my table. That is the pit created by the first automatic landmine. One of our Buffel vehicles were caught in it at Vellaveli in 1987.
?: Who introduced camouflage to STF uniform?
A: It was proposed by British. SSA also wore the same colours. The war in East was not face to face but it was a brain war. We had to identify the enemy’s strategies and to capture them carefully.
?: Who might have provided military skills to LTTE?
A: All terrorist groups were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Douglas Devananda’s group EROS used explosives first in Sri Lanka. EROS had a good knowledge in explosives. Persons like Sabaratnam, Padmanabha etc. were educated people. Uma Maheswaran was a surveyor.
?: Do you mean that STF did not allow LTTE to hold power in East for a long time?
A: Our strategy was pushing them into the jungle while we remained among the people. We controlled the land between the terrorist and the people. We went out of the area to hunt them. We didn’t let LTTE to hold on to a territory.
?: Was Karuna Amman a leader in the East?
A: He was in the jungle and could not come out of it. Ask him to argue with me. DIG Ravi Senevirathna of the CID was with me then. We shot him in an operation called Red Arrow. Commandant Karunasena told me from Colombo that Karuna had been shot and could be hiding as the others retreated. We could not catch him on that day. Later he admitted that he was shot in the back. Karuna did not have as much hold as they claim. They got a stronghold only after the signing of the CFA. They came out of the jungle for discussions with the government. We had operations in the jungle also. STF was the main reason for their collapse in the East. The main reason was because Ravi Jayawardena built a force like this.
?: Do you remember a main operation of the STF?
A: As an officer who was in it since 1984, I can say that it is capturing Four Eight Base of terrorists in Kanchi Kudi Aru.
(Shows a photo)
This photo was taken on the day the camp was captured. This is Neil Dias. We were in the jungle for the entire day and we were dehydrating. When I radioed to Neil Dias, he brought water in a helicopter.
It was also called Bakery Camp since the LTTE’s bakery was there. It was a training camp too. We captured it.
In 1987, we captured Beirut Camp under my leadership. The camp was headed by Kumar Appan.
Karuna Amman was in the Four Six camp in Mailavattuvan. We overran all three LTTE camps. I led operations for them. Officers were injured but no one died.In the battle for Beirut Camp in Kokkadicholai, one of our Buffels were hit by a land mine and 13 personnel died. It was on April 27 of 1987. We landed in five helicopters piloted by foreigners. Captain Namal Fernando was co-pilot of my helicopter which landed first. Present DIG Lathif was in the second helicopter. He is a brave fighter. Kumar Appan came in the vehicle as we landed. We saw that but the white pilot did not understand what we said. They shot as we were landing. PC 6300 was shot. Former Thurstan cricket captain Ajith Alwis, SI, was shot in his head and died.Kokkadicholai is like a small island. It was called small Jaffna. We captured a major Tiger camp. We made three teams to come by land on Buffels. Around 5.30 a.m. one of those was hit by a landmine.
?: How did Indian Army operate in East?
A: When they came, I appealed to the Commandant to take us to Colombo. I joined VIP security. LTTE killed those 600 police officers and the Commandant told me to come back.
?: Who was the Commandant?
A: Lionel Karunasena. He said a Police team has been taken and we can’t find them.
?: Did you return?
A: Yes. We formed small groups and went into the jungle. Udaya Kumara was with me. In the Rupas Kulam jungle, we came across 295 police officers killed in one spot. They had been killed after laying them down tied up in the shape of letter L. All hands were tied behind their backs with coir rope. One had crawled into the jungle even though he had been shot. I found these bodies.ASP of Kalmunai Lionel Boteju whom I associated closely was among them. He was a clever athlete of St. Anthony’s College who had the 400 metres record. He was senior to us. His car was also in the jungle.
The Police officers were gathered in the Mekhala Theatre and transported in lorries and buses to jungle. Their hands were tied and killed. Karuna was the leader then and he cannot deny it.
?: Did Karuna give the order?
A: He knows it. He now tries to behave like a baby. One day when I was passing Odel roundabout, I saw a vehicle escorted by STF with front and rear guard. They ordered me to move away although I was driving on my lane correctly. I looked who they were escorting. It was Karuna Amman. See what happens to people?
?: Who were those 295 police officers?
A: They were from the stretch of Kalmunai, Akkaraipattu and Thirukkovil, south of Batticaloa. No investigation has been carried out about them.
?: Do you mean that must be probed?
A: Exactly. Those officers must be granted justice. Naming them war heroes and building memorials are not sufficient. Should one die, injure or be disabled to be a war hero? Many persons who were with me died in war. I just say my experience and not demand honour to me.
?: You are an expert in VIP security.
A: I was deployed in President’s security after the Parliament was bombed in 1988. It was a time both JVP and LTTE were strong. Both targeted killing VIPs. I selected a team of young officers for the President’s security. We handled closest security of the President whilst President’s Security Division under Mr. Sumith Silva also operated. I was the chief of that VIP security unit.
?: What happened after that?
A: STF was brought back for the security of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after President Premadasa was killed. I was the director then. STF is not only for war but also trained for VIP security. STF secured economic nerve centres and I planned security there. We prepared security plans for Parliament, Airport, Sapugaskanda Petroleum Refinery, BMICH etc.
?: Why was STF given such responsibilities?
A: The reason number one is training. Number two is discipline and number three is dedication.
We still have that. I have observed that the other forces were honoured as war heroes and offered diplomatic postings etc. Why wasn’t STF given such benefits? But still they want the service of STF in any emergency. STF was not given its proper appreciation during the past ten years. I have no politics. Therefore, I directly say so.
I am happy that the present President and the Prime Minister have deployed STF for their security. But why were they not appreciated? It is not good.
?: As we have heard, you were given special responsibilities during the time President Premadasa had discussions with LTTE.
A: I was in Batticaloa in 1990 and I was called immediately by Commandant Lionel Karunasena. I met him at the headquarters.
“Nimal, we have special duty.”
“What is that, Sir?”
“An LTTE group comes for a discussion with the President. We have to provide them security.”
I did not speak.
“You must take up the responsibility,” he said.
“Sir, how can I do that?”
“We have problems between us.”
“But you must do it.”
“Sir, please do not get STF for this.”
“Nimal, understand this. It is not us but the LTTE demands it. They say they can trust only STF for their lives. They have agreed for discussions only if STF provides security to them. Therefore, we have to do this somehow.”
I had to keep my personal distaste aside and assumed that duty.
?: Where did they come from?
A: I think they came from Sweden. They included Anton Balasingham, Adela, KP, Madivadani and Prabhakaran’s two kids – Charles Anthony who was a boy and Prabhakaran’s daughter.
Anton Balasingham was smoking one cigarette after the other in fear. I introduced myself to him. We first kept them in a house in the airport. Later they were shifted to Hilton Hotel. We spoke a lot and understood that Anton Balasingham was well aware about me.
?: How did you understand so?
A: He asked, “Mr. Nimal, How is your rugby team?” I was the coach of Havelocks then. He knew inside details of everything.
?: Where were Prabakaran’s wife and children were taken?
A: They did not participate in discussion. They were flown to North.
A: I did not go. Eric Silva and National Intelligence Bureau went there. They were flown to Nedunkerni.
When the firing started in Kalmunai, the LTTE delegation was here. I urged Foreign Minister A.C.S. Hameed to send them back.
When I took the children to the Air Force camp in Parsons Road, they were angry with us. I said they did not need to be angry with us and they could push them down from planes if they wanted.
When he was in Hilton, Balasingham drank in the night and spoke with me.
?: What did he drink?
A: He drank VSOA. We didn’t drink. Alcohol was forbidden in all STF camps.
?: What did Balasingham
speak with you?
A: He spoke about Lalith Athulathmudali.
Do you remember that a group of LTTE leaders including Kumarappan, Pulendran and Karikalan committed suicide at Palaly Airport by swallowing cyanide as they were to be brought to Colombo after they were arrested by Navy? Kumarappan narrowly escaped from death in an operation I led. Balasingham spoke about them.
They swallowed cyanide on September 12th. Balasingham said that Kumarappan had married on August 5th and he had signed as witness. He said Kumarappan was a naval engineer who was in US and called back by him. Prabhakaran wanted to stop them being transported to Colombo since a ceasefire agreement had been signed.
Balasingham said to me, ” I don’t have line to J.R. I try my level best. But he won’t tell them not to do this. But I know it was Lalith who was behind it .Prabhakaran will never ever forgive Lalith for that.”
?: Did you say this to Mr. Athulathmudali?
A: Yes. He took it lightly.
?: Were the Balasinghams in Hilton when you said this to Athulathmudali?
A: Yes. Amazingly, the next day when I went to Hilton, Mr. Athulathmudali was leaving it after attending a wedding. He saw me and asked, “Nimal, what are you doing here?” I said what I was doing and also reported Balasingham’s statement.
?: Did Balasingham speak only about Minister Athulathmudali?
A: He spoke about Minister Gamini Dissanayake also. He recognized him as a RAW agent and accused he was behind all these. He was not positive about both Lalith and Gamini. I informed both of them about what I heard.
I think, President Premadasa made some comments after the discussions between him and the LTTE delegates. They knew his comments. Babu was close to President Premadasa. They were not interested in discussions. They did it for the sake of doing it.