Eelam war: turning point

Sept. 2010, New York: The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his son, Namal and UNP MP Sri Ranga with the then Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Int’l Development Minister Erik Solheim meet on the sidelines of the UNGA sessions. External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris looks on. The Norwegians earned the wrath of a section of the Tamil Diaspora over the unexpected meeting.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time BBC journalist, researcher and analyst, Mark Salter, will launch TO END A CIVIL WAR: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), Colombo, tomorrow (March 3).

The latest book, by a foreign author, will primarily deal with Norwegian peace initiatives during the tenure of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga/PM Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Salter has dealt substantially with the contentious issue of an alleged deal between the then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the LTTE, in the run-up to the Nov. 17, 2005 presidential election to ensure Rajapaksa’s victory by depriving UNP leader Wickremesinghe of the anticipated Northern Province Tamil vote.

Mahinda Rajapaksa polled 4,887,152 (50.29%), whereas Ranil Wickremesinghe obtained 4,706,366 (48.43%).

20TO END A CIVIL WAR: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka contained controversial comments on the deal by Norwegian peace facilitate, Erik Solheim, wartime Norwegian Ambassador, Tore Hattrem, as well as Arne Fjortoft, another Norwegian whom Slater quoted as having said: “Definitely. The man who handed over the money told me so directly, when asked “Did they (the Rajapaksas) bribe the LTTE to boycott the election?”


Salter pointed out the writer’s failure to examine the alleged deal between the Rajapaksas and the LTTE, in a piece titled, ‘Norway failed in SL for want of broader int’l involvement-Solheim’, in the Feb. 10 issue of The Island. Salter asserted that had there been really a deal, it would fundamentally impacted on many issues, including the electoral means by which the then Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa secured the presidency, hence this piece.


Salter made available a copy of chapter 8, titled ‘Assassinations and Elections’, which examined the alleged deal, involving Mahinda Rajapaksa (the then PM and Kurunegala District MP), Basil Rajapaksa (a key player in PM Rajapaksa’s campaign team), Mangala Samaraweera (PM Rajapaksa’s campaign manager and Foreign Minister), Lalith Weeratunga (the then Secretary to PM Rajapaksa), Dr. P.B. Jayasundera (the Finance Secretary), Tiran Alles (close associate of Samaraweera, the late Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi, Emil Kanthan whom Slater described as a prominent businessman and LTTE intelligence officer.


TO END A CIVIL WAR: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka certainly would be a good read. Its Colombo launch takes place amidst ongoing efforts to facilitate the return of Emil Kanthan to Sri Lanka in respect of some judicial matters. Salter has presented facts to greatly strengthen claims that there had been a conspiracy to thwart Wickremesinghe victory. Salter’s effort is so far certainly the best examination of how Rajapaksa won the presidency. Salter quoted Solheim as having said: “The reasons given (for the boycott) were vague, so it’s hard to judge. A lot of credible people felt there was a deal. I am still a little hesitant (to accept this), however. First Bala (singham) never indicated a deal to us. Secondly, whatever I think of Prabhakaran, he was not corrupt. The only reason could be (to get) money for purchasing weapons. He had no bank accounts abroad and was not leading the high life. Fore sure, (the Rajapaksa brothers) were capable of (bribing the LTTE). If that could bring them power they would have done it.”


“The LTTE must have believed that there were advantageous with Mahinda as President: less experience, less contact abroad. But they did not understand that Ranil and Chandrika had liberal values while Mahinda was a very different character, with no moral compass…while Ranil, of course, was the banner carrier of the peace effort. And he would definitely have won the election if the LTTE had not boycotted it. So the boycott was a historic and astronomical blunder. And there was a real escalation of killings afterwords.”


One-time Norwegian ambassador, Tore Hattrem, made some lucid remarks.


TO END A CIVIL WAR: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka is a must read for those interested in the Sri Lankan conflict which the military brought to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.


Salter referred to Canada-based veteran political analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, speculating on the possibility that the then LTTE Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan, had reached a deal with the Rajapaksas, through Emil Kanthan, without Prabhakaran’s knowledge. The reference to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s role in the alleged deal which had been worked out soon after Mrs. Kumaratunga reluctantly accepted Rajapaksa’s candidature, in July/August 2005, cannot be ignored by those wanting a thorough inquiry into the Rajapaksa-LTTE project.


The book launch will take place at the ICES, on March 3, at 4.30 pm, under the auspices of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the ICES, and the National Peace Council (NPC). Among the panels will be NPC’s executive director, Jehan Perera, Sri Lanka’s former ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka, and the author with CPA’s executive director, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu as the moderator.


With Sri Lanka facing a war crimes probe, with the participation of foreign judges, and under heavy pressure to unveil the proposed mechanism, before June, 2016, it would be pertinent to examine the alleged deal that helped Premier Rajapaksa to defeat Wickremesinghe in a closely contested election. The LTTE decision to resume war, soon,after the Nov. 2005, presidential election, should be examined against the backdrop of the Rajapaksas offering the group an administrative set up, covering the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces.


Salter launched his book in London, Oslo and Stockholm, in Oct, Nov, 2015, followed by Toronto, Ottawa, and Washington DC, in January. Tomorrow’s launch (in Colombo) is the first by a foreign author. Salter wouldn’t have been here if not for what is now widely dubbed as the January Revolution which brought down the curtain on the war- winning Rajapksa administration. The Colombo launch will be followed by similar events in Chennai and New Delhi, on March 8 and 9, respectively. The events in Chennai and New Delhi reminds the world of New Delhi’s despicable role in sponsoring terrorism in Sri Lanka.


The writer sincerely hope those panelists, invited for Salter’s book launch, in Chennai and New Delhi, take up India’s intervention in Sri Lanka, in the early 80s. Had it not for India setting up an unprecedented terrorism project here, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in predicament today.


Less than three years, after the conclusion of the war, Norway released a comprehensive report on her involvement in Sri Lanka. The report, titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009), discussed the issue on the basis of approximately 120 interviews, conducted in various parts of the world. The Norwegian report, too, referred to the alleged deal between the Rajapaksas and the LTTE. Under a section, titled 19, November 2005: Rajapaksa’s presidential victory, the report declared that Premier Rajapaksa had made it clear that he was willing to resume negotiations with the LTTE but only on his terms. The report: Wickremesinghe, however, managed to secure the UNP block votes and makes overtures to the Muslim and Tamil electorates. Ironically, his defeat is determined in the Vanni. The LTTE decides to enforce a boycott among Tamil voters, thus tipping the balance to Rajapaksa, who wins with a margin of less than two per cent.”


The Norwegian report, launched four years ahead of Salter’s book, speculated on various possibilities as regards the alleged deal which deprived Wickremesinghe of certain victory. Acknowledging that there had been no firm evidence on the LTTE’s motivation, the report asserted the likelihood of the LTTE reacting to Wickremesinghe’s ‘international peace trap’, the group wanting to elect a person having the influence over the southern electorate and lastly a financial or other arrangement to engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat. The report revealed Solheim passing a message from President Rajapaksa to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran less than two months after the presidential election. The report quoted Solheim as having said that President Rajapaksa wanted him to thank Prabhakaran, on his behalf, for facilitating his electoral victory.


Had there been a massive financial arrangement, as well as promise to introduce to administrative set up acceptable to the LTTE what prompted the LTTE to resume landmine attacks as early as the first week of December, just two weeks after the presidential election.


The LTTE stunned the President with a spate of mine attacks in the Northern Province before suicide cadres blasted an SLN Fast Attack Craft, off Trincomalee, in early January, 2006. In April, 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka inside Army Headquarters. In late June, 2006, the LTTE deprived civilians of water by closing down sluice gates of Mavilaru and, during second week of August, 2006, resumed eelam war IV with simultaneous attacks on the Jaffna front line as well as in the Eastern theater of operations. In early, December, 2006, the LTTE made an attempt on the thenceforth Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s life in Colombo.


Even if there had been a deal, once challenged, President Rajapaksa relentlessly waged war until Prabhakaran was brought down to its knees on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the morning of May 19, 2009. The war lasted two years and ten months.


In spite of strong opposition from the JVP, the JHU and other nationalist elements who had backed his candidature at the presidential election, President Rajapaksa agreed to continue with Norwegian mediated talks. But, Norway couldn’t convince the LTTE to return to the negotiating table, though Sri Lankan delegations flew to Geneva twice, in February and October, 2006, to workout an arrangement with the LTTE. Those demanding accountability, on the part of the previous government, had convincingly forget that the LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003 to pave the way for President Kumaratunga to sabotage Wickremesinghe’s less than one and half years old government. Wickremesinghe went out of his way to reach an understanding with the LTTE though he never received any tangible support from those demanding accountability on the part of the previous government. Wickremesinghe lost the April 2004 parliamentary elections to pave the way for People’s Alliance government with Mahinda Rajapaksa as its Prime Minister. If not for the LTTE, the People’s Alliance wouldn’t have a chance to return to power so soon after having lost Dec 5, 2001 parliamentary polls.


Did the LTTE accept massive financial deal, courtesy the Rajapaksas, regardless of its decision to resume all out war soon after the Nov, 2005 presidential election? Authorities should investigate this aspect as well as Norwegian response to the alleged deal. Most importantly, it would be necessary to establish the time Norway as well as Sri Lanka Peace Co-Chairs, namely the US, EU and Japan, received information in this regard. Did well funded NGOs, based in Colombo, make representations to the LTTE on behalf of those Tamils deprived of an opportunity to exercise franchise? Did Catholic leaders such as Rev. Rayappu Joseph urged the LTTE not to interfere in the presidential election? Thanks to Wiki leaks, the world knows confidential US diplomatic cables, originating from its mission in Colombo, discussed the LTTE directive to boycott polls as well as other relevant matters on the basis of interviews with Wickremesinghe and Mangala Samaraweera.


The Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) can be tasked to inquire into the alleged deal. The FCID can secure international assistance, if required to pursue the case. With Deputy British High Commissioner, Laura Davies, recent declaration that the UK would work closely with the US, Australia and Switzerland to help the new administration to assist in investigations, the government shouldn’t hesitate to initiate a fresh inquiry.


Key factors


*President Kumaratunga during the fourth week of, Sept. 2005, requested Norwegian PM, Kjell Magne Bondvik, intervention to thwart the LTTE from interfering in the presidential election. The request was made on the sidelines of UNGA in New York. The revelation was made by the writer on the basis of information provided by Mrs. Kumaratunga’s delegation (Norway to facilitate presidential poll-The Island of Sept. 26, 2005). What made Mrs. Kumaratunga to seek Norwegian intervention to ensure a level playing field?


*TNA leader, R. Sampanthan told the writer, on the night of Nov. 15, 2005, that the decision taken on Nov. 9, 2005, at Kilinochchi, to boycott the election wouldn’t be changed under any circumstances. Speaking from Trincomalee, the veteran politician claimed that Tamil speaking people couldn’t achieve anything by supporting Rajapaksa or Wickremesinghe. Both Sampanthan and Batticaloa District MP Joseph Pararajasingham told the writer, on the same night, that Tamil speaking people weren’t at all interested in the Nov 17 poll. (TNA refuses to change polls boycott stance-The Island of Nov 16, 2005). The Kilinochchi announcement was made following a three-hour long discussion between the top LTTE leadership and 21 out of 22 TNA parliamentary group. Therefore, there cannot be any basis for claims that Thamilselvan was having secret deal with Rajapaksa without Prabhakaran’s knowledge.


The TNA factor hadn’t been taken into consideration for some strange reason. Opposition Leader Sampanthan can shed light on the alleged deal between the then sole representative of Tamil speaking people and the Rajapaksas. Was TNA aware of the LTTE receiving money from the Rajapaksas? Did Norway, Colombo based NGO fraternity or Election Secretariat raise boycott issue with him? Why not raise most relevant issue of TNA’s culpability with MP Sampanthan as well as Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi leader Mavai Senathiraja?


*A few days before the polls, TNA MP Sivajilingham told the state-owned ITN that persistent Opposition claims that a victory for then PM Rajapaksa would lead to an imminent outbreak of large scale hostilities was baseless. Sivajilingham, too, can explain his position as regard the alleged deal. Did he really believe Prabhakaran was bribed by those who finally brought his unexpected downfall?


*Of major NGO representatives, only Saravanamuttu dared to publicly condemned the LTTE move. He regretted that those living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces had been deprived of their right to exercise universal franchise. Saravanamuttu alleged that the CMEV had received information that the LTTE had prevented people from crossing the Muhamalai and Omanthai entry/exit points to cast their votes at cluster polling booths. (LTTE move gives PM edge over Ranil – The Island of Nov 18, 2005).


*Jehan Perera asserted that the LTTE may have backed Premier Rajapaksa as it would have been easier to negotiate with him once he was elected President. Perera said that the LTTE may have feared that Wickremesinghe would be able to bring international pressure on the group or may be the LTTE didn’t want the Northern and Eastern provinces to vote for a Sinhala candidate (LTTE move gives PM edge over Ranil––The Island of Nov 18, 2005).


*UNP Chairman, Malik Samarawickrema, alleged that the LTTE had deprived Wickremesinghe of a certain victory by preventing Tamil speaking people, living in areas under LTTE control, from exercising their franchise. Had there been an ali-koti givisuma (an agreement between Elephants (UNP) and Tigers) as alleged by the UPFA, the LTTE would never have caused Wickremesinghe’s downfall. Samarawickrema told the writer that Wickremesinghe expected approximately 450,000 votes from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. According to him, the UNP anticipated about 70 per cent of the total number of votes polled by LTTE proxy, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the April 2, 2004 parliamentary polls.(LTTE action belies ali-koti pact––The Island of Nov 21, 2005).


*At the first meeting of the decision making Working Committee (WC), following the Nov 17, 2005 poll, Milinda Moragoda was accused of prompting the LTTE decision. Moragoda, who had been a key member of Wickremesinghe’s negotiating team for talks with the LTTE consequent to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) reached on Feb 23, 2002. A section of the WC alleged that Moragoda’s interpretation of the split caused by Karuna in March 2004, as a UNP achievement had irked Prabhakaran. (Hot air at Sirikotha over LTTE polls boycott order––The Island of Dec 1, 2005). But there was absolutely no basis for this assertion.


Wickremesinghe never commented publicly on the LTTE move, though he discussed the issue with US diplomats as revealed in Wiki leaks cables.


=Former UNP MP R. Yogarajan, too, revealed to the writer efforts made by him and CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman to persuade the LTTE not to sabotage Wickremesinghe’s victory. Yogarajan will be able to explain the circumstances under which the LTTE sabotaged the postal vote, thereby revealing its sordid operation. Let there be a thorough investigation to unravel the mystery. Did Western powers take any tangible measures to thwart the LTTE-TNA combination from helping Rajapaksa? Or perhaps, did they believe Rajapaksa would unwittingly create an environment conducive for the LTTE to resume an all out offensive and bring the government of Sri Lanka to its knees? That seems to have been the strategy since the LTTE was allowed to quit the negotiating table in April, 2003 to destabilize Wickremesinghe’s administration before its eventual parliamentary polls defeat in April in the following year.
To be continued on March 9

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