Sri Lanka: Forgotten India’s culpability

A reference to Kadirgamar at Mangala’s Chatham House speech


by Shamindra Ferdinando

( January 18, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, MP, recently referred to several of his predecessors having the opportunity to speak at the Chatham House when he discussed ongoing post-war national reconciliation process.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.

Minister Samaraweera was speaking on behalf of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government wanting to bring in a brand new Constitution in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the ruling coalition, in Oct, 2015.

Yahapalana leaders consider the proposed constitution as panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills, a view not acceptable to a large section of the population.

A Foreign Ministry statement quoted Minister Samaraweera as having said at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, on January 11, 2017: “Several of my predecessors, too, have spoken here at the Chatham House. This includes the late Lakshman Kadirgamar who spoke at length here, in 1998, about the danger faced by our nation at the time, and democratic societies everywhere, from terrorism.”

In spite of having liberated the entire Jaffna peninsula, in early, 1996, the then Kumaratunga administration suffered a series of debilitating setbacks in the Vanni theater. By 1998, the LTTE, had gained the upper hand, in the northern theater, with the Army facing a massive conventional challenge. It would be pertinent to mention that Kumaratunga, in consultation with Kadirgamar, in May, 1999, requested Norway to facilitate secret negotiations with the LTTE. Kumaratunga revealed the Norwegian role soon after the LTTE made an abortive bid on her life, in Dec., 1999, at her final presidential polls campaign rally.

Assassination of a top leader

Minister Samaraweera discussed post-war reconciliation efforts with the focus on key challenges facing the government and how the country was moving forward in its endeavor to create a peaceful, unified, stable and prosperous country.

There hadn’t been any further reference to Kadirgamar, who was shot dead on the night of Aug. 12, 2005, at his private Bullers Lane residence in Colombo. Kadirgamar was the only member of parliament to be sniped to death during the entire conflict.

Having infiltrated Colombo, an LTTE hit squad shot Kadirgamar through his chest using a sniper rifle, in spite of being guarded by Sri Lanka’s elite Army Commandos. The LTTE carried out the assassination in spite of a Norway arranged truce being in place, since Feb., 2002. Norwegians struggled to save the CFA, with Co-Chairs to the so called Sri Lanka peace process, namely the US, Norway, Japan and EU, directing the then Kumaratunga government to continue with the initiative, regardless of the killing. Co-chairs interfered with Sri Lanka’s right to take on the LTTE.

Thanks to Wikileaks, the world is aware how Norway had talks, in London, with top LTTE representative, Anton Balasingham, to explore ways and means of tackling the issue. Having served the British High Commission, in Colombo, Balasingham received and retained British citizenship, though he represented the LTTE. The UK tuned a blind eye to Balasingham’s role, even after the UK proscribed the LTTE. The UK also allowed the LTTE to run its International Secretariat from there.

Those who had been demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009, never bothered to take punitive action against the LTTE or its political wing the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi-led Tamil National National Alliance (TNA). At the time of Kadirgamar’s assassination, the TNA had declared the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The LTTE retained that title until the Army finished off the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

The Royal Institute of International Affairs should examine Sri Lanka’s case and the failure on the part of the international community to throw its weight behind tiny Sri Lanka fighting for its survival.

Forgotten India’s culpability

The well-funded outfit could also examine how Commonwealth giant India destabilized her southern neighbour, and Commonwealth member, for geo-political reasons, as acknowledged by no less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit in his memoirs, “Makers of India’s Foreign Policy”. India gave the wherewithal to several Sri Lankan terrorists to take on the military. India provided training to terrorists, both in India and Sri Lanka, while providing Sri Lankan military officers, training at establishments there.

Indian – trained terrorists made an attempt to seize the Maldives, in early November 1988. Air borne Indian troops intervened in the Maldives to prevent the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) from assassinating the then Maldivian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Instead of being blamed for unprecedented Maldivian crisis, India received praise for swiftly coming to little Male’s rescue. International community, and the media, conveniently forgot that there wouldn’t have been sea borne raid on Male if India didn’t provide weapons training to Sri Lankan terrorists.

Today, the PLOTE is a constituent member of the TNA with Dharmalingham Siddarthan representing the former terrorist group in parliament. Jaffna District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan headed the much discussed parliamentary group on Center-Periphery relations accused of a spate of recommendations inimical to Sri Lanka’s unitary status. Dharmalingham, himself, had accused India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of ordering the assassination of his father Visvanather Dharmalingham (MP for Manipay) and K. Alalasundaram (MP for Kopay) in early September, 1985. Siddarthan, in an interview with this writer, early December, 1997 (carried by The Sunday Island on its December 7, 1997 issue), alleged that TELO assassinated the two MPs on the instructions of its Indian masters. Accusing India of playing a double game, Dharmalingham insisted that the TELO had received orders from India to assassinate four Jaffna-based TULF MPs. TELO, led by Sri Sabaratnam (Tall Sri), had no option but to assassinate them. A local TELO leader identified as Bobby had been identified as the leader of the killer squad. TELO leader Das had refused to assassinate the remaining two TULF MPs living in Vadamarachchy. According to him, the Indian Intelligence Services had felt that the presence of TULF MPs would give the party influence. The Indians wanted to undermine TULF leader Amirthalingam’s authority and one way of doing that was to assassinate his Mps.

Co-Chairs react to Kadir killing

Minister Samaraweera wouldn’t have had an opportunity to speak on ‘Reconciliation Process in Sri Lanka’, at the Chatham House, had western powers succeeded in throwing a lifeline to the LTTE, responsible for Kadirgamar’s assassination 13 years ago. Even after Kadirgamar’s assassination, Western powers refused to acknowledge that there couldn’t be a peaceful end to the conflict as long as the LTTE retained conventional military capability. Let me reproduce verbatim statements issued by key players in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination to prove their determination to continue with the Norway-led process whatever the consequences. They never had Sri Lanka’s interests in mind.

The then US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of peace Co-Chair said: “We must honour Kadirgamar’s memory by re-dedicating ourselves to peace and ensuring the CFA remains in force.”

The then European Union Commissioner, Ferrero-Waldner, said, on behalf of peace Co-Chair EU: “We must all honour the passing of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar by continuing his work for peace and maintaining the CFA.”

Peace Co-Chair Japan issued the following statement through its Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura: “I strongly hope for calm response by all parties at this moment so that the move towards the peace process will not be hindered.”

In the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination, peace facilitator and Co-Chair Norway declared: “… It is now of great importance that both parties to the conflict do their utmost to fully fulfill their obligations according to the CFA.”

One of the largest recipients, if not the largest of Norwegian funds, the National Peace Council, in early Dec 2005, while referring to resumption of claymore mine attacks, in the northern theater, and killing of civilians, asserted that such incidents were tragic but inevitable due to of the stagnant peace process in which the Ceasefire Agreement hadn’t been fully complied with.

Heading for eelam war IV

Co-Chairs, as well as the NPC, et al, refused to blame the LTTE for resumption of claymore mine attacks in the wake of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory, at the Nov., 2005, presidential polls. The LTTE resumed attacks in spite of newly elected President assuring his commitment to the Norway-led peace talks. Rajapaksa also accepted Norwegian proposal for government-LTTE talks at overseas venue, though those who campaigned for his victory opposed the move. In fact, the LTTE-TNA deprived UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe of certain victory, at Nov., 2005, presidential poll, by ordering Tamils not to exercise their franchise. They operated on the premise inexperienced Rajapaksa could be easily overwhelmed and battlefield success swiftly achieved.

Having resumed large scale hostilities, in early Aug., 2006, the LTTE lost the war, in May, 2009. Sri Lanka sustained a nearly three-year combined forces campaign until Prabhakaran was killed by the Sri Lankan infantry.

Goodhand at Chatham House event

Foreign Ministry released a set of photographs of Minister Samaraweera with Jonathan Goodhand, Professor in Conflict and Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, at the Chatham House event. The ministry wrongly identified Prof. Goodhand as Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London.

Prof. Goodhand had been involved in the evaluation of the Norwegian peace initiatives, in Sri Lanka, with the focus on the disastrous project, launched in 2002. Norway-based Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) together with SOAS, University of London carried out the costly project (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009).

Described as one of the first independent evaluations of ‘peace diplomacy’ involving a third party government facilitation, CMI-SOAS had collected data, beginning Sept., 2010, over a year after the LTTE’s defeat. They obtained the services of an experienced international team, including Sri Lankans to gather information. The joint team consisted of Norwegian social scientist Gunnar M. Sørbø (team leader), Jonathan Goodhand (deputy team leader) and other experts Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen, Hilde Beate Selbervik. Goodhand, Klem and Sørbø released Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 in Sept 2011. Those who had been interviewed included twice President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, ICRC, UN, journalists et al. They also examined Wikileaks cables.

Due to Norway making available all documents pertaining to its Sri Lanka project, the Sorbo-Goodhand team could establish wrong assessment made by the Norwegians at the onset of the Eelam war IV, in Aug 2006. Let me reproduce verbatim the relevant section: The Norwegian government realizes its role has become very difficult and limited. Against the background of discussions on whether or not to stay engaged and how, the mediation team develops a number of scenarios. On the military front they foresee either: 1) no war, no peace, 2) resumed peace talks, or 3) full-scale war. Politically, they expect the government to either remain dependent on its junior partner, or enter into a coalition with the UNP. If neither works, new elections may be the result. Indian and US pressure to stop the war may affect the scenarios. During an internal strategy session with Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, in May, 2007, the mediation team reiterates that: ‘All observers think that this is a conflict that cannot be won by military means and most believe that the government cannot beat the LTTE militarily.’ Moreover, the group concludes: ‘International pressure does not seem to have any positive influence, but rather to contribute to locking the military strategies of the parties. Strategic thinking thus tends to hinge on the premise that at some point a new stalemate may emerge, either because the LTTE rolls back the front-line (as it did several times in the past), or resorts to guerrilla style tactics to avert defeat. In hindsight, the Norwegian team underestimates the Sri Lankan government’s strength, both militarily and politically. The team considers a wide range of likely and less likely scenarios, but (like most observers at the time), it does not reckon with the sequence of events that is to follow: a strong SLFP-led coalition and a military victory.”

Mangala’s warns LTTE

Having crushed large scale LTTE offensive action, in Aug, 2006, the military launched operations, targeting Sampur in early Sept, 2006. The LTTE abandoned Sampur on September 4, 2006. In the aftermath of the liberation of Sampur and the seizure of Tigers’ Jaffna front line, in Sep, 2006, the then Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera declared that in spite of LTTE aggression, the GoSL was committed to a negotiated settlement. Minister Samaraweera reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oslo-led peace initiative, while emphasizing the need to face the LTTE’s military challenge. Addressing the Colombo-based diplomatic community, on Sept. 8, 2006, Minister Samaraweera didn’t mince his words when he warned the LTTE of grave consequences of its decision to resume hostilities. Samaraweera warned its military action would prove counterproductive. Samaraweera declared: “I must note here while the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the ceasefire agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process. On behalf of President Rajapaksa, Minister Samaraweera declared the government’s readiness to consider proposals for a comprehensive and verifiable cessation of hostilities (Forces seize Tigers’ Jaffna front line with strap line…any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister Samaraweera, The Island, Sept 11, 2006).

Obviously, Co-Chairs hadn’t taken Minister Samarawera’s warning and offer for talks on fresh truce seriously as they felt that in spite of the SLA’s superiority in numbers, the LTTE was able to overwhelm the military. Co-Chairs as well as others involved in Sri Lanka had been guided by experts and strategists who propagated the line of thinking that the LTTE couldn’t ever be defeated.

Having played a significant role in Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov., 2005, presidential poll, Samaraweera received foreign, ports, shipping and aviation portfolios. President Rajapaksa picked Samaraweera, though his erstwhile friend the late Anura Bandaranaike begged for the post of foreign minister after having held that post in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination. Samaraweera functioned as foreign minister at a crucial period as the military fiercely responded to the LTTE threat.

Bandaranaike wanted to continue as foreign minister under Rajapaksa. Unfortunately for the SLFP, Minister Samaraweera later teamed up with Bandaranaike and Sripathy Sooriyaarachchi to challenge President Rajapaksa’s authority. President Rajapaksa replaced Samaraweera with UNPer Rohitha Bogollagama in late Jan., 2007. An irate Samaraweera quit the SLFP, formed a separate political outfit before switching his allegiance to the UNP. Bogollagama functioned as foreign minister until April 2010 before being replaced by Prof. G. L. Peiris.

Who could have envisaged Samaraweera’ s return as Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, under a UNP government, to pursue a political settlement, after the SLFP-led previous government in May 2009 removed the main obstacle to peace.


Shamindra is the News Editor of the Island, a Colombo based daily newspaper.


 

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