Friday, February 10, 2006

Why did UNP National List MP help Karuna to flee B’caloa? by Shamindra Ferdinando

If the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) collaborated with Vinayagamoorthy Muralidharaan alias ‘Colonel’ Karuna, UNP MP Ali Zahir Moulana would have been a covert DMI operative responsible for a major intelligence operation.

Karuna declared his split with the organisation on March 2, 2004 and held sway until a lightning strike on dissidents on the banks of the Verugal River on April 9, 2004 forced him to flee. Once defeated, Karuna did not seek refuge at a nearby army detachment instead contacted his close associate Moulana who represented the Batticaloa district and got himself driven to Colombo.

Karuna was included in the LTTE negotiating team in October 2002, eight months after the finalisation of the ceasefire agreement and broke ranks exactly 15 months later. The rest is history.

Karuna’s inclusion in the negotiating team made him a hot shot. The government gave him chopper rides and this prompted firebrand politician Wimal Weerawansa to take it up with Defence Minister Tilak Marapana. This was in December 2002. Defence Secretary Austin Fernando met Karuna at Vavunativu to discuss the implementation of the ceasefire agreement which Karuna’s men broke at will.

The DMI would have liked to see the unprecedented split weakening the murderous organisation but did not actively back the mutiny. If that was the case, the navy could have easily intercepted Sea Tiger craft that inducted sizeable fighting units to carry out the April 9 assault. In fact we are aware that the LTTE informed the government/navy of the sea movements warning against interference. The government also allowed, in fact, escorted LTTE cadres via Omanthai entry/exit point to the east to strengthen Vanni cadres.

If Karuna was really involved with the DMI why did he seek Moulana’s help? Moulana was the last person to get involved with the military let alone take a role as a covert operative. The truth is Karuna did not receive the support he expected from the military and he fled Batticaloa a dejected man with a UNP politician who himself had to leave the country.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was harsh on Moulana. His explanation was dismissed and he surrendered to the demand that he give up his National List seat. The one-time go between the UNP and the LTTE, was callously dumped with no chance of ever returning to green politics. Wickremesinghe did not want to step on LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s toes. Moulana who campaigned for him in the east, even in areas held by the LTTE at several elections, particularly the December 1999 presidential polls, was a victim.

I knew Moulana for a long time and asked him about his plight after Wickremesinghe showed him the door.

Moulana did not want to go into details but emphasised that he brought Karuna to Colombo on the instructions of his successor ‘Colonel’ Thambirajah Ramesh. The deposed MP claimed that he received a telephone call from Ramesh based in Kilinochchi and acted immediately as he believed the LTTE leadership wanted Karuna out of Batticaloa, a claim swiftly challenged by the LTTE.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe last Sunday warned that the LTTE would raise the Karuna issue at the forthcoming meeting in Geneva to discuss the implementation of the Oslo-arranged Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA). Addressing a party meeting at Matara, Wickremesinghe emphasised that the LTTE would definitely demand the immediate disarming of Karuna and that would pose a major challenge to President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government. He signalled a difficult time ahead as the LTTE would not proceed with the peace process due to Karuna’s presence.

Wickremesinghe appears to have conveniently forgotten the fact that the much delayed meeting now scheduled to take place in Geneva was the result of the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar last August. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga demanded an immediate meeting to discuss the CFA immediately after the assassination. Unfortunately the Norwegians and co-chairs to the Tokyo Donor Conference failed to compel to at least sit down for talks. Wickremesinghe, engaged in a rear-guard action to save his place in the party, has also overlooked the fact that negotiations broke down in April 2003, over a year before Karuna’s revolt and that there was absolutely no truth in the perception that violence erupted only after the break-up. In fact the first killing was reported on April 2, 2003 when ex-TELO cadre Sinnathamby Ranjan was killed. He led the Varathan group, a Batticaloa-based para-military outfit. It was followed by an attack on Lance Corporal Ravindrakumaran on April 15, 2003.

They attacked Ramesh Kumar of the Sri Lanka National Guard (SLNG) on May 5, 2003. This was followed by the killing of Sergeant Navasuriya also of the SLNG at Paddur on May 19, 2003. Two days later ex-PLOTE cadre Kumar Perumbal was shot at Subra Hotel in Batticaloa. Nine PLOTE cadres suffered injuries in a hand grenade attack on their office near the Batticaloa Hospital also in May. There were several other victims and the last was TELO cadre Sabaratnam Tirukaran shot dead in October 2003.

According to Army Headquarters there had been 17 killings in government- controlled areas in Batticaloa before the split. Karuna quit on March 2, 2003 and the LTTE (Vanni Faction) started with a bang. Assassins acting on the orders of the intelligence wing cadre Keerthi loyal to the Vanni Faction shot dead 65-year-old Sinnathamby Sundarapillai. The UNP candidate recuperating at the Batticaloa Hospital after being shot at his home before the split did not survive the second attempt on his life.

The split triggered unprecedented killings with the LTTE hunting dissidents hiding in the south. The biggest single strike was the massacre of eight unarmed dissidents including their second-in-command Kuheneshan at Crystal Terrace housing scheme in the Kohuwela police area. This was in the early hours of July 25, 2004, hours before the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen arrived in Colombo for a fresh bid to revive the peace process.

The CFA facilitated the killings. The government and the Oslo-led Nordic truce monitoring mission turned a blind eye to LTTE atrocities.

Wickremesinghe through the Norwegians assured the LTTE that his party was not in anyway involved in the Karuna affair and that Moulana acted on his own. This was revealed after LTTE heavyweight S. P. Thamilchelvam met with Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim and Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar in Kilinochchi on June 30, 2004. Thamilchelvam’s message was clear: Don’t take advantage of what was then termed an internal problem.

The LTTE believed in a swift end to Karuna’s mutiny. The Norwegians, the truce monitoring mission and co-chairs, too, I am, sure believed in the Tigers’ muscle and ability to wipe out the dissidents. They are obviously wrong and today Karuna is a force to be acknowledged and taken seriously. Monday’s announcement that it would cease offensive operations in view of the forthcoming talks in Geneva would definitely pressure the LTTE and the international community to take a realistic view. The monitoring mission recently named the Karuna cadres Alternative Armed Elements thereby disputing the LTTE stand. The LTTE has dubbed the TELO, PLOTE, EPRLF, EPDP and the Karuna group as paramilitary organisations and demand their disarming under the CFA. After failing to wipe out the Karuna loyalists, the LTTE wants the government to go after its erstwhile colleagues. This, I am sure is in the lines of operations conducted by the LTTE with the backing of security forces and police during their honeymoon with President Ranasinghe Premadasa (May 1989-June 1990). The LTTE massacred hundreds of rival cadres in lightning operations facilitated by Premadasa.

The government quite rightly rejected the LTTE request this time. The LTTE as we know make demands from time to time. In 2002 it wanted Wickremesinghe’s government to back its call for an Indian venue for Oslo-arranged negotiations. New Delhi ignored this and Wickremesinghe quite rightly did not take it up with New Delhi.

But he met most of the other Tigers’ demand. The transfer of Dr. (Mrs) E. Karikaran known as Shantha from the government hospital at LTTE-held Puthukudirrippu to Kokkadicholai in Batticaloa was just one instance.

Unfortunately Wickremesinghe like Kumaratunga did not really know the Norwegians. If the UNP leader was aware of the disastrous handling of the previous peace bid in 1994/1995 he would have been at least cautious. The Norwegians arranged a ceasefire agreement early January 1995 but simply vanished when the LTTE resumed hostilities with the sinking of two Chinese built gunboats anchored at Trincomalee. The Norwegians did not at least bother to issue a statement. Government forces suffered a series of stunning battle-field losses before launching offensive operations in August and bringing the Jaffna town under their control in the first week of December, 1995.

The February 2002 agreement gave them the opportunity to intensify their campaign against rivals. In the Ampara-Batticaloa region Karuna was in charge of the slaughter. The CFA demanded the disarming of all rival groups thereby exposing them to LTTE assassins, operating on the orders of Karuna. The LTTE banned Thinamurasu, a Tamil weekly believed to be funded by the EPDP. The LTTE targeted the distribution network in the Ampara-Batticaloa region. It was part of their strategy.

Wickremesinghe’s regime played its part well. On March 31, 2002, it blocked the release of daily situation reports by Army Headquarters. The government also stopped Army Headquarters from posting its daily situation report on its website. Subsequently reports resumed but were subjected to the approval of the Peace Secretariat. The government closed down the Wanni Sevaya on the same day. The radio primarily served the security forces and police based in the Wanni region. It also countered the clandestine Voice of Tigers. Ironically closure of Wanni Sevaya, established by Ranasinghe Premadasa in the 80s came as the government and Norwegians helped the LTTE to expand the Voice of Tigers. The equipment acquired with government/Norwegian help subsequently allowed the LTTE to set up its own satellite link thereby launching transmission to Asia and Europe. Wanni Sevaya remains closed while Tiger propaganda arm targets audiences both here and overseas. The French is reported to have recently initiated an investigation responsible for running the operation.

Wickremesinghe’s partners did their part in style. CWC chief Minister Arumugam Thondaman launched a housing project in the LTTE-held area in memory of ‘Lieutenant Colonel’ Santhosam killed in a confrontation with Indian troops in 1988.

A skirmish off Vakarai before the split revealed efforts to acquire arms, ammunition and equipment. The navy recovered several rounds of 120 mm and 81 mm mortars subsequent to the confrontation. The incident, the first major confrontation between the navy and Sea Tigers and the resultant recovery of mortar rounds what was taking place. But nothing could be more serious than a sea-plane carrying Anton Balasingham, his wife Adele and a Norwegian diplomat flying over Trincomalee seas during a tense stand-off between the navy and a Sea Tiger flotilla.

In a transparent bid to justify the decision to fly over Trincomalee where the navy trapped three Sea Tiger craft laden with armaments and about 200 cadres on April 2002, Norway claimed the path was chosen by the pilot of the Maldivian Air Taxis owned sea plane. The aircraft had appeared over the area in a northerly direction, circled at a very low altitude off Brown Rock Point and then proceeded south along the coast. What the Norwegian statement issued 15 days after the incident did not mention was why the pilot took a route at least two hours longer than the direct Kilinochchi-Male route.

This would not have happened if Wickremesinghe did not give in to Balasigham’s demand to fly directly to Kilinochchi from an overseas destination without coming via Bandaranaike International Airport. Wickremesinghe also gave-in to TULF/TNA demand not to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to assess the CFA. Wickremesinghe, despite an assurance given to the then LSSP General Secretary Batty Weerakoon dropped the plan to appease the LTTE.

The Amnesty International was allowed to visit Kilinochchi where the London headquartered human rights watchdog was asked to help them to improve and expand thamileelam judiciary and thamileelam police.

The local monitors were ineffective. In one instance a leading Trincomalee based lawyer on the local monitoring team filed a motion in the Trincomalee Magistrates’ court requesting the release of two LTTE cadres arrested at Sambaltivu while taking two abducted teenage girls. This took place in February 2003. It was not an isolated case.