Last week, The Island partly dealt with Rev. Dr. S. J Emmanuel’s thoughts on the collapse of talks between the government of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in April 1995.
The priest blamed Mrs. Kumaratunga for the breakdown of talks. Rev. Dr. Emmanuel’s views, on the conflict, are relevant, even in the post-war period, due to his high profile role in the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The influential Diaspora grouping spearheads a costly campaign meant to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal.
The GTF wields immense influence, particularly in the UK, where the grouping receives access to the ruling Conservatives-Liberal Democrats coalition, at the highest level.
The GTF was among many organizations and individuals recently proscribed by Sri Lanka, in accordance with an overall strategy to counter post-war separatist movement gaining ground. It would be pertinent to mention that Prabhakaran would never have allowed the formation of such a grouping if he survived the military onslaught, in early 2009.
Rev. Dr. Emmanuel discussed the events, leading to the outbreak of war, in April, 1995, at a conference held in Lausenna, Switzerland, in July, 1997. Let me examine some critical points raised by Rev. Dr. Emmanuel, which couldn’t be discussed last week. (The writer is grateful to the GTF leader for making his submissions, Lausenna conference available to The Island).
Rev. Dr. Emmanuel condemned Mrs. Kumaratunga for conducting a brutal war, consequent to the breakdown of talks. The priest declared: “The war, as conducted by the Kumaratunga regime, added a new horror element to the ethnic war – internationalizing her efforts of war through a powerful propaganda machinery to make it appear as a justified ‘war for peace’, as a war against terrorism, and at the same time conducting it on the ground as a war behind closed doors closed to all local or international media, amounts nothing less than a genocide with an international license.”
Rev. Dr. Emmanuel went on to allege: “While retaining the old international credential, and accolade, which she received as she came to power with promises to end the war and create peace, she has turned 180 degrees to conduct the mother of all wars in the name of peace.”
The five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), led by Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) has accused President Mahinda Rajapaksa of conducting a genocidal war, targeting Tamil-speaking people. In fact, a group of TNA provincial council members representing the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils, in August this year, requested the UN to inquire into the genocidal war conducted by President Rajapaksa. The TNA move, against President Rajapaksa, should be examined in the backdrop of longstanding accusation made against his predecessor, Mrs. Kumaratunga.
For want of a cohesive strategy, successive Sri Lankan governments pathetically failed to counter separatist propaganda. The UK-based LTTE International Secretariat conducted a highly successful propaganda drive to justify Prabhakaran’s decision to resume hostilities. Mrs. Kumaratunga’s government couldn’t match the LTTE operation, as well as propaganda projects, undertaken by those who had brazenly accepted the LTTE as the representatives of an aggrieved and oppressed people. Rev. Dr. Emmanuel hadn’t minced his words in Lucerne, in July, 1997, when he declared: “Mrs Kumaratunga’s government did not understand the LTTE as the representatives of an aggrieved and oppressed people. Nor did they recognize the LTTE demands as the demands of the people.”
Subsequently, the TNA went to the extent in declaring the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The LTTE received the TNA recognition in the run-up to Eelam War IV.
Could there be anything as ridiculous as those who had, perhaps at gunpoint, recognized the LTTE as the representative of the Tamil speaking people, demanding accountability on the part of President Rajapaksa? Would anyone be foolish enough to believe that the LTTE waged war on behalf of the Tamil speaking people?
Those who represented the interests of the LTTE justified war as long as they felt Prabhakaran could achieve Eelam at any cost. A case in point is the large scale use of children as combatants by the LTTE. The Tamil political leadership, as well as the so-called civil society organizations, never opposed the forcible recruitment of children. In support of a high profile mobilization campaign, during the Norwegian peace process (2002-2004), TNA members participated in passing out parades on many occasions.
Rev. Dr. Emmanuel explained events leading to the LTTE withdrawing from the negotiating process on April 19, 1995. The priest recalled Thamilselvam, who led the LTTE delegation for the fourth round of talks with Mrs Kumaratunga’s representatives, in Jaffna, on April 10, 1995, reiterating Prabhakaran’s decision to quit the negotiating process unless all its demands were met.
Dr. Rev. Emmanuel said: “The LTTE announcement of its withdrawal from the peace process was not unexpected as is being made out. As early as March 16, 1995, in releasing 14 prisoners of war, LTTE leader, Prabhakaran, sent a letter to President Kumaratunga, specifically stating that if the outstanding issues, between the two parties, were not resolved before March 28, 1995, they would be compelled to take a decision to withdraw from the peace process. The government choose to ignore the deadline. Realizing that the time frame might be too short and, particularly, because of what the LTTE noted to be a positive response from the President indicating the lifting on the ban on fuel and fishing rights, the LTTE put off the deadline, by three weeks, for April 19, 1995.”
Although Rev. Dr. Emmanuel accused Mrs. Kumaratunga of conducting the ‘mother of all wars’ in the name of peace, the priest conveniently forgot at least, to recollect the LTTE resuming Eelam War III with devastating attacks. The LTTE blew up two Chinese built gunboats, anchored at the Trincomalee harbour, on the night of April 19, 1995. On April 27, 1995, the LTTE mounted a sea borne attack on the army, based at the Kayts island, killing 18 soldiers. The LTTE also opened a new phase in the conflict with a heat seeking missile attack on an SLAF transport aircraft, taking off from the isolated Palaly air base. Within 24 hours, the LTTE brought down another SLAF transport aircraft, coming to land at Palaly. Nearly 100 security forces officers and men died in the twin missile strikes. The LTTE had reversed the situation in the Jaffna peninsula. Isolated Jaffna security forces bases were under siege. The Jaffna crisis brought Mrs Kumaratunga under immense pressure with the LTTE building up strength to overrun Palaly. Under tremendous pressure, on the Palaly front, the army, in August 1995, launched Operation Riviresa, undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most successful combined security forces campaign during Eelam Wars I, II and III. In spite of fierce resistance, the LTTE ended up losing Jaffna town during the first week of Dec, 1995. Shortly, thereafter, the army brought the entire Vadamarachchi under government control. A series of counter-insurgency operations in the Jaffna peninsula resulted in the army killing scores of infiltrators. Although the LTTE launched some devastating attacks on the army, in the Vanni theater, it couldn’t destabilize the Jaffna peninsula, with the army consolidating its hold on the Jaffna theater.
Obviously, the LTTE’s gamble failed with devastating consequences to its position on the ground. To the credit of Mrs Kumaratunga’s administration, it resorted to strong response to Prabhakaran’s conventional military challenge. Had the LTTE not laid siege to the the Jaffna peninsula, with missile attacks on aircraft, in late April 1995, perhaps Kumaratunga’s government wouldn’t have felt the requirement to bring the peninsula under its control. In hindsight, Operation Riviresa created the ground conditions necessary to conduct a large scale military offensive in the Vanni region – comprising the administrative districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.
Operation Jayasikurui launched in early 1997, to restore an overland Main Supply Route from Vavuniya to the Jaffna peninsula, collapsed with disastrous consequences. In fact, massive losses suffered on the Vanni front nearly brought down Mrs Kumaratunga’s government. The President sought re-election at the Dec. 1999, presidential poll after having suffered a spate of battlefield debacles on the Vanni front. Mrs. Kumaratunga struggled both on the political and military fronts, with the LTTE poised to further intensify its campaign.
After having assassinated Gamini Dissanayake, to ensure Mrs Kumaratunga’s victory, at the Dec 9, 1994, presidential polls, the LTTE almost succeeded in thwarting the lady from seeking re-election at the Dec 1999 presidential election. The LTTE wanted to ensure UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory, in an obvious bid to resume a fresh round of negotiations.
Kumaratunga narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on the night of December 19, 1999, by a suicide bomber at the final election rally, of her People’s Alliance, at the Colombo Town Hall.
Kumaratunga sustained injuries to her right eye and face and was discharged from hospital two days later. The blast claimed the lives of 36 people, including Kumaratunga’s driver, two bodyguards, a senior Deputy Inspector General of Police and the bomber. Over a hundred were injured, including three cabinet ministers—G.L. Peiris, Kingsley Wickramaratna and Alavi Moulana. The government immediately clamped a curfew on the districts of Colombo and Gampaha.
In a statement, Kumaratunga, who was standing for a second term of office, said that the presidential election would proceed as planned.
Although the LTTE operation failed, it was the second attempt by Prabhakaran to influence the outcome of a presidential poll. The murderous bid to change Kumaratunga’s destiny should be examined in the backdrop of the LTTE thinking that she wouldn’t give in to their unreasonable demands. Prabhakaran eliminated Gamini Dissanayake for the same reason. It would be interesting to recollect Rev. Dr. Emmanuel opinion in July 1997, on CBK-Prabhakaran talks (two years before the attempt on Mrs Kumaratunga’s life): “Even after the resumption of hostilities, the LTTE has reiterated its stance by declaring through the press and through international conferences that the doors are open for future peace talks. Going by its experience of talks, both with President Premadasa and with President Chandrika, they are insisting on a third party mediation. Tamils have experienced, as the aggrieved partner, long decades of deception, death and destruction. Pacts have been unilaterally torn and promises repeatedly unfulfilled by governments. With President Chandrika, they hoped for a better future. But that hope has proved to be the worst of deceptions.” Rev. Dr. Emmanuel added: “Is not this war against the Tamils ‘behind close doors’, though proclaimed to be a ‘war for peace and against terrorism’ not a deception of the whole world and a travesty of truth?”
Unfortunately, Rev. Dr. Emmanuel had chosen to ignore the LTTE’s grand strategy. The GTF leader is definitely not alone in believing in Prabhakaran’s capacity to achieve Eelam through military means. The LTTE had been among about half a dozen Sri Lankan Tamil terrorist groups, established by the government of India in the early 80s. Having militarily crushed all other groups by 1987, the LTTE demanded recognition from India to be considered the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. Having created the conditions for Indian military intervention here, in July, 1987, the LTTE declared war against the Indian army in Oct 1987, reached a clandestine understanding with the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, in May 1989, forcing Premadasa to call for Indian withdrawal. In June 1990, just three months after the Indian pullout, the LTTE resumed hostilities, caused immense losses before killing President Premadasa, on May Day, 1993. In the following year, the LTTE, facilitated Mrs Kumaratunga’s victory at the parliamentary polls in August and then went onto assassinate Gamini Dissanayake to ensure Mrs Kumaratunga’s victory at the Dec 1994 presidential election. When Mrs Kumaratunga refused to dance to its tune, Prabhakaran made an attempt to thwart her re-election bid in Dec 1999. Had he succeeded, UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe would have definitely won the election.
The LTTE directed an almost simultaneous suicide attack at a UNP rally at Ja-ela, killing one-time Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Lakshman Algama. The LTTE not only intended to help Wickremesinghe win the presidential election, it also wanted to destabilize the entire country. Let me emphasize that the UNP couldn’t have been involved in Prabhakaran’s conspiracy in anyway. But, the LTTE strategy was meant to influence the electorate, particularly the Tamil speaking voters, to throw their weight behind Wickremesinghe. The timing of Mrs Kumaratunga’s assassination bid was crucial to the LTTE’s overall strategy. The PA presidential candidate’s assassination, just 48 hours before the election, wouldn’t have given time for the ruling coalition to make a proper announcement as regards Mrs Kumaratunga’s successor.
Had President Kumaratunga perished at Town Hall, who would have been the PA’s choice? It would be pertinent to mention that when the LTTE assassinated Gamini Dissanayake, the UNP decided to field the slain leader’s wife, Srima, though many believed Wickremesinghe should have been given the opportunity. Mrs Kumaratunga polled a staggering 62 per cent vote at the Nov, 1994, poll due to the LTTE’s message to the Tamil speaking electorate that it favoured Kumaratunga. The message to the Tamil electorate was nothing but the high profile assassination of Gamini Dissanayake.