Weekly Review

Sri Lanka Scene

07 July 2004

The Kollupitiya Blast and its Message

By: T. Sabaratnam

 

Wednesday noon suicide bomb blast in the heart of Colombo has sent shock waves among Sri Lanka’s business men and has made the common man worry about the country's fragile peace process.

"We hope that it is only an isolated incident," was the common prayer of the entire country.

The business sector was aghast over the blast and said immediate return to the negotiation table is the urgent need of the hour. "We should return to the table for the sake of investment and development," said Mahen Dayananda, deputy chairman of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Sri Lanka’s oldest and biggest trade chamber.

Ranjith Hettiarachchi, chairman Ceylon National Chamber of Industries, said, "The blast is a grim reminder that the peace process should be revitalized and that all political leaders should move in that direction."

Colombo Stock Exchange panicked when the news about the 12.15 p.m. blast reached it during the closing hour of Wednesday’s trading and lost Rs. 4.7 billion in market capitalization.

Within minutes the market that was on a steady rise dipped. Panic selling of shares, especially by foreign investors, took place beginning 12.20 p.m. and the market had slumped when trading closed at 1 p.m.

"The panic may continue on Thursday and thereafter if the investors fail to regain confidence," stock market analysts said. They warned that it would take weeks, even months, to rebuild the image that existed before the blast.

"We are all worried," summed up top banker Hatton National Bank chairman Reienzie Wijeyatilleke. "Investor confidence had been battered. Tourism will totter. All that we gained in the past two years of peace will evaporate," he said.

The common man is worried that the war would return with its consequences, death, destruction and suffering. They are worried that the peace they enjoyed last two years would vanish.

Signs of tension had already appeared on Wednesday evening. Colombo’s security had been tightened. Additional policemen and soldiers were on the streets. Tamils fear more searches and other stringent security arrangements.

"Are we returning to the era of self-destruction?" asked a political commentator.

But President Chandrika Kumaratunga who appeared in the state-owned television ITN Wednesday night ruled out return to war. She said the government is fully committed to peace and negotiations with the LTTE. She said talks would resume soon. She said the LTTE too had reiterated its commitment to peace.

Kumaratunga did not blame the Tigers for Wednesday’s blast though her minister Douglas Devananda categorically blamed the LTTE. She said, "I am disturbed by yesterday’s bomb blast. There is no evidence to blame the LTTE for it. Tigers have said that they are not involved in it. We are unable to say who is responsible. The government does not want to say anything until the investigations are over."

LTTE’s Anger

Tigers are not going to talk to her at the moment. They are not even prepared to talk about an agenda. Tigers have decided not to take part in peace talks till attacks on Tiger cadres end and Karuna affair disposed of. LTTE negotiator Anton Balasingham told this to Norway’s special envoy Erik Solheim on Tuesday when then met in London.

Balasingham told Solheim of the killings of Tiger cadres by Karuna’s men and their backers, the army intelligence. It would be a waste of time to talk to Kumaratunga who is unable to control the army, Balasingham said.

Tigers have repeatedly accused the Sri Lankan military intelligence of waging a covert war against them in the east of the island using the breakaway renegade Karuna.

The Tigers blamed Karuna for several attacks in the east, including the killing of a prominent journalist and four disabled rebel fighters.

The situation escalated on Monday when one Tiger political official was shot dead and three others injured in two attacks inside government-controlled territory in the east.

Tigers were also annoyed when 14 armed Tamil men suspected to be from Karuna group caught by the police in a Buddhist temple at Hingurakgoda were released on bail on Tuesday due to the pressure exerted by the army.

The group of armed men who were on their way to Batticaloa from Colombo took shelter at the temple on Monday night. Neighbours, suspicious of the men, informed the police. The police who inspected the room in which they stayed found three T-56 rifles, one T-84 rifles, three hand grenades and nine mobile phones. Police arrested the group for possessing of unauthorized weapons, a non-bailable offence.

Tigers now have evidence that the army pressurized the police to release the 14 men. Two army jeeps and an army car were seen going to the police station to persuade the police to release the men. The police produced the group of men before the Pollonnaruwa magistrate but did not tell him about the discovery of weapons. The magistrate released them on bail and the group traveled to Batticaloa in the van and the car in which they travelled.

Kausalyan, LTTE commander of Batticaloa- Ampara commented on this incident thus: "Now it is very obvious Sri Lankan authorities are conniving with the military intelligence and police to gather, arm and send stragglers of the Karuna group to murder innocents and sabotage the peace."

Tigers had taken a stiff stand following Monday’s shooting of their cadres. They made explicit their anger and annoyance in the statement issued following the well planned and carefully executed attacks on Tiger cadres.

They said, "Once more, fully aware of our people's desire for peace, we emphasize our continued commitment to the Memorandum of Understanding. We also want to express in no uncertain terms that if war is thrust on us, we are prepared to respond."

Kilinochchi sources said the statement issued by LTTE's Political Division of Batticaloa-Amparai reflected the fury of the leadership. "Our leader is very angry," the source said. "You know our leader never forgives anyone who harms his cadres."

The source said Pirapaharan was equally annoyed about the army attack and arrest of one of his cadres at the Batticaloa hospital following the shooting. LTTE cadres had given vent to their anger and shouted at the soldiers who guarded the inured men admitted to the hospital for treatment. Soldiers assaulted the Tiger cadres and arrested Kadabi, one of the cadres.

Tigers Blames Army

Batticaloa- Amparai political chief Kausalyan said Tiger leadership would soon take measures to stop attacks on its political workers. "We consider Monday attacks as a challenge to us. We are prepared to meet it," he added.

Kausalyan also reiterated LTTE’s determination to abide by the ceasefire agreement. He said the LTTE would continue the political work they are doing in army controlled areas.

He charged that the Sri Lanka Army was trying to provoke them and start the war. He said the Tigers are determined not to fall to that bait. He added attacks on the LTTE area political leaders would not weaken the LTTE.

LTTE in its statement had put the blame on the army. It said Monday’s incidents took place in SLA controlled areas.

"We have told the SLA officers several times during phone conversations and during discussions that stopping killings in the east is in SLA's hands. SLA has clearly ignored our notices," the statement said.

It added, "The killings clearly indicate that Security Forces are intent on undermining the MoU and are creating conditions for war. The actions of Security Forces are gross violations of the Cease Fire Agreement and we condemn these actions."

Sinhalese are elated about Batticaloa attacks and said Karuna factor was at work. Tamils, however, believe that the targeted killings of LTTE members and supporters in Batticaloa are being done by US-trained Sri Lankan Special Forces.

The first shooting took place at 9.20 a.m. near Arasady junction. Batticaloa political chief Senathirajah, known as Senathi, left the LTTE political office to Devanayagam Hall, 100 meters away, in a motorcycle with Nilan in the pillion. Senathi, 37, was to preside at the massive Black Tiger Day celebration.

Senathi who normally travels with motorcycle escort went without it on Monday as the army and the police were guarding the area. The road was full of people. There was also a checkpoint at the junction.

People’s Bank stood close to the junction. About 15 meters away, on the opposite side of the road, there was a communication center. A youth stood behind a police constable who stood near the communication center. A blue coloured motorcycle was parked near him. Another youth stood about 20 meters away.

On seeing Senathi the second youth stepped out on to the road and fired at him with a hand gun. Senathi was hit on his chest and stomach. He fell. Nilan was hit on his left hand and right thigh. He too fell. Nilan shouted to the people for help. People sent them in a three wheeler to the hospital. Senathi is still in the intensive care unit.

The youth near the motorcycle started it and the one who fired jumped on to the pillion. The police who stood near the motorcycle did not prevent the youth from fleeing.

The second shooting took place about 40 minutes later, near Vanthaarumoolai Catholic Church, about 20 kilometers north of Batticaloa, between Sri Lanka army camps at the Kaluwankerni Junction and Vembu. LTTE cadres Murinchan and Rosan were riding in a motorbike from Sittandy to Chenkalady when gunmen following in another motorbike shot at them from behind. Murinchan died on the spot while Rosan is receiving treatment for his gunshot wounds


The shooting incidents at Arasadi junction and Vanthaarumoolai did mute the Black Tiger Day celebrations in Batticaloa, where elaborate preparations had been made. Observers said the subdued and sorrowful observance unleashed emotions which united the people behind the cause of Tamil nationalism.

The Black Tiger phenomenon was born on July 5, 1987 when a young LTTE male guerrilla, Miller, rammed an explosive-packed truck into an army camp, giving birth to a cult of suicide attacks that has tormented Sri Lanka and left the world in awe.

Monday’s celebrations were unprecedented, massive crowds paying homage to the 241 men and women who sacrificed their lives for their cause.

At an unidentified place in Vanni Prabhakaran received the first copy of a music album titled "Black Tigers (Volume 8)" from Pottu Amman, who is chief of the LTTE's intelligence unit.

Similar functions were held elsewhere in Sri Lanka's northeast, including at Nelliady in Jaffna where the LTTE's Miller carried out the first signature raid in 1987.

Black Tiger Day functions did not deviate Tiger leadership’s attention from Black Tiger Day attacks in Batticaloa. Kausalyan warned on Tuesday, "Now it is very obvious Sri Lankan authorities are conniving with the military intelligence and police to gather, arm and send stragglers of the Karuna group to murder innocents and sabotage the peace."


The Message

Whether Wednesday’s suicide blast was the work of a Black Tiger or not is not material. The message it delivered is what matters.

The message was delivered by 26-year-old suicide bomber Thiyagarajah Jayarani, a resident of Manipay. She went to Hindu Affairs Ministry housed in the second floor of a nine-storey on Galle Road in Kollupitiya opposite the Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister. She was allowed to go to the second floor as it was the day Hindu Affairs Minister Douglas Devananda meets the public. She sat in the public area with the others who had gone to meet the minister.

She was called around 10.55 a.m. to meet the minister. She walked up to the entrance of the minister’s office where a female security officer, a woman police constable checked her. She felt something hard around the woman’s navel and below. When questioned, Jayarani said she was wearing a sanitary napkin. The constable asked her to undress. She declined. The constable reported the matter to her superior Ministerial Security Division officer.

The officer asked her to undress and allow the woman police officer to check her. Jayrani refused. Then the police officers took her in a three wheeler to Kollupitiya police station. At the police station, when another woman constable tried to check her, a police officer called the bomb squad. Then Jayarani activated the bomb killing herself and four policemen. Fourteen others were injured.

The simple and straight message Jayarani delivered through her supreme sacrifice was this: Stop Meddling. Return to the Peace Talks..

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Posted July 11, 2004