April 17, 1997 at Puthukudierruppu, Mullaithivu
(In the presence of Adele Balasingam and Lawrence Thilagar.)
by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam. Ph.D. (Cornell), Consultant in Education and Sports, Olympian 1952 and 1956, October 22, 2020
In April 1996, Harvard University’s Program for International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR) convened a consultation process with the Sinhala and Tamil Diaspora living in the United States. It wanted to discuss the possibility of initiating a facilitation process with the Sri Lanka Government (SLG) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The American Friends Service Committee and US NGO Forum on Sri Lanka supported it. There were eight leading Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims involved. Harvard’s Team was lead by Dr. Donna Hicks and Mr. William Weisberg.
The consultation started on April 19 in a rural environment in upstate New York in a residential seminar. I was invited as a citizen of Sri Lanka residing in Los Angeles. I had just returned from the North of Sri Lanka where I was teaching at the Kilinochchi campus of the University of Jaffna and had been there when the Jaffna population was displaced to the Vanni due to the SLG offensive in August to October 1995.
A notable participant was Ven. Ratnasara Thero who was Priest of the Los Angeles Buddhist Temple. In the late forties he was Priest in the Naga Vihara in Jaffna. Ven. Thero informed me that he was an advisor on Buddhism to Prime Ministers S.W.R.D. and Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike.
I briefed the seminar on my work with the University of Jaffna and in the North since April 1994. I informed the group of the daily LTTE briefings the professionals in the North received everyday after the 1995 Peace Talks sessions. I also mentioned of my meetings with Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike before the Presidential election in November 1994 and her request for me to ask Mr. Pirabaharan to allow people in the North to vote for her daughter, Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge. I informed the group that I conveyed the message to Mr. Karikalan and Thamilchelvam in October 1994 as I had never met Pirapaharan. I briefed the group of the displacement of all civilians in Jaffna in October and November 1995 and the settlement of Refugees in the Vanni.
The decision of the Seminar was for of the Harvard Team to visit Colombo and travel to Mullaitivu for a meeting with Mr. Balasingam and Mr. Thamilchelvam to explore the wish of the Harvard Team to be facilitator of talks between the Sri Lanka Government (SLG) and the LTTE in a neutral country or in Sri Lanka near the North-East border. Those who were in the Seminar who was in touch with Balasingam were to get permission for the Two-Member Harvard Team to meet Balasingam. The Sinhala Diaspora person was Mr. Sydney, who was in touch with the SLG, and was tasked to get permission from them to visit the Vanni. Sydney arranged the meeting for the Harvard Team with Prof. G.L Peiris of the SLFP and Mr. Melinda Morogoda of the UNP. I was asked by Donna Hicks to accompany the team to the Vanni.
Ven. Ratnasara Thero in private conversation after the discussions informed me that the SLG will not agree to facilitation for talks with the LTTE. He did not tell me the reasons. Later, when two of the Tamil participants from Southern California met with Ven. Ratnasara Thero in his office in Los Angeles the Thero in a long discussion had given reasons why no talks with the LTTE and the Government would succeed. I am not at Liberty to give the gist of the conversation.
Both the SLG and LTTE later confirmed permissions for travel were granted. Harvard’s Initiative was forwarded to Mr. Balasingam before I went to Mankulam in the Vanni. The LTTE had read Harvard’s proposal and my report based on Harvard’s discussions in Colombo with Prof G.L. Peiris (SLFP) and Mr. Melinda Morogoda (UNP). (See Harvard University Report to US Institute of Peace – http://www.usip.org/pubs/peaceworks/smock20/chap5_20.html (This report in no longer in the usip.org website or its achieves.)
Arrival of the Harvard’s Team in Colombo
The Harvard Team and Sydney, the lead person of the Sinhala Diaspora, who made the arrangement with the SLG, arrived in Colombo in April 1997. I arrived earlier to continue my work on my annual education work in the North-East. We called on U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh. The Ambassador was not keen on the Harvard Team visiting the Vanni, though the State Department had supported their visit. He was informed us that G.L Peiris had nominated three non-government specialists in conflict resolution as the SLG’s unofficial representatives to join the Harvard Team to explore the facilitation process meetings in Sri Lanka or in another country. The LTTE was supposed to nominate three non-LTTE members too in addition to LTTE members. Ambassador Burleigh advised the Team to consult with the Indian Ambassador in Colombo before they went to the Vanni. The Harvard Team did not want to expand their consultations at this point.
Later that evening the Harvard Team informed me that Prof. Peiris had withdrawn the names he had nominated and withdrew the permission he gave the Harvard Team to go to the Vanni. The reason he had stated was that as they were both White foreigners and would be visible. There will be many questions asked by the armed forces, the media, the UN and international institutions, NGOs and INGOs as to the purpose of the Team’s visit to the Vanni. This may lead to speculations and those who oppose negotiation with the LTTE would ask questions and the government will not be able to keep the visit of the team confidential. The Harvard Team, who had obtained an appointment with Balasingam and Thamilchelvam, prior to their arrival in Sri Lanka, had to cancel the appointment. I was requested to go to the Vanni, meet Balasingam and Thamilchelvam and explai
n the situation and offer their apology. Also to explain to them the Harvard Team’s wish to facilitate the exploration of a path that would lead to the two parties meeting together to negotiate a solution at a future date. I accepted the responsibility as I was going to Mankulam to continue my education and humanitarian work. I was going to stay with my older brother Nithiyanantham who was displaced from Jaffna to Kilinochchi in October 1995 and then to Mankulam in early 1997 when the Sri Lankan Army took possession of Kilinochchi.
Travel to Mankulam, Mullaithivu District.
I traveled to Mankulam on April 11, 1997. I met LTTE civil administration members in the LTTE Political and Administrative office in Mankulam off the A9 highway. I forwarded to Balasingam the message from the Harvard team and other notes of suggestions given by Bradman Weerakoon, Bishop Kenneth Fernando and the civil society group composed of Neelan Thiruchelvam, Pakiasothy Saravanamuthu, Rohan Edrisinghe, Jehan Perera and Joe Williams who worked at the Canadian Embassy, at a meeting held at Bente Bergson’s house. Bente is the wife of Oerstad, the UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka. Bente, a Norwegian, was in touch with the Norwegian embassy in Colombo. She had the responsibility to liaise with the Norwegian Embassy and Civil Society in Colombo on conflict resolution related matters.
On April 17, I met Balasingam and Thamilchelvam and explained and expanded on the messages from the Harvard Team, whom they had met in 1994 in Jaffna. Balasingam acknowledged that the notes I made on the Harvard Initiative and handed over earlier to their Political Office in Mankulam.
Balasingam said that they had discussed all my points with Thalaivar Prabakaran and what he had to say should be taken as from Thalaivar Prabakaran. He spoke in English and ensured that I took notes on the discussion so that I may not inadvertently misinterpret the statements or our discussion.
Balasingam said that
1.) The LTTE was disappointed that the government did not give permission for the Harvard team to visit the Vanni. LTTE was ready to consider the Harvard’s Team’s visit very seriously.
2.) In light of the position of the government not to entertain any Third Party facilitation, its focus on getting a devolution proposal approved through the Parliament Select Committee before the end of May, the current preparation for a major offensive against the LTTE and the refusal by the government not to let the Harvard team to travel to Vanni is interpreted by the LTTE as no interest on the part of the government for any peace discussion until the LTTE is weakened militarily and politically. The government agreeing to a set of names of persons nominated has no meaning in the context of its current policies.
3.) The LTTE feels that if Harvard initiative is to be a Third-Party facilitation, it is the government that Harvard has to convince for the type of Third Party and Pre-facilitation process it proposes. The LTTE therefore recommends that Harvard try to get permission for the team to travel to Vanni and have discussions. Permission given by the government will be interpreted by the LTTE as a desire for peace by negotiation with the assistance of a facilitator. If such an outcome is possible, the LTTE wishes to recommend that participants should understand the complexity and consequences of the conditions laid down by both parties. The participants should be able to make decisions and compromises as the discussion progresses. Non-Government or non-LTTE members, however knowledgeable, are not in a position to make decisions for the respective parties. At this stage such participants can only give false hopes to the public on both sides leading to further confusion similar to the recent British actions.
4.) Official participation for the LTTE means,that some of its members need to travel in safety to the place of the meeting, if held outside the Vanni. It is these matters that need to be facilitated first by the Third Party. To do this, a direct meeting with the facilitator is needed to ensure that the facilitator is in a position to make such events happen.
I also briefed Balasingam on the request of Bradman and the Civil Society members. He informed me that he was not surprised that Prof. Peiris first approved the visit of the Harvard Team to Colombo and then to the Vanni and then denied permission to visit the Vanni. He said that the SLG was preparing to invade the Vanni and control the A9 road to Jaffna.
Preparation of people in Mankulam and surrounding areas
The news of the impending operation by the SLG Army was already circulating in Mankulam where most of the residents were families and university students displaced from Jaffna peninsula and Kilinochchi. The debates among the civilians were whether the army would advance from Manal Aru (Weli Oya), from Thandikulam on the A9, through Madhu or from Mannar on the coastal road to Poonakary.
They placed their bets on the SLG forces coming on the A9 and another from Manal Aru going to Nedunkerni and to Mullaithivu from which they were driven away in August 1996. Some of the displaced were my colleagues and students from the Faculty of Agriculture who were displaced from Kilinochchi and now living in Karaippaddamurippu school and Vivekananda school in Mulliavallai off the A34 road from Mankulam to Mullaithivu. Many were planning to go to Vavunikulam and Mallavi, West of A9. Some others went to Vavuniya to proceed to Jaffna via Trincomalee via sea.
LTTE’s Response in Addition to what was said above
After some discussion Balasingam advised me to write down what he was going to say as the message was from Thalaivar Pirabaharan. I wrote down what he said. Thamilchelvam had to leave at this point, but Thilagar and Adele were in the meeting to the end. Balasingam then advised me to give the message below to the American Ambassador, President Chandrika, UNP leaders, and others who had sent their advice. Though we spoke in Tamil, Mr. Balasingam repeated each point in English also so that I would not mistranslate his statements. The points that he emphasized were coming from Thalaivar Pirabaharan were:
1.) We are disappointed that the SLG has not given permission for a Team from Harvard University to visit us to explore the possibility of mediation. It shows that the SLG is not interested in a negotiated solution through a third party.
2.) Harvard can be a second track facilitator to start talks through mediation of a third party government. Harvard does not have the resources to be a mediator. Only a third party government has such resources. Current conditions need authoritative and knowledgeable representatives about conditions. Middle people are not suitable to discuss solutions to current and long-term conditions.
3.) The names Prof Peiris nominated did not have any authority to make decisions.
4.) The SLG is not genuine because they are preparing for an offensive to capture the Vanni.
5.) Their public posture is to prepare their people for the offensive. This is not a signal for peace.
6.) The SLG should contact the LTTE directly to talk about third party mediation. Not go roundabout.
7.) We are for third party mediation openly and not in secret. If the Commonwealth Secretariat wants to mediate, they should first contact the SLG and LTTE directly.
8.) If America and Britain want to be mediators, they should officially contact the LTTE directly too, not through intermediaries.
9.) We have a massive refugee problem and no assistance. Preparing for another operation to capture the Vanni will displace the already displaced and will cause destruction and death of civilians.
10.) If the major Operation that the SLG is planning to invade the Vanni is implemented, it will be a drawback for future negotiations. If LTTE is weakened it will tighten the conditions for negotiation.
11.) If the SLG wants to negotiate before the offensive, the conditions for negotiation are the same as before – as in 1994. The process of alleviation of the people’s suffering first through rehabilitation, reparation and reconstruction has to be in the control of the LTTE as specified in the last peace talks.
12.) The current planned aggression is not conducive to peace initiatives. Definite policy has to be negotiated and the LTTE leadership in negotiation should be recognized. The mediator has to be an international government.
13.) By end of May we want an international government third party to send a fact-finding mission to the North-East and South.
14.) Tamils arrested should be considered Prisoners of War and treated accordingly by the SLG and ICRC. Now they have no status. We released war prisoners from the South through the ICRC. The SLG should also release Tamil prisoners.
15.) On Bradman’s suggestion for discussion of an “Asymmetric solution and an interim administration with substantive majority of the LTTE, and preponderance of powers to the interim administration to carry out reconstruction and rehabilitation,” we want to know what “substantive majority” in terms of number of members means, and what is entailed in the term “preponderance of powers.” We want to know whether Chandrika’s government supports Bradman’s proposition before the suggestion can be followed further. If the offensive planned by the government is not stopped, there will be no follow-up.
He concluded these points stressing to get the President to stop the invasion operation they are planning and to emphasize that — if the operation takes place –the LTTE may never want to talk peace with the Chandrika government. He then outlined the suffering on the already suffering people in the Vanni. The destruction of school and other buildings and houses caused displacement of parents and children resulted in loss of property and schooling. The Tamil people will not forget the number who will die and be disabled. He then said Thalaivar Pirapaharan has said that the objectives of the Sri Lanka government will never be achieved even after a year, the casualties of the soldiers will be heavy and the army will eventually be driven back as the LTTE is stronger now than in 1995 when they thought Chandrika was going to solve the problem. But all the while she was preparing for war in Jaffna.
Balasingam responded to the following requests made by Rudrakumaran for clarification.
1.) Geneva Convention Protocol 11.4 – Internal Conflict/Self Determination should be signed to authorize adherence and filing in Switzerland:
Balasingam was not sure which was signed earlier and deposited. Thilagar thought that the earlier one was the Geneva Convention on war and that the internal conflict one is to be deposited in Berne. Balasingam wanted Rudrakumaran to send another copy of the Document as soon as possible and explain the implication of signing Geneva Protocols I and II.
2.) Canadian Embassy’s Political Officer requesting to be facilitator:
Balasingam said that Canada is referring to the LTTE as a terrorist organization publicly and privately prosecuting Suresh, a former LTTE cadre, an immigrant from Batticaloa. Balasingam thought that it is best to wait until the court decision to decide whether Canada is a suitable facilitator. He wanted to see the final argument of the case. Another major point he stressed was that the LTTE has already expressed its willingness to accept International Facilitation to discuss conditions for future political solutions. It is the government that has not expressed its willingness to accept third party facilitation. Therefore, those who wish to be Third Parties should talk to the government to get them to agree for third party mediation and then contact the LTTE to work out the modalities. Not the other way around. Trying to contact the LTTE who agrees for third party mediation assumes that the LTTE is the stumbling block. The government is publicly positioning for a major offensive and preparing the people for war. There is no signal for peace.
3.) Commonwealth Secretary’s Request for mediation: Though the Commonwealth Secretary has not referred to the LTTE as a terrorist Organization, they also should convince the government to accept third party facilitation. After that they can contact the LTTE to work out the details.
4.) WTNTV request: They can come through Colombo. If they contact before coming, necessary arrangements in LTTE-controlled areas can be arranged. Other modes of passage are not possible at this time.
5.) Balasingam said that he has not received the report of our meeting with the British Parliamentary Group. The Foreign Office has not contacted the LTTE after Liam Fox’s visit to Colombo.
6.) Balasingam said that the LTTE is not in favour of Dr. Ratnesar or other private parties to be intermediaries. Nothing personal. Dr. Ratnesar is personal physician to Mrs. Srimavo Banadarnaike.
Other Points of Discussion on Questions from the USA
1.) On the point on POWs raised by Bruce Neuling and Steve Mann of the State Department and the American Embassy in Colombo, Balasingam said that the ICRC had discussions with the LTTE two months back. They are in contact as and when necessary. He made the point that the government does not recognize captured LTTE combatants as POWs and they are treated as terrorists, but the LTTE follows the laws of the Geneva Protocol. He also said that the people and the LTTE are denied medical supplies and POWs are in the same situation – lack of medicine. The ICRC is looking into it. The government should consider LTTE prisoners as POWs. The ICRC and international governments should demand such equal status. The LTTE has released Prisoners recently to the ICRC but there is no reciprocal release of LTTE prisoners.
2.) The most important substance of devolution is not ready. The Devolution Process is acceptable but not the human rights violation of the Tamils and their suppression. The government should have a definite policy to negotiate. It should recognize LTTE leadership. There should be no offensive operations.
3.) Balasingam would like to know India’s policy on other foreign mediation.
4.) If US foreign policy towards Sri Lanka includes putting the LTTE in the Terrorist List and providing training to Sri Lanka forces and providing or selling military equipment, it will close all doors for future negotiation with the US or US-based institutions. The LTTE would like to assure the US that there will be a cordial relationship between the US and any future North-East administration. Trincomalee will be the North-East Headquarters and US will be welcome.
Bradman Weerakoon’s “Plausible hypothetical situation” suggestions that the LTTE accept:
1.) An undivided Sri Lanka
2.) Democratic Governance
3.) All parties as partners in negotiation at initial or later stages
4.) Government agrees to
a. Unit of devolution to be combined North-East where there is preponderance of Tamils.
b. Asymmetric devolution to the utmost.
5.) Interim Administration to be substantive majority of LTTE.
Bradman’s suggestion is that after the Select Committee comes out with the package containing equal devolution to all units of devolution, it can be presented as a document for negotiation with the LTTE. At that time Asymmetrical Devolution can be worked out to give the North-East more powers than the other Units. If the LTTE can present its own principles of devolution at that time, negotiation can proceed quickly. The package agreed to by the government and the LTTE can then be put to the Parliament.
He wanted to clarify what ‘preponderance of Tamils’ meant. I said that a suitable and mutually acceptable timeline could be negotiated to determine the majority of Tamils in any specified area. He also wanted to know what ‘substantial majority’ means. I said we talked about Two-Thirds. He wanted to know who would comprise the other Third. I told him that we talked about other Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese and that it can be a subject of negotiation. He is also not sure what is meant by ‘All Parties take part in negotiations at the initial and later stages.’ He wanted to know how long would the Interim Administration function before elections. I said we talked about One Term of Five Years. All of this and other issues can be subjects of discussions. He said the LTTE would wait till the package is out.
Balasingam’s Appeal to Chandrika:
Balasingam wanted me to ask Pres Chandrika to facilitate his medical travel to UK for Medical treatment as both his Kidneys are failing. He would want his wife to travel with him through Colombo airport by air.
I promised I would do so if she will meet me. If not, I shall ask Sunethra, Chandrika’s sister, to ask her sister of the request.
My Return Travel from Mankulam to Colombo
The next few days I spent in Mankulam I saw Kefir planes flying over the Mankulam area. We and many other Displaced and shopkeepers ran to the paddy field in the open so the pilot would know we were civilians.
I left Mankulam on April 20. The LTTE security, immigration and customs post informed all who were crossing to the No Man’s Land to the SLG Security post that if the investigators ask what they have seen in the Vanni to tell the truth as those who went before would have told them what they saw.
The Tamil armed groups that were fighting for the SLG were there at the checkpoint. All who crossed were photographed individually and then interrogated in booths by persons with a black hood with slits to see. Four of my students from the Faculty of Agriculture who were displaced travelled with me to collect data for their Senior Thesis at the Coconut Research Institute, The Tea Research Institute and the University of Peredeniya. They had the letters of Acceptance from the Directors and their Dean’s permission letter.
From Thandikulam all of the people who were crossing were taken by bus to different detention camps. My busload was taken to the school, Parakum Maha Vidyalaya. Our ID cards were taken away. We were given a chit. The police Inspector looked at my Identity Card, recognized my name, and told me that I should call the Police Headquarters and tell them to get me released. He gave the students and me chits to go outside the camp to contact police headquarters. We were given a mat and a small plastic shopping sack and assigned a classroom where every mat touched each other. There was only one toilet in the school. The school playground was overcrowded, full of detainees. The shopping bag was to use if we had the need to go to the toilet.
We went out to Vavuniya town and met the Government Agent, Ganesh. I asked him to talk to the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) to get us released. He said only the Ministry of Defence or the Inspector General of Police can do that. He suggested I call the Federal Party and tell them about the problem. I went to the Federal Party office and called Neelan Thiruchelvam. He said no one would listen to him as it is a Ministry of Defence matter.
I called my brother Rajasingam in Colombo and told him about the problem. DIG Chandra Jeyasuriya was my teammate at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. My brother knew him well. DIG Jeyasuriya had asked my brother to tell me to go to the Vavuniya police station the next morning. The students and I went back to the Detention Camp. There were teachers, Principals of schools and other government servants going for meetings to Colombo. I could not sleep in the classroom as people were packed like sardines. The school grounds were crowded but we used the mat to lie down and rest, watch the stars and listened to the speculation of the people. They knew a major military operation was going to start soon. They were discussing how they could get out of Vavuniya.
It was obvious to me that the Military Operation Balasingam talked about and the people in the Vanni were preparing for was a reality. I did not know this when I went into Vanni. Now it was clear why Prof Peiris revoked the permission he gave the Harvard Team. Early morning the students and I went to the Vavuniya Police Station to get permission to leave for Colombo. The SSP gave me permission to leave the Camp and Vavuniya. He said the students cannot leave Vavuniya but can leave the camp and stay with friends or families or at the Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna. He arranged the police bus to take us to the camp near the Railway Station that was described by people as Koalikoodu (Chicken Coop.) The Commandant of the camp will give us a letter to get out of the Camp and for me to travel to Colombo.
In the Chicken Coop I saw the Jaffna University Librarian and her daughter. They wanted to go to Jaffna through Trincomalee by sea. There were also my first cousin and her three children who were on their way to Colombo and then to Canada on a Permanent Resident Visa. I talked to them and all wanted me to help them to leave the camp that was overcrowded. I went to the Commandant and got our release papers. I appealed to release those whom I know very well and vouched for. He said he had to follow orders. The students and I went back to the school camp in the police bus and left the camp after thanking the police officer who was very kind to all people. I left on the night train to Colombo. Once in Colombo, I typed the important points of Balasingam’s message and made copies of it.
On April 20 at 2.00pm I met with the Political Officer and the American Ambassador and gave the Ambassador a copy of the message. My appeal to the Ambassador was to advise President Chandrika not to start the Operation to capture the A9 and the Vanni, as it would cause immense suffering for the people, most of who are already displaced. The death of innocent children, women and men would be unbearable. Schools would be destroyed and schooling lost for years. Under such conditions the LTTE may never negotiate. I added that the LTTE was strong enough to stop this operation from succeeding. I emphasized that the LTTE was not appealing to stop the invasion because it was weak. Their concern is to prevent suffering of the Tamils in the Vanni. I added that the LTTE’s August 1996 operation that captured Mullaithivu had proven that the LTTE is a stronger force now. With the arms captured there and displayed publicly they now have long range fire power. He said he is taking serious note of what I have said and would make a decision.
Ambassador Burleigh welcomed the LTTE’s wish to accept a third party facilitation or mediation and to find a negotiated solution. There were other human rights and humanitarian issues that I took up with him. He promised to consider my recommendations. I appealed to him that I have no access to other Ambassadors and for him to brief the other Ambassadors, especially India and Britain, of the impending disaster. He agreed to do so but cautioning that the advice from the LTTE not to start the offensive may be interpreted as a military weakness of the LTTE. I did my best to convince him that the LTTE’s concern was to prevent suffering of the displaced people and to genuinely keep open the chance for a third party-mediated negotiation to find a political solution.
On April 25, I met with Bradman Weerakoon, at his residence, and gave him the copy of the notes I gave Ambassador Burleigh, and told him the same thing and also briefed him about the reaction to his suggestion. Bradman promised to follow-up on the questions raised.
On May 3 at 7:30 PM I met Sunethra, sister of President Kumaratunga, at the her residence in Rosemead Place and gave the copy of the same notes I gave Ambassador Burleigh and Bradman, and briefed her in the same manner. I urged that the note be given to the President and related the consequences of the planned Operation to capture the Vanni, in terms of the destruction, loss of lives and future opportunity to negotiate with mediation of a third party. I also wanted the President to consider granting permission for Balasingam and his wife to go to the UK for treatment for his failing Kidneys. I was also willing to meet the President to give the information first hand. I was given the promise that Sunethra will inform her sister and give her the note.
On May 4 at 10:00AM I met with Bishop Kenneth Fernando at his residence. He was a member of the last session of the 1995 Peace Talks. I briefed him in the same manner. I expressed my willingness to meet the President if he would get an appointment for me. He was not sure that he could, but asked whether I would meet with Foreign Minister Kadirgamar. I declined the offer. He promised to get the message to the President or Mr. Kadirgamar.
On May 6 at 10:00AM I met Charlie Abeyasekara and the civil society members whom I had met before I went to Mankulam. Charlie was then the Commissioner for language policy implementation and worked hard to bring peace between the two communities. He always lamented the intransigent nature of the Sri Lanka Administrators who put many stumbling blocks to implement the constitutional provisions on language. The briefing to the group was the same and I answered the questions they had about Asymmetrical Devolution, third party mediation and interim administration. Bente was also present.
On May 9 at 4.00PM I met Neelan Thiruchelvam at his Chambers off Kinsey Road. Bente was also there. I gave him a copy of the notes that were given to the others and briefed him on all the details of the discussion with Balasingam. I answered the questions they posed on third party mediation. I appealed to both of them that the operations that are planned by the SLG army must be stopped, to get the message to the President, and advise the Norwegian Ambassador to intervene in coordination with the Ambassadors from India, US, Canada and Britain, with all of whom Neelan, as he mentioned before, had close contact. Neelan also works closely with Prof Peiris. I asked him whether he would get an appointment for me to meet Prof Peiris and or the President to brief them about the impending disaster to the civilians in the Vanni and negotiations in the future. He said he would brief Prof Peiris about what I have said and give him the copy of the note I gave him and Bente. He said I should meet with former Foreign Minister Hameed, Tyrone Fernando, Dr. Kodituwakku and Mahinda Samarasinghe (all from the UNP). I agreed and he made the appointment for me to meet Hameed at 10:00AM on May 12, and at 6:00PM the same day to meet the other three UNP Members of Parliament at their residences.
May 12 at 10.00am. I met Mr. Hameed at his home. He listened to me with interest. He seemed tired of the violent turns in the conflict and the path it was taking. He asked me whom I had seen about this matter. I told him about my previous meetings. He gave me a wry smile as if he was wondering about my futile efforts. He told me about his involvement during the Premadasa and LTTE talks and other previous talks. He seemed resigned to fate and leaving the problem to run its course. He was forthright and said he did not see any negotiated solution to the conflict as neither the UNP nor the PA would agree to any political solution, even federalism. He expressed that he is a good friend of Bala and Adele and asked about Bala’s diabetes. I told him that both his Kidneys are failing and that Balasingam wanted permission from President Chandrika to go to UK via the Colombo airport to get treatment. I said I had passed that message also to Chandrika. He asked me to get in touch with him before I went to the Vanni so that he can send sugar-free chocolate. He said Bala enjoys eating chocolates that he should not. His demeanor showed he considered Bala as his brother. He said that President Kumaratunga would not give permission for them to travel by air from Colombo unless the LTTE compromised on the political negotiation process. Mr. Hameed and Charlie reminded me of the grand viziers of old.
On May 12 at 6:00pm I met Tyrone Fernando, who was Foreign Minister after Hameed, and Mahinda Samarasinghe at the latter’s residence. Dr. Kodithuwakku could not join the meeting. We discussed my presentation of Balasingam’s message and comments. They were enthused about the LTTE’s desire to negotiate with the benefit of a third party. I mentioned about Balasingam’s Kidney failure and asked whether they can speak to the President and Ranil Wickremasinghe to get permission for Balasingam and his wife Adele to travel to London via the Colombo airport. I appealed to them to present the case to Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe and if necessary I would be glad to meet with him. Mahinda S. said if they can come to the Swiss Border he could arrange for them to fly to London. His wife is from Switzerland. I said that if they can do that they could go to London direct by themselves, as both are UK citizens. Late that night Mahinda S. called me and said Ranil will see me at his Cambridge Terrace office at 7:00PM the next day.
On May 13 at 7:00pm, I met Ranil W. in the company of Mahinda S. and Tyrone Fernando. First thing Ranil said was that the President does not consult with him on any matter even though both signed the Liam Fox Agreement. He then mentioned that it is too late to stop the offensive as it started at Chandrika’s auspicious time at 6.00am from Thandikulam along the A9. It is named the ‘Jeya Sikuri’. It was the first time I heard that the invasion has started. I was shocked and thought of the death and destruction and people running away to the west of A9.
I told him the LTTE is a secular organization and does not believe in auspicious times. I then outlined the consequences of the offensive in terms of the destruction. I emphasized that the army would not succeed and would be driven back eventually and that there would not be any peace talks until then. He patiently listened to me talking about the displacement in 1995 and 1996 and the suffering the same people will go through for the next year or two until the army withdraws or driven out of the Vanni. He assured that he would work towards stopping the war and restarting negotiations with an international facilitator or mediator. He emphasized he can do that only when UNP gets into power. A statement he made at the end of our discussion stuck in my mind.
He said, “We are a political party. All political parties want to be in power and form the government. Like any political party we will not do anything that would prevent us from getting the power to govern or when in power that would make us lose power.”
At that instance I remembered what Lalith Athulathmudali told me on February 4, 1985 when I asked him why the UNP would not pass a federal constitution to solve the problem. He said that the SLFP would not support it. I reminded him that UNP had more than a two-thirds majority in Parliament to adopt a new constitution. He said, “That would be political suicide.” These two sentiments and the debates that had gone so far indicate that the Sinhala voters and their leaders, even after years of debate and negotiations and war are not interested in a federal solution.
When the Jeya Sikuri offensive started on May 13, 1997 all access roads to the Vanni were closed to civilians. I could not go back to the Vanni. I faxed the key points of the discussion with Balasingam to Donna Hicks and Rudrakumaran on May 15.
1.) Balasingam’s request for medical treatment was never granted. He later went though passages only the LTTE knew to London and received treatment. Hameed visited him in London.
2.) Excerpts from the letter dated 27 June 1997 my brother Nithiyanantham wrote after he displaced from Mankulam to Vavunikulam gives a picture of the beginning of Chandrika’s “Jeya Sikuri”.
“We are now living at Vavunikulam. (Vavunikulam is off the road from Mankulam to Mallavi. It is bout 6 miles West of A9.). I think you must have heard about the shelling at Mankulam. First on the 31st May and second very heavy about 32 times on the 8th of June at about 1.30pm.
Now, there is no one at Oddusuddan, Puliyankulam or Kanakarayankulam. In Mankulam about 11 persons died and more than 35 injured. I think you must have heard about the LTTE attack at Thandikulam and Periyamadu. There were heavy casualties on both sides. Arms and new vehicles were captured by the LTTE.”