Limbo between war and peace
As far as the Tamil militants were concerned, their determination was steadfast, their faith strong, their standard was ready and unfurled high and aloft. But in the case of the government under the leadership of President J R Jayewardene, his political options had miserably failed and he had also failed to define his military options. Unfortunately, the ordinary civilians, especially Tamil civilians – the non-combatants – were the ones the most ignored, and death was always knocking at their doors.
The year began with the death of Father Mary Bastian, aged 38. It was alleged that he was shot by Sri Lankan security forces, on the night of January 5-6, 1985, at St Anne’s Church in Vankalai, Mannar.
The Sun newspaper of January 7 reported the government version of the story, stating that eight persons described as terrorist subjects had been killed and five captured near the Vankalai church, when security forces launched an offensive against northern terrorists. The report quoted an Information Department press release, as saying that a priest was believed to be among the victims. “A group of terrorists opened fire at the army unit which surrounded the church at about 11pm. In the ensuing exchange of fire, eight terrorist suspects were killed and five others captured by the armed forces. A woman and a priest are believed to have been killed in the shoot out.”
However, on January 9, the Daily News reported that, according to the Minister of National Security, Lalith Athulathmudali, Father Bastian’s body had not been found and according to the government press release, arms and ammunition were found in the church, which the government alleged was used as a terrorist base. In a statement, reported in the Sun on January 8, Bishop Marcus Fernando, Bishop of Chillaw and the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka, said that reports reaching the Catholic Bishops’ Conference indicated that the shooting was an unprovoked army attack on the church and the incumbent.
Again, on January 8, Thomas Savundranayagam, the Bishop of Mannar, in a statement to the Daily News, said that he believed that Father Bastian had been killed in the early hours of Sunday, January 6, by the security forces in his mission house. The bishop also strongly protested against news reports quoting government sources as saying that arms and ammunition had been found. According to the bishop’s statement – “We deplore the killing of the Catholic priest Rev Fr Mary Bastian, parish priest of Vankalai, in the early hours of Sunday 6th morning at Vankalai mission house by the security forces. Fr M Bastian, aged 38, a dedicated pastoral worker was deeply involved in the upliftment of the poor people in the diocese of Mannar.
“The Catholics of Mannar and I, bemoan the cruel, inhuman and unthinkable act against man of God. We strongly protest against the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and other means of government media, beaming out false news that, arms and ammunition were found in the Catholic church of Vankalai and that the church was used as the base to attack the security forces. We also condemn the killing of the innocent civilians in the village of Vankalai. The Catholics of Mannar and I, together with my priests, condemn all forms violence and earnestly request the government to protect the lives and property of the innocent citizens of Mannar. We are afraid that, this sort of action will escalate and the signs are clear and we request His Excellency the President to see that this does not happen.”
Despite pressure from the Catholic hierarchy and general public, the government continued with its false propaganda that, Fr Mary Bastian had not been killed and that he had been taken to India, where he was alive. A Daily News report of January 17 stated that, according to an unidentified high ranking government source, the military denied that the priest had been killed and there was speculation that he had been taken to India. But the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, strongly denied the suggestion. They affirmed that there were eye-witnesses to the killing and expressed regret that the government had not published the results of its investigations.
Amnesty International, the London human rights watchdog, in its report stated, “So far Amnesty International has not received any evidence in support of speculation that Fr Bastian is alive in India. His body has not been found, but there is credible evidence that Fr Bastian was shot dead by army in his mission house and that his body was removed by them from the place of the incident and disposed of. The security forces surrounded the church premises around midnight January 5-6, 1985, entered the back of the mission house, and called Fr Bastian. When he approached, he is said to have been shot through the windows from the verandah in a room at the back of the mission house. After several hours, his body was reportedly removed and put on the steps of a girls school, closed to the convent, photographed after certain objects had been put around it, and in the early hours of January 6 taken away in a white van by uniformed security forces personnel believed to be from nearby Thallady Army camp.” – Appendix IV – AI Index: ASA 37/04/85
Meanwhile, mass arrests by the security forces for the year began on January 2. They rounded up villagers from Alvai, Thikkam, Navalady, Inpuriddy, all villages located in the Vadamaradchy region, arresting 200 persons. Similarly, according to available press reports, there were nearly 52 incidents of mass arrest in the Northern and Eastern provinces, with a total of nearly 10,251 Tamils arrested and taken in for interrogation and incarceration. Major arrest operations, to name a few, were: January 5 – 500 arrested at Jaffna, followed by January 30 – 1,000 in Batticaloa, May 1 – at Udappu, Puttalam, 500, September 30, at Trincomalee – 2,000, October 25, at Vavuniya – 1,000, December 22 at Akkaraipattu – 400 and on December 30 at Valaiyeravu – 75 were arrested.
In a major offensive, the Sri Lankan Army on January 9 stormed an LTTE hideout at Atchuvely, 11 miles from Jaffna, which set off a fierce gun battle. Nearly 14 Tigers were killed, one being Pandithar – a scholar and one of the most senior member of the LTTE.
Adele Balasingham in her The Will to Freedom writes about Pandithar, as follows:
“Whenever I think of Pandithar, I am reminded of a young man, heaving with asthma. Hardly a day went by when the dust of India or the chili fumes from the cooking didn’t choke Pandithar’s respiratory system. But he was undeterred by this obvious physical discomfort and refused to allow the disease to constrain his political activities. He died before I ever had the occasion to meet him in Jaffna. Nevertheless, I can well imagine him huffing and puffing as he pushed his cycle from one place to another, during those dangerous days, when he was a wanted man as the head of the Jaffna district political section of the LTTE.
“And it was a sad day for me when I learned his death in Atchuvely, Jaffna, in January 1985. Indeed, it took quite some days for Mr Pirabakaran to inform me of Pandithar’s death. Perhaps he felt I would be distressed by the sad news. I had been informed of the army roundup of his underground cell, following betrayal by an army infiltrator into his ranks in Jaffna. During the round up of his house, so I was told, only one or two people had escaped and they were waiting for the news of Pandithar’s whereabouts. The discomfort of Mr Pirabakaran and his vagueness of information made me suspicious about the full story and I had doubt that Pandithar had escaped the roundup.
“As the leader of the LTTE group and a trusted and fond colleague of Pirabakaran, his whereabouts would have been first to be known about. I was correct in my suspicion and a few days later, Baby Subramaniam came to our flat and told me that he had indeed been killed. The army informant escaped and was last heard of as a corporal or some other rank in the Sri Lankan army. Pandithar was one of the earliest LTTE cadres to die. Fortunately, he had traveled to Chennai to visit us just a few months before his death. When I visited his home in Valvetti in 1987, I was amazed to see the emotional pain his mother had endured. Locked up and untouched since the time of his death, his mother had made a tomb out of his room as a memory of her son’s life. A photo of his, occupied center stage of the entrance of his poor room. We were all in tears during the visit.” – pages 54-55.
Pandithar’s demise was hailed by the government and army. Army sources said that “it was the biggest operation we have done here for a long time and it has been most successful.”
Though Pandithar’s demise was a telling blow to the LTTE, they overcame it by organizing their bases in the North and East of Sri Lanka. From 1985 onward, the LTTE began to rise under Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kittu’s leadership and his overall supervision. The LTTE began to challenge the Sri Lankan armed forces and they began to mine roads, ambush patrols, attack camps and police stations. Kittu was seen in the forefront of each and every attack, personally leading them.
Suddenly, the TELO was again in the news. It was the usual practice that all TELO operations were planned and coached by the RAW of India. Accordingly, on the night of January 9, TELO cadres blew up the Colombo bound “Yarl Devi”, an express train off Murukandy, some 70 kilometers south of Jaffna, killing 34 people, including 22 soldiers. The explosion ripped through 11 carriages of the train. As soon as the train ran off the tracks, before the survivors could recover, the TELO cadres rained grenades on the carriages and opened gunfire from all vintage points.
It was the biggest loss suffered by the Sri Lankan army at the hands of Tamil militants. It was said to be a copy-book operation, similar to that of the operation they had conducted earlier at the police station, Chavakachcheri. TELO also prevented army reinforcement from rushing to the site of the incident by coordinated attacks.
The Sri Lankan government insisted that terrorism should be eliminated before a political solution could be worked out in the country. Therefore, the government intensified its military operations from the beginning of January 1985. There were frequent attacks and counterattacks and army convoys were subjected to landmine attacks and ambushes, as a normal modus operandi of the militants. Such operations led to reprisals and village after village was cordoned off, searched and people arrested and jailed. As tension mounted in the North and East, many Tamils fled to India and to Western countries.
On the Indian front, Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene, met India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, for the first time, in New Delhi, when he attended the funeral of Indira Gandhi, the slain leader and the mother of the new Indian premier. The meeting was very brief and formal and the Sri Lankan president expressed his condolence on the demise of the great Indian leader.
Over the next few weeks, Rajiv Gandhi conducted his first political campaign as the leader of the Congress party of India and won a most decisive electoral victory. At the phased polling, held between December 24 and 28, 1984, Congress won 409 of the total 538 parliamentary seats in the eighth Lok Sabah elections.
In the meantime, A Amirthalingham, the TULF leader, had been in constant touch with G Parthasarathy, since the Sri Lankan government ended the All Party Conference and failed to arrive at a political solution to the ethnic conflict on the island.
On January 13, at the invitation of Parthasarathy, TULF leaders flew to New Delhi and met him. On the following day, the TULF leaders met Rajiv Gandhi, who was basking in the glory of his overwhelming electoral victory. Later, Amirthalingham told newsmen that he had appealed to Rajiv Gandhi to take appropriate and necessary steps to prevent the further loss of innocent Tamil lives in Sri Lanka.
The Rajiv Gandhi-Amirthalingham meeting brought severe criticism in Sri Lanka. The cabinet spokesman, Ananda Tissa de Alwis, told reporters in Colombo on January 16, “The government is unhappy that those who seek to separate and partition Sri Lanka and who had rejected the proposals worked after one-and-a-half years of deliberations, are having access to foreign governments. We have brought this to the notice of the Indian government.”
On January 18, Rajiv Gandhi summoned Bernard Tilakaratne, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi and informed him of his wish to help Sri Lanka resolve its ethnic conflict. He suggested a summit with the Sri Lankan president. But the latter was not keen on meeting Rajiv Gandhi, so he sent as his special envoy, Lalith Athulathmudali, to meet Gandhi on February 11.
A devolution package being considered by Sri Lanka was the main focus when Lalith Athulathmudali, the Sri Lankan Minister of National Security, met Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi. Athulathmudali was asked by Jayewardene to emphasize two urgent issues with the Indian prime minister:
- Secure the establishment of a joint Indian-Sri Lanka naval patrol of the Palk Straits, and;
- Press for a firm undertaking from the Indian prime minister that India would not give in to pressure from Tamil groups in Madras for direct interference in Sri Lankan affairs.
“Athulathmudali reported to J R that the talks he had with Rajiv Gandhi were both friendly and very fruitful. For one thing he found that the latter appeared to have much clearer understanding of the limits of political concessions on regional autonomy possible in Sri Lanka, than his mother. Rajiv Gandhi himself had commented that there was no need for districts to be linked together to form a region, thus seemingly endorsing the Sri Lankan government’s own policy on devolution and also repudiating Parthasarathy’s position.
“Both sides agreed that more power should be conceded to districts. Lalith Athulathmudali was delighted to find that Rajiv Gandhi himself believed that law and order should not, in any way, be conceded to the districts. That, he said, was the mistake India had made with regard to Punjab.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka – A political Biography Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 607
While Athulathmudali agreeing with Rajiv Gandhi that a fresh attempt at a settlement was needed, he requested that G Parthasarathy be kept out of the negotiating process as Sinhala people felt that he was emotionally involved with the TULF. It was reported that Rajiv Gandhi agreed and said that the new Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Romesh Bandari would replace him.
The reaction of the LTTE to the new approach taken by Rajiv Gandhi is given as follows:
“1985 had its own twists and turns. The Tamil militant organizations were exposed to new political and diplomatic challenges in their relations between themselves and in dealing with the Indian and Sri Lankan governments. After assuming power as the prime minister of India, the young Rajiv Gandhi inducted into the ruling structure his own confidantes, removing some talented and experienced persons who were loyal to his mother and had worked with her for many years.
“In this respect, the new prime minister made a serious blunder when he replaced his advisor, the sagacious G Parthasarathy, with the inexperienced and brash Romesh Bandari, as Foreign Secretary. Parthsarathy was an experienced and skilled diplomat with profound understanding of the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis. He despised the racist politics of the Jayewardene regime and sympathized with the Tamil cause. Mr Pathasarathy made it a point to meet Mr Pirabakaran and Bala at his private residence whenever they visited Delhi. Bala conveyed to me that Mr Parthasarathy did not trust Jayewardene and had cautioned Rajiv about the deviousness of the ‘old fox’.
“Unfortunately, Rajiv ignored and undervalued Mr Parthasarathy’s studied advice and finally ditched him. The disappearance of these two powerful personalities – Indira Gandhi and Parthsarathy – from the corridors of power in Delhi enabled Jayewardene to practice his art of political deception with impetuous, inexperienced Rajiv. The Machiavellian Jayewardene shrewdly manipulated Bhandari to entice Rajiv into his devious scheme of turning the Indian state against the Tamil resistance movement.” The Will to Freedom by Adele Balasingham, page 97
It was further reported that the Indian prime minister had told Athulathmudali that he was deeply interested in establishing good and friendly relations with all South Asian neighbors, including Pakistan. Rajiv Gandhi told the Sri Lankan minister that he was very anxious for Jayewardene to pay a visit to New Delhi as soon as it was convenient for him to do so.
In the meantime, by the Gazette Extraordinary 332/23 of January 18, 1985, Sri Lanka declared a prohibited zone in the country aimed at restricting the movement of people in sensitive areas.
The government also introduced a new institutional device, the Security Council, which met every Monday morning with additional meetings at any other time as and when needed. The president presiding over it and the other members were the Minister of National Security, Security Advisor – Ravi Jayewardene, the President’s Secretary – W M P B Menikdiwela, the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, the Service Chiefs, as well as the Inspector General of Police. Lalith Athulathmudali thus became the principal spokesman of the government on the ethnic conflict because defense issues gained unusual prominence, even in the foreign policy of the country.
In 1985, General Cyril Ranatunge was recalled from retirement and appointed to the newly created post of General Officer Commanding the Joint Operations Command, in overall charge of all security forces. The government established the post in order to coordinate security operations, and it was also necessitated by the enormous increase in the size of the armed forces.
New special units were established for anti-terrorist activities within the armed forces, the best known being the Special Task Force (STF) of the police. The suggestion for the creation of this force came from Ravi Jayewardene, the only son of the president, who had become a special advisor on security to his father in the wake of the 1983 riots.
Emergency regulations were made to facilitate military training. The Emergency (Military Training Centers) Regulations No 2 of 1985 empowered the minister to establish military training centers through a competent authority. It provides for the making of rules for training, issue of arms, ammunition, equipment clothing and for the manner and methods of training.
Many hundreds of Sinhalese were recruited by the government as Home Guards to operate in Tamil areas of the Northern and Eastern provinces, for the purpose of protecting civilians. Some of these guards went on the rampage in Trincomalee and Vavuniya, killing many Tamil civilians and destroying their property.
On August 7, 1985, the Sri Lankan government raised a 10,000-strong national auxiliary force drawn from civilians to assist the armed forces. A sum of Rs18.5 million was set up for this purpose and members of parliament were requested to supply persons from their constituencies. The Minister of National Security, speaking in parliament in November 1985, said that some members had responded by sending 200-300 persons.
Incidentally at Koddaikallar, Batticaloa, the Special Task Force Commandos shot and killed several Tamils, on January 24. Those killed were Vijayakumar, R Ravinthiranathan, K Somasundaram, K Kirupairajah, S Selvakumar (a student aged 16), P Ramanthan (student, aged 15) and A Nagenthiran (24).
On the following day, police shot and killed four suspected Tamil militants, on January 25 and six more suspected Tamil militants were killed on February 4, on Sri Lanka’s independence day, at Trincomalee.
A major gun battle erupted on February 13 when more than 100 Tigers raided an army camp at Kokulai in the Mullaithievu district. It was reported that the Tiger cadres first surrounded the army camp and began creeping towards it. When a sentry noticed the advancing cadres he shot at one of them. It was further revealed that once the gunshot was reported from the army side, the Tigers started firing their RPGs, and they launched their assault.
The government reported four soldiers and 14 Tigers dead. But the LTTE in Madras claimed that 106 soldiers had perished and that they lost 16 cadres. This was the first time the a full-scale armed confrontation was staged in the ethnic confrontation.
On February 15, two days after the Kokulai battle, security forces shot and killed 52 Tamils in Mullaithievu, in an apparent revenge attack. In Madras, the TULF pleaded with India to intervene directly or through the United Nations to end the conflict.
“A situation similar to the one that prevailed in East Bengal [Pakistan] during 1970-71 has arisen in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka and the time has come for India to take positive action to end the genocide in the Tamil areas, cried Amirthalingham. A week earlier, he had declared that all doors for a negotiated settlement of the Tamil conflict were shut and there was no alternative to an independent Eelam. The DMK denounced New Delhi’s ‘continued indifference’ to the Tamil issue, as boatloads of fleeing Tamil refugees began pouring into Tamil Nadu.” Tigers of Lanka – From Boys to Guerrillas by M R Narayan Swamy, page 141
On March 1, J R Jayewardene wrote to Rajiv Gandhi spelling out the extent to which Jayewardene was willing to seek a political settlement in the event of India supporting him to stop terrorism, states Rohan Gunaratna in his Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka. “My dear Rajiv, allow me to commence this letter with an extract from the speech I made, when I visited India in October 1978, on a state visit. ‘I am a friend of India and its people; an admirer of its heritage, and a follower of its greatest son.’
“I need hardly mention that it is not only as the president of Sri Lanka that I am writing to the prime minister of India, I am writing as the friend of the Nehru family, you being a third generation that I have known since I became acquainted with your grandfather, when I entertained him at my home in Sri Lanka in 1939. He was one of my heroes together with other great leaders of India who led the freedom movement, cherishing truth and non-violence as their guiding principles. I still try to follow those ideals. I was his guest for a few days at his home in Allahabad when I attended the Ramgarh Sessions of the Congress in 1941. I later corresponded with him when he was in jail. I have sent copies of those letters to the Nehru Archives and I wish to present one to you whenever I have the chance to do so. I met him again when I attended the Bombay Sessions of the All India Congress Committee in which the ‘Quit India’ resolution was passed in 1942. Jawaharlal Nehru and your father were also present at the house of Mrs Huthee Singh whom I visited. You need not doubt that the sentiments expressed in the first paragraph of those letter are sincere and still live in my mind.
“Unfortunately, relations between our two countries have been affected recently by difficulties which we are both aware of. This has weighed heavily on my mind for some time and I hope that it will be possible to set this right soon. In this context, I am specially appreciative of the hearing which you gave my minister a few weeks ago. His report of conversations in Delhi have encouraged me to make a new effort to break the kind of deadlock we now face. In order to do this, I would very much like to meet you personally for further discussions. However, before such a meeting, I think it would be most useful if you could send one of your senior officials to meet me here. I would welcome such a visit as it will be helpful to enable me to arrive at an understanding of your present thinking. This will help to formulate a common approach to some of the problems that now exist.
“I have made several positive statements in my address at the opening of the 5th session of our parliament, on February 20. These have been distorted by the media abroad. I am therefore sending you a few copies for your reading. Your own recent statements have encouraged me to think optimistically about future prospects.
“In my speech to parliament, I referred to some of these matters. India is going through a similar situation in the North East and Punjab particularly. In many other parts of the world, terrorists are raising their ugly heads. Unlike in your country, distance insulates the government in New Delhi from the impact of the violent events hundreds of miles away, Sri Lanka is too small in area that the effects of terrorism are dangerous manifold. In my speech, I referred to All Party Conference at pages 3-6. It was only on two matters viz, the joining of the two provinces, North and East, in one council; and the second chamber, that there was no agreement with the TULF. I had agreed to the proposals outlined in Annexure A, B and C, which visualized a Provincial [Regional] Council within a province. I had also expressed my desire to continue discussions with the TULF with regard to the decentralization of powers and functions to Provincial Councils, thus continuing the commitment to a political solution.
“I ask you very little. Let us forget the issue of training camps; the existence of Sri Lankan terrorists in South India; their plotting and planning. I ask you to help me to prevent them coming here with arms, at the same time could we not also prevent Sri Lankans from seeking refuge in your country? If we can agree on a common scheme to do this, by some form of mutual or combined surveillance, it will enable me to withdraw the armed services from combat; to suspend the operation of the Terrorist Act; and to help the North and East of Sri Lanka to return to normalcy. Surely, you can take this step forward which will help to stop this taking of life and damage to property, and the resumption of civilized life in your most friendly neighbor. We are both representatives of the people, both have received massive majorities at elections, where over half the electorates voted for us and enjoying our parliaments a 5/6th majority. Cross-border terrorism threatens the very fabric of this democracy. It is an issue on which all major political parties in Sri Lanka agree and it is the single most important impediment to a solution of our ethnic tension. Do please understand our problem, which is now yours too, and help?”
Earlier, on November 29, 1984, Jaffna and Kilinochchi were declared Security Zones and Prohibited Zonal districts. People could not enter or leave the zones without informing the government. The Jaffna Security Zone extended a radius of 1,000 meters from Jaffna Fort, which housed the army camp. (Similar zones were established around all the camps of the security forces in the North). Among other buildings and institutions, hospitals, schools, temples and churches, shops and houses, a railway station and banks lay within the zone.
More than 51,000 civilians were affected by the restrictions on the movement of civilians in and out of the zone. The security forces were empowered to take any action within the zone, including firing from the Fort into the buildings.
Similarly, on March 18, by Gazette Extraordinary No 341/35 and 341/36, the government announced Prohibited Zones and Surveillance Zones. The former permitted only limited fishing in certain areas while the latter prevented all entry under certain conditions.
Tamils also came under full surveillance in non-Tamil areas, especially in Colombo and the up-country region. In the Northern region beyond the Jaffna Peninsula and in the Eastern province, security forces undertook to drive Tamil villagers from their traditional habitats, for instance from Thennamarawady in the east coast. The army also forced mass evacuation of entire Tamil villages in the Tamil areas of Vavuniya and Mullaithievu to enable Sinhala settlers to move in. The villages of Kokkulai, Nayaru and Kumulamunai in the Mullaithievu districts were affected in this manner – the number of refugees and displaced persons exceeded 20,000 by March 1985.
As requested by Jayewardene in his letter to Rajiv Gandhi, Romesh Bhandari, the new Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs, visited Colombo on March 25 and had talks with President Jayewardene, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ronnie de Mel, Thondaman and K W Devanayakam. Thondaman told Bhandari directly that he had not understood the nature of the problem. When he returned to New Delhi, he presented a rosy picture to the Indian prime minister. He talked of the possibility of solving the ethnic conflict.
Subsequently, the Indian External Affairs Minister Khurshed Alam Khan had to assure the Indian parliament that, there had been no policy shift as far as Sri Lanka was concerned. He emphasized that, India stood for the “independence, integrity, unity and non-aligned status of Sri Lanka”. However, it was easy to perceive a change in the attitude of India, said many political observers.
On April 10, Rajiv Gandhi told the Indian parliament that he saw a “light at the end of the tunnel”. A few days later at a farewell reception accorded by the Ceylon Workers Congress to the departing Indian High Commissioner G K Chartwal, Thondaman remarked, “The tunnel seems to be never ending and becoming increasingly darker.”
A few days after Romesh Bhandari’s Colombo trip, by the end of March, the Indian Coast Guard intercepted a speedboat heading for North Sri Lanka, carrying machine guns, 9mm rifles and grenades. Two members of the EPRLF crew in battle uniform were arrested. A week later, on April 2, Madras Port Customs seized a container with 1,400 automatic rifles, 300 sten guns, a large quantity of ammunition and Japanese communication equipment. The arms and ammunition were of Chinese origin and were intended for PLOTE. It was said that the arms were bought for US$300,000 from a Taiwanese arms agent. The cargo was marked “Used Newspapers” and sent to Madras and the captain and the crew of the ship had no idea about the content of the container.
It was later learnt that Indian authorities were enforcing ground rules for operations in Tamil Nadu: “If you want to stay here and fight, do as we say.” But unfortunately the relationship between Uma Maheswaran and Indian officials was now sour. Furthermore, PLOTE paid another US$300,000 to a Palestinian arms dealer from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat. The agent disappeared with the money and the PLO office in Tunisia and the PLO disowned the armed dealer. When this writer tried to make inquiries about this deal, the PLO officials were tight-lipped.
The militant groups were upset by this new trend. The future of the Tamil militants in India hung in the balance, as the Indian government had indicated its change of attitude towards them. It was expected that, India might sooner or later force them with its proposition to conflict.
Therefore, the LTTE agreed to join the ENLF – Eelam National Liberation Front, an umbrella organization formed in 1984 by the TELO, EROS and EPRLF. On April 10, 1985, Prabakaran of the LTTE, Pathmanabah of EPRLF, Balakumar of EROS and Sri Sabaratnam of TELO signed a “unity statement” in Madras, reiterating their resolve to accept nothing a short of an independent Eelam.
The thinking of the LTTE and the reason for it to join the ENLF is clearly expressed in Adele Balsingham’s book, The Will to Freedom, as follows:
“The impending pressure from India and the possible conflict of interest that might arise between the Indian government and the Tamil freedom movement made Bala realize the significance of a united front of Tamil organizations to articulate a collective view. He felt that the LTTE alone could not confront the politico-diplomatic challenges that India might soon exert. An alliance between TELO, EPRLF and EROS under the umbrella organization called the Eelam National Liberation Front had already been formed in April 1984. Bala felt that the LTTE should join the ENLF to strengthen the Tamil armed resistance movement and to inject enormous clout into the Tamil struggle for self-determination. Most importantly, unity between Tamil liberation organizations committed to a common politico-military program would be an effective shield to confront the politico-diplomatic challenges posted by Rajiv’s administration.” page 98
Meanwhile, M R Narayan Swamy wrote in his book Tigers of Lanka from Boys to Guerrillas, about the ENLF. It was a frightening exposure when he wrote that the ENLF was a RAW baby. “The ENLF was a RAW baby. The Indian intelligence had been concerned at the lack of coordination, both in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, among the Tamil groups and tried to bring them under a centralized command. It was easy to bring the TELO which identified itself with Indian interests, and the ideologically-inclined EROS and EPRLF, which saw promise in India’s pro-Soviet foreign policy. But LTTE and PLOT posed problems.” page 143
Indian officials were against the PLOTE and Uma Maheswaran joining the ENLF, who in turn despised the Indian bureaucracy. Also, Prabakaran was adamant that Uma Maheswaran should not be brought into the new grouping.
On the evening of April 10, the day before the visit of the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who came to Sri Lanka on a three-day official visit, some 200 Tiger cadres arrived near a police station in Jaffna city and took up strategic positions. The staff of the Jaffna Telecommunication exchange across the road were asked to go away. Another group of Tigers cut off the power at a power station located by the side of Jaffna Hospital, plunging the area into darkness.
Immediately, the attack on the police station commenced and lasted for nearly four hours. The attack was so sudden, swift, shocking and fierce that about 100 policemen fled to nearby Jaffna Fort, which housed the Sri Lankan army. The police station, the office of the superintendent of police and a housing complex for policemen were damaged, as was the Jaffna municipal building. The Tigers laid mines to prevent soldiers coming to the aid of the police station.
The attackers made off with a huge arsenal of arms and ammunition. The government announced that four policemen had died in the attack. In Madras, the LTTE claimed responsibility.
On April 13 Thatcher addressed parliament, the first time a British premier had ever addressed it. “We admire the ambitious development objectives which you have set yourselves: the harnessing of the Mahaveli Ganga, for the development of a new agricultural lands and hydroelectric power; the imaginative programs with which I know your prime minister is particularly associated to improve urban and rural housing, in particular through self help and direct popular participation.
“I am delighted to announce today that my government has decided to offer Sri Lanka further aid of sterling pounds 20 million. This grant will be used over the coming years to strengthen Sri Lanka’s economy for the benefit of your people. I am also happy to say that, Britain will provide special aid to the Save the Children Fund, to help those who have suffered from your recent troubles.
“We are linked too, through the Commonwealth and what Harold Macmillan called during his visit here in 1958, ‘The Golden thread of tradition binding its members’. Central to that tradition is our shared commitment to democracy, Mr Speaker, Democratic values cannot be taken for granted.
“Both our countries have been the victims of terrorist violence, the virulent disease, which afflicts so many countries today. So I can sympathize with your efforts to combat terrorism here in Sri Lanka. A firm response to those who use violence, who try to achieve with the bullet what they cannot do through the ballot is vital.
“Freedom, Mr Speaker, means more than freedom, just to argue disagree. If it were only that, we should have neither stability, nor nationhood, nor justice, nor progress. Freedom carries with it a responsibility to assert and champion those great values that are the sinews of parliamentary democracy and which enable us to live in harmony with one another.
“But governments must stand ready to work with those in minority communities who are willing to argue their cause peacefully and democratically.
“I followed the All-Party Conference last year with close attention. I shared the widespread regret in your country that it was unable to reach agreement on the basis of the proposal made by your president.
“I firmly believe that the complex problems that arise between communities can only be settled through consultation and reconciliation. Democracy depends on the resolution of issues, however difficult, through debate and recognition of the interests of all those involved. In democracy all have a right to be heard, but then fair decisions have to be made and upheld.
“I am glad to have been given an opportunity during my brief visit to meet representatives of all parties and of your many communities. I believe I now understand more clearly the problems which confront you and those whom you represent.”
Meanwhile the PLOTE, on April 25, launched a surprise attack in a police station in the Sinhalese area, nearly 60 kilometers from Colombo, and escaped with a huge haul of weapons. On May 3, Indian External Affairs Minister Khurshid Alam Khan told the Indian parliament that, what was happening in Sri Lanka was “deplorable, brutal, barbaric, cruel and inhuman” and urged Colombo to replace the army in Tamil areas with ordinary police force.
On May 4, the EPRLF launched a ferocious but an unsuccessful attack on the Sri Lankan naval base in Karainagar. At least four naval personnel and 25 guerrillas died in the five-hour pitched gun battle. Following this on May 7, the LTTE killed five soldiers at Valvetiturai. Two days later a land mine explosion detonated by the LTTE claimed the lives of an army major and five others.
The second incident had a backlash in that soldiers thought that the residents of the area were in cahoots with the Tamil militants and they unleashed an orgy of violence that left at least 75 civilians dead. The most gruesome killing took place at Oorani, two kilometers east of Valvetiturai, on the way to Point Pedro, when rampaging soldiers collected 25 people, locked them inside a community center and then blew up the building.
On May 14, Tamil Tigers, nearly 14 in number, disguised in army uniform, reached Anuradhapura, where they launched a massive attack in the sacred Bo tree area. They sprayed pilgrims with bullets, killing and injuring many. Among those killed were Buddhist monks, pilgrims and worshippers. The gunmen also fired at a police station on their way back. On their way through the Wilpattu jungle reserve they mowed down forest guards with their machine guns and escaped.
The militants, like the security forces, displayed brutality of an unprecedented scale. According to reports, nearly 146 civilians were killed and many more injured due to gunshot injuries. No Tamil group claimed responsibility for the slaughtering of the Sinhalese civilians. The ENLF expressed shock and revulsion and expressed profound sympathy for the dead and injured. The TULF leaders also expressed sympathy.
“The Anuradhapura massacre made many Sinhalese realize that the solution to the northeastern conflict should be a political one and not a military one.” The Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka by Rohan Gunaratna, page 118
Subsequently, in a statement issued in 1988, the LTTE revealed that it had been responsible for the Anuradhapura massacre, which was planned and executed under the guidance and direction of the Indian external intelligence agency, RAW.
On the next day, May 15, 48 Tamil men, women and children on a ferry boat named Kumudini sailing from the island of Delft to the island of Nainathievu were killed in retaliation for the Anuradhapura massacre. Six men believed to be from the Sri Lanka navy, dressed in T-shirts and blue longs and some in shorts, boarded the boat. One by one the passengers were called to the aft section of the boat and told to shout their name, age, address and the destination of their journey. Then they were hacked to death.
When it was alleged that navy personnel from the Nainathievu island naval base were responsible for the killings, Lalith Athulathmudali, the Minister for National Security, reportedly stated, “There is no evidence to show who was responsible,” despite Amnesty International providing eye-witness accounts from survivors identifying some of the killers as navy personnel from the Nainathievu Sri Lankan Naval Camp.
On May 17, the Special Task Force Commandos abducted 35 young Tamils from Natpattimunai, Kalmunai, Amparai district, in the Eastern province and they were made to dig their own graves before being shot dead.
They were: Mylvaganam Parameswaran, 25; Sathasivam Thangathurai, 22; Veerakuddy Thangavel, 30; Eliyathamby Selvarajah, 27; Kulasegeram Selvanayakam, 25; Thambimuthu Palarajah, 26; Thuriayappah Nadesan, 21; Arumugam Nadesamoorthy, 31; Rasamanickam Thangarajah, 19; Sivanandan Kulasekaram, 24; Kanapathipillai Nesathurai, 22; Gnanapiragasam Uvanis, 27; Balasunderam Udayakumar, 22; Mylvaganam Sotheeswaran (Jaffna), 45; Rasiah Sivalingham Sarma (Brahmin priest), 28; Duriyappah David; Kulandaivel Ponnuthurai, 26; Gunatratnam Muralitharan, 22; Gunaratnam Suthakaran, 24; Thambirasa Visvakandan, 22; Kanagasooriyam Kopalasingham, 28; Kanagaratnam Thangavel, 19; Kandapody Pushparajah, 22; Varatharajah Sureswaran, 23; Alagiah Kopalasingham; Varatharasan Varatheswaran; Thambirasa Thiruchelvam; Eliayathamby Selvanayakam; Aramapan Thamilvanan; Kasupathy Sivakumar; Kasithamby Pathmapillai; Ehamparam Thamilvanan, 25; Samithamby Sundaralingham, 23; Ratnam Jeyachandran; and Samithamby Krishnapillai.
In this connection, a Canadian citizen of Sri Lankan descent, Paul Nallanayakam, who was the chairman of the Citizen Committee of the east coastal town of Kalmunai, was charged with sedition by the Sri Lankan government for making certain statements, principally to foreign journalists, about the alleged atrocities of the security forces, especially about the Natpattimunai incident. The government accused him of relaying rumors and argued that it was irrelevant whether the rumors were true or not.
Press censorship had been in effect for five months in 1985, on articles relating to terrorist activities, security operations and communal matters. After formal censorship was ended on July 18, the government told the media to exercise restraint in publishing information on security-related subjects. The government adopted, on March 31, a more restrictive policy regarding the issuance of press accreditation to foreign journalists and correspondents. In practice, however, many foreign journalists entered the country in 1985 on tourist visas.
A decision to infiltrate Indian camps was taken after the May 14 “Anuradhapura Massacre” at the weekly Security Council meeting. The suggestion was made by the National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and was endorsed by the president. They decided to find someone who could establish contacts in Tamil Nadu, Madras, with Indian Tamil leaders and the militant groups. The choice fell on Tissa Jayakody, a career diplomat with liberal views and a person with many Tamil friends.
Jayakody was Sri Lanka’s ambassador to West Germany. Urgently, he was summoned to Colombo and told of his need in Madras, as Deputy High Commissioner. He accepted the assignment and functioned directly under J R Jayewardene, the president. In quick time he developed friendships with the leaders of the DMK and the AIDMK parties. He established contact with the RAW chief for South India, Unni Krishnan, whom it had became clear doubled as a CIA agent. He also established contact with K Mohandas, the Director General of Police of Tamil Nadu.
During this period, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi, Bernard Tilakaratne, developed close contacts with many decision-makers, politicians and pressmen in India. He managed to make use of his contacts in the media to conduct a successful campaign against India’s support of the Tamil struggle. He also met on a regular basis with Indian leaders and tried to win them over.
While Sri Lanka was pushing its presence and views in India, through two of its resourceful diplomats, who contributed to a great extent to the shift in India’s policy towards the Tamil issue, Delhi and Colombo were involved in hectic diplomatic parleys.
In April 1985, Jyotindra Knuth (Man) Dixit, became India’s High Commissioner, at a very appropriate time. In years to come, he became more and more unpopular in Sri Lanka due to his unswerving commitment to safeguarding India’s interests at the cost of the life and death issues of the innocent Tamils of Sri Lanka. J N Dixit was to be described as India’s Viceroy in Sri Lanka.
“It was not known in Colombo at the time of Dixit’s arrival that he had been directly involved in fashioning the administrative mechanisms for channeling Indian assistance to the resistance group that was then East Pakistan in their opposition to the Pakistani military regime. Once Indian intervention succeeded in its objectives and Bangladesh came into existence he had been sent to Dacca as Deputy Chief of Mission.
“Bangladeshi politicians soon knew that it was Dixit in combination with the First Secretary (a woman named Arundathy Gosh), and not the High Commissioner, who made the decisions. In short, he had been present at the creation of Bangladesh, the only successful separatist agitation in the post-colonial world up to very recent times.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins, page 612
Amirthalingham showed concern on India’s policy shift, but he was firm in his stand that India should directly involve itself in finding a solution to the ethnic conflict. In May, when talk about fresh negotiations cropped up, the TULF leader laid down three conditions for any future negotiations:
- All Tamil militant groups should be represented in any negotiations;
- The negotiations should be between India and Sri Lanka, and;
- India should underwrite any settlement.
The TULF leaders stuck to this new position when they met Rajiv Gandhi in May 1985, in Delhi. Amitrthalingham insisted that no settlement would be possible without the participation of the Tamil militants. It was reported that Rajiv Gandhi was in full agreement with Amirthalingham’s suggestion.
On May 3, Rajiv Gandhi told the Indian parliament, “Our concern is for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The concern is not only of the people in the South, but it is the concern of everyone in India. We have to see that the refugees go back, go back in honor, go back safely, go back with the security of expecting and getting full freedom to express themselves, to work, to live within the integrity of Sri Lanka – We have made our position clear many times to this.”
Meanwhile, Indian External Affairs Secretary Romesh Bhandari flew in to Colombo on May 28 with a set of proposals to end the ethnic conflict. In negotiating with Jayewardene and the Sri Lankan leaders, Bandari gave the examples of Rajiv Gandhi negotiating with Punjab militants and with those involved in agitation in Assam. He emphasized that it was an important breakthrough, the talks with citizens who were considered “terrorists” by the government to find an acceptable solution.
J R Jayewardene visited India on June 1, and indicated his willingness to talk to the Tamil groups with two pre-conditions:
1. India should stop supporting Tamil militants and not endorse the demand for a separate independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka.
2. India should come forward to undertake joint patrolling of the Palk Straits to prevent infiltration from Tamil Nadu into Sri Lanka by Tamil militants.
While Jayewardene was in New Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi was to visit Dhaka, Bangladesh, for a few hours. Rajiv Gandhi requested Jayewardene to accompany him and the Sri Lankan president agreed.
“Rajiv Gandhi was to visit Dhaka for a few hours on a special goodwill visit to sympathize with President Ershad for the damage caused by a cyclone storm in the Chittagong Delta region. Rajiv spontaneously invited Jayewardene to accompany him on his special flight to Bangladesh, pointing out that a visit by two neighboring heads of government in sympathy and support would be a significant political gesture about solidarity and cooperation between countries of South Asia.
“Rajiv Gandhi also pointed out that since the summit to establish SAARC was going to be held in Dhaka, in December 1985, President Jayewardene joining him in the journey to Dhaka would be a political signal about the commitment of Sri Lanka and India to the proposed establishment of the SAARC. Jayewardene agreed. The two leaders spent considerable time talking to each other during the outbound as well as inbound flights in Rajiv Gandhi’s private cabin in the Indian Air Force special aircraft.” Assignment Colombo J N Dixit, pages 25 to 26
The Rajiv Gandhi-J R Jayewardene meeting produced an agreement and both leaders came to terms with a proposal for settlement. They agreed on the need to take immediate steps to defuse the situation and create a proper and conducive climate for negotiations and to arrive at a solution, acceptable to all parties, within the framework of the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. The agreement in effect accepted a role for the Tamil militants, while ruling out their separatist demand.
Rajiv Gandhi felt that he had persuaded Jayewardene to accept the provinces of Sri Lanka as primary units of devolution, rather than as districts. Also, Jayewardene indicated his willingness to have direct meetings with the Tamil political and militant groups.
After Jayewardene’s departure to Colombo on June 4, Rajiv Gandhi told the press the two important decisions:
1. India is determined not to allow its territory to be used as a channel for arms to Tamil guerrillas, who are fighting for a separate state in Sri Lanka.
2. The Tamils of Sri Lanka should not expect to have a separate state. They cannot also expect to have federalism. All they can hope to have is an arrangement similar to that available in India.
On return to Colombo, President Jayewardene told the press in Colombo that, the unit of devolution would be the district councils. This statement provoked Amirthalingham, who viewed it as the usual ploy to go back from what the president said openly. The TULF leader issued a statement in Madras as follows:
“We welcome the joint statement that immediate steps should be taken to create a proper climate for progress towards a political settlement acceptable to all concerned. We hope India will play a more positive role towards the achievement of a solution acceptable to all. We are perturbed what President Jayewardene said on his return at the airport; that the district council would be the unit of devolution. His special envoy Mr H W Jayewardene QC, said the same thing to Mrs Indira Gandhi in August 1983, to which she replied that, it did not go far enough to satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil people.”
Subsequently, New Delhi pressed Jayewardene to come up with a credible offer of autonomy. S Thondaman in a speech said, “The PLO, which has used violence in its struggle, has been given recognition by the United Nations – of which both Sri Lanka and India are member states. Is there no way of adopting a similar approach in the Lankan situation, to end this vast human tragedy?” He also called for change in the role of India. He said, “India’s role as postman will not yield results. It must have direct talks with Sri Lanka.”
He elaborated in subsequent press interviews, “I believe that both Sri Lanka and India should be fully involved in a negotiating process, to achieve any lasting solution to the problem. Right now, India’s approach is one of ‘expressing concern’, and Sri Lanka’s is an internal matter and no other country should be involved in seeking solution. This must change. It has been going far too long now. From the time of the incidents in July 1983, India has been expressing concern at the so-called barbaric and inhuman situation in this country.”
India continued its role as a mediator. It invited a Sri Lankan delegation of lawyers and jurists, led by H W Jayewardene, to New Delhi in June where it met with K Paraswaram, the Attorney-General of India and others to consider the legal and constitutional aspects of devolving legislative and executive powers in Sri Lanka.
Both sides agreed that any settlement of the ethnic conflict should be within the parameters of Article 2 and Article 3 of the Sri Lankan constitution.
Article: 2 – The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State.
Article: 3 – In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise.
Agreement was also reached on the main outline of the structure of the units of devolution.
Earlier, TELO cadres raided the TV transmission center in Kokkavil on the Jaffna-Kandy, A-9 highway, just after Murukandy. It was an unsuccessful attempt and the TELO lost nine of its men. This was the last known major campaign the TELO conducted in Sri Lanka.
In the meantime, the members of the Home Guards were identified by survivors as the perpetrators of an incident on June 3 outside Trincomalee, the east coast natural harbor city, in which a bus was stopped and 13 Tamil passengers were shot dead.
On June 15, the LTTE attacked and destroyed the Mannar police station, killing several policemen and ransacking the armory. Two days later, the LTTE fired at a police jeep near Trincomalee town, killing three policemen. On the same day, another LTTE ambush in Jaffna, left 13 soldiers dead.
The ENLF said that they were not interested in talks with the Sri Lankan government and would not participate in any negotiations, as long as there was tension, terror and insecurity in Sri Lanka. When everything was arranged for the talks, the Tamil militants refused to meet the Sri Lankan government delegation in Colombo. The Sri Lankan government also indicated its preference to have the meeting in a third country. Romesh Bandhari suggested holding it in Bhutan, a small landlocked Himalayan kingdom.
Accordingly, the King of Bhutan extended an invitation to India, in the capacity as a mediator between the Sri Lankan Government, the Tamil militant groups and the TULF for them to come to his country’s capital, Thimpu, for peace talks.
Romesh Bhandari, the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, was responsible for organizing the meeting. He worked out a four-phase peace formula, with a staggered timeframe. Phase 1 was to begin on June 18, with the ceasefire intended to create a climate for negotiations. The other three phases involved secret contacts between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil groups, followed by open talks.
Bhandari fixed a period of three months from June 18 to achieve a political solution. The ceasefire was declared on June 18 and the secret contacts led to open talks in Thimpu.
Even after the ceasefire announcement, Tamil militant groups were not in favor of participating in the proposed peace conference. Even Sri Sabaratnam, the leader of the TELO, perceived as pro-India, was not enthusiastic about going to Thimpu.
It was now the turn of RAW officials to coax, and when this did not work to threaten Tamil militants to agree to go to Thimpu. “Don’t forget that our [Indian] land and sea would not be available to you if you don’t go to Thimpu,” one official told Prabakaran. The LTTE supremo was taken aback and looked towards Balasingham with unease. Subsequently, as a deviation tactic, the LTTE argued that the TULF be kept out of the talks. At last, it was told with finality, “Look, you go for talks,” a RAW official said. “We are not asking you to give up the struggle, but you must go to Thimpu.”
The first to bow to the RAW’s pressure were the TULF and PLOTE. Prabakaran was not happy with Romesh Bhandari’s role and the prominence New Delhi was giving to the TULF. Amirthalingham advocated that the Tamil groups should present a common stand at Thimpu. He met PLOTE leaders and wanted to meet those of the ENLF also. Meanwhile, on June 29, the ENLF issued a statement that the TULF must give up its assumed role as the legitimate representative of Tamil people.
On July 3, Prabakaran, Pathmanabah, Sabaratnam and Balakumar, accompanied by their political aides, left Madras for New Delhi. Balakumar, in his capacity as the ENLF spokesman, told reporters that the ENLF would attend the Thimpu talks “to hear what the Sri Lankan delegates have to say”.
The Sri Lankan government send 10 delegates, led by H W Jayewardene, a constitutional lawyer, and including some eminent lawyers – H L de Silva, L C Senivaratne, P C Mark Fernando and S L Gunasekera. It was unfortunate that the government failed to send anyone with political status in the government.
Writing about the composition of the Sri Lanka government’s delegation, J N Dixit states in his book Assignment Colombo, “The Sri Lankan government decided to send a delegation led by the younger brother of President Jayewardene, H W Jayewardene to Thimpu. H W was a lawyer and had no government position, though he was a close advisor to his elder brother. India felt that Jayewardene’s action in not sending a minister or a person with constitutional status diminished the purposiveness of the talks.
“I conveyed this to J R J, who told me that he was choosing his brother to lead the delegation because, he held him in high trust. Secondly, he was a trained constitutional lawyer. Third, he was sending a person in whom he had highest personal confidence. Fourth, he was being sent as a presidential envoy, so there should be no uncertainty about the status and credentials.” – pages 26 to 27
Thirteen delegates participated on the Tamil side, consisting of two each from the five Tamil militant groups and the TULF delegation consisting of A Amirthalingham, M Sivasithamparam and R Sampanthan. The delegates were initially received by the King of Bhutan.
“S Chandrasekeran of RAW assisted the Tamil groups and the TULF during the talks, while another RAW official of the additional secretary rank assisted the Sri Lankan government delegation. According to RAW officials, Girish Chandra Saxena, the National Security Advisor to the prime minister of India, visited Thimpu and personally briefed Rajiv Gandhi.” Indian Intervention in Sri LankaRohan Gunaratna, page 120
The first round of the talks started on July 10, 1985. The Bhutan Foreign Minister Lyonpo Dawa Tsering inaugurated the conference, which was held in a banquet hall amid tight security.
H W Jayewardene made the opening statement. He said that the Sri Lankan government had made its proposals and placed before the conference the drafts of the District and Provincial Council Bills and the 10th amendment to the constitution for discussion. He told the conference that any proposal for devolution had to be within the unitary constitution of the country. He called on the TULF and Tamil militants to place their proposals before the conference.
Amirthalingham, the leader of the TULF, was the first to open discussions from the Tamil side. He said that problems regarding language, education and employment had already been dealt with in great detail in the All Party Conference (APC). Therefore, it was high time to deal with devolution, the unit of the devolution and on matters connected with powers. He urged the government to improve its proposals as they had been already rejected by the Tamils as insufficient. He concluded by saying that the Tamils would respond in the case that the government come forward with improved proposals.
The Tamil militant groups and the TULF, which included, LTTE, TELO, EROS, EPRLF and PLOTE, along with the TULF, placed their proposals on July 13, 1985, as follows:
“It is our considered view that any meaningful solution to the Tamil national question must be based on the following four cardinal principles:
1. Recognition of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as a nation.
2. Recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
3. Recognition of the right of self-determination of the Tamil nation.
4. Recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights of all Tamils who look upon the island as their country.
“Different countries have fashioned different systems of governments to ensure these principles. We have demanded and struggled for an independent Tamil state as the answer to this problem arising out of the denial of these basic rights of our people. The proposals put forward by the Sri Lankan government delegation as their solution to this problem are totally unacceptable. Therefore, we have rejected them as stated by us in our statement of the 12th of July 1985.
“However, in view of our earnest desire for peace, we are prepared to give consideration to any set of proposals in keeping with the above mentioned principles, that the Sri Lankan government may place before us. Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari, according to reports I received, had at one stage turned to Satyendran [TELO’s political aide] and one of the Tamil delegates and rhetorically asked whether Tamils took Indians to be fools to waste their time on the type of ‘futile discussions’ that were being held. This prompted a walkout by Tamil representatives who kept on articulating their basic demands all through the talks.
“The leaders of the Tamil groups like Satyendran and Chandrahasan, saw through Harry Jayewardene’s tactical sophistry and said unless the Sri Lankan government participated in discussions with a genuine political will to find substantive compromises, a separate state of Eelam covering Tamil majority areas in Sri Lanka would remain the objective of their community. The Tamil delegation told Romesh Bhandari that they would not be bullied by India into accepting compromises which did not serve their interests and failed to meet their basic demands. They also conveyed their resentment to Bhandari about India’s pressuring tactics on Tamil representatives. Here again I feel that once we had organized the meeting and structured its agenda and logistical arrangements, our representatives should not have been present at Thimpu at all. We should have allowed the Sri Lankan government representatives and the Tamil representatives to talk directly to each other.” Assignment Colombo by J N Dixit, pages 27 to 28
H W Jayewardene got up and rejected the four demands put forward by the Tamil groups. He started his denial by first dealing on the fourth demand – full citizenship for all Tamils living in the country. He said that already an agreement had been reached in the APC, with the leader of the Tamils of the Indian origin, S Thondaman, who was also the leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, to grant citizenship to 94,000 persons who remained stateless.
H W Jayewardene said that as the Tamil militants did not represent the Tamils of the Indian origin, they had no right to speak for them. Then the leader of the Sri Lankan government delegation rejected the other demands put forward by the Tamil groups and said that granting them would result in granting Tamil Eelam. He also emphasized that the Sinhalese people opposed in toto the concept of a Tamil homeland and the merger of the North and Eastern province as a single unit. He then presented the proposals that had emerged at the APC talks and conclusively said that it was the farthest the government was in a position to go.
The Tamil groups, which included militants and the TULF, rejected H W Jayewardene’s offer on behalf of the Sri Lankan government. From the very beginning, the Tamil militants had been reluctant to participate in the conference. In fact, they had been frog-marched by India to Thimpu, with threats that they would be banished from India if they did not cooperate.
Hector Jayewardene, with no fiat to go beyond what Colombo had offered to the TULF during the All Party Conference the previous year, could hardly accept the position of the Tamil groups.
So the talks ended after six days in a fiasco due to the attitude adopted by the Sri Lankan government delegation and that of Romesh Bhandari. As a face-saving measure, Bhandari decided to end the first round of talks and called for another meeting on August 12. The Tamils agreed with reluctance.
“I was informed over the hotline from the Ministry of External Affairs that the first round of talks in Thimpu had failed and that I must give a suitable briefing to the Sri Lankan media, without embarrassing the Sri Lankan government.” Assignment Colombo by J N Dixit, page 29
Details of the Thimpu talks were treated as a classified secret, therefore few clear details emerged. But in the meantime in Jaffna the general opinion to the Thimpu talks was more or less revulsion. The general Tamil public opposed the way in which India had treated the Tamil militants by taking them by the nose to Thimpu.
The second round of talks began on August 12, again at Thimpu. Before going into the details of Thimpu Talks II, a brief biographical note about Nadesan Satyendra – found in Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka by Rohan Gunaratne, becomes relevant.
“For Thimpu II, the ‘terrorist group’ elected N Satyendra, a leading Tamil lawyer, who was very much in the south of Sri Lanka. Satyendra had intimate ties in Colombo, particularly with the ruling United National Party. He was the vice president of the UNP trade union – The Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union. The president of this union was Satyendra’s close friend and influential cabinet minister of the Jayewardene Government, Mr Gamini Dissanayake.
“Satyendra was also Secretary to the Minister of Labor. He exacted everything he could from the Sinhala people and then he set about the task of dividing the land of his birth. ‘His late father, S Nadesan QC, practiced law in Colombo. In every major case where Tamils are involved, Nadesan, the father of Satyendra appears. The son appears for the terror groups. Strange as it may seem, father and son both live in Colombo, among the Sinhala people, who were supposed to be discriminating against the Tamils … Satyendra is well know for his arrogance. The Sri Lankan team cut him down to size at Thimpu II. He then picked on Romesh Bhandari, the Indian special envoy. When Bhandari made a slip of the tongue, Satyendra pounced on him. This gave the Indian envoy a proper tongue-lashing. A gift horse was looked in the mouth. For Styendra, who turned against Lanka, the land of his birth, India was only ‘small beer.'” – page 123
Just before the official opening of Thimpu II, on August 12, Romesh Bhandari met the Tamil militants and urged them to be more accommodative and to get into specifics. He said, “What the bloody hell are we to do with these generalizations?” he asked N Satyendra. Satyendra took exception to the words “bloody hell”. He said that the use of those unparliamentarily words indicated India’s utter unconcern and disregard for Sri Lankan Tamils. Bhandari was quick to explain that he had not meant any insult, but Styendra, despite Bhandari’s explanation that the words did not indicate India’s attitude, accused Bhandari of acting like a master ordering servants what to do.
Amirthalingham, who was patiently listening to the verbal duel, finally became enraged. He told Satyendra to stop the harangue and persuaded the other delegates to pass a vote of apology. He said that the Tamils were indebted to Bhandari for his efforts to work out a solution to the Tamils’ problem.
At the conference, things took a dramatic turn. H W Jayewardene in his speech was highly critical of the Thimpu I proposal put forward jointly by the Tamil groups. “Before we place before you further proposals for the devolution of power in the light of the views expressed at the several meetings held in Thimpu in July, we think it is necessary to state the government’s understanding of the four principles set down in the statement dated 13 July 1985, made on behalf of the six groups representing the interests of certain Tamil groups in Sri Lanka.” The full text of the speech is given as an annex at the end of this chapter.
Furthermore, H W Jayewardene took a firm stand and linked the implementation of any agreement with the laying down of arms by the militants. While the Thimpu talks were on, at Vavuniya on August 16, air force personnel went on the rampage after a land mine exploded on a highway. No one was injured in that blast, but the air force shot and killed 15 Tamil civilians and several shops in the Vavuniya town were torched. When the news reached Thimpu the delegates were furious. The Tamil groups at first said that they would continue the talks. Later, an ENLF spokesman announced in Madras that the proposal put forward by the Sri Lanka government was one step backward.
Then came news of the massacre of civilians at Anankathai, in Trincomalee, on August 17. The ENLF alleged that some 250 Tamils had been killed by the Sri Lankan army and Sinhalese thugs. It was said that women and children were also shot. R Vasudeva, the PLOTE representative, got up and read a hastily prepared statement, “As we have talked here in Thimpu, the genocidal intent of the Sri Lankan state has manifested itself in the continued killings of the Tamils. Therefore, it is farcical to continue peace talks in Thimpu when there is no peace and no security in our homeland.” The entire Tamil group then walked out of the conference room.
On August 19, the PLOTE, EROS, EPRLF and TELO, each withdrew one of their representatives, but the LTTE ordered both its members to fly back to Madras, although the TULF stayed on.
On August 22, Tamil militants blew up an army jeep in Trincomalee, killing four soldiers. Next day, Balasingham told reporters in Madras that the Sri government was not observing the ceasefire, so he reserved the right to retaliate.
It appeared that New Delhi was waiting for just such an announcement and within hours the Indian government served deportation orders on Anton Balasingham of the LTTE, S C Chandrahasan, a Tamil activist close to the TELO and N Satyendra, the TELO spokesman.
The text of the opening statement made in Thimpu, Bhutan, by Dr H W Jayewardene, QC, leader of the Sri Lankan government delegation, on August 12, 1985.
“Before we place before you further proposals for the devolution of power in the light to the views expressed at the several meetings held in Thimpu in July, we think it is necessary to state the government’s understanding of the four principles set down in the statement dated 13th July, 1985, made on behalf of the six groups representing interests of certain Tamil groups in Sri Lanka. We also take the opportunity to explain the relevance of the government’s proposals to the four principles.
“Firstly, we wish to observe that there is a wide range of meanings that can attach to the concepts and ideas embodied in the four principles and our response to them would accordingly depend on the meaning and significance that is sought to be applied to them.
“Secondly, we must state emphatically that if the first three principles are to be taken at their face value and given their accepted legal meaning they are wholly unacceptable to the government. They must be rejected for the reason that they constitute a negation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. They are determined to a United Sri Lanka and are inimical to the interests of the several communities, ethnic and religious in our country.
“But in so far as these ideas and concepts can be given a meaning and connotation which does not entail the creation of a separate state, or a structure of government that is indistinguishable from a separate state, we do believe that there is room for a fruitful exchange of views, which can result in a settlement of the problems that besets us. The proposals that were put before you in July were designed to remedy existing grievances and at the same time, we shall elaborate on them to show how they can serve as the foundation for a lasting settlement, but before we do that let me state briefly our position on the four basic principles.”
Tamils as a distinct nationality
“The ambiguity of meaning contained in the first basic principles arises from the use of the words ‘a distinct nationality’ in international law. The nationality of an individual signifies the quality of his being the subject of a certain state, of owing allegiance to that state, and of being entitles to it protection. If the words ‘distinct nationality’ indicate a separateness as a distinctness from other communities or racial groups in the land by virtue of difference in the obligation of their allegiance, this principle would involve the creation of a new state [or its equivalent] and we must unequivocally reject it. There can be no question of a distinct nationality in this sense.
“Outside the field of international law, the word ‘nationality’ also signifies a group or community having an ethnic identity of its own. It is used then as a historic-biological term denoting a racial group which is a constituent element of a wider community of people who constitute the nation in that state. In that sense, there is room for a proper distinction to be drawn and for recognition of a separateness of identity. In that sense also we recognize the existence of the Tamils as a distinct community and their right to a status of equality and dignity with the rest of the communities which constitute the Sri Lankan nation.
“We are certainly prepared to consider any proposals that would help the preservation and protection of those rights and interests, which are necessary for the continuing existence of the Tamils as an ethnic group. Our present proposals have taken note of these values and we shall consider any specific proposals that you wish to make in the regard. Such proposals must of course recognize the existing rights of all communities and religions in Sri Lanka.
“We recognize the right of all communities in Sri Lanka to preserve, protect and promote their cultural heritage and linguist traditions, and to practice their religion. Such recognition ought not to prejudice the sovereignty of the state.
“The Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees to all communities throughout Sri Lanka, however small their numbers may be in any part of the island, their rights in respect of culture, language and religion, for the government recognizes the whole of Sri Lanka as the homeland of member of every community. We will guarantee the guarantee the rights in the Constitution, creates a minorities right commission, and if necessary, a chamber in which they will receive adequate representation.
“The Constitution and other laws dealing with the Official Language, Sinhala, and the National Language, Tamil, with English as the link language are accepted and will be implemented as well as similar laws dealing with the National Flag and Anthem.
“The state services including the security services will adequately reflect the National Ethnic Proportion. In Higher Education too, the system of admission to the universities will in its operation substantially reflect the ethnic proportion of the Island.”
An identified Tamil homeland
“The second basic principle speaks of the recognition of an identified Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity. The precise implications of the concepts of a physically demarcated area of Sri Lankan being the homeland of the Tamils are not clear. Taken in conjunction with the demand that its territorial integrity be guaranteed, there is implicit in this the idea of a truncation of the republic’s own territorial integrity, as defined by Article 5 of the Constitution. I need hardly say that any such idea cannot be entertained, let alone considered.
“In so far as this principle contains the implication that there is to be a total or partial embargo placed against the settlement of people of other communities in the areas perceived by the Tamils as their homeland, we reject it as being a violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizen of Sri Lanka.
“It is the right and freedom of every citizen of Sri Lanka, irrespective of the racial or religious group to which he belongs, to settle in any parts of Sri Lanka which has been the homeland of all communities from the time immemorial. All citizens irrespective of community, are entitled to the freedom of movement and of choosing their residence in any part of Sri Lanka and of engaging in any lawful occupation anywhere in the country.
“On the other hand, we do recognize the fact that in certain parts of the country there are strong concentrations, which had given rise to special problems. In so far as there is a need to recognize their special rights and claims to preferential treatment which are not inconsistent with the fundamental principle of equality and equal protection and in so far as it is necessary to accord any special rights to the Tamil community living in these areas, for the preservation of their ethnic identity, we are prepared to consider reasonable proposals for achievement of these objectives. We shall place before you specific proposals, for land settlement and land use, which in our opinion do satisfy this need.
“In considering the rights of the Tamil community and need to recognize certain special rights if the Tamil community in certain areas, it is necessary to bear in mind the distribution of the population in the country. Sri Lanka’s population of 14,850,000 includes several ethnic:
Sri Lankan Tamil: 12.6%
Indian Tamils: 5.6%
“While the majority of the Sinhalese are Buddhists, the majority of the two Tamil communities are Hindu. The Muslims are followers of Islam. The Christians belong to all communities.
“The distribution of the population district-wise is as follows:
District % total pop Sinhalese SL Tamils Muslims Indian Tamils Colombo 11.43 77.88 9.77 8.27 1.27 Kalutara 5.57 87.29 1.04 7.46 4.05 Gampaha 9.35 92.18 3.6 2.77 0.41 Kandy 7.5 75.22 4.89 10.67 9.29 Matale 2.41 79.87 5.86 7.22 6.73 Nuwara Eliya 4.04 42.17 12.48 2.47 42.40 Budulla 4.32 68.48 5.7 4.17 21.12 Moneragala 1.88 92.88 1.8 1.9 3.28 Galle 5.48 94.40 0.74 3.18 1.36 Matara 4.33 94.59 0.61 2.55 2.16 Hambantota 2.86 97.37 0.37 1.12 0.07 Kurunegala 8.17 93.06 1.16 5.06 0.53 Puttalam 3.32 82.59 6.73 9.72 0.60 Anuradhapura 3.84 92.11 1.04 6.52 0.13 Polonnaruwa 1.76 90.89 2.24 6.05 0.08 Ratnapura 5.36 84.71 2.26 1.7 11.01 Kegalla 4.6 86.26 2.07 5.1 6.43 Trincomalee 1.85 35.8 31.99 28.78 2.48 Batticaloa 2.23 3.22 70.82 23.97 1.17 Amparai 2.62 37.65 20.14 41.53 0.36 Jaffna 4.98 0.51 97.07 1.69 0.67 Kilinochchi 0.62 0.91 81.22 1.38 16.39 Mannar 0 .72 8.14 50.59 26.62 13.16 Vavuniya 0.64 16.55 56.87 6.92 19.39 Mullaitivu 0 .52 5.09 75.95 4.87 13.89
“It is also relevant to comment on the ambiguity in the use of the expression ‘Tamil homeland’. The ‘homeland’ is claimed not on behalf of all the Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka, which would include the Muslims, as well as the Tamils of recent Indian origin. It is also significant that the earlier expression ‘The Traditional Homelands of the Tamils’ which had been used to stake a claim for the entirety northern and eastern provinces, as certain other areas, such as Puttalam, has now been dropped.
“The claim of the ‘Traditional homelands’ was originally framed on the alleged historical basis that these ‘homelands’ existed ‘for centuries from the dawn of history’. It was subsequently claimed to have existed from about the 13th century with the establishment of the ‘Kingdom of Jaffna’. Evidently the present statement avoided the use if the expression ‘Traditional Tami Homelands’ from a realization of the dubious nature of the historical evidence.
“In the context of the expression ‘Tamils of Sri Lanka’ the expression ‘Tamil Homelands’ is thus sought to be given an expanded significance so as potentially to include the central highlands, parts of the Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces as well. Even if the claim be limited to the northern and eastern provinces it would in effect cover approximately 30 percent of the land area and 60 percent of the sea coast of Sri Lanka and that too on behalf of only 12.6 percent of the population. If the claim is to include the additional areas referred to above, it would encompass very nearly half the land area of Sri Lanka and that too on behalf of 18.2 percent of the population. These facts alone demonstrate the utter unreasonableness and injustice of this demand and would be reason enough for its rejection.
“The Tamil leadership has hitherto rejected any proposals for the equitable distribution of places in state employment or state education, especially in the matter of university admissions based on national ethnic proportions on the grounds that there should be strict equality of opportunity. Inconsistently with this principle, however, the ‘Tamil Homelands’ demand involves a special reservation for Tamils in respect of land settlement schemes in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. These areas also happen to be the areas in which major settlement schemes are foreshadowed in the further which would mean a monopoly of the use of these lands for the Tamils. The contradiction involve in the demands in these two fields must therefore be emphasized.
“It is, however, possible to discuss land settlement and land use under this head with due regard to any reasonable demand of the Tamils without in any way accepting or conceding this claim of ‘Tamil Homeland’.”
The right of self-determination of the Tamil nation
“The third principle of the right of self-determination, in so far as it implies the right of a secession from and out of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and the right to create a separate state is totally unacceptable and is in this form rejected. International law and practice does not regard the principal of self-determination as one which authorize any group of people to take any action that would result in the dismemberment or impairment of the territorial integrity or political unity of a sovereign and independent state.
“International law recognizes that the right of self-determination applies only to colonial peoples striving to win independence from foreign domination and does not apply to sovereign independent states, or to a section of a nation. It cannot be used as a means of destroying national integrity.
“All governments in Sri Lanka since independence have recognized the right of all citizens, irrespective of race and religion to participate in the democratic process of electing the government of their choice and of participating through their elected representatives, in decisions regarding, the framework of government and in the management of their own affairs. This is the only sense in which the government and in the management of their own affairs. This is the only sense in which the government of Sri Lanka recognizes the principle of self-determination in the business of government. [This right of self-determination in the business of government.] This right of self-determination is exercisable within the existing constitutional framework by all the citizens of Sri Lanka in respect of their political, economic, social and cultural affairs. One group of people living in an independent, sovereign state does not have the right to determine their future political status independently of the rest of the people living in that country and do not have the right to secede from the existing state to form and establish an independent state. In our view the right of self-determination is available only to the political entities under colonial rule.
“The UN resolution 1514 (xv) clearly states that any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. The rights of all minorities living in Sri Lanka are already protected by the constitution of course. There can be groups who are dissatisfied with the degree of participation that they now enjoy. The prepared scheme of devolution of power is designed to meet these demands to a very substantial degree. This refusal to identify or specify particular areas of dissatisfaction or to examine facts on which complaints are based does create in our minds the impression that the grievances are either exaggerated or not bona fide. We would therefore earnestly request you to specify the particular problems and put forward your proposals for remedial action so that we may consider them on their merits. We do not recognize the need to create special status for the Tamil minorities which is not recognized in the case of other communities living in Sri Lanka.
“It is relevant to mention in this connection that at the 1977 general election only the TULF campaigned for a separate state. The TULF contested seats only in the northern and eastern provinces and the votes obtained by them were as follows:
Jaffna (including Klinochchi) 72.1%
“The remaining voters in the other districts did not support the TULF and the demand for a separate state.”
The right to full citizenship of all Tamils living in Sri Lanka
“As far as the fourth principle is concerned we do not acknowledge the right or status or any persons present here to represent or negotiate on behalf of all Tamils living in Sri Lanka. Those of the Tamil community of recent Indian origin who are commonly referred to a Indian Tamils, have their own accredited representative and government has reached certain understandings with them in regard to their problems and these do not need to be discussed here. We may state however that the government of Sri Lanka has already announced at the All Party Conference that was concluded last year its intention to grant Sri Lanka citizenship to the stateless category as soon as arrangements are made for the repatriation of the Indian Tamils who have been granted Indian citizenship.
“What I have now briefly stated is our response to the statement of the four basic principles set out in the statement of the 13th July.
“We shall presently outline our proposals.
“The implementation of any agreement reached at these talks requires as a pre-condition a complete renunciation of all forms of militant action. All militant groups in Sri Lanka must surrender their arms and equipment. All training camps whether in Sri Lanka or abroad must be closed down. Refugees wherever they may be must be permitted to return unmolested to areas which were inhabited by them prior to their disturbance and destabilization. All temples, kovils, churches, mosques and other places of worship and shrines of whatever religion damaged or destroyed shall be restored and people of all communities and religions, wherever they may be shall be allowed to manifest their religion in accordance with the guarantees in the Constitution. An amnesty for all violations of the criminal law pursuant to agitations of the militant groups will only be granted after the government is satisfied that these pre-conditions have been observed. This is the only basis on which any settlement reached here can be implemented and peace restored to our country.”
NEXT: Chapter 33: Militants wage war