Accord and its Ramifications
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002
India began to a show keen interest in evolving an acceptable political package to bring an end to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. There were many compulsions behind the desire, none the least of which was the need for Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to deflect attention from domestic issues.
Gandhi had been at the center of a heated political controversy since March, 1987. It all started with Assembly elections for three states. In the southern state of Kerala on March 23, 1987, the Congress-led coalition government was driven out of power by the leftist front, meaning that the opposition regional parties had now taken control of all four states in the southern part of India.
At the same time, Congress, under the leadership of Gandhi, miserably failed to wrest power back from the communists in the state of West Bengal, while Congress did manage to retain its hold in Jammu and Kashmir as junior partners.
At this time, Visvanath Pratab Singh held the finance portfolio in Gandhi’s cabinet. He was considered one of the ablest finance ministers of India and a prime mover in the cabinet for economic liberalization. But, with the view to appeasing the followers of Gandhi, he was transferred to the Ministry of Defense.
In early March, the intelligence branch of the federal government raided the offices of the Indian Express, a group of newspapers branded as an anti-government. During the raid, the government stumbled on information that the Ministry of Finance had employed the services of a United States consulting firm, the Fairfax Group, to investigate illegal offshore transactions of such distinguished business luminaries as the Bachan brothers and textile magnate Dirruhai Ambani.
V P Singh admitted that the investigation had been undertaken under his authority, which prompted the Congress leaders and a section of the media to accuse him of selling national interests to foreign operatives closely linked with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America. Never mind that the investigation was aimed at alleged economic crimes, and had nothing to do with security issues. Rajiv Gandhi tried to play down the seriousness of the issue by making it a subject of a closed-door examination.
But the public impression lingered that, something fishy was going on. This impression was reinforced by V P Singh in his role as minister of defense. It was alleged that kickbacks, as much as 7 percent, had been solicited by Indian middlemen, on a US$340 million submarine order, placed with a West German shipyard during Indira Gandhi’s rule. Such commissions were banned under Indian law, and there was speculation that the alleged payments had been a kickback to the Congress (I) ruling party.
Singh ordered a fresh departmental probe into the scandal, when he took over the Defense portfolio. He did not notify either Rajiv Gandhi or the cabinet, which is customary procedure on launching such a probe. He only announced the investigation on the floor of parliament – the Lok Sabah – on April 9.
Congress party leaders were quick to accuse the defense minister of a cheap publicity stunt, bent on grabbing media publicity without regard to cabinet or party procedures. On April 12, V P Singh resigned as defense minister over charges that, he had intended to malign and embarrass Rajiv Gandhi. Singh went as far as to proclaim his loyalty to Gandhi and to the party, when he announced his resignation.
No sooner had the kickback scandal arisen than, Swedish radio broadcasters reported that Stockholm’s premier arms maker, Bofors, had paid a $16 million commission into Swiss bank accounts of Indian middlemen to secure a $1.3 billion order for 400 howitzers.
The allegation involving Bofors targeted for investigation both Ajitab Bachchan and his brother and matinee idol, Amitab Bachchan, a Congress member of parliament from the Alahabad constituency, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Rajiv Gandhi and Amitab Bachchan were childhood friends. The arms deal was consummated while Gandhi had been Minister of Defense. He left the post to replace Singh as Minister of Finance.
The governments of India and Sweden, and also Bofors, rushed to deny the allegations, claiming that the howitzer deal had been concluded from direct negotiations, between Rajiv Gandhi and the late premier of Sweden, Olaf Palme, during the latter’s state visit to India in 1985.
Rajiv Gandhi’s political vulnerability became increasingly apparent and rumors were rife of an impending “constitutional coup” to be staged by Giani Zail Singh, the president of India. Zail Singh, an Indira Gandhi loyalist, was about to complete his five-year term as president. He felt that a second term would not be forthcoming and he felt snubbed by Rajiv Gandhi, who neglected him on issues of government.
Beginning in April, newspapers reported that Zail Singh was quietly seeking advise on his constitutional power to remove the prime minister. The president was said to be awaiting for possible evidence that, Rajiv Gandhi himself had been involved in the graft scandal.
On May 1, Rajiv Gandhi lashed out at unidentified opponents, whom, he said, wanted to stage a coup against the democratically elected government. The prime minister added that even the highest elected officials could be held answerable to parliament. Following the outburst of a veiled threat on the president, Zail Singh’s public repudiation of the idea of removing Rajiv Gandhi was reported in the national press on May 5. The opposition were reluctant to entertain the idea of having a democratically elected prime minister dismissed. In one statement, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that such an action by the president was “too dangerous a proposition for the future democracy and the country”.
While Rajiv Gandhi struggled with corruption scandals and open hostility to his country’s president, the ruling Congress (I) was handed an overwhelming defeat in the state assembly election held on June 18, in Haryana. The defeat was the party’s sixth loss in the past seven votes that, it had contested under the leadership of Gandhi.
On July 13, Ramaswami Venkataraman was elected as the eighth president of India. Venkataraman, a senior Congress party leader from Tamil Nadu, South India, had served for four years under Indira Gandhi, both as Minister of Finance and later as Minister of Defense and had become vice president of India in 1984.
Venkataraman was Rajiv Gandhi’s nominee for the mostly ceremonial post of president, and his chief opponent was V R Krishna Iyer, a retired Supreme Court Judge, who was supported by a collection of opposition parties.
Balloting for the presidency was confined to members of the national parliament and state assemblies. Venkataraman brought a breath of fresh air to Rajiv Gandhi and to the Congress party, by garnering about 71 percent of the votes.
Emboldened by this result, Rajiv Gandhi began to purge leading dissidents in the Congress party. On July 15, he expelled party leaders Arin Mohammad Khan, V C Shukla and Arun Nehru. Again, on July 19 he expelled Vishwanath Pratb Singh. Infighting within Congress was not the single issue that confronted Rajiv Gandhi. The Punjab problem, Sikhs uprising for the formation of a separate state, coupled with problems in Nagaland and Mizoram became major issues.
So, for distraction, Rajiv Gandhi latched on to Sri Lanka to divert attention from his mounting domestic problems, with the airdrop of supplies on June 4, into Jaffna, being a turning point in the Indo-Sri Lankan relationship. Sri Lanka subsequently became amiable to India. Suddenly, rapid political negations began to take place.
LTTE representatives in Singapore met N Ram, the associate editor of The Hindu newspaper, published from Madras, and conveyed a message that, the LTTE would be willing for a political compromise, if the Sri Lankan government agreed to the following proposals:
- Military operations should stop and Sri Lankan forces should return to the barracks, wherever they are;
- The Northern and Eastern provinces should be merged and recognized as a Tamil homeland;
- There should be devolution of powers on the basis of the proposals which had come up since 1983 and up to the end of 1986;
- Tamil should be recognized as an official language equal in status with Sinhalese.
- An interim Tamil administration should be put in place in the linked northern and eastern provinces, to negotiate and finalize details of devolution of power etc, and;
- Tamils should be given proportional representation in the three services of the security forces and in the public service.Gamini Dissanayake, the Minister of Mahaweli Development, received the letter from N Ram with these proposals. Immediately, Jayewardene authorized Dissanayake to negotiate, but the talks were soon deadlocked as Dixit insisted on the merger of the North and Eastern provinces.
Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi sent word that he was prepared to help to break the deadlock provided Jayewardene was prepared to agree to a temporary merger of the two provinces. He also indicated his willingness to persuade the Sri Lankan Tamils to accept the settlement. The LTTE would be forced to comply, said Rajiv Gandhi in his message.
Following Rajiv Gandhi’s message, Jayewardene set two conditions:
- The temporary merger to have a time limit with a referendum held to determine whether the people of the Eastern province wished to remain merged with the Northern province, and;
- The envisaged agreement should be between India and Sri Lanka and not with any of the Tamil groups.Rajiv Gandhi accepted both conditions and he asked for the inclusion in the agreement of the letters they had exchanged. Dissanayake and Dixit were given the task of drafting an agreement.
On July 15, Jayewardene informed the cabinet of the proposals envisaged in the agreement and told that India had guaranteed the surrender of arms by the Tamil militants. He also said that Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had to ensure that Indian interests would not be harmed. In the cabinet meeting, Gamini Disanayake, Nissanka Wijeyaratne and Ronnie De Mel spoke in favor of an agreement with India, while Gamini Jayasuriya, Athulathmudali, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Ranjit Attapattu, E L B Hurulle and M H Mohamed opposed it. Ranil Wickremasinghe requested to differ until the arrival of Ranatunge Premadasa, the prime minister, who was away from the island.
On July 27, Jayewardene told the cabinet that he had decided to sign an agreement with India. He said that those who opposed it could leave the party. Premadasa read a three-page statement expressing his opposition and called for a national referendum. Ranil Wickremasinghe and Gamini Jayasuriya supported him. Lalith Athulathmudali expressed some reservations but the majority of the ministers decided to go along with the proposals and the cabinet resolved by consensus to authorize Jayewardene to sign an accord with India.
India had flown the Liberation Tigers’ leader Velupillai Prabakaran to New Delhi on July 24, 1987, for talks. Earlier, the First Secretary in the Indian High Commission in Colombo, Hardeep Singh Puri, met Prabakaran in Jaffna on July 19, and the Indian diplomat told the Tiger leader that President Jayewardene had agreed to provide constitutionally official status to the Tamil Language, and also consented to a de facto Tamil homeland by creating Provincial Councils and merging the North and East into a single council. Puri further added that Prabakaran should meet Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi to clear up any mutual misgivings.
Again, Puri met Prabakaran on July 24, at Jaffna and it was agreed that Prabakaran would meet Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi. On the same day, Indian helicopters landed at the outer court of the Suthumalai Amman Temple, Suthumalai, in the Jaffna peninsula, and picked up the waiting Prabakaran and his delegation, including Yogi and the Jaffna political leader Thileepan. Anton Balasingham joined him in Madras.
The Tiger’s delegation was accommodated at Ashok Hotel, New Delhi, belonging to the Tourist Development Corporation of India. The delegation comprising the Tamil United Liberation Front was accommodated at the adjoining Samrat Hotel, whereas members of Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TELO), the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) in New Delhi were taken care of by India’s Research Analysis Wing (RAW).
The Tamil groups were shown a copy of the proposed “Rajiv Gandhi-Jayewardene Agreement” and they all accepted the agreement in principle. Indian External Affairs Ministry officials had a meeting with Prabakaran on July 27. Prabakaran told of his misgivings about the accord and said that he was not prepared to trust the Sinhala leadership in general and Jayewardene in particular.
Subsequently, the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Joytindra Nath Dixit, who was at the time in Delhi, met Prabakaran and gave an outline of the proposed accord: the North-East merger plus a referendum after one year to decide if the people of the East wanted the merger to continue, limited autonomy for Tamil areas, a ceasefire in the Sri Lankan northeast within 72 hours and the surrender of arms by Tamil groups. Prabakaran was stunned. “After losing nearly a thousand militants and 20,000 civilians, how can we be party to such an accord?” he asked.
In the meantime, it was reported that Dixit threatened the LTTE delegates with serious action, if they refused to endorse the accord. Dixit told them bluntly that it would be signed and implemented whether they accepted it or not. Prabakaran told Dixit categorically that, neither the LTTE nor the Tamils of Eelam would accept the framework of the accord since it fell short of the political aspirations of the Tamils.
Later in the evening, Prabakaran and Balasingham briefly met Rajiv Gandhi. “Gandhi was, however, more assuring on the night of July 28, when Prabakaran and Balasingham called on him at his office. Gandhi received the duo warmly and promised that the LTTE interests would be taken care of. Gandhi also admitted that Jayewardene may not have agreed to the accord but for the fierce resistance put up by the Tamil militants, mainly the LTTE. The Tigers, Gandhi said, would get 5 million rupees every month towards rehabilitating its cadres. The LTTE would also be given the lion’s share in a proposed administration for Sri Lanka’s northeast. The LTTE was insistent that no one from the EPRLF should be included in the administrative set-up. Panrutti Ramachandran, the Tamil Nadu minister who accompanied the LTTE leaders to the Gandhi meeting said the LTTE chief then ‘agreed to accept the accord as a temporary measure’.” Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas by M R Narayan Swamy, pages 243-244
Rajiv Gandhi flew to Colombo on the following day to finalize and sign the accord. He disregarded advice from one his cabinet colleagues that he should take Prabakaran’s written consent for the accord, or at least hold him back in a tourist resort until the LTTE began surrendering weapons. “Prabkaran has given his word, I trust him,” was Gandhi’s crisp reply.
At first, Prabakaran denounced the accord as a “trap”, but on July 29, he issued a statement saying that Gandhi “understands our fear and is fully sympathetic to the Tamil aspirations”.
However, without the tacit approval and knowledge of Rajiv Gandhi, the LTTE leader had been in suite 518 of Ashok Hotel, sequestered, held virtually incommunicado, guarded by the Indian elite Black Cats Commando unit. India would not allow the Tamil leader even to receive telephone calls or meet with reporters.
According to Adele Balasingham, in her The Will to Freedom, she records the unfolding tense movements of the negotiations as follows:
“The LTTE did not budge from its committed position though subjected to severe pressure, persuasion and intimidation. Finally the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, invited Mr Pirabakaran and Bala to his residence. Bala and Pirabakaran clarified the LTTE’s position of the accord, explaining the limitations and inadequacies of the provincial framework envisaged in the accord. The North and East is a single, integrated, territorial homeland of the Tamil speaking people and to subject the question of territorial unity to a referendum as proposed in the accord was unfair and unacceptable, they argued. Mr Gandhi was told that the Tamils did not trust Jayewardene and that he would never recognize Tamil aspirations.
“It was also explained to the Indian leader that the demand for the disarmament of the Tamil resistance movement within seventy-two hours of the signing of the document as stipulated in the accord before the implementation of the envisaged framework was a serious mistake. Though they could not accept its contents, Rajiv Gandhi urged them not to oppose the accord and promised a predominate role for the LTTE in the interim northeastern government. Bala told me that Mr Pirabakaran was skeptical of Rajiv’s pledge but they agreed to his proposal to avoid confronting the Indian government.” – pages 128-129.
Jayewardene, too, had his problems in Colombo. The SLFP organized a massive protest march in Colombo, into which JVP agitators sneaked. They torched more than 200 buses and also attacked the government offices. Violent street protests erupted, leaving 38 people dead. The SLFP and the JVP capitalized on the anti-Indian hysteria and a 48-hour curfew was imposed at 6pm on July 28.
Leading members of Jayewardene’s government openly declared opposition to the accord. The notables were Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, the Minister for National Security Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Jayasuriya, a senior member of the United National Party and a former Minister of Agriculture.
News of an impending accord provoked unprecedented protests, arson, rioting and looting among the Sinhalese from July 28 to 29, 1987. Some 40 people died, of which half were protesters shot by police in Colombo city alone on July 28. Disorder flared mainly in areas where Sinhalese lived. Colombo was hardly hit by protests although billows of black smoke hung over the city.
After the signing of the accord, two Leader Class Indian naval frigates anchored off the shores of Colombo, on July 30. A third on this kind, joined them on August 4.
Divisions over the accord were conspicuous within Jayewardene’s cabinet. According to news reports in the national press, ministers were unhappy, especially with the annexure to the accord that, among the other matters, barred the use of any Sri Lankan port for military purposes harmful to India. Furthermore, the clauses stipulating Sri Lanka to review the engagement of foreign military and intelligence personnel. These provisions clearly referred to the training of Sri Lankan forces by mercenaries from Britain and intelligence officials by those from Israel and Pakistan. Many ministers felt that the accord was a road leading the country to nowhere.
According to J N Dixit, the Indian High Commissioner, who was watching the tense situation in Colombo, “The situation in Sri Lanka had become not just tense, but violently volatile from the evening of July 27. What commenced as processions of protest against the proposed agreement, degenerated into explosive rioting in Colombo and in central and southern Sri Lanka. Jayewardene apprehended his ouster by Premadasa with the support of some elements of the Sri Lankan armed forces. He conveyed these apprehensions to Rajiv Gandhi, who decided that it was time to give a clear message to the disgruntled Sinhalese elements, that India would be fully supportive of Jayewardene, the difficult decision he had taken to cooperate with India in finding a solution to the long-standing ethnic conflict. Ships from the Indian Navy were positioned off the port of Colombo, with small but crack units of Indian army commandos kept ready to intervene in support of Jayewardene, if he came under direct threat. It is my speculation that, the appearance of the Indian ship must have cooled the inclinations of those who might have been planning a coup to remove Jayewardene. The coup was avoided but the riots continued. They reached the height of intensity in Colombo on the afternoon of July 28. The Sri Lankan Foreign Office and the security agencies advised me not to move out of my office to go to my residence till late at night. Measures like the declaration of curfew, etc, had no impact. We had reliable reports that both Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali actively encouraged these disturbances.” Assignment Colombo page 161
T N Seshan, the secretary in charge of security, arrived in Colombo on July 28, to oversee the final arrangements, for the visit of Rajiv Gandhi. He was due to arrive in Colombo on July 29, at 10:30am, and was to meet President J R Jayewardene between 11:30am and midday. The agreement was to be signed at 15:30 and Rajiv Gandhi would leave for New Delhi at 11:30 the following day.
According to Dixit, Jayewardene had originally thought of designating Gamini Dissanayake or Lalith Athulathmudali as the Minister in Waiting to Rajiv Gandhi during his visit. Lalith Athulathmudali refused. Gamini Dissanayake said that he had already over-identified himself with a cause that was not popular with the Sinhalese. So Jayewardene nominated Ronnie de Mel, the Minister of Finance.
Rajiv Gandhi was accompanied by cabinet Ministers P V Narasimha Roa, N D Tiwari and Natwar Singh – who was a Minister of State, and K P S Menon, the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs. He was received by Ronnie de Mel and his wife. Subsequently, he was taken by helicopter from the international airport at Katunayake to the Galle Face Green and from there, he drove in a bulletproof car to the president’s House.
There, he was received by J R Jayewardene and his wife. The ceremonial guard of honor went off smoothly. But, Lalith Athulathmudali, Prime Minister Premadasa, and Gamini Jayasuria, boycotted the arrival ceremony.
The full text of the “Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka (Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord)” that Rajiv Gandhi and J R Jayewardene signed on July 29, 1987, is given as an annex at the end of this chapter.
The pact bound India to “underwrite and guarantee” the agreement. Immediately after the signing, the Indian Air Force ferried more than 2,000 Sri Lankan soldiers out of the Northern Province so that they could be deployed in active duties to maintain law and order in Colombo and elsewhere.
The agreement comprised three parts – (1) Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka (2) Annexure to the Agreement and (3) Exchange of Letters between J R Jewardene and Rajiv Gandhi.
“The principal document [referred to as an annexure] of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord faithfully embodied proposals agreed between the two governments, since the middle of 1985, while India’s security concerns were contained in a letter from the Indian prime minister to the Sri Lanka president and the latter’s rather brief response to it. The first clause [with its five sub-clauses] on the principal document were in the nature of a preamble about the nature of the Sri Lankan polity and its ‘multi-ethnic, multilingual and multireligious plural society’. The substance of the accord lay in its second clause, or part, with its 18 sub-clauses, beginning with 2.1 to 2.7 which dealt with the temporary amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and the referendum that would be held in the Eastern Province.” 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, pages 640-641
The purpose of the agreement was twofold: To nurture, intensify and strengthen the traditional friendship between Sri Lanka and India, and to resolve the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka and the consequent violence.
Central to the agreement as far as India was concerned was the Exchange of Letters between J R Jayewardene and Gandhi that stressed friendship between the two countries.
It was also agreed that Jayewardene and Gandhi would reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel with the view to ensuring that their presence would not prejudice Indo-Sri Lanka relations. This related to the military and intelligence advice Sri Lanka had obtained from Pakistan and Israel to combat Tamil insurgency. India considered the presence of these personnel and British mercenaries inimical to the Indian interest.
It was also agreed that Sri Lanka’s eastern port of Trincomalee, one of the world’s finest natural deep-water harbors, would not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests. This provision also applied to Sri Lanka’s other ports.
The agreement on Trincomalee included a provision that the British-built oil storage facility would be restored and operated as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka. New Delhi had been unhappy about a US firm that had received Pentagon contracts showing interest in operating the said tank farms.
Finally it was agreed that Colombo’s accords with foreign broadcasting organizations – India was concerned about the agreement with the Voice of America and the West German Duetsche Welle – would be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka were used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes.
For its part, India agreed to deport all Sri Lankans found to be engaged in terrorist activities or advocating separation or secession and also agreed to provide training facilities and military supplies for the Sri Lankan security forces.
The agreement proper guaranteed that India would act against any militant groups not coming forward to accept the settlement envisaged in the agreement. Also, India was to ensure that Indian territory was not used for activities prejudicial to Sri Lanka’s unity, integrity and security. This was said to be the biggest foreign policy success as far as Rajiv Gandhi was concerned.
The accord mandated a large role for India in the affairs of its smaller neighbor. After the signing, India deployed nearly 5,000 of its soldiers as the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in the troubled Jaffna Peninsula. Sri Lanka said that the forces would report to Sri Lankan commanders, but in fact the Indian forces evolved into an independent power base. India declared that it reserved the power to decide how long they proposed to stay in the country.
Though Rajiv Gandhi managed to exact a lot of concessions from Sri Lanka for and on behalf of the Tamils on the island, he failed to assess the mood of the general Tamil public. He won concessions under a unitary form of government, which the Tamil people loathed, and this weighed against the concessions extracted from Jayewardene.
A ceasefire, or in other words, a cessation of hostilities between the Sri Lanka Government and the Tamil fighters, was due to begin by July 31. The Sri Lankan army would return to its barracks by August 2. The Sri Lankan army would abandon all positions it had captured and the Tamil fighters would surrender their weapons by August 3. The government would grant a general amnesty to Tamil fighters and political prisoners.
The creation of a de facto Tamil homeland would be established by allowing a single Provincial Council for the Northern and Eastern Provinces where the majority of the Tamils resided.
The two provinces were the Northern and Eastern provinces where Tamils constituted more than 55 percent of the population. In the Eastern province, Muslims, who are also Tamil-speaking, constituted nearly 30 percent of the total population in the province. The people of the Eastern province are to have a referendum by the end of 1988, to confirm the merger of the Eastern province with the North. The matter would be decided by a simple majority at the referendum.
Seven other Provincial Councils were to be set up in other parts of the island. This measure was meant to decentralize the power concentrated in the unitary form of government that, had prevailed in the country since 1833. Elections to the North-East Provincial Council were to be overseen by Indian observers.
The Indian Navy was to cooperate with the Sri Lankan Navy to ensure that no arms flowed from India to the Tamil fighters in the North and East of Sri Lanka. However, India all along did not formally admit that Tamil militants operated from India.
Sri Lanka was aware that it was India, during the rule of Indira Gandhi, which first invited small groups of Tamil youths, who were termed boys, to engage in anti-government activities in various parts of India. India, through its Research Analysis Wing (RAW) armed these Tamil militants and encouraged attacks on several government positions, as well as ordered attacks on personalities inside Sri Lanka after the ethnic turmoil of 1983.
The accord provided India with the new role of an active participant and an on-the-spot player, referee and defender of its role in Sri Lanka.
The agreement, without any doubt, was one of the best ever to be reached on paper in creating the necessary atmosphere to bring about peace and restore normalcy in a country torn into pieces by ethnic violence. In retrospect, the accord resulted in discord that led to worse civil strife and violence and where the main players were changed. Instead of the Sri Lankan security forces, it was the IPKF, and instead of several militant organizations jointly and separately attacking the Sri Lankan government forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam emerged as a formidable force to take on singlehandedly the world’s fourth-largest army.
And as the key players changed, the political landscape underwent drastic changes, but for ordinary Tamil civilians sandwiched between belligerent forces their lives continued to be disrupted.
The mutual faith, understanding and trust that Sri Lanka and India had on entering into the historic agreement soon began to erode. Both parties developed suspicions and took many things for granted.
The accord needs to be viewed from three different angles:
1. The factors that led to its signing.
2. The vested interests of India to guarantee and underwrite it.
4. The situation in the North and Eastern Provinces after its signing and the position adopted by the Sri Lankan government after the signing.
Before delving into details of these three divergent perspectives, details of the press conference held in Colombo immediately after the signing of the accord, where J R Jayewardene and Rajiv Gandhi were present, shed further light on the agreement. Excerpts of the press conference :
Question: This is a question relating to India’s role in this peace process since 1983. We have been involved and India too has been involved with its good offices, not as a negotiator and not certainly as party to the agreement. There appears to be a sharp rise in the new round and India is a party and an underwriter, a guarantor and so on. What makes you to take this rather significant step? If I ask the president of Sri Lanka after that, how did you respond to this change in role, when India is now a party to an agreement and a guarantor? Earlier they were involved in bringing two parties together, when communication had broken down?
Rajiv Gandhi: When President Jayewardene came to India, if I remember in June 1985, I had talks with him at that time, that if we came forward to an agreement, which seems satisfactory to us, even if nobody else come forward to implement and sign it, we would come forward to sign it. So it is not something new. It goes back to the first meeting we had, when we two of us talked about tackling this problem. We did not talk in details, but the concept of going together, if required was discussed right at that time.
Question: My question is to both your excellencies, now does this mean that India and Sri Lanka are the only parties for resolving matters like devolution of powers, the details of the autonomy the Tamils would get? No other party will be there? Only the Indian and the Sri Lankan governments are involved, and if so, would both governments be able to impose whatever agreement they reached in this regard?
Jayewardene: These proposals have been discussed with the separatist groups in New Delhi, Thimpu, Colombo and Bangalore. They are involved in this. If you look at the proposals, you will find that they are involved in this.
Rajiv Gandhi: If I can add to that, most of the clauses included in that have been completed. There is very little to discuss. There are a few clauses where the basic principles are laid out and a little bit of work has to be done to close the tail end. This little of work and so we can do it without any problem.
Question: Was this agreement more or less forced by India on Sri Lanka, particularly in the context of the recent air-drops, which were considered a violation of our sovereignty? To Mr Rajiv Gandhi – Have you imposed this on Sri Lanka ?
Rajiv Gandhi: No, I don’t think that we have imposed this. We have been in touch with the president right through this process.
Question: The correspondent from Reuters asks Rajiv Gandhi, if he thinks Prabakaran (the Tiger leader) is agreeable, and if he is not, “how do you proposed to implement the proposals?”
Rajiv Gandhi: We did have some talks last night and they raised certain problems relating to their security. We are still talking with them, I think they will come along with us in implementing the agreement.
Question: Since you arrived in Colombo, there has been tremendous resistance I see to the accord from a section of important people inside the administration of Sri Lanka and outside and also you have some resistance from Prabakaran and his friends. Do you think under this circumstances this accord can be implemented?
Rajiv Gandhi: Well, the matters you raised are in terms of Sri Lanka and I think it is best the president talks about them. I have already mentioned the LTTE.
Question: How long would you give the LTTE to agree to the proposals before you start cracking down on them? What sort of deadline would you give them? How many hours, how many days?
Rajiv Gandhi: We got certain deadlines in the agreement we have signed today. We would like to stick to those deadlines.
Question: If the deadlines are not working out, how long would you extend to them?
Rajiv Gandhi: Like the president, if there is a genuine attempt to meet this deadlines and genuine problems come up, we can sit together and work out as to how to solve these deadlines.
Question: If Prabakaran refuses, are you going to put him into prison?
Rajiv Gandhi: Well … I talked with him yesterday, I think I will be able to get a solution.
Question: But if he doesn’t? Are you prepared to put him into prison?
Rajiv Gandhi: Wellm that is very hypothetical. They are worried about their safety and security, if they are dismissed and if we can find a solution to their security, I think we will have to a very great extent solved their problems.
Question: Aren’t they also worried about the referendum which is proposed for the Eastern and Northern Provinces?
Rajiv Gandhi: I don’t see a referendum as a major problem.
Question: You once accused Sri Lanka of flippancy and lacking in guts to solve this problem. You have now signed this accord with the same leadership. Do you think that your position has changed?
Rajiv Gandhi: Let me say that President Jayewardene has shown tremendous courage and statesmanship in coming forward to these proposals.
President Jayewardene on August 7, 1987, told a press reporter that he had invited Indian troops into the country, partly for his own personal protection in the face of the growing unrest in the country. He further noted a lukewarm international response to Sri Lankan requests for military aid that had left the country at the mercy of its larger neighbor. “We can’t stand up to any country,” Jayewardene said, “They would conquer us.”
The day after the signing of the accord, India deployed 6,000 soldiers as a peacekeeping force in Jaffna peninsula. In addition, the Indian Air Force ferried an additional 600 soldiers from the peninsula to keep order in Colombo and elsewhere. The Indian soldiers were received as protectors and guardian angels by the war-weary and battle-ravaged Tamils of the Northern province. They hugged and garlanded the soldiers in a display of emotion.
When details of the accord were announced, violent street protests erupted in the streets of Colombo, leaving more than 50 people dead. Public property was damaged. The Ministry of Transport alone suffered a loss of more than US$140 million as several hundreds of Ceylon Transport Board Motor busses and trains were damaged.
The deepening anti-government crisis in the city forced Rajiv Gandhi to again take a helicopter to Katunayake airport on his departure. There he was accorded a guard of honor but a Sinhalese naval rating, W Vijitha Rohana, hit Gandhi with his rifle butt. This reflected the belligerent mood of Sinhalese Buddhists to the accord.
Rohana in a conversation with journalist Carl Muller, which appeared in The Sunday Times of May 1989, states, “In Trincomalee we were told that Rajiv Gandhi had slapped our sovereignty in the face. India was an enemy, on the side of the terrorists. Now, in Colombo it was spit and polish, to make me do honor to the man who invaded our air space and sea space. We use to talk about this and many of us were boiling mad.” He went on to say, “A lot of us in the honor guard felt that we were being toadies, which brought us to the actual outrage. We had ceremonial bayonets. My friends were letting off steam too, I guess, but in the bravado of the moment I said I will break rank and attack Gandhi if they came to my aid.” When asked whether he anticipated that colleagues would attack Gandhi, Rohana replied, “I don’t know what I thought. All I knew was that at last I had the chance to engage my enemy. My country had been humiliated.”
News of the assault on Gandhi reached New Delhi, which created a storm in a tea cup. The incident led to the breaking of all known diplomatic protocol arrangements, when R Venkataraman, the president of India, rushed to the airport at New Delhi to receive his returning prime minister.
“During his visit to New Delhi in the first week of December 1987, Ramachandran, [the Tamil Nadu minister] it is recalled, became highly emotional while thanking Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for the attention paid to the Sri Lankan issue. What particularly impressed M G R was that Rajiv Gandhi almost staked his life for the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils. This was how he saw the Sri Lankan incident – the attack on the prime minister during the guard of honor ceremony a day after the signing of the Sri Lanka-India agreement. In fact, M G R had sent a personal letter to Rajiv soon after the incident, expressing concern at the way the prime minister exposed himself to risk his life.” M G R: My Blood Brother By Attar Chand, page 117
The factors that led to the signing of the accord provided India with a rare opportunity to settle the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka and to usher in peace and harmony. But it was not to be as the Indians had failed to read the minds and understand the thinking of the very parties who were directly and indirectly involved with the accord.
After his return to New Delhi, Gandhi met Prabakaran again. At the meeting, the LTTE leader repeated his fears about weapons being surrendered. He expressed his concern about the security of Tamil people, the future of the LTTE cadres and about his personal safety. Rajiv Gandhi urged Prabakaran to move with the changing times and assured him of his personal safety and of the security of Tamils in the new administrative structure. Gandhi also promised Indian Rs500 million to the LTTE to help maintain its cadres until such time as they found employment in the police and army. Despite all these assurances, Prabakaran remained unconvinced.
After the signing of the accord, the stark reality of India clinging to the Tigers’ tail unfolded by July 31, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam staged a protest for the release of Prabakaran, who was being held under house arrest in New Delhi. Members of the LTTE and its supporters staged a sit-in at roads, blocking IPKF vehicles. A mob of LTTE supporters ran after the car of Major General Hakirat Singh, who commanded the IPKF in Jaffna, on July 31, and shouted, “We want Parabkaran! We want Prabkaran!” Even though it was evident that the protest was one of the may scenarios that was to unfold later, it was visibly clear that all the agitations were stage-managed.
The IPKF officers had no clue of the ethnic conflict and the complex role the armed groups played. But the officers were aware of the LTTE and its ruthless commitment to the cause of Tamil Eelam and the IPKF began to harbor a kind of respect for them.
At that time, the IPKF liaison agent in the LTTE was Kumarappah, the Commander of Jaffna. He told very politely, but firmly, “We know that you are here to disarm us. General, if you try to take our arms by force, we will fight you. You know very well that we can also kill you people. We are committed and are prepared to die for Tamil Eelam. You are keeping our leader and our commander under house arrest. Until our leader comes and orders us to demine the roads and orders us to hand over our weapons, we will not do anything on the contrary. We are armed units just like you people and we carry out only orders from our commander.” Kumarappah was considered a friendly and amiable person, but he managed to instill a sense of urgency into the IPKF command.
In the meantime, Rajiv Gandhi conveyed Prabakaran’s acceptance of the accord to Jayewardene on August 2. His message read:
“1. In the light of offers conveyed through Dixit on August 1, about the interim administrative arrangements in the North-Eastern province to be created, and the offer concerning employment of Tamil separatist cadres after the surrender of their arms, Prabakaran, the leader of the LTTE, has agreed to participate in the implementation of the agreement; agreed to surrender arms; and Prabakaran would like to be in Jaffna personally to organize the surrender of arms.
“2. In the interest of conciliation and peaceful implementation of the accord, Prabakaran will be airdropped at Jaffna by the evening of today, 2nd of August. Prabakaran has agreed to the following schedule for the surrender of arms, etc, as given by the government of India.”
Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Depinder Singh, who was then General Officer Commanding-in Chief of Southern Command, as well as Overall Force Commander of the IPKF, in his book IPKF in Sri Lanka, described the meeting with LTTE leader Prabkaran as follows:
“Back in Madras, information was received that Parbakaran was transiting through on his way to Jaffna from Delhi, where he had been having discussions that preceded and followed the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord. On my expressing a desire to meet him, it was arranged to bring him to the Area Headquarters Officers’ Mess Guest Suite, where I was staying. He was accompanied by Yogaratnam Yogi who did the interpreting and two other LTTE cadres. Before entering my room, he removed his chappal outside in the verandah. He was dressed in a bush shirt and trouser and turned out to be a short, well-built and handsome man, edging slightly on obesity with a strong face, stubborn chin and a diffident but pleasant presence.
“Prabakaran had, by this time, become a messiah to the LTTE and stories about his exploits, a few true, the majority exaggerations, legend. Over a cup of tea, he mentioned that the LTTE had agreed to the ceasefire only because India insisted and nodded his head when I explained that this insistence was a consequence of the misery and pain inflicted upon the Tamils, both because of fighting and the economic blockade. Neither of us thought it necessary to confirm or deny reports making the rounds that Prabakaran had been virtually under house arrest in Delhi. What he did say was that he would never again trust the External Affairs Ministry [of India] and the Research and Analysis Wing [RAW- the Indian equivalent of the US Central Intelligence Agency]. Considering the time and place, I did not ask him to elaborate. The LTTE opposition to the accord was later to be further confirmed when it came to light that Prabakaran, in one of his telephone calls from Delhi in the days preceding the signing of the accord, reportedly remarked that he was waiting to get out from Delhi and would then teach Rajiv a lesson. On the subject of handing over of weapons [I made sure never to use the word surrender] he stated that he would return to Jaffna the following day and, after discussions with his cadres, start the process of handing over the heaviest machine gun to me. I asked him and his companion if they would like a drink and apologized that I could not offer a cigarette. He replied that LTTE rules forbade drinking and smoking.” – Pages 47-48
Prabakaran was flown to Plalay on August 2, from there he was driven to Suthumalai, from where he was picked up, on July 24, to leave for New Delhi. Once back amid his cadres, Prabakaran was quick to take stock of the situation.
A hurried and frenzied get-together between the LTTE and IPKF was held and in the final parley, Lt-Gen Dipender Singh made it clear that, Indian representatives would also be present at the ceremony, where the weapons would be surrendered. After the meeting with IPKF generals, Prabakaran was reported to have told the local journalists, “Today we will give up our arms, but tomorrow our efforts will take a different direction.” He continued, “Our fight for Tamil Eelam will continue. We will adopt a non-violent path, adopt the traditional satygraham, protest marches, unleash intense political campaigns and we will never stop short of our cherished aim of Tamil Eelam.” These words reflected what was in the store, but it was not taken seriously at that time. The IPKF breathed a sigh of relief when they were at last able to extract acquiescence from Prabakaran and the LTTE.
Nearly 100,000 Tamils from all over the Jaffna peninsula converged at the Suthumalai Amman temple’s outer courtyard, on August 4, to listen to Prabakaran’s announcement of the LTTE’s future with regard to the accord. This writer too was present.
The Tiger supremo was flanked by his senior commanders, Kittu, Kumarappah, Mahendrarajah alias Mahataya and Pulendran, and he said that the accord hammered out between Sri Lanka and India would not provide a lasting peace. Only a separate Tamil state can provide that. He alleged that the accord was thrust on the Tamils, putting at stake their lives. This agreement, he said, was with all intents and purposes aimed at disarm them. He said that when a great power like India has decided to determine “our political fate in a manner that is beyond our control, what are we to do?” He continued by stating that they loved India and wished to avoid armed confrontation with it. He also stated that henceforth Tamils would be protected by the Indian army.
Prabakaran’s speech was very brief and masterly delivered. It reminded one of a messiah, who had struggled for his people. He was resigned to fate, but continued to maintain his independent position. Even though, it was a moving performance, the main anxiety of the people was, whether the LTTE would surrender its arms and secure peace.
It was the very first time Prabakaran had made a public speech. People who had either never seen him, or heard him before, flocked in thousands, to listen to him. He started his speech in Tamil language, as follows:
“My beloved and respected people of Thamil Eelam. Today there has taken place a tremendous turn in our liberation struggle. This has come so suddenly, in a way that has stunned us, and as if it were beyond our power to influence events. Whether the consequence of this will be favorable to us, we shall have to wait and see.
“You are aware that this agreement, concluded suddenly with great speed, between India and Sri Lanka, without consulting our people’s representatives, is being implemented with expeditious urgency. Until I went to Delhi, I did not know anything about this agreement. Saying that the Indian prime minister desired to see me, they invited me and took me quickly to Delhi. The agreement was shown to us after I was there. There were several complications and several question marks in it. The doubt arose for us whether, as a result of the agreement, a permanent solution would be available to the problems of our people. Accordingly, we made it emphatically clear to the Indian government that, we are unable to accept this agreement.
“But the Indian government stood uncompromising on the point that, whether accepted, or did not accept the agreement, it was determined to put it into effect. We were not taken by surprise by the stand of the Indian government. This agreement did not concern only the problems of the Tamils. This is primarily concerned with Indo-Sri Lankan relations. It also contains within itself the principles, the requirements for making Sri Lanka accede to India’s strategic sphere of influence. It works out a way for preventing the disruptionist and hostile foreign forces from gaining footholds in Sri Lanka. This is why the Indian government showed such an extraordinary keenness in concluding this agreement. However, at the same time, it happens to be an agreement that determines the political future and fate of the people of Tamil Eelam. That is why we firmly objected to the conclusion of this agreement, which was signed without consultation with the people and without the seeking of our views. However, there is no point in our objecting to this. When a great power has decided to determine our political fate in a manner that is essentially beyond our control, what are we to do?
“This agreement directly affects our movement’s political goals and objectives. It affects the form and shape of our struggle. It also put a stop to our armed struggle. If the mode of our struggle, brought to this stage over a 15-year-old period through shedding blood, through making sacrifices, through staking achievements and through offering great many lives, is to be dissolved or disbanded within a few days, it is naturally something that we are unable to digest. This agreement disarms us suddenly, without giving us time, without getting the consent of our fighters, without working out guarantee for our people’s safety and protection. Therefore we refuse to surrender arms.
“Under such circumstances, India’s Honorable Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi, invited me for discussions. I opened my mind and spoke to him of our concerns and our problems. I pointed out to the Indian prime minister the fact that I did not repose the slightest faith in the Sinhala racist government and did not believe that they were going to fulfill the implementation of this agreement. I spoke to him about the question of our people’s safety and protection and about guarantees for this. The Indian prime minister offered me certain assurances. He offered a guarantee for the safety and protection of our people. I do have faith in the straightforwardness of the Indian prime minister and I do have faith in his assurances. We do believe that India will not allow the racist Sri Lankan state to take once again the road of genocide against the Tamils. It is only out of this faith that we decided to hand over our weapons to the Indian Peacekeeping Force.
“What ardent immeasurable sacrifices we have made for the safety and the protection of our people. There is no need here to elaborate on the theme. You, our beloved people are fully aware of the character of our passion for our cause and our feelings of sacrifice. The weapons that we took up and deployed for your safety and protection, for your liberation, for your emancipation; we now entrust to the Indian government. In taking from us our weapons, the one means of protection of the Eelam Tamil, the Indian government takes over from us the big responsibility of protecting our people. The handing over of arms only signifies the handing over, the transfer of the responsibility. Were we not to hand over our weapons, we put in the calamitous circumstance of clashing with the Indian army. We do not want this. We love India. We love the people of India. There is no question of our deploying our arms against Indian soldiers. The soldiers of the Indian army are taking the responsibility of safeguarding and protecting us against our enemy. I wish very firmly to emphasize here that by virtue of our handing over our weapons the Indian government should assume full responsibility for the life and security of every one of the Eelam Tamils [Loud cheers].
“My beloved people, we have no way other than cooperation with this Indian endeavor. Let us offer them this opportunity. However, I do not think as a result of this agreement there will be a permanent solution to the problems of the Tamils. The time is not very far off when the monster of Sinhala racism will devour this agreement. I have unrelenting faith in the proposition that only a separate state of Tamil Eelam can offer a permanent solution to the problem of the people of Tamil Eelam. Let me make it clear to you here, beyond the shadow of doubt, that I will continue to fight for the objective of attaining Tamil Eelam.
“The forms of struggle may change, but the objective or goal of our struggle is not going to change. If our cause is to triumph, it is vitally necessary that the whole hearted, the totally unified support of you, our people, should always be with us. The circumstance may arise for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to take part in the interim administration or to contest elections, keeping in view the interest of the people of Tamil Eelam. But I wish firmly to declare here that under no circumstances and no point of time will I contest elections or accept the office of the chief minister. The Liberation Tigers year for the motherland of the Tamil Eelam.”
The crowd cheered the leader of the LTTE and the loudest cheers came when he said that the Tigers would disarm and he reiterated that henceforth the Tamils would be protected by the Indian army. When the crowd cheered at the announcement of disarmament, a momentary spasm of annoyance passed over Prabakaran’s face, clearly visible, when the speech was broadcast over Sri Lankan television. The Tiger supremo concluded by stating that “the weapons we took and deployed for your safety and protection, for your liberation, for your emancipation, we now entrust to the Indian government”.
At the LTTE’s declaration of the surrender of their arms there was a general sigh of relief all over. It was a nail-biting and electrifying announcement from the leader of the Tamil militant group that always took an uncompromising position on Tamil Eelam, and it brought euphoria all around. The general expectation was that peace had at last reached Tamils.
J N Dixit, in commenting on the speech in his Assignment Colombo, writes: “The tone and content of the speech was totally contrary to the commitments he had given to M G Ramachandran and Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi. The text of the speech and its translation reached me late at night. I immediately requested my Sri Lankan Tamil contacts in Jaffna to find out what Prabakaran’s motivation and plans were in the light of the speech he made. The response I got was that he had generally endorsed the agreement because he considered good relations with the government and people of India vital to the Tamil cause. He, however, had some reservations which he had to articulate. He said the second reason for the tone of his speech was because he had to carry Sri Lankan Tamil public opinion with him. He could not be seen abandoning his entire set of demands including the establishment of the Tamil Eelam. That was why he hedged his commitments regarding the agreement. I was informed that the surrender of arms would take place as scheduled and that he would remain in close touch with the headquarters of the IPKF.” – page 191
The timetable for the surrender of weapons was delayed for two days, after the arrival of Parabakaran as he spent time in discussing the issue with his cadres, as well as with the IPKF generals, before making public the announcement of the LTTE’s intention to surrender arms.
On August 5, Yogaratnam Yogi, the younger brother of Kugan, the previous second in command to the position of chief of propaganda in the LTTE, turned up at the military complex at Palaly with two van loads of weapons. While history was in the making, journalists and media from Sri Lanka, India as well as foreign correspondents converged on the site. Yogi placed a German Mauser pistol on the table, a symbolic gesture of the surrender of the arms. This gesture was so abrupt that several press photographers were unable to record it.
Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Sepala Atyagalle placed his hand on the shoulders of Yogi, as an expression of friendliness and read out a brief statement. “Today is a historic day for the future of Sri Lanka. This act of surrendering all arms signifies an end to the bloodshed and violence that has affected the entire fabric of our democratic society.” Sepala Atyagalle also read out the president’s amnesty. On the next day, the Sri Lankan government acted on the provisions of the accord by granting amnesty to 5,400 Tamils held or sought as political offenders or terrorism suspects.
On October 8, at a joint press conference with K C Pant, the Minister of Defense for India, Jayewardene was asked why he went beyond his side of the bargain to grant amnesty and release prisoners before the LTTE had completed the surrender of arms. The president replied that the Indians had persuaded him to honor his part in advance, while the Indians undertook to go ahead with the surrender of arms from the Tamil militant groups. Jayewardene in an effort to justify his action pointed out “it was an accord for peace and not for war. Thus, with considerable risk, the president had taken commendable initiatives to make the accord work.
On August 9, Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa broke a two-week silence on the accord, which had been signed when he was out of the country. At a rally near Colombo, he expressed pessimism. Also, he implied that he was suspicious of the limited autonomy being granted to Tamils. Premadasa added, “The country had been broken into parts. Our ancestors made it into a single country. In order to protect our heritage, we must see whether the agreement between our president and the Indian prime minister will prevent the division or will cause the division.”
Premadasa went on to say that the president only had “executive powers” and that the agreement had to be enacted as legislation by parliament.
Earlier, on July 23, Jayewardene had won a vote of support from the parliamentary members of the United National Party for the signing of the accord.
Jayewardene, at the press conference after the signing of the accord, attended along with Rajiv Gandhi on July 29, had warned of the consequences if passage of the legislation of the accord was blocked by parliament.
Question: Mr President, are you confident this can be implemented?
President: This is really a matter for Sri Lanka. Whether it is implemented in Sri Lanka is a matter for me. Draft legislation has to be brought to parliament. That is ready. When the part of the accord which India has to fulfill is fulfilled, there will be no terrorism as we know it. There will be peace in the North and East and that peace means that we have to introduce legislation creating Provincial Councils, and we will do it.
Question: My question is, with so much resistance, how are you going to present this in parliament when your own prime minister is not agreeable to the accord?
President: Well, when I bring legislation to parliament and parliament does not pass it, then I’ll dissolve the parliament. I don’t need a fresh mandate, but parliament may need it. You have not studied our constitution. Ours is not the same as India, not the same as the UK, not the same as America. It is a unique constitution. The president seeks no mandate. He has been elected by the people and I go after six years.
Question: What do you say to the opposition within your own cabinet?
President: Well, everybody is free to oppose. When it comes to the stage of opposing to the extent of defeating those in authority, either those in authority must go or others must go.”
On August 8, the Sri Lankan government released the first group of 291 imprisoned Tamils, as called for by the accord. Another 667 were released on August 11. In August and September, 3,750 of at least 5,500 prisoners held in custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other emergency laws were released from various places, including army and special task force camps in the Eastern Province. About 1,000 detainees were held as prisoners. With the granting of a general amnesty to all militants, logically all those imprisoned as terrorists needed to be released.
While the LTTE pressed for the immediate release of all of these, with each day passing, it signaled possible ulterior motives on the part of the Sri Lankan government. The government gave numerous explanations for not releasing the balance of prisoners, such as that the LTTE was holding eight Sri Lankan policemen. The LTTE’s reply was that until their personnel were released, the policemen would be held.
Separately, the Sri Lankan government offered an unconditional general amnesty for dissident Sinhalese to turn in their arms. The offer was directed at the People’s Liberation Organization, commonly called the JVP or Janata Vimukthi Perumuna, and its armed wing, the Deshapremi Janata Vyaparaya (DJV), a rabidly anti-Tamil, anti-government urban guerrilla group.
In Sri Lanka’s south, the Maoist JVP had gained considerable strength, successfully carrying out arms grabs, some of them from the Sri Lankan military facilities and minor installations, and committing political and other murders of people alleged to be working for the government. The victims were generally low level functionaries of the ruling United National Party, but a government member of parliament and a district minister were among those killed.
“The JVP was now the most anti-Eelamist political group in the country. They even accused the capitalist Sri Lankan government of pursuing anti-Eelam war in the North and East only halfheartedly because they had a secret pact with the Tamil capitalists in Jaffna to grant them separate rule at some future date. In order to highlight the ‘Tamil capitalist component’ in the ruling party, the JVP began to refer to the UNP regime as the Jayewardene-Thondaman government. This was the time when JVP’s slogans became more and more aggressive, and anti-separatist. ” Sri Lanka: The Years of Terror – The JVP Insurrection 1987-1989 by C A Chandraperema, pages 101-102
President Jayewardene expressed concern about the Southern subversives. He said that if the political murders continued his party could break up. Many members of parliament carried personal arms and special security arrangements were made for them. The ministers had a squad of armed soldiers outside their homes in addition to regular police security.
After the bloody insurrection in 1971, the JVP had virtually been wiped out by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Government. More than 25,000 Singhalese youths were killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the process of wiping out the JVP rebellion. The group was banned and its leader, a fiery orator, Rohana Wijayaweera, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
During the campaigning for the 1977 parliamentary general elections, the UNP, however, was then in the opposition, and it made political capital of alleged government atrocities. On coming to power in 1977, the UNP government set all the JVP members free and even went to the extent of forming an alliance with the JVP. This ended in August 1983 when evidence surfaced that the Sinhalese extremists had fueled bloody ethnic rioting in the hope that the unrest would topple the government. The leaders of the JVP, which had been outlawed for the second time again, went underground and by then the JVP had grown as a serious political and militant force to be reckoned with. In their bid to stamp out the southern extremists, government troops hunted thousands of innocent civilians. The government security forces started making mass arrests in the south, identifying JVP members with the help of UNP informants.
After the signing the accord, Jayewardene attended for the first time, on August 18, a meeting of the UNP parliamentary group, at a committee room of the nation’s Unicameral parliamentary complex, at Jayewardenepura, Kotte. While the group was discussing the accord, an unidentified attacker burst into the room and tossed two grenades before escaping. One of the grenades fell on the table where Jayewardene was seated, but it bounced to the floor and exploded in front of the National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, who was seriously wounded.
In the surprised attack, one member of parliament died and another 15 were injured. The wounded included Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was sitting next to Jayewardene. A typist attached to the complex died of injuries after a few days.
It was not immediately known who the attacker was or whether he had had help in gaining access to parliament. A man claiming to represent a previously unknown group, the Patriotic People’s Movement, called the British Broadcasting Corporation office in Colombo and took responsibility for the attack. He said that it was in revenge for Jayewardene’s “betrayal of Sinhalese interests”.
In a message to the nation that evening, Jayewardene blamed the attack on southern terrorists groups, meaning the Sinhalese militant organization, the JVP. He said, “This was another attempt to destroy the parliamentary democratic system of the country. The results could have been more dangerous and far-reaching.”
While the south was gripped in the JVP menace, the scenario in the North and East was also not encouraging. There remained the threat to the artificially imposed fragile peace.
Subsequent to the token surrender of arms by the LTTE to the Sri Lankan Army in the presence of the IPKF, ceremonies connected with the surrender of arms took place throughout the North and Eastern provinces
Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement – to establish peace and normalcy in Sri Lanka.
The President of The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Mr J R Jayewardene, and the Prime Minister of The Republic of India, His Excellency Mr Rajiv Gandhi, having met at Colombo on July 29, 1987.
Attaching utmost importance to nurturing, intensifying and strengthening the traditional friendship of Sri Lanka and India, and acknowledging the imperative need of resolving the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka, and the consequent violence, and for the safety, well-being and prosperity of people belonging to all communities in Sri Lanka.
Have this day entered into the following agreement to fulfill this objective:
1.1 Desiring to preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka;
1.2 Acknowledging that Sri Lanka is a “multi-ethnic and a multilingual plural society” consisting, inter alia, of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers;
1.3 Recognizing that each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured;
1.4 Also recognizing that the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups;
1.5 Conscious of the necessity of strengthening the forces contributing to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, and preserving its character as a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multireligious plural society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety and harmony, and prosper and fulfill their aspirations; resolve that;
2.1 Since the government of Sri Lanka proposes to permit adjoining provinces to join to form one administrative unit and also by a referendum to separate as may be permitted to the Northern and Eastern Provinces as outlined below;
2.2 During the period, which shall be considered an interim period (ie, from the date of the elections to the Provincial Council, as specified in Para 2.8 to the date of the referendum as specified in Para 2.3,) the Northern and Eastern Provinces as now constituted, will form one administrative unit, having one elected Provincial Council. Such a unit will have one governor, one chief minister and one board of ministers.
2.3 There will be a referendum on or before 31st December, 1988, to enable the people of the Eastern Province to decide whether:
A. The Eastern Province should remain linked with the Northern Province as one administrative unit, and continue to be governed together with the Northern Province as specified in Para 2.2 or;
B. The Eastern Province should constitute a separate administrative unit having its own distinct Provincial Council with a separate governor, chief minister and board of ministers. The president may, at his discretion, decide to postpone such a referendum.
2.4 All persons who have been displaced due to ethnic violence or other reasons, will have the right to vote in such a referendum. Necessary conditions to enable them to return to areas from where they were displaced will be created.
2.5 The referendum, when held will be monitored by a committee headed by the Chief Justice, a member appointed by the president, nominated by the government of Sri Lanka, and a member appointed by the president, nominated by the representatives of the Tamil speaking people of the Eastern Province.
2.6 A simple majority will be sufficient to determine the result of the referendum.
2.7 Meetings and other forms of propaganda, permissible within the laws of the country, will be allowed before the referendum.
2.8 Elections to Provincial Councils will be held within the next three months, in any event before 31st December 1987. Indian observers will be invited for elections to the Provincial Council of the North and East.
2.9 The emergency will be lifted in the Eastern and Northern Provinces by August 15, 1987. A cessation of hostilities will come into effect all over the Island within 48 hours of the signing of this agreement. All arms presently held by militant groups will be surrendered in accordance with an agreed procedure to authorities to be designated by the government of Sri Lanka.
Consequent to the cessation of hostilities and the surrender of arms by militant groups, the army and other security personnel will be confined to barracks in camps on 25 May, 1987. The process of surrendering of arms and confining of security personnel moving back to barracks shall be completed within 72 hours of the cessation of hostilities coming into effect.
2.10 The government of Sri Lanka will utilize for the purpose of law enforcement and maintenance of security in Northern and Eastern Provinces same organizations and mechanisms of government as are used in the rest of the country.
2.11 The president of Sri Lanka will grant a general amnesty to political and other prisoners now held in custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other emergency laws, and to combatants, as well as to those persons accused, charged and/ or convicted under these laws. The government of Sri Lanka will make special efforts to rehabilitate militant youth with the view to bring them back into the main stream of national life. India will cooperate in the process.
2.12 The government of Sri Lanka will accept and abide by the above provisions and expect all others to do likewise.
2.13 If the framework for the resolutions is accepted, the government of Sri Lanka will implement the relevant proposals forthwith.
2.14 The government of India will underwrite and guarantee the resolutions and cooperate in the implementation of these proposals.
2.15 These proposals are conditional to an acceptance of the proposals negotiated from 4.5.1986 to 19.12. 1986. Residual matters not finished during the above negotiations shall be resolved between India and Sri Lanka within a period of six months of signing of this agreement. These proposals are also conditional to the government of India cooperating directly with the government of Sri Lanka in their implementation.
2.16 These proposals are also conditional to the government of India taking the following actions if any militant groups operating in Sri Lanka do not accept the framework of proposals for the settlement, namely:
a) India will take all necessary step to ensure that Indian territory is not used for activities prejudicial to the unity, integrity and security of Sri Lanka.
b) The Indian Navy/Coast guard will cooperate with the Sri Lanka navy in preventing Tamil militant activities from affecting Sri Lanka.
c) In the event of the government of Sri Lanka requests the government of India to afford military assistance to implement these proposals the government of India will cooperate by giving to the government of Sri Lanka such military assistance as and when requested.
d) The government of India will expedite repatriation from Sri Lanka of Indian citizens to India who are resident here, concurrently with the repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees from Tamil Nadu.
e) The governments of Sri Lanka and India will cooperate in ensuring the physical security and safety of all communities inhabiting the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
2.17 The government of Sri Lanka shall ensure free, full and fair participation of voters from all communities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in electoral process envisaged in this agreement. The government of India will extend full cooperation to the government of Sri Lanka.
2.18 The official language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala. Tamil and English will also be official languages.
3. This agreement and annexure thereto shall come into force upon signature.
In witness whereof we have set our hands and seals hereunto.
Done in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on this twenty-ninth day of July of the year One Thousand Nine Hundred and Eighty Seven, in duplicate, both texts being equally authentic.
Junius Richard Jayewardene
Annexure to the agreement
1. His excellency the president of Sri Lanka and the prime minister of India agree that the referendum mentioned in paragraph 2 and its sub-paragraphs of the agreement will be observed by a representative of Election Commission of India to be invited by His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka.
2. Similarly, both heads of government agree that the elections to the Provincial Council mentioned in paragraph 2.8 of the agreement will be observed and all paramilitary personnel will be withdrawn from the Eastern and Northern Provinces with a view to creating conditions conducive to fair elections to the Councils.
3. The president, in his discretion, shall absorb such paramilitary forces, which came into being due to ethnic violence, into the regular security forces of Sri Lanka.
4. The president of Sri Lanka and the prime minister of India agree that the Tamil militants shall surrender their arms to authorities agreed upon to be designated by the president of Sri Lanka. The surrender shall take place in the presence of one senior representative each of the Sri Lanka Red Cross and the India Red Cross.
5. The president of Sri Lanka and the prime minister of India agree that a joint Indo-Sri Lankan observer group consisting of qualified representatives of the government of Sri Lanka and the government of India would monitor the cessation of hostilities from 31 July 1987.
6. The president of Sri Lanka and the prime minister of India also agree that in terms of paragraph 2.14 and paragraph 2.16(C) of the agreement, an Indian peacekeeping contingent may be invited by the president of Sri Lanka to guarantee and enforce the cessation of hostilities, if so required.
President of Sri Lanka, July 29, 1987.
Note: No sooner had the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord been signed than an Exchange of Letters took place between the president of Sri Lanka and the prime minister of India regarding several matters mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs. The full text of those letters are as follows:
Prime Minister of India
New Delhi, July 29, 1987
Conscious of the friendship between our two countries stretching over two millennia and more, and recognizing the importance of nurturing this traditional friendship, it is imperative that both Sri Lanka and India reaffirm the decision not to allow our respective territories to be used for activities prejudicial to each other’s unity, territorial integrity and security.
In this spirit, you had, in the course of our discussions agreed to meet some of India’s concerns as follows: Your excellency and myself will reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel with a view to ensuring that such presences will not prejudice Indo-Sri Lankan relations. Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests.
The work of restoring and operating the Trincomalee oil tank farm will be undertaken as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations will be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka are used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes. In the same spirit India will:
- Deport all Sri Lankan citizens who are found to be engaging in terrorist activities or advocating separatism or secessionism;
- Provide training facilities and military supplies for Sri Lankan forces, and;
- India and Sri Lanka have agreed to set up a joint consultative mechanism to continuously review matters of common concern in the light of the objectives stated in Para 1 and specifically to monitor the implementation of other matters contained in this letter.Kindly confirm, excellency, that the above correctly sets out the agreement reached between us. Please accept, excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration. Yours sincerely,
Mr J R Jayewardene, President of Sri Lanka
July 29, 1987
Please refer to your letter dated 29th of July 1987, which reads as follows:
Conscious of the friendship between our two countries stretching over two millennia and more, and recognizing the importance of nurturing this traditional friendship, it is imperative that both Sri Lanka and India reaffirm the decision not to allow our respective territories to be used for activities prejudicial to each other’s unity, territorial integrity and security.
In this spirit, you had, in the course of our discussions agreed to meet some of India’s concerns as follows: (i) Your excellency and myself will reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel with a view to ensuring that such presences will not prejudice Indo-Sri Lankan relations.
(ii) Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests.
(iii) The work of restoring and operating the Trincomalee oil tank farm will be undertaken as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka.
(iv) Sri Lanka’s agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations will be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka are used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes.
In the same spirit India will:
(i) Deport all Sri Lankan citizens who are found to be engaging in terrorist activities or advocating separatism or secessionism (ii) Provide training facilities and military supplies for Sri Lankan forces.
India and Sri Lanka have agreed to set up a joint consultative mechanism to continuously review matters of common concern in the light of the objectives stated in Para 1 and specifically to monitor the implementation of other matters contained in this letter.
Kindly confirm, excellency, that the above correctly sets out the agreement reached between us. Please accept, excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Mr J R Jayewardene
President of the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka, Colombo This is to confirm that the above correctly sets out the understanding reached between us. Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration. (J R Jayewardene)
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