Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 38

Badgering for Indian Withdrawal

by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002

Shanmuganathan Sivasankaran was the head of the “Aiyanna group” – the dreaded intelligence network of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Sivasankaran was popularly called “Pottu Amman”. . He joined the LTTE in 1981 and enjoyed enormous power and commanded awesome respect within the elite of the LTTE. He reported directly to Velupillai Prabakaran, the leader of the LTTE.

Pottu Amman was injured in the abdomen in an engagement with Indian troops in October,1987. According to Adele Balasingham, in her The Will to Freedom, – An Inside View of the Tamil Resistance, “Pottu Amman had further injuries. Automatic rifle rounds had torn open the triceps muscles and the huge injury required constant care and thorough cleaning. He had a smaller injury to his leg and foot. He was, in other words, critically injured.” – page 147

Adele Balasingham described how they were hunted by the Indian Army. When Operation Pawan, the Indian Army’s military campaign against the LTTE, was launched, senior LTTE leaders and all the critically wounded LTTE cadres, including Pottu Amman, were staying in a safe house in Valvetiturai. A section of the Indian Army had been based nearby since their arrival in the Jaffna Peninsula. When the Indian Army made advances into Vadamaradchy, the party decided to move out to a safe house in Kaladdi, Karaveddy.

When the group was in Kaladdy, V Balakumar, the leader of EROS, visited Anton Balasingham – the chief spokesman and ideologue of the LTTE – and conveyed a message that the Indian army commanders in Vadamaradchy had proposed a meeting between Balasingham and the Indian military high-command. The message was duly conveyed to Prabakaran, who was skeptical about the intentions of the Indians. He viewed it as a ploy to arrest Balasingham and instructed Balasingham not to meet the Indian commanders. It was felt that the Indian Army, through deceptive measures, was bent on arresting Balasingham and his wife Adele, who writes, “In this context, we were determined not to provide a scoop to the Indian propaganda machine by allowing either Bala or Pottu Amman to be caught or killed. Neither Bala nor I intended to be taken alive by the Indian Army.” – page 157

Adele Balasingham, a determined, stocky woman, was born on January 30, 1950, in Warragul, a small town at the gateway of Latrobe Valley in Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. She became a qualified nurse after three years of training. She went in search of greener pastures and ended up in London, where she spent a few years before joining South Bank University for a year to study for a diploma in health. Subsequently, she was accepted for a Social Sciences degree course, at South Bank University, where she met Balasingham. They were married in 1978. Adele writes, “But marrying Balasingham is one thing; getting involved in a revolutionary struggle is another. I could have been inclined after marriage to take a different path and attempted to sway Bala in another direction. But I didn’t.” – page 24

She has spent more than two decades of her life with the Tamil Tigers, living in jungles and in safe houses in Madras, Jaffna, and Vanni, and always on the run. She is the first person to write an almost official LTTE version of the LTTE’s history and development of the armed resistance in her book The Will To Freedom, – An Inside View of the Tamil Resistance. She has also written Women Fighters of Liberation Tigers.

A young woman from a small village in Australia is today entwined with the liberation struggle of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankan Tamils know her well, but the majority of them do not know her by her name, she is simply “Aunty” to everybody, from Prabakaran to ordinary Tamil men and women.

Meanwhile, when the Indian Army learned that Balasingham would not meet them so they intensified their search operations. They tightened their grip in Vadamaradchy by establishing additional camps at strategic places, such as Point Pedro, Nelliady, Polikandy, Udupiddy, Thunnalai and Manthikai.

Furthermore, it became known that the Indian Army was aware that Balasingham and his wife were in the Karaveddy area, and orders were issued for their arrest. The Indian Army began directly inquiring from the public the whereabouts of a white woman in the area. The search intensified when troops went on a house-to-house search. Adele writes, “My color posed a danger to anyone who moved with us and as time went on and the hunt heated up, I started to resent, even hate, my white skin.” – page 159

One day, an Indian Army helicopter hovered over the safe house in which Balasingham and his group were hiding. “We took cover behind the solid concrete leg of a water tank tower in the compound. With our back against the concrete pillar, we moved in a circular tandem with the airborne killing machine, keeping out of its sights. Automatic gunfire from the helicopter ripped through the air, spraying our residential area. Satisfied that they have either inflicted causalities they aimed for, or terrorized us sufficiently, the big whirly bird set course for its base.” – page 159

This incident confirmed that it would not be long before the Indian Army moved into the area, where Balasingham and his group were hiding, on a search and destroy mission. Therefore, there was no choice but for Balasingham and his group to move to another safer area, this time again in Karaveddy. Pottu Amman and the injured, however, went to another safe house in a different area. Nadesan, who was the head of the LTTE’s police force and a senior cadre, remained with Balasingham. Tamilenthi, according to Adele Balasingham, frequented their safe house. He was a close confidante of Prabakaran and was in charge of the finances for the entire organization. His only piece of luggage was a leather bag full of cash and jewels, the LTTE finances, which he kept close to him at all times.

But on his way to Vanni he was caught in an army round-up and imprisoned in Kankesanthurai jail for the duration of the Jaffna occupation by the Indian Army. Earlier, Tamilenthi, seeing the danger Balasingham and his group were in, sent an urgent message to Prabakaran to make immediate arrangements to move them, so they joined Pottu Amman.

Balasingham and his group continued to move around, including to a village in Thunnali, the “toddy tapping” community – Pallas and Nalavas – the so called depressed caste in Tamil social order which harvests a natural alcohol called “toddy” from the stalks of both coconut and Palmyra flowers.

Adele Balasingham even during those hard days, did not lose her humor – writing, “While living among these people I encountered a small, yet highly embarrassing problem. There were no toilets in this or any surrounding houses. For most people in the community this is not even an issue. The bushes in the Palmyra jungles [groves] serve the purpose well and for that reason, are never cleared. It was not a problem for Bala either; he just had to return to his childhood to remember how to manage. For me, it was a particular problem accentuated by my color. The green foliage was inadequate camouflage for white buttocks, which would certainly have been objects of curiosity if noticed by passers by. So once again the intimacy between Bala and myself came into play. The only option for us was to get up very early in the morning before daybreak and beat the ‘queue’ to the bushes.” – page 179

On December 23, 1987, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran passed away. A day of national mourning and a ceasefire was announced. Balasingham and Adele joined other LTTE cadres, including Pottu Amman, in going across the Palk Strait to Tamil Nadu to the costal town of Vetharniyam, from where they established themselves in Bangalore. As their only chance to move out of India was through Madras airport, they later moved to Madras.

Adele Balasingham describes their underground days in India and how they managed to leave for safety in London. “We also met an old Indian friend, a senior Intelligence Bureau Officer, well known to Bala during the friendly days with India. Bala liked and respected this cultured gentleman. On his suggestion, we confined our movements in Chennai in those crucial last days to certain areas and to a minimum, to avoid being tracked down by the Tamil Nadu ‘Q’ branch officers. We informed him of our plan to leave India and he conveniently arranged to be at the ticket checking-in desk and at the immigration point. Both our visiting visas had expired many years earlier. We arrived at the ticket counter as unobtrusively as possible and at the exact check in time. We were booked in under a different name and were rather disconcerted when the ticket clerk handed back our tickets with a ‘Have a good journey Mr Balasingham’. Having checked in, all that remained was the immigration point.

“We handed our passports to a rather conscientious immigration officer, who scrutinized our passports and looked sternly at us, then to our relief, looked at a figure standing in the background. With a nod from this man, the officer promptly closed our passports and briskly handed them to us as he waved us through. The determining figure in the shadows was our good friend, the Tamil IB officer. A short time later, we were in the air, bound for London. Our lives had completed a full circle.” – pages 203-204

On April 26, 1989, Balasingham and Adele were back in Colombo at the invitation of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. For the first time, Sri Lankan’s saw Adele Balasingham seated along with the LTTE’s Tamil representatives, as one of their delegates. She was accepted as a representative of the LTTE, even by the Sri Lankan government. Since that day she has been seen in almost all LTTE delegations along with Balasingham.

After the first round talks, the LTTE delegates, Balasingham, his wife, Yogi, Murthy, Jade and bodyguards were taken to Vanni by Sri Lankan air force helicopter for consultations with Prabakaran. This time the helicopter landed in the Alampil jungles, Mullaithievu, and not in Nedunkerni as before because the trekking distance to Prabkaran’s “one four base camp” would be reduced considerably.

Still the group had far to go and they trudged for hours along camouflaged jungle tracks, across streams and through thick jungle foliage. As Balasingham was a diabetic patient and unable to walk much, a chair was suspended between two poles for him to sit in, with a team of cadres taking turns to carry him.

A veteran LTTEer, Shanker was in charge of the security team that took Balasingham and his group to Prabakaran’s camp. He joined when the LTTE, when it was formed. Later, Shanker went to Canada, where he studied aeronautical engineering. He was a man with a long history of battle experience and remained one of Prabakaran’s most trusted and loyal cadres.

After many hours of walking and being careful not to stray off the path for fear of landmines, the group arrived at a heavily camouflaged cottage. Prabakaran appeared, dressed in jungle greens. Adele Balasingham describes the bunker they were asked to stay in as follows, “As a precautionary measure, in the event of the Indians shelling the area during our stay in the jungle, Mr Prabakaran asked us to stay in a deep underground shelter. We had read about the amazing feat by thousands of Vietnamese guerillas who dug out kilometers of tunnels and bunkers to facilitate the security and mobility of the Viet Cong during the war of liberation against America. Now we were to see for ourselves an example of such remarkable human endeavor.

“As we descended into the depths of the earth via precisely cut steps, we could only marvel at the ingenuity, patience and collective spirit of the cadres who had undertaken and completed this Herculean task. Our cadres led us down the steps into a room about thirty or forty feet underground. To our utter amazement, we could see this subterranean haven of tunnels and rooms had been chiseled out of the underground rocks in this area of the jungle. Our room had been carved out high enough to stand up in and big enough to move around comfortably. Leading off the room through the narrow tunnel, we came to another smaller room; it was a purpose built toilet.

“Mr Pirabakaran’s room was even deeper underground than ours. Low lying roofs constructed over the bunkers and banks to divert water, prevented the monsoon rain from pouring in and flooding the bunkers. Stronger than concrete, this underground granite structure stood up to the heavy downpours of monsoon rains when the entire jungle turned into a muddy quagmire. There was only one problem with this ingenious set up, a difficulty which had it been all possible our cadres would certainly have overcome. But on this matter they had no control. Since we were deep into the earth where the sun’s heat has no access, the room was absolutely freezing, particularly at night. My bones ached from the cold and I wondered how it could be endured over a sustained period of time. But obviously it had been without any ill effects.”. – pages 231-232

Balasingham briefed Prabakaran on the details of the discussion with Premadasa. Prabakaran showed interest in learning about Premadasa, his ideas, his strategy and importantly his views about the Indian military occupation and the Tamil armed resistance.

June 1, 1989 was poya (full moon). All such days are public holidays in Sri Lanka, set aside for a day of meditation for Buddhists. President Ranasinghe Premadasa, while speaking at a ceremony to mark the unveiling of the pinnacle of a newly built stupa (a burial mound or building to house relics) at Chitta Vivekashramaya, took the country by surprise by making an announcement regarding the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPLF).

Premadasa said, “The end of July 1989, will mark two years since the IPKF came to Sri Lanka. Therefore, I will request the Indian government to try as far as possible to complete the withdrawal of the entirety of the IPKF troops by the end of July. I would like to see the last of the IPKF troops leave Sri Lanka by the end of July. Today, there are about 45,000 IPKF troops in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is not possible to withdraw them in a day or two. They have to leave by ship. Therefore, I believe that if the troops withdrawal is expedited, it would be possible to complete the withdrawal by the end of July.”

Premadasa wrote a letter to Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, regarding the IPKF withdrawal on June 1, 1989, as follows:

“My dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you on some matters of urgent importance. The most immediate matter relates to the presence of Indian forces in Sri Lanka. After I assumed presidency of Sri Lanka, the government of India initiated the withdrawal of troops. We are grateful for your prompt action in this regard.

“One of the important campaign pledges made by me at both the presidential and parliamentary elections was the withdrawal of the IPKF on being elected to office. I assumed the office of president of Sri Lanka on the 2nd January 1989. Five months have elapsed since then. The complete withdrawal of the IPKF will hopefully contribute to stabilizing the situation in Sri Lanka, where the presence of the IPKF has become a deeply divisive and resentful issue. It is also in keeping with your often expressed sentiments that IPKF will be withdrawn when requested by the president of Sri Lanka.

“I am thankful for the efforts of the IPKF during the time it has been in our country. I have often paid tribute to the bravery of many officers and men who lost their life and limbs in the discharge of their duties. The tragedy of violence has not only affected your soldiers, it has destroyed many Sri Lankans as well. Our armed forces and large numbers of civilians, innocent and uninvolved, have suffered beyond description. Their sacrifices must not be in vain. I am confident that a complete withdrawal of the IPKF will enable me to secure the trust and confidence of my people. Therefore, I would like all IPKF personnel to be withdrawn by July 31, 1989.

“The withdrawal of the IPKF will also enable Sri Lanka to host the SARC [South Asian Regional Conference] summit in November this year in a climate of tranquility. As you are aware, we could not undertake our obligation to do this 1988. You will appreciate how difficult it is to a regional gathering of this nature with foreign forces on our soil. Our people are most enthusiastic about welcoming leaders of our own region, particularly our closest neighbors. However, their anxieties must also be satisfied especially in relation to their deep patriotic and nationalists sensitivities.

“In this context, we have submitted several proposals regarding an Indo-Sri Lanka friendship treaty. I believe that, in the long term, such an agreement will further strengthen relations between India and Sri Lanka. I await your response to our proposals in this regard.

“We have always appreciated your sincere interest in the unity and the territorial integrity of our country. Our own efforts to this end need the understanding and goodwill of our neighbors. I believe that your people and you yourself share these objectives and will contribute to their realization. I have just seen an aide memoir, which was handed over by your High Commissioner this evening. As the aide memoir refers to the need for consultations between our governments I am designating my Foreign Secretary to personally clarify our position on these matters. With assurance of my highest consideration and esteem.”

Bernard Tilakaratne, who was the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi during J R Jayewardene’s presidency, was the new Foreign Secretary. He took the letter to Rajiv Gandhi by hand on June 5 to New Delhi. He tried to impress on Rajiv Gandhi regarding the urgency for the pullout of Indian forces. He explained that the JVP (Janata Vimukthi Perumuna – the proscribed Sinhalese militant organization) had already begun boycotting goods imported from India and that they had warned port workers not to unload cargoes from India, and numerous traders from Indian business houses in Colombo had been threatened.

The second round of talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan gtovernment started on June 16, in Colombo. The LTTE expanded its original delegates, along with Anton Balasingham, Yogaratnam Yogi and Lawrence Thilakar, to include anew S Karikalan, Sammun Hassan and Abubakar Ibrahim.

On the 15th, Premadasa invited the LTTE delegates to his residence “Suchitra” (literally the development of righteous character; the name of a society begun by Premadasa in 1939, when he was 15) for private discussions, which lasted for about one-and-a-half hours. Premadasa appeared to be disturbed over a statement by Rajiv Gandhi made the previous day, in Bangalore. Rajiv Gandhi, when addressing a public rally, referred to Premadasa’s demand and said that the IPKF would not be withdrawn until substantial powers were devolved to the EPRLF’s provincial administration and the safety and security of Tamils were guaranteed. He also suggested for a further inter-governmental consultation on the substantive issue of troops withdrawal.

Premadasa told the LTTE delegates that Rajiv Gandhi had not replied to his official communication, instead he had made public statements stipulating unacceptable conditions. He said that this has created fear and confusion, and the Indian army would choose to remain on the island for ever.

Furthermore, Premadasa suggested that the LTTE should declare a cessation of hostilities with the Sri Lankan armed forces, so that he could prevail on India to terminate all hostile armed operations against the LTTE and withdraw its troops, since their main obligation to establish peace under the accord would then have been secured.

The first two sessions of the second round peace talks took place on June 16 and 19 respectively. Sri Lanka added two more ministers in its delegation – Festus Perera – Minister of Power and Energy and A R Munsoor – Minister of Trade and Shipping.

The talks was mainly focused on issues such as:

  • the mounting diplomatic confrontation between India and Sri Lanka over the question of the withdrawal of the IPKF;
  • forced recruitment of Tamil youths by the EPRLF in the North and Eastern provinces for the formation of a Tamil National Army under the name of a Civil Volunteer Force, and;
  • training of the recruits to the Tamil National Army by the Indian armed forces.The session of the 19th was devoted to issues of the Tamil National Army of the EPRLF. Also, the cessation of hostilities between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE was discussed.

    The LTTE delegates complained to the government of the forceful conscription drive undertaken by the EPRLF, which was encouraged and aided by the Indian armed forces. The LTTE delegates said that more than 4,500 school-going students had been forcefully taken to various Indian army camps for training.

    Premadasa began to place trust and confidence in the LTTE, granting it weapons, vehicles, funds, cement and other things as it wanted. The government was convinced that the talks would succeed. It believed that if the Indian army defeated the LTTE, then the IPKF would not leave the country. Therefore, the Government thought it important to keep the LTTE going.

    In the meantime, Rajiv Gandhi replied to Premadasa’s letter:
    “Dear Mr. President,
    I have your letter of the 2nd June, which was handed over to me by your special envoy, Foreign Secretary Tilakaratne.

    “India is committed to preserving the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka under the terms of the Indo-Lanka agreement. It was as a result of this commitment and our responsibility as a guarantor of the implementation of the Indo-Lanka agreement that we responded to the request of the government of Sri Lanka to send the IPKF. This was at a time when the situation seemed headed inexorably towards the break up of Sri Lanka. During its presence, the IPKF has striven with considerable success, but at a heavy cost to itself, to prevent such an outcome and safeguard the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. Three successive elections have been held peacefully despite threats of terrorist violence in the Northeast and all Tamil groups barring one have joined the democratic process. All the Tamil groups, barring one, have given up the demand for Eelam. If the process of the devolution of powers to the Provincial Council had been implemented in time and had the deliberate attempt by the Sri Lankan government to alter the population balance in the Tamil areas by the continued state-sponsored colonization of the Tamil areas been stopped, the extremists would have been further isolated and marginalized and the violence ended.

    “As you have yourself stated, we have started the withdrawal of the IPKF even before you requested for it. A broad timeframe for the IPKF’s withdrawal was also discussed at our initiative, based on which your Foreign Minister had made a statement in your parliament on March 31, 1989. All this was being done on the basis of assurances given by the Sri Lankan government and to assumption that the implementation of the Indo-Lanka agreement – especially the devolution of powers to the Provincial Councils – would proceed simultaneously, so that the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils could be met within the framework of the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. It is pertinent to recall that it was precisely because these aspirations were not being met that a situation was created which threatened the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka.

    “I have always maintained that the IPKF will not stay in Sri Lanka a day longer than necessary. But we cannot be unmindful of the responsibilities and obligations of the two countries under the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement and to join the democratic process within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, only on the basis of assurances that the Tamil majority North-Eastern province will be given substantial devolution of powers. Our two governments are, therefore, morally and legally bound to ensure that the Tamils are given the autonomy they were promised, both in the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, as also in additional areas promised in the agreement, signed between former President Jayewardene and myself, on the 7th November 1987. Failure to do so will only lend credence to the claims made by the Tamil groups that Tamils cannot expect justice within a united Sri Lanka. We have to be fully conscious of the dangers of a return to a situation, which may be worse, that prevailing prior to the Indo-Lanka agreement.

    “We believe that in the spirit of traditional friendship between our two countries we must jointly draw up a mutually agreed schedule for the full implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement and the complete withdrawal of the IPKF. The two have to be joint, parallel exercise. We have no objection to your proposal for a friendship treaty. I had told your special envoy that we could set dates for commencing discussions with a view of finalizing the text of the proposed treaty.”

    In the meantime, Premadasa threatened to confine the Indian troops to barracks if they were not withdrawn by the end of July 1989. “After the end of July they have no business whatsoever on even an inch of land of my country,” said Premadasa in a televised speech to the nation. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Amarjit Singh Kalkat, the Commander in Chief of the IPKF, said that they would fire at Sri Lankan soldiers if they stepped out of their barracks.

    According to the version of J N Dixit in his Assignment Colombo, he wrote, “I received reports from my friends like Ronie de Mel, the former Finance Minister and Minister Gamini Dassanayake that Premadasa indulged in adventurist brinkmanship by early July 1989, stating that he will declare war on the IPKF if it is not confined to the barracks and sent back by July 31, 1989. Lt-Gen Kalkat sent him a firm cautionary message in response. Premadasa also indulged in contradictory demands that, while the IPKF should adhere to the withdrawal timetable, he should be designated as supreme commander of the IPKF. The Indian response was that since Rajiv Gandhi had already agreed to withdraw the IPKF in a phased manner, and since the IPKF presence was to be scaled down in the interim period, there was no logic in conferring the supreme command of the IPKF on Premadasa. It was also pointed out that it would be even more illogical to acknowledge Premadasa as supreme commander of the IPKF when he was openly negotiating with the LTTE and giving it all the necessary support. How could be a supreme commander of a force which was fighting the LTTE, while he was hobnobbing with the IPKF’s adversary?” – page 289

    India also alleged that Premadasa had leaked to the press, the correspondence between him and Rajiv Gandhi, which made matters worse.

    Before Gandhi’s letter of June 20 reached Premadasa, the Sri Lankan president wrote a letter to Gandhi, as follows:
    “Excellency, I am glad to inform you that the LTTE had announced the complete cessation of hostilities against the Sri Lanka government, with immediate effect.

    “The LTTE, which is no longer a proscribed group, has in the course of recent discussions with the government of Sri Lanka agreed to settle whatever problems they have through the process of negotiation. Under the circumstances, it will be appreciated if Your Excellency will ensure that the IPKF does not take any offensive action against the LTTE, which will tend to prejudice the negotiations that are currently in progress. Accept Excellency, the assurance of my highest consideration.”

    Earlier, the Sri Lankan government delegation insisted that the LTTE delegates declare the cessation of hostilities unilaterally, which would be reciprocated by the government at a later date. The LTTE delegation argued that there had already been an informal, undeclared ceasefire in force between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces since the commencement of the talks. The LTTE delegation told the government that it would be proper for both parties to declare a bi-lateral ceasefire to impress the international community. The ministers said that they would consult the president on the issue.

    Subsequently, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government jointly declared a bilateral cessation of hostilities. It was made public through a joint press release on June 28, 1989.

    Meanwhile, Premadasa replied to Rajiv Gandhi’s letter dated June 20 as follows:
    “Dear Prime Minister,
    I am in receipt of your letter of 20 June in reply to my letter of 2nd June 1989. I thank you for reiterating India’s commitment to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, as was stated in the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement.

    “We appreciate the assistance given by the Indian government in providing the personnel to assist the acceptance of arms surrendered by the militants as envisaged by Article 2.9 of the agreement. We are also thankful for the assistance provided at our request in terms of Article 2.16 of the agreement and paragraph 6 of the annexure in affording military assistance to ensure the cessation of hostilities.

    “I am unable, however, to accept the contention that the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, including the devolution of powers to the Provincial Councils, is in any way linked with the withdrawal of the Indian armed forces. They had been invited to Sri Lanka for a specific purpose guaranteeing and enforcing the cessation of hostilities. The Indo-Sri Lankan agreement does not provide for continued military activities by the Indian armed forces in Sri Lanka after a request has been made by me to have them withdrawn. Continuation of such military activities would also be a violation of peremptory norms of international law.

    “The Indian Peace Keeping Forces came to Sri Lanka at the request of the president of Sri Lanka. Due to the circumstances that arose thereafter, the IPKF was requested by the president to afford military assistance to ensure the cessation of hostilities. The only condition that should be satisfied for the withdrawal of the Indian armed forces is a decision by the president of Sri Lanka that they should be withdrawn. The request made by me to withdraw the Indian armed forces has satisfied this condition. It is therefore incumbent on the government of India to withdraw the Indian armed forces from Sri Lanka.

    “The proposal for the political settlement of the ethnic problem negotiated from 4.5.1986 to 19.12.1986 as well as the residual matters to be finalized between the government of Sri Lanka and the government of India, have all been accepted and incorporated in the relevant amendments to our constitution and the Provincial Councils Act. The delay in giving effect to certain proposals within the timeframe envisaged by the inability of the Indian armed forces to ensure a cessation of hostilities and violence in the North and East.

    “The actual functioning of the Provincial Councils in the new system of administration is applicable not only to the North and East, but to all the provinces in Sri Lanka. This is entirely a political process in which the military has no role whatsoever. You will no doubt agree that it has been an experience common in many other jurisdictions that the establishment of an entirely new structure of administration based on devolution is essentially a long term process. There is neither a legal nor any other rational basis for the presence of any military force to ensure that the administrative structure is fully in place in any province of Sri Lanka. I have, in consultation with the Ministers of the cabinet and the chief ministers of the Provincial Councils, taken all steps to ensure that the administrative structure necessary for the effective exercise of devolved powers is in place as expeditiously as possible.

    “As I have already intimated to you in my letter of June 2, 1989, one of the important pledges made by me, both at the presidential and at the parliamentary elections, was to ensure the withdrawal of the Indian forces. To quote the manifesto, ‘We will seek a Friendship Treaty with India on the lines of the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty. If by the time our candidate is elected president, and the Indian forces have not left, we will ensure that they are withdrawn.’ The main opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, in their election manifesto, had stated that the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement would be abrogated and the Indian forces asked to leave. Thus, it will be seen that 95 percent of the voters clearly mandated the withdrawal of the Indian forces. The majority approved the UNP proposal for the conclusion of a Friendship Treaty with India.

    “I would also like to mention a most significant development, which may not have been brought to your notice, namely that the majority of the people of all three communities in the North and East demand the immediate withdrawal of the Indian forces. In your letter you have mentioned that there has been a deliberate attempt by the government of Sri Lanka to alter the population balance in the Tamil areas by continuing state-sponsored colonization. I must emphatically refute this. There has been no colonization whatsoever in these areas since the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement.

    “The ground is now set for the government to resolve any outstanding issues relating to the ethnic problem on the basis of consultation, compromise and consensus, with all communities and groups concerned. As I have already informed you, that the LTTE has announced the cessation of hostilities against the government of Sri Lanka, they have also resolved to settle any outstanding issues through negotiations and discussions. It is in this context I have requested you to issue the necessary instructions to the Indian armed forces to refrain from any offensive operations against the LTTE. The LTTE has already expressed its willingness to put an end to such activities against the Indian Armed forces on a reciprocal basis. The withdrawal of the Indian armed forces within the time frame visualized by me is an essential pre-condition for the government to proceed with the consolidation of a political settlement.

    “Far from being of any assistance in the complete resolution of the ethnic problem, the presence of the Indian forces is now a serious impediment. In this connection, I must bring to your notice an alarming development that has been taking place in the Northern and Eastern provinces. There are complaints that youths mostly of tender age are being forcibly conscripted by certain political groups and are being trained at the hands of the Indian forces. I need not elaborate on the possible consequences that will follow if this is not checked forthwith.

    “Therefore, in consideration of all these circumstances, I again earnestly request an immediate recommencement of the withdrawal of the Indian armed forces and an acceleration of this process. I am glad at your favorable response to my proposal for a Friendship Treaty with India. We have already given our draft to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. I would request that discussion should commence without delay so that this treaty could give concrete and expeditious expression to the traditional bonds of friendship between our two countries.”

    On June 30, 1989, Premadasa received a brief reply from Rajiv Gandhi. The tone of the letter was very hostile and sarcastic. The letter downplayed the LTTE’s agreement with the government to end hostilities and it demanded that the LTTE to surrender arms. The text of the letter is as follows:
    “Dear Mr President,
    I have your message of the 29th June, sent through your High Commissioner. The Indo-Sri Lanka agreement provides for a cessation of hostilities between the Tamil militant groups and Sri Lankan forces, and also for the Sri Lankan forces to stay in barracks in the North- Eastern province. Both these were achieved on the 30th July 1987. Thus there has already been an effective cessation of hostilities between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE. I am glad that the LTTE has now formally conceded this reality.

    “We hope that the formal agreement of the LTTE to cease hostilities clearly implies their commitment to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka and to renounce violence and to respect democratic process. We trust that, consequent to giving up violence, the LTTE would resume surrender of arms through the Sri Lankan government – a process which had started on the 5th August 1987 and is not yet complete. Unless the LTTE have undertaken to hand over their arms and to renounce violence, not only towards the Sri Lankan government, but towards the other citizens of the North and Eastern province, their announcement of cessation of hostilities would be meaningless.

    “Since the IPKF has a mandate in terms of India’s role as a guarantor for ensuring the physical safety and security of all communities of the North Eastern province, I would appreciate clarifications on the points I have mentioned above. These clarifications will facilitate an immediate decision on the IPKF’s cessation of offensive action to disarm the LTTE. The earlier we receive your response, the quicker will be the process of initiating suitable action.”

    Rajiv Gandhi’s letter clearly indicated its stand vis-a-vis the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord. The LTTE delegates regretted that India had completely ignored the bilateral cessation of hostilities declared by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. Rajiv Gandhi’s contention was that there was no need for another agreement to announce the declaration of the cessation of hostilities as it was already in place, and now the LTTE should come forward to surrender their arms to complete the process according to the Indo-Sri Lankan accord.

    Judged from the Indian perspective, Sri Lanka’s President Premadasa and the LTTE had both violated the Indo-Sri Lankan accord. Premadasa, by arming the LTTE, had violated the very spirit of the agreement Sri Lanka entered with India.

    Right from the beginning, the LTTE was for a separate state of Eelam, but India was for the maintenance of the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. By the LTTE entering into a cessation of hostilities with the Sri Lankan government during the Bhutan talks, later after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord and the last one with the Sri Lankan government on June 28, they demonstrated time and again that, they harbored second thoughts as far as their most cherished separate state policy was concerned.

    They started militancy and were engaged in a hostile campaign with the Sri Lanka government with the intention to win a separate state of Eelam. Once they gave up hostilities, temporarily or otherwise, it amounted to a silent expression of a willingness to accommodate alternative proposals to Tamil Eelam. There is no need to express or declare this willingness because once hostilities cease, the silence is deafening enough to declare such intentions.

    Even at the second round of talks between the government and the LTTE, held on June 16 to July 2, 1989, at the Hilton International Hotel, the reclusive leader of the Tamil militant group, Velupillai Prabakaran, did not emerge. The LTTE delegation in Colombo was in radio contact with him for the duration of the talks.

    The LTTE managed to convince the Sri Lankan delegation and the president that they were under intense attack by the IPKF, particularly because they were directly negotiating with the Sri Lankan government.

    On July 2, the parties concentrated on the controversial letter from Rajiv Gandhi. LTTE delegates expressed regret that India had simply ignored the cessation of hostilities.

    Adele Balasingham, the official “note-taker” of the talks, wrote about the last day’s deliberations of the second round of talks in her The Will to Freedom,as follows:

    “Insofar as ceasefire between the IPKF and the LTTE was concerned, Mr Gandhi had stipulated two conditions, the Tiger delegates argued. One was that the LTTE should resume surrendering arms and second was that it should renounce violence against all other citizens of the Northeast. The disarming task of the IPKF was a total failure. The very de-commissioning process transformed into a bloody war; into a protracted war and the IPKF turned into a killing machine and thousands of innocent Tamils perished in the process. Since the peace talks had been initiated by the Sri Lankan president, a dramatically new situation had arisen and India should face the objective reality.

    “The negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE were taking place unconditionally, without the obligatory constraints of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord. The question of possession or de-possession of arms was now an issue between Sri Lanka and the LTTE and had to be resolved through the negotiations between the parties to the conflict. Therefore, the LTTE delegates suggested that the Sri Lankan government should impress upon India that the question of the responsibility of resolving the issue of arms lay with the government of Sri Lanka.

    “Furthermore, the Tiger delegates urged the government to register strong protests with Delhi over the building up of a powerful military machine in the name of the Tamil National Army. Under the cover of the disarming process, the IPKF was actively involved in a massive militarization program in the Northeast, the Tigers charged. With regard to the second demand, the LTTE was prepared to extend the ceasefire to ‘all citizens of the Northeast, if India gave a guarantee that IPKF and its quislings armed groups cease violence against the Tigers’, the LTTE delegate said. The Tigers were also prepared to enter into the democratic political process. But it was only possible if the Indian armed forces occupying the Tamil homeland were totally withdrawn, the Tigers declared. The government delegation assured the LTTE that President Premadasa would take up on the issues raised by the LTTE with the Indian prime minister.” – pages 241-242

    Against this backdrop came an announcement by the Northeast Provincial Council’s chief, Varatharaja Perumal, the Chief Minister, that the Tamil National Army would commence operations against the LTTE. Immediately, Anton Balasingham called for an urgent meeting with A C S Hameed to explain the ground situation. He said that, angered by Premadasa’s aggressive diplomacy, the Indian Army and the Tamil militant forces were determined to destroy the LTTE and its leadership. As New Delhi’s fury was now turned against the LTTE, Balasingham cleverly appealed to Sri Lankan government for arms and ammunition for the LTTE, to defend itself against the joint assault of the IPKF and the Tamil National Army.

    After a lengthy discussion, Hameed agreed to convey the request to the president. The following night, Hameed, along with General Sepala Atyagalle, the Defense Secretary, went to the Hilton Hotel to meet Balasingham and other LTTE delegates. They told Balasingham that the president had agreed to help. They further said that as it was a very sensitive issue, there was every chance of the Sri Lankan Army getting very upset, so the help would be rendered covertly. The LTTE delegates, in consultation with Prabakaran, produced a list of weapons, and within a week the government delivered the arms and ammunition to the Tigers through a bordering Sri Lankan army camp at Weli Oya (Manal Aru), in the Mullaithievu region.

    According to Rohan Gunaratna, in his Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka,“Subsequently several truck loads of weapons and ammunition were given to the LTTE from the arms and ammunition stockpiles of the armed forces of Sri Lanka. Later, arms and ammunition were imported through Colombo by the LTTE for the LTTE, mostly T-56 and FNC weapons and corresponding ammunition. Confirming this, Ms Srimavo R D Bandaranaike, the SLFP leader, states that ‘Eleven lorry loads of arms have gone to them.’ She also stated that army trucks loaded with arms and ammunition left the harbor to a number of destinations through the Panagoda army camp, carrying arms and ammunition for the LTTE. Often they were driven to Vavuniya, to Weli Oya and handed over to LTTE cadres.

    “The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense helped with the purchase, transportation, clearance and security consignment. On one occasion, Major Bohran, Yogi, Lawrence and Shanker helicoptered to Weli Oya to receive the arms and ammunition which were brought by the land. Among the other imports which came through the STF base at Katukurunda were consignments of finger and hand cuffs, batons, torches, etc for the LTTE police force, air guns from London for the training of the LTTE cadres, huge drills and powerful communication equipment. The LTTE had established their own communication lines from Katukurunda to Colombo, and towards the Northeast covering Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Vavuniya, Jaffna and South India, but their communication was monitored both by Sri Lanka and Indian intelligence.” – page 300

    According to M R Naryan Swamy, in his Tigers of Lanka, from Boys to Guerillas, “This was not the first time the LTTE had got weapons from the Sri Lankan state. The first batch of arms were given in June 1988, by Brigadier Denzil Kobbekaduwa of the Sri Lankan Army {SLA}. Brig Kobbekaduwa approached the LTTE’s Trincomalee chief, Padaman, and asked him to stop killing Sinhalese villagers. He promised in return that the Tigers would be given arms and not disturbed when they used the areas bordering the northeast sanctuary to escape the IPKF heat. It was a virtual carte blanche to inflict losses on the Indian troops in the northeast and flee into the Sinhalese-populated areas outside the region, so that the IPKF could not hunt them down. The weapons supplied by Brig Kobbekaduwa were collected by the Tigers from the SLA’s Adampan army camp in Mannar. But the arms deal could not last long. Once Jayewardene was informed about this by the Indians, he had it stopped at once.” – pages 303-304

    Again, the Sri Lankan president replied to the letter dated June 29, 1989 from the Indian prime minister. This time Premadasa’s letter to Rajiv Gandhi was sent by telex, as follows:

    “Dear Prime Minister,
    “I have your message of 30th June sent through your High Commissioner in response to my message requesting you to ensure that the Indian armed forces in Sri Lanka do not take any offensive action against the LTTE. Such action or any intensification of operations is liable to prejudice the negotiations currently in progress and prolonged the armed conflict.

    “Your statement that cessation of hostilities took place on 30th July 1987 does not accord with facts. The LTTE ceased hostilities against the Sri Lankan security forces only a few days but resumed violence on 2 August 1987 and continued until they announced a cessation of hostilities in June 1989. During the interim, 148 service and police personnel were killed and 80 were wounded, 481 civilians were killed and 115 were injured.

    “The LTTE announced cessation of hostilities only in June this year, after the commencement of the dialogue with the government. This cessation covers not only the government but also the people of North and East and in fact, the people in the whole of Sri Lanka. At the same time, the LTTE reiterated its commitment to resolve all outstanding problems through negotiations and discussion and indicated their readiness to enter the democratic process. As stated in your message, you have been seeking to disarm the LTTE for the past two years and this process is not yet complete, nor have you been able to ensure that LTTE will give up their arms, after the Indian armed forces have been withdrawn.

    “The political solution which I seek to provide will not only be within the framework of our constitution, but must also preserve the sovereignty of our people, the unitary character and the territorial integrity of our country. The responsibility of providing safety and security for all citizens within Sri Lanka is solely the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka. The Indo-Sri Lanka agreement does not and indeed cannot in international law provide a mandate for the government of India or its armed forces to assume any responsibility for this function, otherwise that at the express request of the Sri Lankan Government. In any event, during the past two years, when the Indian armed forces were operating in the Northern and Eastern provinces, they were unable to prevent the killings of a number civilians and the displacement of even a large number from their homes besides the causalities referred to above.

    “Any interpretation of the agreement which seeks to provide a mandatory role for the government of India, or its armed forces within Sri Lanka, would constitute a serious interference in the internal affairs of a friendly sovereign country and a gross violation of the preemptory norms of international law. I am sure that such is not your intention. I trust these clarifications will enable you to ensure that the Indian armed forces do not continue any offensive operations against the LTTE.”

    The above exchange of letters and their increasing acerbity clearly indicated the strength and feeling on the matter of the withdrawal of the Indian armed forces in the words of the Sri Lankan president and the Indian Peace Keeping Forces, as referred by the Indian prime minister. The Sri Lankan President employed diplomatic and other channels to make the Indian government understand that the IPKF was now unwelcome in Sri Lanka, and that it was high time the Indian government withdraw them back.

    Meanwhile, J R Jayewardene, the former president who was now in retirement, opposed the departure of the IPKF without them having subdued the LTTE, but he also supported Premadasa’s call for the withdrawal of the IPKF. He made it clear that if Premadasa wanted the IPKF to go, then they must go, otherwise the Indian Army would become an army of occupation.

    In the first week of July, 1989, S Thondaman, the leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress and a Senior Minister in the Cabinet of Ranasinghe Premadasa, visited New Delhi to attend the SARC trade union conference. There he met Rajiv Gandhi and urged him to settle the withdrawal issue of the IPKF amicably. He explained that the president wished to settle the issue peacefully and informed Rajiv Gandhi of the pressure the president was under from the Sinhalese militant organization JVP and other extremist groups, who were making capital out of the issue. Thondaman told Rajiv Gandhi, “The Sinhalese people fear that the Indian army will not leave Sri Lanka. The JVP is exploiting that fear to the maximum. This is the main reason Sri Lankan President Premadasa wants the IPKF to leave the shores of Sri Lanka.”

    Rajiv Gandhi was accommodative, but he told of his own concerns and compulsions. He explained that India had signed an Accord as guarantor, with the promise that India would obtain for the Tamils such autonomy as was enjoyed by the Indian states. It was on that promise that the Tamil militant groups had agreed to lay down their arms and enter mainstream of politics.

    Rajiv Gandhi said, “If Colombo devolves power to the Tamils, I will gladly recall my troops. Tell your government to honor its obligations. Tell your president that I am not prepared to be called a betrayer by the Tamils. Tell your president that I have very good working arrangements with former president Jayewardene and I would like to have a similar relationship with him.”

    Accordingly, the Indian government held strongly that a troop pull-out was linked with the implementation of the terms of the accord. The Government reiterated its offer of negotiations on the devolution of powers to the North-East Provincial Council and the IPKF withdrawal.

    Rajiv Gandhi responded to Ranasinghe Premadasa’s telex message of July 4, 1989, as follows:

    “Dear Mr President,
    “I have your letters of 30th June and 5th July. I do not wish to enter into a debate on various interpretations of mutual obligations assumed by your sovereign nation. These are quite clear. I also do not wish to go into the validity of assertions like the LTTE having resumed violence on 2nd August 1987, whereas the arms surrender started and the amnesty letter was handed over by the Sri Lankan government to the LTTE three days later. We should let facts speak for themselves.

    “There is an agreement between our two countries. This agreement is meant to preserve the unity and the integrity of Sri Lanka and to ensure the safety, security and legitimate interests of the Tamils. Nearly a thousands Indian soldiers have made the supreme sacrifice in the fulfillment of India’s obligations as the guarantor of this agreement. Since the signing of this agreement, not only have the Provincial Council elections been held, but also parliamentary and presidential elections. The situation in the North-Eastern Province is far more settled and peaceful than elsewhere in Sri Lanka. Despite all this, the devolution package promised to the Tamils has not been implemented. These are incontrovertible facts.

    “Both of us agree that IPKF should be withdrawn. Both of us agree that we have commenced the withdrawal before you asked for it. A broad timeframe for the IPKF’s withdrawal had in fact been discussed. Discussions in finalizing details were proposed by your Foreign Minister at Harare only a few days prior to your unilateral announcement of 1st June. I have repeatedly said that the IPKF’s withdrawal schedule should be worked out through joint consultations along with a simultaneous schedule for the implementation of the Indo-Lanka agreement. We are willing to resume discussion on this subject at any time and place of your convenience. Your colleague Honorable Mr S Thondaman, who met me here, would have conveyed to you our desire for friendly relations and our willingness to resolve any misunderstandings through mutual consultations. If, however, discussions for this purpose are not acceptable to you, we will have to decide the details of the IPKF’s withdrawal unilaterally consistent with our responsibilities under the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement.

    “While I reiterate the government of India’s willingness to cooperate with your government to resolve pending issues, I must emphasis to Your Excellency that India has traditionally been mindful of the sanctity of the agreement it signs with other countries and commitments solemnly undertaken under such agreements. India will under no circumstances deviate from this policy affecting our concerns.

    “It has been our practice to maintain the confidentiality of official correspondence, particularly between heads of state or government, unless otherwise agreed upon. However, the gist of your messages to me was more often than not made available to the media before they reached me. Now I find that all our recent correspondences has been officially made public by the Sri Lanka Ggvernment. I may thus be constrained to depart from tradition by authorizing this communication being made public, after you receive it.”

    NEXT: Chapter 39: Amirthalingham eliminated

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