Rohan Wijeweera’s killing still a mystery
by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002
On July 30, 1983, along with the Nawa Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party, the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP – People’s Liberation Front), led by Rohana Wijeweera, was proscribed by President J R Jayewardene.
The JVP was outlawed on the pretext that it instigated anti-Tamil riots in the country – the party had decided to take a hard line against the Tamils’ struggle in the North and East.
The JVP was the most anti-Eelamist political group in the country. They began to allege that the Government was only half-heartedly pursuing an anti-Eelam campaign and their slogans gradually became more aggressive and anti-separatist. They said that the real reason that they were proscribed was because they most resolutely opposed the Eelam demand of the TULF and the Tamil militant organizations.
A leaflet published by the JVP on December 16, 1984, accused the Government of being unable to ensure the country’s sovereignty and unity, because of its pro-American foreign policy. The leaflet went on to allege, “They do not mind the loss of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as long as they are able to continue their luxurious and degenerate lifestyles, and they seek to cover up their impotence by victimizing the left movement. The JVP is resolutely opposed to the division of the country. The JVP policy declaration very clearly states that it is opposed to both the division of the country, as well as autocratic centralism.”
Rohana Wijeweera wrote his book Solutions to Tamil Eelam Strugglein 1985, but it was only published in 1986. He expounded a theory that America was involved in breaking up India and Sri Lanka. According to him, America was involved in splitting India into pieces. He explained that separation of Pakistan from India and Bangladesh from Pakistan had proved to be a boon to America, because now both these countries were successfully integrated into the American network. Similarly, America was involved with Sikhs in the Punjab and the Gurkhas in Nagaland to separate them from India and to make them American satellite states. Furthermore, he writes that the DMK in Tamil Nadu, India too was seen hand in glove with America in this massive conspiracy. The Indian Central Government was fully aware of the close links between the Sri Lankan Tamil separatists and the DMK in India. They knew that the Sri Lankan separatists were going to have much influence on Tamil Nadu. Yet the Indian Central Government continued to support the Sri Lankan Tamil separatists guerillas, because they want to bring to curb the pro-American J R Jayewardene government.
According to Rohana Wijeweera’s analysis, the Americans, too, were seen wanting the separation of Sri Lanka so that they could control both parts of the island. He wrote that, therefore, the Americans were heavily involved with the leaders of the Tamil Eelam movement.
In Rohana Wijeweera’s words, “The pro-American stance of the Jayewardene Government and the link it has built up with countries like Pakistan and China, which are regarded as traditional enemies of India, has given rise to various serious and unprecedented contradictions between India and Sri Lanka. Thus it appears that the Indians have formed a tactical alliance with the Tamil Eelam movement, as a way of opposing the pro-Jayewardene regime. This manifests itself as a contradiction between India’s tactical interests and its strategic interests. As long as the government is pro-American and pro-Pakistan foreign policy is in existence, the Tamil Eelamist military camps in Tamil Nadu will not be removed. It is only with the removal of the pro-American and pro-Pakistan foreign policy that the Tamil Eelam camps in Tamil Nadu will be removed.
“In order to fully solve the national question in Sri Lanka to defeat the Tamil Eelam attempt, to continue the maintenance of Sri Lanka as a multinational unitary state, it is necessary to win the support of India. However, by pursuing a regional policy detrimental to India’s interests by consorting with forces that threaten India militarily, we are certainly not going to win this support. India has a government of the national bourgeoisie, which gives priority to the national interest. It is a country surrounded by nations that have not only become tools of the imperialist powers, but also claim rights to its territory. And it faces threats to its territorial integrity, both from within as well as without. Thus, we should be able to understand her behavior in laying aside strategic interests and making some tactical efforts to deal with the dangers it faces.” Sri Lanka: The years of Terror: The JVP Insurrection 1987 – 1989 by C A Chandraprema, page 89.
During this time, the JVP adopted contradictory and conciliatory policies. They always had two conflicting policies on the same issue – one meant for public consumption, the other for future implementation. Accordingly, the JVP voiced anti-Indian views in public, while they looked to India as their potential partner in their effort to combat the Tamil Eelam militants. Again, the JVP vehemently opposed any move by the government to grant a certain degree of self-rule to the Tamils in the North and East. But, privately, the JVP acknowledge that Tamils did have grievances that had to be redressed.
The JVP from the beginning had taken an anti-Indian slant, exemplified in Indian expansionism, which it had propounded in its Five Lectures in 1971. The agents of this expansionism, as it identified them, were, however, not the big non-national businessmen of the Pettah, but the impoverished plantation workers of Indian origin, which the JVP saw as a sinister Fifth Column. This was, however, in keeping with the fiercely patriotic line which some of its speakers expounded in 1971. Wijeweera did admit in private that, this line could be construed as communalist but, as the national question burgeoned into an armed struggle by Tamil youth against the government and India’s influence over Sri Lanka’s affairs grew, accordingly, Wijeweera was to return to this with devastating effect.
Here too, however, there was a characteristic ambiguity. In his monumental work Solutions to the Tamil Question , released in the mid-1980s, Wijeweera adopted a much softer line on India, arguing that the alliance between US imperialism and the UNP Government with its strong dependence on the West was basically anti-Indian and inspired by its hostility to the socialist policies pursued by Indira Gandhi’s government. However, by 1987, with the IPKF firmly entrenched in the North-East and the Jayewardene government cornered, the JVP began playing the patriotic card to unite the country.
Was this opportunism on the part of the JVP or did it genuinely believe that a patriotic war could rally the country round its standard and drive away the unpopular government? Whatever the answer, there was certainly no room here for a socialist struggle or even a constitutional alliance between progressives belonging to all communities. The struggle was seen in narrow terms as one between the patriotic JVP and all the other parties, including those of the “Old Left” who had supported the devolution scheme under the Indo-Lanka agreement.
However, the reason given by the JVP for opposing the Tamil Eelam militant movements was because they were “racist”. Rohana Wijeweera in his book Solutions to the Tamil Question accuses Tamil militants of being motivated by the “Chola ambitions” of the DMK, of creating a Tamil empire based in Tamil Nadu and the Northern region of Sri Lanka. He alleged that the reason why the LTTE had adopted the tiger symbol was to resuscitate the symbolism of the Cholan empire, which also used the tiger symbol. Even the name Eelam is traced back to the Eela Mandalam of the 10th and 11th centuries, when the northern region of Sri Lanka was governed as the ninth province of the Cholan empire.
“The JVP exposed the Annadurai, Karunanidhi and Ramachandran plan to create a Dravida Nadu for the Dravidas, India for the Aryans and another India (Pakistan) for the Muslims. Dravida Nadu was to be linked with Kerala, Andhra and Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Eelam. The JVP stated that this was based on the demand of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. Regarding the history of India and Sri Lanka, the JVP stated that the Dravidas of the kingdoms of the Chola, Pandya, Chera, Pallawa and Vijayanagar had invaded Sri Lanka from the fourth century onwards, and when their kingdoms had fallen, they had settled in the island. The JVP also drew a parallel between the fact the symbol of the armies of Raja Raja Cholan and his son Rajendra was the Tiger, and that is also the symbol of the separatist ‘Tamil terrorists’. Wijeweera predicted in 1985 that Polonnaruwa could not be made capital of these ‘separatist terrorists’, but Trincomalee will be made the capital of Eelam. He also said that the separatists would chase away the Sinhalese from Padaviya and Kantalae areas, as they were within the confines of the ‘Tamil Eelam’. Wijeweera analyzed what was Eelam in his book titled The Solution to the Problem of Eelam and in two cassettes tapes meant for the public.” Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka by Rohan Gunaratna, pages 326-327.
By 1984, the JVP had decided that armed struggle had to be launched to capture power and the government. Therefore, they started training camps in the jungles, in the Sinharaja forest areas. Batches of 30 to 40 were trained for five to seven days. But, up to 1987, no weapons were available for the JVP to train the youths. But after mid-1987, training with weapons began and the instructors were deserters from the army.
In a press statement issued by the JVP, it accused the government as follows, “Ten months have now elapsed since Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna was proscribed under the emergency regulations. With the proscription of the party, an order was issued for the arrest of myself and General Secretary Upatissa Gamanayake. In the meantime, the country had been made subject to the needs of American imperialism and Israeli Zionism. The leaders of the 1962 anti-state conspiracy, who now holds power in the government, and their sons-in-law, prepare to hatch fearful conspiracies and instigate political murder.
“These elements who are dragging the country towards disaster have formulated a plan to murder me, the Chairman of the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna. A powerful member of the government, who was also one of the chief accusers in the 1962 conspiracy to overthrow the state, has summoned the chiefs of the armed services and police and stated that I am a Soviet agent and that I am responsible for inciting the July 1983 disturbances in a very subtle manner. He has also further stated that, because of the subtlety of the way in which I incited the 1983 July disturbances, my involvement could not be proved and that though the order had gone out for my arrest, what should actually be done is to kill me as soon as I am arrested.
“There is now a subtle plan to kill me by detailing Israel ‘Mossad’ trained secret agents to do the job. We have got to know the full details. Persons so detailed have stated that, since the government was unable to solve the problems in the country, and the people increasingly dissatisfied, the further proscription of the JVP will only increase its popularity. But, even if the proscription is lifted, people will still continue to flock round the party. Therefore, I should be murdered. After murdering me, the proscription would be lifted and the party thus rendered ineffective. The statement made by Lalith Athulathmudali tallies with all this.
“Is this the beginning of a new trend of ‘political killings’ in the country? In a situation where conspiracies are hatched to kill opposition leaders and public funds utilized to pay agents, can one claim that there is democracy in the country? It should be emphasized that all consequences of these conspiracies will be the sole responsibility of the conspirators themselves. There is no doubt that the danger which faces me today will be the common lot of all those anti-UNP opposition leaders, who stand up for the rights of the people. Hence, I appeal to all anti-UNP political parties and organizations to come together to defeat at the outset this new trend in ‘political killings’. [Signed] Rohana Wijeweera, chairman, Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna.”
By 1986, the JVP was prepared to oppose any steps the government would take to compromise with the Tamil militants under Indian pressure. The JVP was well aware that India would make all efforts to force the Sri Lankan Government into a compromise with the Tamil groups to maintain its interest in the region. From October 1986 the JVP issued a series of leaflets alleging that the government was out to compromise with the Tamil separatist militant groups and allow the creation of Eelam. The whole propaganda thrust was against what they called a conspiracy to divide the country, which was being hatched by the Rajiv-JR-Prabakaran clique.
In a leaflet put out in May 14, 1987, they stated that “anybody who opposes in any manner the forward march of the JVP should be severely warned that they are acting against the freedom of our motherland. Any action taken against the members of the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna is in effect to allow the Tigers and the foreign invaders to swallow up our motherland”.
The Indo-Lanka peace accord turned out to be an unexpected bonanza for the JVP. Considering the suddenness with which the accord was announced and signed, initially the JVP were unable to spearhead the agitation in an organized way. However, the violence that followed the signing of the accord was cleverly orchestrated by the JVP. Many other forces joined hands with them, including factions from the ruling party, to oppose the accord.
“To spearhead the anti-government drive, an organization called the Mavubima Surekeeme Viyaparaya (MSV), or the Organization for the Protection of the Motherland, was mooted by three leading members of the Buddhist clergy. They were Venerable Hadigalle Pannatissa, the Venerable Dr Bellanwila Vimalaratne and the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha. The MSV was actively supported by Mrs Srimavo R D Bandranaike until November 1986, at which time the organization split into two. The radical forces comprised Ven Sobitha, Ven Ananda, Dinesh Gunawardene, the leader of the MEP, Prins Gunasekera, pro-JVP lawyer and a former MP, Ven Balaharuwe Soma of the JVP and Ven Ariyadeva of the JVP. The less radical force, the Mavubima Surekeeme Sangamaya (MSS), comprised Mrs Bandaranaike, Jinadasa Niyathipala and Ven Bengamuwe Nalaka.” Indian Intervention by Rohan Gunaratna, page 327.
It was revealed that, just before the signing of the Indo-Lankan accord, the JVP managed to get hold of weapons and these were moved to strategic locations in Colombo and other southern spots. On the day of the signing of the accord, Upatissa Gamanayake, the General Secretary, came to the safe house in Hokandara, where a large haul of weapons was in place. He met JVP activists and briefed them on the course of action to be taken. They were told to take positions in Colombo, Kaduwela, Welikada, Battaramulla Homagama and Maharagama. It was reported that between July 28 and August 2, 1987, the anti-accord parties, including the JVP, SLFP, MEP, MSV, MSS and other splinter groups, including a section of the UNP, was responsible for nearly 2,527 incidents in the south.
After the arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces, the JVP whipped up anti-Indian feelings among the Sinhalese community. The JVP depended more on the re-emergence of Sinhalese nationalism, more pronounced after the accord. They began to operate under a new name, Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya, or the People’s Patriotic Front.
The JVP, since the start of their campaign of terror in 1987, and even before that, had hailed the security forces as the heroes who were preventing the separation of the country by waging war against the Tamil terrorists. In 1989, the JVP began to condemn to death not only these very heroes, but also members of their families. The JVP knew that they had made a fatal mistake. No sooner had they issued death threats to the families of the servicemen, than posters appeared all over the country announcing, “Ape ekata thope dolahak!” (Twelve of yours for one of ours!) A vigilante group known as the Deshapremi Sinhala Tharuna Peramuna (Patriotic Sinhala Youth Front) under whose name the 12 to one posters appeared, also circulated a note to the families of the JVPers, which read as follows:
“We know that your son/brother/husband is engaged in a brutal murder under the pretence of patriotism. Your son/brother/husband, the so-called patriot, has cruelly taken the lives of mothers like you, of sisters, of innocent little children. In addition he has started killing the family members of the heroic Sinhalese soldiers who fought with the Tamil Tigers and sacrificed their lives, in order to protect the motherland.
“It is not amongst us, ourselves, the Sinhalese people, that your son/brother/husband has launched the conflict in the name of patriotism? Is it then right that you, the wife/mother/sister of this person who engages in human murder of children should be free to live? Is it not justified to put you to death? From this moment, you and all your family members must be ready to die. May you attain nirvana! Patriotic Sinhala Youth Front.”
From August 1989, reprisal killing against the JVP became a regular feature. Bodies began to appear on road sides. During President Premadasa’s rule arrangements were made to suppress the JVP militarily. A section of the JVP cadres made use of the ceasefire declared by the government over a period of three weeks and surrendered to the armed forces. The government announced that over 7,200 were under detention for involvement with the JVP.
Major-General Cecil Waidyaratne was the most senior officer in the anti-JVP thrust. He headed “Operation Combine”, which started in November 1987, to take over the security of the Colombo district after the signing of the Indo-Lanka peace accord. The headquarters was housed in a spacious building close to Havelock Road in Colombo. Ranjan Wijeratne, the deputy Minister of Defense and the Foreign Minister, lived in a house adjoining the Operation Combine headquarters. This had 36 platoons assigned to it originally, which later increased to 58. It was meant to coordinate army, navy, air force and police activity in the Colombo district. Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne was the first commander of the unit. He was followed by Waidyaratne.
Ops Combine gave encouragement to the anti-JVP thrust. Thus they ran the risk of being marked by the JVP as dangerous enemies. In October 1989, Raja Mahataya, the Colombo district division number two leader, was arrested.
From information the army received from Raja Mahataya and from others, they were able to trace D M Anananda to the Ratnapura area. His arrest was a major breakthrough for the government. He was the functionary number 1 in the JVP. The JVP politburo never met in full session. They got together only in ones, twos or threes. It was Anananda who conveyed decisions from one group to the another. “When combined with his other functions as the political cum military leader of the Colombo/Sabaragamuwa area, the leader of the Bhiku, women’s and workers’ fronts and the leader of the Jathika Kmart Satan Madyadthanya, made him the single most powerful person in the organization.” Sri Lanka: The years of terror: The JVP insurrection 1987 – 1989 by C A Chandraprema, page 302.
Ananda was held in the Mattegoda army camp, where he divulged that Araliya Estate in Galaha was the group’s headquarters in the region. This information was immediately followed up by Colonel Janaka Pererea and Major Gamini Hettiarachi. Perera was a Sandhurst-trained officer and was said to be one of the finest soldiers in the army. He was a specialist in terrorism with a master’s degree in defense studies on the subject. He was the Provincial Commander of the North-Western Province, in addition to being in charge of the special operations of the Ops Combine in Colombo.
A special operations team of the army arrested Piyadasa Ranasinghe and H B Herat in Galaha. According to information, they were JVP leaders who met Rohana Wijeweera frequently. Under interrogation, they told army investigators the whereabouts of Wijeweera and a few hours later Wijeweera was arrested at Ulapane, Kandy, at the estate bungalow where he lived, masquerading as a planter under the name of Attanayake. When the army party arrived at about 2pm, Wijeweera was taking a shave. The army team climbed over a gate and surrounded the house. Wijeweera came out and said, “I am Attanayaka and you have no right to come here. I am a peace-loving man.”
At first, Perera was flustered by the confident air of Wijeweera and thought for a second that they had come to the wrong place. Still he cocked his pistol, put it to “Attanayake’s” head and asked, “Oya Wijeweerada?” (Are you Wijeweera?). Wijeweera, fearing that the colonel would pull the trigger, admitted that he was, saying, “I will come with you, but don’t harm my family.” There were two women servants in the house other than Wijeweera’s wife, and all the women, as usual, started wailing. Wijeweera was captured on November 12, 1989, and was immediately taken to Operation Combines headquarters in Colombo. Everybody in the defense establishment, including the deputy minister, Ranjan Wijeratne, went to see the prize catch.
Subsequently, National Intelligence Bureau cameraman filmed Wijeweera’s voluntary appeal to the JVP to lay down arms and halt violence. Earlier, in 1971, after his arrest, Wijeweera had told officials everything about everybody else while trying to hide his own responsibility. His recorded statement in 1971 went to more than 400 typed pages. But the 1989 statement was very brief, and was broadcast to the nation.
On November 13, Wijeweera died. The army said that he had been shot dead in a confrontation between the JVP and the army team that had taken him to look at a JVP safe house. Another version was that Wijeweera was taken to Borella cemetery, shot in the leg and burnt alive in the crematorium. Many other versions regarding his death circulated.
Meanwhile, Major-General Sarath Munasinghe, one of the men, who met Wijeweera after his capture, writes in his A Soldier’s Version, as follows, “On 12 November 1989, I paid a courtesy visit to my superior Colonel Lionel Balagalle, the Director of Military Intelligence. The time was around 8.00pm and the colonel was relaxing at home. While discussing activities of the JVP and also the LTTE, we had a few drinks. If I remember right, both of us had two each. The telephone rang. It was the commander of the army. The commander had an important message. Both of us were summoned to the residence of President Premadasa. Rohana Wijeweera, the JVP leader had been arrested at Ulapane in Kandy by some army personnel, who had proceeded from Colombo.
“After the telephone call we became cold sober. We were both in civilian clothing. Still we had to go. Mrs Balagalle was quick to give us a few cardamoms to neutralize the ‘aroma’ of the liquor. We were well received by the security staff at the ‘Sucharitha’, the residence of President Premadasa. Both of us sat close to each other at the conference table. Five minutes later, HE the President arrived with a smiling face and shook hands with us. We got into conversation. I was trying hard to remember all about Rohana Wijeweera and his JVP. But, to our dismay, His Excellency fired a barrage of questions about the LTTE. We managed to answer all questions. Just then, General Cyril Ranatunge, Secretary of Defense walked in, followed by Lt-Gen Hamilton Wanasinghe. Gen Wanasinghe informed the President that Rohana Wijeweera had been brought to Colombo, and that both of us were required to question Rohana Wijeweera. HE the President thanked both of us and we followed the commander and accompanied him in his car.
“The time was 11.30pm. We reached the premises of HQ ‘Operation Combine’. There were many officers of other services too. We were conducted to the conference table where Rohana Wijeweera was seated. I was given a chair just opposite Wijeweera across the table. I commenced having a conversation with him. Mr Ernie Wijesuriya, Director, National Intelligence Bureau, his deputy and some others were present. I spoke to Rohana Wijeweera at length. Whenever I questioned him in English, he answered in Sinhalese. In fact, he asked me whether I knew the Russian language. I replied in the negative. Rohana Wijeweera told me that his second language was Russian. He told me all about his personal life, initially at Bsndarawela and later at Ulapane in Kandy. He was reluctant to talk about the activities of the JVP.
“While this discussion was going on, the ‘Operation Combine’ commander was with his deputy in the adjoining room, which was his office. Just past midnight, the deputy Defense Minister General Ranjan Wijeratne walked in and sat at the head of the conference table. Gen Wijeratne asked few questions, but Rohana Wijeweera did not respond. Gen Wijeratne joined the ‘Operation Combine’ commander in his office. We continued with our conversation. We had many cups of plain tea (dark tea), while talking. I made a request to Rohana Wijeweera to advise his membership to refrain from violence. He agreed after persuasion. So we managed to record his words and also his picture in still camera.
“After some time, a well-known Superintendent of Police arrived at the HQ Operation Combine. As the police officer walked in, he held Rohana Wijeweera’s hair from the rear and gave two taps on Wijeweera’s check. Wijeweera looked back, and having identified the officer said, ‘I knew it had to be a person like you’. The police officer joined the Minister and Operation Combined Commander. We continued with our conversation. Wijeweera related a few interesting stories. One day, a group of JVP activists had visited the residence of Nimal Kirthisri Attanayake [Rohana Wijeweera] at Ulapane. They demanded money for their movement. Wijeweera responded quickly by giving Rs100. The youngsters did not have a clue about their leader. Wijeweera was full of smiles when he divulged this story.
“The time was around 3.45am on 13 November 1989. I was informed to conclude the questioning and to take Rohana Wijeweera downstairs. Together we walked downstairs and were close to each other. Wijeweera held my hand and said, ‘I am very happy I met you even at the last moment. I may not live any longer. Please convey my message to my wife’. Rohana Wijeweera’s message contained five important points. They were all very personal matters concerning his family.
“Moments later, Wijeweera was blindfolded and helped into the rear seat of a green Pajero. Two people sat on either side of Wijeweera. There were others at the rear of the vehicle. Just then a senior police officer arrived near the vehicle. I politely rejected his invitation to join them. The Pajero took off. I joined Col Lionel Balagalle standing near the main entrance of the Operation Combine HQ building. We were having a brief chat when a senior officer came downstairs to get into his car. We greeted him. He was in a very good mood. But the atmosphere changed all of a sudden. A military police officer appeared in front of us. The senior officer blasted him for not accompanying Wijeweera and party. The military officer dashed towards his vehicle and sped away. The senior officer departed. We also went home thinking of a good sleep.
“Late in the morning I was busy getting Wijeweera’s photograph printed. No one would recognize Wijeweera without his beard. So I had to seek help and add the beard to Wijeweera’s photograph. It was done very well. Late in the afternoon there was a press conference at the Joint Operation Command. Minister Ranjan Wijeratne briefed the press. ‘Wijeweera and HB Herath [another JVP leader] had been taken to a house just outside Colombo, where the JVP had hidden part of their treasure. While the search was in progress, Herath pulled out a pistol and shot Wijeweera dead’. The minister went on to give more details. Subsequent to the killing of Wijeweera, violence by the JVP ceased gradually and there was peace in the country, except in the north and east.” pages 34-37.
The next day, Upatissa Gamananayake, who was the General Secretary of the JVP, was also captured, interrogated and killed. Details of his death, too, were not forthcoming from the government.
Commenting on the capture of JVP leaders, Varatharaja Perumal, the Chief Minister of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, said, “I say Prabakaran would not have died like that. He would have died fighting. If he was in a tight spot, he would have taken cyanide. He would never be taken alive to be spat on by his enemies.”
There was another version, reported by M R Narayan Swamy in hisTigers of Lanka from Boys to Guerillas, “Defense Minister Ranjan Wijeratne roared that he would destroy the LTTE like the JVP, whose two top leaders Rohana Wijeweera and Upatissa Gamananayake were arrested and killed by the security forces in November 1989.” – page 318.
Even though the JVP was perceived as an anti-Indian outfit, India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) kept in close touch with the JVP leadership after the death of Wijeweera. RAW officers said that it was a tactical necessity to keep in touch with the JVP, with which they acknowledged that they had established significant links.
RAW arranged to provide accommodation and other assistance to fleeing JVP cadres in India, where nearly 400 were given sanctuary. Somawansa Amerasinghe, the worst anti-Tamil basher and the senior JVP leader, was assisted by RAW to safely flee Sri Lanka, and he was initially given refuge in India. Subsequently, he managed to emigrate with the help of RAW to the United Kingdom, where he runs a special international JVP cell. This is used to conduct special meetings in different countries in Asia to organize the JVP in Sri Lanka, which has been successfully done.
Twelve years later, Rohana Wijeweera’s killing is still shrouded in mystery. Earlier, on February 16, 1988, Vijaya Kumaratunga, a matinee idol and leader of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP) and the husband of the present president Chandrika Kumaratunga, was killed. The shooting took place during J R Jayewardene’s government. During this period, the country was gripped with terror, following the ruthless killing of politicians, service personnel and civilians by the JVP.
On March 14, 1989, an alleged assassin, Lionel Ranasinghe, alias Gamini, was arrested. According to available information, another suspect, Tarzan Weerasinghe, was arrested in connection with the murder of Vijaya Kumaratunga. On October 3, 1989, the chief suspect Gamini escaped from police custody. Cellmates of the principal accomplice, Tarzan, alleged that Tarzan had been taken away at some point in early 1991. The fate of both are unknown. Others accused of aiding and abetting the two principal accused were released due to what police claimed to be an “administrative error”.
Later, after Chandrika Kumaratunga took over the administration in 1994, she appointed a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry to look into her husband’s death. The commission comprised the then-Supreme Court Justices Sarath N Silva and P Ramanathan, and High Court Judge D Jayawickreme. They were appointed on February 16, 1995, with the mandate to inquire into and obtain information in respect to the circumstances relating to the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga, the persons directly or indirectly responsible for such assassination, and to make such recommendations with reference to any of the matters inquired into.
The commission functioned under the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry Act of 1978, which was enacted during J R Jayewardene’s administration, which was used to deprive several leaders of their civic rights, including Srimavo R D Bandaranaike, the former prime minister and the mother of Chandrika Kumaratunga.
The SPC Act of 1978, moreover, does not permit an appeal from the decision of the commission. In 1995, and the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee informed the government that the act should be abolished as it violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Therefore, it should be pointed out that the Special Presidential Commission appointed to investigate the murder of Vijaya Kumaratunga operated under a law that was a suspect.
The two main persons named by the Commission as indirectly responsible for the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga were the then-President Ranasinghe Premadasa and his deputy Minister of Defense, Ranjan Wijeratne. Unfortunately, they did not have any opportunity to refute allegations against them as they were dead. An application made by the daughter of the late president, Dulanjalee Jayakody, seeking permission to appoint a lawyer to represent her father at the sittings, was refused. However, the commission informed her that she could appear before the commission herself in person and instruct a lawyer to participate in the proceedings, an offer that was not taken up by her.
Furthermore, Jayakody questioned the fairness of the manner in which the witnesses were specifically questioned, both by the counsel assisting the commission and the commissioners themselves regarding the conduct of Premadasa and Wijeratne during the investigation into the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga. The commission pointed out that they had been empowered to do so by the extension of the mandate, which gave them the authority to inquire into whether or not there was any interference into the police investigation.
The report found the late President Premadasa guilty of indirect involvement in the assassination, based on the fact that Kumaratunga had become a formidable rival and opponent of Premadasa in the presidential elections scheduled for later that year. This was said to be the motive for the assassination. Premadasa was also implicated by circumstantial evidence of the suppression of the investigation in view of the fact that investigation into the offenses was not carried out with any measure of diligence.
Furthermore, according to the commission’s findings, Ranjan Wjeratne was implicated on the grounds that he had illegally and improperly interfered in the conduct of the investigation. Wijeratne had apparently visited prime suspect Lionel Ranasinghe soon after his arrest. The commission condemned this action on the part of Wijeratne.
The commissioners said, “We cannot comprehend any reason that could possibly have prompted a cabinet minister to take this unusual step of interrogating a dangerous criminal. The law does not provide for such interrogation. On the other hand, such action may have jeopardized a trial of the suspect.”
The same argument or comment equally applies to the arrest and interrogation of Rohana Wijeweera. In pages 35-36 of A Soldier’s Version by Major General Sarath Munasinghe he writes, ” While the discussion was on, the ‘Operation Combine’ commander was with his deputy in the adjoining room, which was his office. Just past midnight, the deputy Minister of Defense General Ranjan Wijeratne walked in and sat at the head of the conference table. General Wijeratne asked a few questions, but Rohana Wijeweera did not respond. General Wijeratne joined the Operation Combine Commander in his office. We continued with our conversation.”
From the above record, anyone could come to the conclusion that Ranjan Wijeartne, who was a minister in the cabinet of President Premadasa, in his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs and deputy Minister of Defense, had taken the “unusual step of interrogating a dangerous criminal” and it was he who announced of the killing of Wijeweera.
The JVP continues to remember the killing of Rohana Wijeweera annually. The 12th anniversary of his death was reported in the Daily News of November 16, 2001 as follows, “The JVP, which was formed by Rohana Wijeweera 36 years ago, is today the strongest political element standing against all the capitalist forces in the country, JVP General Secretary, Tilvin Silva said.
“He was speaking at the 12th Ilmaha Viru Samaruwa, organized by the JVP, to mark the 12th death anniversary of JVP Leader and other party activists, at the Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre on Tuesday. The UNP brutally killed our leader in 1989 and every year we have commemorated our leader, in spite of difficulties. Even when the JVP was banned, we did not forget to commemorate our leaders in prisons. Once we gained our democratic rights in 1994, we could honor to our leader with a large public participation.
“Today, we commemorate 12th Ilmaha Viru Samaruwa, when a number of political changes are being made. But we have several challenges to face and so many victories yet to be won. Mr Silva said people who have been exploited by the capitalist administration throughout the past 53 years are facing another election. This general election would decide the future of our country. In this light, the discussion we conduct today is the more important.
“Since we lost our leadership in 1989, we have launched our campaign for five years facing immense difficulties. Again, we recommenced politics in 1994. During these seven years, we could gain several victories and bring about the desired changes our country needs. The party which the UNP claimed had been eradicated in 1989, has returned as the decisive factor in Sri Lankan politics today, he said. The late party leader Wijeweera started the JVP in 1965, not for ministerial portfolios or any other perks. This is the significant difference. The people sent 10 of its members to parliament last year. During this year, the JVP could entirely change the cabinet by raising the voice of late leader.”
At the time of the most recent memorial last year, the JVP had 10 members of parliament. Even they entered into a memorandum of understanding with the government of Chandrika Bandaranaike to enable the government to continue in power. They even arranged through the government for the safe return of Somawansa Amerasinghe – the Tamil-basher and number one communalist – to participate in the JVP’s parliamentary election campaign.
It was unfortunate that while they held a crucial supporting position with their 10 seats, they failed to demand the government to appoint a commission to investigate the death of Wijeweera.
The issue is not whether Wijeweera, in his capacity as the leader of the JVP, was directly or indirectly responsible for the killing of more than 50,000 civilians. The fact remains that Rohana Wijeweera and Upatissa Gamanayake were arrested on November 12, 1989 and on the next day, the Government announced that both had died in separate incidents. How did they die? Who was responsible for the extra-judicial killings of the two JVP leaders? The truth has to be made public. But it is unfortunate that the JVP, which at present has 14 members in the parliament, has failed to raise the issue and demanded for an investigation. Chandrika Kumaratunga was able to appoint a commission to investigate the killing of Vijaya Kumaratunga, who died in 1988, so why cannot Rohan Wijeweera’s murder be investigated?
The LTTE, which believed in militancy and violence, decided for the first time to enter politics through a democratic process. It applied to the election commission for the registration of the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT), with Mahendrarajah, alias Mahataya, the deputy leader of the LTTE, as the president and Yogaratnam Yogi as the general secretary of the party. The party applied for the Tiger emblem as its symbol, with offices located at No 61 Abdul Gafoor Mawatha, Colombo 3. The PFLT was registered as a political party by the election commissioner after clearance by President Premadasa. Up to date, the election commission continues to keep the PFLT as a registered political party and therefore it could function without legal harassment even while the LTTE is a proscribed outfit.
Earlier, it was reported that A C S Hameed, in a private session with Anton Balasingham, had told the LTTE ideologue that President Premadasa had become suspicious of the LTTE’s ultimate intentions. He said that already some cabinet ministers had cautioned the president that the LTTE did not intend to seek a solution within the constitutional structure of the country, but was committed to the creation of an independent Tamil state. It seems that Hameed told the LTTE consultant that if the LTTE came forward to contest the North-East Provincial Council elections and won, then the President would come forward to dissolve the present North-East Provincial Council led by Varatharaja Perumal.
According to reports, it seems that Balasingham told Hameed that the LTTE leadership was favorably disposed toward the forming of a political party. The Tigers were also willing to participate in the Provincial Council elections to prove to the Sinhalese majority as well as the international community that the Tigers were the sole and authentic representatives of the Tamils.
Anton Balasingham further told Hameed that the LTTE was suspicious of the ultimate intentions of President Premadasa’s administration. He asked whether Premadasa would be able to dissolve the North-East Provincial Council, withdraw the sixth amendment to the constitution, confine the armed forces to the barracks and allow a peaceful transition of power to the LTTE.
Hameed responded positively. He said that Premadasa could be convinced if the LTTE was prepared to enter the democratic political mainstream. Adele Balasingham, in her The Will to Freedom, writes, “Bala had already sought the approval of Mr Pirabakaran and other leaders when he visited the LTTE’s jungle headquarters in Mullaithievu for the formation of the political party. Having spoken again to Mr Pirabakaran through our communication network, Bala got the endorsement for the name of the party and the office bearers. All that remained was to write the party constitution. Drawing on his previous studies of political party constitutions, Bala drafted the document, while I helped him with the editing and typing. The political party was named the ‘People’s Front of the Liberation Tigers’ [PFLT]. Mr Mahendrarajah [Mahathaya], deputy leader of the LTTE, was given the role of the president of the party and Mr Yogaratnam Yogi was made the secretary general. The constitution provided for a genuine democratic party, allowing for the representation and participation of all sectors of the populace.” – page 247.
It seem that Premadasa welcomed the LTTE coming forward to register a political party with the view to participating in the democratic process in the country. He told the LTTE to participate in the All Party Conference he planned to hold to discuss various issues facing the country as a whole. According to the President it was also a move to bring the LTTE into an open political forum as a registered political party to demonstrate to the country a significant political outcome of the talks with the LTTE. The LTTE agreed to participate in the inaugural meeting of the All Party Conference as an “observer”.
The conference was convened on September 12, 1989, with about 100 delegates from 26 political parties and organizations. Yogaratnam Yogi attended as the representative of the PFLT as an observer.
Premadasa’s inaugural speech dealt with his vision of conflict resolution, but the conference did not discuss the ethnic issue. It then adjourned to enable the government to discuss the issue separately with each political party. It was reconvened on October 7, but the EPRLF boycotted this gathering. President Premadasa announced the appointment of a commission to inquire into the cause of youth unrest in the country. At the second meeting, nearly 90 delegates from 22 political parties and groups were present. The Muslim United Front and the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, both of which were absent at the inaugural meeting, were present.
Meanwhile, for the first time, Mahataya, the deputy leader of the LTTE, joined the negotiating team in Colombo. When he met President Premadasa he said, “Sir, once when you came to Jaffna years ago as local government minister, I, as a student of Chithampara College, Valvetiturai, stood amongst the students and waved a national flag. I hope I will be doing the same when you visit Jaffna next.”
Meanwhile, Kittu, alias Kridshnakumar, was brought to Colombo on the request of Prabkaran to be sent to London for treatment on his right leg, part of which had been amputated, after an unexplained grenade attack on March 31, 1987. Prabakaran requested Balasingham to make the necessary arrangements to send Kittu to England.
According to Adele Balasingham, “On hearing of the decision to send him abroad, Kittu was obviously of two minds. Undeniably he aspired for a suitable prosthesis to be fitted, which would help him with his walking and mobility. But he was a man emotionally attached to his cadres and his homeland and the prospect of separating from them was an obvious source of distress to him. Kittu flourished in the environment where he could teach his cadres and encourage them with their interests and he often initiated new projects for them to engage in. And so as the day for his departure grew nearer, he became quieter: as did many of his cadres. And I think that one of the most pitiful sights I can remember seeing is the legendary guerrilla crying on Mr Pirabakaran’s shoulder as we were to take him out of Alampil jungle. His cadres carried him in a chair on their shoulders – in similar fashion to the manner they carried Bala earlier – to the waiting helicopter. In classic Kittu style, he put on a brave face for his cadres during the trek out of the jungle, expressing his affection to them in the jokes he was cracking.
“Soon after his arrival in Colombo we escorted Kittu to the British High Commission. After discussion with the British Ambassador [High Commissioner], Kittu’s entry visa to the United Kingdom was authorized. But Kittu had one serious matter to attend to before his departure to London. When Kittu went to the Mullaithievu jungles after being released from IPKF custody, he became separated from his medical student girlfriend – Cynthia. Now he was anxious to be reunited with her. On his request, she traveled from Jaffna to Colombo to meet him. Shortly afterwards, they decided to marry. Kittu’s mother rushed from Valvetiturai to Colombo to attend the ceremony. Cynthia’s parents were already in Colombo. And so, on October 25 in one of the rooms of the hotel where the LTTE team was accommodated during the talks, the registration of the marriage of Kittu and Cynthia took place. A few days later Kittu flew to London and Cynthia joined him after travel arrangements were made.” The will to Freedom – pages 250-251.
That was the final journey of Kittu from Sri Lanka. In 1991 we learnt from the RAW that Kittu was one of their moles in the LTTE. “At first the RAW chief had in the first meeting on the early hours of May 22, 1991, resisted reaching this conclusion because he was under the impression that the hardcore Kittu in London was their mole in the LTTE. Kittu was even receiving a monthly stipend from the RAW funds.” The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi: Unanswered Questions and Unasked Queries by Dr Subramanian Swamy, page 125.
Next: Chapter 41: Muddle as India withdraws