Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 41

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

The basic idea behind raising the Citizen Volunteer Force (CVF) was the provision of an armed force to ensure the safety and security of Sri Lankan Tamils in the absence of any law-enforcing agency in the Jaffna Peninsula. In May 1988, Lieutenant-General V N Sharma, who succeeded Lieutenant-General Krishnaswamy Sunderji as the new Chief of the Indian Army, visited the Indian Peace Keeping Force’s (IPKF) headquarters in Palaly, Jaffna, proposing an organization to take over law-and-order affairs in the North and Eastern provinces.

After consultations and discussions between the Indian High Commission and the Sri Lankan Government, the gazette notification for raising the CVF was issued on November 2, 1988, by the Sri Lankan President under Section 52(i) of the Mobilization of Supplementary Force Act No.40/95. The CVF regulations, 1989, were made under section 65, read with section 64 of the act and with article 44(2) of the constitution on January 18, 1989, which set out the functions of the force and its rank structure. Eligibility conditions for recruitment to the force were also laid out. Its recruitment and functioning, as such, was not under the control of the IPKF.

Meanwhile, after November 19, 1988, polling held for the North-East Provincial Council elections, the EPRLF formed an administration with Varatharajah Perumal sworn in as Chief Minister. Immediately, the issue of the provincial capital city for the Provincial Government arose. The Chief Minister and the EPRLF insisted that Trincomalee, the port city in the Eastern province, be the capital, but J R Jayewardene, the President, opposed the idea. “It would be problematic for us,” he told the EPRLF delegation visiting Colombo. But, the EPRLF insisted on Trincomalee. The Indian High Commissioner, J N Dixit, also supported Varatharaja Perumal, and Jayewardene gave in.

Earlier, J R Jayewardene wanted to appoint Shelton Ranarajah, the Deputy Minister of Justice, as the Governor of the NEP, but he declined the offer. So, Jayewardene appointed the former Army Chief, Lieutenant-General Nalin Senivaratne, as Governor.

Nalin Senivaratne swore in Varatharajah Perumal as the Chief Minister, and four others; T Ganeshalingham, P Kirupakaran, Dayan Jayatilake (Sinhalese) and Abbo Yousuf (Muslim), as members of the cabinet.

J N Dixit writes that, he was invited to the inaugural meeting, but, he purposely did not attend. “The new Provincial Council was inaugurated by the Governor Senivaratne. I was invited to be present for the inauguration, but I deliberately refrained from going, because I did not want the Sri Lankan media to take advantage of my presence to project the creation of the Council and the new government of the North-East Province as an exercise under the Indian authority. I stressed that the political ambience and ceremonials should be entirely Sri Lankan on this occasion.” Assignment Colombo page 254.

The Sri Lankan Government wanted the EPRLF to go slow with the formation of the NEP Government. Colombo told them to wait until the new President took office. It was reported that Varatharajah Perumal traveled to Colombo more than 25 times in the first two months in office, to get the support for the fledgling NEP Government. Colombo was not willing to provide an office in Trincomalee, so they took over the Trincomalee Town Hall and turned it into their headquarters.

During the Presidential election, the Indian Government backed Ranasinghe Premadasa since the UNP supported the accord. In the meantime, there was an attempt by the United Socialist Alliance to invite Chandrika Kumaratunga to be their presidential candidate. She had gone to London with her children after the assassination of her husband, Vijaya Kumaratunga, because of the constant threat on her life.

Srimavo Bandaranaike, her mother, did not want her to become involved through concerns for her safety on the one hand and that her entry might tend to split the anti-UNP votes and would weaken the SLFP’s chances in the presidential election.

Even after the presidential elections, when Chandrika Kumaratunga was offered nomination as Member of Parliament, on the national list of the United Socialist Alliance, to fill the vacancy created by the demise of Dr Colvin R de Silva, she rejected it.

She wrote a letter from London to The Island newspaper giving reasons for the rejection, which appeared on April 30, 1989. “The press in Sri Lanka has continually published during the past months about my return to the country, purportedly to accept an offer of nomination, as a Member of Parliament on the national list of the United Socialist Alliance, to fill the vacancy created by the demise of Dr Colvin R de Silva. I believe it is time I offer some explanation of my stand on this matter to all who have shown interest.

“I was first offered nomination to parliament by the USA and by my party four weeks ago. The SLMP having first decided unanimously at a politburo meeting to make me the offer, has since then changed its view and commenced a long process of vacillation on this issue. The SLMP, and as consequence, the USA, seems to be at deadlock about this, for nearly 12 months. I fail to comprehend the undue importance accorded to a matter of such irrelevance, in the context of the present political crisis in the country.

“Nearly all the institutions – political, administrative, economic and socio-cultural that have bound our nation-state together over the last 2,500 years have broken down and are coming to a crashing halt. The major part of the controls of the state have slipped away from the government. Terrorism begun and practiced first by the UNP government since 1977, against its political opponents, has today, seeped through the entire fabric of society, to the extent that, violence and brute power, override all the basic human values that, are pro-requisite for any civilized society.

“In the first three months of 1989, more people have been slain in acts of individual political terrorism during the whole of 1988 and 1987. Let us not forget that it is the UNP government that finally destroyed the democratic institutions of our country, that it is they who snatched the rights of three quarters of our people, to three square meals a day, to proper education, to an efficient health service, to decent life, their right to live and walk the streets without fear and in dignity.

“Let us even at this late stage recognize the main cause of the country’s ills and where the true struggles lie. The UNP government has continued to remain in power by its tactics of baiting the opposition and leading it away from the path of effective struggle against the government. We in the opposition have often let ourselves into the position of mistaking the trees for the woods. It seems an exercise in futility to me, to waste time and energy on squabbling over a parliamentary membership, which I have not earned by the people’s vote.

“I have therefore decided to refuse the offer of the nomination to the present parliament, while expressing my gratitude to many who wished to see me there and wished me well.

“It was also reported that some section of my party was opposed to my nomination to parliament, etc. It may be true that a handful of self-interested persons in my party have engaged in conspiracy of distortion and lies, during the past eight months, with the purpose of eliminating me from the leadership of the SLMP and to prevent me from returning to politics within the progressive movement. Whether this is done for reasons of personal gratification of various types, or whether it is done in the service of unseen forces or for both reasons, only history can illuminate us. During 17 years of active political life in my country, I have been physically subjected to UNP thuggery, police assault, arrest. Our late leader and my husband Vijaya, and I, and so many others in the opposition having experienced the treatment meted out by the UNP government and am fully aware of what they are capable of in the future. In addition, I have been constantly issued with death warrants by the JVP, since they murdered Vijaya 14 months ago.

“But for me, all the opposition pales into insignificance before the call of the people’s struggle. I have never asked for leadership and I do not need to now. If there is a role I have to play, however menial it may be, in the cause of my country and its people, I shall do so whatever the obstacles. I shall try to do so correctly, efficiently and above all with sincerity, honesty and humility.

“Even at this late stage, we in the opposition must call a halt to this petty, self-destructive, internecine squabbling over tit-bits thrown to us by the UNP government. Let us renounce engaging in violence against each other which only perpetuates those in power. The UNP government blocked all means of democratic opposition to itself, leaving no other effective path open to its opponents, except that of violence. The path of democratic struggles of the people against oppression must be forced open again.

“All those of us who stand for human decency, for democracy and human rights, for the right of the people to freely elect their government, for the rights of all people, irrespective of caste, creed and race to an equal share of social and economic justice, the right of the people to participate in a truly effective program of national development that eradicate poverty and all its consequent degradation must stand unitedly now:
(a) To demand for the dissolution of the government and a free and fair parliamentary election.
(b) To forge struggle for the re-establishment of democracy, human rights and the people’s will, under a new constitution where Parliament and not President will be supreme.
(c) For the ethnic harmony through racial equality.
(d) For government with a vision and courage to solve our country’s problems without recourse to foreign forces.”

To return to the presidential elections, Srimavo Bandaranaike threatened to abrogate the Accord if she won. Meanwhile, Varatharajah Perumal met Srimavo Bandaranaike and Premadasa, before the elections and he requested Srimavo Bandaranaike to tone down her anti-Indian position. He told her that, although the LTTE would take all efforts to sabotage the presidential elections in the north and east, the EPRLF would secure votes for her, if she give up her anti-Indian stance. But, she continued with her anti-Indian rhetoric.

The EPRLF officially supported the left-wing candidate of the United Socialist Alliance, Osie Abeygoonesekera. They appealed to voters to give their first preference to the USA candidate and to leave the second or third preference vote either blank or vote for Premadasa, but not to vote for the SLFP candidate – Bandaranaike.

When Premadasa came to Jaffna for an election campaign, the EPRLF and the IPKF provided the necessary support and security for him. Though, Varatharajah Perumal was in Jaffna when Premadasa visited Jaffna, he failed to meet the future President of the country.

J N Dixit in his book Assignment Colombo compared the qualities of the two presidents, J R Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa as follows:

“His [Premadasa’s] mannerism and attitude in dealing with me were in manifest of contrast to President Jayewardene’s treatment of me. In my four years stay in Sri Lanka, I must have had nearly 100 to 150 meetings with President Jayewardene. Not even once was I kept waiting when I arrived for an appointment. Many of these meetings were in Jayewardene’s private residence at Ward Place. Whenever I met him at his private residence, there was always an exquisite drink followed by a Cohiba [high quality Cuban cigar]. Whenever, I visited Jayewardene at his home, despite his status, and his great age [he was over 80], he would invariably walk me to the door, reassuring me about his personal goodwill and friendship towards me. This was so even if the discussions proceedings such occasions were tense and unpleasant.

“Premadasa’s behavior can be described as semi-imperial with a touch of Baroque formality. The meetings which I had with him between December 1988 and April 1989, were always preceded by a 15-minute or half-an-hour wait. His conversation was hortatory and preaching. There was always an undercurrent and resentment and innuendo against India, despite his protestations regarding his great veneration for Mahatma Gandhi and his positive feelings about India as the land from where Buddhism came.” – page 278.

Initially, Premadasa was not interested in meeting Varatharajah Perumal, the Chief Minister of North-East Provincial Government. It was after some measure of persuasion by the Indian High Commission that he agreed to receive the Chief Minister. After the meeting, Premadasa told his cabinet on January 18, 1989, that he directed the ministry concerned to devolve all powers and functions to the Provincial Councils within a week.

The relationship between Varatharajah Perumal and Premadasa was at its best in the first two months. “Perumal would address the President ‘sir’ while Premadasa called the chief minister ‘Varathan’. Both apparently saw in each other a common background – humble beginnings, perseverance and eventually the pinnacle of power. They would spend hours without aides at the President’s office, despite the differences over the NEPG. During those heady days it was popularly believed – and correctly to some extent – that Annamalai Varatharajah Perumal was the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka, after the President. He was very close to the President. And there was almost nothing that could not be got done through Perumal.” Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas by M R Narayan Swamy, page 296.

Varatharajah Perumal had never been an administrator, so he was a novice. As the threatening shadow of the LTTE hovered, initially few people wanted to work for the North-East Provincial Government. K Vigneswaran, an engineer by profession and a member of the Eelam Liaison Office in New Delhi, was the first to be appointed, as Secretary to the Chief Minister. He was followed by M M Munsoor, a Muslim from Jaffna, who was a former Director of Education in Jaffna, who became Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs.

N Pathmanathan, whose inclusion in the interim council had earlier been opposed by J R Jayewardene, was okayed by President Premadasa to join the NEPG. Dr C S Nachinarkinian, who was director of Jaffna hospital, joined as the Secretary of the Health Ministry. Within a short period, the NEPG had the cream of Tamil bureaucracy in it.

In the meantime, V Gopalaswamy, a Rajaya Sabah Member (Indian Upper house), considered in India as one of the best parliamentarians from the south and a stalwart from the ruling DMK of Tamil Nadu, arrived in the Northern province of Sri Lanka clandestinely, to stay with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He was in their hideout for 24 days and returned to Madras on March 7, 1989. His illegal visit, while the Indian armed forces were involved in a pitched battle against the Tigers, created an uproar in India and in Sri Lanka.

After returning to Madras, V Gopalaswamy met the press at “Arivalayam”, the DMK party head office. He said, “I wished to go to Sri Lanka and meet ‘Thamby’ [brother] Prabakaran. I personally made this decision and I left for the journey. About going to Tamil Eelam, I did not discuss with anybody. Even my household people were not aware of my travel plan. By February 7, I was in Sri Lanka. There, I met brother Prabakaran. I stayed with him for a few days. In Eelam, I stayed for a total of 24 days. Last Sunday, at 7 o’clock in the morning, more than 1,000 Indian Armed Forces rounded up the jungle base where I was staying and they commenced a nerve-wrecking ferocious attack. The Tigers fought bravely and managed to repulse the Indian thrust. They managed to move me out from that particular jungle base to a safer base.

“In this attack, one 24-year-old lieutenant, named Sarath, was martyred, another Tiger Commando Siva, was severely injured and a total of 13 Tiger cadres were injured. Even after leaving the encircled base, we were able to hear from where we were, the thunderous pounding noise of artillery, bursting in the sprawling jungle region day and night, continuously for two days.

“Also, in an earlier round-up and attack, the Tigers managed to move me out very cleverly without sustaining any damages. Four days after my arrival in Sri Lanka, Tigers took me to a base and subsequently to many other bases and finally I met Prabakaran on the February 15. I stayed with him for a few days.

“I returned to Madras yesterday night, but I am not willing to disclose the details of my return journey. I saw that the Tamils in general extend their full support to the Liberation Tigers. The dense jungle where they live, where even the sunlight cannot penetrate, but there the general public used to send cooked food to the Tigers regularly. The people in Tamil Nadu, after the return of Kalaingnar Karunanithy’s rule, now they have confidence that there would be a ceasefire in the near future. I went over there to personally ascertain the views of the people of Thamil Eelam. I went over there to find out whether there is any hope for a negotiation in the near future. But it seems that they have entirely different proposals.

“The Tigers informed me that the Indian armed forces were bent on completely destroying them. They say that the Indian armed forces adopt completely a different approach, just reversing the agreement reached after the demise of Thileepan. The suicide of the 12 Tiger stalwarts by taking cyanide, they alleged, was due to the betrayal of the Indian armed forces. After seeing the death of those 12 leaders only, Prabakaran went for his revolver and others followed him.

“I met Kumarappa’s mother. She could not digest that her son, who courageously managed to brave the 10 years of convoluted internecine war, but was to die after the grant of the amnesty. This was something unexpected and that is why they have come forward for armed campaign to attain their cherished aspirations. The Tigers are of the view that the Indian Government has put forward an unpopular North-East Provincial Government. They are not prepared to recognize this government. They are of the view that the Indian Government should come forward to help the Tigers politically. They alleged that they hate the Indian army’s intervention in their internal affairs.

“If once the Indian armed forces are de-inducted, they clearly told me that they are ready to meet the Sri Lankan armed forces. They clearly expressed that their ambition is Tamil Eelam, but at same time they wanted to maintain a friendly and cordial relationship with India. I met Kittu over there in one of the jungle bases. I learnt that nearly 140 Tigers are in the custody of the Indian army. It was unfortunate that the two commanders, Hari and Kamal, who received me when I first landed in Sri Lanka, are today no more, and they are martyred. Since of late, hundreds of youths and girls have joined the Liberation Tigers. I was able to see that the people’s support to the Tigers campaign is on the rise. When I met brother Prabakaran, I told him that I made this trip without the knowledge of Kalingnar Karunanithy. When he heard this, he regretted it very much. Prabakaran did not give any letters addressed to Karunanithy, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. After my return, I met Karunanithy this morning at his residence. He expressed grief over taking so much of a risk in my sojourn. I have reported to my leader all what I have seen and heard.” (Translated from Tamil by this writer)

Before the Gopalswamy issue died down, Varatharajah Perumal found himself affected. He returned to Colombo after a week-long trip to New Delhi in March and found it difficult to contact the President. So he contacted Ranjan Wijeratne, the deputy Minister of Defense, and warned him, “All right, you all play your politics with the LTTE and one day you will all regret it.” It was the most timely warning ever given, unfortunately, it was never taken seriously.

On March 26, 1989, the LTTE announced the ban on the functioning of the North-East Provincial Government. It ordered a complete stoppage of work by the police, local courts and youth service centers in the Northeast. Only eight departments, health, electricity, transport cooperatives, education, irrigation, agrarian service centers and post and telecommunications were allowed to function. All the others, including banks, were told to function on three days – Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

In the meantime, Chief Minister Varatharajah Perumal, while in India, met Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the leaders of Tamil Nadu, had talks on Sri Lanka’s constitution and called for Indian assistance to obtain wider powers for the Provincial Council.

Addressing the media in Colombo on April 7, 1989, he said that the country’s constitution, as it is did not devolve wider powers, it should be amended if the provincial council system was to be more effective and meaningful for Tamils. He said that the constitution had to be amended, as President Premadasa was only willing to implement what was in the constitution.

He said that, India had promised to help to introduce a system for the country’s Tamil people. “Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi promised us a new system. We request the Indian Prime Minister to get us what we want,” he said. He added, “We will establish a finance commission which will discuss and decide how to allocate funds and matters regarding taxes. Everything will be decided by this commission,” he said.

Referring to the rehabilitation of the Northern and Eastern districts, he said rehabilitation would be handled by the EPRLF-led administration. Rs 4,400 million had been allocated for rehabilitation this year, the Chief Minister said. Of this amount, Rs 1,300 million was allocated for the NE Provincial Council. The administration was expected to spend more on rehabilitation and reconstruction as more central Government funds were expected, according to Varatharajah Perumal.

The Chief Minister also referred to talks he had had on highways and tourism. However, he showed dissatisfaction over the devolution of power regarding the country’s irrigation system. There were problems. He urged that all political parties – at least the Tamil parties – must start talks on important matters such as power, land and irrigation. Transportation was under the central Government, as was sea, land and air. He lamented, “We are playing a role but the powers are with the central Government.”

He asked, “The problem is who is the teacher? Do we have to get the Indian to teach? We trust that unwanted problems could be avoided.”

Varatharajah Perumal blamed the SLFP for its short-sighted policies. “They must work for peace in this country,” he said. “If the SLFP was not aware of matters, then it is high time that they have to be taught,” he said. He further defended the NEPC as the Government of the North and East. He said that in India there were states. So what was wrong with it. Suspicions and doubts about intentions of the Tamils would never help the Sinhalese, he warned.

Suspicion was to be avoided if the country was to be a republic. He further said that President Premadasa had agreed to let the administration appoint a person with the powers of a Government Agent (GA). Unfortunately, the Central Government was not willing to let the provincial administration appoint a GA.

Meanwhile, contrary to the LTTE’s ban on the activities of the North-East Provincial Government and its demand for immediate dissolution, its long-time ally, EROS, believed that the council should continue to function, as it was, with the leadership of the EPRLF government.

“In an interview with the Daily News [27 May 1989], EROS central committee member and one time military commander, Mr. R Shankar, indicated that his organization, which has entered into a dialogue with the government, since last March, will not push for the immediate dissolution of the NE Provincial Council and instead will work on obtaining more meaningful devolution of powers for the PC.”

As alleged by Varatharajah Perumal, the Sri Lankan President started establishing contacts with the LTTE with the view to negotiating with them. Earlier, details regarding how the contacts with the LTTE were established had never been reported authoritatively. But recently, Major-General Sarath Munasinghe came out with the true story in his A Soldier’s Version, as follows:

“On the 16 of April 1989, I returned home after work. The Secretary, Ministry of Defense, telephoned me at home to assign me on a very special task. The time was around 5.30 pm, I was asked to pick up a gentleman from Colombo 03 (off Duplication Road) by 6.30 pm and take him to meet H E the President, discreetly. The name and address of the gentleman concerned were repeated by the Secretary to make sure that I will not make a mistake. His Excellency was at his estate bungalow. I was offered additional security and advised to be in civilian clothing.

“For me, it was yet another mission. I proceeded in my official car and organized another civil vehicle and some of my own soldiers as escorts. I was 15 minutes behind schedule when I reached the residence of Abimannasingham Manickasothy, at Colombo 03. A young woman who spoke fluent Sinhala answered my call at the door. Seconds later, Manickasothy joined me at the rear seat of my staff car. Necessary instructions had been given to the driver and escorts by that time. So, we started off. I apologized for being late. Manickasothy put me at ease by saying ‘You are 15 minutes early’ and then I was relaxed. I put Manickasothy at ease by ensuring his security. In reply he said, ‘His Excellency informed me that I will be in very safe hands’.

“I thought best thing is to develop a conversation with Manickasothy and extract whatever possible. My first question was ‘Are you from Jaffna? He replied, ‘Yes’. I was happier and commenced talking about all what I knew of Jaffna and the people over there. A while later he said, ‘You seem to know all about Jaffna and the Tamil people.’ I was still happier and was more inquisitive to find out what his mission was. By this time we reached Kurunegala, my home town. I was thirsty. Most of the hotels were closed, even at 9.00 pm, in view of the Sinhala/Hindu New Year. I took my friend to a wayside hotel, that I knew from my childhood. There were plenty of short-eats. My friend was quick and did justice to many of those items. My soldiers and myself had a cup of tea each.

“We started off from Kurenegala just after 9.00 pm. Manickasothy was totally relaxed. He started talking. I listened. His mission was to meet His Excellency R Premadasa and deliver a letter signed by a senior LTTE leader, on behalf of Velupillai Prabakaran. He showed me the sealed envelope. A little while later, he pulled out a folded piece of paper from his side pocket and handed it to me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was all about peace talks with the LTTE. He said, ‘This is a photocopy’. I came to know what was happening. I had to carry out my task, ‘Take this gentleman to the President’.

“It was 10.15 pm by the time we reached the gate of His Excellency’s estate bungalow. Security personnel of the STF [Police] were all prepared and I did not find any risk of security. We were escorted to a waiting room. Soon after refreshments were served, a Superintendent of Police (SP) led both of us to the upstairs apartment of H E the President. Just at the entrance, the SP came under a severe ticking off. I recognized the voice. That was His Excellency himself. The SP was found at fault for taking us from the rear door. But it was too late. We were almost there. His Excellency greeted us with a very warm welcome. He took us right inside and showed the way to the toilet and did not forget to apologize for the mistake made by the Police Officer. By that the time the Police Officer had vanished.

“After taking a brief wash we sat at the dinner table on invitation of HE the President. Mr. Premadasa declared that he was hungry and he had his dinner early. The President made us feel at home serving with some dishes. Manickasothy did justice by eating many ‘string hoppers’, a delicious local preparation.

“My friend presented a sealed envelope to the President, immediately after dinner. Thereafter, the conversation began. All on ‘peace talks’ while the IPKF was still in Sri Lanka. My friend wanted a few calls to London. The International Direct Dialing line was readily available. They discussed. I was listening. The main topic was atrocities committed by the Indian army personnel in Sri Lanka. I was happy for a moment, hoping that there would be peace in my country. But I thought to myself: ‘I know Prabakaran and his desire presumably better than both of them’. Just past midnight, the President offered overnight accommodation. Fortunately, my friend informed the President that, he had to be in Colombo by the first light the following day. I was extremely happy to drive away, in spite of the threat posed by the JVP at that time. So we departed and reached Colombo safe by 4.30 am the following day.

“I briefed my immediate senior about what happened. The matter ended there. I met Manickasothy in my office at 51 Div Hq in Jaffna in 1988. Having found his address in Jaffna, I sent an officer to bring Manickasothy. He was an acute diabetic patient, and according to him, he had severed all connections with the LTTE. He was the link between the LTTE and the Premadasa regime in 1989.” pages 30-33.

The sealed letter handed over by Abimannasingham Manickasothy to President Premadasa, on April 16, 1989 at the Ambanpola estate bungalow changed the course of the country. On the following day, H K J Wijayadasa, the Secretary to the President, telephoned Anton Balasingham and invited him to come to Colombo. Subsequently, the Presidential spokesman said that the President had asked the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group to nominate a person to discuss arrangements to start talks.

On April 26, Anton and Adele Balasingham arrived in Colombo. On May 3, nine members of the LTTE, namely Yogaratnam Yogi, Paramu Moorthy, Lalith, Lawrence, Das, Ducky, Udayan, Youth and Theet were airlifted to Colombo.

Emboldened by the latest political developments, President Premadasa began to ignore EPRLF and the North-East Provincial Council. The Governor of the North East was told to be more assertive with the Chief Minister and the NE Provincial Government. Premadasa also sent messages to the Sinhalese and Muslim members of the council. The developments put Varatharajah Perumal in an untenable position, as the Sri Lankan Government refused completely to interact with him.

Meanwhile, it was alleged that, while the LTTE was fighting against the “annexing” Indian Army in order to redeem its motherland, groups like the EPRLF, ENDLF, TELO and PLOTE were indulging in acts of betrayal. These groups were trying to set up a force of “minions” called the Citizens Volunteer Force (CVF). The LTTE declared that it was now necessary to destroy the CVF, which it termed as “traitors”, “quislings” and “stooges”. EROS was not been mentioned in such statements.

The LTTE issued a statement on May 8, 1989, in which it emphasized that whenever Sri Lankan Tamils faced any difficulties, in the past, they had looked towards India for help, and the people of India and Tamil Nadu in particular, had raised their voices in support. Giving its own version of circumstances leading to confrontation between the LTTE and the Government of India, it has been alleged that India had embarked on a policy of suppressing the freedom struggle of Sri Lankan Tamils. The LTTE also directed its appeal towards Indian soldiers and stressed that they should not blindly follow orders like slaves. Reminding the Indian soldiers that they had been enlisted in the army to guard “Bharatmata”, it alleged that their pious and honorable attitude was being misused by the Indian authorities.

The LTTE affixed posters in Jaffna that those who maintained contact with EPRLF, TELO, ENDLF and IPKF would be awarded the death sentence. Grama Sevaks (village officials) in the north were also warned by the LTTE against visiting IPKF or CVF camps. Several Tamil civil servants working with the NEPG were also threatened by LTTE militants that, unless they stopped working or resigned from their jobs, they would be suitably dealt with. The threat created fear among Tamil civil servants in the North East, especially after the death of the Government Agent of Jaffna at the hands of the LTTE.

The LTTE offered an amnesty to those members of the CVF who surrendered with their arms. It was alleged that the CVF was being used by the IPKF and its “stooges” for killing Tamils and for other “immoral” acts. It is stated that those who refused to carry out such instructions were being punished and over 50 CVF members had been killed during the past two months. According to the LTTE, many Tamils enrolled in the CVF realized that they were being treated as mercenaries of the Indian “occupation force”. It concluded by stressing that the CVF members who surrendered to the LTTE and those who responded to its call would be given a general amnesty.

Over 3,000 men had already been trained and inducted into the Citizen Volunteer Force. “The training camps in the northeastern Sri Lanka were manned by the army training corps of the Indian Army, especially flown in for this purpose. The Indian CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] headed by [D R] Karthikeyan, as well as the Sri Lankan police under Anandarajah, assisted the Indian army training corps.” Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka by Rohan Gunaratna, page 357.

According to Rohana Gunaratna, D R Karthikeyan was in Sri Lanka to assist the training of the CVF. But Karthikeyan later in an interview, purposely avoided mentioning his role, but he was forced to accept that he was in Sri Lanka during the IPKF period.

In an interview with Front Line, an Indian fortnightly journal, dated February 7-20, 1998, when he was asked what sort of understanding he had before being assigned to the Rajiv Gandhi case, he replied, “During the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) operation in Sri Lanka, I was entrusted with the unique operation to make an assessment of the prevailing situation. I have never spoken of this assignment before. My task was to report on the relative strengths of the various groups, the IPKF performance, and more important, on how much devolution had taken place in the North Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, as mandated by the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution. I traveled very widely in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Vavuniya at the peak of IPKF-LTTE confrontation. I saw vehicles blown up in front of my eyes. I did submit more than assessment reports, which were appreciated at the highest levels.

“I found that the LTTE was in control of most areas outside major towns and that hardly any meaningful devolution had taken place in pursuance of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement. I said that given the ground realities, India could not avoid talking to the LTTE to avoid further losses to both sides.” Though Karthikeyan admitted that he was in Sri Lanka during the IPKF operation days, he purposely avoided saying that he was in North Eastern Province to assist in the training of the CVF.

With the view to discuss the latest political developments, Varatharajah Perumal sought an appointment with Rajiv Gandhi. After initial hesitation, Gandhi said that the Chief Minister was welcome. Varatharaja Perumal left for New Delhi by Indian air force plane from Trincomalee in July 1989. As Ranjan Wijeratne, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, was with Rajiv Gandhi during this time, Varatharajah Perumal’s flight was delayed and he met Gandhi after the departure of Ranjan Wijeratne.

At this time, Rajiv Gandhi had already approved a proposal put forward by RAW – a three-pronged action plan to bring the situation under Indian control:
a) To stage anti-pull out demonstrations in the North and East and accuse the Sri Lankan Government for the violation of the accord.
b) To portray the possibility of the LTTE attacking Tamils and Tamil areas and the Sri Lankan Government’s inability to control the LTTE.
c) Citizen Volunteer Force training to be augmented to make it a quasi army under Indian supervision.

As Rajiv Gandhi has already approved the plan to make the CVF a politico-military organization, he agreed to the request of Vartharajah Perumal to set up a paramilitary militia in the North and East, which was later called the Tamil National Army (TNA). Rajiv Gandhi also agreed to have at least a 15,000-strong force, and the Prime Minister assured the Chief Minister that he would not let the NEPG collapse.

The NEPG began a massive recruitment drive. The early members were from the EPRLF, ENDLF, TELO and PLOTE. As this was not enough, these militant organizations went on a compulsory recruiting drive.

“Hundreds of young boys were waylaid and abducted at gunpoint from streets, markets and schools throughout the northeast by armed supporters of the provincial government. The boys were taken to special camps, where IPKF trainers imparted them training in the use of weapons, mostly self-loading and automatic rifles. Parents who came wailing to the offices of Tamil groups were rudely sent away. The IPKF brass were uneasy, but quite helpless. The training program was overseen by RAW. Recruits who tried to escape were caught and punished. Many had their eyebrows shaved off, for easy identification.” – Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas by M R Narayan Swamy, page 305.

Varatharaja Perumal’s relations with Colombo began to slide very fast after Premadasa called for the withdrawal of the IPKF from the shores of Sri Lanka. He stopped using the four-seater Ceassana aircraft owned by the Sri Lankan Government. He also stopped traveling to Colombo, fearing either he would be arrested or assassinated.

EPRLF central committee member L Ketheeswaran said in Colombo, “If the Sri Lankan Government decided to impose a military-type solution without considering the aspirations of the people in the temporarily merged northeastern province, the EPRLF had a plan to form the Tamil national army to fight the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE.” He also told the press in Colombo that the LTTE had threatened to eliminate the EPRLF leaders and its cadres unless they resigned on or before October 1, 1989. An LTTE statement said “anyone who did not resign will be treated as enemies of the nation”.

On October 2, 1989, Varatharaja Perumal hoisted the red, white and green flag, with a rising sun, said to depict sacrifice, peace and prosperity, which had been declared the official flag of the North-East Provincial Council. On October 4, at a press conference, the Chief Minister acknowledged that the North-East Provincial Government was mooting a force called the Tamil National Army (TNA). On October 15, Chief Minister Varatharajah Perumal, EPRLF leader Pathmanabah and the General Officer Commanding the IPKF, General Kalkat, visited Amparai and finalized a plan for the TNA to take over from the IPKF.

Even after the IPKF had formally ceased operations in Sri Lanka on September 29, 1989, Indian troops with the view to help the NEP government continued to surround localities and search for deserters or escaped TNA conscripts.

The EPRLF, ENDLF, TELO and PLOTE formed the Tamil National Council to coordinate actions, while RAW operatives in Trincomalee were in close contact with the military commanders of the TNA, which stockpiled a wide variety of weapons. The first major set of TNA militants, after being trained at Kaluwankerny in Batticaloa, moved into Amparai in October 1989, under the command of Khalid of the ENDLF.

Khalid had formerly been the commander of PLOTE and was a close associate of Uma Maheswaran. In 1986, Khalid left the PLOTE, along with Paranthan Rajan, the present ENDLF leader. Khalid was trained in Lebanon by the PFLP of Dr George Habash and later took an active part in the war against Israel.

On October 8, 1989, at the first meeting of the Security Coordinating Group (SCG), the key body overseeing the withdrawal of the IPKF and in ensuring the maintenance of law and order, Deputy Minister of Defense Ranjan Wijeratne agreed to hand over the responsibility for law and order to the Provincial Council. He also agreed to place the control of the police with Varatharaja Perumal.

The last Indian troops moved out of Amparai on October 25, leaving the TNA in charge of the Sinhalese-majority Amparai, along with Sinhalese police and the CVF. Ranjan Wijeratne said that the TNA was an illegal force. The EPRLF said that the TNA had been raised to protect Tamils. After vacating Amparai, the Indian army began withdrawing from the neighboring regions in Batticaloa.

Suddenly, on November 5, the LTTE launched a swift offensive, attacking simultaneously the TNA bases in Tirukovil and Tambiluvil in the Amparai district. The offensive exposed the TNA’s vulnerability and its members fled for their lives, leaving behind huge quantities of arms and ammunition, including light machine guns, mortars, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and M-70 assault rifles. When the camps were under attack TNA cadres from Kalmunai, Sammanthurai and Batticaloa moved towards Akkaraipattu, where they were ambushed by LTTE between Tirukovil and Sammanthurai. The Sri Lankan security forces immediately moved into Tirukovil, but did not pursue the LTTE. The EPRLF alleged that the Sri Lankan task force was actively aided by the LTTE.

Meanwhile, Ranjan Wijeratne, the Deputy Minister of Defense, wrote a letter dated November 7 to Varatharajah Perumal, the Chief Minister of the North-East Provincial Government on the subject of Amparai district security, as follows:

“My dear Chief Minister,
“Consequent to the attack on the two camps in the Amparai district, set up by you, by the LTTE cadres, I visited Amparai district last morning and made an assessment of the situation. As you required the support of the Sri Lankan army to stabilize the area, I have directed the army commander to send one battalion of troops to Amparai district. Detachments of this battalion will be placed along the vulnerable areas along the coastal line. I have given instructions that they are to support the police in maintaining law and order. I noticed that cadres of 4,000 men, who have not been inducted to the CVF, were brandishing weapons and going about in jeeps and pick-ups. The police informed me that these cadres are hampering police work.

“You indicated to me that these youths will be kept in the camps until the recruitment is done to induct them to the police and in the Sri Lankan army. I will appreciate if you will kindly ensure that these cadres do not come out of these camps where they are now accommodated so that the police and Sri Lankan army will be able to look after the security of the area.”

The Chief Minister responded on November 15:
“My dear Minister,
“I have received information to the effect that Sri Lankan army personnel have moved to Kalmunai, Akkaraipattu and Sammanthurai in the Amparai district, without my consent. They are also said to be entering other areas. The action of the army is in complete violation of the decisions of the Security Coordinating Group. I have also received information that the Sri Lankan army is engaged in creating a communal riot between the Muslims and Tamils of the Amparai District.

“By your action in the Amparai district, the Security Coordinating Group has been reduced to farce. It will not serve any useful purpose in myself attending in the future meetings of the Security Coordinating Group. I have therefore decided, to boycott the future meetings of the Security Coordinating Group, in protest. I have also directed my secretaries to keep away from the discussions on the devolution of powers, scheduled in Colombo on November 16, 1989. No useful purpose will be served by discussions between officials as solemn decisions arrived between ministers are violated by the Sri Lankan government with impunity.

“The Government of Sri Lanka will be held fully responsible for the grave situation that has arisen in Amparai District and in the North-East Province. I hope that good sense will prevail even in this late hour.”

Subsequently, on November 17, Ranjan Wijeratne responded to Varatharaja Perumal. While the ministers were involved in a to-and-fro exchange, there were other major developments, but these will be dealt with later – now for the response of Ranjan Wijeratne:

“Your telex message was tabled at the meeting of the Security Coordinating Group at 6.30 pm on November 16, 1989, from which I was disappointed to note that you have decided to boycott the meeting of the SCG. The reason you have given for your action is that the Sri Lankan army has moved into Kalmunai, Akkaraipattu and Sammanthurai in the Amparai district and that the action of the army is in complete violation of the decisions of the SCG. In this connection, I wish to remind you of the request you made for assistance of the Sri Lankan army when you telephoned me on Sunday November 5, 1989, immediately after the LTTE attack on the two camps. You have unauthorizingly set up with personnel who were to be inducted into the CVF. When you telephoned me, Brigadier Daluwatte was by your side, as I gave instructions to Brigadier Daluwatte to take action to pursue the attackers.

“On the following day, i.e. November 6, when I visited the scene of the LTTE attacks and, bearing in mind your request for support of the Sri Lankan army, I gave instructions to the army commander to deploy one battalion on the coastline towns in order to thwart further attacks by the LTTE. In this connection, I hope you received my letter of November 5, 1989, which I sent to you before my departure to Islamabad for the SAARC conference of ministers. I am attaching a copy of the letter as I do not appear to have received a response, except for the telex referred to earlier in this letter.

“From the above you will note that there has been no violation of the decisions of the SCG, as the request for support of the Sri Lankan army emanated from you through your telephone call of November 5, 1989.

“It is not the Sri Lankan Government that should be held responsible for the situation that has arisen in the Amparai district. The Sri Lankan Government holds you responsible, for the irresponsible act on your part by establishing 13 unauthorized camps with personnel recruited by you, without any authority of the Sri Lankan Government and trained by the IPKF and armed by you, whereas, when the IPKF moved out, it was the Sri Lankan army that should have arrived as per the minutes of the SCG meeting on October 8, 1989 – refer item 5 (1).

“I wish to state that although the Sri Lankan army was placed in the Amparai district they were not operational. I activated the Sri Lankan army as per SCG minutes 5 (2), only after your request to pursue the LTTE attackers, referred to earlier in this letter. From the above, I have to regretfully conclude that your action in the Amparai district and non-attendance at the SCG meeting on November 16, 1989, are motives to disrupt the withdrawal of the IPKF, as programmed by the Government of India.

“We view with concern your actions and wish to advise you that all unauthorized camps in Amparai district should be vacated forthwith as your undertaking to have unauthorizedly recruited personnel are on the rampage, disturbing the peace in the Amparai district.”

Again the TNA launched an offensive on November 17, when hundreds of TNA cadres, estimated to be around 700, attacked, at the same time, six police stations in the Amparai district – Akkaraipattu, Sammanthurai, Oluvil, Kalmunai, Karathievu and Chavakachcheri. As the TNA cadres mounted a ferocious attack with RPGs, automatic weapons and mortars, approximately 127 policemen and more than 60 CVF members deserted at Akkaraipattu and Oluvil police stations. To defend the police stations, the Sri Lankan Government airlifted special forces from Colombo and other places. Furthermore, six platoons of Sinhala policemen were rushed from Mahiyangana to Kalmunai to replace the deserted policemen.

According to reports, in the dusk to dawn attack, 46 policemen and CVF members were killed, while some 75 TNA cadres died. Many critically injured TNA cadres were taken to Trincomalee or to India for treatment. At Oluvil, 65 policemen believed to had been either abducted or deserted presented themselves with their weapons at the Akkaraipattu police station. At the Karathievu police station, about 80 reserve policemen were abducted by the TNA and 38 of them – all Muslims from the area – were killed.

On November 19, 600 cadres of the TNA attacked the Kalmunai Rest House, which housed an army camp and the Kalmunai police station. The TNA attacked with RPGs and mortars and rained the area with shells. At the time, the Batticaloa district was still under the control of the IPKF.

Sri Lankan President Premadasa restrained the Sri Lankan troops, stating that it could be a ploy to keep Indian troops in Sri Lanka. The IPKF refrained from making any comment. The LTTE, through its London office, stated, “These attacks are part of the sinister move by the RAW, of the Indian intelligence, to create tension in the areas where IPKF recently withdrew, for thus creating conditions to prolong their stay in Sri Lanka.” The Indian High Commission said that the police stations had been attacked by “unidentified militants”.

Meanwhile, Ranjan Wijeratne, at a press conference, called Varatharajah Perumal a “mad man”. He asked, “Who is the sane Chief Minister, who will ask his own police station to be attacked?” Perumal issued the following statement:

“I am deeply shocked over the violent incidents that have taken place in the Amparai district, on November 17. The news of the deaths, injuries and suffering caused to hundreds of people has made me very sad. Those responsible for the violent incidents need to be condemned. These incidents could have been avoided had the Sri Lankan Government acted with responsibility and heeded to my advice over the past two weeks.

“From the news I have received from the Amparai district, those killed are Sri Lankan army – 107, police – 97, STF – 46 and LTTE – 17. In addition, about 40 civilians have died as a result of strafing by Sri Lankan helicopters. Thousands of people have become refugees. The STF has ransacked Tamil villages at Annamalai, Naaviphhamveli and Chavalakadai. All this destruction has been caused by Sri Lankan forces. When it received intimation on November 7 that the Sri Lankan army and the STF were planning to set up joint camps in the Amparai district, I protested vehemently to the secretary to the Ministry of Defense, the army commander and brigadier in Amparai. I pleaded with them not to set up camps. However, Ranjan Wijeratne acted unilaterally on his return from Pakistan. It is due to this reason that I boycotted the Security Coordinating Group meeting on the 16th.

“The Sri Lankan army, STF and the LTTE in army fatigues had taken up positions in all police stations in the Tamil areas of the Amparai district. They had thereafter disarmed the CVF in those stations. In addition, the STF looted and burnt houses of Tamils bordering Sinhala villages. They also engaged themselves in actions to start Tamil-Muslim riots. All this resulted in the confrontation between the Tamil youth and the Sri Lankan security forces. As the Chief Minister, I intervened and brought about an immediate ceasefire between the youth and the Sri Lankan Government forces. It has not lasted long. The Sri Lankan forces have started bringing in reinforcements and bombarded Kalmunai from the afternoon of the 18th. The Sri Lankan government should entrust law and order to the North-East Provincial Council.

“The STF should immediately vacate Amparai district. The Sri Lankan Government should reconsider its strategy of setting the LTTE against the Tamil people. Any acts against the North-East Provincial Council and democracy will not be tolerated. If the Sri Lankan Government genuinely cooperates in giving complete devolution of power to Tamils, respects democracy, takes steps to ensure the safety and security of the Tamils, that unity, integrity of the country will be safeguarded even after the departure of the IPKF. I therefore appeal to the Sri Lankan Government to act with responsibility and restraint.”

It was alleged that the TNA operations were launched on the initiation of one RAW senior officer, named David. It was reported that he reported directly to Chandran of the RAW, in New Delhi, attached to the Prime Minister’s Office.

In response to Varatharajah Perumal’s statement, Ranjan Wijeratne responded harshly, “I am shocked over the statement attributed to the Chief Minister of the North-East Province Mr. V Perumal, reported in the Island of today, November 20, 1989, purporting to be a report from the Trincomalee correspondent. It is inconceivable that Mr. Perumal should attribute lack of responsibility to the Sri Lankan Government in the deployment of the Sri Lankan forces in the Amparai district. The Sri Lankan forces moved into these areas consequent to the de-induction of the IPKF, at the request of Mr. Perumal. He is fully aware that the Sri Lankan forces have not and do not operate with the LTTE in any district. It is inconceivable that Mr. Perumal could have stated to the reporter that Sri Lankan forces had disarmed the CVF and that the STF had carried out many acts of looting or burning of the houses, or that they should start a Tamil-Muslim riot. These wild allegations are no doubt a smoke screen to cover the true facts.

“We are aware that an illegal para-military force has been set up under the North-East Provincial Council with the patronage of the Indian forces. They constitute youth, conscripted or forcibly recruited, fully armed with sophisticated equipment and trained in the art of warfare. If the IPKF is in fact, maintaining security control over the North-Eastern Province, as the General Officer Commanding the IPKF consistently claims, the sophisticated weapons in the hands of the illegal para-military force could not have reached them without the knowledge and connivance of the IPKF.

“Mr. Perumal knows as I pointed out to him on November 7 that I have personally seen members of this illegal para-military force brandishing the weapons and behaving in a provocative manner. In fact, Mr. Perumal himself has conceded publicly that the raising of an armed force is totally outside the powers devolved to the Provincial Council and that they would constitute an illegal army. The timing of these incidents is indeed significant. The government has succeeded in making a substantial breakthrough in resolving the problems which behest us in other parts of the country. It would be totally inconsistent with the position Mr. Perumal holds as Chief Minister of a Province of Sri Lanka, who has made a solemn pledge to uphold the constitution of Sri Lanka, to recruit, equip and train an illegal army and threaten the unity, integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. I would request Mr. Perumal even at this late stage to recant this statement if he did not in fact make it and act according to the law of the land.”

Meanwhile, Anton Balasingham toured Amparai district on November 28, 1989 and stated that some 400 TNA cadres had surrendered to the LTTE.

As a final blow, developments in Sri Lanka took a serious turn when in the ninth parliamentary elections in India the Indian Congress, led by Rajiv Gandhi, was voted out of power. Of the total of 523 seats in the Lok Sabah, the Indian National Congress captured 193 seats and was unable to form the government despite the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kalagam (AIADMK), led by Jayaram Jayalalitha from Tamil Nadu, supporting Gandhi with their 11 parliamentary seats. So the Janata Dal, which captured 141 seats, was invited to form the government. On December 2, 1989, Viswanath Pratab Singh, the leader of the Janata Dal, was sworn in as India’s Prime Minister after the Baratya Janata Party, with 87 MPs and the CPI, with 45 MPs, came forward to join the five-party coalition of the National Front Government.

Next: Unilateral declaration of Eelam

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