Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Who Cares for Kadirgamar?

by Col. R. Hariharan (retd.), SAAG, April 9, 2006

It is not surprising that there is little follow-up on Kadirgamar's assassination. The Foreign Minister was purely a tool and, once the tool was broken, had no further use. It is also much more convenient to blame the assassination on one's enemy than to find the culprit in one's own camp.

The Tamil gripe with Kadirgamar was not the kind of federalism he advocated, but his role in the brutal military campaign which devastated the NorthEast from 1995 to 2001. This campaign was carried out behind a blockade which Kadirgamar was instrumental in selling to the international community.

Col. Hariharan is completely correct that the first rule of counter-insurgency is good government and attention to the needs of the civilian population, something Kadirgamar and his president did not understand at all. -- Editor

 When the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, an outspoken critic of LTTE, was assassinated on Aug 12, 2005. Based upon LTTE's past record, the assassination was ascribed to the Tigers almost near unanimously. This suspicion is well founded because LTTE's had always called Kadirgamar a 'Traitor' who had forsaken his Tamil roots and 'defected' to the ranks of Sinhala chauvinists.

 LTTE's stiff opposition to Kadirgamar came from the latter's concept of federalism. According to the late Foreign Minister, "The type of federalism suitable for Sri Lanka is a matter for national discussion, not a matter for agreement only between the ruling party and the LTTE." Kadirgamar firmly believed that "a durable peace based on a constitutional arrangement acceptable to all the communities, reflected in a major amendment to the present constitution, passed by a two thirds majority in Parliament, and endorsed by a national referendum, can only be achieved if a number of important rights are enshrined in the amended constitution - human rights, parliamentary democracy including multi-party participation in democratic elections, the rule of law etc. None of these concepts is consistent with a "power sharing arrangement with the LTTE." This went against the grain of LTTE's self-proclaimed role as the sole arbiter of Tamils, which would have the final say on what was good for Tamils.

 Moreover, Kadirgamar had not endeared himself to anti-Sinhala sections of Tamils because he was considered close to the JVP, the erstwhile Sinhala Leftist partner of the ruling UPFA coalition at that time. The JVP had favoured him as a prime ministerial candidate instead of Mahinda Rajapakse, when the coalition came to power under Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga.

 Kadirgamar was believed to be topping LTTE's hit list. Pro-LTTE sections of Tamil Diaspora penned poems on the Internet celebrating Kadirgamar's heinous killing to reinforce the suspicion. To the warped Tamil extremist reasoning, Kadirgamar was probably the most lucrative target in a no-war no-peace scenario. His killing undoubtedly sent a warning to other Tamils who have achieved eminence in the national mainstream, not to be hypercritical of LTTE.

 In Sri Lanka political assassinations by terrorists or political antagonists are not uncommon. Services of defrocked priests of not-so-militant organisations are dime a dozen to work as contract killers. A few hundred thousand unlicensed arms ranging from mini-pistols to automatic rifles of various types floating in the country make such 'contract' assignments easy. More than thirty years of unbridled violence and terrorism, and at times state sponsored counter-terrorism and 'mass liquidation', have undermined the rule of law in the country. And the police have not crowned themselves with glory in most of the investigations of political assassinations. Barring the killing of President SWRD Bandaranaike, in almost all cases of assassinations, columnists and political leaders had cast serious doubts on police line of investigations. Progressive politicisation of the government machinery and lack of transparency in conduct of investigations have helped the growth of such seeds of doubt in the minds of public over the years. Given the ethnic confrontation that had been going on between Sinhalas and Tamils, political parties and the community leaders had not hesitated to use such slack investigations to denigrate each other. So it is not surprising that the Kadirgamar killing had also given rise to a lot of finger pointing which could colour impartial investigation and affect the credibility of the administration of justice.

 Moreover, Tamils always have nursed a grievance that the Sri Lankan administration dominated by Sinhala majority does not bother much when Tamils kill Tamils. In their perception, the killing of Kadirgamar as a Tamil also falls under this category. The tardy course of police investigations into the killing appears to underscore this grievance of Tamils. 

The police investigation was taken up in right earnest and President Kumaratunga imposed a state of emergency to facilitate the investigation. The parliament approved it, despite some objections from some of the Tamil parliament members. In the death of Kadirgamar the ruling coalition found a handy martyr for the presidential poll that followed. It became a campaign issue with a Deputy Minister

 Police made a few arrests and gathered a lot of circumstantial evidence. They rounded up a number of Tamil suspects and a few Sinhalas also during the course of investigation. Perhaps due to the pressure on the police to show results, Tamil areas of Colombo were scoured and a few hundred detained causing a lot of heart burning and distress among the Tamil community. It sent a not so subtle warning that Sinhala chauvinism was not dead. Things came to a boil when the Police arrested Charles Gnanakone, an elderly Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate and an Australian citizen. The arrest was made with the cloak and dagger drama of raid following intelligence tip and attendant publicity. Gnanakones were said to be family friends of Kadirgamars and Charles apparently knew Lakshman Kadirgamar quite well, just as he knew the UNP presidential nominee Ranil Wickremesinghe.

 The police said Gnanakone's suspected links with LTTE were already under investigation. After a lot of publicity surrounding the arrest both in the national and global media that apparently helped the cause of the presidential election in some way, an ailing Charles Gnanakone was released after his month long ordeal in the prison. Nothing further has been heard of his involvement in the assassination. Five other suspects, Thamil Iniyam, Rengam Vinagam, Aiyar Rajkumar, Ishothor Arokkyanathan and Mutthiah Sahadevan were taken into custody and remanded in connection with the Kadirgamar assassination were not produced in court for "security reasons."

At every step, the findings of police investigation have been shrouded in doubts giving rise to rumours and unconfirmed stories. There were also doubts raised about the veracity of the initial report that a sniper gun was used for the killing. In fact, ballistics had found that a .45 calibre weapon was used. Analysts argued that snipers do not normally use this heavy calibre weapon for their shots. Considering three shots found their mark the heavy calibre weapon was probably fired from a close range. The conduct of Kadirgamar's security staff and police has also been questioned. While they rendered first aid to the victim, police established no roadblocks to trap the killers.

After all the smoke and fire, it is clear that there has been no worthwhile result as to who killed Kadirgamar. If at all police investigation into the murder served any purpose it was that of police ineptitude. Kadirgamar's family hurt by the lack of progress had to approach President Rajapakse to prod the police to produce some results.

 Was the whole investigation skewed from its objective of finding the killers to garnering political advantage for the ruling UPFA coalition in run up to the Presidential poll? This question raised in sections of the media found echoes in the writings of columnists who could never be considered pro-LTTE. Two important political developments that followed gave further credence to this doubt. First, the extension of the Emergency for a further period of six months during which the presidential poll was on. The second: a systematic attempt by sections of the ruling coalition to tar the name of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP aspirant and one of the main contenders for the presidency, for alleged links with LTTE and some of those arrested in connection with the Kadirgamar killing. The ruling coalition campaigners made full use of alleged connection between Charles Gnanakone and Ranil Wickremesinghe through innuendoes. As police never questioned Wickremesinghe, it was clear that the allegations were more to score political brownie points to character assassinate the presidential contender. 

Who killed Kadirgamar? This question still remains unanswered. Perhaps it is unfashionable to raise a question on the subject that is no more topical for the media, as more killings in larger numbers (though of less important 'targets') had followed. The assassinated foreign minister Kadirgamar, hailed as a national hero and a potential president when he was alive, appears to have faded from public memory. One cannot blame them as it is conditioned by the visual and print media operating on a real time basis. But the question raises important issues in the context of counter insurgency operations conducted in Sri Lanka and South Asia.

 As mentioned earlier, this is not the first assassination in Sri Lanka where the perpetrators were never pin pointed. But when a nation is fighting insurgents, assassination of high security targets and its aftermath provide valuable insights for improvement from the counter insurgency point of view. These also impinge upon aspects of governance and conduct of government on the one hand and structural and systemic weaknesses of existing systems.

 Systemic weaknesses seen in this case include the following:

·        Follow through of investigation: This is an important tool to restore public confidence in the administration in an insurgency scene. The credibility of the citizen in the government can be eroded when he sees lack of progress in pinpointing the assassins particularly of high security targets.

·        Accountability: Failure to improve systems of criminal investigation and crime control particularly when they involve public personalities reflects poorly on the accountability of not only the police and law enforcing agencies but on also of those in power. [Sri Lanka is not the only country with this weakness. In India, the failure of the police to effectively pursue the case of murder of Jessica Lal who was shot dead in the presence of a few hundred people is a very good example.]  

·        Lack of professional competency: In the case of Kadirgamar killing, the assassins have shown the government machinery as incompetent to protect a well-known, and high security target in the top echelon of power. This can only be redeemed when the police and law enforcers remove procedural and leadership weaknesses. Unless this is done, the insurgents who might be involved will gain a psychological advantage. And that makes the work of those fighting insurgency a little more difficult.

 Some of the aspects of governance that impact on this case are as follows:

  ·        Rule of Law: Rule of Law is essential for grievance redress when the public faces emergency regulations imposed in a counter insurgency scenario. Rule of Law also reflects upon the confidence of the government in winning the war against insurgents but also that it has an effective system where the common man can get justice. When a crime is committed with impunity, particularly when high security conditions are said to be in place, this confidence in government gets affected.

·        Transparency: In an atmosphere of suspicion clouded with rumours and media guesses, transparency of systems provides clear-cut expectations. Regular dissemination of progress and proposed actions, if they do not compromise security, produce greater confidence than use of sensational knee-jerk inputs as a ploy to ward off the media. This aspect is also related to the right to information. This is not only from the point of basic human rights. Availability of correct and timely information becomes imperative when emergency security measures are enforced affecting civil population during a counter insurgency operation. Mass search operations and arrest of large number of security violators and suspects increases the feeling of public insecurity. And transparency of procedures reduces such build up of public stress. However, to introduce this in practice, down the line both in government and bureaucracy require undergoing a cultural change.

·        Politicisation of crime and criminal investigation. Apart from the encouragement politicisation affords to crime in normal circumstances, it cuts at the root of efficiency in counter insurgency operations. Important clues and findings tend to be glossed over and get brushed under the carpet. This could prove detrimental to intelligence and security operations as well as preventive aspects of security. 

These aspects hold true not only to Sri Lanka but also to the whole of South Asia, where for political reasons incompetent official machinery is not only tolerated but also pampered. They tend to be used to lock up political skeletons rather than trace perpetrators of crimes. While such conduct undermines the rule of law in ordinary circumstances, in counter insurgency war, it undermines the operation. Even as this article is completed, there is yet another political killing. Vanniasingham Vigneswaran, president of the Trincomalee District Tamil People's Forum and believed to be a supporter of the LTTE has been shot dead on April 7, 2006, out side the Bank of Ceylon, Trincomalee where he worked. It is significant that Vigneswaran was in the forefront of the agitation to remove the Buddha statue, which has been installed in the heart of Tamil area of Trincomalee. Is this killing also going to meet the same fate as score of other killings, joining the long list of such 'mysterious' killings?

Within a short time in office, President Rajapakse has shown himself as a man of sound commonsense and pragmatism. The least he can do is to come out with a detailed report, if not a white paper, on the assassination of Kadirgamar and the investigation that followed. Otherwise, not only the Tamils but also other Sri Lankans might wonder, "Who cares for Kadirgamar?"

(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist in counter-insurgency, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence E-Mail:
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