7th March, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 34

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 Inside Politics

Setting the
stage for war
 

By Suranimala 

With it becoming increasingly clear the outcome of the April 2 general election will be a hung parliament and greater instability in the country, first signs of a possible return to war were also emerging from the Wanni amidst reports preparatory work was already underway.

Karuna Amman, Hans Brattskar,
Pottu Amman and Velupillai Pirapaharan

President Chandrika Kumaratunga well knew when she chose to dissolve parliament the peace process and economic development were moving smoothly in spite of minor irritants and that if the trend was allowed to continue, the people would before long reap the benefits and the UNF administration of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was going to be a hard act to beat in a couple of years.

Timing

And time for Kumaratunga was of the essence considering her own political future hanging in the balance due to the expiration of the second term in 2005 and decided to strike at the very heart of the UNP irrespective of the consequences to the country, and strike she did on February 7.

For Kumaratunga, it was a simple case of power grab and in alliance with the JVP decided to go for the kill having already laid the groundwork by taking over the armed forces, police and media.

It did not matter to Kumaratunga the government had a clear majority in parliament, which she in writing to the Speaker pledged to honour, and the stalled peace process was set to resume with the LTTE having submitted its proposals for an interim self governing authority.

As far as Kumaratunga was concerned, she had to wrest governmental authority to abolish the executive presidency and having failed to get sufficient members of the UNF to cross over following the take over of the three ministries in November, proceeded to strike a deal with the JVP and dissolve parliament, hoping victory can be secured at a general election.

A victory, Kumaratunga strategised would allow her to form a constituent assembly and introduce a new constitution abolishing the executive presidency, thereby ensuring her political future. The peace process, foreign investment, international opinion and all other issues were secondary and to be dealt with after the election.

But in making her move, Kumaratunga miscalculated badly the numbers game under the proportional representation system, with it now being certain, the Freedom Alliance will struggle to get 100 seats. This would leave the balance of parliamentary power in the hands of the LTTE sponsored TNA members.

There was however the possibility the Freedom Alliance could still emerge as the party with the largest number of seats in parliament, giving President Kumaratunga an opportunity of forming a minority government and lobbying for crossovers from the UNF as well as the CWC and Muslim Congress.

A political hodge podge of this nature given their divergent positions on the all important peace process could have only spelt utter chaos and confusion in the country, a fact not lost on the LTTE leadership in the Wanni.

Return to war

While on the one hand such a chaotic coalition under Kumaratunga would ideally suit the LTTE to forge ahead with its objectives and win the sympathies of the international community, it also held out the real prospect of a return to war given the JVP factor in the alliance.

Thus, the LTTE responded tentatively to the overtures made by the President through various informal channels in a bid to ascertain her mindset and future strategy on the peace process to help them make their own assessments and plan for the post election scenario in the event of an alliance victory.

It is in making this assessment that the LTTE leadership came to the conclusion that an UPFA government under Kumaratunga could never deliver an interim administration or a federal solution considering the hardline position taken by the JVP, which party the LTTE assessed would be the remote which controls a Freedom Alliance government. To the LTTE, it was inevitable such a situation would sooner than later lead to war and started taking measures necessary to meet such a contingency.

As far as the LTTE leadership was concerned, if war was to eventually break out, they not only wanted to control the ground situation in the north east but also the parliament in the south through its numbers, thereby throwing the south into utter chaos. And Kumaratunga had by her hasty action of dissolving parliament catered for just such a scenario.

Thus, the LTTE leadership in the Wanni clearly sent word out that it intends dominating the elections in the north east to offset the JVP in the south and as such no Tamil candidates from either major party should contest in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Towards this end the LTTE was bent on ensuring the TNA returns a minimum of 22 members to parliament.

By this time the UNF had decided to field a list in the Batticaloa District led by Ali Mowlana, a former MP and comprising both Muslim and Tamil candidates and LTTE's Military Wing Leader in the east, Karuna sent word he had no objection to it, since the party was campaigning on a peace platform.

But with the Muslim Congress also contesting in Batticaloa, it was later agreed between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem not to field any Muslims in the UNP list and instead to field exclusively a Tamil list with which the Tamil candidates had no problem given the assurances by Karuna.

Simmering discontent

In giving the assurances though, Karuna advised the UNF candidates to maintain a low profile stating an LTTE intelligence unit of Pottu Amman was in the district monitoring the activities of all candidates.

Karuna of course had for some time now been making representations to the Wanni leadership that there was a huge disparity in responsibilities allocated to cadres from the north as opposed to the east and called for it to be rectified, but with little success.

This simmering discontent manifested openly with the advent of Pottu Amman's intelligence team to Batticaloa and Karuna urged the Wanni leadership to have them recalled, once again without success.

As far as the LTTE leadership in the Wanni was concerned, the election called for by the President could well create the grounds for a return to war in the not too distant future and the organisation had to prepare for it, whereas for Karuna it was an opportunity of using the election to increase his bargaining power with the Wanni leadership for more recognition to the easterners.

By this time, Karuna had also received information from his own intelligence unit and loyalists Robert and Ramanan that Pottu Amman's team was submitting reports to the Wanni leadership against Karuna and he decided to move swiftly to counter attack.

It is in this backdrop, the UNF Batticaloa District candidate, Sunderampillai came to be killed and Karuna was quick to distance himself from the violence, not wanting to be blamed for violating the ceasefire agreement.

In fact, Karuna informed the Wanni leadership it was the first political killing after the nominations and it did not reflect well on him.

Speaking further, Karuna told the Wanni leadership, he wanted Pottu Amman's team recalled immediately since such acts would seriously derail the peace process once the elections were concluded.

The Wanni mindset was different, taking the view there was a real possibility of the war recommencing if Kumaratunga's Freedom Alliance wins the elections and necessary preparations should therefore be made to meet such a contingency.

And in keeping with that assessment, the LTTE leader requested Karuna to send 1,000 cadres to the Wanni for the necessary preparation, a request Karuna declined to comply with.

In so doing Karuna pointed out, 5,550 cadres from the east had already sacrificed their lives in addition to 2,270 in the Wanni to successfully defeat the Jayasikurui operation but that such commitment by the eastern Tamils had not been recognised by the north.

Karuna had also made reference to the fact there were 30 wings in the LTTE, including, military, police education, finance, etc., but that no easterners were appointed to head these outfits.

Critical

Karuna was further agitated that a large number of scholarships provided for LTTE cadres to travel overseas on study tours following the commencement of the peace process were heavily weighted towards the northern cadres and on this issue too, he was openly critical.

Given this situation, Karuna had made his own alignments and unofficially stripped Batticaloa Political Wing Leader Kaushalyan of all authority and replaced him with former head, Karikalan and also gave added authority to his deputy, Ramesh. Karuna had in fact wanted Kaushalyan removed, arguing his loyalties were to the north given his association with a female from the Wanni.

Going a step further in this fast developing hostile environment, Karuna also had arrested some of Pottu Amman's intelligence cadres in the east, including one 'Keerthi' who later escaped.

By this time tension was rising and Kaushalyan and his loyalists made preparations to leave hurriedly to the Wanni with word out Karuna might strike and leave he did.

It was around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning that Kaushalyan made his move in a Hiace van together with Thevan and four others including a small child, reaching the government controlled Omanthai army checkpoint and seeking clearance to proceed to the LTTE controlled Wanni.

Following him was the LTTE's Political Wing Leader of Vavuniya, Eleelan in whose pickup were two women and it was Eleelan who proceeded to the army check point and spoke to the officers concerned and got clearance for Kaushalyan and his team to crossover to LTTE territory.

Eleelan in fact crossed over with Kaushalyan and having proceeded to LTTE territory transferred the two women in his pickup to Kaushalyan's van and drove back.

Interestingly, prior to their departure, Karuna sent a message to Army Commander Lionel Balagalle with a request not to allow Kaushalyan and team to leave Omanthai but Balagalle having consulted the Defence Ministry and the President decided not to oblige Karuna.

It thus appeared the stage was set for a confrontation and Karuna made the first move by making contact with the Norwegian Ambassador, Hans Brattskar and Head, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, Trond Furhovde, informing them of the ground reality.

Karuna communicating through his Spokesman Varthan had said he will operate with his cadres separately outside the authority of the LTTE but would honour the ceasefire agreement and fully support the peace process until such time a separate agreement can be signed with him.

The LTTE's Batticaloa Military Wing Chief had gone on to disclose details of the request for 1,000 cadres by the Wanni leadership and the activities of Pottu Amman's intelligence unit in the east and disassociated himself with the violence. He had also indicated a press statement would follow to ensure a wrong message did not go out from the Wanni against him.

The Norwegians who saw the serious repercussions to the peace process and the ceasefire agreement in this development quickly apprised the President's office and before long the news reached the public as well, of trouble brewing in the LTTE via the radio channels.

Country first

That very Wednesday night, at 10.30 p.m. Brattskar and Furhovde also met with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, government negotiators G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and Foreign Secretary Bernard Goonetillake for a full briefing where the Premier made it clear, the government will not fish in troubled waters.

But Wickremesinghe said it was of paramount importance for the country that the ceasefire holds and in that context, the probability of a rapprochement between the eastern and northern commands should be explored to keep the process alive.

Wickremesinghe well knew that an outbreak of violence now in the north east with the President holding the defence and interior portfolios would help him politically but insisted the interests of the country should come first and the situation not allowed to get out of hand.

With that objective in mind, the Norwegians made contact with LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham in London to act as mediator between Karuna and the Wanni leadership. Balasingham in turn said he had no idea about the developments and would need a little time to reflect on the issue and revert.

This Balasingham subsequently did and also made contact with Karuna to diffuse the crisis.

By Thursday, negotiations were underway to resolve the dispute but the same day, on Karuna's instructions, the TNA candidates in the Batticaloa District were summoned for a meeting by Karikalan to Kokkadicholai for a briefing on the unfolding developments.

And despite efforts to bring about a rapprochement of the two parties, the situation took a turn for the worse with LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan livid at Karuna's conduct, accusing him of violating the organisation's disciplinary code.

Pirapaharan's position conveyed was that there was no room for compromise and Karuna will be dealt with for violating the LTTE's disciplinary code. He was particularly angry over Karuna's claim that the Wanni leadership wanted 1,000 cadres sent up north in preparation for a possible war.

In fact by Thursday, the LTTE leadership in the Wanni got in touch with SLMM Chief Furhovde and requested authority to send 20 of Pirapaharan's senior cadres to the east, a request which was forwarded through the Peace Secretariat to the Defence Ministry in Colombo.

To the President, seeking to win back the confidence of the LTTE and possible support of the TNA after the election, the current predicament of the Tigers presented an ideal opportunity and approval was granted for the movement of cadres as requested from Wanni.

It is the Defence Ministry that also gave the green light for Kaushalyan's group to proceed to Wanni from Omanthai and the second request was also to be granted.

Indiscipline

Interestingly, as Karuna was digging his heels in for a confrontation, so was Pottu Amman who sent word out that the LTTE's Batticaloa Military Wing Chief had overestimated himself and would be dealt with for indiscipline.

The LTTE Intelligence Chief had also said the eastern cadres killed in battle adverted to by Karuna laid their lives for the cause of the Tamils and not Karuna and they would continue to battle for the cause even after Karuna is replaced.

By this time Pirapaharan was also fully activated and got through to Karuna's Deputy Ramesh, who too took off to the Wanni without notice to Karuna. Ramesh was informed he would be appointed eastern commander after Karuna is removed for indiscipline.

Subsequently there was information Karikalan too was under pressure by his wife to leave for the Wanni and Karuna had himself approached Karikalan and said he was free to do so if he so wishes.

Given the ups and downs of this battle, Karuna on Thursday, March 4, wrote to Pirapaharan offering a compromise formula to settle the dispute.

Wrote Karuna - "Please let us function independently under your direct leadership. We are not leaving you. We are not opposed to you. I do not want to commit the historical mistake of not pointing out to you the aspirations of our people, disregarding their feelings and those of our fighters here. If you love the people here and if you trust the fighters here, please let us function independently and directly under your leadership."

Karuna has proposed an administrative structure for Batticaloa parallel to the other divisions functioning directly under Pirapaharan as part of the compromise.

Adds he - "In the current opportune moment, I want to do my duty by the people of southern Tamil eelam. It is my final goal that I should fight for these people and die at their feet. I do not want anyone to interfere in this."

Karuna also states he wants to function directly under Pirapaharan, avoiding the divisional heads of Tamil eelam, thereby indicating his problem is with the likes of Pottu Amman and not Pirapaharan.

The LTTE Leader however was not impressed and wants Karuna to first subject himself to the organisation's disciplinary code.

And on the very Thursday, LTTE Political Wing Leader, S.P. Tamilselvan met with Furhovde and assured, the problem will be resolved shortly and the ceasefire not compromised.

The danger in this whole scenario of course is that it could explode into an all out battle threatening the entire peace process and the elections in the Eastern Province.

Furthermore, given the fact Karuna has already informed he is operating outside the LTTE, there will be no control over the activities of each group or accountability in the event there are ceasefire violations, not just in the north east but elsewhere in the country as well.

And in a highly tense election environment, it will be the ideal condition for wreaking havoc and carrying out assassinations by interested groups not only in the north east but also in the south and pointing to the LTTE or the Karuna group.

President's revelation

It is also pertinent to note in the overall context, a revelation made by the President in an interview with India's Hindu newspaper on Monday.

Though critical of the peace process conducted between the Premier and the LTTE and the MoU, the President has revealed she has always had channels of discussion with the LTTE, though declining to elaborate.

What the President has discussed with the LTTE remains a secret and if Kumaratunga is to be believed, discussions indeed were had. But it would make a mockery of the entire PA/JVP campaign to oust the government on the basis of compromising national security to the LTTE when it has now agreed firstly secretly and subsequently publicly that an alliance government will negotiate with the LTTE on the strength of the interim administration proposals and honour the MoU.

The question also arises whether Kumaratunga in fact has a secret deal with the LTTE, given her own admission of having discussions.

This question is particularly relevant in the context of the killing of the UNF candidate in Batticaloa and the subsequent withdrawal of several other candidates whilst the new alliance candidates are freely campaigning in the east.


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