27th June, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 50

Home

News

Politics

Issues

Focus

Editorial

Spotlight

Insight

Sports

Business

Review

Arts

Letters

Nutshell

Interviews

Fashion

Archives

Politics

Inside Politics  

Inside story of the Karuna drama

Vinyagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna, Ali  Zahir Mowlana, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Lionel Balagalle and Chandrika Kumaratunga  

By Suranimala

Attempts by the government to restart the peace process and attract the US$ 4.5 billion pledged by the donor community suffered a major set back last week with clear evidence emerging of military intelligence involvement in manipulating LTTE's renegade Eastern Commander, Vinyagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna.

Ever since the Karuna controversy erupted, the LTTE has been deeply suspicious of the involvement of military intelligence to destabilise the east and on several occasions informed the Norwegian facilitators it could seriously jeopardise the peace process, with the government and the military equally insistent the allegations levelled by the Tigers were baseless.  

Suicidal path

And it was logical too, for no sane government seeking to build trust and a working arrangement with the LTTE to restart the peace process would tread a suicidal path of destabilisation by using the renegade commander against his own organisation. Not unless of course, there was a clear strategy to revert to war whilst lulling the LTTE into a false sense of complacency by agreeing to resume a dialogue based on the interim administration proposals.

Moreso in the backdrop of LTTE's Political Wing Leader, S.P. Tamilselvan having earlier communicated to President Chandrika Kumaratunga through the Norwegians their firm belief Army Commander Lionel Balagalle was behind the destabilisation process and which if persisted with would seriously jeopardise the peace process.  

Hotel bills of Karuna and party 
of their stay at JAIC Hilton

The President of course denying any knowledge of such a move by the military had on that occasion said she would look into the matter and ensure there would be no attempts at destabilisation on the Defence Ministry's part.

But with killings continuing in the east, the LTTE reiterated its position the military was behind the destabilisation and threatened grave consequences with Tamilselvan informing Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar the previous week in Kilinochchi, the peace process was skating on thin ice.

By this time the LTTE was also all to aware of the security provided by the military to four TNA MPs considered loyal to Karuna whom the military insisted on transporting to the east from a meeting at Jaffna District MP, Gajan Ponnambalam's house during discussions in the run up to the crucial speaker's election of April 22.

Not only did the LTTE accuse the military of direct involvement with Karuna in the east but also the state media of carrying forth a disinformation campaign, which once again saw a categorical denial by the government.

In fact the military went so far as to say the LTTE should without making baseless allegations prove with evidence any links the military is accused of having with Karuna.

Credibility of the government

The LTTE's response to this challenge was swift as it was devastating, bringing the entire credibility of the  government with regard to its commitment to the peace process into serious question.

Mind you, the LTTE's response came in the backdrop of the President having already done many a cartwheel both with the LTTE as well as the TNA parliamentarians on her readiness to commence negotiations on the basis of the interim administration proposals.

Thus, the credibility factor was at an all time low on the process itself and the proof adduced by the LTTE to  the links the military had with Karuna appeared to be the final nail in the coffin.

And to make a point of it, the LTTE on Wednesday, June 23 pulled out of talks with the military stating the government should decide between war and peace, an ominous threat, if ever there was one.

Subsequently however the LTTE having made its point agreed with the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission to continue with a dialogue.

What gave the LTTE the upper hand in this whole drama was of course the amateurish approach of the military intelligence in handling the renegade commander and his group, leaving it open for four female cadres who were with Karuna to return to the Tiger fold and spill the beans.

In this context, the events leading upto the former Commander, LTTE's Women's Military Unit for Batticaloa-Ampara, Nilavini, Batticaloa Political Wing Head, Premini, Senior Commander, Women's Military Wing, Lavanya and Theenthamil's escape from their military hideout and rejoining the LTTE are not only relevant but has helped open a can of worms the government will find hard to put a lid on.

To make matters worse Government Spokesman, Mangala Samaraweera put his foot right in it on Thursday, June 24, stating the government cannot deny military involvement although there was no official involvement.

Not long after, Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake was to deny any military involvement. It seemed a similar scenario to the President agreeing with the TNA to negotiate with the LTTE on the basis of the ISGA proposals only and 24 hours later denying having said it, was being repeated on the Karuna affair too as standard government practice.

In this backdrop, the statement made by Nilavini on her return to the Tiger fold becomes relevant.

The thrust of what Nilavini said on her return to the LTTE was that UNP national list MP, Ali Zahir Mowlana helped Karuna and his team to escape to Colombo and thereafter were taken over by the military with regular visits by a high ranking official handling them.

She did not say that Mowlana continued to meet with them after bringing Karuna to Colombo, which itself is of significance.

Indeed, the account related by Nilavini was accurate though a bit off the mark on the exact location of their initial hideout in Colombo.

Bait

The fact remains, it is UNP national list MP, Ali Mowlana, a nephew of SLFP veteran and governor Alavi Mowlana who transported Karuna and team to Colombo, little realising he himself was used as a bait for the exercise.

Ali Mowlana, hailing from the Batticaloa District and UNP organiser in the area was the man during the ceasefire period who was handling the political affairs to maintain peace in the area between the LTTE and the Muslims and over a period of time developed a close rapport with Karuna, Karikalan, LTTE's Batticaloa Political Wing Leader Kaushalyan, Ramesh, Vishu and Thurai amongst others.

They used to have not infrequent meetings, formal as well as informal, to iron out issues which arose time and again with regard to the ceasefire agreement as well as other political matters in the area and it continued right upto the April 2, general election, despite the President having vested the Defence Ministry on November 4. They also maintained regular contact with the security forces.

But by the time April 2 came, Karuna had already broken away from the LTTE and was on a confrontational course with its leadership leaving open the potential for bloodshed in the east amidst LTTE allegations, the military intelligence was responsible for promoting Karuna. At the same time Mowlana also kept his links going with the Karuna group.

And in the run up to the election, after Karuna's Deputy Ramesh broke away and pledged allegiance to the Wanni leadership and was appointed the new Batticaloa commander, he was to call Mowlana from Kilinochchi.

Fully in the know given their earlier dealings that Mowlana had a close rapport with Karuna, LTTE's new Batticaloa Military Chief, Ramesh asked the UNPer whether Karuna was still in touch with him.

Receiving a response in the affirmative, Ramesh told Mowlana since he had been appointed as the new military head for the east, Karuna should be requested to leave the area to avoid bloodshed.

"Can't you tell him since I have now been appointed by our leader in Wanni, he should leave the country to avoid bloodshed. Try and help in this. Try to be in touch with him to achieve that purpose," Ramesh had told Mowlana.

Replied Mowlana - "It is a difficult task. He is not in agreement with the Wanni leadership but if I can help avoid bloodshed, I will do my best."

Following this conversation, Mowlana did make contact with Karuna and communicated the LTTE's thinking and urged him to leave the country and avoid bloodshed but the tough-talking Karuna was in no mood for a compromise at the time.

Moving Karuna out of the east

But before long Karuna came to realise the odds were stacked against him with the state also unable to assist him openly though EPDP Leader, Douglas Devananda had by this time made contact with him and decided on advise to leave the area as a tactical manoeuvre.

It is in doing so that Mowlana was lured in for the trap given the UNP's publicly stated position the party will not get involved in the internal dispute of the LTTE.

Thus on April 12, given the Sinhala and Tamil Avurudu season, intelligence operatives decided to move Karuna out of the east and accordingly the renegade Tiger made cellular phone contact with Mowlana, who was at the time on his way to Nuwara Eliya with his family on vacation having been nominated by Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to parliament on the national list.

Mowlana who was to contest from the Batticaloa District earlier pulled out of the contest on an assurance by the UNP to accommodate him on the national list following an agreement with the Muslim Congress not to field him as a candidate to contest.

Said Karuna - "I have decided to leave with a few trusted people to Colombo and then go overseas. I need your help to get to Colombo. I also want to avoid bloodshed."

Responded Mowlana: "That is a wise decision on your part. The people will also respect you for it. It is the best solution to avoid bloodshed."

With that said, Mowlana agreed to meet Karuna that evening to accompany him to Colombo and made his way to the location by around 6 p.m. on April 12. The location was in the army controlled Poonani area.

The location in Poonani which is on the main Colombo-Batticaloa supply road has since 1990 been regularly patrolled by the army and 'picketings' carried out but on that day, just minutes before Mowlana arrived at the agreed location, the roads were deserted with the army returning to their barracks.

It is  in this backdrop, Mowlana arrived at the Poonani location in a van and meeting him within minutes was Karuna and his team who had arrived in two other vans. With Karuna were Varthan, Robert, Sinnathamby, Nilavini, Premini, Lavanya, Theenthamil and a few other cadres, numbering a total of 12.

Clad in a bush shirt and carrying only a briefcase with him, Karuna at the Poonani location together with Varthan and the female cadres got into Mowlana's van, and with the other two vans following made their way to Colombo.

"Nothing but my briefcase"

And while travelling, Mowlana was to once again reiterate his happiness that Karuna's decision to leave the country would help avert bloodshed, a position the renegade Tiger also acknowledged whilst also being highly critical of the Wanni leadership for the overall situation.

Added Karuna - "I leave with nothing but my briefcase. I have sent all young cadres back to their parents. I was there till everyone left. I dismantled all weapons. I don't want destruction through the use of heavy weapons."

Having a clear run with not a single check carried out by the army, the three vans reached Dambulla around 8 p.m. and Karuna requested Mowlana to stop at a restaurant for dinner and stop they did in Dambulla.

Over dinner, Varthan indicated to Karuna, their "friends" have made contact and all arrangements made and said it was time to leave which they did around 9:30 p.m., with one of Karuna's aides having paid the bill.

Coming down to Colombo, it was revealed reservations had been made for Karuna and his team at Hilton Colombo Residence more popularly known as JAIC Hilton and it was around 1:30 a.m., when the three vans arrived at the JAIC. It is the Hilton Colombo Residence, which Nilavini mistakenly described as the Hilton Hotel as their place of initial stay.

By the time they arrived at the JAIC, reservations had already been made for Karuna and his group with room numbers 2205 and 2202 designated at the rate of US$ 100 per day. Though there were 12 in the team identified as refugees to the management, for purposes of record it was recorded as four per room. (See bill)

And on arrival, Mowlana accompanied Karuna to the reception area, from where an unidentified group took over and escorted Karuna and group to the 22nd floor. Karuna thanked Mowlana before getting on to the lift and that was to be the last occasion the UNP member was to see Karuna.

From that point on military intelligence took over and provided all facilities to the Karuna group including regular meals which were brought from outside. A perusal of the bills show, the Karuna group occupied the JAIC rooms from April 12 to 15 but throughout that period, only on one morning was a bistro breakfast ordered by room 2205.

But what the military types and even EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda did not realise and take effective steps to neutralise were the cameras fixed on each floor which record the coming and goings of all individuals to the rooms.

The question is, has someone got copies of those telltale tapes before they were erased after 20 days?

Interestingly, after Mowlana dropped the Karuna group on April 12, he spoke to the rebel on about two occasions over the telephone and was told everything was taken care of and he need not worry about their well being.

Other plans

By this time, though Mowlana originally believed Karuna was to be assisted to go overseas, he soon realised, the powers that be had other plans.

And by April 15, the Karuna group was removed to another safe house in Colombo by military intelligence and Mowlana no longer had any contact with the man.

But word was put in the grapevine that it was Mowlana who had escorted Karuna out of Batticaloa and on April 15, while the MP was travelling to parliament for a meeting he was to receive a call from LTTE's Batticaloa Military Wing Leader, Ramesh.

Asked he - "What is happening with Karuna?"

Said Mowlana - "I brought him to Colombo and he was to go abroad but now I have lost all contact with him."

What Mowlana did not know at this time was that the military intelligence had taken Karuna to a safehouse for debriefing after which he was escorted back to the east.

But with rumours abound on the circumstances of Karuna's original departure from Batticaloa, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe asked Mowlana whether he had anything to do with it.

"None whatsoever," deadpanned Mowlana.

Having acted on his own initiative, Mowlana when confronted by the Opposition Leader could only feign ignorance given the UNP position that it would not get involved in the internal dispute of the LTTE.

Tactical blunders

But before long, the military started making tactical blunders by attempting to isolate the four women cadres from Karuna and having bided time, they made good their escape and returned to the Tiger fold and disclosed full details of the military intelligence involvement with Karuna.

Nilavini went to the extent of saying the head of military intelligence called on Karuna at their safe house which was in close proximity to the Apollo Hospital, which is also in close proximity to one of EPDP Leader, Douglas Devananda's houses down Park Road, Colombo 5.

Mistaking the JAIC for Hilton Hotel, Nilavini said, "We were first put up at the Colombo Hilton Hotel for three days. Thereafter we stayed in a safehouse somewhere in Colombo for seven to eight days. Later we were moved to another house by the Sri Lanka Army intelligence from which we could see the Apollo Hospital."

Her version is corroborated by the JAIC Hilton bill which in fact was for three days, payment for which was made in cash.

She further said on June 13, Karuna told them he was going overseas with his family and left the safehouse in an army vehicle.

With the LTTE getting Nilavini to speak with the press on the role played by army intelligence in a bid to prove their case, news spread like wildfire and the Opposition Leader was notified by his media team the reports of Mowlana's role in the drama.

Wickremesinghe immediately got in touch with Mowlana and asked him to call over the following day to discuss the issue.

Thus, on Tuesday, June 22, Mowlana called on Wickremesinghe and the Opposition Leader inquired whether there was any truth to the news reports about him (Mowlana) transporting Karuna to Colombo.

"Yes sir, I did it on humanitarian grounds to avoid bloodshed because he said he was going overseas. Also Ramesh had spoken to me earlier and asked whether I could persuade Karuna to leave the country" Mowlana said.

Taken aback by this confession Wickremesinghe shot back, "Then why did you deny any knowledge when I asked you whether you were involved in this in May?"

Said Mowlana - "Since I had lost touch with Karuna after he came to Colombo and realised I had been made use of and that military intelligence had got involved, I was concerned. I did it only to avert bloodshed in the area and because Ramesh too made a request."

Responded Wickremesinghe, "Then get Ramesh to issue a statement to that effect. Our position was we will not get involved in LTTE's internal dispute. I will give you 24 hours."

Mowlana's resignation

The following day, Wednesday, June 23, Mowlana met with Wickreme- singhe, Karu Jayasuriya and Mahinda Samarasinghe in parliament and offered to resign his seat in parliament.

Said Mowlana - "I am sorry if I have embarrassed the party by my actions. I did it in the best interests of preserving unity in the east as well as avoid bloodshed but I realise I should have first obtained party approval. I will hand over my resignation letter to the secretary general now."

That there are politicians who act with such a sense of loyalty and principle is certainly a rare commodity in Sri Lanka and having said as much, Wickremesinghe told Mowlana he has made a wise decision.

Despite the resignation, Wickremesinghe realised he would have to explain his total ignorance of Mowlana's actions to the co-chairs in the spirit of the ceasefire agreement he had signed and this task he is set to carry out this week after Monday's political affairs committee.

Given Mowlana's resignation and the briefing for the co-chairs, Wickremesinghe will be in a position to effectively set the record straight as far as the UNF is concerned, but it remains to be seen how the President will explain the role of military intelligence given the constant denials, especially in the backdrop of Mowlana no less confirming the story related by the LTTE's Nilavini.


News Politics Issues Editorial Spotlight Sports Business Letters Review Arts Interviews Nutshell 

 

 

 

©Leader Publication (Pvt) Ltd.
1st Floor, Colombo Commercial Building., 121, Sir James Peiris Mawatha., Colombo 2
Tel : +94-75-365891,2 Fax : +94-75-365891
email : editor@thesundayleader.lk