story of the Karuna drama
Muraleetharan alias Karuna
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.
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
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
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.
bills of Karuna and party
of their stay at JAIC Hilton
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
of the government
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.
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.
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
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.
however the LTTE having made its point agreed with the Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission to continue with a dialogue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
this backdrop, the statement made by Nilavini on her return to the Tiger
fold becomes relevant.
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.
did not say that Mowlana continued to meet with them after bringing
Karuna to Colombo, which itself is of significance.
the account related by Nilavini was accurate though a bit off the mark
on the exact location of their initial hideout in Colombo.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 - "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
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.
Karuna out of the east
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
Mowlana: "That is a wise decision on your part. The people will
also respect you for it. It is the best solution to avoid
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.
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
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.
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
but my briefcase"
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
question is, has someone got copies of those telltale tapes before they
were erased after 20 days?
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.
this time, though Mowlana originally believed Karuna was to be assisted
to go overseas, he soon realised, the powers that be had other plans.
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.
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.
he - "What is happening with Karuna?"
Mowlana - "I brought him to Colombo and he was to go abroad but now
I have lost all contact with him."
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.
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.
whatsoever," deadpanned Mowlana.
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.
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.
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.
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."
version is corroborated by the JAIC Hilton bill which in fact was for
three days, payment for which was made in cash.
further said on June 13, Karuna told them he was going overseas with his
family and left the safehouse in an army vehicle.
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.
immediately got in touch with Mowlana and asked him to call over the
following day to discuss the issue.
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.
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.
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?"
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."
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.