4th July, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 51

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Inside Politics  

Cloak and dagger politics over Karuna

S.P. Tamilselvan, Erik Solheim, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karuna 

By Suranimala 

With the ceasefire agreement and the peace process delicately poised following revelations that military intelligence was harbouring LTTE's breakaway eastern commander Karuna, President Chandrika Kumaratunga last week unsuccessfully attempted to deflect the issue by offering to resume negotiations based on the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals.

Time for President Chandrika Kumaratunga is fast running out with the next presidential election less than 17 months away and there at the moment appears little prosect of abolishing the executive presidency through the mechanism of a Constituent Assembly and considering the peace process also stalled, there is next to no chance of a new constitution being adopted before end next year.

Given this situation, the political lifeline of President Kumaratunga is increasingly wearing thin and with desperation mounting, she was cartwheeling on the peace process, thereby losing credibility with each passing day which the LTTE has been quick to seize on.

And even as she offered once again to resume talks based on the ISGA as a tactical ploy, the JVP dismissed it off hand stating the UPFA policy is to the contrary and that the party will not permit negotiations based only on the ISGA.

Loss of confidence

To make matters worse, the US$ 4.5 billion pledged by the donor community and linked to progress in the peace process was hanging by a thread and the drift in government with soaring prices and failure to deliver on the election promises too were having a telling effect in the south.

In fact the failure of the government to deliver on its promises and the disgraceful conduct in parliament were already being felt with voter apathy expected to reflect the fast losing confidence in government at the provincial polls.

Though the UPFA is expected to win a majority of the provinces at the poll considering it is only three months into government, the failure to capture the imagination of the people after the April 2 victory is what is expected to be reflected with a huge drop in the number of votes the Alliance will poll on July 10.

This indictment is expected to be particularly telling in the backdrop of the UNF three months into government having increased its vote bank by a huge margin at the March 2002 local polls which followed the general election in December 2001.

Be that as it may, this crisis in government of course came to a head with the role played by military intelligence in the Karuna affair and it is in this backdrop, Norway's special envoy Erik Solheim returned to the island last week to indulge in a trust building exercise of the conflicting parties.

Solheim and Ambassador Hans Brattskar, first met with Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on Tuesday to ascertain the ground realities, at which meeting, Brattskar communicated the LTTE concerns which were told  him by Tamilselvan the previous week in Kilinochchi.

While informing Kadirgamar LTTE's position that the continued support for Karuna by the government would seriously jeopardise the ceasefire agreement and the peace process, Brattskar also pointed out the Tiger ire over what it considered government manipulation of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) Tamil service to carry out a campaign against it.

The Foreign Minister of course pleaded ignorance on the subject but agreed to look into the allegations and rectify any lapse. He also denied military involvement in the Karuna affair.

That the Karuna issue was taking centre stage became all the more evident when Solheim and Brattskar the very Tuesday met with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Colombo District MP Milinda Moragoda at the UNP leader's Cambridge Terrace office.

By this time, the role played by UNP's Ali Zahir Mowlana in bringing Karuna to Colombo was also in the public domain with government spokesman Mangala Samaraweera accusing Wickremesinghe of manipulating the whole drama and totally denying involvement of the UPFA.

Following the initial revelations and Mowlana's resignation, independent investigations carried out by the party on the directions of Wickremesinghe came out with a frightening scenario based on which the UNP leader made his position clear to the Norwegians.

To the UNP, the whole exercise smacked of a covert operation by a section of military intelligence and a group within the government backed by the likes of Ram Manikkalingam to break the TNA from the opposition ranks and secure a majority for the government.

It is with that objective in mind, Mowlana was baited into bringing Karuna to Colombo, giving the whole drama a UNP colouration was the assessment.

What is intriguing in the story related by the four women cadres who had purportedly escaped from military intelligence and rejoined the LTTE is the involvement of a number of UNP members with Karuna, as per reports published in the Tamil media.

Implicating the UNP

The thinking of the UNP following their own investigation on the issue which it intends going public with shortly is that the women cadres may well have been debriefed by military intelligence and sent back to the LTTE with the specific objective of implicating the UNP with not only Karuna, but the events that followed in the east. The other possibility considered is that Karuna had briefed the women cadres of reported meetings with the UNP on the instructions of the military intelligence and later facilitated the escape of the unsuspecting members in a bid to convince the LTTE, it is the UNP that is the bad guy and not the UPFA.

The women cadre, according to Tamil media have said while Ali Mowlana brought them to Colombo, UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrama, MPs S. B. Dissanayake, Rajitha Senaratne and T. Maheswaran met with the rebel leader at the Hilton and discussed the possibility of forming a separate political party in the east.

According to the version of the four women cadres, it is Karuna who had related details of his alleged meetings with the UNPers including a telephone conversation with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe which Wickremesinghe later scoffed at stating Karuna must first explain in which language they communicated given that Wickremesinghe does not speak Tamil and Karuna neither English nor Sinhala.

It is interesting in this context that the version related by the women cadre is based on some facts personally experienced by them, taken together with what Karuna had allegedly told them giving the story taken as a whole a ring of truth. In that context, bringing in military intelligence into the picture as well though not in too much detail gave the overall story incriminating the UNP credibility or so it was believed.

It is also intriguing that the four women cadres kept under tight military security by their own admission, so easily managed to escape and report back to the LTTE.

This raised the possibility of their escape being facilitated to take back the message the military intelligence and Karuna wanted them to, to the LTTE or that they were willing tools who were asked to relay a set of events and steer LTTE thinking in a particular direction in keeping with the government's political agenda.

There is no gainsaying, none of the UNPers mentioned other than Mowlana ever met with Karuna in Colombo which raised the question why they were implicated by the four women cadres. Either Karuna deliberately lied to them having set the stage with military intelligence for their escape or the women cadre having been planted once again with the LTTE are themselves lying at the behest of Karuna and military intelligence.

Own investigation

The LTTE are of course no spring chicken in this game of cloak and dagger politics and whilst debriefing the women cadres, are carrying out their own independent investigation to ascertain the truth behind the drama.

In fact days after the women cadres spilled the beans, head of LTTE's Peace Secretariat, S. Puleedevan called Rajitha Senaratne and inquired after the whole issue.

Senaratne told Puleedevan categorically, he had not met Karuna at any time and it was a diabolical lie aimed at creating a rift with the opposition to the advantage of the government.

What was particularly significant in the statement attributed to the escaped women cadres was that as opposed to the UNP, not a single member of the government met with Karuna.

To the UNP leadership, this raised a further problem with serious ramifications, namely security.

Given these statements and the number of para military units of Tamil groups operating with military intelligence, the UNP leadership believed there could be an attempt to assassinate some of them and place the blame on the LTTE for the party's purported role in the Karuna affair.

This, Wickremesinghe was told by party seniors would not only put the LTTE on the backfoot internationally, but tremendously help the government both in its battle in parliament as well as putting the LTTE on the defensive and getting them back to the negotiating table.

It is in this overall backdrop Wickremesinghe and Moragoda met with Solheim on Tuesday, June 29 and requested him to inform the LTTE, neither the opposition leader nor the party had any role in the Karuna issue.

Wickremesinghe said the party's position in opposition as a government was one of non interference in the internal dispute of the organisation and that Mowlana had acted on his own without any reference to the party.

The UNP is now expected not only to issue a statement on the Karuna affair this week but also despatch a party delegation to Wanni.

The LTTE for its part has also sent word to the UNP to tighten their security since there could be an attempt to carry out assassinations and put it on them.

Unfortunately for the government  however, despite the attempt to project the UNP as masterminding the Karuna case, it was the President and military intelligence the LTTE targeted, possibly seeing through the red herring.

LTTE's position

Thus, even prior to Solheim's visit to the Kilinochchi, Tamilselvan who met the head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), Trond Furuhovde in the company of Puleedevan and Tiger Police Chief P. Nadesan made the position of the organisation clear on the issue.

Said Tamilselvan - "We now have very reliable evidence that the Sri Lankan army is using Karuna as a pretext to murder and to create mayhem in Batticaloa. We have indisputable proof that he is working with the Sri Lankan Military Intelligence. The LTTE will not recommence meetings with the Sri Lankan army while the government and its military continue to harbour Karuna and continue to instigate murder and confusion in Batticaloa."

The message was chilling as it was clear the LTTE will have no dealings with the government and the military until such time Karuna is moved out of army control.

Not stopping at that, Tamilselvan went onto say numerous problems have arisen with regard to the ceasefire agreement after Chandrika Kumaratunga's government came into power, particularly in relation to land and sea movements and that it was putting a strain on the ceasefire.

"The future of the ceasefire and the peace process is in the hands of the army, SLMM and the facilitators," Tamilselvan also said.

Warning

He went on to charge that the women cadres who escaped from military intelligence had revealed many facts including the involvement of military intelligence in the murders of academic Thambiah and journalist Nadesan.

It is 48 hours after this meeting that Solheim and Brattskar met with Tamilselvan, where his message was largely the same.

Tamilselvan told the facilitators, if the President and government are serious about the ceasefire agreement and talking to the LTTE, they should stop sheltering Karuna and backing the murder and mayhem in Batticaloa carried out by the renegade commanders, "henchmen."

Tamilselvan made it clear they were not prepared to consider dates for talks even if the President is offering to negotiate on the basis of the ISGA proposals, until such time the Karuna issue is resolved to the LTTE's satisfaction.

The LTTE Political Wing Leader also said they were fearful for the ceasefire agreement if this dangerous trend continues.

The Norwegians for their part communicated both the government's position as well as that of the UNP with regard to non involvement in the Karuna affair.

Tamilselvan said the LTTE is in the process of debriefing the four women cadres and it was demonstrably clear, there is military intelligence involvement with Karuna and the murder and mayhem in Batticaloa.

He further said the government is being duplicitous in agreeing to negotiate on the basis of the ISGA proposals on one hand and allowing Karuna to carry out murder and mayhem on the other.

"If this situation is allowed to continue, it will jeopardise the ceasefire agreement and the entire peace process," Tamilselvan also warned.

Acknowledgment

Interestingly, after the meeting speaking to journalists, Tamilselvan mentioned the UNP's message of non involvement but warned the government not to jeopardise the peace process and the ceasefire agreement by sheltering Karuna. In effect, what Tamilselvan did was acknowledge the UNP's denial of involvement in the Karuna issue while rejecting the government's denial by calling on her not to shelter Karuna.

Following this meeting, Solheim himself sounded a note of pessimism stating there was no breakthrough but that they will continue with their efforts at facilitation.

This air of pessimism was also evident when Solheim later briefed Premier Mahinda Rajapakse on the talks stating the LTTE was very concerned with the Karuna affair and unless steps are taken to resolve the dispute, it would have a serious impact on the peace process.

Rajapakse for his part said he did not believe there was government involvement in the Karuna affair but added it was the President who was dealing with the peace process and would be in a better position to give a clearer picture.

And that the President did, once again denying any government or military involvement in the Karuna affair whilst urging for early resumption of talks based on the ISGA proposals.

Kumaratunga however has to overcome the conflict with the JVP on pushing the core issues to the backburner, for which the Norwegians have now come up with an ingenious theory.

The position to be touted is that inherent in the interim administration proposals are core issues and therefore in discussing the ISGA, the core issues could also be discussed simultaneously.

It remains to be seen whether the "Salmon eating busybodies," as the UPFA described the Norwegians will be able to effectively market that theory to the "lotus eaters" of Sri Lanka but for now, it is all systems "no go."


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