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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2902

Memoirs of a Counter-Rebel Spy in London - PART V :The South African Roulette and 'Shots of Arrack'

By Glen Jenvey - Exclusive to "Asian Tribune"
Edited By - Joseph Thavaraja

I held my breath-tight. This was exactly what I had been waiting for all along. Of all the fax transmissions I handled at the LTTE office till now, nothing came close to this.


If I were to push the LTTE to the negotiation table, this was my chance.

I immediately grabbed some LTTE (letter) headed paper and compiled a fax to the South African Embassy's First Secretary in London. I copied almost word to word from the IRA document but re-edited (as appropriate) to tailor it to sound as if it came from the minds of the LTTE…

For once, the Nothern Ireland peace process was reshaping the Sri Lankan conflict panorama dramatically, but not in a manner that many would expect it! (A key individual who had played a role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, Prof.Thomas Grant Frazer (Ulster University) would later to visit Sri Lanka in September 1998 and would receive word from Sri Lanka's UNP leader Mr.Ranil Wickremesinghe that he favors unconditional talks with the LTTE for resolving the conflict).

Little did I knew then that this unauthorized ad-hoc fax would radically metamorphose the Rules of Engagement of the Sri Lankan government forces with the LTTE and vice-versa to a 'stalemate in a negative peace' (as some would later label it…) and more importantly, would re-position the history of the Sri Lankan conflict with unforeseen consequences for some time to come…

My faxed request simply concluded with the compelling inquiry if South Africa is willing to facilitate peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.

At a very personal level, this ad-hoc fax somehow gave the much needed meaning to the sum of my efforts so far…In fact, it made sense to me more than everything I dispatched and did to that date- the years and months of press statements, meetings, demonstrations…

I foresaw that it would be a chance to afford real change-if not peace per se.

I faxed this LTTE-letter-headed 'offer of talks' message to all the diplomatic contacts I had in London from 10 April 1998 onwards-but received no prompt responses.

After faxing it to the South Africans, I followed it up with a phone call to the First Secretary at the time whose name I would not reveal. I spoke of my sincere request for South Africa to hold peace talks.

The month of April ended …but there were no responses.

Several phone calls to the South Africans followed.

Suddenly one day there was a fax from the South African embassy – It was a reply. For a moment I thought it was that the Embassy simply acknowledging my fax from the rebel's office. But it carried a different message…

The reply from the South Africans was on an official South African (letter) headed paper. To my great joy, it said that the South Africans are "…considering the supporting or facilitating peace talks between your organization and government of Sri Lanka".

This meant so much to me and even more for the Sri Lankan people on the ground. Right now the N&E populace in Sri Lanka was facing the brunt of battles between the SL Army and the rebels.

I immediately approached the LTTE office head with the good news that the South Africans are willing to facilitate talks between Sri Lanka and the LTTE. Office Head A.C. Shathan explained to me that rebel members cannot set up peace talks as they wished-only the LTTE Supremo himself could authorize it. Besides, LTTE were sustaining heavy losses in ground –almost losing Jaffna. In the north, they were a defeated army.

This is was puzzling to me then. I could not understand as to why they would not jump at a chance of peace as they were in retreat.

(Years later, I were to understand that the rebels were perhaps also in touch with British government –not to mention the Norwegians --at that time. This lingering doubt was confirmed in 1998 November…In his 1998 Hero's Day speech (November 27), the rebel Supremo appealed for "peace talks" to be convened under the auspices of one or more third parties. For the first time since 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, he also suggested that the LTTE might be willing to accept a settlement that did not result in the establishment of a separate Tamil Eelam state forming the North and East of the island..)

A South African Roulette

I caught the train to London with trepidation; I was visiting the South African embassy's First Secretary Sue Singh to meet in person. Sue Singh would then talk over her bosses in South Africa on the offer to hold talks.

The side door of the South African embassy was not a grand view to behold--with a big security scanning machine to scan bags and baggage. Sue Singh was away from office so I met her only a while later. I told her of my intentions and insisted that I wanted to see peace in Sri Lanka and saw the new South African ANC government was so respected that they could open doors for talks between the two parties. I was also impressed with the Truth and Reconciliation Committees (TRCs) of ANC government. The new ANC government's logo was "fair play to everyone".

In a way I too had some 'history' with ANC. I respected its campaigns against apartheid in SA and supported the ANC for years even when it was banned in the UK. In fact, I raised funds for it when I was just a youngster (Of course, this is another story!)

I was 'sticking my neck out' calling for these talks…And Sue accurately grasped the gravity of my situation. By now, my real and only concerns were the helpless people trapped in the skirmishes in Sri Lanka.

I promised to deliver the LTTE at the South African embassy doors.

Sue wanted to know: "Will you also come for talks with the LTTE team?"

I simply replied in the negative, and then added. "I am a Sri Lanka government agent too. If the talks are to go ahead and if it is found that the person who set up the talks was in fact a Sri Lanka-spy, then talks would collapse," I shot my reply.

For an instance, Sue was taken aback, and tried to hide her amazement—nevertheless, despite her shock, she appeared to appreciate my direct approach.

And I gave my word to her: "Once talks start, I will not spy on the LTTE anymore".

Upon my return, I promptly relayed the good news to both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan High Commission bosses as to what Sue Singh had offered. The immediate task for London LTTE, I insisted, was to send a team to the South African embassy in London to discuss on setting up talks with the Sri Lanka government.

The Sri Lankan President's office, via my boss in London High Commission began asking whether LTTE is "…in fact being truthful about their wishes for peace".

As no one else could answer this question but the LTTE Supremo himself in Sri Lanka, I had to get this confirmed via the London Office Head Shanthan—which I did.

Officials from the British Foreign Office –let me call them as Messrs Haddock and Pocock –- received confirmation via me that there was indeed a chance that the rebels might be wanting talks.

They were curious—Is it simply because the rebels were having a tough time in Jaffna and Vanni?

"Not really…They seem to be thinking beyond that" I revealed.

The British government promptly issued a statement offering to host talks in London, and some other countries followed suit. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister immediately took off for South Africa though on his arrival he was given a strong dose of pelting by Tamils with heaps of eggs that did not smell so pleasant.

However, after a few weeks the LTTE suddenly took a U-turn: Their preferred and most trusted country for talks was not South Africa. But they preferred Britain or some other western country…Interestingly, this news was conveyed and confirmed through none-other than the South Africans in London!

I realized my 'work was complete' and 'mission accomplished'… Who would want to spy on a group that was talking of peace anyway?

Besides, my boss in SL High Commission was about to be transferred again and it was time for me to leave my undercover mission and move on.

Quintessentialy Sri Lankan

A couple of years went by… I made several visits to Sri Lanka whenever I could afford to and would drop in on my 'old bosses' at the Senior Officers Mess at Bullers Road.

Each time I visited Sri Lanka I made friends with people of all faiths – Including Tamils…

I will always remember the last time I prepared to leave Sri Lanka. As I was being picked up from my hotel lobby by the Lankan intelligence service personnel a heavy downpour began.

I was taken directly to the Senior Officers' Mess—and thereafter served with 'that quintessential Sri Lankan dish' – the Devilled Chicken accompanied with a few shots of fiery Lankan liquor called Arrack. As I devoured all of it and boarded the car, roads were beginning to flood from the incessant downpour and my driver -an intelligence officer- blurted: "Sri Lanka is crying since you are leaving us."

An overwhelming sense of apprehension suddenly overtook me. I sat motionlessly. The car kept moving and then, I was hit with that 'feeling at home' and a strong yearning for this country -just when I was about to close my chapter with it….

(To be continued)

- Asian Tribune –

Part I: Memoirs of an anti-LTTE undercover agent in London

Part II: Memoirs of an anti-LTTE undercover agent in London

Part III: "Is there a D-Notice on us?"

Part IV: Oh what a Friday it was….

Next: On the Trail of Radical Islamic Groups

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