Submission to LLRC Part XI: President Premadasa challenges India, delivers arms directly to the LTTE
The speech delivered by Prabhakaran on 2nd of August 1987 at Suthumalai indicated that he is for peace in the country and also said he believed in the Indians.
"My beloved people, we have no way other than cooperation with this Indian endeavor. Let us offer them this opportunity. However, I do not think as a result of this agreement there will be a permanent solution to the problems of the Tamils. The time is not very far off when the monster of Sinhala racism will devour this agreement. I have unrelenting faith in the proposition that only a separate state of Tamil Eelam can offer a permanent solution to the problem of the people of Tamil Eelam. Let me make it clear to you here, beyond the shadow of doubt, that I will continue to fight for the objective of attaining Tamil Eelam.
"The forms of struggle may change, but the objective or goal of our struggle is not going to change. If our cause is to triumph, it is vitally necessary that the whole hearted, the totally unified support of you, our people, should always be with us. The circumstance may arise for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to take part in the interim administration or to contest elections, keeping in view the interest of the people of Tamil Eelam. But I wish firmly to declare here that under no circumstances and no point of time will I contest elections or accept the office of the chief minister. The Liberation Tigers year for the motherland of the Tamil Eelam."
But this public pronouncement did not last long.
When the LTTE declared they intend to surrender their arms there was a general sigh of relief all over. It was a nail-biting and electrifying announcement from the leader of the Tamil militant group that always took an uncompromising position on Tamil Eelam, and it brought euphoria all around. The general expectation was ”Peace at last’.
The timetable for the surrender of weapons was delayed for two days, after the arrival of Parabakaran as he spent time in discussing the issue with his cadres, as well as with the IPKF generals, before making public the announcement of the LTTE's intention to surrender arms.
When the surrendering day August 5 arrived, Yogaratnam Yogi, the younger brother of Kugan (previous second in command to chief of propaganda in the LTTE), turned up at the military complex at Palaly with two van-loads of weapons. While history was in the making, journalists and media from Sri Lanka, India as well as foreign correspondents converged on the site. Yogi placed a German Mauser pistol on the table, a symbolic gesture of the surrender of the arms. This gesture was so abrupt that several press photographers were unable to record it.
Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Sepala Atyagalle placed his hand on the shoulders of Yogi, as an expression of friendliness and read out a brief statement. "Today is a historic day for the future of Sri Lanka. This act of surrendering all arms signifies an end to the bloodshed and violence that has affected the entire fabric of our democratic society."
Sepala Atyagalle also read out the president's amnesty. On the next day, the Sri Lankan government acted on the provisions of the accord by granting amnesty to 5,400 Tamils held or sought as political offenders or terrorism suspects.
The opening of offices by the EPRLF, PLOTE, ENDLF and TELO under the protection of the IPKF was considered as a threat to the LTTE. The Tigers alleged that RAW was arming rival militant groups with the ulterior motive fof destroying them.
In September, things in Jaffna took a turn to the worse, with continued acts of violence. As many as 120 people were killed between September 13 and September 22, in a series of clashes between Tigers and the rival Tamil militant groups, and the LTTE slowly but steadily initiated a campaign trying to discredit the presence of IPKF in the North and East.
On September 15, the LTTE announced that Amirthalingham Thileepan would go on an indefinite fast in support of five demands - immediate stoppage of Sinhalese colonization in the traditional homeland of the Tamils; release of all the prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and under several emergency regulations; formation of the Interim Administrative Council for the North and Eastern Provinces; holding a referendum on a permanent merger of the North and Eastern provinces as one region; and Sri Lankan security personnel to vacate school and college buildings in Tamil areas.
Thileepan, a fiery orator, was the head of the political wing of the LTTE. He joined the LTTE as a youth and was a trained militant. He sustained gunshot injuries in his stomach during the Operation Liberation campaign of May 1987. The bespectacled Thileepan was totally committed to the cause of Tamil Eelam and was hailed for his meticulous organizational ability. He commanded respect and regard among LTTE cadres. A special stage was erected at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple for Thileepan to stage his fast, which at the beginning was considered a political gimmick to divert attention from the LTTE’s political killings in the East.
Thileepan said that the accord had failed to protect the interests of the Tamils. He said, "The accord has been brought by our enemies to dampen the national fervor whenever it shows signs of boiling over. Today the Indo-Sri Lanka accord is to suppress the peoples' thirst for liberation. Our aim is to chase away the Indians and to fly our own flag of freedom in [Jaffna] fort.
"At this hour Tamils have to be united and alert, otherwise the future would be doomed. We should win back our lost rights. It is our right and we should not expect others' support to win it back. If the people are ready, rise and then nobody can prevent the birth of Tamil Eelam. Liberation Tigers should continue to exist, but I do not long that they should rule, it is not what I long for. If our Tamils are able to have a prosperous future we Tigers are ready and willing to die for that noble cause for our people. The one soldier who comes willingly to fight for the resurrection of this land, he is the owner and the son of this soil," said Thileepan before starting his fast to the death.
Gradually, the fast began to stir anti-Indian feelings and the LTTE gave full coverage to Thileepan's speeches and his fast in their television network, Nidharshanam. People from all over the peninsula started marching to Nallur to participate in the fast. Thileepan declined to take even water. Before he lost consciousness, he spoke for the last time from the podium. He said that he would join the 650 LTTE martyrs who were already in the heavenly abode and are gazing down at Tamil Eelam, where the Tiger flag would certainly flutter in the near future.
Adele Balasingham narrates the episode of Thileepan in her book, The Will to Freedom:
"As Thileepan's fast moved on in days, he was no longer able to address the public from the podium and spent much of his time lying quietly as his condition steadily deteriorated. As Thileepan grew visibly weaker in front of people's eyes, their anger and resentment towards India and the IPKF grew stronger. The sight of this popular young man being allowed to die in such an agonizing manner generated disbelief at the callousness of the Indian government and the Indian Peace Keeping Force. All that was required to save Thileepan's waning life was for the Indian High Commissioner, Mr Dixit, to humble himself and meet and reassure Thileepan that the Indian government would fulfill its pledges to the Tamils. In fact, Delhi ignored Thileepan's fast in the early stages as an isolated idiosyncrasy of an individual, but later became seriously concerned when the episode gathered momentum and turned into a national uprising with anti-Indian sentiments.
"Delhi's concern compelled Mr Dixit to pay a visit to Jaffna 'to study the situation'.
On September 22, the eighth day of Thileepan's fast, Mr Dixit arrived at Palaly airport where Mr Pirabakaran and Bala met him. Bala told me later that Mr Dixit was rude and resentful and condemned Thileepan's fasting campaign as a provocative act by the LTTE aimed at instigating the Tamil masses against the Indian government. Mr Pirabakaran showed remarkable patience and pleaded with the Indian diplomat to pay a visit to Nallur and talk to the dying young man to give up his fast by assuring him that India would fulfill it pledges. Displaying his typical arrogance and intransigence, Mr Dixit rejected the LTTE leader's plea, arguing that it was not within the mandate of his visit. Had Mr Dixit correctly read the situation and genuinely cared for the sentiments of the Tamil people at this very crucial time, it is highly probable that the entire episode of India's direct intervention in the ethnic conflict would have taken a different turn." (pages 133-134)
Thileepan died on September 26 and his death shattered the hopes the Tamils had placed on the Indian government. Thileepan was given a martyr's funeral in Jaffna. His body, according to his wishes, was handed over to the medical faculty of the University of Jaffna.
"He was a prominent personality and when he died, tragically on September 26, 1987, the chasm between India and the Sri Lankan Tamils widened immeasurably", stated Lieutenant-General Depinder Singh in his book, The IPKF in Sri Lanka (page 81).
Later, on October 2, 1987, Sri Lankan Navy, apprehended 17 LTTE men traveling in a boat off the coast of Point Pedro. The navy disarmed them, took off their necklaces with cyanide capsules and took them to Palaly, where the Sri Lankan Army and the IPKF had their bases. It unfolded that two of the men were prized catches - Pulendran, the regional commander of the LTTE for Trincomalee and Kumarappah, the regional commander of the LTTE for Jaffna. The Sri Lankan government had earlier offered 1 million rupees for each of the two Tamil militants.
The Sri Lankan government alleged that the 17 militants were acting in breach of the accord by transporting arms from Tamil Nadu, and also in breach of Sri Lankan immigration formalities. The government insisted that the militants be brought to Colombo for questioning.
The news spread like a wildfire and the LTTE screamed "foul", saying the arrests were a violation of the accord under which all militants had been granted amnesty. In reply, the government said that the amnesty only pertained to the pre-accord period and that the 17 armed men were in violation of the accord. The LTTE pointed out that the September 28 agreement signed by it with India allowed the Tigers to retain their weapons.
President J R Jayewardene spoke to the nation on the state television, Rupavahini, for two successive days, explaining first that the 17 LTTE militants detained at Palaly were smugglers, and that they were not covered by the accord. He told the nation that the detainees had been caught on the high seas while in the act of smuggling arms from Tamil Nadu. Anyhow it was a significant lapse on the part of the Sri Lankan government not to exhibit the alleged arms and ammunition seized.
The LTTE declared that the militants were traveling in a slow fishing trawler from Jaffna to Tamil Nadu to bring back office equipment and furniture from their Tamil Nadu office. They also claimed that they had requested the IPKF high command to assist them in transporting the equipment, but the IPKF had ignored their request. They further stated that only Pulendran and Kumarappah, the regional LTTE commanders, were armed, according to agreement, as an act of self-defense.
Lalith Athulathmudali, the Sri Lankan National Security Minister, when contacted by journalists, said that the 17 would be transported to Colombo and made to pose before television cameras and then be released.
The LTTE appealed to the Indian government to prevent their men from being transported to Colombo-Depinder Singh flying to Colombo to urge the president not to move the militants to Colombo. Jayewardene refused. Indian High Commissioner Dixit dashed to Colombo from Delhi to prevail on the president, but he was adamant. In the meantime, the LTTE's second in command Mahattaya, alias Mahendrarajah, was granted permission to meet the detainees at the Palaly base.
Depinder Singh in his book The IPKF in Sri Lanka, described the situation: "Caught in a cleft, as it were, I flew to Colombo and saw General Ranatunge and the President to explain the LTTE's position and apprehensions and seek release of the prisoners. Apart from obtaining assurance that the prisoners would not be tortured, or shown on TV, I could make little headway. In my meeting with the President, he asked what was the strength of the Indian Army and the Southern Command and why a large army with such a proud record had not been able to bring the LTTE to heel. He added that he was under great pressure from all political parties including his own to withdraw the IPKF. I replied that our endeavor to resolve the problem peacefully as, otherwise, we would be back to the pre-July 1987 position. I also added that, since we were refining our tactics and, hopefully, better control would ensue. This appeared to satisfy the President; it certainly cheered him up. Nirrupon Sen, the First Secretary of our High Commission, [the High Commissioner was away] remarked that my use of the word 'refine' had impressed the President. Though I had been unsuccessful in my mission of preventing the SLAF [Sri Lankan Armed Forces] taking the LTTE prisoners to Colombo, we tried one more shot which was to get New Delhi to recall Mani Dixit, who was enjoying some well earned leave to speak to the President. Mani rejoined on October 4, 1987 and met the President who, unfortunately, remained adamant. Back in Jaffna, meanwhile, Mahataya had sought and secured permission to visit the prisoners who were then located in Palaly, I am convinced that during this visit he distributed cyanide capsules as the prisoners had been thoroughly searched earlier and could not have come to be in possession of cyanide through any other sources." - pages 82-83
The diplomacy of Jayewardene and the Sri Lankan government prevailed. Until the last moment, the IPKF was confident that the LTTE detainees would not be allowed to leave Jaffna. The IPKF threatened to block with armored cars any Sri Lankan plane intending to fly the prisoners to Colombo on October 5. By 4:30 in the afternoon, IPKF received instructions from New Delhi to abandon all efforts. Mr Pirabakaran was furious when he was informed of the final decision. He felt he was obliged to fulfill the last wishes of his cadres in custody. Mr Pirabakaran and his commanders each took off his cyanide capsule and hung it around Bala and Mahataya's neck with instructions to deliver it to the captured cadres. Garlanded with cyanide capsules, Bala and Mahataya reluctantly and hesitantly visited the cadres on the decisive day of their transfer." (Will to Freedom by Adele Balasingham, page 139)
When people heard of the arrangements to take the detainees to Colombo they flocked in thousands in front of the Palaly base, demanding to see the detainees, without success.
The Sri Lankan government, in demanding that the detainees be flown to Colombo, ignored the advice and appeals of the IPKF, as well as strongly worded warnings of communal disharmony if anything happened to the detained militants. The government had its own designs of getting the IPKF involved in a confrontation with the domineering LTTE in the near future, and persisted in transporting the militants.
When Sri Lankan soldiers moved the take the militants to Colombo, IPKF soldiers stood by as passive on-ookers. But on the tarmac, on October 5 at about 5:30 in the evening, those 17 LTTErs swallowed cyanide capsules and 12 of them died instantly, including Pulendran and Kumarappah, and three died later in the IPKF hospital at Palaly.
The incident was a turning point in the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord, as anticipated by the Sri Lankan government. The death of the Tamil militants resulted in scenarios never anticipated by the Indian government. India was reduced to a pawn in the cleverly manipulated move of the wily president of Sri Lanka, who began to dictate the pace of events and by which New Delhi eventually became the scapegoat of the century.
"The LTTE's reaction was swift and savage," was how it was described by Depinder Singh as LTTE militants took retaliatory steps to avenge the deaths of their colleagues, with many casualties. The IPKF went on maximum alert, but the accord of peace was turning into a discord of antagonism.
"On October 6, 1987, the Chief of the Army Staff General Sunderji flew into Palaly where he was briefed about the situation. It was apparent that the political decision to employ force against LTTE was already taken. However, he was en route to Colombo, where the Defense Minister K C Pant was proceeding the same evening for a meeting with the Sri Lankan president. Having met the latter on October 4, I had no doubt about the riot act he would read out to compel the IPKF to use force. My recommendation to General Sundarji was that we must not go in for the hard option because, if we did, we would be stuck in insurgency situation for the next 20 years. I was admonished not to adopt a defeatist attitude to which my reply was that I was not being defeatist, merely realistic. The chief then flew off to Colombo. I am not privy to what transpired there, but next day, HQ IPKF received direct instructions, in clear, from the chief in Colombo to use force against the LTTE." (The IPKF in Sri Lanka By Lieutenant-General Depinder Singh,Page 84)
As Prabhakaran for the first time reneged his undertaking to maintain peace and order, he ordered his cadres to attack the Indian Peace Keeping Forces, and this forced the Indian to retaliate.
"General Sunderji (Commander in Chief of the Indian Army) ordered the commencement of what is known as 'Operation Pawan' on October 6, 1987." (Assignment Colomboby J N Dixit, page 212)
Prabhakaran who agreed to surrender arms and maintain peace and order the reneged his undertaking for the first time in public. This is how LTTE Leader broke his first agreement.
As the war escalated between the Indian Peace Keeping Forces and the LTTE, Prabhakaran was forced to flee into the Vanni jungles and continued with his guerilla warfare and was involved in a battle for his survival.
In the meantime the two term limit of President J.R.Jayawaedene came to an end and the Presidential election was held on on 19 December 1988 , and the Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa won convincingly and took over office as the second executive President of the country.
Earlier, following the first election for President, the election for the eighth parliament was carried on untill the end of 1988 following the Referendum held on 22 December 1982 whereby the majority accepted the Fourth Amendmend to the Constitution extending the life of the Parliament to second six year term of office beginning on 3 August 1983.
Following the dissolution of the Parliament on 5 December 1988 and the general elections for the ninth parliament was fixed for 15 February 1989.
The TULF and other Tamil political parties opposed the sixth amendmend to the Constitution introduced after 1983 the holocaust on 8th August 1983 which prohibited seperation of the country.
The sixth amendment to the 1978 constitution was introduced by J R Jayewardene in the aftermath of the 1983 holocaust to placate the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremists. According to this amendmend anyone who advocated or encouraged separation and called for a separate state of Tamil Eelam would be liable for serious punishment, including the loss of civil rights and forfeiture of the properties of those who advocates secessionist politics.
But in the 1989 parliamentary general elections they unceremoniously acquiesced and contested in the elections.
The Tamil United Liberation Front coalasced with the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF), and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and they all contested in the TULF banner in the elections ninth parliamentary general elections.
A. Amirthalingham, Secretary General of the TULF was also one of those candidates, who contested not in his home turf of the Jaffna district, but from the Batticaloa district in the Eastern Province.
Unfortunately he was rejected by the people of the East, and as the coalition group won 9 elected members they were entitled for 1 national list seat and Amirthalingham was made the party list member nominated to the Parliament.
The man who vowed to bring about a Tamil Eelam – a homeland for the Tamils of Sri Lanka according to the Vaddukoddai resolution, quietly swore allegiance to the sixth amenmend to constitution and did a turn around.
Tamil Tigers as LTTE was called, vehemently opposed the elections, while EROS under the leadership of V.Balakumar – the man responsible for the daylight robbery of the Rural Bank of the Puloly MPCS in 1976 contested in the elections.
EROS, which contested as an Independent Group in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee, emerged as the surprising winner with 12 seats plus a bonus seat. The 13 elected members of the parliament also swore allegiance to the sixth amendmend of the constitution.
President Premadasa in his first address to the nation on 2nd January 1989 from Kandy, called those who have not joined the democratic process to do so. In fact his call was addressed to the JVP in the South and the LTTE in the North.
Premadasa also promised to scrap strict anti-terrorism laws, send nearly 100,000 Indian soldiers home and outlaw vigilante groups blamed for killing suspected Sinhalese extremists. "I personally guarantee your safety. Let us forget the past and start a new era. I don't deny the wrong done to you in the past," said Premadasa in an hour-long radio address.
Premadasa reiterated his peace package to end the ethnic violence that had claimed more than 25,000 lives since 1983. In a speech broadcast on state-run radio, Premadasa offered the militants a wide range of proposals, including unconditional amnesty and seats in parliament, if they would stop the killings and join the political process. "Come with arms or without arms and we will accept all unconditionally," he said. The president also offered a unilateral ceasefire.
"I personally guarantee your safety. Let us forget the past and start a new era. I don't deny the wrong done to you in the past," said Premadasa in an hour-long radio address.
The Tamil and Sinhalese militant groups rejected the peace offer. "We are not interested in going to the parliament, we are interested in the rights of the Tamils," was the response from the LTTE, the major Tamil group. The Sinhalese extremist organization said that it wanted parliament be dissolved and fresh elections held.
The government, however, in its bid to win over the militants, announced its intention to open 228 centers across the country, to receive Sinhalese and Tamil militants willing to give up their arms during a week-long ceasefire and amnesty. The centers were located in schools, Buddhist temples, government offices and army camps and manned by civilians. The Foreign Minister said that the amnesty also applied to 1,500 Sri Lankan army deserters who had joined with the Sinhalese rebels to fight the government.
The LTTE, in an open letter to the president, rejected the ceasefire, "The government is only interested in getting our weapons and has not put forward anything worthwhile," said the LTTE. The Tamil militants insisted "we will not agree to any ceasefire so long as the Indian army remain in Sri Lanka". The Tamil militants were a bunch of lads in their teens in 1975, when they came to be called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and they were new to any form of political punditry and exposures. They believed in "might is always right", which had led to the transformation of the entire democratic political institution in the country.
Meanwhile, J N Dixit, the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, read the thinking of Premadasa correctly. He wrote in his Assignment Colombo,
"The first step Premadasa took to implement his plan was to send a message to the LTTE some time around the middle of March, that his government is willing to have direct negotiations with the LTTE, to end military confrontation with the IPKF. He informed the LTTE that, the Sri Lankan security forces will pull back from the operations against them. He also indicated a willingness to have political discussions on matters of concerns to the LTTE. A confidential dimension of his message to the LTTE was that, during the interim period between March 1989 until the expected withdrawal of the IPKF by July 1989, the Sri Lankan government will provide the LTTE with arms and requisite intelligence to resist the IPKF. Premadasa also conveyed that, he will ensure the removal of the EPRLF-led Tamil government in the North-Eastern Province and ensure the conferment of governmental authority on the LTTE on the basis of the discussions which he proposed to have with it." - page 287
"As I was to learn from the horse's mouth during their dialogue with him, Mr Premadasa admired the LTTE for their determination, dedication, courage and sacrifice. He was fully aware of the objective conditions of Sinhala state repression that precipitated the armed liberation struggle of the Tigers. He felt that he could engage the LTTE in a positive dialogue and resolve the conflict through consultation, compromise and consensus, his famous three Cs for conflict resolutions. Having made a public announcement for inviting the Tigers for the talks, he desperately made attempts to contact the LTTE directly. The Eelam Revolutionary Organization (EROS) leaders Mr Balakumar and Mr Pararajasingham, when queried by Premadasa as to how to contact the LTTE, told him that Bala was available in London and that he was the only senior LTTE leader living outside Sri Lanka, who had contact with the leadership in Vanni.
"Somehow or other, Mr Premadasa managed to get our telephone number. Thereafter, he phoned Bala regularly and established a friendly rapport with him. Bala told him that the leadership in Vanni was considering his call for peace talks and an appropriate decision would be made at a suitable time. He also told him that, the LTTE would appreciate if the president made a public commitment to getting the Indian troops out of the Tamil homeland. Thereafter LTTE was waiting for Mr Premadasa's response. On the 12th April 1989, Mr Premadasa announced a unilateral ceasefire between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE in celebration of the Tamil-Sinhala New Year and called upon the IPKF to follow suit. Responding to Premadas's move, the LTTE in a hard-hitting open letter to the Sri Lankan president, rejected his offer of ceasefire arguing that 'until the Indian Army of oppression leaves our land, there will be no such things as a ceasefire'." (The Will to Freedom by Adele Balasingham, pages 212-213)
The open letter of the LTTE was hostile in content, but it provided an opening for the Sri Lankan government to pursue the matter. Three members of the LTTE met Premadasa at his Ambanpola estate residence and conveyed the message of the LTTE leadership. This meeting, which was arranged secretly, was disclosed later by H K J Wijedasa, a former secretary to Premadasa, at a commission of inquiry in connection with the death of Major-General Denzil Kobbekaduwa.
Though the open letter of the LTTE criticized Premadasa for backtracking on his pre-election pledge to secure the withdrawal of the Indian Army, according to Adele Balasingham, "Premadasa understood the message."
On the instruction of the President, Ranjan Wijeratne, the Minister of State for Defense and Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement on behalf of the government, inviting the LTTE leadership for talks. "Pleased with the developments, the LTTE leadership - through their headquarters in London - sent a letter to the Sri Lankan president accepting the invitation for talks and requesting the government to make necessary arrangements to facilitate these. The letter was followed up by quick confirmation by the leadership of the LTTE." (The Will to Freedom by Adele Balasingham, pages 213-214)
President Premadasa, as stated earlier, a home-grown politician with his own brand of views and visions, reacted quickly and accepted the position of the LTTE. He had requested the Tamil militant organization to nominate an accredited representative to discuss necessary arrangements to facilitate a dialogue anywhere in Sri Lanka. Wijedasa also sent a brief fax, "Your message to have a dialogue with H E the president of Sri Lanka is very much appreciated," to the international LTTE headquarters in London, which was positively responded to by the LTTE on April 15, 1990.
The LTTE appointed Anton Balasingham as the accredited representative and chief negotiator of the LTTE.
"On April 15, the LTTE headquarters in London responded by a fax addressed to the president accepting the invitation and hoping that the necessary arrangements would be made to facilitate a dialogue. Premadasa was spending the New Year holidays on his estate in Ambanpola and the fax message was rushed to him by special messenger. He received it around midnight. Early the next morning, he instructed Wijayadasa, his secretary, to telephone the LTTE in London, to invite their accredited representative to come to Colombo, to make arrangements for the dialogue. The cabinet was informed and within a few days, Anton Balasingham - the chief spokesman and ideologue - and his wife, Adele, were on their way to Colombo. The logistics of getting the rest of the LTTE team from the Wanni jungles needed detailed planning. It was a delicate operation since the group had to be picked up from the bush and brought to Colombo without falling into the hands of the IPKF, who were out looking for Prabakaran in the jungles. On May 3, three LTTE men, Yogi, Murthi and Lawrence, along with Anton Balasingham and his wife, who had made the trip to the jungle, were helicoptered to the army grounds from one of their secret hideouts in the Mullaithievu area." (Premadasa of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography by Bradman Weerakoon, pages 65-66)
President Premadasa told the groups of government and opposition MPs that he would consult all political parties to evolve an amiable solution to the ethnic problems in the country. This commitment was given in answer to a plea from Mahinda Wijesekera, the SLFP MP from the Matara District that an all-party discussion be held to evolve a solution to the present problems and restore peace. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the State Minister for Defense informed that the Indian government would be kept informed of developments with regard to the talks. The minister also said that the IPKF had cooperated with the government in letting the LTTE cadres come out from their hideouts.
The LTTE delegation, consisting of Anton Stanislaus Balasingham, his wife Adele, Yogaratnam Yogi and Paramu Moorthy met the Sri Lanka President for the first time on the evening of May 4, at his Sucharitha Mawatha residence in Colombo. The delegation informed him that they had with them all the information regarding the plight and predicament of the Tamil people and that the sufferings of their people should be brought to light. It was only by understanding the fundamental problems of the people that durable solutions could be found. They emphasized the need for the restoration of peace and normalcy before such solutions could be worked out. This was according to the government press release issued after the talks with the president.
President Premadasa told the delegation that the first stage of the talks would be with officials nominated by him to decide on the modalities and to identify the issues. A government news release stated that the President also stressed the need to know the truthfulness of all issues in order to arrive at meaningful solutions. He added that his mandate from the people was to restore peace through a process of consultation, compromise and consensus. "This was the reason that he extended an open invitation to the LTTE."
Anton Balasingham told the press that the present delegation would be in Colombo for some time, depending on the talks. He added that their leader Prabakaran had given full authority to the delegation to start a dialogue with the government in Colombo. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne said that the LTTE had informed the government that it would observe a ceasefire while the talks were on. He emphasized that the government was told that the LTTE would not be on the offensive while the talks were on.
The Sri Lankan team was led by A C S Hameed, the Minister for Higher Education, supported by Ranjan Wijeratne and several other ministers and a hand-picked team of officials by the President, who changed as the agenda for the discussions dictated. The officials included General Sepala Atyagalle, Secretary, Ministry of Defense, Bernard Tilakaratne, Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wijayadasa and Bradman Weerakoon, from the President's Office, Ivan Samarawickreme, on the issue of Land and the secretary to the government's delegation was Felix Dias Abeyasinghe, former Election Commissioner.
At the end of the each day's meetings, a press release was issued, drafted by Abaeyasinghe and Balasingham. The President kept in touch with the proceedings and met the LTTE team as and when necessary, at his Sucharita office in Colombo. Prabakaran did not attend the meetings, but it was reported that the LTTE delegation was in constant touch with him by radio.
Balasingham briefed Prabakaran on the details of the discussion with Premadasa. Prabakaran showed interest in learning about Premadasa, his ideas, his strategy and importantly his views about the Indian military occupation and the Tamil armed resistance.
June 1, 1989 was poya (full moon). All such days are public holidays in Sri Lanka, set aside for a day of meditation for Buddhists. President Ranasinghe Premadasa, while speaking at a ceremony to mark the unveiling of the pinnacle of a newly built stupa (a burial mound or building to house relics) at Chitta Vivekashramaya, took the country by surprise by making an announcement regarding the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF).
Premadasa said, "The end of July 1989, will mark two years since the IPKF came to Sri Lanka. Therefore, I will request the Indian government to try as far as possible to complete the withdrawal of the entirety of the IPKF troops by the end of July. I would like to see the last of the IPKF troops leave Sri Lanka by the end of July. Today, there are about 45,000 IPKF troops in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is not possible to withdraw them in a day or two. They have to leave by ship. Therefore, I believe that if the troop withdrawal is expedited, it would be possible to complete the withdrawal by the end of July."
Meantime Premadasa wrote a letter to Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, regarding the IPKF withdrawal on June 1, 1989.
Bernard Tilakaratne, who was the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi during J R Jayewardene's presidency, was the new Foreign Secretary. He took the letter to Rajiv Gandhi by hand on June 5 to New Delhi. He tried to impress on Rajiv Gandhi regarding the urgency for the pullout of Indian forces. He explained that the JVP (Janata Vimukthi Perumuna - the proscribed Sinhalese militant organization) had already begun boycotting goods imported from India and that they had warned port workers not to unload cargoes from India, and numerous traders from Indian business houses in Colombo had been threatened.
The second round of talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government started on June 16, in Colombo. The LTTE expanded its original delegates, along with Anton Balasingham, Yogaratnam Yogi and Lawrence Thilakar, to include anew S Karikalan, Sammun Hassan and Abubakar Ibrahim.
On the 15th, Premadasa invited the LTTE delegates to his residence "Suchitra" (literally the development of righteous character; the name of a society begun by Premadasa in 1939, when he was 15) for private discussions, which lasted for about one-and-a-half hours. Premadasa appeared to be disturbed over a statement by Rajiv Gandhi made the previous day, in Bangalore. Rajiv Gandhi, when addressing a public rally, referred to Premadasa's demand and said that the IPKF would not be withdrawn until substantial powers were devolved to the EPRLF's provincial administration and the safety and security of Tamils were guaranteed. He also suggested for a further inter-governmental consultation on the substantive issue of troops withdrawal.
Premadasa told the LTTE delegates that Rajiv Gandhi had not replied to his official communication, instead he had made public statements stipulating unacceptable conditions. He said that this has created fear and confusion, and the Indian army would choose to remain on the island forever.
Furthermore, Premadasa suggested that the LTTE should declare a cessation of hostilities with the Sri Lankan armed forces, so that he could prevail on India to terminate all hostile armed operations against the LTTE and withdraw its troops, since their main obligation to establish peace under the accord would then have been secured.
The first two sessions of the second round peace talks took place on June 16 and 19 respectively. Sri Lanka added two more ministers in its delegation - Festus Perera - Minister of Power and Energy and A R Munsoor - Minister of Trade and Shipping.
The talks were mainly focused on issues such as:
• The mounting diplomatic confrontation between India and Sri Lanka over the question of the withdrawal of the IPKF;
• Forced recruitment of Tamil youths by the EPRLF in the North and Eastern provinces for the formation of a Tamil National Army under the name of a Civil Volunteer Force, and;
• Training of the recruits to the Tamil National Army by the Indian armed forces.
The session of the 19th was devoted to issues of the Tamil National Army of the EPRLF. Also, the cessation of hostilities between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE was discussed.
The LTTE delegates complained to the government of the forceful conscription drive undertaken by the EPRLF, which was encouraged and aided by the Indian armed forces. The LTTE delegates said that more than 4,500 school-going students had been forcefully taken to various Indian army camps for training.
Premadasa began to place trust and confidence in the LTTE, granting it weapons, vehicles, funds, cement and other things as it wanted. The government was convinced that the talks would succeed. It believed that if the Indian army defeated the LTTE, then the IPKF would not leave the country. Therefore, the Government thought it important to keep the LTTE going.
In the meantime, Rajiv Gandhi replied to Premadasa's letter:
"As you have yourself stated, we have started the withdrawal of the IPKF even before you requested for it. A broad timeframe for the IPKF's withdrawal was also discussed at our initiative, based on which your Foreign Minister had made a statement in your parliament on March 31, 1989. All this was being done on the basis of assurances given by the Sri Lankan government and to assumption that the implementation of the Indo-Lanka agreement - especially the devolution of powers to the Provincial Councils - would proceed simultaneously, so that the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils could be met within the framework of the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. It is pertinent to recall that it was precisely because these aspirations were not being met that a situation was created which threatened the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka.
"I have always maintained that the IPKF will not stay in Sri Lanka a day longer than necessary. But we cannot be unmindful of the responsibilities and obligations of the two countries under the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement and to join the democratic process within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, only on the basis of assurances that the Tamil majority North-Eastern province will be given substantial devolution of powers. Our two governments are, therefore, morally and legally bound to ensure that the Tamils are given the autonomy they were promised, both in the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, as also in additional areas promised in the agreement, signed between former President Jayewardene and myself, on the 7th November 1987. Failure to do so will only lend credence to the claims made by the Tamil groups that Tamils cannot expect justice within a united Sri Lanka. We have to be fully conscious of the dangers of a return to a situation, which may be worse, that prevailing prior to the Indo-Lanka agreement.
"We believe that in the spirit of traditional friendship between our two countries we must jointly draw up a mutually agreed schedule for the full implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement and the complete withdrawal of the IPKF. The two have to be joint, parallel exercise. We have no objection to your proposal for a friendship treaty. I had told your special envoy that we could set dates for commencing discussions with a view of finalizing the text of the proposed treaty."
In the meantime, Premadasa threatened to confine the Indian troops to barracks if they were not withdrawn by the end of July 1989. "After the end of July they have no business whatsoever on even an inch of land of my country," said Premadasa in a televised speech to the nation. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Amarjit Singh Kalkat, the Commander in Chief of the IPKF, said that they would fire at Sri Lankan soldiers if they stepped out of their barracks.
According to the version of J N Dixit in his Assignment Colombo, he wrote, "I received reports from my friends like Ronie de Mel, the former Finance Minister and Minister Gamini Dassanayake that Premadasa indulged in adventurist brinkmanship by early July 1989, stating that he will declare war on the IPKF if it is not confined to the barracks and sent back by July 31, 1989. Lt-Gen Kalkat sent him a firm cautionary message in response.
Premadasa also indulged in contradictory demands that, while the IPKF should adhere to the withdrawal timetable, he should be designated as supreme commander of the IPKF. The Indian response was that since Rajiv Gandhi had already agreed to withdraw the IPKF in a phased manner, and since the IPKF presence was to be scaled down in the interim period, there was no logic in conferring the supreme command of the IPKF on Premadasa. It was also pointed out that it would be even more illogical to acknowledge Premadasa as supreme commander of the IPKF when he was openly negotiating with the LTTE and giving it all the necessary support. How could be a supreme commander of a force which was fighting the LTTE, while he was hobnobbing with the IPKF's adversary?" - page 289
India also alleged that Premadasa had leaked to the press, the correspondence between him and Rajiv Gandhi, which made matters worse.
Judged from the Indian perspective, Sri Lanka's President Premadasa and the LTTE had both violated the Indo-Sri Lankan accord. Premadasa, by arming the LTTE, had violated the very spirit of the agreement Sri Lanka entered with India.
Right from the beginning, the LTTE was for a separate state of Eelam, but India was for the maintenance of the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. By the LTTE entering into a cessation of hostilities with the Sri Lankan government during the Bhutan talks, later after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord and the last one with the Sri Lankan government on June 28, they demonstrated time and again that, they harbored second thoughts as far as their most cherished separate state policy was concerned.
(To be Continued)
- Asian Tribune -