Had the UNP consulted armed forces and police top brass, the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) wouldn’t have been such a one-sided arrangement. Instead of taking the service chiefs into confidence in the run-up to the signing of the CFA, the UNP denied them an opportunity, at least to discuss issues relating to national security.
The UNP believed that Western powers and India would come to Sri Lanka’s rescue if the LTTE resumed hostilities. The then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and his team boasted of the UNP-led UNF government having put an international safety net in place. This was primarily due to the misconception that the UNP could depend on the US and India for swift military assistance. Minister Milinda Moragoda engaged in a dialogue with India, which the UNP believed would pave the way for a security pact with India.
The UNP obviously felt that targeting of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) operatives and informants wasn’t an issue serious enough to derail the Oslo-led negotiating process.
Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, one-time head of the DMI and the Commander of the Army at the time of the signing of the CFA, told ‘The Island’ recently that the exposure of some of those involved in DMI operations due to the police raid on a ‘safe house’ at Millennium City, Athurugiriya, operated by the DMI, facilitated LTTE operations. Those at the helm of the decision making process had not realised the LTTE’s strategy of using the CFA to further its cause, Lt. Gen. Balagalle said.
Commenting on the shocking exposure of the DMI safe house, veteran lawyer Gomin Dayasri said that today’s VIPs were yesterday’s villains.
The LTTE exploited the CFA underwritten by Norway, the US, the EU and Japan. It called for an Indian venue for peace talks, even before the signing of the agreement. Norway obviously backed the LTTE move, though Sri Lanka declined to raise issue with India on the LTTE’s behalf. Although the LTTE failed in its bid to involve India, the CFA paved the way for the group to consolidate its power in areas under its control. Nothing would have pleased the LTTE more than the CFA recognising its rights to carry arms, while all rival groups were to be disarmed.
Disarming Tamil groups
The CFA envisaged disarming Tamil para-military groups within 30 days of its implementation. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), which had two representatives in Parliament, the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), which had one MP, and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) of Varadharaja Perumal, were told that the weapons that had been given to them for protection against the LTTE, would now be taken back. The government had instead offered to absorb their cadres into the armed forces and post them outside the northeast. The pleas of those groups, which had been in the democratic mainstream since the signing of the July 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, that they were registered political parties, not paramilitaries, fell on deaf ears. They declared that none of their cadres would join the military, and instead asked for police protection to carry out their political work in the North.
The government failed to realise the danger in disarming para-military groups. In fact, the government ignored that the military, particularly the DMI needed the support of Tamils, including ex-LTTE cadres to carry out its operations. Nothing could have been as foolish as exposing those who risked their lives. But, the UNP was determined to pursue negotiations even at the expense of national security; it didn’t hesitate to terminate a long standing arrangement between Tamil para-military groups and the then State Minister for Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne. The Premadasa government swiftly finalised an agreement with TELO, PLOTE, EPDP and EPRLF soon after the LTTE launched eelam war II in the second week of June 1990. The Ranjan Wijeratne Foundation associated itself with the recent launch of ‘Gota’s War’ by ‘The Island’ columnist, C. A. Chandraprema, who has dealt with the setting up of various Tamil groups and the gradual expansion of their operations, before the LTTE gained superiority over it rivals.
Tamil groups experienced severe difficulties after India withdrew its troops on March 2, 1990, leaving them at the mercy of the LTTE, which received tactical backing from the Sri Lankan military to conduct operations against them. (The issue would be dealt in detail in a separate installment). After the collapse of the 14-month long Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon in June 1990, the government reached an agreement with those opposed to the LTTE. The UNP unilaterally abrogated that pact after signing of the CFA with the LTTE in February 2002.
Having neutralised rival Tamil groups, the LTTE set the stage for a series of operations to kill key operatives. Retired Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne, one-time Director General of Intelligence pointed out in ‘Cop in the crossfire’ that the LTTE had killed agents and informants of security forces systematically, so that in case of a resumption of hostilities, the military would have been starved of much needed intelligence. Gunaratne, who served as the Defence Advisor (2202-2004) placed the number of civilian informants and service personnel killed during this period at 24 and 22 respectively. According to him, Inspector Thabrew was killed at the Dehiwala police station by an LTTE cadre released after the signing of the CFA.
In spite of the conclusion of the conflict in May, 2009, the government is yet to examine the circumstances that brought about the CFA. Unfortunately, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), too, failed to establish the events leading to the signing of the CFA, which created a situation which helped theLTTE inch towards its goal.
Kumar Rupesinghe, who was among the audience at the launch of ‘Gota’s war’, is perhaps one of those closely associated with the Norwegian project. The one-time NGO guru was a proponent of the Norwegian initiative before he fell out with the Norwegians in 2005 over policy differences. Rupesinghe, in an exclusive interview with one-time Norwegian peace envoy spearheading the Sri Lankan initiative, Erik Solheim, revealed the circumstances that had led to the signing of the CFA. ‘Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons’ sponsored by Norway, Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Berghof Foundation for Conflict Studies divulged what had given rise to the CFA.
The following query posed by Rupesinghe and Solhim’s response thereto exposed those who had handled the peace process on behalf of Sri Lanka:
Rupesinghe: “Was there a clear text that you took to the two parties? How did the actual CFA itself come about?”
Solheim: “I had a long discussion with Anton Balasingham in London, then with government leaders like G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and others in Colombo about the main requirements. We spent tens of hours discussing issues and concerns and then looking at the text. The two parties made a lot of changes and brought it back to us and it was discussed orally. Then again, I drafted a new proposal which took about two months. It was signed on February 22, 2002. A period of 6 to 8 weeks were spent in discussion and writing the agreement (page 338).
If the LTTE had not overestimated its conventional military capability, it could have easily reached an understanding with the Rajapaksas to retain the CFA. Fortunately, the LTTE spurned the opportunity. ‘Gota’s War’ reveals an abortive effort made by the President to negotiate a deal. A clandestine visit undertaken by Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga to LTTE-held territory amidst a wave of attacks revealed the readiness on the part of those in authority to engage the LTTE. In Chapter 49 (Squaring with India) Chandraprema says: “On 24th March 2006, presidential secretary, Lalith Weeratunga went to Arippu, Mannar on a secret mission to meet LTTE leaders in a vehicle belonging to an NGO called Sevalanka. He would have claimed to be an employee of Sevalanka if he was stopped and questioned at checkpoints. After his vehicle entered LTTE territory, he was escorted to the rendezvous by gun-wielding LTTE motorcycle outriders. Weeratunga had lunch with a senior LTTE functionary by the name of Poovannan and came back to Colombo.”
But Weeratunga wasn’t the only one to meet the LTTE on behalf of the Rajapaksa government to explore the possibility of securing an agreement with the organisation, in a bid to avert eelam war IV. Rupasinghe, about a week before a suicide cadre targeted the Defence Secretary in Colombo while he was on his way to office, also met LTTE leaders.
Although Chandraprema, in his address at the launch of Gota’s War revealed that it was Rupasinghe, one-time most influential Norwegian contacts here, who had suggested that he should, author a book on the eelam conflict, no mention was made of Rupasinghe’s clandestine visit to the Vanni in Sep. 2006! Rupasinghe confirmed his secret bid and explained the circumstances in which he had met the LTTE, much to the anger of the Norwegians. Rupasinghe told ‘The Island’ that his intention had been to help President Rajapaksa settle the national issue through negotiations. “My intention was to avert an all out war. Unfortunately, the LTTE was of the opinion that it could overwhelm the military in a swift offensive.”
The LTTE believed that the CFA would give it the much needed respite to regroup, rearm and retrain following a series of battles in the Northern Province. Although the LTTE remained strong in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, it needed a substantial increase in its conventional fighting capability, to prepare for the next round of fighting.
The LTTE wouldn’t have assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in early August 2005 if it had not bee ready to face the Sri Lankan military. The government remained committed to the CFA in spite of the grave provocation mostly due to international pressure. Even after the LTTE had made an attempt on the life of the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka in April 2006, the government reiterated its commitment to the CFA. A deeply embarrassed Rajapaksa government ordered a few face-saving air strikes targeting LTTE-held Sampoor. But, the fact remains that the government was willing to negotiate with the LTTE, even after an attempt on its army commander’s life and the assassination of Sri Lanka’s illustrious Foreign Minister Kadirgamar.
Veteran career diplomat Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the Secretariat for Coordinating the People Process (SCOPP) since its inception in January 2002 till May 2006, made a revelation before the LLRC on September 15, 2010. He headed the SCOPP before leaving it. Unfortunately, Gooneratne’s evidence didn’t receive the coverage it really deserved. He disclosed that in drafting the CFA, the following provisions that the government wished to have included in the CFA had not been accommodated:
(A) There was no reference to the need for the GoSL and the LTTE to use the ceasefire to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated solution
(B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and other material
(C) LTTE members were to be allowed to do political work in government controlled areas, but other political parties were not allowed to work in LTTE-controlled areas in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu
(D) Forcible conscription
In spite of the Norwegians refusing to take Sri Lanka’s concerns into consideration, Wickremesinghe went ahead with the CFA. The LLRC squandered an opportunity to expose the Norwegians by failing to summon Ranil Wickremesinghe, Milinda Moragoda and Prof. G. L. Peiris, subsequent to Gooneratne’s revelation.
It would be important to examine the political situation in Colombo at the time the Norwegians initiated talks with the UNP, regarding the CFA. Perhaps, the most crucial factor was that the TULF-led four-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had declared the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people at future negotiations with the government. The announcement was made in October 2001 ahead of the Dec 5, 2001 General Election. Having consulted the LTTE, the TNA assured that the group wouldn’t mount major operations ahead of the parliamentary polls. Despite the TNA’s assurance, the LTTE assassinated an ex-police officer, Thambirasa Jayakumar (48) contesting the Batticaloa District on the UNP ticket. He was the first candidate to be killed during the polls campaign. At the next General Election, the TNA lost its right to choose candidates. The LTTE had the final say regarding all nominees, as it tightened its grip on the TNA, which remained a prisoner until the annihilation of the LTTE fighting cadre.
The TNA regained its right to represent Tamil speaking people in negotiations in May, 2009, when troops finished off the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. Had the LTTE managed to secure a truce with the intervention of Western powers as the army approached its last stronghold on the Vanni east front, the TNA would still have been playing a secondary role. In fact, the TNA would have had nothing to say other than reiterating again that the LTTE would represent Tamil speaking people at future negotiations.