Moving to War: Critical Events that hardened Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Resolve in 2006

 Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph, 27 September 2016, where the title is “From Hesitant Compromise to Resolve: Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006”

 fig-2-keb-bus The carnage caused by the LTTE’s claymore mine attack on a civilian bus at Kebithigollewa was a major factor in hardening Prsident Rajapaksa’s resolve …keb-22-archives-dailynews-lk

Delineating the fault lines and events that generated the ethnic conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese Sri Lanka since 1948 will demand careful historical work that builds upon the many studies by a battery of scholars thus far — referring here to a whole line of intellectual work extending from Howard Wriggins through Robert Kearney, KM de Silva, SJ Tambiah and AJ Wilson to Nira Wickremasinghe. Historical causation is usually multi-factorial not singular. It is also marked by critical episodes and temporal moments. Each episode and/or phase is likely as not to be generated by several causes involving a multiplicity of factors.

Whenever I have chanced upon tales that enabled a dissection of significant episodes in the history of the ethnic conflict, I have seized the moment. Clarifying the key events and personalities that figured in the process by which the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) overcame the disastrous loss of their military complex at Elephant Pass in early 2000 has been one recent study (Roberts 2016c). Losing control of Jaffna Peninsula at that point would have been disastrous for GSL and arguably for Sri Lankan society writ large. Thamilīlam would have been consolidated and the course of subsequent events altered. The chief hero then was Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and the ordinary soldiers in the peninsula war theatre with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Pakistani government in supporting roles (Roberts, “Ratwatte,” 2016c).

Here, I dissect[1] another turning point involving the events leading to the onset of Eelam War IV. I emphasize the series of events in mid-2006 which led President Rajapaksa to shelve his earnest, albeit tentative, efforts to work out a compromise with the LTTE and to come to the determination that defeating the Tiger was the only path forward. That is, I indicate that Mahinda Rajapaksa was faced with a Hobson’s Choice then in July-August 2006.  He pursued the only course left.[2]

Parenthetically, let me observe that my pursuit of this study will only damn me further in the eyes of those who have concluded that I am partial to Rajapaksa. These voices are not confined to internet assassins such as “Fitzpatrick” and the feature writer Emil Vanderpoorten.[3]  Even the moderate Tamil scholar Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who is no lover of the Tigers, has accused me directly: “I could understand why people like Emil Vanderpoorten tend to agree with Dr. Gnana blindly. This is unfortunately because of your non-criticism of the Rajapaksas at any time (in the aftermath of the civil war), which gives the impression that you are a champion (or blind follower) of the Rajapaksas” (email note: 9th April 2016). Whether Sarvananthan and other critics are aware of my several criticisms of the Rajapaksa government,[4] I cannot say. However, as an analyst devoted to historical and political dissection, I must seize any ‘moment’ that throws up pertinent data on significant episodes in the tale of political crises in our island.

The events leading to the outbreak of Eelam War IV, clearly, are significant. The reasons why I abandoned my earlier position of the 1990s-2003, namely, a naïve faith in the desirability of compromise and the choice of “pragmatic Eelam” by the Sri Lankan Tamils,[5] demands a separate essay.[6] Both these ventures demand a clarification of the political  context prevailing then in the first six years of the twenty-first century

The Setting: 2002-06:  In overview, one could say that Eelam War III (1996-2001) was a disaster for GSL[7] While the LTTE too had suffered severe casualties during this phase they had gained in confidence and now, by 2002, had the leading Tamil moderates in their pocket in the new-front known as the Tamil National Alliance.[8] In signing the “Ceasefire Agreement’ with GSL in February 2002 the LTTE also gained a great deal politically (apart from a respite wherein they could build up their military capacity). They had international recognition and became a de facto state – albeit still tagged as “terrorist” in certain quarters, including GSL voices.[9]

The media event at Kilinochchi on 11th April 2002 was a world event and paved the way for the LTTE to participate at several peace talks (Sattahip, Nakhon Pathom, Oslo, Berlin, Nakhom Pathom, Hakone) brokered by the Norwegians over the next couple of years.[10] There is room to suggest that several Norwegian envoys and Erik Solheim in particular became ‘aides’ partial to LTTE interests during the next few years. We are in need of a careful study that dissects the Norwegian and Solheim role in Sri Lankan affairs in the 2000s — one that goes beyond the Solheim hagiography presented by Mark Salter (2015)

The ceasefire agreement was an unequal arrangement. Where GSL envoys or personnel had to face rigorous checks and/or monitoring to enter the territory of Thamililam, Tiger personnel had considerable freedom in entering other parts of the island. The LTTE was even able to sponsor “Pongu Thamil” pageants in government territory — with that in the Jaffna Peninsula attracting over 200,000 people (Salter 2015: 223). Besides indicating the massive popularity of the Tiger project, these gatherings signaled the degree to which the Tamil politicians residing in GSL space were catspaws of the LTTE period (see Roberts, Tamil Person & State. Pictorial, 2014: 100).

Though the tsunami on 26th December 2004 wrought havoc in the coastal districts held by the LTTE as well as those elsewhere,[11] it provided another instrument in the LTTE locker in the form of funds and greater INGO involvement in relief work within Thamilīlam. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation was set up by the LTTE to exploit these channels and became a respected civilian agency eligible for funding and international trips.[12]

Throughout, from 1990 to the first decade of the 21st century, Thamilīlam remained a single-party fascist state under a dictator, its talaivar Pirapāharan. The writings of Narayan Swamy as well as those of Rajan Hoole and the UTHR personnel made that quite clear – then.[13] With the advantage of hindsight we also know that the LTTE utilized the period of peace to recuperate and strengthen its military capacities.[14] The impact of the tsunami delayed its intentions of resuming war, but – as we know now – they moved towards this end confidently in mid-2006 (see note below on Thamil Chelvam re Mavil Aru talks).

Initially, in 2002-04, the LTTE faced a dual government: with a President from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (elected in 1999) and a parliamentary majority headed by Ranil Wickremasinghe of the United National Party after the General Election of 5th December 2001. However, the General Elections of 2 April 2004 saw the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance, with the SLFP as its principal unit, regaining control of the government – with Mahinda Rajapaksa as its Prime Minister.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga attempted to delay the scheduled Presidential Election of late 2005 for another year, but the Supreme Court determined otherwise.[15] This meant that a Presidential Election was on the cards in late 2005. As before, it was known that the SLFP and UNP would provide the main candidates, with Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremasinghe as the obvious choices from within their ranks.

In Lakshman Kadirgamar the SLFP also had a highly-capable statesman who had impressed the international circuit as Foreign Minister and was rumoured to be the likely Prime Minister if Rajapaksa won the Presidential race. As Kadirgamar was a Tamil, this prospect was anathema to Pirapāharan and the LTTE.[16] From his early days Pirapāharan had pursued one tactic against those who opposed him from within this coterie or in enemy ranks: eliminate them. Assassination was a key weapon in his political/military armoury.[17] Alfred Duraiappah, Michael, Uma Maheswaran, Amirthalingam, Rajiv Gandhi and Mahaththaya had been among the kills he had carried out by his own hand or through Tiger operatives up to 2005.[18]

The Ceasefire Agreement(s) did not extend to the dirty underground war pursued by the LTTE in the years 2002-06. Perceptive Tamils forecast that Kadirgamar would also face assassination[19] – not only because he was a prominent Tamil in the ranks of the enemy, but because of his capacities and potentiality. A Tiger sniper killed him outside his home swimming pool one dark evening on the 12th August 2005. Again, a year later the former Tamil militant Kethesh Loganathan was murdered on 12th August 2006 because he was serving the GSL as an official in the Peace Secretariat.

The killing of Kadirgamar was one step in the Tiger plan to secure a weakened enemy in the war that was planned for the near future. The other step was to ensure that a Sinhala hawk won the Presidential Election.  A hawk in the Sinhala pole would assist the LTTE in its international campaign in the Western world. Mahinda Rajapaksa was not only less urbane, but more hawk than Ranil Wickremasinghe.[20] So, the LTTE asked Tamil voters throughout the land not to cast their votes, thereby depriving Wickremasinghe and the UNP of potential pro-UNP/Ranil votes.[21]

In consequence, Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidential race – sneaking in by 50.3 per cent of the votes. This was what the Tiger doctors had desired. A hawk on the other pole would render their war plans and war games more legitimate. A hawk could be more easily ensnared in battle.

This was, as we now know, a misjudgment. As Gerald Peiris indicates (2009: 205), Rajapaksa showed “ingenuity in maintaining a dove-hawk image” during the years 2005-06. That is the point of this article: to provide information that indicates (A) efforts by Mahinda Rajapaksa to appease the LTTE in 2005/06 despite many provocations and (B) the deepening of his commitment to war in the circumstances that he faced.

Critical information emerged in the course of an interview with Lalith Weeratunga on 14th June 2016, information that confirmed one rumour that I had picked up from Harsha Navaratne some years back.[22] This interview also revealed that (a) Mahinda Rajapaksa sought a modus vivendi and some form of cohabitation in 2006; but that (b) events led him to jettison these explorations and to face the outcome, namely, full-scale war.

I stress here that my visit to Sri Lanka in June 2016, involving a two-month stay, was directed mainly towards finalizing the publication of two books on history.[23] However, I had been chipping away in 2015/16 at deeper understandings of the circumstances surrounding my analysis of “The Realties of Eelam War IV” (Roberts, “Realities,” 2015c) as well as incidents beyond that event extending to the international manoeuvres centred on the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva and New York. In Lanka subsidiary endeavours were feasible at close quarters and some opportunities were seized.

The unfortunate death of Ananda Chittambalam had removed a friend who had assisted me with contacts and advice on many fronts. But I knew that he had been quite friendly with Lalith Weeratunga, a civil servant who worked as Rajapaksa’s official Private Secretary. I used this link to approach Weeratunga, who readily agreed to meet me. This interview has provided me with vital pieces of information,[24] aided by the fact that Weeratunga seems to have been a meticulous public servant (for instance he indicated that his working days with President usually extended from 5.00 am to 11.00 pm virtually non-stop).

Rajapkasa: Tentative Moves towards a Modus Vivendi in 2006: Though the ceasefire held in formal terms from 2002-06, there were ceasefire violations from both sides, with the vast majority initiated by the LTTE – as many as 5700 in Palitha Kohona’s recollections.[25] These included a few naval attacks by the Sea Tigers and the killing of about 150 armed services personnel at various points of time.[26] Despite such ominous signs, Mahinda Rajapaksa held out an olive branch by sending Weeratunga to the small village of Arippu on the north-west coast[27] in early March 2006 to meet one Pooivannan(?), a senior LTTE official, in order to sort out issues pertaining to the supplies for the Tamil peoples in LTTE territory that were being sent on a regular basis.[28]

This visit was without fanfare and incognito. Weeratunga was smuggled into Thamililam in a Sewalanka vehicle bearing its head Harsha Navaratne. Sewalanka was a local NGO that was heavily involved in welfare and relief work in the north and east. Parenthetically, let me note that the Sewalanka office in Vavuniya, headed invariably by Tamils,[29] was at the centre of its efforts in both Vavuniya District and the lands commanded by the LTTE.

Weeratunga informed me that these discussions at Arippu were amicable. It seems, then, that Rajapaksa’s government was still disposed towards maintaining the status quo. However, incidents of violence and tension from both sides were mounting. In a major move the LTTE attempted to kill Lieut-General Sarath Fonseka at the SLA headquarters in Colombo on 25th April 2006, but only succeeded in wounding him.[30]

sarath_fonseka_injured-www-slnewsonline-net The car in which General Fonseka was travelling after it was hit by a female Tiger suicide bomber psoing as pregnant

Weeratunga’s inside information indicates that, more than this incident, it was the LTTE attack on a bus bearing Sinhalese people at Kebithigollewa in Anuradhapura District on 15th June 2006 that consolidated Rajapaksa’s resolve. Two claymore mines devastated that bus — with 66 persons being torn apart by that explosion, while others were injured.[31] Mahinda Rajapaksa took Weeratunga with him when he flew by helicopter to the site where he attended the harrowing scenes of burial.[32] On the return flight to Colombo Rajapaksa was “very silent for quite a while.” Suddenly, speaking in Sinhala, he told Weeratunga: “We must finish these people off. There is no point in dealing with them.”

fig-1-mr-at-keb Rajapaksa viewing the mass of corpses at Kebithigollewaaakeb-man-grief-twiiter keb-funeral-www-slnewsonliene-net  and the huge funeral afterwards

So, his pre-existing inclinations and resolve on these lines had now solidified.[33] One can assume that he discussed matters with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (his brother and Defence Minister) and the military chiefs and that they continued to pursue the programme of military transformation already in place – not least (1) the increase in manpower and (2) the revolutionary re-skilling of the SL Army into a force capable of night operations as well as deep penetration via SIOT teams.[34]

A month later the LTTE took its first step towards the renewal of war. Circa 20th July 2006 they closed the sluice gates at Mavil Aru in the Eastern Province south of Trincomalee. This irrigation system sustained the Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil villages to the north and east of the sluice gates.[35] As Gerald Peiris has concluded, this was “a classic riparian gambit—a challenge for a showdown for control of the entire Mahaveli delta, based on the [Tiger leadership’s] belief that the recovery from the Karuna and tsunami setbacks was adequate … for its fighting cadres to achieve the twin objectives of evicting not only the security forces, but also the Muslim inhabitants from this area” (Peiris 2009: 217).

Even at this point Rajapaksa attempted to save the peace. There are slivers of evidence that he sent a senior minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, a person of Colombo Chetty lineage with proficiency in Tamil, to meet Thamil Chelvam.[36] Details of this meeting are sketchy but significant. It is said that Thamil Chelvam was belligerent: ‘we will teach you all a lesson” sums up the message conveyed to Colombo via Fernandopulle if rumours can be relied upon.[37]

Another rumour caps this tale.  Fernandopulle is said to have indicated to Thamil Chelvam: “Pirapāharan may be from the jungles in the north, but the Rajapaksas are from the jungles down south. They do not back down easily.” That rumour is misplaced[38] – one purveyed in Rajapaksa circles and attached to several incidents. It is nevertheless based on an actual exchange that occurred earlier with Lalith Weeratunga as witness. This exchange was between the President and the Norwegian envoy, Erik Solheim, and occurred early in April 2006.[39]

solhiem-island-april-2006 See, I am no White Tiger’– Norwegian International Development Minister Erik Solheim and new peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer perform the traditional greeting as they welcome Buddhist monks to the Norwegian Embassy yesterday (6). The occasion was a ceremony marking the completion of the restoration of Buddhist temples damaged by the December 2004 tsunami. Norway funded the rebuilding of 32 temples that were damaged by the tsunami. –– Pic by Kamal Bogoda .. http://www.island.lk/2006/04/07/

Weeratunga had conducted some business with his boss one day when President Rajapaksa indicated that Solheim was about to meet him.  Weeratunga rose to leave because foreign affairs were not part of his brief, but Rajapaksa insisted that he wait. The discussion focused on the ceasefire agreement with which Mahinda Rajapaksa was extremely unhappy because of its inequities and imbalances. Solheim’s arguments in favour of the existing situation were on hard-nosed pragmatic grounds: Pirapāharan, he stressed, was “a military genius” and the Tigers could not be defeated. He was immediately challenged by President Rajapaksa, a man who was not trained in diplomatic suaveness: “to you he may be a military genius. But I am going to finish him militarily. That man may think he is king of the jungles, but I am from the jungles in the south ….”[40]

It is this encounter that has since been attached to different exchanges at different spots, but with Mahinda Rajapaksa as original spokesman or centre-piece. Gossip sometimes purveys nuggets of truth amidst its embellishments and distortions.

And so it transpired. The resolve and leadership of the Rajapaksas, assisted by the people in government-territory and the rejuvenated fighting capacities of all the security services (army, navy, air force, police and home guards) — in circumstances where the GSL had more human resources than the leaders of Thamilīlam and where India lent covert support and China & Pakistan provided substantial aid — saw GSL defeat the LTTE by 19th May 2009.[41] The path to the ‘end-game’ on the banks of Nandikadal, however, was long, bloody and complicated.

mr-in-pak-2006-1-april Rajapaksa receive warm greeting on his visit to Pakistan — circa 2 April 2006–www.tamilweek.com

Deciphering this path calls for research on many threads and episodes. It therefore demands many hands and many voices.  This essay is another voice on a lesser-known preliminary episode, complimenting dissections of the battle scenarios that are already in the public realm, notably those by Citizen Silva, Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe, Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda, Al-Jazeera, the Reuters team headed by Bryson Hull, Muralidhar Reddy, Wasantha Karannagoda, Retd Colonel Hariharan and VK Shashikumar.[42]

Many episodes. Many paths. A giant pyramid has to be carefully built up over the years to comprehend the shaping of Eelam War IV.

***  end  ***

lalith_weeratunga-22 Lalith Weeratunga

ADDENDUM, 29 September 2016

Already the first three blog-comments within Colombo Telegraph have spawned comments from extremists on both sides that present definitive claims on the course of Sri Lankan  history and politics that are pure hogwash. 

  • “Silva” asserts that “the Ceylon Civil service was 90% Tamilat one stage” and that this was one of the circumstances “engineered by the British”
  • “Periappa” asserts that “the Srilanka army would have never defeated LTTE without the support of international community particularly India and United States” and that “the 2002 peace talks was under the patronage of USA where Prabaharan was being forced to go for a negotiated solution without division”
  • “Periappa” also announces to the world that “. India intercepted and bombed LTTE ships bringing in weapons.”

When such errors are voiced with such conviction what chance do we have of reconciliation? 

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Roberts, Michael 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-11221

Roberts, Michael 2013 “Congestion in the “Vanni Pocket” January-May 2009: Appendix IV for “BBC Blind,” 8 December 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/congestion-in-the-vanni-pocket-january-may-2009- appendix-iv-for-bbc-blind/

Roberts, Michael 2014a “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Roberts, Michael 2014b Winning the War: Evaluating the Impact of API WENUWEN API,” 1 Sept. 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/winning-the-war-evaluating-the-impact-of-api-wenuwen-ap/

Roberts, Michael 2014c “Ideological Cancers within the Sinhala Universe: Roadblocks in the Path of Reconciliation,” 10 May 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/05/10/ideological-cancers-within-the-sinhala-universe-roadblocks-in-the-path-of-reconciliation/

Roberts, Michael 2014d “The War in Sri Lanka and Post-War Propaganda,” 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/ …being Memo sent to OISL with Hyperlinks and Images added

Roberts, Michael 2014e “Cartographic & Photographic Illustrations in support of the Memorandum Analysing the War in Sri Lanka and Its Propaganda Debates, 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/cartographic-photographic-illustrations-in-support-of-the-memorandum-analysing-the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/

Roberts, Michael 2015 “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=17127&action=edit&postpost=v2

 Roberts, Michael 2015b “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2015c “The Realities of Eelam War IV,” 27 October 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/the-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/

 Roberts, Michael  2016a “Speaking to Gotabaya-I: Plans Afoot in 2009 to Rescue the Tiger Leadership,”  8 March 2016,https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/speaking-to-gotabaya-i-plans-afoot-in-2009-to-rescue-the-tiger-leadership/#more-20092

 Roberts, Michael 2016b “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 5 April 2016, ………………………. https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Roberts, Michael 2016c “Where Ratwatte and CBK Stood Strong: Coping with the Elephant Pass Debacle in April-May 2000,” 24 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/24/where-ratwatte-and-cbk-stood-strong-coping-with-the-elephant-pass-debacle-in-april-may-2000/

Roberts, Michael 2016d “A Puzzle: When Weiss, Amnesty International and Aussie Greens LIE,”16 June 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/a-puzzle-when-weiss-amnesty-international-and-aussie-greens-lie/

Roberts, Michael 2016e “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,” 5 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

Roberts, Michael 2016f “Thoughts on de Silva-Ranasinghe’s Concise Delineation of the LTTE Defeat in Eelam War IV,” 15 September 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/?p=22355&preview=true

Roberts, Michael 2016a Ben Bavinck’s Personal Stance,” 5 May 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/05/05/ii-ben-bavincks-personal-stance-extracts-from-his-diaries

Roberts, Michael 2016b “Bavinck on Life in Jaffna, 1994-2004: People Caught in the Middle of Two Awesome Forces,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/bavinck-on-life-in-jaffna-1994-2004-people-caught-in-the-middle-of-two-awesome-forces/

Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War, London, Hurst & Company.

Shashikumar, VK 2009 “The Rajapaksa Model of Combating Terror,” Indian Defence Review, 24/4 and  http://www.indiandefencereview.com/spotlights/the-rajapaksa-model-of-combating-terror/

Shashikumar, VK  2014 “Lessons from Sri Lanka’s War,” 19 November 2014, http://www.indiandefencereview.com/spotlights/lessons-from-the-war-in-sri-lanka/

SLMM Report 2010 The SLMM Report. 2002-08, by Major-General Lars Silverberg et al, October 2010, Norwegian Government Publication, http://www.ptsrilanka.org/images/documents/background/slmm_final_report.pdfLMM Report

Sydney Morning Herald 2009 “Tamils protest outside Kiribilli House,” 27 April 2009,http://www.smh.com.au//breaking-news-national/tamils-protest-outside-kirribilli-house-20090427-aknf.html

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2009 Sri Lanka: The Last Phase in Eelam War IV. From Chundikulam to Pudukulam, New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare, Manekshaw Paper No. 13, http://www.claws.in/administrator/uploaded_files/1274263403MP%2022.pdf

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014 “Crossing the Lines: Tamils Escapees from the Last Redoubt meet the Army,” 21 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=13751&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2 … originally appeaeering in shorter form in 2009 .

Tamil Guardian 2009 “Diaspora Tamils protest, fast in increasing numbers; call for ceasefire,” 15 April 2009, http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=2281.

Telegraph 2009 “Britain and France fail to persuade Sri Lanka to end war,” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/srilanka/5242076/Britain-and-France-fail-to-persuade-Sri-Lanka-to-end-war.html

 UNPoE 2011 Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts report on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 2011….http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/ POE_Report_Full.pdf

 US Embassy 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/#more-13481

You Tube [2009]LTTE Attack Kebithigollewa,”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Dndxi_1NFS.

Washington Post 2009 “Clinton & self-styled peacemakers obstructing Tiger defeat,” 27 April 2009,  http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/Current_Affairs/ca200904/20090427clinton_self_styled_peacemakers_obstructing_tiger_defeat.htm

Wertheim. Stephen 2010 “A solution from hell: the United States and the rise of humanitarian interventionism, 1991–2003,” Journal of Genocide Research, 12: vol. 3 & 4, 149 -72

 Waduge, Shenali 2014 “The forgotten civilians killed by LTTE:  Kebithigollewa massacre,” 15 June 2006,” 21 September 2014, http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2014/09/21/the-forgotten-civilians-killed-by-ltte-kebithigollewa-massacre-15-june-2006/

WSWS 2002 “Sri Lankan peace talks: the LTTE bows to international capital,”

21 September 2002, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2002/09/sril-s21.html

FOOTNOTES

[1] While founded on critical information conveyed by Lalith Weeratunga (former Secretary to President Mahinda Rajapaksa), this essay has been assisted by tit-bits of information provided by KK de Silva, Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, Harsha Navaratne and Gerald Peiris. To all of them my thanks.

[2] I have presented this evaluation in some of my previous writings. More recently, Justin Labrooy in Adelaide made the same claim quite independently and in definitive voice during a chat after tennis. He cannot be dismissed as a Sinhala chauvinist or Rajapaksa lover.

[3] Vanderpoorten has embraced me in scathing comments on occasions in web sites. ”Fitzpatrick” is the tag used by an ‘assassin’ who has targeted me in both Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph. Remarkably, his disparaging work appeared on most of these occasions more or less within the hour of my articles on Eelam War IV and its surrounds appearing in the respective sites. His command of English is admirable and the denigration clever. One wonders if he is a hired gun assigned to monitor these sites on behalf of the extreme Tamil nationalist circuit.

[4] I refer here to Roberts, “Brickbats,” 2009; “Rajapaksa Regime… Fourth Estate,” 2009; “Populism and Sinhala-Kingship in the Rajapaksa Regime’s Political Pitch,” 2012 and “Ideological Cancers within the Sinhala Universe: Roadblocks in the Path of Reconciliation,” 2014. I did not join the civil rights bandwagon because many agencies better informed than myself were pursuing those lines of criticism competently. Pious displays of political correctness are not my forte. I am also severely critical of the Rajapaksa Government’s propaganda pitch during 2008/09 and their abysmal presentation of the GSL’s massive work at the detention centres at Manik Farm and the Jaffna Peninsula.

[5] See Roberts, “LTTE’s Ideological Retreat,” and “Meaning of Eelam,” both newspaper essays in September & October 2002, where I pressed Tamils to aim for “pragmatic Eelam” rather than a separate state.

[6] I intend composing one soon. I see that composition as a ‘brother’ to this article.

[7] While the statistics on war casualties are notoriously fickle (for a number of reasons which cannot be dealt with here), one set of figures I have gathered indicate that the GSL suffered 12,166 dead (inclusive of 2,718 MIA) in Eelam War III. This contrasts with 6,261 in Eelam War IV (latter figure from de Silva-Ranasinghe 2016).

[8] This process was set In stone by the late 1990s and was capped by the assassination of one Tamil leader who may have resisted the process, namely Neelan Tiruchelvam, on 29th July 1999.

[9] I have carefully refrained from using that terminology because quite a few states deploy terrorist tactics as one dimension of their warring. Indeed, arguably, one cannot war without deploying terror.

[10] For the dates and other details,  see http://www.norway.lk/News_and_events/Relations-between-Norway-and-Sri-Lanka/Peace-Process/peace/ and Salter 2015: chaps. 4, 5 & 6. For a skeptical analysis, see Peiris, Twilight, 2009: 92-100. Also note NAT, 2007 and http://www.asiantribune.com/index.php?q=node/5408.

[11] One of the best summaries of the disasters wrought by the tsunami can be found in Peiris, Twilight, 2009: 186-93.

[12] The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation had representatives in the LTTE delegations sponsored for tours of several European countries to learn about devolutionary forms of government. They were also incorporated into the international gatherings sponsored by Geneva Call in that organisation’s missionary campaign against land mines. By happenchance I was among the Sri Lankan peaceniks invited to a meeting Zurich in April 2006. TRO representatives as well as diaspora Tamils (for e. g., Revd Chandrakanthan) and such intellectuals as Drs. Peter Schalk, Brian Seneviratne, David Rampton and Roshan de Silva Wijeyratne were among those at the meeting.

[13] See Hoole et al 2001 and Narayanswamy 2003 & 2009. Also see the diary reflections written during those tumultuous years from the heart of the Jaffna Peninsula in Benjamin Bavinck, Of Tamils & Tigers, vol. II, 2014, especially Roberts “Bavinck on Life in Jaffna, 1994-2004: People Caught in the Middle of Two Awesome Forces,”  2016b, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/bavinck-on-life-in-jaffna-1994-2004-people-caught-in-the- middle-of-two-awesome-forces/

[14] The defection of Karuna and segments of the Tiger army in 2004 was, of course, a setback. So too the deaths and loss of boats caused by the force of the tsunami on the 26h December 2004. However, the LTTE continued to recruit and train its forces; while the civilian population was mobilized as auxiliary elements through the training programme for the makkal padai — see Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, 2014: 106-08 and Mango 2014.

[15] See Dias 2005 and http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Sri-Lanka’s-Supreme-Court-rules-in-favour-of-presidential-elections-in-2005-3986.htm. At some point in 2004, when the UNP held control of Parliament President Kumaratunga also seized control of three key ministries –causing consternation in Lake House circles (email note from Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, 18 Sept. 2016).

[16] “Kadirgamar was always on the Tigers’ target list. They hated him” — Vidar Helgesen, the Norwegian facilitator, quoted in Saltet 2015: 219).

[17] See Ganeshan Iyer 2012; Roberts, “Inspirations,” 2012 and Narayan Swamy, “Catapult-killer,” 2009.

[18] Wikipedia lists 57 persons successfully eliminated in deliberate assassination jobs carried out by Tiger operatives, sometimes involving bombs or strikes that killed several bystanders…. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ List_of_people_assassinated_by_the_Liberation_Tigers_of_Tamil_Eelam.

[19] A Tamil friend in Sydney told Tissa Jayatilaka in January 2005 that Kadirgamar was likely to be assassinated (conveyed to me by Jayatilaka during chat at Orient Club).

[20] “The … Tigers wanted a President [Rajapaksa] who could disrupt peace and bring about war” — DBS Jeyaraj quoted in Salter 2015: 233.

[21] The LTTE policy on this front and the medley of factors that had a bearing on the Presidential Elections are clarified in Peiris, Twilight, 2009: 201-10.

[22] I interviewed Navaratne in Vavuniya in 2010 after a chance meeting at the local Sewalanka HQ when I was collecting data on the IDP relief operations at Manik Farm — where Sewalanka was heavily engaged in relief aid.

[23] A fresh edition of the book on Jeronis Pieris (1975) and the Sinhala translation of my work on Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period (2004).

[24] He has also responded to subsequent telephone inquiries seeking clarification or elaboration.

[25] Email note from Kohona, 19 September 2016 – supported by a quotation from him in Salter 2015: 259 9which is critical of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission for not proposing “remedial action”). Kohona headed the government’s Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) for a while. For details which call for careful deciphering, see SLMM  2010, pp. 217-18 and Salter 2015: passim.

[26] Peiris, Twilight, 2009: 215.

[27] Weeratunga travelled to Arippu in LTTE territory with the Director Sewalanka, Harsha Navaratne, and says that much of the journey then was through thick jungle. Arippu is south of Mannar and it so happens that I visited the place in July this year via Wilpattu on my way to visit Jeremy Liyanage in Mannar.

[28] GSL considered these people to be citizens of Sri Lanka. So this largesse was directed by political considerations. However, we know that the vast majority of the Tamil people in Thamilīlam were supporters of the LTTE till early 2009 so that the supplies were in fact a unique story of one warring side feeding the other in considerable part. Also see Roberts, “A Puzzle,” 2016e.

[29] Navaratne himself was based in Colombo.

[30] See Salter 2015: 252-53 and http://www.tamilguardian.com/content/fonseka-still-critical-after-suicide-bomb-attack?articleid=632 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarath_Fonseka#Chief_of_Defence_staff. Murali Reddy indicates that Fonseka was considered “three times more nationalist than Rajapaksa” (quoted in Salter 2015: 253).

[31] See http://www.slnewsonline.net/Kebithigollewa_Massacre_on_15_June_2006.pdf, Waduge 2014 and Salter 2015: 260. For a pro-Tamil twist on this event, see Roger Gnanaindran 2006.

[32] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV7KI8s_Vxg

[33] Note that about ten days later, on 26th June 2006, Major-General Parami Kulatunga was assassinated when his car was rammed by an LTTE suicide bomber on a motor cycle (for graphic images. see http://www.lankalibrary.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=2591).

[34] For reviews of the factors that enabled GSL to win the war, see de Silva-Ranasinghe, “Sri Lanka’s Experience in Counter-Insurgency Warfare,” 2009d; de Silva-Ranasinghe, ”Good Education,” 2009e; Hariharan 2009; de Silva-Ranasinghe 2016 [originally 2009]; VK Shashikumar 2014; Roberts, “Winning the War,” 2014b and Roberts, “Thoughts,” 2016f.

[35] See Mahindapala 2006 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mavil_Aru.

[36] Navaratne — my original source — has confirmed this event by email from abroad (18 Sept. 2016); but fuller details are lacking and not readily available because Fernandopulle was murdered by the LTTE in early April 2008 (Ferdinando 2016).

[37] Apart from the tale conveyed to me by Navaratne, Gerald Peiris has informed me (email, 20 Sept. 2016) that there were “several stories during the early phase of MR’s presidency about his making similar overtures and peace feelers through personal emissaries.”

[38] This is yet another tale that should encourage scholars to interrogate the role of rumour in sharpening conflict of all sorts. There has already been attention to the force of rumour in instigating the anti-Moor pogrom in Sri Lanka in mid-1915 and many Sri Lankans within older generational cohorts will recall the power of rumour in the attacks on Tamils in 1958, 1977 and 1983. But rumour operates in office politics too and can spark acts of revenge involving court cases, putative murder via sorcery, et cetera.

[39] Weeratunga thought it was late March or early April. The Sunday Island of 9th April indicates that Solheim had seen the President a few days before and was now headed for Kilinochchi with other EU representatives to discuss the impending talks in Geneva with the LTTE leaders.

[40] To those immersed in Sri Lanka’s history, this reaction may recall images of Dutthagāmani confronting Elāra.

[41] See De Silva-Ranasinghe, “How Sri Lanka defeated the ‘Invincible’ LTTE: A Concise Summary from 2009,” 14 September 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/how-sri-lanka-defeated-the-invincible-ltte-a-concise-summary-from-2009/

[42] Major General Kamal Gunaratne’s Road to Nandikadal is a book-length study encompassing the whole series of wars has just appeared but I have not got access to it as yet.

 

 

 

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1 Comment

Filed under accountability, atrocities, authoritarian regimes, devolution, ethnicity, fundamentalism, governance, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, Presidential elections, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, suicide bombing, the imaginary and the real, trauma, truth as casualty of war, vengeance, war reportage, women in ethnic conflcits, world events & processes, zealotry

One response to “Moving to War: Critical Events that hardened Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Resolve in 2006

  1. Eddie Wijesuriya

    Whatever it is, he ended a 30 year war. There was a time when we went out in the morning we were not sure of returning home. I missed two bombs by a few minutes. The Central Bank and Green Path near the Capri .My two daughters were at Ladies College when the JOC bomb went off. When I got there, they were covered in glass, fortunately, unhurt.

    On Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 9:52 PM, Thuppahi’s Blog wrote:

    > thuppahi posted: ” Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph, 27 > September 2016, where the title is “From Hesitant Compromise to Resolve: > Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006″ The carnage caused by the LTTE’s claymore mine > attack on a civilian bus at Kebithigollewa was a ma” >

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