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Ranil’s Ploy and the Breakaway of the East

 

Silence Breaks : Part Three Cont... By Natarajah Kurupran

Ranil’s Ploy and the Breakaway of the East

Failed though in his personal goal of becoming the President of Sri Lanka, Ranil’s diplomatic skills nevertheless helped in trammeling the Liberation Tigers. 

I have already described how Ranil was actively engaged in designing the global snare against the Tigers all along engaging in peace talks. For his mission, he enlisted the aid of Milinda Morogada, who was an ardent supporter of the Western political economic policies and was close to the U.S. 
 
Ranil’s gambit started from where Lakshman Kadhirgamar left. The latter, during Chandrika’s tenure, had considerable success in subduing the Tigers with his diplomatic maneuvers at the global level.  
 
Ranil made his best efforts to enlist not only the support of the Co-chair nations that were highly supportive of peace talks but also that of India, which was balking with those nations in this regard. 
 
Thus, Ranil undertook visits to the U.K. in the same way as he did to the U.S. Between 2002 and 2003 he made two visits to the U.K. 
 
During his visit to the Downing Street office of Tony Blair, I was present as a reporter. 
 
[Guruparan with an official of the Sri Lankan Embassy in U.K. and  another of the Prime Minister’s Media Division]
 
Like the U.S. visit, this visit too contained in its agenda such items as defense, military coordination and development. A memorandum of understanding on measures of counterterrorism with the British police department was also made. Special meetings and discussions were held with the metropolitan police force and the British intelligence. Here again, the secret meetings and the agreements made thereof were concealed from the media, as it happened during the U.S. visit. As I too came to know about the meeting with the British police department, all the reporters were asked not to report on it. 
 
 
Ranil had made a visit to India too on December 01, 2002. He held discussions with the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishan Advani, Foreign Affairs Minister Yaswant Sinha and Minister of Law Arun Jaitley. Agreements on defense and bilateral trade were made during this visit. A report released by the U.T.I. from Delhi stated about this as follows: 
 
* PM meets Indian leaders; focus on trade and defence ties 
NEW DELHI, (AFP) - Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe began a series of meetings with India's political leadership here yesterday> the first day of an official visit aimed at boosting defence and economic ties. 
 
First to arrive at the Prime Minister's hotel suite was Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha> who held talks with the Prime Minister for about 40 minutes. 
 
Sinha declined afterwards to divulge the contents of the discussions, merely saying they were part of the "ongoing process of consultations between India and Sri Lanka". 
 
Prime Minister, Wickremesinghe who arrived here late Sunday, then held a 45-minute meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani before setting off for talks with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. 
 
Wickremesinghe also met Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley. Today, the last day of his visit, he will hold talks with the civil aviation and petroleum ministers> as well as opposition leader Sonia Gandhi. 
 
Officials in Sri Lanka said at the weekend that the talks with Vajpayee would focus on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement to upgrade the free trade pact between the two South Asian neighbours. Sri Lanka was expected to request more training opportunities for its military personnel in prestigious Indian defence colleges, while New Delhi has offered to sell more military-related hardware to the island. 
 
Wickremesinghe's visit comes four days after Sinha attended a meeting in Colombo of a joint commission that reviews the entire gamut of bilateral relations. 
 
When the ceasefire accord was signed in 2002 and the peace talks were held, Norway assumed the role of facilitator and the European Union, Japan and the U.S. took part as Co-chairs. In this respect, immediately after his Indian visit, Ranil went to Japan on December 30, 2002. 
 
Thus, while holding peace talks with the LTTE, Ranil continued with his manipulative ways of diplomacy and adroitly handled the Co-chairs of peace talks as well as India that was balking with those nations in this regard.  
 
At the national level, Ranil created certain conditions that would compel the Tigers to breach ceasefire. 
 
He was pretermitting the Tigers’ attacks on dissidents and members of discordant Tamil political parties. This resulted in that the Tamils themselves filed complaints to the ceasefire monitoring committee about the excesses of the Tigers. 
 
All those affected by the LTTE during the ceasefire took recourse to various embassies and addressed their grievances. As the international communities were striving to reconcile the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, Ranil ensured that they got credible message from the Tamils themselves that the Tigers had an intrinsic propensity for violence. It was no less a tact than that of his uncle J.R. Jayawardene, who craftily induced the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the LTTE to war against each other and thus made the LTTE a permanent enemy to India. 
 
Complaints received against the LTTE during the ceasefire made the Co-chair nations regard the LTTE with distrust. 
 
Furthermore, Ranil was observant of the dormant embers of internal conflicts of the LTTE and started fanning them. 
 
Just before the ceasefire accord was signed, the Deep Penetration Unit of the Sri Lankan army had mapped out its plot to kill Karuna, the Nightmare of the East. I came to know about this from personal conversation with the government officials who came to the peace talks. Karuna had also known about this. Plotted to be killed in the last week of September 2002, his fate was rewritten by the ceasefire accord. Ranil ordered the then Commander of the East Santha Kothagoda to abandon the plot. (I hope, Karuna and the Tigers alive today should have come to know about this now.)
 
When Karuna, the East Commander of the LTTE, walked his forces to Batticaloa after Operation Jayasikuru in 2001, Ranil and his colleagues could ascertain the internal conflicts within the LTTE and decided to cash in on them. Unfortunately, the Tigers failed miserably in resolving their internal conflicts. 
 
To overcome the problem with Karuna, the leadership of LTTE resorted to its intelligence that only proved detrimental. In a tactical move, Karuna was sent abroad to take part in the peace talks with the Sri Lankan government. While he was abroad, the LTTE leadership appointed its confidants in the East such as Banu, Ramesh and Kousalyan. The aim was to weaken Karuna and his lieutenant Karikalan. 
 
Having got his claws sunk deep into the East for over 15 years, Karuna couldn’t have missed the point. Though far afield, he was keeping the East under his control with his mobile phone. During the second round of the peace talks in Thailand, the schism between Karuna and the leadership of the LTTE became more visible.
 
During the third round of talks in Oslo, while talking to Karuna I asked for a special interview to our radio. He laughed and said: “Guruparan, I have heard much about your radio. But I have been advised not to give any interview to the media. You better ask Bala Anna (Balasingam) or Tamilselvan.” 
 
Nobody can dispute that Karuna inspired the multitude of Tamil younkers with his valor and made them rise with vim and vigor during the days of war. His interview would attract the audience to a great extent. That was a sure thing. So I persisted in requesting and he finally agreed to give a short interview. From phone that was aired right away by our radio. 
 
I already had the conviction that Karuna would soon break away from the LTTE. It only became stronger after my conversation with him. 
 
I think it was during the third meeting in Oslo, we, some of the reporters, were talking to Minister Milinda Moragoda and the Commander of the East Santha Kothagoda. Among many other things, when asked whom they liked among the Tigers, they both mentioned the name of Karuna. ‘Once we faced him directly in the Vanni battlefield. Now we are facing him across the table. We have known his military skills. Now we are surprised to know about his political thought and perspective. He talks openly at the negotiation table’. 
 
This conversation made one thing clear to me: Karuna was moving away from the Tigers or he was pushed out by them. During all the rounds of peace talks, the Sri Lankan officials were trying to have personal conversation with Karuna. They also succeeded. 
 
Moreover, after the third round of the talks, Karuna avoided entering the Vanni area. Each time he was taken out for the talks, the flight would take him and his aides from Batticaloa to the Kattunayaka Airport and after the talks they would be dropped directly at Batticaloa. These travels of Karuna with the government and the military officials led to the development of friendship with them including Santha Kothagoda and Milinda Moragoda. 
 
It is noteworthy here that in the development projects carried out directly by the LTTE’s civil administration or with its cooperation, the East province was neglected. The development measures undertaken by the Tigers and some of the luxuries they had during the ceasefire were denied to the East. These regional inequities were emphasized by the government officials whenever they talked to Karuna. 
 
While these developments were happening with Karuna, on the other side, Ranil followed a liberal policy regarding the Tigers’ purchase of goods and trade activities. All that was required for Vanni went without any hindrance. Those who were proposed by the LTTE were allowed to engage in all types of business activities. Many of them were allowed to become agents for many products including multinational ones such as Coca Cola, milk powders, fertilizers, automobile spare parts and vehicles. Many started describing the Vanni area as becoming ‘little Singapore’. All the main roads got transfigured into ‘carpet roads’. Whichever new brands of cars that were imported in Colombo immediately found their way to the Tiger commanders in Vanni. 
 
Their houses and offices took the appearance of the luxurious houses and offices in Colombo. 90% of the LTTE offices had mineral water bottles of multinational companies. Soft drinks were liberally available. Most of the officers had modern laptops. Money flow was abundant, which came from the taxes on the goods transported into Vanni as well as to Jaffna via Vanni. 
 
The reason why I mention these things is political in nature. Though the hardliners including the JVP severely condemned Ranil for this liberal concession, it was this very same liberalism that helped in the slackening off the fighting spirit of the Tiger soldiers, especially the commanders.
 
Many of the commanders got married and were entwined in nuptial and parental bonds. When a decade-long life in the woods turned into a luxurious urban life all of a sudden, the Tigers were not prepared for it. Nor did they get the political education to get to grips with the new way of life.
 
The East, however, remained as backward as it had been during the war times. When all the roads in the East were bumpy, those of Vanni area became carpet roads.  
 
I should make a note here and underscore it. After the tsunami of 2004, I happened to take a Canadian radio reporter to the East and the North provinces. First we went to the North. There we saw an emergency wing meant for disaster management operated by the LTTE. It had a big office with many laptops and was functioning to the standards of a government office. 
 
But in the Eastern districts of Batticaloa, Ambarai and Trincomalee, the relief operations were being carried out with very poor resources. 
 
While we were talking to Sornam, who was the commander of Thirumalai, and Ezhilan at the Sampur office of the LTTE, we could sense their dissatisfaction about this. Sornam, especially, was anguished to a great extent. ‘Inequity in resource distribution is not only a problem with the government. It is there among the Tigers as well. We are trying to set right the things. However, the condition of the East continues to be miserable’, he said. He also added that it was his personal opinion and not meant for publication. As the conversation revealed, his predecessor Pathuman had also felt such relative deprivation. 
 
While we were cutting through an interior village of Moothur Sampur area of Thirumalai, we saw a woman walking with a small child on her hip and a baggage on the head. We gave her a lift. She said that they had to walk for about 5 km even to go to a small clinic in a nearby town or to buy grocery items. There was no transport facility. Unlike this East, one could not see any such miserable conditions in the villages of Vanni during the ceasefire period. In the East, however, the conditions of education, health, medical facility and social development, all remained the same during the three years of ceasefire too as they had been during the war time. 
 
Compared to the booming conditions of the rapidly burgeoning Vanni, I couldn’t be cognizant of any initiative by the LTTE leadership to develop the conditions of the East. There was certainly a link between the disturbing question of LTTE leadership’s disregard to the East and the conditions that led to the breakaway of Karuna. 
 
It could also be argued that these conditions of the East helped Karuna to cover up his power struggle with the LTTE leadership, his own faults and his desire for a luxurious urban life and coat them with the paint of regionalism. In fact, after the breakaway of Karuna, when a statement released by his side was aired by our radio, I had raised a question as an endnote wondering about his sudden realization of the nature and deeds of the LTTE leadership after having been with them for 20 years. That evening I received a call from a commander named Markan. ‘Brother, don’t think that only the Tigers can sneak into Colombo and shoot; we can also do that’, he warned. 
 
Taking up the cause of regionalism, Karuna had established his own empire in the East. I don’t think he complied with any orders from Vanni after 2002. He took charge of everything in the East including mobilization of money and manpower. The closeness he developed with the military officials and the understanding with the government during the peace talks supercharged his self-confidence. The shocking events that followed after this will follow in the next piece. 
 
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