Feature Article

SLA role in renegade affair said scuttling peace effort

[TamilNet, Saturday, 26 June 2004, 18:24 GMT]
The Liberation Tigers will take up the question of the Sri Lanka army backing renegade commander ‘Karuna’ with the Norwegian facilitators when they meet them next, LTTE sources in Kilinochchi said Saturday. “The Sri Lankan government should come clean on this matter if it wants to preserve the bona fide on which the peace talks are based," they said.

“The impact of the revelations by former confidantes of a renegade Tamil Tiger commander Karuna of the Sri Lankan military's assistance to his group and its violent activities in the island’s east continue to weigh heavily against prospects for negotiations," a political analyst in Colombo said, reflecting the general opinion of Tamils inside and outside Sri Lanka.

He slammed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) for seriously damaging the peace process by covertly backing the renegade eastern commander.

“With both main Sinhala parties being implicated in an effort, as the Tamil street sees it, to aid and abet a traitor and use him in a covert war against the Tigers, the entire premise of a negotiation process - trust between the protagonists - has inevitably been seriously damaged."

“The duplicity, as it is being seen in the Northeast, of both Sinhala parties making pro-peace declarations publicly while giving succour covertly to Karuna and his violent campaign in the island's east has exacerbated this loss of faith," he said.

“Simply put, it appears the Sinhala leadership - both ruling and opposition parties - are still more preoccupied with defeating the Tigers than in sincerely negotiating a way out of the island's ethnic problem. So much so that they are prepared to risk re-igniting the war in pursuing any opportunity to weaken the Tigers," the analyst emphasised.

“The straightforward implications for the peace process of assisting Karuna are obvious, as evidenced by the hurried scramble by both the main opposition United National Party (UNP) and the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to distance themselves from it," he said.

Meanwhile, the Tamil Guardian newspaper published in London said in its editorial this week, “Trust between President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government and the LTTE has evaporated."

“Infamous for her political duplicity, President Kumaratunga has never bothered to conceal her militarist tendencies when it comes to the Tamil question. But it is the implication of the government’s wider strategy involving Karuna that cast the most serious doubts on its bona fides and undermines the peace process,” the paper said.

The main opposition UNP was the first to react after four former confidantes of Karuna returned to the LTTE and exposed what had transpired in the two months since the renegade commander fled the LTTE offensive in April which ended his six-week old rebellion.

Ali Zahir Moulana, the MP from the Batticaloa district who helped Karuna flee the eastern district along with some of his loyalists, resigned Wednesday while his party protested its innocence.

Restating its policy of non-interference in the internal matters of the LTTE - a stance it took within hours of Karuna announcing his rebellion in early March - the UNP announced an inquiry.

But Moulana’s falling on his own sword is unlikely to persuade Tamil opinion of his assertion that the senior UNP leadership had no knowledge of his role in Karuna's escape.

“I agreed to fulfill his wish to (travel to Colombo) purely on humanitarian grounds," Moulana told AFP news agency last week. “What happened after Karuna got to Colombo, I don’t know. I have had no contact with him since," he said.

Senior officials and commanders of the Liberation Tigers in Batticaloa told the press this week that Mr. Moulana had denied any knowledge of the renegade when they had called him many times on the basis of reliable information about the assistance the MP was providing ‘Karuna’.

They said Mr. Moulana was fully aware of the Sri Lanka army intelligence involvement in aiding Karuna’s escape and providing him safe houses in Colombo.

Also on Saturday they categorically dismissed a report in the ‘The Island’ quoting Mr. Moulana that he had got Col. Ramesh’s permission to ‘escort Karuna out of Batticaloa’ as ‘diabolical misinformation’.

In the meantime, aware of the obvious question the matter raises of the government’s sincerity to peace, the UPFA had to proffer a plausible explanation. The initial response came Thursday from Information Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who put the blame on “rogue elements” of the Army.

“Obviously, there have been military personnel involved,” Mr. Samaraweera told a press conference on Thursday.

“That we cannot deny, but [it was] not with the knowledge or connivance of the government,” international press reports quoted him as insisting.

But there would be no ‘formal’ probe, the Minister said. Instead the defence ministry would itself “get to the bottom of it.”

However Mr. Samaraweera also used the opportunity to take a swipe at the UNP, claiming somewhat incredulously: “this assistance to a rebel defector was actually a plot by the opposition to sabotage the government's chances of doing a peace deal with the Tamil Tigers.”

But given the ethnic lines at the heart of Sri Lanka's politics, Mr. Samaraweera’s efforts to shore up his government's credibility on the peace issue promptly earned it the ire of the Sinhala nationalists and - not unexpectedly - triggered friction between it and the Army. The Minister was soon clarifying his unambiguous admissions.

“It is necessary to explain [Mr. Samaraweera’s] actual statement,” his office said in a statement.

Contrary to the reports filed by several international news agencies, Mr. Samaraweera had in fact, according to his office, declared that: “the army had nothing to do with this matter.”

“Certain media institutions appear to have made attempts to misinterpret the Ministers’ statement to create a wrong impression between the army and the government,” Mr. Samaraweera’s office protested.

Even before this week's revelations, some sections of Colombo's diplomatic corps, according to Tamil political sources in Sri Lanka's capital, were well aware that the Sri Lankan government had given sanctuary to Karuna - not least because Colombo was seeking a foreign safe haven for him.

“Despite denials by the UPFA and UNP this week, it is inconceivable that they were not aware of each other’s roles in the Karuna affair,” the analyst said.

“From a Tamil perspective, it now appears that not only can neither main Sinhala party be trusted to deal sincerely with the ethnic question, but also their anti-Tamil sentiment is strong enough to impel the bitter opponents to collaborate in efforts to undermine the Tamil cause”, according to him.

There is, as yet, no official comment from the LTTE’s headquarters regarding this week’s developments.

But within weeks of Karuna’s rebellion, Mr. Anton Balasingham, the LTTE’s political advisor and chief negotiator warned: “We should let it be known to his contacts that they will cause irreparable damage to the peace process if they exploit Karuna's dissent.”

Last week, the LTTE’s top commander in the Batticaloa-Ampara region, declared: “If the Sri Lanka government tries to wage war against us making use of Karuna, there will be serious repercussions and we will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

And the movement’s intelligence chief in the region, Mr. Ramanan told the Sudar Oli newspaper this week: “the government is double acting. They must decide if they want war or peace.”


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