Feature Article

Karuna meets with Sri Lankan ministers, US officials- paper

[TamilNet, Sunday, 25 July 2004, 00:36 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s tourism minister and brother of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mr. Anura Bandaranaike, escorted the renegade LTTE commander, Karuna, to Singapore to address US officials on combating terrorism, The Sunday Leader reported this week, quoting government sources. Another government minister and a close confidante of President Kumaratunga, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, is to meet with Karuna, the paper also said.

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“Bandaranaike, it is alleged, has helped Karuna to leave [Sri Lanka] to attend an important meeting in Singapore and subsequently visit Malaysia to see his wife and children,” The Sunday Leader reported, quoting sources in the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

“Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera who is on a visit to the United States is also expected to meet Karuna in Singapore on his return [Monday or Tuesday],” the source told the paper.

The paper quoted “sources close to Karuna” (Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan) as saying the he has been invited to speak on 'Anti Terrorism' to US State Department officials in Singapore.

Reports of Mr. Bandaranaike escorting Karuna to Singapore first appeared on Thursday, when an MP of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) protested the involvement of the Tourism minister in assisting Karuna, whose covert campaign of violence against LTTE cadres and supporters in the Batticaloa district has strained the two year old cease-fire.

Whilst the government did not deny or clarify the matter when Jaffna District MP, Mr. M.K. Sivajilingam raised the matter in Parliament, Mr. Bandaranaike was subsequently quoted as denying any involvement.

“I have never had any contact with [Karuna] before his defection or after his defection from the LTTE. I have never indulged in the part time of accompanying unknown persons to any destination in the world,” Mr. Bandaranaike said.

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He charged that the story has been put about by the main opposition United National Party's media unit.

However, Mr. Sivajilingam, speaking to The Sunday Leader, said Mr. Bandaranaike along with two Special Task Force (STF) personnel accompanied Karuna to Singapore. He also said Karuna did not use the VIP lounge at the Katunayake airport but instead used the lounge meant for intelligence officials.

Mr. Sivajilingam said that it has finally been proved beyond doubt that cabinet ministers have strong links with Karuna and declared that the Sri Lanka government and the President should not continue to live in denial.

"We are not worried about whether Bandaranaike accompanied Karuna or not but the real issue is that the government is attempting to conceal the fact that it has links with Karuna. The government and the President should stop lying to the nation that Karuna is not close to the government for now it is an established fact," he said.

TNA national list MP, Joseph Pararajasingham, voiced concern that Sri Lankan cabinet ministers establishing links with Karuna would affect the stalled Norwegian peace process.

The Liberation Tigers have repeatedly charged that the Sri Lankan government was harbouring Karuna, despite Colombo’s public assertion the matter was an ‘internal affair’ of the LTTE.

Moreover, the LTTE say the Sri Lankan military was assisting Karuna’s cadres in a covert campaign of violence in the Batticaloa with the intention of destabilising the region.

The LTTE has ratcheted up its rhetoric in the past few weeks. Last week the movement warned that President Kumaratunga’s government was pushing the island to the “edge of war.”

“[The LTTE] will not start the war but if the government imposes it on us we are ready to fight,” the head of the LTTE’s political wing, Mr. S. P. Thamilchelvan said last week.

“If the government fails to realize the ground realities we will have to take some serious decision,” he said, without elaborating.

The warning comes ahead of a visit to the island next Sunday by Mr. Vidar Helgesen, Norway's deputy foreign minister to make another effort to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table. He is expected to meet Mr. Thamilchelvan on Monday.

The linking of Ministers Bandaranaike and Samaraweera this week comes a week after another cabinet Minister, Mr. Douglas Devananda invited journalists to overhear his conversations with Karuna.

Mr. Devananda, who heads the paramilitary Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) is said to be working with Karuna to establish a new political party to be headed by the renegade LTTE commander. Press reports said plans for the party’s launch were delayed after two close associates of Karuna were shot dead in Batticaloa prison, where they were being held on firearms charges.

Increasing evidence of the government’s support for Karuna amidst continuing attacks on LTTE cadres and supporters in Batticaloa is raising concerns about the cease-fire between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan armed forces.

“Unless the international community is able to curtail [President Kumaratunga's] efforts to provoke the Tigers, it is only a matter of time before war is reignited,” the Tamil Guardian newspaper said this week in its editorial.

“Is the LTTE seriously expected to negotiate in good faith with a government waging a war of attrition against it?” the paper asked.


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