Some 48 hours ahead of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran`s `Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day` day speech last Sunday, Colombo`s diplomatic community, it seems, had a sneak preview of sorts.
Guerrilla chief negotiator Anton Balasingham had told Norway`s Minister for International Development (and Special Envoy to the peace process) Erik Solheim that the LTTE would not corner or be too harsh on President Mahinda Rajapakse. There was a sigh of relief.
Yet there was suspense over what Mr. Prabhakaran was going to say. Mr. Balasingham, who drafts his speeches for the annual event gave no other indications. Hence, like all other Sri Lankans, the diplomatic community waited with bated breath.
Last Sunday, Mr. Prabhakaran made his `urgent and final appeal`. Even if Mr. Rajapakse was not cornered and the words were not harsh but couched in the most diplomatic language, the message was clear. He declared, `If the new Government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our homeland.`
If most Sri Lankans were unable to discern this from what they saw, read or heard in the media, that was Mr. Prabhakaran`s way of saying the LTTE would go to war next year. That is if their `urgent and final appeal` is not heeded by President Rajapakse`s Government. What is his `urgent and final appeal?` He said `it is a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil people.` He gave the outlines of such a framework.
One was the Tamil right to `self determination,` which he said `entails the right to freely choose, without external interference, our political life.`
He said `while Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony has assumed predominance in the south, Tamil nationalism has emerged as a powerful force and consolidating itself in the Tamil homeland.`
So Mr. Prabhkaran is waiting for 2006 for Mr. Rajapakse to come up with a `reasonable political framework.` Yet, he made the point that `?.we do not believe we can gain a reasonable solution from the Sinhala nation.` Therefore, he added, `We have to fight and win our rights. We have never entertained the idea that we could obtain justice from the compassion of the Sinhala politicians. This has always been the view of our organisation.`
President Rajapakse has made clear, unequivocally, his Government`s position vis-à-vis the LTTE demands. In his first policy statement to Parliament on November 25 he said `instead of the concept of traditional homelands and self determination that allow an ethnic group to break away from the Republic of Sri Lanka, steps will be taken to ensure that all the communities, including Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malay the freedom to exercise all rights enshrined in the Constitution - including the right to live in any part of Sri Lanka on the grounds that the entire territory is the homeland of all communities.`
That, without doubt, freezes the positions of President Rajapakse`s Government and the LTTE, even before peace talks or a dialogue to resume it gets under way. Thus there is a wider gap though the positions of the two sides by no means spell the doom of the peace process and an immediate revert to war.
Mr Prabhakaran said Mr. Rajapakse was considered a realist committed to pragmatic politics. Hence, he said `we wish to find out, first of all, how he is going to handle the peace process and whether he will offer justice to our people. `We have, therefore, decided to wait and observe, for sometime, his political manoeuvres and actions,` he added.
More on that subject later. Besides dealing with the core issue to the ethnic conflict, Mr. Prabhakaran also dealt with a number of other matters. More significant among them were his remarks on the following:
`The international community is fully aware of the fact that we are running an efficient, self-governing administrative structure in the majority areas of the Tamil homeland, which were liberated from Sinhala military occupation by our organisation. Our administrative structure is formidable, consisting of our controlled territories with huge civilian population, protected by a powerful military force. We have also developed a complex administrative infra-structure of a shadow government. Though a large number of Tamils are still living in the military occupied Tamil region, their allegiance is with our liberation movement.
In his own way, Mr. Prabhakaran is making out that he already has `a Government in waiting` with a `powerful military force.` Since the ceasefire in February 2002, unwittingly or to please the LTTE, two successive Governments have helped in this exercise. First was the United National Front of then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe.
The LTTE built a strong military machine during this period. When issues with regard to these matters were highlighted in The Sunday Times, attacks were directed at this newspaper. Then, former President Kumaratunga took over the portfolio of defence together with two others from Mr. Wickremasinghe`s Cabinet on the grounds that national security was in `grave danger.` Little or nothing was done thereafter. The result - Mr. Prabhakaran is now acknowledging to the whole world his achievements.
`We are disappointed and sad to note that some international governments, having been influenced by this false propaganda, continue to retain our organisation on their terrorist list. Biased positions by powerful nations acting as guardians of the peace process, in excluding and alienating our liberation organisation as a `terrorist outfit` and supporting the interest of the Sri Lankan state, severely affected the balance of power relations between the parties in conflict at the peace negotiations. This pro-state bias constrained our liberty to choose our own political status. This partiality finally became one of the causes for the collapse of the peace talks.
`There is no clear, coherent, globally acceptable definition of the concept of terrorism.`
In delivering an ultimatum to President Rajapakse`s Government on the one hand, the LTTE leader, on the other, is pitching his case for further recognition from the international community. In his address, he has taken them through history, defended the LTTE`s past record and pointed out that terrorism had not been clearly defined. He is thus seeking not only to justify the LTTE`s military struggle but also its continuation in the future to win their demands.
In this context Mr. Prabhakaran`s note of caution to resume the `struggle for self determination` and `national liberation` next year is relevant. Though he had not set a deadline, he seems to bear in mind President Rajapakse`s own promise to voters before last month`s presidential elections to reach a southern consensus within three months. In the interim it will not be surprising if the LTTE steps up violent activity not only in the North and the East but also in the City of Colombo. The move, in the wake of Mr. Prabhakaran`s ultimatum, is to mount further pressure on the Government. A low intensity military campaign has already been launched by the guerrillas. This has seen the killing of intelligence operatives, informants and members of their rival groups.
It is in this backdrop that President Rajapakse has launched some diplomatic and other initiatives. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera flew to New Delhi for a meeting with Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. He now holds the Foreign Minister portfolio too.
Earlier, India had invited President Rajapakse on an official visit later next week. However, Premier Singh had made it known that his Government wants to accord the highest honour to Mr. Rajapakse by inviting him for a state visit. It is expected to take place on December 27.
Immediately after Mr. Samaraweera`s return, there were a series of other meetings in New Delhi. Foreign Secretary, H.M.G.S. Palihakkaran and Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat John Gunaratne met with senior Indian officials to discuss matters relating to the peace process. Also in New Delhi were Erik Solheim and other Norwegian officials.
They also had meetings with both Sri Lankan and Indian officials. It is now certain Norway will continue its peace facilitator role in Sri Lanka. For this purpose, Mr. Solheim is expected in Colombo shortly.
The donor co-chairs of the peace process, the United States, Japan and the European Union had sought a meeting with Mr. Samarweera last week. In view of his visit to New Delhi, the meeting has now been fixed for Tuesday. The Foreign Minister is expected to brief them on the latest developments relating to the peace process.
Former Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat, Jayantha Dhanapala has been appointed as an advisor to the peace process. President Rajapakse also had a meeting with Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda. He asked him to relinquish office. He is being promoted a four star General from tomorrow, the date on which he will retire. To be promoted Lieut. Gen. from tomorrow, Major General Sarath Fonseka will assume duties as the 18th Commander of the Army on Tuesday . See box story.
Maj. Gen. Fonseka told The Sunday Times `I am taking up a sacred responsibility with an open mind. My doors will be open from the highest officer to the other ranks.` He said it was his aim to not only improve conditions in the Army and look after the interests of the country. He was dedicated to wiping out corruption, malpractices and give pride of place to those who are efficient.
As a new year approaches, President Rajapakse, who won an election despite bitter opposition from within his own camp, has a formidable task. He has to address the vital issues related to the peace process. More importantly, he also has to rectify serious lapses caused by the former UNF Government of then Premier Ranil Wickremasinghe and the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Like during the presidential elections, he has to face two enemies - one within and the other, the LTTE.
Controversial regulations annulled
The controversial regulations increasing the upper age limit for retirement of senior ranks in the armed forces and giving effect to other drastic changes in the country`s military are no longer valid.
President Mahinda Rajapakse, in his capacity as Minister of Defence, promulgated a Gazette notification this week rescinding these regulations with effect from November 29 - just a month and four days after they became effective.
The latest Gazette said: `Regulation made under Section 161 of the Army Act (Chapter 357), read with Section 29 of the aforesaid Act and published in Gazette Extraordinary No 1416/11 of 25th October, 2005 is rescinded with effect from 29th November 2005.`
The same Gazette also rescinded regulations made under the Navy Act (Chapter 358) and The Air Force Act (Chapter 359). The regulations, in the form of amendments to the Army Pensions and Gratuities Code (1981) were rushed through by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on October 25 - just three weeks before last month`s presidential elections. Similar regulations were also promulgated in the same Gazette for the Navy and the Air Force. As a result, a handful of senior officers won extended terms of service. Whilst their fate now hangs in the balance, others who are due to retire hereafter will be required to follow the normal laid down procedure that has existed.
A major highlight of the now rescinded regulations was the increase in the upper age limit for the retirement of Commanders of the Armed Forces. A Lieutenant General in the Army, the equivalent rank of Vice Admiral in the Navy or Air Marshal in the Air Force was to be allowed to serve until the age of 60. Now, the upper age limit for retirement would revert to the previous practice of 55 unless they receive extensions.
In this aftermath Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda was called upon to relinquish office. From tomorrow he has been promoted to the rank of a four star General and will retire from service. He is to be given a farewell send off at Army Headquarters tomorrow morning. Yesterday he was accorded a farewell parade by his regiment, the Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI) at Panagoda. That will include a guard of honour. Lt. Gen. Kottegoda has been offered a diplomatic posting though his station is yet to be finally determined.
On Tuesday, the new Commander Major General Sarath Fonseka, who will be promoted Lieutenant General from tomorrow, will assume office as the 18th Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. A welcome ceremony including a guard of honour is being laid out for him. The letters informing Lt. Gen. Kottegoda of his elevation to the rank of General and appointing Maj. Gen. Fonseka as Commander were issued to them on Thursday.
President Rajapakse met Lt. Gen. Kottegoda early this week and requested him to step down. The latter said he had three more years to go and had already obtained an extended term of one and half years. President Rajapakse referred to the now annulled regulations that facilitated the extension of the services of higher ranks and pointed out that he was opposed to it in principle.
He cited the case of another Army Commander who had served for more than ten years. He said as a parliamentarian he had visited Mess Halls and heard young officers complain about how extended terms and other perks were enjoyed by those in the upper echelons whilst the others down the line were ignored. Lt. Gen. Kottegoda made a plea for a continued stay as Commander until the end of this month in view of a family function. This, however, was turned down. Later he made a request to use his official residence, the `General`s House` for this function. He has been allowed to stay till January 4, next year.
Lt. Gen. Kottegoda is to be given a diplomatic posting. Brazil where former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte, completed his stint as Ambassador is now the most likely posting though no finality has been reached. Lt. Gen. Kottegoda told the BBC`s Sandesaya he did not wish to comment on his exit since he had been given a diplomatic posting.
The regulations now annulled by President Rajapakse also made some unprecedented changes in the security establishment. One took away the exclusive right of an armed forces Commander to recommend promotions for his subordinate staff. It was placed in the hands of all three Commanders. That meant two of the other Commanders, who were not at all conversant with the person being recommended, were called upon to share in the decision making.
Another controversial feature was to name the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to serve on a board that would determine extensions of service to senior officers. The post of CDS who heads the Joint Operations Headquarters was a position devoid of command responsibility and was designed to co-ordinate the activities of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police.
Upon being elected as Sri Lanka`s fifth executive President, Mr. Rajapakse vowed to annul the controversial regulations. He said the changes brought about by the regulations were unfair and discriminatory.
New security division of 188 personnel for former President
Former President Kumaratungs`s new home now turned into an office is still under renovation
Barely two weeks before last month`s presidential elections, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, won Cabinet approval to set up a separate Retired President`s Security Division (RPSD) manned by 188 personnel.
Though there is absolutely no dispute about the provision of security to her, The Sunday Times learns that the matter has come up for review now in view of other serious issues that have arisen. They relate to different Cabinet decisions and changes thereafter in former President Kumaratunga`s own thinking.
One is the decision by the Cabinet on August 23, this year on a memorandum titled `Request for a Block of Land at Madiwela village for the construction of a Residence.` A part of this decision was to allocate No 27 Independence Avenue, Colombo 7, as a residence and premises connected with her security arrangements and to effect repairs. Such repairs at a cost of several million rupees included the construction of high walls surrounding the premises and other major alterations.
This decision came after then Minister for Urban Development and Water Supply Dinesh Gunawardena told the Cabinet `President Kumaratunga had requested a block of land one and half acres in extent depicted in plan 2558 lot 1 land called Delgahawatte situated at Madiwala village within the Urban Council limits of Maharagama, for the purpose of constructing a residence for herself after retirement from the Presidency.`
Mr Gunawardena said: `She wishes this land to be allocated in lieu of the following allowances that a former President is entitled to under the President`s Entitlement Act No 4 of 1985.
`The official residence that she would be entitled to.
`Allowances for maintenance of the bungalow, plus allocation for payment of electricity and water bills
But on October 31, this year, the Cabinet decided, among other matters, to `allocate house No 27 Independence Avenue, Colombo 07,` ?.. since `she needs to reside in a house where adequate security can be provided?` And now, the Government has learnt she wants to use the house being renovated at a huge cost at Independence Square only as an office. She wants another official Government bungalow for her residence. The question that has arisen is whether she is exceeding her official entitlements.
Then again on November 2 President Kumaratunga sent a note to the Cabinet informing that she selected No 27 Independence Mawatha, Colombo 7 for her office. Besides two Advisors, she wanted approval to have 63 persons for her staff including a Secretary to the former President, Information Officer and Video Cameraman. She said she wanted to play a `meaningful role` in the `public affairs of the country.`
The Cabinet decision on October 31 came on a recommendation made by now Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. It was then made in his capacity as Minister of Public Security, Law and Order. This is what his Cabinet memorandum (dated October 31) said:
`Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who became the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on 18. 11. 1994 is due to retire at the end of November 2005 after holding office for nearly eleven years. She was involved in politics from mid - 1970 and has served as the Chief Minister, Western Province in 1993 - 1994, and as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1994. In addition, she functions as the President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the People`s Alliance. Even after her retirement from the Presidency, she will function as the President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
`On account of the steps taken during her term of office as the President to safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and particularly, to foil various attempts made by the LTTE to establish a separate state in this island, she has become the main target of the LTTE terrorists after the failure of peace talks. Although the attempt to assassinate her at the final rally of the Presidential Election campaign in Colombo in 1999 ended in failure, she lost one eye and her life was saved with the greatest difficulty.
`It is not due to any personal reason that she has become a target of the terrorists, but due to her endeavours, as the Head of State, to protect Sri Lanka`s territorial integrity and due to the statements made at national and international levels, particularly at the United Nations General Assembly.
?The last statement she made at the UN sessions regarding the recruitment of children to the LTTE cadres and the simultaneous travel ban imposed against the LTTE by the European Union became a serious blow to the LTTE.
`As reported by the intelligence, she has now been placed as number one in the LTTE hit list. Past activities of the LTTE have clearly proved that they will never give up their targets under any circumstances until they reach their objective.
A striking example in this regard is the assassination of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar. It may be recalled that allegations were levelled against the security personnel for the failure to protect late Hon. Kadirgamar`s life despite the fact that a team of 128 personnel had been deployed for his security. Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the father, and Mr. Vijaya Kumaratunga, the husband of Her Excellency the President, were assassinated on political grounds and it is a miracle that Her Excellency herself escaped the assassination attempt.
`In the circumstances, I, as the Minister of Public Security, Law and Order, in charge of VIP security, wish to propose the following course of action in order to ensure adequate safety to Her Excellency, once she relinquishes her duties as President in November 2005.
1. Establish a Division named Retired President`s Security Division IV. A Senior Superintendent of Police to be appointed as Director. The said Director will be responsible to the IGP regarding the proper functioning of the Division.
The role of this Division should be to ensure security of Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the retiring President and her family members.
2. Deploy 188 personnel, referred in the Schedule, comprising Police and Army Commandos, 18 vehicles and 18 motor cycles to be provided for the use of these officers as indicated in this schedule.
3. Allocate the house No 27, Independence Avenue, Colombo 7, for this purpose since she needs to reside in a house where adequate security can be provided, and to effect repairs thereto in order to ensure security measures.
4. Allow the Ackland Building, Slave Island, presently occupied by the officers of the Presidential Security Divison, to be utilised as office and quarters by the Police and Army officers, who would be attached to this Division.
4. Continue to pay allowances to this Division as presently paid to the Presidential Security Divisionand pay all other allowances approved in future to the Police and Army officers of the Presidential Security Division.
`It is the national responsibility to provide security to Her Excellency the President even after she steps down as President. I therefore, seek the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers to provide the services and facilities enumerated in items 01 to 05 above, and to obtain financial provisions necessary for the purpose.`
No one in his right senses would deny former President Kumaratunga`s right to have enhanced security. But this is the first time a President, who is due to go on retirement, has chosen to go before the Cabinet to obtain approval for security measures instead of waiting for her successor`s administration to provide what is required. Here again the position has been changing from one Cabinet decision to another and from one thought to another by the former President. Must anything more be said about former President Kumaratunga`s consistency and contradictions?