Political leaders of this country have earned notoriety for letting the grass grow under their feet over vital issues and springing into action after years, if not decades. The present government has suddenly woken up to a war crime the LTTE committed 18 years ago in the Eastern Province the massacre of 401 policemen who surrendered to the outfit on orders from the Premadasa government. The incident, the government has said, will be investigated thoroughly.
An SLFP-led government was formed, about four years after the incident, in 1994 and it probed many things that had happened under its predecessor`s watch. But, never did it care to order a probe into the crime at issue for unknown reasons. Ever since, but for a brief interval, the SLFP has been in power to date and this is the first time we have heard it express some concern for the hapless police personnel who were made sacrificial lamb by the Premadasa government on the altar of talks with the LTTE.
This newspaper has been campaigning almost single-handed to have that massacre probed. We have spent tons of precious newsprint and barrels of ink in a bid to jolt successive governments into ordering an investigation.
Even the police relegated the massacre of their colleagues to the ever growing mount of X-files and were careful not to make specific mention of those fallen officers and men. What else can we expect of the khaki brigade with a monumental penchant for licking political boots?
It is good that a government has at long last indicated its willingness to order an investigation. Better late than never! However, if it is a political goal that the government seeks to achieve giving the UNP a mud bath then it must forget about the probe. For, playing politics with that crime will only insult the dead police personnel and hurt their families and friends. It must not end up being another political circus like the Batalanda Commission.
The fate of those policemen points to the cost of appeasing the LTTE. The late President Ranasinghe Premadasa mistook the LTTE for a Keselwatte gang. He apparently thought he would be able to win it over through patronage. He provided the Tigers with arms, ammunition, funds, building material and shelter, while they were fighting the Indian army. He even called the LTTE leaders mallis (younger brothers) and his appeasement knew no bounds. The LTTE delegates engaged in `peace talks` were accommodated at Hilton!
It is being argued that President Premadasa wanted to cultivate the LTTE`s de facto deputy leader Mahattya during talks as an alternative to the intransigent LTTE leadership. If he ever did so, he surely did not know the LTTE, which cannot be swayed by anyone other than Prabhakaran.
The price that Mahattaya had to pay for getting close to President Premadasa was a slow death at the hands of Prabhakaran`s killers who also eliminated over 200 of his loyalists.
The Prabhakaran-Premadasa honeymoon came to an end after the IPKF left Sri Lanka. When the LTTE surrounded the police stations in the Eastern Province in June 1990, President Premadasa may have thought his mallis were kidding. The police were determined to fight back but President Premadasa in a desperate bid to prevent a fragile ceasefire he had with the LTTE from collapsing, ordered them to surrender. And in so doing, he drove those men and officers into the jaws of death. They were taken to the jungles, shot dead and buried in the graves they had been made to dig at gunpoint.
About three years later, in 1993, the LTTE said a big thank you to President Premadasa for the entire world to hear. He was blown to smithereens by a suicide bomber the LTTE had planted at his private residence, Sucharitha years ago for that purpose.
All the others who chose to appease the Tigers were in for rude shocks. President Chandrika Kumaratunga offered the North to them for ten years without elections and Prabhakaran showed his gratitude by sending a suicide bomber to greet her. She had a narrow escape thanks to her stars and a bullet proof car which happened to stand between her and the human bomb in 1999.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe beat everyone else in appeasing the enemy. He granted every wish of the LTTE except official recognition of Prabhakaran`s Eelam. His UNF government even had the army long rangers` safe house at Athurugiriya raided. And the LTTE said a big thank you to him at the 2005 Presidential Election with a polls boycott which ruined his chances of winning. Thus, it may be seen that the cost political leaders and the country have had to pay for appeasing the LTTE is enormous.
The probe into the massacre of policemen is likely to open a can of worms for many. It may shed light on the role played by some of the Eastern Province LTTE leaders like Karuna, now with the government, in the perpetration of that dastardly war crime. We only hope such embarrassing findings won`t stand in the way of the probe or result in a witch-hunt against investigators.
The British government is under severe pressure from international human rights groups to try Karuna for war crimes. It is patently clear that nothing gets done in the LTTE without Prabhakaran`s nod and the order for massacring policemen had come from him. Therefore, the local and international human rights champions will have to campaign for having Prabhakaran, too, tried for war crimes.
Most of the persons responsible for that grand betrayal, like President Premadasa and his chief negotiator and Foreign Minister A. C. S. Hameed, are long dead. But, their demise won`t affect the probe as records of the incident are believed to be available with the police and there will be hundreds of witnesses willing to come forward to assist the investigations.
The probe must begin forthwith and be devoid of politics!