BY Shamindra Fernando
Successive leaders, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, went out of their way to facilitate a negotiated settlement. Unfortunately, the international community conveniently ignored the attempts they made even at the expense of political careers. Leniency of the foreign powers emboldened the LTTE
to step up terror attacks. President Rajapaksa risked his relationship with the JVP
and the JHU
by trying to carry forward the peace process. The President also accepted the Norwegian mediation underwritten by peace co-chairs, namely US, EU, Japan
and peace facilitator Norway. In spite of grave provocations, the President went ahead with talks at overseas venues, in Geneva and Oslo.
In the wake of the assassination of 73-year-old Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar
at his Bullers Lane residence on Aug 12, 2005, the GoSL demanded that the Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) be amended without any further delay.
In the run-up to the April 2, 2004 parliamentary polls, the then UPFA-led opposition repeatedly voiced the urgent need to modify the CFA.
Addressing the Colombo based diplomatic community at the foreign ministry on Aug 14, 2005, Foreign Secretary, H. M. G. S. Palihakkara, emphasised the requirement for the immediate modification of the CFA as the assassination of the Foreign Minister clearly bore the hallmarks of the LTTE. Palihakkara`s comments were echoed by veteran career diplomats and one-time heads of the Peace Secretariat, Bernard Gunatilleke and Jayantha Dhanapala
, also at the same meeting. Dhanapala told the diplomatic community that in the light of the assassination, there would have to be a serious review of certain policies and procedures followed upto the time of the assassination, in relation to the peace process. Their demand was based on the initial assessment made by then IGP, Chandra Fernando.
Exercise in futility
In spite of the GoSL`s call, there was a serious attempt to review the CFA and the LTTE continued to provoke the armed forces.
Interestingly, both Dhanapala and Gunatilleke testified before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), whereas Palihakkara, one-time Sri Lanka
`s Permanent Representative at the UN, was a member of that commission,
Those who repeatedly accused then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
of bending over backwards to appease the LTTE, adopted a similar approach, regardless of the consequences.
In fact, then President Kumaratunga`s administration made a appalling attempt to revive the peace process by blaming Kadirgamar`s assassination on a third party! The President was determined to get the LTTE back to the negotiating table, which the group had quit in April 2003. Her policy of appeasement even at the expense of national security failed to make the LTTE soften its stand on peace talks. In the immediate aftermath of Kadirgamar`s assassination, a section of the military felt that the GoSL should strike back, though the President disagreed. No one dared to disagree with her (CBK
to weigh options but CFA stands- The Island of Aug 14, 2005).
The Presidential Secretariat issued a statement blaming an unidentified third party, which the then government accused of being hell-bent on jeopardising the peace process (Political foes` behind FM`s assassination The Island of Aug 14, 2005). The President`s Office speculated that Kadirgamar had been killed by `political foes opposed to the peaceful transformation of the conflict and who were determined to undermine attempts towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict.`
Her office denied that the words `political foes` referred to the JVP, but also declined to hold the LTTE responsible for the assassination. `There are very few people who can do this kind of killing but we don`t want to speculate right now,` former The Island staffer, Namini Wijedasa quoted a presidential secretariat official as having said.
`Anyone who killed Lakshman Kadirgamar was against a negotiated end to the conflict,` he elaborated. `By referring to them as political foes, we simply meant that the killing itself was political. We didn`t mean to imply that the assassins were political.`
Govt. makes U-turn
However, the government had to quickly change its stance, as both the army and the police directly blamed the LTTE. The military insisted that there were no doubts about the LTTE`s culpability hence action was needed to neutralise the threat.
But Dhanapala`s successor, Dr. Palitha Kohona
, dropped a bombshell in April 2006, when he called for the peace process to continue without being distracted by other issues. Obviously, Kadirgamar was forgotten, as those at the helm pushed for a negotiated settlement in the wake of a two-day meeting between the GoSL and LTTE representatives in Geneva in late February, 2006. The former head of the UN Treaty Section strongly objected to the critical demand to amend the CFA in an interview with Daily News in its April 13, 2006 issue. When The Island sought a clarification from Kohona, he emphasised the need to focus on human rights, development, democratic freedom and the space for political dissent and political pluralism. Dr. Kohona stressed that the government wouldn`t be intimidated into seeking peace and that a permanent resolution of the conflict would not be on anyone`s terms and conditions.
In fact, the demand to amend the CFA gathered momentum after the assassination of Kadirgamar. Having met the LTTE in Geneva in February, 2006, under the auspices of the Norwegians, the GoSL obviously felt that Kadirgamar`s assassination couldn`t be an obstacle to the continuation of the crumbling peace process. The GoSL`s policy conformed to the opinion of the international community that the priority should be to prevent an all-out war presumably even at the expense of the lives of a few.
Vajira inccurs govt.`s wrath
The GoSL agreed not to retaliate. Instead, it unceremoniously removed Maj. Gen. Vajira Wijegoonewardene, then Overall Operations Commander (OOC), Colombo, who called for military action against the LTTE in the city and its suburbs. Wijegoonewardene pointed out that a tough response was needed, regardless of the CFA as he believed routine security operations wouldn`t be adequate to meet the threat. He who had assumed the OOC office 11 days before Kadirgamar`s assassination, incurred the wrath of the government. Shortly after his controversial presentation made on the instructions of the then Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri at the Joint Operations Headquarters, he was replaced. (Govt. thwarts military plan, commander removed The Island of Aug 25, 2005). The government considered the OOC`s presentation inimical to the peace process. Hence his removal! (Govt vetoes sizeable anti-insurgency operation in response to Kadir assassination The Island of Aug 28, 2005).
Wijegoonewardena grabbed the limelight during his stint as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 23 Division headquartered in Welikanda. As the senior officer in charge of troops deployed in the region, he had to tackle the crisis caused by one-time LTTE commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan
aka Karuna Amman, who had staged a revolt against the LTTEleadership.
Wijegoonewardene was the second senior officer to be transferred by the government which felt could jeopardise the peace initiative. One-time Eastern Naval Commander, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera was moved out from Trincomalee when he strongly opposed the LTTE flexing its muscles.
GoSL groping in the dark
The GoSL had no strategy. Instead, it faithfully followed advice received from foreign governments. Statements issued by various governments revealed the GoSL`s dilemma.
The UPFA and the UNP
turned a blind eye to the growing threat. They refused to swiftly reach a consensus on the state`s response to the LTTE threat. Unfortunately, they continued to squabble over the national issue and no one wanted to blame the LTTE. Those who valued Kadirgamar`s contribution to the country`s defence on the diplomatic front were of the opinion that Kadirgamar was perhaps the only political obstacle to resist the LTTE and its international backers.
The international community never recognised the JVP`s opposition and Kadirgamar waged a lone battle. There were just a few people who backed him and some of them were at the Foreign Ministry.
The government went to the extent of indicating Kadirgamar wouldn`t be part of its delegation. The assassination fuelled speculation that it would facilitate the resumption of direct negotiations on the LTTE`s terms.
The slain minister`s candid views on the peace process, particularly Norway`s faltering role, offended many. Foreign statements emphasised the absolute necessity to keep the Norwegian initiative on track. No one bothered even to acknowledge the GoSL`s right to take military action, in the wake of grave provocation.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: `We must honour Kadirgamar`s memory by re-dedicating ourselves to peace and ensuring that the CFA remains in force.`
European Union Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said: `We must all honour the passing of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar by continuing his work for peace and maintaining the CFA.`
French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy said: `France believes that more than ever the respect of the CFA and the continuation of the peace process are necessary.`
n Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said: `It is Australia`s strong hope that, despite this terrorist act, the Sri Lankan peace process will continue, including through early implementation of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure. I urge all communities in Sri Lanka to remain calm and uphold the CFA.`
According to a New Delhi datelined AFP report, India
was confident that the Sri Lankan government would not allow the assassination to derail the p...