16th September 2001

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Thoughts from LondonCaught with their fingers in the cookie jar?

Ever since a political partnership between the PA government and the JVP seemed possible, I have been searching for an article I wrote to the Manchester Guardian-now The Guardian- about six months before the 1971 insurrection.

Unfortunately, I could not find it. But it is important to me for several reasons.

Firstly, my warnings about disaffected youth undergoing military training in the jungles and dropouts from schools being politically indoctrinated through the famous "five lectures" were summarily dismissed by self- acclaimed media experts.

Intelligence reports to the Dudley Senanayake government argued that the movement should not be ignored.

At the time the movement was identified as the "Che Guevara" group. The Guardian published the article under the headline "Ceylon worried by Che-style rebels". If I remember correctly the article was published on September 2, 1970 which was only about four months after the Sirima Bandaranaike led United Front came to power.

The date is important because it was the first time I ran into trouble with the new government. The same day that The Guardian chose to publish my article, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the prime minister's all-important minister was in London on official business.

The Chairman of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, if my memory serves me right, was Susil Moonesinghe. Susil Moonesinghe had got another Moonesinghe to anchor a radio programme titled "From the Press". Chairman Moonesinghe, unlike Chairman Mao, seemed to think that power flowed from a microphone in a radio station studio and had thought to bury government critics under a mountain of verbiage.

That's fine if you know how to do it. But the chap who Susil Moonesinghe had picked for the job didn't know much about the press and less about political developments. But he was a relative of Susil Moonesinghe and that seemed reason enough to hand over this new programme to a media novice.

Anyway this Moonesinghe, who, by the way, was said to be a barrister, on his programme, attacked the Colombo Correspondent of The Guardian for writing utter rubbish about youth undergoing combat training in the jungles. The correspondent was trying to undermine Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike's visit to London by publishing the article on the very day the minister was in the British capital, he said. In January 1971 I left on a fellowship to the University of Hawaii and forgot all about the JVP and particularly Moonesinghe.

One April morning I was walking down the corridors of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, when somebody called my name. There was this chap I had met earlier in the morning waving a sheaf of wire service copy. He said emergency had been declared in Ceylon and wanted a briefing.

I told him that emergencies don't make news in Ceylon. If they are lifted, yes. But he thought there was much more to it and there was.

When I returned to Colombo at the beginning of June 1971, the emergency was still on.

What interests me in this whole affair is why the security establishment does not take intelligence reports seriously. Admittedly not all intelligence reports are intelligent. In this case I know there was such a report and it obviously deserved a follow up. Why did the panjandrums who took over security in the 1970 United Front government fail to weigh the intelligence gathered from several sources over couple of years.

It was a bad error. It thought the presence of the LSSP and CP in the United Front, insulated the government from attack by a radical youth group with little experience.

It is interesting that 30 years later the same parties-SLFP,LSSP,CP are in power-the same troika the JVP tried to overthrow by violence. Is there a lesson in all this?

Why has today's seemingly politically-correct and morally upright JVP not demanded that corruption in high places in the past five years, be investigated? The JVP appears more concerned about unpaid loans by businessmen and others but simply lets off the hook, the blood suckers who have had banks abroad working overtime. Why is it only worried about military and other government purchases in the future, but not the past. Have some people in or close to the JVP been caught with their fingers in the cookie jar?

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