Govt. focuses on security forces changes as talks on talks loom
Almost a month after the signing of the ceasefire
agreement between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE), both sides have begun to focus on follow up action - preparing
the ground work for upcoming peace talks. A significant aspect in this
regard will be the arrival in Colombo of LTTE's Chief Negotiator, Anton
Balasingham. He is due on March 25, accompanied by officials of the Norwegian
Government and is to proceed to the Wanni for talks with his leader, Velupillai
Wickremesinghe with US State Department's South Asia Bureau Chief Christina
Rocca, in Jaffna. On their right are Ministers Tilak Marapana and Milinda
With his presence in Colombo, accompanied by Norwegian mediators, as
against their earlier identification as facilitators, the spotlight will
turn to resolving other outstanding issues ahead of peace talks. Main among
them is learnt to be two crucial matters, the LTTE demand for de-proscription
and an interim administration in areas dominated by it. Formulation of
modalities concerning the two issues, said to be crucial, will pave the
way for a decision on the venue and dates for peace talks. The task will
weigh heavily on the Norwegians and seems as crucial as the ceasefire agreement.
The LTTE is learnt to have favoured a venue in Thailand, contrary to
unfounded claims that it would be in the Maldives - a proposal which is
almost certain to meet Government acceptance. However, diplomatic initiatives
to secure such a location is yet to be finalised. Moreover, the dates and
venue would have to await till the other issues are resolved.
These portending events come in the backdrop of political developments
linked to the open ended ceasefire and its aftermath. Prime Minister, Ranil
Wickremesinghe's triumphal tour of the Jaffna peninsula on Thursday and
Friday, appears to have matched, in the South, the LTTE's own public relations
efforts through Pongu Thamil, the cultural re-awakening programmes in the
North. On Tuesday (March 19), the programme extends to the east with an
elaborate event planned in Trincomalee by the LTTE. Besides the glare of
the confidence building campaigns, both sides are busy behind-the-scenes
working out their own priorities. State intelligence agencies are closely
monitoring developments in LTTE dominated areas and are briefing the Government's
Secretariat for peace talks. A very brief summary this week is as follows:
JAFFNA – Infiltration of Tiger guerrilla cadres to the Security Forces
controlled peninsula continues. Fund raising, particularly from the business
community, is at a pace. Arrangements are also under way to open LTTE political
offices and enrol membership.
WANNI – Political cadres from guerrilla dominated Wanni have arrived
in Security Forces controlled Vavuniya to open a string of political offices
and enrol membership.
BATTICALOA – Cadres recruited through stepped up campaigns in Trincomalee
and Batticaloa are now being put through training. Fund raising is going
on at a high pace. Procurement of goods, power generators, motor cycles,
cycles, medical supplies and other goods have increased. Large stocks are
being taken to uncontrolled areas.
These developments, though formally denied by the Government's political
leaders, clearly bear out the charge by the United States Embassy in Colombo
early this week that the LTTE is engaged in activities that could jeopardize
the ceasefire. A statement on Monday said increased recruitment, including
children, kidnapping and extortion, though on the decrease, were the causes.
Another was the credible report that the guerrillas were continuing smuggling
of weapons, which the US Embassy warned, could undermine the trust needed
to move from a cessation of hostilities to a lasting peace.
A response to the statement from Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, to
the BBC's Sinhala service Sandesaya, has earned him the ire of some overseas
Sri Lankan groups. He said he had not heard of any adverse reports against
the guerrillas over the ceasefire. He had described charges of child conscription,
abduction and extortion by guerrilla cadres as "unconfirmed" reports. Websites
of these groups, however, cited official press releases issued by the Operational
Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence, which gave specific instances
of guerrilla abductions and extortions.
If LTTE Chief Spokesman Anton Balasingham, respond-ed to the US Embassy
statement by only asserting that they were adhering to the ceasefire, their
view was more strongly reflected in an editorial in the Tamil Guardian.
The pro-LTTE weekly, though grudgingly, paid a compliment to the Government
over matters relating to the ceasefire in an editorial titled "Crying Wolf"
in its issue of March 13. Some relevant highlights:
"In the past week, the tangible benefits of the permanent ceasefire
established three weeks ago between the Liberation Tigers and the Sri Lanka
government continued to accrue. The Sri Lankan Government ended the despicable
practices of registering Tamil residents of Colombo and removed the discriminatory
restrictions on the movement of people from the north and east to the south.
"Fortifications are dismantled to allow civilian access. Formal aspects
of the ceasefire agreement the most important of which are the commencement
of duties by the international team of monitors and the government's disarming
of Tamil paramilitaries working alongside the Sri Lanka Army – continue
to be implemented. With tensions easing across the island, the ominous
statement on Monday by the United States Embassy alleging the ceasefire
was being violated understandably created apprehension and alarm.
"……The US Embassy's statement is notable for several reasons. Firstly,
the Sri Lankan Government has itself not protested about violations of
the permanent ceasefire by the LTTE…. Secondly, the proper authority to
raise any violations of the ceasefire is the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission,
whose head, Trond Furuhovede, was last week on a tour of the LTTE-held
Wanni region. …… most Sri Lankans and Mr. Furuhovede's monitors – had little
reason to assume the de-escalation of the island's conflict was not going
smoothly and surprisingly quickly….."
Despite intelligence warnings, the fact that the Government did not
raise issue on matters of ceasefire violations, it is clear, is not because
they did not or do not occur. As one senior official involved in the peace
process admitted "we don't want to rock the boat at this stage. Our commitment
is to get the peace talks started as soon as possible." He said that the
"Peace Secretariat" was documenting all incidents that affect the ceasefire
based on reports received from the Police, Security Forces and State intelligence
agencies. Heads of all these agencies have been ordered to brief veteran
diplomats B.A.B. Gunatilleke, (Sri Lanka's Ambassador to China) who heads
the Secretariat and H.M.G.S. Palihakkara (Ambassador to Thailand), his
deputy, on a daily basis.
Whatever the reasons may be, if it fell on the United States Government
to voice the concerns of the Government of Sri Lanka (through its Embassy
in Colombo), a further boost came with the arrival in Colombo of Ms. Christina
Rocca, head of the South Asian Affairs Bureau in the State Department in
Washington. It also co-incided with the arrival of Brigadier General Timothy
Ghormley, Commanding General of the US Army's Third Marine Expeditionary
Force. The former arrived in Colombo in a commercial flight whilst the
senior Marines officer, whose Third Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters
is based in Okinawa, Japan, came in a Hercules C 130 transport aircraft.
But, the single largest Marine field command is located at Marine Corps
base in Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.
Since Premier Wickre-mesinghe was touring Jaffna, a meeting for Ms.
Rocca was arranged for there. Similarly, a call by Brig. Gen. Ghormley
on the Premier, was also slotted in the northern capital, a move welcomed
by the Premier's aides since it gave greater weightage to the event and
sent a further message that the US was firmly behind the UNF government.
However, there were logistical problems about flying the US dignitaries
in a Sri Lanka Air Force aircraft. Its only Hercules C-130 aircraft was
fitted with seats obtained on loan from SriLankan Airlines to seat Premier
Wickremesinghe and other VIPs. Other aircraft were assigned to carry the
media and Premier Wickremesinghe's entourage including senior Government
officials.The Government granted permission for the US Navy's C-130 aircraft
to fly from Colombo to Palaly with Ms. Rocca and Brig. Gen. Ghormley. It
came only after they were given a security brief and it was ascertained
whether their aircraft had counter missile systems in the unlikely event
of any attack. The US authorities had assured they were fully equipped
to meet any air threats. Yesterday, Brig. Gen. Ghormley and his party flew
to Trincomalee – a segment of the programme which was to raise questions
in sections of the Colombo based diplomatic community. Previous visits
by US military leaders and others coupled together with yesterday's had
fuelled speculation of a US interest in Trincomalee Port, including the
World War II oil tank farms, and a growing alliance between Washington
and the United Front Government.
However, senior US officials in Colombo insisted there is no such interest.
The visit to Sri Lanka by Brig. Gen. Ghormley they say was to review the
working of "Operation Balanced Style" and "Operation Flash Style," two
joint military assistance programmes conducted periodically in Sri Lanka
by the US Pacific Command, whose area of responsibility covers more than
half the earth's surface and 60 per cent of the world's population. Under
the joint military assistance programmes, which have continued for over
seven years, the US Special Forces and Navy Seals are among those training
their Sri Lankan equivalents.
Interestingly, the United States did not show particular interest when
the previous Government not only offered the use of the port of Trincomalee
but also the unlimited use of Sri Lankan airspace and re-fuelling facilities
for US military aircraft last year. This was after the US declared war
on terrorism with attacks in Afghanistan. The offer, however, drew an appreciative
response from Secretary of State Colin Powell, who thanked the Government
for this gesture.
Another matter which is receiving the Government's attention whilst
calm remains on the battlefields of the north and east, is the subject
of modernising and strengthening the Security Forces, a move prompted more
by the need to correct existing shortcomings and ensure the maximum utilisation
of resources. One of those who is closely looking at the task is the new
Defence Secretary Austin Fernando, a veteran public service officer who
has come in for full praise by those in the security establishment for
his deft handling of day to day matters.
The coming weeks and months will also see significant changes in top
positions in the security establishment. The Government is to release Chief
of Defence Staff, General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, to take over the diplomatic
assignment given to him by the previous Government as Sri Lanka's Ambassador
to Brazil. The Foreign Ministry is now learnt to be processing his papers
and he is to take up position by late next month or early June.
The re-composition of the High Posts Committee in Parliament, which
screens top level appointments, appears to be the cause of the only delay.
Whilst Gen. Daluwatte is sure to be cleared, particularly with the blessings
of the UNF, the delay is only in view of a move to re-constitute the Committee.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wants to step down as its Chairman
and call upon the Speaker Joseph Michael Perera, to serve as its head.
As a matter of policy, the UNF does not want to grant extensions of
service to Security Forces officers who had reached their retirement age
or are the end of their tenure on extended terms. In view of this, the
Army's Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Neil Dias, is expected to be called upon
to retire when his current extended term expires on April 12. Although
the power to promulgate Regulations to grant such extensions now rests
with the Minister of Defence, Government sources say policy considerations
will prevent it from exercising these provisions.The Sunday Times has learnt
that the Government is likely to offer the post of Chief of Defence Staff
to the current Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle. His extended
tenure as Commander ends on June 15 this year. However, sources close to
him said he did not favour the new post and preferred to continue in his
current position for a further period. With Maj. Gen. Dias's expected retirement
next month, the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Lohan Gunawardena,
a man credited with running the day to day affairs of the Army, will succeed
as Chief of Staff. His term in this office is likely to be short lived
since he is being strongly tipped to assume the office of Commander of
the Army any time after late next month. The Commander of the Sri Lanka
Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, is due to retire on September 1 this
year, when he reaches the retirement age of 55. However, he has favoured
a proposal supported by a few other senior Security Forces officers that
service commanders should be allowed to serve a term of four years –notwithstanding
their retirement age-a matter which may run counter to the current UNF
policy. Moreover, UNF leaders believe that the promotional prospects of
other officers should not be unduly blocked by granting ad hoc extensions
of service to those on the verge of reaching retirement age or are at the
end of their tenure of duty.
Another area where changes are imminent is in the State intelligence
arms. A veteran intelligence man, former DIG Merril Gunaratne, took over
last Monday as Defence Advisor to the Government – a position hand picked
by Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Intelligence services have been
brought under his purview and are likely to see some significant changes.
Whilst focusing on peace initiatives, it seems Government leaders have
now found the time to attend to serious issues facing the security forces.Meanwhile,
hardly 12 hours since the Security Forces Chiefs returned to Colombo on
Friday night after accompanying Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, on
his tour of Jaffna, they were summoned for a conference at Janadipathi
Mandiraya by President Chandrika Bandaranaike.
She is learnt to have complained to them about alleged harassment of
People's Alliance supporters campaigning for Local Government elections
and stressed the need for enhanced security. Besides the Commanders of
the Army (Lt. Gen. Balagalle), Navy (Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri) and Air
Force (Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakody), others who took part at last morning's
conference included acting Inspector General of Police T.E. Anandarajah
and DIG (Elections) Gamini Navaratne.
Three member Court Martial for sex assault case
A three member Sri Lanka Navy Court Martial will hear charges against a
Navy sailor accused of sexually assaulting a female officer.
It is headed by Vice Admiral L.D. Dharmapriya, Commander, Western Naval
Area and comprises Commodore Upali Ranaweera, Commander, Southern Naval
Area and J.C. Hettigama, Deputy Director, Naval Electric and Electronic
Engineering. According to a Navy general signal issued on March 12, Captain
A.R. Amerasinghe, Deputy Director, Naval Intelligence and Media Spokesman
for Navy, will serve as alternate if any member of the Court Martial is
The composition of the Court Martial has been made by Commander of the
Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri. State Counsel Shamindra Fernando, who
holds the rank of Captain in the Volunteer Navy will serve as Prosecutor
whilst Commodore Palitha Fernando, also of the Attorney General's Department
is the Judge Advocate General. He holds the rank of Commodore in the Volunteer
Donning Navy ceremonial uniform No 1, the three member Court will commence
sittings at SLNS Gemunu in Welisara. The Court is to be told of the charges
against the accused sailor only on the day of the sittings. The Sunday
Times learns that the sailor is being indicted on grounds of sexual molestation
and other charges.
As revealed in these columns last week (Situation Report – March 10),
the sailor, a Mess Assistant, had allegedly carried out a sexual assault
on a female Staff Duty Officer at pre dawn on March 3.
The incident had occurred after a cocktail party by the Association
of Retired Flag Rank Officers (ARFRO) had ended at the Officer's Mess at
Navy Headquarters. This was when the Staff Duty Officer, who had by then
been off duty, had retired to her cabinet, a floor above the Officer's
Vice Admiral Sandagiri appointed a one man Board of Inquiry – Commodore
Tissera Samarasinghe – to record summary of evidence. He reported that
a prima facie case existed against the Mess Assistant.
Meanwhile two ten member teams of the Sri Lanka Navy, comprising Sub-Lieutenants,
are to undertake a 21 day long familiarisation tour of India this week.
Costs for the trip are being borne by the Navy which will pay each Sub-Lieutenant
US $ 110 per day in addition to air fare. However, the inclusion of two
high ranking officers, both directors at Headquarters, has posed a problem
of protocol. At the rank of Commodore, it has been pointed out that they
were of too high a rank to undertake the task since they would be dealing
with much lower ranks during the visit. The matter remains to be resolved
in the coming week before the tour gets under way.