The Sri Lanka - Norway "summit" on the peace process
held at the Janadipathi Mandiraya on November 11. On the left
is President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga with Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Seated in the middle (third
from right) is Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jan Petersen. He
is flanked on his right by his deputy Vidar Helgesen and Special
Advisor, Erik Solheim. On his left is Norwegian Ambassador
Hans Brattskar and Oystein Bo, head of the Foreign Minister’s
Secretariat in Norway. Seated in the middle is Foreign Secretary,
H.M.G.S. Palihakkara. Pic: Presidential Secretariat
Who misled whom?
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga dropped a bombshell
during last week's “summit” level talks between Sri
Lanka and Norway on the peace process.
declared that Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan, better known as Soosai,
"Special Commander" of Sea Tigers, had travelled to Singapore
last month not for medical treatment but for other purposes.
stunned Norwegian delegation - Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, his
deputy Vidar Helgesen, Special Advisor Erik Solheim, Ambassador
Hans Brattskar and Oystein Bo, head of the Foreign Minister’s
Secretaraiat - remained silent.
references came in passing when she was articulating the UPFA (United
People's Freedom Alliance) Government's latest position on the resumption
of direct peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE). The occasion was a meeting at the Janadipathi Mandiraya
on Thursday November 11. It came after Foreign Minister Petersen
had briefed her on the outcome of his meeting with Tiger guerrilla
leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran earlier that day in Kilinochchi.
a day ahead of this Sri Lanka - Norway peace “summit”
in Colombo, President Kumaratunga had made the same remarks (on
November 10) to V.S. Sambandan, the Colombo Correspondent of the
Chennai, (Tamil Nadu), based The Hindu newspaper. However, the remarks
appeared in an interview in this newspaper only two days later,
on November 13.
Sambandan asked her "Do you have any insight on whether there
is a serious difficulty within the LTTE." Her reply:"I
think there should be because they told us that he (Soosai) is very,
very serious and that he has to be rushed out. And he went to Singapore
and came back in three days. He did not see any doctor or go to
any hospital. That we are sure of. I feel that some senior LTTEers
came from other parts of the world and persuaded him to go back.
Whether its true or not I don't know, but there seems to be (a)
very serious problem."
Sambandan then asked "What is your view of Norwegian facilitation?
At times the JVP has been very vocal about it. Would you like to
see a re-calibration of their role?"
reply: "Well, on the whole I must say Norway has played their
role quite well. There are certain things I have been very concerned
about, not directly related to the peace process, but to the internal
politics of Sri Lanka, which I cannot say now. When I write my life
story someday that will be known."
response to an earlier question, President Kumaratunga said she
did not think that the LTTE was hardening militarily. "I don't
know how you can say that when for the first time in the history
of the LTTE it has split into three. (The LTTE leader) Mr. Prabhakaran
has lost his Army Commander, and now he is having serious problems
with his Navy commander. So I don't know how anybody can say they
are militarily getting together."
an entire nation heard President Kumaratunga re-iterate her remarks
about Soosai. That was in an interview with the state owned Independent
Television Network (ITN) and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
(SLBC) on November 16. It was now common knowledge.
earlier, President Kumaratunga had raised the Soosai issue at a
National Security Council (NSC) meeting on Tuesday, October 26.
She told armed forces commanders, the Police chief and other officials
that Soosai had not gone to Singapore for medical attention. To
those present, the news came as a shock and surprise. One state
intelligence agency had only three days earlier reported that Soosai
and party's departure to Singapore formed only a stop over and they
were en route to Norway. Another agency, however, confirmed there
were health problems for Soosai but was unable to throw much light
on the Singapore trip.
intelligence agency dealing with external matters seemed clueless.
That underscored the confusion in Colombo's intelligence community
and the security establishment when President Kumaratunga made the
shocking disclosure to the NSC. After this meeting, security top
brass were in a quandary over President Kumaratunga's explosive
disclosure. How did she get to know what none of the state agencies
had reported, they wondered.
is shocking because the Government not only placed an Air Force
Bell 212 helicopter for Soosai and three others to fly from Kilinochchi
to Colombo. They were afforded treatment only given to VVIPs - the
President and the Prime Minister - when he arrived at the Bandaranaike
International Airport). The Sunday Times (Situation Report - October
24) gave a detailed account of how Soosai arrived in Colombo and
boarded a flight later to Singapore.
helicopter bringing Soosai was allowed to land on the tarmac at
the BIA, almost opposite the fenced off Public Viewing Gallery.
He was accompanied by Gnanasekeram Camillus Dharmendra, described
as a doctor serving the LTTE and two bodyguards - Sakhayaratnarajah
Quintus and Gopalapillai Sathiyamuhundan. The Government issued
Soosai a fool proof "N" series passport (N 13565685) dated
October 18, 2004, just one day before his departure to Singapore.
is not all. It was the Government's own Secretariat Co-ordinating
the Peace Process (SCOPP) that declared in a public statement that
it has been "informed by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Colombo
that a Senior Commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) - Thillayampalam Sivanesan alias Soosai - was in need of
emergency medical treatment abroad because of his rapidly worsening
condition caused by an old injury sustained in conflict."
SCOPP statement added "The assistance of the Government of
Sri Lanka was sought to facilitate his departure from Sri Lanka
on Tuesday 19th October accompanied by his medical team."
Kumaratunga's declaration now that Soosai "did not see any
doctor or go to any hospital" and the disclosure that that
she feels "some senior LTTEers came from other parts of the
world and persuaded him to go back" raises a number of very
serious and important questions. Firstly, if as she claims, Soosai
did not see any doctor or go to any hospital, it only means that
the LTTE had lied. They had misled the Royal Norwegian Government.
Her claim that LTTEers from other parts of the world came and persuaded
Soosai to return to Colombo is evidently made on the basis that
he had parted ways from his leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. There
were rumours circulating to that effect in Colombo though none of
the local intelligence agencies confirmed it.
a rift between Mr. Prahbakaran and Soosai exists or whether it is
part of psy ops by anti LTTE factions is not sufficiently clear.
I will not speculate on it. But one thing that is abundantly clear
for those who have a modicum of knowledge on the workings of the
LTTE is the fact that dissension is not a trait that is tolerated
by Mr. Prabharakan. Leave alone allowing an adversary to leave the
country, that too with the acquiescence of the Norwegian peace facilitators,
therefore does not arise. Such adversaries are not allowed even
to leave the Wanni and travel to Jaffna or Vavuniya. An example
is Mr. Prabhakaran's erstwhile confidante Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja
alias Mahattaya. He is not among the living now. So is the case
of Yogaratnam Naren alias Yogi who defied the leadership. He was
punished and later "rehabilitated" to hold a low key position.
may argue about the case of Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna,
the LTTE Eastern "military commander" who parted ways
from the Wanni leadership. In this instance, the separation came
only after Mr. Prabhakaran summoned Karuna to the Wanni. He was
aware what would be in store for him if he went to Kilinochchi.
So he chose to dismantle the military machine he built in the east
during the ceasefire and make a hasty retreat to Colombo. That again
was to flee the country with the help of the former United National
Front (UNF) parliamentarian, Ali Zahir Mowlana. But fate was to
passport had remained in Mr. Mowlana's custody for a long time after
he returned to Colombo and later sought protection from the Sri
Lanka Army. Since parting ways, leave alone a helicopter; Karuna
was unable to obtain any help from the Norwegians. In fact his request
to the head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to suspend
monitoring activity in the Batticaloa district on the grounds that
his group had separated from the Wanni leadership was flatly turned
in fact President Kumaratunga's claims are correct, the LTTE had
inveigled the Royal Norwegian Government and through them her own
Government, into believing Soosai was travelling to Singapore for
medical treatment. She says she is sure he did not do so. Can she
now trust the Tiger guerrillas any more? Even if they return to
the negotiating table and offer any assurances under the aegis of
the Norwegian peace facilitators, how can they be taken at their
word? It is during a near three-year ceasefire that the Tigers had
chosen to pull wool over Norwegian and Sri Lankan eyes or so it
serious implication that arises from President Kumaratunga's assertion
is the role of Norway's peace facilitation efforts. In persuading
the Government of Sri Lanka to provide VVIP facilities to Soosai
and party, to say the least, they had been fooled or misled by the
LTTE. In other words they have not been doing their homework. The
question therefore arises whether the Royal Norwegian Government
had been subject to such vile manipulations by the LTTE throughout
the period of the ceasefire. Thus questions could also be raised
on whether such a situation would continue.
doubt public apprehensions in Sri Lanka on such a matter gains currency
in the backdrop of a powerful bureaucrat in the previous United
National Front (UNF) Government successfully persuading the Norwegian
Government to ignore accepted norms and procedures to make available
a radio broadcasting station and V-sat communication equipment to
the LTTE. His bloated claims that the Tiger guerrillas would pay
duty for the import of this equipment using diplomatic privilege
has not yet materialised. As a result of his actions the LTTE is
now armed with a radio station that can reach a wider area of Sri
Lanka. That is not all. The V-Sat equipment has made all their internal
and overseas communications - e-mails,data transfers etc - absolutely
secure and free from interception. Doesn't this crass disregard
for national interest by this official require a public investigation?
After all, what his actions had done is to make the LTTE much stronger.
Sunday Times has learnt that Norway's request to facilitate Soosai's
departure to Singapore came only after medical details provided
by the LTTE were studied both in Oslo and in Colombo. In Oslo, SCOPP
sources say, Special Advisor Erik Solheim together with Norway's
Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar, who was then on home leave,
studied it. Thereafter, their acting Ambassador to Sri Lanka Odvar
Laegreid made the request from the Peace Secretariat for assistance.
questions arise from this move. Firstly, why medical facilities
available in Sri Lanka were not considered before it was decided
to fly out Soosai to Singapore. Colombo is now known to have state-of-the-art
hospitals where patients from Malaysia and West Asia have been coming
in for treatment. Of course the previous UNF Government had set
a precedent. They obliged a request from the LTTE leadership in
Wanni to fly out Kandiah Balasekeran alias Balraj for medical treatment
in Singapore. The procedure followed was the same - an Air Force
helicopter flight from Kilinochchi to Colombo to ferry Balraj. The
return journey was also via helicopter. Unlike Balraj, Soosai, however,
was more high profile and had come to the adverse notice of several
leading foreign intelligence agencies.
why did the Peace Secretariat take it upon itself to issue an official
statement? In doing so, they have said that the Royal Norwegian
Embassy in Colombo had informed them that a Senior Commander of
the LTTE was in need of emergency medical treatment abroad. Why
could not the Secretariat request the Embassy of Norway in Colombo
to issue such a statement? The Secretariat adds that assistance
of the Government of Sri Lanka was sought to facilitate Soosai's
"departure from Sri Lanka on Tuesday 19th October accompanied
by his medical team." It is clear from this statement that
the Secretariat was satisfied Soosai was ill and was being accompanied
by his medical team.
Secretariat announcement also said "in response to this and
on humanitarian grounds the LTTE group was transported by the Government
from Kilinochchi to Colombo…" However, on the same humanitarian
grounds the Secretariat was unable to raise issue with the LTTE
and seek the release of two home guards from Trincomalee who had
remained in guerrilla custody for 68 days. They were released later.
an account dealing with Soosai's departure The Sunday Times (Situation
Report - October 24) said: "According to LTTE sources, though
Soosai intended to undergo surgery in a Singapore hospital, he had
been medically advised not to. He is now completing physiotherapy
to move the shrapnel from a delicate area. This is being done whilst
he is in a hotel where Singapore authorities had provided him with
President Kumaratunga has declared Soosai "did not see any
doctor or go to any hospital." She has declared categorically
"that we are sure of." In other words it amounts to saying
the Government of Sri Lanka has incontrovertible evidence that the
LTTE lied to Norway and Sri Lanka in stating Soosai was going to
Singapore for medical treatment.
Sunday Times further investigated the matter this week. According
to authoritative sources in Singapore, Soosai and party arrived
at the Changi International Airport by Sri Lankan Airlines flight
UL 316 in the afternoon of October 20. Norway's Ambassador to Singapore,
Enok Nygaard, received them there. They were driven direct to a
hotel accompanied, among others, by intelligence officers from that
country and officials of the Norwegian Embassy. In a surprise move
Soosai found he was being monitored every minute by Singapore intelligence
that had positioned men in the hotel.
first visit to a hospital, accompanied by Norwegian Embassy officials
and Singapore intelligence men, was for a consultation with a Surgeon
in a leading hospital. One source said that was the Mount Elizabeth
Hospital but other sources declined to confirm this. The surgeon
had ordered several tests and x-rays to be carried out on him. Though
Soosai was advised to be hospitalised to enable tests to be conducted,
The Sunday Times learnt, intelligence personnel objected to such
a move and advised that he return to the hotel. Here again, Soosai
and party were told to leave Singapore as soon as possible. The
same request had also been conveyed to the Norwegian Embassy in
second visit to the same hospital, accompanied by the same party,
had been to consult an Orthopaedic specialist. There he had examined
Soosai's reports, x-rays, prescribed drugs and physiotherapy. The
physiotherapy treatment was conducted at the hotel. The same sources
told The Sunday Times that Singapore intelligence officials were
present throughout the stay of Soosai and party in the singapore
hotel. They had confirmed that Soosai was not allowed to meet any
outside parties because of the tight control placed on him. More
importantly Singapore intelligence authorities, who were fully in
the know of Soosai's role in the LTTE, had wanted him to finish
up in the shortest possible time and depart. They made no secret
of the fact that he was not welcome in Singapore. They had in fact
escorted him to the airport on his return journey to Colombo and
made sure he was on board the flight that departed.
Sunday Times (Situation Report - October 24) said Soosai and party
were due in Colombo on their return journey from Singapore on the
morning of October 24, a Sunday. They were to spend a few hours
until the arrival of LTTE Politcal Wing leader, S.P. Tamilselvan
and party. The two groups were to be later flown together in an
Air Force helicopter. But the report caused ripples in Tiger guerrilla
circles in the Wanni. Soosai and party were advised to take the
last flight to Colombo from Singapore. That was to reduce the time
of waiting in Negombo for fears of security.
Sunday Times reliably learns that Norway is to make representations
to the Sri Lanka over matters relating to Soosai raised by President
Kumaratunga. It is expected to be in the form of a comprehensive
report providing proof, some substantiated by Singapore authorities,
that Soosai did definitely undergo medical treatment in Singapore.
It will also make clear neither Soosai nor members of his group
met any outsider.
Soosai episode reveals the absence of proper procedures at the Peace
Secretariat to deal with LTTE requests for helicopters and other
related matters. It was only last week The Sunday Times (Situation
Report - Novemebr 14) reported how an Air Force helicopter was made
available to fly to Wanni the LTTE's "military commanders"
for Batticaloa-Ampara district (Banu) and Trincomalee district (Sornam).
This was neither related directly to the peace process nor on any
humanitarian grounds. It was because LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
had wanted to meet his "military commanders" - a prelude
to the upcoming "Maveerar (Great Heroes) observances that begins
next week. It culminates this year with Mr. Prabhakaran's 50th birthday.
He is due to make his annual "address" on this day.
Thursday the Peace Secretariat had made preparations for an Air
Force helicopter to fly to Kilinochchi. That was to help Banu and
Sornam to return to their stations. It was, however, cancelled at
the last moment and the LTTE is to give another date. These air
movements clearly indicate that the Peace Secretariat has taken
over the responsibility of helping the LTTE to carry out theatre-to-theatre
transfer of Tiger guerrilla "military cadres." As pointed
out last week, this is at a time when the use of vehicles by Army
officers have been drastically curtailed triggering off a serious
controversy. In marked contrast, the LTTE was receiving free helicopter
rides even to make military preparations.
weekend Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda, went public
in the vernacular media to make clear the action was not his own
but one that was on the instructions of President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga. Blaming President Kumaratunga now is one thing. But
the question that begs answer is why she was not apprised of the
ill effects of such a move, which had been done without considerable
study. It is well known that the President had re-considered some
of her directives to armed forces commanders when serious difficulties
encountered by them were explained to her. The repercussions caused
by this move will be felt badly only during a crisis situation.
As is the case now, authorities will become alive to it only thereafter.
to the shooting of an operative of the Army's Directorate of Military
Intelligence (DMI) in Kadurwela in Polonnaruwa on Thursday, a senior
officer who spoke on grounds of anonymity declared "if I get
shot, those who withdrew my escort vehicle will have to answer."
These remarks underscore the serious concerns in the officer cadres
over the withdrawal of transport facilities. That has left senior
officers with no vehicles for soldiers to travel as armed escorts.
This is in one time operational areas. Tiger guerrilla violence
still prevails in these areas and is shown by the latest incident,
the killing of Lance Corporal Wasantha Dassanayake and an informant.
sources say an increase in Tiger guerrilla attacks on rival factions,
particularly in the east, is demonstrated by Thursday's incident.
They say the move is ahead of the "Maveerar" week and
is to ensure rival groups do not mar the event. In the Batticaloa
district, distant Tiger guerrilla camps have been brought under
a cluster in a move to strengthen defences. On Friday, a reported
Tiger guerrilla attempt to kill a rival EPDP (Eelam People's Democratic
Party) activist in Valvettiturai ended up in the deaths of two youth
playing football in the vicinity. The LTTE has blamed an Army backed
group for the shooting but they have flatly denied the charge. Yesterday,
an LTTE led hartal in the Jaffna peninsula brought life to a standstill.
Shops and offices were closed in protest over the so-called Army
the Government and the Norwegian peace facilitators now await Mr.
Prabhakaran's "Maveerar" day "address" to determine
LTTE's next step vis a vis the peace process. Whether it will move
forward in the coming year remains the billion dollar question.