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

Soosai: 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.

She 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.

A 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.

Her 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.

Just 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.

Mr 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."

Mr. 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?"

Her 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."

In 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."

Then 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.

Much 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.

The 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.

It 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.

The 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.

That 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."

The 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."

President 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.

Whether 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.

One 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 decide otherwise.

Karuna's 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 down.

If 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 seemed.

Another 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.

No 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.

The 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.

Two 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.

Secondly, 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.

The 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.

In 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 security…."

Now 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.

The 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.

His 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 Singapore.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Last 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.

This 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.

Reacting 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.

Intelligence 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 inspired shooting.

Both 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.

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