An explosive cloak, dagger drama
By Our Political Editor
How unfortunate can one be, as what happened to the unfortunate
Anura Bandaranaike in London earlier this week. Having rushed back
from an official visit to Vietnam and Thailand, the much travelled
Minister of Tourism, Investment and Industries was just about able
to catch his breath during a sojourn in Colombo, when he had to
jet-dash once again, this time to Britain. He has an official entourage
with him that makes his visit to Old Blighty a seemingly official
visit. After all , he is addressing a meeting organised by the London
office of the Ceylon Tourist Board, an office that sometimes does
not have funds to make an overseas call without approval from Colombo.
all-too-well-known by now that the Anura Bandaranaike visit was
clearly to coincide with the convocation of his niece Yasodara,
now a full fledged doctor having transferred from Cambridge Uni
to St. George's Hospital, a teaching hospital in Tooting, London.
this column penned last week, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
was already there in London booked at the Carlton Towers masquerading
her trip in the guise of a "semi official" visit. She
did have Foreign Secretary Jack Straw call on her, didn't she, even
if Prime Minister Tony Blair, the scoundrel he is, was too busy
to see our Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief.
Uncle Anura's good intentions of making the trip were of no avail
at the end of the day. For he had no ticket to the convocation.
As it turned out, Dr.-in-waiting Yasodara was entitled to only three
tickets. One was naturally for Mother and the other, naturally,
for Brother Vimukthi. And the third?
Sunethra had earlier indicated her inability to attend the function
due to a prior commitment in Norway with her cultural troupe of
handicapped kids from her very own Sunera Foundation. Yet, she eventually
found the time to make her way for the graduation ceremony. Its
a short flight after all from oslo to London. Surely, this was a
proud occasion for the family, with history of passing out of foreign
it was to be lucky dip of sorts - Uncle Anura or Aunty Sunethra?
Both now in London for the same event. In the meantime, the University
authorities were being badgered for just one more ticket. The funny
thing being though, or it was not so funny really, was that there
was no question whether the third available ticket was for Uncle
Anura or Aunty Sunethra - the choice for the third entry ticket
was none other than Aunty Rajitha.
Rajitha is the wife of Sri Lankan businessman resident in Shennley
in the outskirts of London, Ronnie Peiris. In fairness to her, Rajitha
Peiris offered not to go, giving way to the immediate family who
had come all the way. Yasodara was however insistent. She wanted
her virtual god-mother in Britain be there for her on that significant
the fourth ticket arrived. The lucky dip saw Aunty Sunethra the
winner. Poor Uncle Anura. Often taunted as a Born Loser, Uncle Anura
was left out of the convocation party. Imagine. Having trekked it
all the way, being all dressed up, and nowhere to go. The family,
however, made amends later and purchased some other tickets for
him - some theatre tickets at arty Liecester Square.
will stay back in London till about June 29 having skipped an all
important meeting of the BOI here in Colombo where Singapore Prime
Minister Goh Chok Tong met local business leaders for an inter-active
discussion on Friday. It sure was not the best picture tosee a visiting
Premier at the BOI sans either a Minister, a Chairman and even a
Deputy Minister unable to fit in to the situation.
apart, Goh Chok Tong was expected to take up issue on the Prima
fiasco and the failed Sinopec deal with Ceylon Petroleum - all in
the absence of the Investment Minister. In between visits to the
theatre at Leicester Square and elsewhere, the not-so-young Anura
wlll be making visits to the clinics for check-ups, reportedly courtesy
the President's Fund, for complications arising from years of conspicuous
consumption and sheer neglect of his health. We sincerely wish him
a clean bill of health.
that convocation affair was not enough of an ordeal for the Bandaranaike
family in London, the return journey to Colombo on Wednesday's Srilankan
flight was yet another.
London Correspondent Neville de Silva was on the same flight at
seat 1H uncomfortably close to President Kumaratunga at Seat 1A
(Where else?). The senior scribe reports on page one of this issue
as to what that ordeal was all about, resulting in a delay on Flight
UL 504 to Colombo. At least this time, the President was not to
blame for she arrived ten minutes before scheduled take-off time,
but that did not prevent daughter Dr Yasodara Kumaratunga telling
Mum "Now they will blame you for this delay also. Ammi, they
blame you for everything, no!!"
in Colombo President Kumaratunga no doubt had to cope with newer
problems, some of the new controversies from old problems. On Friday
morning, soon after giving Defence Secretary, Cyril Herath the go
ahead to appoint Major General Shantha Kottegoda (to be promoted
Lieutenant General) as the new Army Commander, she received a short
briefing from him. One of the important point was that the Karuna
issue was hotting up with the resignation of United National Front
national list MP Ali Zahir Mowlana.
was forced to admit that he escorted breakaway LTTE Eastern Commander
Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna to Colombo from Batticaloa.
It came in the wake of Nilavani, the Women's Military Wing leader
and Karuna confidant, who came to the City with Karuna, went back
to the east with three of her colleagues.
She spilt the beans.
was said that Mowlana did what he did at Opposition UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe's bidding to get some TNA parliamentarians to cross
over and join the UNP. Naturally, it infuriated the LTTE hierarchy.
It was more lethal than the explosion from a few kilos of their
overnight became the bete noire of both the LTTE and the Batticaloa
branch of the UNP. His slot in the UNP's eastern hierarchy seems
to have been clinched by his reported boasts to a United States
degree where he claims to have had received IT training. But his
angry Batticaloa adversaries dismiss the claim with contempt. He
was nothing but a "dish washer," they say. Dish washer
or IT specialist, dirty linen was being washed in abundance in the
aftermath of the disclosure and the sensation it has created.
is married to a Ms Paiva, who runs a small international school
in Dehiwala. She is from a well to do Tamil-Christian family with
ties to Kandy and Batticaloa. Even before the outbreak of the scandal
involving his direct involvement in the Karuna affair, he stood
charged for hosting four TNA MPs for dinner. He was on a mission
to win hearts and minds. In other words, to win the minds of the
four TNA men to support the UNP. The four were Pathmanathan, Kanagesu,
Jeyanandamoorthy and Canagasabai. He dined them at a restaurant
in Dehiwala not far from where he stayed.
LTTE was fuming. They were doubly cross that they had been double
crossed. It had hit them harder than a Rocket Propelled Grenade.
Party insiders say Mowlana's antics had become known in late May
or early June. He had been confronted with the allegations, but
stoutly denied them.
Ranil Wickremesinghe himself had questioned him saying that he did
not want the UNP to get involved in the internal affairs of the
TNA. He explained that since a new Government was in power, it was
now their responsibility to cope with the explosive Karuna issue.
top rungers say they were guided only by a basic arithmetical theory,
one that was not only logical but made all the sense. Had all TNA
MPs (22 of them) voted, the choice of the Speaker would have still
gone to the Opposition in the first count on that drama packed day
when the new Parliament convened. One will recall, that despite
an SLMC MP spoiling his vote, and two Jathika Hela Urumaya MPs breaking
ranks and voting with the Government, in the first round, there
was a tie in the vote for the Speaker because the TNA was short
of one MP. He had resigned on the fiat (or was it fright) of Prabhakaran,
and no replacement had been named when Parliament met.
with the LTTE pointing an accusing finger at the once loved UNP
leadership, Mowlana was summoned by his party's high command within
24 hours after he hit the headlines. On Wednesday he was hauled
up before leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and deputy Karu Jayasuriya
and told to explain himself.
was expected, the UNP leadership tried to deflect the embarrassing
issue elsewhere. They pondered over whether it was not possible
that Mowlana was suckered into doing all this for the Army by indicating
that Karuna had been spirited out of the country, but to later use
him to wage a deadly underground guerrilla war against the LTTE.
The question raised by the UNP was how Mowlana was able to bring
Karuna and party to Colombo without any tacit military awareness,
though it has now transpired that security was very lax on the eve
of the Sinhala and Hindu New Year.
final choice, the only way out, for both Mowlana and the UNP, was
to seek the former's resignation. Though some felt it was asking
for his scalp, that was the only way to cool a politically boiling
situation. Mowlana insists that he was not asked to resign, that
he offered to resign. In any event, he has now joined the growing
ranks of MPs serving such a short life span in what is turning out
to be the unlucky 13th Parliament.
(Monday) the United National Party's Political Operations Committee
will meet to discuss ways and means of repairing the breach of trust
with the LTTE. Needless to say plenty of confidence building exercises
would have to be launched. Some have already got under way. Already
through many telephone calls to the Wanni leadership, former Cabinet
ministers have made the point that Mowlana acted on his own and
the party leadership had no hand, no knowledge at all. TNA MPs -
especially Joseph Pararajasingham, has been briefed.
a matter of urgency, the UNP will also explain matters to donor
Co-chairs (UK, US, EU and Norway) who are closely monitoring the
peace process and the Karuna fall out. Talking of the peace process,
Norwegian Special Envoy Erik Solheim arrives in Colombo on Tuesday
on a four day visit for talks with UPFA and Government leaders.
In order not to cause unnecessary hype, an official announcement
from the Royal Norwegian Embassy has made clear this was a routine
visit. On Wednesday, he is to travel to Killinochchi for talks with
the LTTE Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan.
Solheim, just wedded, and ended a honeymoon amidst engaging in the
peace process, the coming weeks will be a busy one. Upon his return
to Oslo, he will have to travel to Stockholm where Norwegian Deputy
Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgesen, is getting married on July 3.
These Norwegian peace-makers seem to be espousing the cause ' Make
Love Not War ' in a literal sense.
attending the Helgessen wedding, Solheim has to return to the Norwegian
capital to join his Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, who is making
an official visit to India. This is Petersen's first since Congress
Party led United Progressive Alliance of Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh was voted to power. The Sri Lankan peace process is billed
as a key topic of discussion.
the troubled eastern sea board district of Batticaloa, even UNP
loyalists, a vanishing tribe that has rejected communal politics
through the thickest days and nights, felt betrayed. They were already
furious with Mowlana. Now, they were venting their frustration with
their leader in Colombo vowing not to back him at the next Presidential
party stalwarts advised against UNP fielding candidates for Batticaloa
at the April 2 elections, it was Mowlana who lobbied and succeeded
in getting the leadership to put forward a list. He had told Ranil
Wickremasinghe that Karuna had given his assent. Pitiful as it is,
for a party like the UNP having to obtain the seal of approval from
the LTTE to contest elections in Batticaloa, underscores the ground
even Mowlana may not have known at the time was that Prabhakaran
was on the verge of purging Karuna. There had been a multi million
rupee misappropriation of LTTE funds. Moneys, it was claimed by
the Wanni high command, had been channelled by Karuna to his wife,
then living in Malaysia, and Mowlana, it was claimed, had helped
in the transactions.
a clear warning from Pottu Amman (Shiva Sankaran), the dreaded LTTE
intelligence chief, warning Eastern province Tamils from the UNP
and other secular parties not to contest other than under the LTTE
backed TNA banner, the UNP put forward a list of low level functionaries
in Batticaloa society and came a cropper with one of the candidate's
Sinnathamby Sunderampillai paying the ultimate price with an LTTE
the UNP lost, Mowlana was rewarded. He was picked as a National
List MP. 'Sri Kotha', the party office at Kotte, argued that his
selection, even at the expense of A.H.M. Azwer, Tilak Marapana,
Tyronne Fernando etc. was to honour a promise to Eastern Province
Muslims, and that this time it was Batticaloa's turn to send an
appointed MP. This was much like it was Ampara's turn last time.
this argument was the fact that SLMC's Rauff Hakeem had ditched
My Own Mustafa from his party's national list. Mowlana himself obtained
some 20,000 preferential votes and lost - only 6,000 of these votes
were from the Muslims whilst the rest came from Tamils. Yet, he
was picked as an MP to represent the EP Muslims. That is what had
caused all the suspicions in the minds of the LTTE, and the UNP
loyalists in Batticaloa when the Karuna fiasco took place.
My Own Mustafa will fill the vacuum created by Mowlana's exist.
In these circumstances, he is said to be reluctant but pressure
moves are afoot. But, some damage to the UNP's so-far good relations
with the LTTE, no doubt has already taken place. Mending fences
with the LTTE will be high priority for the UNP these coming days,
as the UPFA Government wracks its brains on how best to deal with
the Karuna affair themselves.
losing command, control and communications
By Harinda Ranura Vidanage
As a group of UNP supporters attempted to lay siege
to Lake House as a protest demonstration against the media policy
of the UPFA government, an effigy of media minister Mangala Samaraweera
was brought to be burnt at the scene.
with the intervention of the Fort police this was prevented and
the effigy confiscated. ANCL chairman who acquired a few photographs
of the Mangala effigy took them to media minister later that day.
While going through the photographs minister Samaraweera exclaimed
" Me Kalathmaka Pambaya Ko" (Where is the artistically
designed effigy) and he further said he would like to keep it.
the minister phoned the OIC Fort police station and requested the
effigy be handed over to him, which the officer agreed to. The enthusiastic
media minister then dispatched a vehicle to the police station to
get the effigy but the messenger was informed by the police the
effigy is not in their custody
the minister was informed of this he called the OIC again and asked
him where is the 'Pambaya" you promised me half an hour ago
"Sir, Eva Nadu Badu walata erala" (The effigy has been
sent as an item to be produced in courts) Minister Samaraweera will
only acquire the effigy after the court disposes of the matter.
the President having been out of the country recently communication
within the government has caused some problems in the UPFA. It seems
that there is a meltdown of the command and control apparatus of
the Alliance. As the government drifts with no apparent guiding
policy, it quotes the "Rata Perata" being there as a form
of defence document.
election manifesto can be a guiding light but the critical issue
is what path need be pursued and that's where the policy becomes
so important in governance.
UPFA is yet to brief the donor community of its economic policy,
furthermore its policy framework on the management of the peace
process looks vague The government is yet to utilize the 4 billion
aid package pledged at Tokyo. Else if the aid is not put to use
in another few months an amount of one billion will be deducted
from the total package.
the approach to the peace process being shrouded in mystery, Karuna
has once again stolen the limelight in the media last week. UNP
National list parliamentarian Ali Zahir Moulana having admitted
of his involvement in the whole issue, more details of his relationship
with the renegade LTTE commander have surfaced. Karuna's wife and
Moulana's wife of Tamil descent have been very close friends with
the children of the two families attending the same school.
UNF is taking the full brunt of the allegations being made over
the issue for aiding Karuna to escape. The LTTE appears to have
been aware of Moulana's involvement in the affair as the LTTE had
visited Moulana's residence and questioned the family of Karuna's
whereabouts prompting the resigned MP to go into hiding for sometime.
the latest controversy arose when Media minister Mangala Samaraweera
made certain statements about the incident at the last cabinet briefing
which saw even the BBC broadcasting a news item based on his statement.
to the foreign media it was an indirect allegation to the part played
by the Sri Lankan Army to relocate Karuna to a safe house in Colombo
amidst an LTTE operation against his forces.
the minister responded with an immediate media release to the foreign
media claiming that he has been misquoted, he couldn't avert the
Sri Lankan Army hierarchy from being disturbed. In the wake of this
development the military top brass was found firing calls to all
responsible authorities in the government. Samaraweera may not have
been prepared to respond to questions based on the Karuna issue
or he may have played a tactical game of sending some signals to
the LTTE depicting a change of heart of the UPFA government.
the UPFA is involved in a political battle on two fronts. First
it's the effort of securing a majority of seats in parliament. Second
to secure power in all the decentralized entities in the form of
provincial councils. With two weeks remaining for the election there
is a general feeling that the public would cast a protest vote.
As a result of impending political instability and the continuing
rise in the cost of living the people may be politically weary of
the whole scenario.
democracy also as a component of parliamentary democracy cannot
be the panacea for all the political woes of the state. President
Kumaratunga is still being advised by so-called political specialists
to go for another round of elections if the drive to secure a parliamentary
majority fails. But the outcome of another election will not make
much of a difference from the present situation. Thus it might be
much better to look for a political settlement for the establishment
of some sort of stability in government and see that a consensual
machinery functions for at least a short period.
of parliamentary democracy in a situation of political backwardness
are quite apparent within the Sri Lankan context. The government
command, control and information apparatus suffering considerable
melt down may lead to a general paralysis of the whole system.