Political Column  

Karuna: 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.

Its 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.

As 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.

All 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?

Sister 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 universities.

So 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.

Aunty 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 day.

Fortunately, 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.

He 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.

That 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.

If 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.

Our 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!!"

Back 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.

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.

It 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 own explosives.

Mowlana 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.

Mowlana 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.

The 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.

Leader 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.

UNP 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.

Now 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.

As 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.

The 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.

Tomorrow (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.

As 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.

For 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.

After 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.

In 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 Elections.

When 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 realities.

What 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.

Despite 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 bullet.

Though 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.

Compounding 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.

Now, 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.

UPFA 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.

But 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.

Immediately 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

As 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.

With 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.

The 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.

The 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.

With 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.

The 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.

But 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.

According 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.

Though 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.

Meanwhile 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.

Electoral 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.

Fallacies 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.

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