politics of whodunit
By Our Political Editor
Who killed Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, an icon of patriotism
in Sri Lanka and a man who abhorred terrorism?
A man who served the nation without selfish ideals or pompous double
talk fell victim to an assassin's bullet on August 12, or eleven
days ago. Last Monday he was cremated at Independence Square with
State patronage. Like in the past ten days, the question lingers
on the lips of every Sri Lankan. So much so, it has become the burning
has to begin with the highest in the land. President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga, Head of State, Minister of Defence, Commander in Chief
of the armed forces among others passed judgement on Saturday morning
(August 12). She declared "Lakshman Kadirgamar was felled by
political foes opposed to the peaceful transformation of conflict
and who were determined to undermine attempts towards a negotiated
political solution the ethnic conflict."
minutes after Kadirgamar was known to be dead, she blasted the LTTE
in very strong local language, but the very next day she refrained
from naming them. This created a major problem not only for foreign
Governments but also for the media who were reporting on the tragic
event. Kumaratunga's statement meant it could have been anyone else
other than the LTTE, or so many thought. More details on that later.
The head of the Political Wing of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE), S.P. Thamilselvan condemned those in Colombo who hastily
blamed them. He said, "We also know that there are sections
within the Sri Lankan armed forces operating with a hidden agenda
to sabotage the Ceasefire Agreement."
is stranger than fiction, there was a meeting of minds, a confluence
of thought and speech. Both President Kumaratunga and the LTTE,
in their own words, had agreed that the dastardly killing had been
carried out by enemies of the peace process. Even if it was not
so, it seemed as if the two sides had agreed on what to say. Who
are these enemies who were resorting to deadly violence to wreck
the peace process?
took days for the mystery to unfold. On Sunday night, more than
48 hours after the killing, Kumaratunga now accused the LTTE. She
said their "only language is violence, their only method terror
and brutality. She named a line up of Tamil political leaders who
were "murdered by the LTTE to subjugate the Tamil people through
violence and terror". She said Mr. Kadirgamar had "joined
this long list of distinguished Tamil leaders."
Sunday Times front page lead story last week had noted the shift
in Government's position from blaming enemies of the peace process
to the LTTE. That Sunday JVP's Wimal Weerawansa was talking to a
senior Sri Lanka Freedom Party politician who had come to the Foreign
Minister's official residence to pay his respects. He said he was
appalled that Kumaratunga was treating the Tiger guerrillas with
kid gloves and wanted to appease them by not placing the blame on
them. A deputy minister had overheard this. Kumaratunga was later
heard to tell a ministerial colleague "how can I just blame
the LTTE. I am the President and I must have some evidence before
I say such a thing". Evidence or no evidence, the same President
placed the blame fairly and squarely on the LTTE that very night
in a broadcast to the nation.
Cabinet Spokesman Nimal Siripala de Silva, who expressed sentiments
to the contrary earlier, fell in line. He told a news conference
on Saturday the Government finds it difficult to accept the Tiger
guerrilla denial. He said "indications are that the LTTE is
There were others who were more discerning in their judgement about
who did it. That was soon after the killing had taken place. Military
Spokesman Brigadier Daya Ratnayake insisted that the assassination
bore "all the hallmarks" of Tiger guerrillas.
two suspects who were arrested ten days earlier for filming and
photographing the late Mr. Kadirgamar's residence were positively
identified as Tiger guerrillas. So did Police Chief, Chandra Fernando
though he blamed the Foreign Minister for not heeding warnings not
to go to his private residence at Bullers Lane.
of events that followed the shooting of Mr. Kadirgamar is replete
with instances of panic and confusion. The scene of the attack was
not sealed off for more than an hour. The warped sense of humour
from a senior policeman characterized the situation. He said the
attackers waited for a long time after the firing to be arrested,
so that they can take their cyanide capsules and become martyrs.
Because no one arrived, they boarded a three wheeler scooter and
left the area. That was meant to be a joke though a bizarre one
Nimal Lewke, who is head of the Special Task Force police commando
arm, was at the scene. He and his men who were moving around entered
the Thalayasingham household to find an upstair toilet that was
used as the launching pad. Investigations have drawn a virtual blank
except for a few clues that are now being chased. CID detectives
are recording the statements of a number of persons including commando
escorts of Mr. Kadirgamar. Most complained the commandos were being
grilled as if they had been the culprits who committed the murder.
But a CID detective insisted they were trying to only ascertain
whether there was any "security fatigue" -- a state of
lull caused by prolonged deployment.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera was one of the first to arrive at the
Colombo National Hospital. He was at a discussion with some advisors
at his residence when his mobile phone rang.
was JVP's Wimal Weerawansa inquiring from him whether anything had
happened to Kadirgamar. Weerawansa said he had heard some "bad
news" and phoned the Foreign Minister's mobile phone. A security
officer who had answered had only said there was an incident and
hung up. Samaraweera had rung Kadirgamar's official residence at
Wijerama Road and had been told by an aide that he had been rushed
to the National Hospital. He went there.
Weerawansa joined him. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who was
at dinner at "Temple Trees" had been told by his Army
Commando escorts. He arrived at the hospital. Ministers Nimal Siripala
de Silva, John Seneviratne and A.H.M. Fowzie were there. President
Kumaratunga, clad in an off white salwar kameez was also there.
She had spoken by telephone to Premier Rajapakse and was aware Mr.
Kadirgamar had succumed to his injuries.
walked towards the area where emergency surgery was earlier under
way. She spoke to some medical staff outside the operating theatre
and later walked towards her ministers. Biting her lips in an apparent
bid to suppress her emotions, she walked towards Suganthie Kadirgamar,
who was seated in a chair.
hugged her whilst the latter broke in tears. When that was over,
it was clear Kumaratunga was visibly shattered. Samaraweera placed
his hands around her shoulders and tried to console her. It was
then that an angry Kumaratunga burst out in harsh and unprintable
words. She did not hide her feelings. She said in bitter terms that
the LTTE was responsible for the killing. Tears were rolling down
her cheeks when security staff advised her to leave the area immediately.
Other Ministers were also told to depart but Samaraweera had broken
down. He was wailing like a child that he had lost a mentor and
only good friend in Cabinet. By then, Kumaratunga and some of her
Cabinet ministers were aware Kadirgamar had died but no one spoke.
Deputy Media Minister Dilan Perera and Cabinet Spokesman Nimal Siripala
de Silva were debating who should officially break the news to the
nation. The news was out before they could do so. Security officers
had now advised the ministers to disperse. Samaraweera was still
in tears when he returned home. He was watching TV, switching channels
from CNN to BBC. Later he went to console Suganthie Kadirgamar.
Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva stayed right through the
preliminary Magisterial inquiry and was taking charge of the situation
in the hospital.
TV, not surprisingly took awhile to make the announcement while
CNN and BBC carried the horrific news to all corners of the world.
It was the breaking news of CNN that alerted late-night revellers
in Colombo and elsewhere that Friday of what happened in Sri Lanka.
Mobile phones, SMS messages started flying around; as the witching
hour approached, the grim news was that Kadirgamar had not survived
an assassin's bullets.
Saturday morning it was a case of a tragedy making strange bedfellows.
Former Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando (Now Governor, North-East),
a bitter critic of Kadirgamar during his hey day accusing him of
enjoying the benefits of state while being in the Opposition, was
extolling his virtues on Rupavahini. He referred to his days in
Oxford where they co-existed. Joining him was Dilan Perera whose
job after the killing was to offer gratuitous advice to the media
on how they should report the event. It was a case of politicians
who assume the media portfolio becoming the judge, the jury and
in this case, even the Court staff. All this while the state media
under his command was making reference to unknown gunmen assassinating
Kadirgamar. In the state-run Eye channel there was a tele drama
where the story justified the demands of Tiger guerrillas. The next
day the tele-drama ran on Rupavahini. Dilan Perera had also gone
to Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation's Subharathi programme to
declare unknown gunmen were responsible for Kadirgamar's murder.
angry Deputy Minister Sripathi Sooriyaratchchi telephoned Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse to protest against Dilan Perera's propaganda
odyssey. By this time the JVP leadership had realised all was not
well at the official residence where the body of the slain Foreign
Minister lay. The near and dear, some well wishers, friends and
relatives were coming. But the common man was not. Security precautions
and the belief it was out of bounds for them was keeping away crowds
that wanted to pay their respects. There were no white flags though
the Government had chosen to accord a state funeral.
leaders Weerawansa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Deputy Minister Sripathi
Sooriyaratchi went on Saturday night to 'Temple Trees', the official
residence of the Prime Minister. There, they spoke with Premier
Rajapakse. Within minutes he made a string of telephone calls. The
next day, white flags began to adorn Wijerama Mawatha, the official
residence where the body lay-in-state. The JVP had made sure white
flags fluttered in the South. Leading planter and author, and long-time
friend of the Minister Malinga Gunaratne (Please see his personal
tribute on the cover of our feature section ) who drove to Colombo
for the funeral from Ahangama said the roads were full of white
flags on Sunday.
said the hand of the JVP was clearly seen, but equally, that there
was a natural outpouring of emotions. The southern electorate, where
Kadirgamar always meant to visit, but never did, was in grief. Many
people spontaneously organised themselves to travel to Colombo to
pay their homage, and it was not for nothing that one mourner wrote
in the condolence book referring to Kadirgamar as "apey maha
kalu sinhalayata - nivan sepa labewa" or so much as to refer
to him as the Great Sinhalese warrior to whom he prayed eternal
bliss in Nirvana.
Saturday evening the politburo of the JVP met and decided they should
ensure a large crowd at the funeral. It was decided to notify all
its branch orgnizations. Crowds milled outside the official residence
at Wijerama and later at Independence Square. Barring the United
National Party, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Tamil National
Alliance, Premier Rajapakse joined the JVP, Jathika Hela Urumaya
and others in a news conference. There, all of them pointed the
finger at the LTTE for the assassination.
Ministers Samaraweera and Nimal Siripala de Silva drove to Janadipathi
Mandiraya. It was decided that Rajapakse would be the only speaker
on behalf of the Government -- in both English and Sinhala. Efforts
by Samaraweera to persuade Kumaratunga to allow five minutes to
the JVP, whose leaders were close friends of Kadirgamar did not
materialize. She was not in favour. On the grounds that to give
the JVP a speaking slot, one would have to give so many other parties
a turn, which in turn would extend the funeral ceremonies by almost
an hour, the JVP was left out.
is not sure whether to laugh or cry at the finale to the event --
a statement from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of which Kadirgamar
was a prominent member. Its General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena,
had prepared a hand written statement on Sunday night, just hours
ahead of the funeral. Some media did not use it because they were
not sure whether it was an authentic account. For a funeral under
state patronage, no Government or SLFP dignitary was on hand to
receive local and foreign visitors at Wijerama Mawatha. Such was
the honour the SLFP and their minority Government gave one of its
heroes who fell victim to a terrorist's bullet.
taking part in the funeral, Opposition and UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe,
flew to New Delhi to deliver the Eighth Dinesh Singh lecture in
memory of a one time Foreign Minister of India. He said he was talking
to them in the shadow of the assassination in Colombo of Lakshman
Kadirgamar, his "respected friend and parliamentary colleague".
two of them kept a regular dialogue, and more often than not, Wickremesinghe
would ask for Kadirgamar's presence whenever he was to meet Kumaratunga.
Such was the confidence he had in Kadirgamar, to whom he gave all
security during his term as Prime Minister. He also saw to it that
his party, the UNP praised the Minister for his bi-partisan approach
to foreign policy in their statement following his death
In New Delhi, Wickremesinghe referred to the breakaway of the Karuna
group from the LTTE, and said that this was a key issue that muddied
the water in Sri Lanka's long drawn internal conflict. He said the
LTTE accused army intelligence of helping Karuna and giving him
The LTTE claimed in terms of the Ceasefire Agreement that the Karuna
group which was deemed to be paramilitaries should be disarmed by
the military. He said the Government contended that they had no
connection with the Karuna group, and that this group was not a
paramilitary unit. As far as the LTTE was concerned, this was a
crucial issue and unless settled could result in the breakdown of
the Ceasefire Agreement, the UNP leader pointed out.
said there were eight fundamental steps to be taken that required
great courage, determination and perseverance and that there are
no options. Among them, he said, was the resumption of the peace
process as envisaged in the CFA. He noted that the validity of the
CFA had been upheld by the Supreme Court in the P-TOMS case.
Another, he said, was to strengthen the Ceasefire Agreement. The
monitoring mechanism has no power to police and is not a peace keeping
the time the monitoring mechanism was put in place, no one envisaged
the present situation in the East where many factions operate. "Therefore,
to deal with this new situation, we would have to find new ways
of operation for the Monitoring Mission so as to make it effective,"
out that killing by all sides should stop, Wickremesinghe also said
that an agreement by the Government and Tiger guerrillas on a phased,
balanced and verifiable de-escalation, de-militarisation and normalisation
process at an appropriate time in the context of arriving at a political
settlement was necessary.
days of Kadirgamar's killing, Kumaratunga had won a response to
her plea from the Tiger guerrillas to discuss the Ceasefire Agreement.
Conscious of the hardening of Sinhala-nationalist opinion and mainstream
political parties in the south jointly supporting the introduction
of a State of Emergency, the guerrillas had climbed down from their
refusal to talk about the CFA. Won't they seek to win more concessions
from an ever obliging minority Kumaratunga Government? The question
remains as to whether this minority Government which has been more
accommodating than even the previous United National Front Administration
yield to still more demands? As for the LTTE, it will just wait
a little till the dust settles, and the country returns to 'normalcy'.