PREPARING FOR WAR - Newly recruited Tiger guerrilla cadres undergo arms training somewhere in Mullaitivu

Nation in confusion over Tiger stance
With just four days to go for the presidential elections, Tiger guerrilla leader Velupillai Prabhakaran appears to have plunged Sri Lanka into a worst state of confusion.

Does he want Tamil voters under his influence, particularly in the North and East, to cast their votes on Thursday? Some say "yes" whilst others say a firm "no." The resultant confusion has led yet others to believe he has a grand design and is deliberately orchestrating this confusion. The latter believe he is setting the stage for his annual "Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day" speech on November 27.

During his address last year, Mr. Prabhakaran urged the Government "to resume peace negotiations without conditions, based on our proposal for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA)." He cautioned "If the Government of Sri Lanka rejects our urgent appeal and adopts delaying tactics, perpetuating the suffering of our people, we have no alternative other than to advance the freedom struggle of our people." What now?

Peace talks between the then United National Front (UNF) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were stalled in April 2003. Mr. Prabhakaran's note of caution was sounded last year in that backdrop. He then declared "we cannot continue to be entrapped in a political vacuum without an interim solution or a permanent settlement, without stable peace and without peace of mind." So, what does he want to tell the fifth elected President of Sri Lanka after November 17?

The answer appears to have unfolded in some way when parliamentarians of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) held a meeting in Kilinochchi with LTTE leaders. They included Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan, his deputy S. Thangan, head of their Peace Secretariat, S. Prabagaran alias Pulithevan, head of Jaffna district Political Wing Ilampirathi, Vavuniya Political Wing leader Gnanam and head of Political Wing, Mannar, Iniyawan. Except Gajendrakumar Ponnampalam, who was away on a visit to the United States, S. Jayanandamoorthy who was away in the UK, and S. Kanagaratnam, the remaining 19 MPs of the TNA were present.

The meeting was held to apprise the TNA parliamentarians of the LTTE's position vis-a-vis the presidential elections. They had to trudge to Kilinochchi last Thursday. On the first occasion, they were told to gather there on November 4 but the guerrilla leadership had not made up their mind. Hence, the MPs were told to come on November 10. That postponement and the subsequent meeting underscored a significant fact - there was a mood change in the guerrilla leadership over Thursday's presidential elections.

There was a need to take up a formal official position. Such a stance was absent during previous presidential elections. In 1994 they not only backed Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga but assassinated her rival UNP's Gamini Dissanayake. In 1999 they openly backed Ranil Wickremesinghe. On these occasions, there were no formal announcements or appeals. The call to voters to back them on both occasions went from mouth to mouth. Official statements only made veiled references. Then the Tiger guerrillas helped transport voters en masse to cast their votes. The positions the LTTE took were well known in the South. This time, however, it appears to be different.

Unlike in all other occasions, the LTTE leaders cautiously refrained from making any remarks or issuing an official statement after three and half hours of talks with TNA parliamentarians. Not a word was being said about the upcoming presidential elections. It was left to veteran politician Rajavaraothayam Sampanthan, Trincomalee district MP. That no doubt would have been a difficult task for a respected one time moderate like Mr. Sampanthan.

In fact, the TNA group leader had chaired a meeting with his colleagues in Colombo last Tuesday. That was ahead of their journey to Kilinochchi. On that occasion, barring an exception or two, others were in favour of recommending to LTTE that voters should be allowed to exercise their democratic right. They were conscious that a move to the contrary would only convince the international community that the LTTE was a dictatorial organisation. At a time when they were fighting to have the European Union lift the travel ban on guerrilla cadres to its member countries, it would be counter productive. This was particularly when the European Union had sent an observer mission to monitor the polls.

The TNA view point had been articulated by some of its members during the discussion. In essence, the decision, at least in the technical sense, made it appear their view had prevailed. Mr Sampanthan said neither the TNA nor the LTTE would advice people not to vote. The nuances arising from his statements can be gauged from the reportage in pro-LTTE media. The first to report the remarks was the Tamil website Puthinam. The Tamilnet website followed with a more lengthy account. See box story on this page for an English translation of the Puthinam report and the account in the Tamilnet.

State intelligence agencies that have been closely monitoring the developments, to say the least, are puzzled. They have learnt that Jaffna district political wing leader Ilampirathi has so far had two meetings with local level Government officials - Asssitant Government Agents, Grama Sevakas, Co-operative Society officials and others. The first was two weeks ago. The second was last Friday. On both occasions he had made clear the LTTE did not want the Tamil people to take part in the polls. On Friday, he had gone a step further. He appealed to them to identify the "traitors" who would be violating this "decree." In addition, Ilampirathi also spoke to Jaffna based Tamil media representatives on the need to educate the voters not to got to polls.

In private meetings some LTTE leaders held with emissaries who had arrived in Kilinochchi yesterday, The Sunday Times learnt, it was made clear the guerrillas would not want the Tamils to vote at the elections. There were broad hints that they would be debarred from doing so. The message was now filtering down to the lower levels of the guerrilla leadership in the north and east. The response from the Wanni leadership came when visitors from Colombo sought to ascertain why the TNA-LTTE talks led to a decision asking Tamils not to show interest in the polls. They also wanted to ascertain whether this meant a boycott of the polls. The Wanni leaders had given a number of reasons for their decision and declared it was arrived at after a long drawn process of consultation by both political and military leaders.

Due to the serious international implications it would cause, the LTTE cannot openly call upon its followers not to vote at Thursday's elections. Besides being accused of denying the democratic rights of the civilians on whom they exert influence, they would stand accused of dictating to the people at the point of a gun. Hence, is there a move to officially declare through TNA that there would be no pressure on the voters, but subtly advise them to keep off from the polling booths? Did Mr. Sampanthan deliver the same message when he said, "We are convinced that Tamil people will not benefit by showing any interest in the forthcoming Sri Lanka presidential elections."

But contradicting that situation, intelligence sources argue, were developments in the Eastern province. On Friday, in LTTE dominated Kokkadicholai (in the Batticaloa district) vans with loud speakers mounted, said to be arranged by them, were going around announcing that citizens should cast their votes in favour of a particular candidate. I will avoid identification and thus the accusation of backing the political fortunes of one against the other. The guerrillas in this district had also arranged for vehicles to transport voters from their homes to the polling booths and assigned personnel for that task. Is this due to a communications problem between North and East? Or is it part of an attempt to create deliberate confusion?

According to state intelligence sources the TNA-LTTE political wing meeting had been preceded by another earlier. That was one chaired by LTTE leader Prabhakaran and attended among others by his intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, "Police" chief Nadesan and Sea Tiger leader Soosai. According to these sources, Pottu Amman had raised issue over statements reportedly made by UNP's Naveen Dissanayake (MP-Nuwara Eliya district) and Milinda Moragoda, a former Cabinet Minister (MP - Colombo district). The statements appear to have infuriated the LTTE.

Mr. Dissanayake is reported to have told an election rally in Ginigathhena that "American and Indian" troops will fight if LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran chooses to wage war. His remarks were published in the Uthayan, a Jaffna based Tamil newspaper. He had claimed that a situation was created to make renegade LTTE "commander" Karuna to get dissatisfied with the leadership. He had also claimed that Karuna had the full backing of Mr. Wickremesinghe. The newspaper later published a denial from Mr. Dissanayake but added that the report was a true account.
In that backdrop came an interview by Mr. Moragoda to a TV channel. The next day his remarks were also published in a newspaper. He was quoted as claiming the UNP split the LTTE through the peace process and the resultant "international safety net" that had emerged. He was also quoted as saying the naval forces were active when the UNF was in power and they sank Tiger guerrilla ships.

Officially, UNP stalwarts said, they had not authorised the remarks made by two of its frontline members. Nor did it amount to expression of any policy, they said. Whilst Mr. Dissanayake's remarks contained factual errors, they asserted that Mr. Moragoda's remarks were a point of view. However, it raised concerns not only in the LTTE but also in the security establishment in Colombo. There were fears of enhanced threats to Mr. Moragoda and the matter came up for discussion at a top level security conference. Thereafter, Police Chief Chandra Fernando visited Mr. Moragoda to discuss matters concerning his security. Concerns were so high that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse also rang Mr. Moragoda to caution him about the threats and the need to take precautions.

It is known that since nominations, the LTTE has been engaged in building public opinion against the presidential elections. The first statement came from its front organisation - Students Organisations of Higher Education Institutions of Jaffna district. A statement from them said:
"Although 13 are in the fray for the presidential poll, only one of two will seize the chair of Presidency. Of them, the necessity for Mahinda Rajapakse to expose his chauvinistic face has risen due to his allies. The unitary system of Government, no such thing as a homeland concept, rejection of the P-TOMS (Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure) are their policies. Can the Tamil land, which is inspired with liberation, vote for Mahinda Rajapakse who is promoting these policies?

"Ranil who identifies himself as a lover of peace is much more dangerous than Mahinda. No sooner the MoU was signed, he said, he had made the Tigers lay down their arms, that the death of the Sinhala soldier has been prevented, then an international network had been woven and the consequence of it would be known in due course. Therefore, it must be understood that he did not sign the MoU to resolve the problems of the Tamil people.

"It is a fact that the international network cast by Ranil Wickremasinghe did pressurise us. The unfortunate incidents that happened in the East were an aspect of the network cast by him. It is due to the efficiency and foresight of our leadership we have still not been caught up in the traps laid on us. Is the land of the Tamils going to be cheated in the gentlemanly pretentious Ranil?

"Even the economic plan of Ranil who speaks scantly of a political settlement is only to make use of our freedom struggle and have the assistance of the Western countries. He will not only mortgage the land of the Tamils, but Sri Lanka as the whole to the foreigners and rule the country.

"People of Tamil Eelam beware. Both Mahinda and Ranil are in good trapping. Mahinda and his reddish allies and those in robes will violently do it, but Ranil will do it without making a noise of it. Are we to vote for these people? Therefore, you, our people boycott November 2005 Presidential Election and announce to the International community that the land of the Tamils will no more trust Sinhala leaders."

This statement is an English translation of the Tamil text. It appeared in pro LTTE newspapers in Jaffna, confirmation that the organisation’s existence has been acknowledged and recognised by the guerrilla leadership. Similar statements calling for a boycott of the polls have also been published from more than 50 other front organisations. A sampling - Makkal Padai (People's Force), Nedunteevu People's Forum, Jaffna Islands Public Consortium, Jaffna Clerical Services Federation, Jaffna Island's Fishermen's Organisations and Kovitkudiruppu Women's Development Organisation.

What exactly Mr. Prabhakaran meant when he asked the TNA leadership to request the Tamil people not to show interest in the presidential poll will become clear within the next four days. His message to a newly elected President will also become clear by November 27.

He is able to talk from such a position of strength and confidence only because he consolidated his military machine during the three and half years of ceasefire. He prepared for war whilst talking peace. The strength of guerrilla armed cadres, both men and women grew. He smuggled in sophisticated military hardware, acquired air capability and expanded his sea going arm, the Sea Tigers. He has trained the civilians into a militia to play a role during a war. On the civilian front he established an extensive infrastructure - a "police" force, tax collection machinery, administrative service, "law courts" and many other institutions that constitute a state in the making. He made sure these mechanisms took root in the East where it was not existent before the ceasefire.

This, as repeatedly revealed in The Sunday Times, is in marked contrast to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Since the ceasefire their level of preparedness has receded. In this respect, it is very significant that the two main Presidential candidates have pledged to Sri Lankans to improve the armed forces. Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged to ensure there were six fully equipped brigades whilst the others functioned side by side. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has also assured a national policy on defence. He said he would make sure the armed forces are well trained and well disciplined.

Why did it become necessary for the two main contenders to the Presidency to assure the nation now about what they hope to do with the armed forces? By doing so, they have clearly acknowledged the inadequacies that have not been addressed and continue to exist.
This is despite the fact that the outgoing President Kumaratunga took over the defence portfolio from the UNF regime in November 2003 on the grounds that "the sovereignty of the State of Sri Lanka, its territorial integrity and the security of the Nation have been placed in grave danger…." She has done little or nothing since then to improve the situation.

When it was pointed out by many, including the media, she only poured scorn on them. Now that she is saying her farewell, showering herself with all the praise, many issues in the defence and security establishment that had been brushed aside are surfacing. During her two terms no one accused of corruption in military procurements has been brought to book. Despite promises, procurement procedures were not streamlined to avoid malpractice. Cronyism was encouraged and some favourites, though accused of corruption and inefficiency, were rewarded with promotions. The day-to-day needs of the armed forces were ignored. Rising threats from a guerrilla group expanding militarily were not properly addressed or identified and remedial action taken.

It was Kumaratunga who told then Prime Minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe that "It is the President who will some day be held exclusively responsible for all acts of commissions and omissions, the successes and failures of the defence and national security policy."

Though she gives up the Presidency in the coming week, patting herself on the back, her own words, no doubt should echo in her mind. Whatever part of the globe she will be in during retirement, she no doubt would have to answer questions in the months and years to come.
As for the new President, who will emerge after Thursday, there are plenty of lessons to learn and a lot of wrongs to be righted.

How LTTE mouthpieces interpreted the decision

LTTE's political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan (centre) with Sudahar Master (left) and Mr. Sampanthan (right) at Thursday's meeting

Here is how the pro LTTE websites reported the outcome of last Thursday's meeting between Parliamentarians of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the leaders of LTTE's Political Wing.

Puthinam (Tamil website)
Tamils of the north and east need not show any keenness at the upcoming elections of Sri Lanka political leaders, said R. Sampanthan.
He made this statement at a Press conference after the TNA group met LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi. A meeting between the TNA, Thamilselvan and senior members of the LTTE took place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday.

They discussed in detail about the action to be taken at the elections by Tamils living in the North and East. They discussed at length how the Tamils were treated by the Sinhala, repeatedly by Sinhala political leaders since the country gained independence. They also discussed how they acted to solve the problems of the Tamil speaking people, how they were suppressed by the Army, how the Government carried out racial killings.
The TNA members conveyed their opinion how the two governments acted during the past thee and half years after the CFA was signed.

hamilselvan also expressed his opinion. Decisions taken at the meeting:

  • By these elections, a decision on the Tamil national question cannot be taken according to the aspirations of the Tamil people.
  • Considering the issues like the political struggle, armed struggle, peace, nothing could be achieved at this election by the Tamils showing any keenness.

Representatives of both parties have been in office after the CFA was signed. After considering the events that took place during this period we cannot have any faith in these parties and candidates.

Our people have experienced and observed they too know the situation. All those living in the north and east can understand this situation. Our people too are of the same opinion. We have no doubt that our people too will take the same decision. After giving due consideration to our past experience, especially after the CFA was signed and the peace talks took place, we are aware of the events that transpired. After considering these our decision is that our people need not show any interest.

Responding to a question whether they will stop the Tamil people who wished to vote he said "definitely we will not stop them. We have no intention of taking away the democratic rights of the Tamil people. But I have faith, taking into consideration the past experience that the Tamil people will not show any interest in the elections.

Emerging from the three and a half hour meeting with the Political Wing of the LTTE, Wednesday, R.Sampanthan, Leader of the TNA Parliamentarians, categorically declared to the media, "Nothing worthwhile would be achieved by supporting either of the two leading candidates in the Sri Lankan Presidential election." Mr Sampanthan, following discussions presided by S.P.Thamilselvan, leader of the Political Wing of the LTTE, assured the press in Kilinochchi, that Tamil People are "not at all interested in the forthcoming Presidential election."

Both Sinhala parties have been in the government before and after periods of war in the Northeast. If we carefully examine the conduct of these Governments towards Tamil people we are forced to conclude that we cannot place our trust on either of the parties or their candidates," Mr. Sampanthan revealed.

We are convinced that Tamil people will not benefit by showing any interest in the forthcoming Sri Lanka Presidential elections," added the parliamentary group leader of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), talking to the press after the meeting with the LTTE's Political Head at the LTTE Peace Secretariat in Kilinochchi. "The past bitter experiences of the ordinary Tamil people are such that they will never forget their sufferings, especially under military subjugation, both during their non violent struggle as well as during armed confrontation." said Mr Sampanthan.

"It is not surprising that the Tamil people have lost all interest in the forthcoming Sri Lankan presidential elections. The experience the Tamils have had over five decades, has taught them neither to trust the leading Sinhala political parties nor to have faith in their leadership," the leader of the TNA said.

The meeting with twenty one TNA MPs and senior officials of the LTTE took place at 11.00 a.m. and lasted more than three hours. Mr. Thamilselvan was joined by Deputy Head of LTTE Political Wing, S Thangan, Director of LTTE Peace Secretariat, Puleedevan, Head of Jaffna district LTTE Political Wing, Ilamparithi, Head of Vavuniya district LTTE Political Wing, Gnanam and Head of Mannar district LTTE Political Wing, Iniyavan. All TNA MPs, except Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, who is on a US visit, attended the discussions.

"Neither the TNA nor the LTTE will advise people not to vote. We will not be in their way, blocking them from exercising their democratic right. But all signs are the decision not to show interest in the Presidential election is gathering momentum among the Tamils. That is what we could gather from our political experience and interaction with the people," the veteran politician from Trincomalee observed.

Tamil residents in Northeast are fully aware of the conduct of the two major Sinhala parties. They have been through and suffered through periods under these parties' governance. We know and understand Tamil peoples' frame of mind. We have no doubt that they are in full agreement with our thinking," Sampanthan told the press. "We discussed in depth and exchanged our views on the situation related to the elections and what historical significance our participation in the elections is going to be for the future of our people.

"We talked about the conduct of the Sri Lanka Governments from the time of independence and how they attempted to resolve the Tamil National question. We discussed how our people were oppressed under armed threat and how genocide was perpetrated on our people. We looked at how the Sinhala governments approached the peace process and examined their actions especially during the last three years of peace.

"There was no doubt in any of the participants' mind that the Presidential election will not produce any positive shift in the southern polity's thinking and approach that will in anyway result in any progressive advance towards resolving the Tamil question. "That is why we decided that it is a futile exercise to show any interest in the elections," Sampanthan told the press.

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