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JVP on brink of internal war

  • Kumara faction gaining ground at grassroots despite denials by the old guard
By Our Political Editor

Last week's exclusive disclosures in the Sunday Times about the worsening internecine battles in the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were to have their immediate sequel.

The Lanka newspaper office closed for business. Pic by Nilan Maligaspe

JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe summoned a meeting of the party's 24 member Central Committee (CC) to examine, among other matters, the revelations made in the political commentary. "It is they (the extremist group) who are seen in bad light from this report," observed Amerasinghe, easily among the less than handful whose Sunday chores begin with reading English language newspapers.

In an interview with the Sunday Times on Friday, Amerasinghe, who has continued to insist that there, is no crisis, admitted, "there is a small organisational problem in our party." He parried most of the questions posed to him. Yet he was to sound a note of caution. He said, "I request all our members, sympathisers, well-wishers and the people of Sri Lanka to be vigilant. Assess the JVP and its leaders and the members by their actions, not by their words," he appealed. See box story on the opposite page.

Notable absentees at the meeting were 12 members of the extremist faction led by Premakumara Gunaratnam. He also goes as R.M.D.W. Daskon Kumara Karunaratne. The party cadres identify him only as Kumara. Another notable absentee was Godahewage Kularatne, a founder member of the politburo. He was closely associated with the now moderate old guard. An active participant in the JVP armed rebellion in 1989, Kularatne had said he wanted the infighting resolved before taking part in meetings. He also appeared to favour the extremists.

Some reports that the extremist group led by Kumara were abandoning the JVP and forming their own political party, it has become clear, were floated by some media savvy persons in the moderate old guard. The idea, it appears, was to inform grassroots level members of the JVP that the extremist group was now abandoning revolutionary principles and opting out for a new party. Even leader Amerasinghe formally denied the claim. "First of all, there are a number of Kumaras in the JVP. For instance, Anura Kumara, Ajith Kumara and so on. But no Kumara who is a member of the JVP has made any attempt to form a faction in the party," he told the Sunday Times. Similar sentiments were also expressed by JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva during a TV talk show. He feigned that there was no such Kumara faction in his party. By making those remarks, both the leader and the general secretary of the JVP were trying to make out that Kumaran Gunaratnam alias Kumara had little or nothing to do with the JVP. In reality, the extremist group led by him had become stronger and is seizing control of party district level organisations and winning over members backing the old guard. Strange but true, their support base is increasing.

The reason for the absence of the extremist group at the CC meeting was because an earlier request to summon a meeting of the same body had been ignored by the old guard. Hence, the extremists say that they do not accept the present CC. In fact the call for the earlier CC meeting has been made after the extremists obtained 93 signatures from Bolsheviks or the crème de la crème of the party cadres. Members of the Bolshevik Party (devoted hard core senior members), as revealed last week, are now known to number 173. Those signatures were proof that the extremists were in the majority in the inner temple of the JVP made up of dyed in the wool revolutionaries.

The CC discussed immediate countermeasures in the light of the internal revolutionary spring within the party. With the exception of Hambantota, Kurunegala and Anuradhapura districts where Kumara had little or no influence, it was different in other areas. In most other districts, Kumara has won the hearts and minds game. Predominant among them were the districts of Kalutara, Galle and Gampaha. The party headquarters had also been engulfed in the crisis with 28 out of 31 cadres backing the Kumara faction. Only three were loyal to the old guard. So much so, the extremist group in the party headquarters at Pelawatte, Battaramulla, had on one occasion heckled their leader, Amerasinghe. The CC discussed the issue and chose to adopt immediate measures to ensure the party headquarters, the fortress of the leadership, remained secure.

They chose to bring in members of the Socialist Workers Union (SWU), the trade union organisation where members were en masse loyal to the leadership. It is headed by JVP stalwart K.D. Lalkantha and assisted by Venerable Kalawelle Chandraloka Thera. The CC decided to ask Lalkantha to oversee the administration of the party. SWU members were moved in this week to take on responsibilities previously handled by the ousted 28 cadres. This included the handling of the media unit that was operating from the JVP headquarters. In another significant move, Colombo district cadres were brought in to provide security to their headquarters. It was also decided that immediate measures should be taken to protect the party's assets.

On Thursday, a group of extremists escorted some of the ousted cadres, said to belong to the media unit, to the JVP headquarters. It included Marlon (Ranjit Shantha alias Induruwage), Opatha (Senadheera Gunatilleke) and Godahewage Kularatne. It was reportedly to collect the personal belongings of those who have been ousted from the media unit. By then, Vijitha Herath (General Secretary of the Democratic National Alliance, the JVP majority alliance with former General Sarath Fonseka and MP for Gampaha District) had ensured the unit was closed. "Kohomada Sahodaraya" (How are you comrade) remarked Tilvin Silva to a few in the group as they entered the office. Later, heated exchanges were to follow with the old guard. He was also livid at the media personnel present outside. He told them that no tele drama was being produced there. Leader Amerasinghe advised Bimal Ratnayake (former Kurunegala District MP) to appeal for Police security. He telephoned Superintendent of Police, Nugegoda Division, Deshabandu Tennekoon. The latter was to advise him to ask the party to write to the Police Chief. It was he who has to decide on providing police protection, the area police chief said.

On the same day, a group representing the extremists arrived at the Lanka newspaper office. It was to collect some documents. They were in the process of loading the documents and some computers when they were allegedly obstructed by supporters of the old guard. However, they managed to get away in a van belonging to the newspaper. Six of the old guard supporters had arrived in a vehicle. When they were about to give chase, the key of that vehicle was snatched by extremists. Pubudu Jagoda, one of the leaders of the extremists, who now runs Lanka, complained to the Mirihana Police. Both sides ended up at the Police Station and had later come to a settlement. Neither wanted the Police to pursue action. Perhaps both sides were worried that making statements would lead to each other's secrets becoming public.

Things took a bad turn over another event on Thursday night. Four members of the extremist group had visited a house in Madiwala run by the JVP. Venura Herath, Managing Director of Lanka newspaper, has been living there together with his cook, a party cadre named Kamal Rajapaksa. The MD was the only one among three who backed the extremists. Two others (Lal Tennekoon and Liyanaratchchi) were reported to be with the old guard. So was cook Kamal. A clash had broken out between the extremists and the moderates.

Kamal Rajapaksa, alleged that he was assaulted by Herath. This was after he stuffed cotton in his mouth. He had escaped to a neighbour's house and called the Police emergency. When they arrived, Herath complained that Kamal had allegedly stolen Rs 900,000 of his money. Except for one, three of the extremist group members had escaped. Police arrested the fourth, Janaka Mahendra. Also arrested were Kamal and Herath. Until Friday, they were interrogated. They were later remanded by a Magistrate until October 7.

The confessions of the cook came as formal confirmation that the JVP was facing the same fate as the country's largest opposition, the United National Party (UNP). The two factions were irreparably split and were headed towards a major political collision. The records in the form of statements at the Police Station were to lay bare the enormity of what leader Amerasinghe called "a small organisational problem in our party."

If the extremists were seizing control at the grassroots level, problems lay with the leadership that held office. They cannot be ousted without resort to a constitutional procedure - a shade of the malady to hit the United National Party.

Cook Kamal said he was aware of the activities of the Managing Director and knew who his visitors were. Among the names that transpired was Kumara. That saw the arrival of State Intelligence Service (SIS) operatives at the Police Station on Friday forenoon. They looked for clues that would lead them to Kumara. He is wanted for questioning over allegations that he travelled to Australia on a forged passport. Kamal accompanied them to a few places where Kumara was known to haunt but there were no signs of his presence.

The old guard supporters had also complained that an unregistered newspaper was being printed by Lanka newspaper staff. The complaint prompted the Police to seize stocks of the Lanka newspaper that were handed over to a private newspaper group late Thursday night for distribution. As a result, copies of Lanka were not available in Colombo. The undistributed issue had given more coverage to matters relating to the north - an area that has generated the interest of the extremist group. The publisher of Lanka, Fast Publishers Ltd., L.D. Dharmasena, had asked that the newspaper not be printed. There were allegations thereafter that the printing of the newspapers had been done without the imprint, or the legal requirement to print the name of the publishing company.

When the internecine crisis developed, the extremists had two complaints. They said that the leaders have abandoned their party principles and its revolutionary line. The other was that the JVP's assets were being divested to outsiders with little or no benefit to the party. A case in point, they point out, is the sale of the VFM radio station. When the party was a constituent partner of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), it had obtained the frequency to have its own radio station. Though the station was worth around Rs 200 million, an extremist leader who spoke strictly on grounds of anonymity said, it had been reportedly sold for Rs 100 million. However, he claimed even that amount has not reached the party and accused a senior member of drawing piecemeal amounts for his personal use when he travelled abroad.
Now, the extremist group has placed a string of other demands.

They include a commitment that the JVP would contest seats in the North and East without affiliating itself with other parties, convening a special session, amending the constitution, convening the national convention and inviting all district organisations to take part in such a convention. Quite clearly, these demands are aimed at ensuring that Kumara eventually emerges as the sole leader of the JVP. From the four MPs representing the JVP in Parliament, one of them, Ajith Kumara (Galle District) is backing the extremist group. The other three, however, are with the old guard. They are Vijitha Herath, Sunil Handunetti and Anura Kumara Dissanayake. The four JVPers go as MPs of the Democratic National Alliance together with Arjuna Ranatunga (Kalutara District), Tiran Alles (National List) and Jayantha Ketagoda (Colombo District who replaced Sarath Fonseka).

The extremists are also livid about the suspension of Asoka from the JVP Central Committee allegedly on grounds that he was the source of information to the media over party internal issues. As revealed in these columns last week, he has been suspended from the Central Committee. However, JVP leader Amerasinghe claims there has been no change in the list of names of CC members submitted to the Commissioner General of Elections. Now the extremist group is also working on invoking legal provisions to force the present JVP leadership to summon a special convention. This is on the basis of the party's constitution which states that a specific number of members could seek the conduct of such an election. For this purpose, they not only plan to obtain the required number of signatures from members but also cite the Commissioner General of Elections as a witness to testify to the authenticity of the JVP constitution and the relevant provisions relating to the conduct of a special convention.
The JVP old guard is determined to launch a counter offensive. On Friday, General Secretary Tilvin Silva summoned a meeting of the party cadres in the Gampaha district. It was held at Divulapitiya where participants were educated about developments within the party. The day-long meeting was also addressed, among others, by Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Both factions are staking their claims to Lanka newspaper. The prospects of the journal being closed down and a new newspaper launched after the crisis is over are being considered by the old guard. How long such a move would take is not immediately clear.

Last Sunday's CC meeting also discussed reports it had received regarding the recent transfer of the property where the party headquarters is located. The transferee, Madanayake, they had learnt, was consulting legal opinion to challenge the action of General Secretary Tilvin Silva. The latter had got Madanayake, in whose name the property was registered, to write it in the name of the General Secretary of the JVP. Having done so, Madanayake has now sought legal opinion on whether the transaction was properly carried out. As revealed last week, Madanayake has also refused to transfer to the party two vehicles that are now registered in his name. This is until the internal crisis is resolved.
Other than the Socialist Workers Union, most other party organisations are backing Kumara. This includes the Socialist Students Union (SSU) and the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF). So are women’s organisations. Key figures associated with these bodies are also in the forefront of the campaign by extremists. They include IUSF convenor Duminda Nagamuwa and former National Organiser of the Socialist Students Union Chameera Koswatte.

This week saw an increase in SMS traffic between the extremist group and moderate grassroots level members. One that was widely circulated is given below:
"apata thawaduratath ekawa katayuthu kirime thathwaya kramahen awama wemin pawathina bawa mata denemin atha.

"methek ekata A gamane sonduruma then sihiyata negeema hera an yamak mata ithiriwa natha. me kisidu tiranayak hithataekagawa gath ewa nowe. eheth thathwayan wisin ma ethanata thallu kara etha. kisiwak sakachchawen wisandiya haki mattamaka nopawathi.
"me nikmayama pakshayata drohi weemak yai obata hangunoth eya arumayak nowe. eheth eya mage akalpaya nowe.

"me wedanathmake thiranayata pasu apa kisidineka muna nogasenu etha. sahodaraya, obata jaya VPLAWAYATA SADA JAYA"

Loosely translated, it meant: "I feel that the space for us to work together is becoming narrow gradually. I don't have anything left with me apart from memories of the pleasant events in our journey together so far. None of these decisions were taken according to my conscience. But the situation has forced me to do so. Nothing is left to resolve through discussions. If you feel this departure as betrayal to the party, it won't be a surprise. But that is not my position. After this painful decision, we will never meet again. Brother, wish you victory and eternal victory for the revolution."

According to JVP leader Amerasinghe, the biggest crises the party has faced were the 1971 armed insurrection and the one in 1989. However, both these rebellions against elected governments were, from the JVP's perspective, threats that were external. The governments in power had to counter its illegal armed campaigns. However, the current crisis, denied hoarsely by the present leaders, is internal. There is little doubt both sides will exclaim for the success of the revolution within. Whoever is set to win, there will no doubt be a lot of casualties in the internal war.

Alleged war crimes: US court serves summons on Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva

Retd. 58 Division Commander to wage another battle in court

Barely hours after President Mahinda Rajapaksa made his speech at the UN General Assembly on Friday, a US Court delivered summons on Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative, Major General Shavendra Silva, on charges relating to war crimes.

A civil lawsuit against him has been filed by the American University Washington College of Law's UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic at the Southern District Court of New York.
Reports from New York said that the subpoena (or summons) had been delivered to Maj. Gen. Silva's residence and has been accepted, as required by the US law, by a person in the premises. The move raised immediate questions of diplomatic immunity, but by all accounts the Retired Major General has informed Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo that he will waive diplomatic immunity, this being a civil case as well, and fight the case in New York itself. He has told this to Rajapaksa, and Rajapaksa has agreed, that this gives the government an ideal opportunity to show up those behind the civil suit. An Al Jazeera film crew had been on hand filming the handing over of the summons.
A statement from the American University said: "General Silva was the commander of the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan Army during its brutal counter-insurgency campaign that costs the lives of up to 40,000 civilians in spring 2009. General Silva currently resides in New York City, and is Sri Lanka's Acting Permanent Representative to the United Nations. As the United Nations General Assembly is on-going, this lawsuit shines a spotlight on a war criminal in its midst.

"As commander of the 58th Division, General Silva was responsible for conducting Sri Lanka's bitter and brutal war against Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, and directly caused the untold suffering of thousands of Tamil civilians. Under the auspices of "fighting terrorism", General Silva led the Army's campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity across northern Sri Lanka. In particular, protected persons - civilians - and protected places - hospitals - were deliberately attacked by General Silva and his forces, which violates Sri Lankan law, American law and international law. General Silva is also responsible for the torture and extrajudicial executions of surrendering members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in clear contravention of the laws of war.

"Today, U.S. courts provide a forum for justice and accountability, where there would otherwise be continued impunity for Sri Lanka's crimes against Tamils," said Ali Beydoun, lead counsel on this case, director at American University Washington College of Law's UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic, and a Senior Partner at SPEAK Human Rights Initiative.

"This lawsuit seeks damages for violations of international, Sri Lankan and domestic law under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). These statutes grant jurisdiction to U.S".

Major General Shavendra Silva

A 19-page plaint filed in the District Court on behalf of Vathsala Devi and Seetharam Sivam (plaintiffs) seeks a jury trial against Major General Silva. This is over the death of Vathsala Devi's husband Thurairajasingham Devi (Colonel Ramesh). Seetharam Sivam is described as the legal representative of his father Siththar Sivaram who was reportedly killed in the alleged Army shelling of Puthukudiyiruppu during the final stages of the separatist war.

The 19-page plaint alleges that Major General Silva "conspired with, aided and abetted and alternatively exercised command and control over the perpetrators of torture, extrajudicial execution and fatal shelling of civilians.

The perpetrators belonged to military, security or paramilitary forces that were directed by and operated with Silva's express, implicit, or delegated authorisation and practical assistance or encouragement. Moreover, Silva had knowledge of these acts, or had information at the time that should have enabled him to conclude such attacks were occurring or were going to occur, and in these circumstances he either failed to prevent or stop the attack or waived any punishment for the perpetrators."

The court action "seeks declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages for torture; inhuman or degrading treatment; arbitrary detention; summary execution; forced disappearance; and crimes against humanity as violations of international, Sri Lankan, and domestic law, including the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 USC § 1350, and Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991." It also seeks "declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages for assault and battery; false imprisonment; wrongful death; and intentional infliction of emotional distress as violations of state law."


Only an organisational problem: Somawansa

If he said earlier that "there is no crisis" in the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the party's 66 year old leader, Somawansa Amerasinghe, now says "there is an organisational problem in our party." He refuses to call it a crisis.

However, he declined to elaborate on what this "organisational problem" was though it is widely known that the JVP is facing its worse internal crisis. Details of this crisis were revealed exclusively in the Sunday Times. More revelations that confirm the sharp divide between the extremists and the newly turned moderates led by Amerasinghe appear in today's political commentary. Reports that internal disputes have torn the party in two are confirmed by statements made to the police by the feuding factions.

JVP leader Amerasinghe waving to the media at the party headquarters. Pic by Saman Kariyawasam

Amerasinghe, a contemporary of JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera who died in custody, spent 12 years in exile in Britain. He returned to Sri Lanka only after his party worked a deal with the UPFA government of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. It broke away in early 2005. However, the party supported Mahinda Rajapaksa at the November 2005 presidential elections.

Here are edited excerpts of answers Amerasinghe gave to questions posed to him:
CRISIS WITHIN THE JVP: The JVP was confronted with only two crises in the last 46 years. Once in 1971, the then government launched a bloody repression. In 1989, comrade Rohana Wjeweera and colleagues of mine in the Political Bureau were killed. Of course there is a small organisational problem in our party.

ON REBELS WITHIN THE PARTY TAKING CONTROL: It is irrelevant for any member of our party to take control of our branches. They belong to the whole party. There is no such process.

ON DIFFERENCES PARTY LEADERS HAVE WITH AN EXTREMIST GROUP: Not only the JVP leaders but also the JVP members are having their own individual opinions about everything. This includes politics. They are serious about their individual beliefs. To have different opinions is not equivalent to dissent. Our principle is Democratic Centralism. So we welcome differences. Eventually we agree to disagree and accept the opinion of the majority. We go before the masses with one opinion, the party opinion.
ATTEMPTS TO SEIZE PARTY ASSETS: Then he or she ceases to be a member of the JVP. The JVPers are not interested in property.

ON SUSPENSION OF CENTRAL COMMITTEE MEMBERS: The General Secretary of our party, comrade Tilvin Silva, has duly informed the Commissioner of Elections after the sixth National Convention held on February 10, 2011 at the Sugathadasa Stadium the list of names of the Central Committee. Still the names of members of Central Committee are the same.

ON ACCUSATIONS THAT THE JVP IS NOT ADHERING TO ITS PRINCIPLES: There are no such allegations against the JVP. I request all our members, sympathisers, well-wishers, and the people of Sri Lanka to be vigilant. Assess the JVP and its leaders and the members by their actions, not by their words. The party under any difficult situation has safeguarded, is safeguarding and will continue to safeguard the principles of the JVP.

ON OVERCOMING THE CRISIS: The present leadership of the JVP could ride over the crisis in 1989. That was the real crisis. We have been king makers in politics. The JVP was the remote control of the governments since 2000. The JVP is the decisive factor in Sri Lanka.

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