Other Intelligence Units say no envidence of organised LTTE activity Concern that unsubstantiated reports of Tiger activity could give ammunition to opposition campaigns President to head apex body to consider decisions of CCEM, following controversies over several projects By Our Political Editor The Police Department’s counter terrorism arm, the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), believes there [...]


Police Counter Terrorism Unit warns of LTTE resurgence


  • Other Intelligence Units say no envidence of organised LTTE activity
  • Concern that unsubstantiated reports of Tiger activity could give ammunition to opposition campaigns
  • President to head apex body to consider decisions of CCEM, following controversies over several projects

By Our Political Editor
The Police Department’s counter terrorism arm, the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), believes there is a resurgence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north, six years after they were militarily defeated.

The seemingly alarming findings, hotly disputed by others familiar with the developments, are contained in a report sent to Police Chief Pujith Jayasundera by the TID’s head, acting DIG Nalaka de Silva.

The Independence Day military parade at the Galle Face Green: Most of the militaryware on display were those purchased before the war ended in 2009 and there was hardly any modernization. Pic by Indika Handuwela

The report, a copy of which was seen by the Sunday Times said that on January 13, 2017, three persons were arrested in Kilinochchi. They were Karalasingham Kulendran alias Master (LTTE pseudonym Cholai) from Kilinochchi, Louis Mariyanayakam Ajanthan alias Jana (LTTE pseudonym Kadalawan) a rehabilitated cadre from Championpattu and Murugiah Thavendran alias Vendran (LTTE pseudonym Ven Arasan) from Kilinochchi.

They were arrested, the report said, when they were engaged in LTTE reorganisation activity (prathisanvidanaya) and planning terrorist activities (thrusthakriya). From the house of Kulendran in Kilinochchi, the report alleges, that a claymore mine was found. Also found, the report said, was a “C-4” explosive device in the hands of Ajanthan. That was meant to target a VIP (prabhuvarayek illakkakeragana) whilst he was in Maruthankerni 30 kilometres south east of the northern capital of Jaffna. However, the report does not identify the VIP or provide details on how the assassination plot was to be carried out.

The suspects were produced before the Kilinochchi Magistrate on charges of drug peddling together with another two arrested later. The same five were also charged in a second case for an alleged attempt to assassinate M.A. Sumanthiran, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, with help from an overseas group. TID sources claimed this was on the grounds that they believed Sumanthiran was supporting the government. Since this development, Sumanthiran’s personal security has been enhanced. The suspects were remanded and the case will come up again tomorrow (February 13).

Alleged LTTE activity
During the past three months, the TID Director’s report noted that the three suspects, who were arrested first, operated “freely to achieve their objectives.” On November 27 last year, they had allegedly hoisted an LTTE flag (somewhere in Kilinochchi), photographed the activity and distributed it among overseas groups supporting them. It was to demonstrate that LTTE activities were still going on in the area.

In October and November last year, according to the report, the threesome had planned to attack Police personnel who were deployed on road patrol in Kilinochchi. The idea, it claimed, was to seize their weapons. In what seemed a contradiction, the report also claimed that the trio had gone to areas where the LTTE has buried arms/ammunition. They were trying to unearth them in the night without any hindrance. If they were not arrested, there was a high possibility that they would have carried out attacks. The targets for such attacks were not explained. There was some self-congratulation to the Police too. Such attacks, the report said, could have caused serious damage (vishala kelelak) to the Police.
Barely three days after he received the TID report, Police Chief Jayasundera wrote to Sarath Kumara, senior DIG in charge of the North, seeking an immediate report. The note, seen by the Sunday Times calls upon him to take into consideration:

  • The threats to national security
  • Whether there is an environment where people feel safe
  • Whether anti-government forces would seize the opportunity to exhort that the LTTE was now re-emerging.

Noting that steps taken to maintain law and order in the Kilinochchi area are not upto a satisfactory level, Police Chief Jayasundera directed that special investigation units and officers in the Kilinochchi District investigate the re-grouping of the LTTE. He has asked them to identify the people involved including those expressing extremist viewpoints.

As the news of these developments spread, there was panic among sections of the public in the area and concerns among the Police there. The Sunday Times has seen reports to Police Chief Jayasundera from officers-in-charge of Police Stations in the Kilinochchi District, the divisional intelligence units and even the Special Branch, an intelligence outfit which comes directly under him. All of them held the view that there was no evidence that the LTTE was re-grouping. How then did the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) conclude that the LTTE is re-emerging? The answers appeared elusive.

Kilinochchi is the nerve centre from where the LTTE ran its bloody campaign of assassinations, violence and terror during the separatist war. It has the largest number of “Maveerar” or great heroes’ families. These families are the next of kin of fighting cadres who died. When the LTTE dominated the ground there, these families received preference over others in the distribution of food and medicine. Ironically, these were provided by the government as part of efforts to demonstrate that its writ ran even in guerrilla-dominated areas. Military intelligence records say that in addition to the families, there were more than 2,000 non-rehabilitated guerrilla cadres in the Kilinochchi area.

“There’s no truth”
A high ranking source familiar with the day-to-day inputs of intelligence and the ground situation spoke to the Sunday Times on grounds of anonymity. He said “There is no truth whatsoever in saying that the LTTE is physically regrouping. We don’t see such activity on the ground. That is not to say we do not have concerns. There are. Take for example the 12,000 rehabilitated cadres who have since been released. They are youth who have been trained by the LTTE to handle different kinds of weapons and other military hardware. We are mindful of the issues they pose. There are plans to induct a substantial number to the Civil Defence Force and the armed services where they will be deployed on non-combatant roles. One group has already been taken for the Army farm. The defeatedLTTE has no leader and internationally terrorism is not tolerated anywhere now. The access to weapons has become severely restricted.”

The source added: “Another cause for concern for us is the role of a local politician, one who had close links with the then LTTE leadership. We are aware that he has been receiving funds from diaspora groups and paying them out regularly to Maveerar families. As long as it is for the latter’s sustenance, there is no cause for serious concern. We are carefully monitoring the situation.”

As is well known, the most effective intelligence mechanism in the north has remained the Military Intelligence (MI). Since it was very much a part of the Army’s fighting apparatus, its personnel were able to serve in the battle zones where military camps were located when the separatist war was under way. Relatively, the role of their counterparts in the Police was severely restricted then.

It is only after the military defeat of the LTTE that the TID has become active on the ground. Earlier, guerrilla suspects arrested by the Police and the armed forces were handed over to it for further investigation. For reasons of national security, the MI deployment and operational routine cannot be discussed. However, an MI source spoke on grounds of anonymity about reports on the resurgence of the LTTE.

“We monitor them very closely. We get to know any unusual activity within hours than days. For regrouping and engaging in a form of sophisticated guerrilla warfare, it took them more than thirty years. Now, they cannot have a meeting of even a small group without our getting to know. The civilians who suffered then and were fed up are helping us. They do not want their lifestyles to be disturbed though some may have economic hardships. One has to look very carefully about these reports of LTTE resurgence. They are coming at a time when the Government is engaged in rehabilitation efforts. The bogey of a regrouped LTTE on the ground could become a ploy to get the troops in the north to be more active. At present they are confined to their camps. Large-scale search operations will not only disrupt lifestyles but also draw complaints of harassment to civilians.

“Of course, since the military defeat of the LTTE, every now and then, we recover unexploded ordnance, arms, ammunition buried or hidden in places. Some are committing crimes with them. Almost all of them were hidden by the LTTE since they did not want it to fall into the hands of the troops. As long as we continue to maintain vigilance, even a small group cannot become active. There is no room for them. Unfortunately, when reports of LTTE resurgence reach those in the south, people get worried and that leads to instability.”

State of preparedness
The TID’s claims of a resurgence of the LTTE have not been formally conveyed to the intelligence arms of the security forces. The move showed that it deprived the security establishment of jointly monitoring developments that relate to national security. The administrative supervision of the defence establishment has dropped to such levels that these occurrences are not taken note of or those concerned are blissfully unaware.
Even the military display at the Galle Face Green to mark Independence Day on February 4, just eight days ago, watched by Sri Lankans via live television coverage, reflected a woeful inadequacy. Almost all the military ware on display was those acquired by the previous administration. Perhaps the bureaucracy believes that with the LTTE defeated, there was no more need for modernisation. The only priority has been procuring the requirements of units that plan to engage in UN peace keeping operations overseas.

“The need to equip troops to meet new challenges is top priority for national security in any country,” warns a senior Army official. He noted that during the separatist war “there have been numerous instances of rushing to procure equipment when threat levels were perceived to be high.” It is during peace times that we should maintain a high level of preparedness, he pointed out. Of course, one of the primary causes for such a situation has remained the troubling financial situation in the country. In the light of this, military procurements have sometimes been considered an item of less priority compared to other more urgent needs.

Some matters relating to Independence Day were also cause for concern for President Maithripala Sirisena. He raised issue at the weekly ministerial meeting on Tuesday over ministers confirming attendance and keeping away from state functions. A case in point, he said, was the customary dinner he hosted on the night of February 4 on account of Independence Day. He said if the ministers are unable to attend, they should say so. However, keeping away from state functions, particularly those hosted by him, was not desirable. If they explained their absence, the tables could have been filled by other invitees. This was because he was aware that there were many who wanted to attend.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe intervened at this stage. He said that ministers and even MPs were sometimes absent from Parliament sessions. Attendance was poor. He revealed that he was formulating a roster which will make it necessary for a considerable number to be present at any given time.

Sirisena was also critical of his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa over the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) in Malabe. Last Tuesday, the Court of Appeal directed the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to grant provisional registration to SAITM medical graduates. The ruling came amidst months long protests by the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) and the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA). Sirisena said Rajapaksa was now protesting against SAITM. When in office, it was he (Rajapaksa) who had given Rs. 600 million to SAITM, Sirisena said. He said the Mahinda Rajapaksa group (of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party) was now in splinters. Sirisena also agreed to look into an issue at the Mannar District Co-ordinating Committee for development activities where questions have been raised over the chairmanship. At present Ministers Rishad Bathiuddin, Faiszer Musthapha and Duminda Dissanayake are co-chairs.

Questions over devloution
A more significant political development, which has given an insight into President Sirisena’s thinking over issues related to devolution came at the meeting of the government parliamentary group last Monday at the Presidential Secretariat. It began with two Deputy Ministers — Ameer Ali and M.L.A.M. Hisbullah — raising issue against Eastern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Ahmed. Joining in was Minister Rishad Bathiuddin, who has himself been the target of strong criticism by SLFP ministers. Even last week, they directed complaints against him to President Sirisena and urged that action be taken. In essence, they were complaining against Chief Minister Ahmed for what they called his “high handed conduct.” There were MPs who opined that it was difficult to get matters attended to by even other chief ministers.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader and Minister Rauf Hakeem appeared to concede Ahmed was sometimes ‘not approachable’ but argued that there were a lot of power struggles that were going on. Pointing out that Minister Daya Gamage had also raised issue, Hakeem said his ministerial colleague backed a particular Eastern Provincial Council member. That member, he argued, was not in good terms with Ahmed. All this boiled down to internal politics, he argued. SLMC sources said the matter is expected to play out when the party holds its annual sessions at the BMICH in Colombo today.

“Owa okkoma hari,” or all that is correct, declared President Sirisena. He said he also had issues with the North Central Provincial Council. They have to be sorted out. There are inter-party and intra-party problems. We have committed ourselves to devolution. How far can we go?
He noted that the issues over Chief Ministers were taking place when the Government was considering devolving more power. What would happen if they had more powers? He asked what would also happen if the Concurrent List (under the 13th Amendment) is taken away? We have to consider how far we can go. He opined that the issue would become even worse. The Concurrent List deals with subjects assigned to the Central Government and Provincial Councils. This includes subjects of planning, finance, higher education, national housing and construction, agricultural and agrarian services, health, irrigation, fisheries, animal husbandry, tourism development, trade and commerce and protection of the environment.

Though Sirisena did not elaborate, one UNP minister held the view that the remarks articulated by Sirisena could run counter to the pledges made at both the presidential and parliamentary elections. That is both by the SLFP and the UNP. He may be right if those remarks amount to a hint on a marked shift in policy. But that issue notwithstanding, a shift emerged when SLFP ministers decided that provisions relating to the executive presidency in the Constitution should be retained. They have also decided that Sirisena should be their candidate at the 2020 presidential election.

Even more importantly, another decision by the SLFP ministers is that the devolution of power should be confined only to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. As a result, a parliamentary debate on six different reports of the Constitutional Assembly, which is a precursor to the formulation of a new Constitution, is now on hold. This week, Highways Minister and House Leader Lakshman Kiriella declared that the Government would introduce a new Constitution and go for a referendum to seek public approval. The credibility of this announcement remains a key question. No such decision has been made by the Cabinet of Ministers. Moreover, such a declaration has not come from either President Sirisena or the Premier Wickremesinghe.

It is in this backdrop that President Sirisena decided to put off for next month (March) a re-shuffle of portfolios held by ministers. No reasons have been given for the delay but one senior SLFP Minister said: “The President wants it to be a surprise.” This will not only obviate pressure moves but also prevent any adverse impact on the bureaucracy, he said.

As revealed in these columns, President Sirisena has already conveyed to Premier Wickremesinghe his plans to carry out a re-shuffle of ministers. Sirisena, a source close to the Presidency said, has been receiving complaints with regard to the workings of three different ministries. They are ones not earmarked for change. Important enough, they relate to those from the UNP. Sirisena also met Wickremesinghe again to “iron out” issues that have arisen between the two principal partners in the Government. Sirisena was accompanied by Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera and Duminda Dissanayake. Wickremesinghe was assisted by Ministers Kabir Hashim and Malik Samarawickrema.

Sirisena-Ranil meeting
Another significant development came last Tuesday when Sirisena and Wickremesinghe met. The duo agreed that there should be an apex body chaired by the President and comprising select ministers to closely study decisions and recommendations made by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM). At present, the CCEM, which is chaired by Wickremesinghe, forwards a copy of its minutes to the Cabinet of Ministers. It is endorsed by the ministers and included in the cabinet minutes.

The decision came in the light of issues that have arisen in the CCEM process. A few examples were the so-called factory to assembly Volkswagen vehicles, the Hambantota Port project and the tyre factory project in Horana. The Government is yet to conclude the Concession Agreement with the Chinese company despite pronouncements by Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema that it would be concluded late last month. The ‘Volkswagen’ project turned out to be an embarrassment to the Government after its parent company declared it had no ties with the Sri Lankan interests who were behind the project. President Sirisena had to order a halt to ground clearing work at Horana for the setting up of the tyre factory after it turned out that it had begun even before an agreement was concluded. It also transpired that land for the project has been given at a paltry Rs. 100 an acre.

According to the Board of Investment, the President’s Office is now “looking into the legality of the project.” This is particularly in the light of revelations that an industrial zone in the area, declared by the President, cannot be carved out. The observations are learnt to have been made by the Attorney General. A probe is also under way to ascertain as to who directed the company involved in the project, the owner of which was once linked to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to begin work when an agreement has not even been signed.

These issues, no doubt, have come as irritants in the relationship between the two principal partners of the government – the SLFP and the UNP. It comes in a year where the relationship will formally come up for review. That is the renewal of the August 21, 2015 ten point Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two sides. It was signed at the Presidential Secretariat by the two party secretaries – Duminda Dissanayake (SLFP) and Kabir Hashim (UNP).

Among the highlights were the introduction of a new Constitution and the establishment of an independent commission to crack down on corruption in “accordance with internationally accepted anti-corruption norms.” It is not immediately clear how the MoU will be revived for the remaining period of the Government. Though President Sirisena declared last year that the alliance would continue till 2020, no mention was made of the two-year MoU.

Developments in the past weeks show that matters related to defence and security woefully lack proper direction. Whilst the armed forces are under the Ministry of Defence, the Police Department is under the Ministry of Public Safety. There seems little co-ordination at bureaucratic levels. Unsubstantiated reports of the LTTE resurgence are counterproductive to the Government and manna from heaven for the opposition. They could argue with justification, with the Police Department’s own accounts, that the victory they won whilst in power in 2009 is now being spirited away. Needless to say, this matter calls for a full probe in the interests of national security and public wellbeing. Coupled together with other burning issues, like mounting living costs, a deteriorating law and order situation among them, inaction would only add to more woes for the Government.

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