Angry Karuna attacks govt: Who blundered?
Morning routine for Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna
whilst he remained in the "protective custody" of
the Army was to read The Sunday Times. Here he reads the Situation
Report. INSET: The new look Karuna.
Muralitharan, better known as Karuna, now a household name, is no
longer within the shores of Sri Lanka. He seems to have found the
safety of his new environment to wax eloquent on his woes, both
old and new. That is only with his wife and the three children around
him whilst his loyalists are being hunted down in the East.
this time his campaign has been against the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, his mentor.
In the wake of a massive onslaught by LTTE troops, beginning April
9, this year, Karuna chose not to engage the Wanni cadres. Instead
he disbanded a powerful guerrilla military machine he personally
built in the Batticaloa district.
strength there stood at a mere 1500 on or before February 22, 2002,
the day the United National Front (UNF) Government signed a Ceasefire
Agreement with the LTTE. He had raised it to over 6,500. The numbers
included child soldiers but Karuna was not worried. He also joined
the LTTE as a child soldier at the age of 16.
dismantling the military machine he built, Karuna destroyed some
of the heavy weaponry, shut down LTTE "police stations"
and "courts" that had sprung up during the ceasefire.
Some UNF leaders, including then Cabinet Minister Rajitha Senaratne,
made vociferous claims such "institutions" had existed
even before the ceasefire. That failed to hide the truth and caused
great embarrassment to the most obliging UNF under whose tenure
they were established.
and a few confidantes beat a hasty retreat to Colombo. That was
with the help of his close buddy, former UNF Parliamentarian, Ali
Zahir Mowlana. They spent four nights in the luxury of the JAIC
Hilton off Union Place. This apartment hotel, the only one in Sri
Lanka, is across the road from Visumpaya (former Acland House),
now the residence of Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse. They were
to seek safe haven in a foreign country with the help of Mr. Mowlana,
whom Karuna has now publicly admitted, is known to him since school
days. Instead all of them ended up in the "protective custody"
of the Army. There they were for over14 weeks since April 16. As
exclusively revealed in The Sunday Times (Situation Report) last
week, Karuna is no longer in the hands of the Army. Neither is his
wife nor their three children. They have all departed from Sri Lanka
to another country.
more than 14 weeks of "protective custody" for Karuna
and his inner circle saw a bitter campaign of physical and verbal
assaults on the LTTE, things seem to have gone worse. No longer
enjoying the hospitality and protection of the Army, Karuna has
decided it was time to open out against many others. That is from
his new found sanctuary, Karuna may not have armed guards. Nor the
assault rifles, machine guns or grenades with which he once smothered
the armed forces and later his erstwhile comrades-in-arms. Instead
he is now armed with a mobile phone equipped with international
roaming facility. With that new weapon he has targeted, besides
the LTTE, everyone else he has had something to do - the UPFA Government,
the Sri Lankan armed forces, the Norwegian facilitators and the
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). If he could not berate them
whilst in Army custody, he has taken the full liberty now to level
is through "bare it all" interviews he had given the Bangkok
based aisantribune (http: www. asiantribune.com), a website that
has been espousing his cause since he broke away from the LTTE.
Even whilst they remained in the custody of the Army somewhere in
the outskirts of the City of Colombo, Karuna's one time English
translator turned spokesman Banu Avaliyan alias Varathan maintained
contact with this website through his mobile phone.
once sparked off a controversy after claiming that Karuna, contrary
to reports, had not fled Sri Lanka. Soon after the BBC's Tamil Osai
(Tamil service) broadcast the report, he issued a denial. He claimed
he had not spoken to the website in question. However, it later
transpired he was compelled to issue the denial after admitting
privately that he had embarrassed his hosts, the Army.
phone bills no doubt would be high whether he spoke from his new
secret location to asiantribune staff either in London or in Bangkok
for what is billed as his "first person testimony." But
money does not matter for the renegade leader for he parted ways
with enough to open a bank, not an account. Four instalments of
this "testimony" have already appeared in the website.
the first dated August 10, Karuna was asked by asiantribune "how
it was possible for the troops from Wanni to have come in large
numbers and crossed the Verugal River, about 78 kilometres north
of Batticaloa, and advanced towards Vakarai, in the early hours
of the morning of Good Friday, on 09 April 2004?"
reply: "That was an intriguing development which is still,
not clear. We have suspicion that this would not have happened without
the assistance and connivance of the Government of Sri Lanka. Transporting
the armed forces via sea from Jaffna would not have been possible,
without the tacit cooperation of the Sri Lanka Navy. Also Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission manned by the Scandinavian Monitors too must
have been directed simply to ignore the troop's movement. We suspect
that a big amount of money would have changed hands, as far as the
Sri Lankan Navy was concerned to allow the sea transport of the
cadres from Wanni to Vakarai without commotion and disruption.
I came to know through our intelligence sources that Prabhakaran
is making arrangements to send a big battalion of soldiers from
Wanni via sea, to attack us, I immediately brought this matter to
the notice of the Sri Lanka Government, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission
and to the Government of Norway.
pointed out that it was against the Ceasefire Agreement to move
a large group of forces - fully armed and arms and ammunition from
non-cleared area to a cleared area, for a military campaign against
us by the military cadres belonging to Prabhakaran.
the Government of Norway purposely ignored my contentions and also
ordered the Scandinavian Monitors to ignore my complaint. Therefore,
with the connivance and cooperation of the Government of Norway
and the Government of Sri Lanka, Prabhakaran was able to move a
large posse of combatants and high powered arms and ammunition to
public accusations places the UPFA Government in an embarrassing
predicament. Firstly he accuses them of assisting and conniving
with the LTTE in the Good Friday (April 09) offensive against his
loyalists. Secondly he says the Sri Lanka Navy co-operated in the
movement of Wanni cadres via sea from Jaffna for what he suspects
is a "big amount of money." This was whilst the SLMM ignored
could be more insulting for the Sri Lanka Navy than to be accused
of taking cash bribes from their arch enemy. Early last year, when
the Navy successfully intercepted LTTE cargo vessels attempting
to smuggle military hardware through the eastern coast, the LTTE
accused the Navy of trying to sabotage the Ceasefire Agreement.
In fact, the Navy was singled out for criticism on a number of issues.
Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri fiercely resisted
a bitter LTTE campaign to seek legitimacy for their sea going arm,
the Sea Tigers. A proposal to legitimise them as a "de facto"
entity was made by none other than the former Head of the SLMM,
retired Norwegian General Tryggve Teleffsen. The Norwegian facilitators
maintained a stoic silence over this proposal. If accepted, it would
have meant a sovereign nation had two navies. Karuna was then a
member of the LTTE peace negotiating team who vigorously backed
this SLMM proposal. Now it is this same Karuna who is accusing the
Navy of falling for big money and for collusion with the LTTE and
charge by Karuna is that the Governments of Norway and Sri Lanka
collaborated with Mr Prabhakaran "to move a large posse of
combatants and high powered arms and ammunitions" to attack
cadres loyal to him. Are these accusations true? If such sinister
collaboration indeed existed, would it not have been possible for
the UPFA Government to have physically turned over Karuna to the
LTTE? After all, he, his confidantes and later his family were all
in Army custody for more than 14 long weeks. They were fed, protected
and their needs including medical requirements were looked after.
Why then is he making such wild allegations knowing too well that
they are false and misleading?
could say he is angry because he is a frustrated man, one who feels
badly let down or betrayed. But the timing of the accusations and
the interview itself - just when the UPFA Government is making desperate
efforts to revive peace talks - is significant enough. He wants
to muddy the environment by causing embarrassment all-round. That
seemed a way of punishing those who did not help him. In effect
he is giving a two fold warning to the Tamil community: do not trust
the LTTE in the North and the UPFA Government in the South.
is where the woeful inadequacies of those responsible for the country's
defence establishment are clearly highlighted. If President Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took over the defence portfolio from the
UNF Government on November 4, last year, to prevent a "rapid
deterioration" of the country's national security interests,
neither effective preventive measures have been put in place nor
have competent persons been tasked to arrest such a trend. Hence
the deeper nuances or the goings on behind the Karuna episode have
been lost on those who are accountable.
for some hitherto unexplained reason, believed he had the full backing
of the armed forces when he massed his renegade cadres to take on
the LTTE. He claims he was assured of support including the presence
of naval craft in the eastern shores to prevent a sea borne landing
by Wanni cadres. This was whilst he mounted assaults on them. When
he learnt that the eastern seas were swarming with Sea Tigers he
decided to call off a confrontation, dismantle the military machine
he built and beat a hasty retreat.
obvious reasons some sensitive details relating to this particular
episode are being left out. Officially there was neither any assurance
of armed forces support to Karuna nor a Navy back up. The UPFA Government
wanted to stay neutral. There was a time when Karuna made soundings
whether troops loyal to him could join the armed forces en masse.
These suggestions were rejected outright for fears of offending
the LTTE and thus placing the peace talks in peril.
Karuna fled Batticaloa, things took a different turn. By his own
admission during the "first person testimony" Karuna's
friend Ali Zahir Mowlana, who brought him down to Colombo, was contacted
by Ramesh (LTTE's military commander for Batticaloa-Ampara districts).
The latter had requested Mr. Mowlana to persuade Karuna to leave
the country with family and friends. "I was told that Ramesh
also conveyed Prabhakaran's request to Ali Zahir Mowlana to arrange
him to send me to a foreign country," Karuna said. Having related
this, he asks the interviewer "Who are they to dictate terms
message from the LTTE leader made clear they wanted to settle the
issue peacefully and avoid a bloody confrontation.Such a confrontation,
they feared, would diminish their influence and military strength
in the Batticaloa-Ampara districts. When that did not happen, their
fears were proved right. They have lost total military control there
and are now waging a violent campaign to restore it.
of travelling abroad, Karuna and party later ended up in the "protective
custody" of the Army. With that a new chapter had begun. This
is where bureaucrats bungled and politicians prevaricated. Karuna,
now in custody, and his die hard loyalists in the Batticaloa-Ampara
districts launched a violent crack down on the Wanni cadres. They
were attacked, kidnapped or killed using the vast quantities of
small arms and ammunition they had acquired during the ceasefire.
this development, in private, during top level security conferences,
including sessions of the National Security Council, bureaucrats
and politicians whispered that an excellent opportunity had been
missed. Karuna, after all, should have been helped, they lamented.
Such help, clinically done, would have no doubt been to the advantage
of the armed forces, some argued. They said such an advantage translated
into a political gain for the UPFA.
there was no plan and no strategy of any sort. There was only a
school of thought among bureaucrats and politicians alike that confrontations
between rival LTTE factions in the east were not their problem.
Not as long as it did not occur in the security forces controlled
areas. Hence they wanted to continue with business as usual.
that amounted to a tacit nod that the violent crack down by the
Karuna faction could go on unimpeded in the uncontrolled areas,
it was not to be. Things did not work out the way bureaucrats and
politicians expected. Whilst Karuna and party were in Army custody,
loyal cadres carried out their violent campaign first in controlled
and later extended it to uncontrolled areas. As the violence exacerbated,
that it caused deep embarrassment to the UPFA leadership is no secret.
This is how the LTTE came to accuse the Government and its armed
forces of backing Karuna's violent campaign.
cycle of violence has now changed. It is the LTTE cadres who are
now hunting members of the Karuna faction and gunning them down,
as revealed in The Sunday Times (Situation Report) last week. These
attacks continue causing death and injuries to many in the Batticaloa
and Ampara districts.
when things were known to be getting out of hand did Karuna come
under pressure to restrain his cadres from resorting to violence.
It was too late. Senior armed forces officials were aghast there
was no proper monitoring of any developments. They were equally
aghast there had been no proper plan or strategy to gain any military
or political advantage for them or the Government. Heightening their
concern was the lack of preparedness on the part of the armed forces
to meet a contingency. But they were helpless.
had just been allowed to drift. So much so, Karuna's actions had
caused the UPFA Government irreparable damage. In trying to respond
to the resultant situation, they had further eroded their credibility.
Damage control measures like outright denials only made matters
worse. The LTTE had learnt from their own intelligence channels,
on some occasions after infiltrating their agents into the Karuna
caucus, that the Government's claims were incorrect.
Karuna and his close allies were provided "protective custody,"
there was no LTTE demand for their return. But the Government's
other actions, like denials of his custody, not only caused suspicions
but led to the LTTE determining there was collusion by them with
the Karuna faction over the violent campaign. The LTTE was incensed.
And now the same thing appears to have happened to Karuna who, paradoxical
enough, is accusing the Government of collusion with the LTTE, Norway
and the SLMM. He is also accusing the Navy, a security arm of the
state, of falling for LTTE money. Is this not a clear example of
the pathetic state of the Sri Lanka defence establishment? If it
had impaired national security interests, has it also not impeded
the peace process? Though the local media gave publicity to the
asiantribune interviews, embarrassing enough, the Government has
not been able to respond with denials.
frustrations grew as he remained in the hands of the Army. Contributing
to this were many events that eventually isolated him. In June,
Nilavini (Charlie Akka), head of the women's military wing in Batticaloa
and known to be his girl friend parted company. She walked away
together with Premini (head of the district Political Wing), Lavanya
and Theen Tamil, both senior commanders in the women's military
Tamilnet website which reported the event added: "Nilavini
said on 13th June, Karuna had told her that he was going abroad
with his family and left the safe house the same day in a SLA vehicle.
She said that following Karuna's departure she made a call to a
relative in Batticaloa and escaped to the East with his help. She
said her escape was possible because SLA security at the safe house
was lax after the renegade commander's departure."
Sunday Times learnt parting of the ways came for Nilavini and three
others after they sought and obtained permission from the Army.
This was on the grounds that each of them had relatives in two towns
in the North Central Province. They had said they could live there
in safety. Instead after leaving from Army custody, they had telephoned
the LTTE and gone straight to them in Batticaloa. Nilavini's claim
that Karuna left them because he was going abroad was wrong.
fact Karuna's wife Chandrasekeram Vidyapathi, better known as Neera
and their three children arrived from Bangalore in South India.
They joined him after he made contact with them. Since accommodation
was limited, the family had to be moved out to another location.
Days after she re joined her husband, Neera learnt she and her children
had a timely escape from a LTTE hit squad. They had gone searching
for her at the house in Bangalore where they stayed.
this was bad enough, another confidant, Varathan, his translator
cum spokesman who fled with Karuna and confidantes to Colombo, fell
out over a dispute. He took off to Singapore and is said to be in
another country now. From there he had established e-mail contact
with Tamil media in Colombo and has been castigating Karuna. Reports
also speak of his making approaches to the LTTE.
no doubt is a disappointed man. He remains isolated only with his
wife and children in foreign soil. He strongly feels that the south
let him down or even betrayed him. He is not altogether wrong. He
sure has cause for disappointment on some matters though they cannot
be spelt out. He told his interviewer "I am a Tiger and I will
never eat grass even when I am famished." But he certainly
has eaten humble pie since his woes began.
mishandling, or the lack of handling of the Karuna affair, has opened
up two fronts for the UPFA Government - one from the LTTE which
is casting doubts over the future of the peace process. The other
is from Karuna himself. Whoever is responsible, be it bureaucrats
or politicians, or both; have placed the nation's future in peril.
In a nation where there is no accountability one may forget such
events. But the devastating damage it causes is inevitable.
it is psychological warfare or not, LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran,
sent a message to Sri Lankans and the outside world last week -
he is continuing to make his military machine much stronger whilst
talking peace. The latest occasion is
the "passing out parade" of a Special RPG (Rocket Propelled
Grenade) Force unit at "at the Tigers Military Training College"
in the Wanni.
Tamilnet website quoted Mr. Prabhakaran as saying "I created
the LTTE RPG force when I realised that armour was going to be a
key component of Operation Jaya Sikurui. Our RPG units were very
successful in fighting enemy armour."
is little doubt Mr. Prabhakaran and the LTTE are learning from the
past experience. What of the defence establishment in Sri Lanka?
Are they learning to keep the armed forces in a state of preparedness?
Their continued failure would only mean having to give into more
demands as recent events have revealed. Has this not forced the
Government to initiate measures, like duty free concessions for
car imports, to please the LTTE to return to the negotiating table?
answer came only last Friday when the LTTE Political Wing leader,
S.P. Tamilselvan declared, an Interim Self Governing Authority is
a sine qua non. What next?