Terror strikes again,
If the top man in defence establishment
cannot be protected, then who is safe?
Prabha's speech indicates ceasefire is finished and full-scale war
on the cards
Govt. considers tough measures such as re-imposition of PTA and
new Emergency Regulations
The story did the rounds during
a previous ceasefire and peace talks. Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran held a meeting with his
fighting cadres. He was asked whether the LTTE's acceptance of a
ceasefire amounted to abandoning their armed struggle. It was not
so, he replied.
The scene of the suicide bomb attack on Defence Secretary Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa. His car and an escort Defender Land Rover are seen
at the Turret Road-Flower Road intersection.
LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran just before he began his
"Maveerar" Day address.
The scene in an LTTE run cemetery in Kilinochchi during last
Monday's "Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day" observances.
He had said that the LTTE had
embarked on a journey to achieve its goal of Eelam. Such a journey,
he had explained, was long and arduous. Every now and then, they
had to stop and rest before proceeding. Such stops were called peace
That message, understanding
the enemy, their psyche and intentions have been lost on successive
Governments that stopped waging war to prosecute peace. The latest
peace process, the result of the Ceasefire Agreement in February
2002 between the then United National Front (UNF) Government and
the LTTE was no different. That is despite the ongoing undeclared
Eelam War IV completely obscuring the peace process that is now
in the throes of its death. With the LTTE pronouncing the demise
of the ceasefire, and the Government set to follow with tough retaliatory
measures, it will soon be a declared return to the battlefield.
During its honeymoon with
the then UNF Government, the LTTE won many a concession to become
a strong entity both militarily and politically. How it happened
and what the guerrillas won are now history. Time and again many
aspects have been highlighted in The Sunday Times.
One secret that can be revealed
today will highlight the scant regard, if not a contemptuous attitude
to national security aspects. In the past years, some elite sections
of the intelligence community were aware, at least 24 hours ahead,
about what Mr. Prabhakaran would say in his "Maveerar (Great
Heroes) Day" address. This led to behind-the-scene activity
in the security establishment.
But, all that ended in November
2002. The UNF Government allowed the LTTE to import VSAT equipment
together with six tons of broadcasting transmitters for the Voice
of Tigers (VoT) radio station. Special privileges were granted to
clear the items from the Customs and armed escorts were provided
to transport them up to the guerrilla held Wanni frontlines. The
result - the LTTE established independent communication links with
the outside world. State intelligence agencies were no longer able
to intercept their communications.
Activities of military intelligence
were also paralysed after the Police raid on their safe house in
Athurugiriya. The VSAT or Very Small Aperture Terminal is software-driven
earth station used for high speed transmission of data, video or
voice via satellite. With the help of a dish antenna, this enabled
the LTTE, to carry out voice communications, transmit data or pictures
via satellite without interception by any outside source in Sri
Lanka or abroad.
In November 2003, then President
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took over the Defence portfolio
(together with Internal Security and Mass Communication) from then
Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe. It was on the grounds that
national security was in grave danger. Little or nothing was done
to deal with such dangers. Corruption in military procurements thrived.
Details of how the billions and millions were made by those in uniform
backed by those outside it are now unfolding before Presidential
Commissions of Inquiry. She then blamed the media for highlighting
Later, she called for parliamentary
elections. Now, she has declared she regrets having done that. It
was a mistake, she says. Mistake or not, the colossal damage done
to national security interests is irreparable. Some of them cannot
be catalogued for they are too sensitive. Most of the damage cannot
be restored by the expression of regret even if they are voiced
ad nauseum from platforms she abhorred earlier.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's
administration followed in November, last year. Since then, both
the Security Forces and the LTTE have been blaming each other for
a rise in violent incidents. Mounting threats from the LTTE prompted
enhanced security measures. One key area is the City and suburbs
where such measures were intensified. Heightened search operations
delayed traffic entering or leaving the City for several hours.
Consequently, flights were delayed from the country's only international
airport at Katunayake.
One hardly misses an armed soldier, sailor, airman or policeman
during a short journey in the City or suburbs. Sand filled barrels
form a protective wall around most of them. A common scene is vehicles
being checked. Doors are kept open as troops search meticulously.
Some even creep under the vehicle. Yet, instances of spontaneous
discovery of explosives or bombs through such searches are not known.
They have come about only through tip-offs. Nevertheless, such enhanced
measures act a deterrent and are essential.
But a very crucial question
comes to the fore. Are these measures preventing Tiger guerrillas
from carrying out attacks in the City of Colombo? Or, is it not
happening because the guerrillas or even others choose not to do
anything? When they do, then alarm bells ring. One such instance
came amidst tight security precautions. That was the murder in broad
daylight of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Nadaraja
Raviraj on November10 at Narahenpita. CID detectives are yet to
round up the culprits.
And now, a more shocking incident
came when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary, escaped a bomb
attack near the Turret Road - Flower Road junction on Friday morning.
Details of how it happened appear elsewhere in this newspaper. The
incident is a scathing indictment on the entire security establishment.
Quite clearly, someone somewhere failed to do their job and prevent
that incident from happening. This is not a case of looking for
scapegoats to place the blame after an incident has taken place.
Preventive action should have been taken not because Gothabaya Rajapaksa
is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He is the Secretary to the
Ministry of Defence, the man who is personally responsible for running
the armed forces and the police. He is the administrative head of
the defence establishment. If he cannot be protected by the very
establishments that he is giving leadership to, there is something
rotten. How can anyone else, including lesser mortals, expect protection?
It does not take even a schoolchild to say lessons are not learned
from past incidents.
On August 12, 2005, Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated by a Tiger guerrilla
sniper. There were lapses in close protection. On April 25 this
year, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka survived an attack
by a female suicide bomber inside Army Headquarters. Here again
there were lapses in close protection. Then Pakistan's Ambassador
Bashir Wali Mohamed escaped death on August 14 in a bomb attack
along Green Path. Here too there were lapses in close protection.
Were such lapses studied carefully and syllabuses on VIP protection
updated? Who was responsible for this failure? If it was done, could
not Mr. Rajapaksa's near brush with death have been prevented? It
was sheer providence and his bullet proof BMW that saved him.
What is clear from these incidents
is the fact that show of heavily armed presence with motor cycle
escorts alone is not adequate. Besides recourse to deception, a
more important question that begs answer is the degree to which
personal protection groups are kept up-to-date on intelligence on
enemy activity and plans becomes a very critical factor. This is
for many reasons. In this instance, the attempt on the life of Mr.
Rajapaksa came just three days after the "Maveerar (Great Heroes)
Day" address by Mr. Prabhakaran.
In Colombo, a sizeable segment
of the defence and security establishment was lukewarm about what
he said. The general consensus was that there was nothing new in
his address. That may be true in a general sense. But what most
failed to realize was the purpose for which he said what he did.
That was both significant and important. He was recording them to
explain and even justify the actions the LTTE planned to take in
the days, weeks and months ahead after the address.
Were the nuances of such assertions
studied closely by the security establishment? Would it not have
been possible to identify threat factors if indeed such a close
study was carried out? In such an event, would it not have been
possible to warn the likely targets. The fact that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
was a high profile target is no secret. It was well known that the
Tiger guerrillas targeted both him and Lt. Gen. Fonseka for many
months. Such warnings would have become inevitable if one closely
followed some elements of Mr. Prabhakaran's address and the resultant
developments. Some of them are fraught with danger and deserve to
be discussed in the public interest.
Here are a few such notable
highlights in Mr. Prabhakaran's address:
The Rajapaksa regime hopes to decide the fate of the Tamil nation
using its military power. It wants to occupy the Tamil land and
then force an unacceptable solution on the Tamils. Due to this strategy
of the Rajapaksa regime, the CFA has become defunct. The Rajapaksa
regime, by openly advocating attacks on our positions, has effectively
buried the CFA…
This is a clear declaration that the ceasefire is no longer valid
since the CFA is "defunct" and "buried." The
statement is cleverly nuanced and couched in diplomatic terms to
obviate the need to give two week's notice to abrogate the CFA.
The reference thus seeks to justify any future military action by
the LTTE. They could argue the CFA is no longer in place. Charges
on using military power is to seek justification for attacks by
The Sinhala government has
imprisoned the Tamils in their own land after closing its main supply
routes. Having removed their freedom by restricting their movement
and constrained their lives, it is inflicting great suffering on
them. It has split the Tamil homeland, set up military camps, bound
it with barbed wire, and has converted it into a site of collective
torture……………… At the same time
our people are subjected to an inhuman economic embargo on essential
items including food and medicine……….Our people
are faced with unbearable burdens in their daily lives………The
Rajapaksa regime, while conducting genocide of the Tamils, is portraying
our movement which is waging a struggle to save the Tamils from
this genocide as a terrorist organization.
The remarks underscore threats to the civilian sector. Whilst "threatened
villages" that lay on the border of guerrilla-dominated areas
can become vulnerable to attacks, the remarks are also a veiled
threat on civilian targets. The idea is to impose greater hardships
We postponed our plan to advance
our freedom struggle twice to give even more chances to the peace
efforts, once when the tsunami disaster struck and again when President
Rajapaksa was elected. It is now crystal clear that the Sinhala
leaders will never put forward a just resolution to the Tamil national
question. Therefore, we are not prepared to place our trust in the
impossible and walk the same old futile path. The uncompromising
stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but
an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam…..
The freedom struggle referred
to is the separatist war. Mr. Prabhakaran says that was postponed
twice and hints that it has now resumed. This, he claims, is because
Sinhala leaders will never put forward "a just resolution to
the Tamil national question." Hence, he implies that war (or
freedom struggle) is the only answer to achieve "an independent
state for the people."
Once the All Party Conference
lost its deceptive power, President Rajapaksa has taken up his next
card, the MoU between the two major parties…….These
two parties will never put forward a just solution to the Tamil
issue. Despite this, the Rajapaksa regime continues to show interest
in keeping the All Party Conference alive simply to deceive the
This effectively rules out
any acceptance by the LTTE of devolution proposals the All Party
Conference will formulate. Thus, the LTTE leader has made clear,
in diplomatically couched language, that a resort to war is the
only answer. That is why he has asked "the international community
and the countries of the world that respect justice to recognize
our freedom struggle."
The lukewarm response in the
defence and security establishments to Mr. Prabhakaran's speech
was further confounded by another development. This was a meeting
Anna Johansdottir, Head of the Crisis Response Unit of Iceland's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and some SLMM officials held with LTTE
Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi. Later,
SLMM spokesman Thorfinur Omarsson was quoted in Colombo media as
saying that the guerrillas had not withdrawn from the Ceasefire
Agreement. Such an assurance had been given by Mr. Thamilselvan,
he was reported to have remarked.
However, on Thursday night
the pro-LTTE Tamilnet website denied reports of LTTE's continued
commitment to the CFA. A report said:
"Director of LTTE's Peace Secretariat S. Puleedevan and Military
Spokesman of the LTTE, Irasaiah Ilanthiriyan Thursday jointly dismissed
press reports that cited SLMM officials as saying that the Tigers
had conveyed a message to Colombo following the policy address by
the LTTE leader. "Our National Leader, in his policy address,
has clearly explained everything that was needed to be conveyed
to Colombo," Mr. Ilanthiriyan said. The LTTE leader, Mr. Velupillai
Prabhakaran, in his policy address on Heroes Day had accused Colombo
of having conducted the funeral rites of the Ceasefire Agreement
without tearing it apart."
Any doubt about the future
of the CFA was cleared when LTTE "Military spokesman"
declared that it had been laid to rest after Colombo had conducted
the last rites. If that emerged clearly on Thursday night, should
not the security establishment have taken notice of it? Was it not
a clear message that the CFA was no more and the remarks were again
an attempt to justify any future attacks? Why was it not known that
such attacks could undoubtedly cover important VIP targets?
It is imperative that President
Rajapaksa appoints a competent team of serving and retired senior
security specialists to probe this aspect and punish those responsible
for the lapses. It can also be a means through which faults in the
VIP protection system can be rectified. This is the only way one
can make sure such lapses do not recur. The fact that Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa escaped unhurt should not let this matter end in the limbo
of forgotten things. Since former Pakistan's envoy Bashir Wali Mohamed
escaped death from a bomb attack on August 14, security arrangements
in Colombo was heightened. This, no doubt led to work of Tiger guerrilla
cells operating in the City and suburbs being disrupted. However,
intelligence sources say it was relaxed after the murder of Mr.
Raviraj. Proof of this came in the modus operandi used for the attempted
assassination of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
He was traveling to "Temple
Trees" for an unscheduled meeting of the National Security
Council on Friday morning. He traveled during an irregular time
and was to tell President Rajapaksa that the meeting would have
to start late. The Air Force and Navy Commanders were out of town
on an important assignment and were not due till late that morning.
Moments before he left, his wife had departed in a BMW vehicle that
resembled his own bullet proof one. It is thus clear he was under
close watch. Criminal Investigation Department detectives found
that the guerrilla who is suspected of driving the explosive laden
three wheeler scooter wore a hands free kit. It was connected to
an expensive Motorola mobile phone. The phone was found intact at
the scene of the incident. The attacker's body lay atop a Double
Cab sans his head and one arm.
They found that the owner of
the phone was a resident in Wennappuwa. However, calls from the
telephone had all been between the attacker and someone in Vavuniya.
Detectives believe a handler in Vavuniya was giving instructions
to the attacker. All others monitoring Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's movements
were reporting to this handler who in turn gave orders to the attacker.
That way the guerrillas had made sure the identities of those monitoring
the Defence Secretary's movement would not be revealed.
This matter gains significance
in the light of Tiger guerrilla infiltration in the security establishment.
An Army Major who once served in Vavuniya was under close watch.
This was following a tip-off that he had developed connections with
the LTTE. The watch continued after he was transferred to Overall
Operations Command (OOC), Colombo. Two weeks ago, he was arrested
and handed over to the Terrorism Investigation Division which functions
under DIG (CID).
The man has confessed to receiving
vast amounts of money from the LTTE for exchange of information.
He had procured a lorry and a bus. Police have seized the lorry
and are on the lookout for the bus. He had said he gave the LTTE
information on the movements of the late Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga,
then Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. Last week his brother had
visited him at the CID's fourth floor headquarters in the New Secretariat
building. He had confessed to his brother that a sum of Rs 500,00
he had lent another brother came from the Tiger guerrillas. The
distraught brother committed suicide by plunging into the Bolgoda
Lake. At that time he tried to snatch his daughter from the arms
of his wife but failed.
In another development, the
Commander of the Navy Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda is to Court
Martial officers responsible for lapses that led to the guerrilla
attack on their base SLNS Dhakshina in Galle. As a prelude, two
senior officers have been ordered to record summary of evidence.
One is Rear Admiral Somasiri Dassanayake who is probing aspects
relating to the Southern Command. The other is Commander S.M.B.
Weerasekera who is focusing on lapses at SLNS Dhakshina.
Friday's incident coupled together
with assertions in Mr. Prabhakaran's address has prompted the Government
to consider strong action. Yesterday, it was considering a string
of tough measures. They include new Emergency Regulations to punish
those dealing with “terrorist organisations” and the
re-enforcement of of the Prevention of Terrorsim Act (PTA).
A moratorium on enforcing
it was one of the articles in the CFA. These developments make clear
that the ceasefire, like the peace talks, is now over. It will now
be a continuation of Eelam War IV with the battle lines clearly
defined. Tough times are thus ahead.