Kadirgamar inspecting a guard of honour
LTTE's Sudahar Master raises their flag at the formation of
the civilian militia on August 11.
his quiet diplomacy saved Jaffna
It was a hot and humid afternoon one day in April 2000. The Sri
Lanka High Commission in India, located in New Delhi's Chanakyapuri
diplomatic enclave, was ringed by Police and Jawans from the Army.
They had pitched tents at regular intervals to form a tight security
an apartment inside, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar
was recuperating. He had just ended a complicated kidney transplant
operation at the Apollo Hospital in New Delhi. His wife Suganthie
was by his side.
a day before I walked in to meet him, High Commissioner Mangala
Moonasinghe had hosted a party to mark the Minister's 68th birthday.
That was an unusual birthday party. It was lawyers who usually dominated
that annual event in Sri Lanka. But this time, in New Delhi, there
was a larger turn out of doctors. "You should have been here
last night," Mr Kadirgamar remarked as we engaged in a lengthy
conversation about the security situation in Sri Lanka.
wore a white mask to cover his mouth and sat at a distance as he
spoke. Doctors had warned him to be careful not to allow any infection
to set in for that would turn fatal. But his delicate medical condition
did not deter him from responding to a call of duty for the nation.
a few days later, what we talked with each other was to become alive.
Tiger guerrillas in Sri Lanka had launched "Oyatha Alaikal"
(or Unceasing Waves). That was the offensive to evict the security
forces from the vast swathe of land they were controlling in the
Wanni and their planned push to seize control of the Jaffna peninsula.
back in Colombo to cover the war and he was still in New Delhi recuperating.
We kept regular telephone contact, speaking sometimes six to seven
times a day. He was keen to know developments in the battlefronts
of the north. I was keen to know how the Government was going to
cope with the guerrilla onslaught and avert a possible fall of the
Jaffna peninsula. There were fears that 40,000 troops would be under
days and nights that followed were history in the making. President
Kumaratunga was away in London. Hence the tasks of mustering foreign
help fell on Mr Kadirgamar. He was in touch with her as well as
then Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte in Colombo. Then
he was formulating his own action plan to avert a serious crisis.
him periodically on the progress of the fighting. He first met with
New Delhi based ambassadors of some important countries including
the United States and United Kingdom to brief them on developments.
As the fighting intensified, fears grew of a siege of the Jaffna
peninsula by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There
were only two choices left - fight it out to a finish, or make a
tactical withdrawal. The latter option meant the surrender of the
Jaffna peninsula to the guerrillas. To fight, defence supplies were
woefully inadequate. Making a tactical withdrawal involved a logistics
Jaffna peninsula was separated from the south by guerrilla controlled
Wanni. That meant only a coastal evacuation was possible, for which
resources to move 40,000 troops, was not available.
situation was quite desperate. This is when Mr. Kadirgamar held
talks with Indian authorities at the highest level. India ruled
out any form of military intervention. The memories of the ignominious
withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) following their
bloodied nose during the 1987-90 stay in North and East Sri Lanka,
were very much alive. But a well kept secret then was India's willingness
to offer humanitarian assistance if it became necessary. This was
in the form of ships to evacuate troops should the situation deteriorate
to a point that India equally did not want to see Jaffna fall back
into LTTE hands.
Delhi had also taken note of the serious concerns expressed by Mr.
Kadirgamar if Jaffna was to fall into guerrilla hands. Here again,
there was another well kept secret. Indian authorities had made
known to the LTTE, through their own channels, the serious consequences
that would follow if they were to seize Jaffna peninsula. The warning
had paid off. The guerrillas captured Elephant Pass, and reached
Navatkuli, the gateway to Jaffna, but made no foray into the peninsula.
His silent diplomacy had paid off.
Kadirgamar, the man for whom the deep commitment to the defence
of his motherland was as important as the portfolio of foreign affairs,
is no more. He fell victim to an assassin's bullet on Friday night.
"Life for me has changed forever since I became Foreign Minister,"
he once remarked to me. "I cannot stand in my own balcony or
take a walk outside my house anymore," he lamented. His belief
in a united Sri Lanka had made him a prime target for the LTTE.
If President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was the main one,
he was second. But in the past months and weeks, intelligence reports
made clear, he was not second but first on the list. That was why
he had a large security contingent of crack Army commandos and a
handful of Ministerial Security Division (MSD) personnel to protect
life under close protection from alert security personnel had not
always been smooth for him. There had been many an occasion when
Tiger guerrillas had laid traps to assassinate him. The list is
too long but he survived all of them. One, he told me, was a plot
to run a high voltage electricity wire through a heated swimming
pool which he was to use during a visit to India. The warning came
on time from an important intelligence channel and he did not swim
last week there was a warning from the Army's Directorate of Military
Intelligence (DMI) that threats against him had heightened. So much
so, he chose to cut down on travel. One day he chose not to attend
Parliament. A former Cabinet Minister was waiting for his arrival
to have a document signed. Mr. Kadirgamar phoned him and asked that
it be sent home. He said his threat level had increased. A senior
Defence official even asked him to be away from Sri Lanka for a
was a passion for him. It also helped keep him fit for the grueling
schedule he would fit into each day. Soon after he spent all his
savings to purchase company magnate Mark Bostock's house at Bullers
Lane in residential Colombo, he made sure there was a small pool.
He had one built and found time to use it. If pressure of work forced
him to miss swimming, he was sure to make up for it on another day.
He felt tired and unfit without that regime.
is what he did on Friday after attending a book launch. But his
assassins had other plans. They had spent time mounting surveillance
on his movements for days and weeks. They lay in wait. At least
two guerrillas had taken up position on the top floor of a neighboring
house owned by a Tamil national.
view from the window that faced Mr. Kadirgamar's swimming pool had
been obstructed by a tree. Hence, it had been cut down. The window
had been covered with cardboard leaving room for a Chinese-built
sniper's rifle to be pointed in the direction of the pool.
Friday night Mr. Kadirgamar had finished his swim and was returning
to change clothes when the assassins struck. They had fired shots
to his head, chest and leg. He was rushed to the Accident Service
of the National Hospital shortly past 11 p.m. Doctors carried out
emergency surgery but he was pronounced dead around 12.15 a.m.
is no secret that Mr. Kadirgamar was the power behind the LTTE being
banned in a number of countries. This single act crippled the LTTE
especially its fund raising exercises. They were slighted that while
calling themselves "freedom fighters," world governments
were labeling them as a "terrorist organization." That
he earned the wrath of the LTTE for this and his repeated condemnation
of their violence is public knowledge. Yet, the LTTE denied it carried
out his assassination.
Tamilnet website quoted Political Wing leader S.P, Thamilselvan
as condemning the Government for "hastily blaming the Liberation
Tigers for the killing." He said that there were several forces
opposed to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in the South. "We
also know that there are sections within the Sri Lankan Armed forces
operating with a hidden agenda to sabotage the CFA," Mr. Thamilselvan
added that "Colombo, ridden with internal rifts and power struggles,
should look inwards for culprits of the assassination. He added
that there is a growing trend in the South to blame the Liberation
Tigers for all killings." But Military Spokesman Brigadier
Daya Ratnayake declared, "there seems no doubt there is LTTE
said the assassination has "all the hallmarks of a rebel assassination
plot." He said early this month two persons were arrested outside
Mr. Kadirgamar's official residence at Wijerama Mawatha. "They
were filming and taking photographs of his residence. We questioned
them and have confirmed that they are members of the LTTE,"
there a coincidence between the guerrilla assassination of Mr. Kadirgamar
and their continued preparations for war? Last week, even elderly
civilians were being put through a programme of training and preparation
to be deployed during a war situation. The two pictures on this
page taken on August 11 at the Palai playground tell the story.
Mr. Kadirgamar's funeral will take place tomorrow with full state
honours, Security Forces and Police continued their overnight search
for rebel suspects and hideouts in the capital. This is with new
powers vested with them under a State of Emergency declared early
One is reminded of a question raised before President Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga by Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, Deputy
Chief of staff of the Navy. This was when she addressed a 1,000
Security Forces and Police officers at the Bandaranaike Memorial
International Conference Hall (BMICH) on July 26.
that there had been more than 400 killings by Tiger guerrillas,
forty of them from the armed forces, Rear Admiral Weerasekera wanted
to know whether the Prevention of Terrorism Act or Emergency Regulations
could not be enforced. This was because of morale problems caused
by troops being told to escort guerrilla cadres whilst their colleagues
were being killed.
Kumaratunga had a brief exchange of words with Deputy Defence Minister
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. She then declared that it was difficult
to enforce such laws. (The Sunday Times - Situation Report July
31.) She said without a war it was only 40 personnel who were killed.
Had there been a war the numbers would have been much higher. "We
must try to change the Ceasefire Agreement," she declared.
But the LTTE has rejected that proposal altogether.
now, President Kumaratunga has enforced what she said was difficult
to do just three weeks ago - the promulgation of a State of Emergency.
Very sadly Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had to lay down his life
for that to happen. This is not exaggerated gossip but the stark
truth. Little wonder truth hurts.