Political Column

Bauer drowns in Mavil Aru

  • Dilan attacks Weerawansa as 'cardboard wansa' - President orders probe

By Our Political Editor

That water or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) blockade of the Mavil Aru anicut was the cause of a spike in fighting with Government troops and saw the birth of Eelam War IV is now well known.

But last week there was one man who thought he had worked a magic formula to let the water flow and thus bring down tensions between the warring parties. That was Norway's Special Envoy to the peace process, Jon Hanssen-Bauer.

Villagers gather at the Kallaru Anicut to watch the water flowing after the Mavil Aru anicut was opened. Pic by A.T.M. Gunananda

It seemed that even before he set foot on Sri Lankan soil, diplomatic soundings had been made with the LTTE leadership in Kilinochchi.

When he arrived there for talks with LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan, in the company of Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar, he was elated. Like a magic wand, Thamilselvan waved his walking stick to say the LTTE would lift the embargo and allow water from the Mavil Aru anicut to flow to the starved paddy fields in the Batticaloa district. That would ease the travails of the 15,000 farmers and wash away the troubles for the Government, or Bauer thought.

Unlike other occasions when Bauer or Brattskar visited Kilinochchi, the LTTE top-notchers were not that chirpy. The pictures told a tale. They looked glum and worried, the whole lot including Thamilselvan, Pulithevan, Nadesan and George the translator whose English renditions are reminiscent of the Georgian era. That was understandable. Guerrilla cadres had taken a thorough beating in battles with the Security Forces in Mutur and adjoining areas. With a large number dead and a larger number wounded, the guerrillas wanted to take two steps backwards. That was to buy time so later on they could move four steps forward. Thamilselvan declared the LTTE would open the Mavil Aru sluice gates without any conditions on humanitarian grounds. What he did not tell Bauer was why they chose to blockade it with no consideration but contempt for humanitarian values.

Special envoy Bauer was elated he had pulled off a diplomatic coup. It seemed everything had been precisely planned. They were only waiting for Thamilselvan to give the nod. Bauer used the satellite phone to tell the good news to leading dignitaries in the Government. That was last Sunday. Most had switched off their telephones. That included President's Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary General of the Secretariat Co-ordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) Palitha Kohona and Basil Rajapaksa, President's senior advisor and indisputably the successful trouble shooter on any issue, be it politics, defence or humanitarian matters.

Bauer rang Erik Solheim to give the good news. Solheim took it upon himself to track down someone in authority. After many attempts, he reached Basil Rajapaksa. He could not talk. He was engaged in humanitarian work in Mutur and had to duck for cover from occasional mortar fire. He told Solheim he could not speak since the LTTE was still continuing sporadic attacks.

Bauer had by then got in touch with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. He gave Samaraweera the news that the LTTE had agreed to unilaterally open the sluice gates. He said that the SLMM Head retired Swedish Major General Ulf Henriccson would go along to the area with LTTE's Political Wing leader for Trincomalee district, S. Elilan. It seemed Henriccson was in Trincomalee waiting for a call from Bauer to do just that. Samaraweera reportedly agreed to pass the information down to those concerned.

It is not clear what followed thereafter. But Government leaders were not too pleased that the LTTE, which had placed the water blockade on their own, were now trying to become "do-gooders" and lift it. That was by giving kudos to Norwegian diplomatic efforts aided and abetted by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.

"We never asked them to close it down. So if they wanted to open it, why tell us that now. Let them open it first," a senior Government minister concerned with the issue said. "This is all part of a propaganda coup in collusion with the Norwegians," he said speaking on grounds of anonymity. In fact the Government was displeased that the SLMM's big boss, the tall talking Henriccson had joined the LTTE band- wagon to travel to Mavil Aru to ceremonially open the sluice gate. He expected the security forces to observe a temporary ceasefire during this time.

The SCOPP declared in a statement on Sunday evening (April 6) that "the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) had entered this area unannounced. The SLMM informed the Secretariat Co-ordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) regarding their intended visit to Mavil Aru. SCOPP informed the SLMM Headquarters in Colombo and sought the withdrawal of SLMM from this operational area in order to prevent endangering the lives of SLMM monitors."

There ended the latest diplomacy drive of Norway's Special Envoy. This time he failed to bring credit to himself, Norway and the LTTE. The best choice would have been for him to tell the LTTE to open the gate on their own and come back to talk on the rest. But, sometimes all the backroom planning for diplomatic melodramas can backfire. That brouhaha apart, the sluice gates at Mavil Aru were opened. On the opposite page our Defence Correspondent gives details of how it happened.

Bauer's meetings ended with Foreign Minister Samaraweera. He complained bitterly about the fighting. Samaraweera only listened and did not offer any comments. At the end of the talks, he told Bauer that he would convey to President Mahinda Rajapaksa the outcome. When Bauer wanted to return to Oslo via London, he found the Heathrow airport was closed. He later re-routed his ticket to fly via Paris.

President Rajapaksa was in Kandy until late last evening. However, every now and then he telephoned Colombo to talk to officials about the security situation. Rajapaksa was also disturbed about a complaint he received.

A local Non Governmental Orgnaisation was in the process of organizing an Anti-War rally. As a prelude, they had invited representatives of various political parties. UNP's loquacious Rajitha Senaratna waxed eloquent criticizing Rajapaksa for leaning towards war. Government's deputy minister Dilan Perera was on hand but had not reportedly defended Rajapaksa. Later in his speech, Dilan was to criticize the JVP in particular for egging the Government to go to war. He described JVP's Wimal Weerawansa as "Cardboard Wansa."

Video footage and recordings of the speech have now reached President Rajapaksa. He has now referred them to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena to determine whether disciplinary action should be taken against Dilan Perera.

A critical issue in the country's political firmament, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna joining the Government will be determined in the coming week or two. Today, the JVP is expecting to receive the Government's response to its twenty demands that it says should form the common programme. Some five points are being contested by Government leaders who say it would be inimical to national interests. That includes a call to dismiss Norway from playing the role of peace facilitator, abrogate the Ceasefire Agreement and demerge the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

A JVP source told The Sunday Times “we decided to join the Government but at this point we cannot say we will positively join the Government or not. It will now depend on the Government. However, we feel this is the time our support is a lot more needed for the Government. There is a war under way."

Hulugalle, check your facts first

Lakshman Hulugalle, Director General, Media Centre for National Security has sent The Sunday Times a letter titled 'CORRECTION OF A STATEMENT IN THE 14TH PARAGRAPH OF THE ARTICLE TITLED 'JVP PUTS FORWARD TOUGH DEMANDS' IN THE SUNDAY TIMES OF AUGUST 6, 2006.

His letter, in his own English, is reproduced in full below:

"I wish to draw your kind attention to the above article by the Sunday Times Political Editor in paragraph 14 of August 6, 2006 given below.

"Instead of asking a high ranking officer to brief the political party representatives a junior major from the Media Centre for National Security was asked to give a briefing. He did not appear to be conversant with the task given to him. In his introductory remarks he declared that the Mavil Aru Anicut was within LTTE Controlled areas for a briefing of representatives of political parties and Government leaders usually a senior Defence Ministry official would have taken part. But, if they are not up to that task, it is done by a senior officer of the Armed forces who is conversant with the subject.

"President Rajapakse politely explained that the Mavil Aru Anicut was very much in the government controlled areas.

"The Media Centre for National Security denied the contents of the above statement.

"No officer was invited nor represented at the above All Party Meeting.

"We kindly request you to rectify the error, and give the time publicity as for your article.


It is shocking, that Mr. Lakshman Hulugalle, who calls himself Diector General of the Media Centre for National Security, is unaware of what is going on under his own organization, or under his very nose.

It was Major Upali Rajapaksa, who is now acting as Spokesman in the Media Centre for National Security (in the absence of Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe) who spoke to representatives of political parties at a meeting on Friday August 4 and the Presidential Secretariat. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was present on this occasion.

It is not surprising that the credibility of the Media Centre itself is in question over many matters. And now, of all things, its head does not seem to know what is going on in his own organisation. A little checking would have saved him all the embarrassment. Who cares when they believe anything they say is gospel, the truth and nothing but the whole truth.

Mr. Hulugalle, please get your facts right. You are holding public office where vast amounts of tax payer's money are being spent to earn credibility for the Government, the security forces and the police. Trying to economise on the truth can cause irreparable harm to all of them.

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