More secret deals with the LTTE
- Ranil reveals talks were held through an emissary who has now joined Govt.
- UNP working committee to press for action on COPE report
- Mangala comes for SLFP CC meeting but walks out after handing over letter
Security at Temple Trees, the presidential abode, is usually tight. But on Wednesdays, it became routinely tighter. That evening ministers turned up for the weekly Cabinet meeting. It was in a room which which had to be re-furnished to accommodate the jumbo Cabinet.
Last Wednesday, the same room was slotted for another event when the cabinet meeting ended - a meeting of the Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Eyebrows were raised among the alert security staff when one of the visitors turned up for the CC meeting. They were not sure whether to let him in. So, at different points, they either spoke on the telephone or on the walkie talkies to ask superiors whether he should be allowed in. The answer on all occasions, much to their own surprise, was "yes."
The visitor was none other than Mangala Samaraweera, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ports and Aviation. Since being sacked, he had boldly chosen to attend the CC meeting. In fact, the administrative staff at the SLFP had given notice of the meeting but none had expected Samaraweera to turn up.
Armed with a small file, he took a seat in what seemed a back row. He had arrived only five minutes after the meeting had begun. There was shock and awe among the members present for the meeting. Many wondered what was going to follow.
The meeting began with a discussion of routine party matters. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had taken note of Samaraweera's presence. At one point, he remarked that the SLFP Treasurer, Samaraweera, was there and inquired about party funds. The latter was to reply that he had in fact signed a few cheques the previous week and since then there has been no requests for money. Rajapaksa was to ask about funds for Sudu Nelum Movement. Samaraweera replied that financial matters relating to this movement came directly under the purview of the President.
Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was to remark that some Deputy Ministers were unhappy with their assignments. President Rajapaksa who was angry declared, "They are not happy no matter what you give them." He said keep them in a cradle and soothe them all the time. "If they are not happy and if this situation continues, I will dissolve parliament."
Was it a hint to Samaraweera? Or was he issuing a real warning. Speculation heightened particularly after a two-hour meeting President Rajapaksa had with the Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake. Highly- placed Government sources said the subjects covered possible provincial council elections in the north, east and the registration of a political party by renegade SLFPer Sripathi Sooriyaratchchi. However, this has not allayed speculation in some political quarters.
The agenda for Wednesday's CC meeting had been distributed only when the meeting began. Samaraweera received his copy then. The subject of discussion next was the political situation in the country.
Minister Maithripala Sirisena, General Secretary of the SLFP, then moved a resolution. It referred to speeches, statements and actions by two party members - Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyaratchi - that constituted a serious breach of discipline. It called upon the Central Committee to endorse the resolution for disciplinary action.
Samaraweera rose to raise an issue. He said he had learnt from newspaper accounts that such action was to be contemplated against the two of them. There had been no intimation from the party. He said he had brought along with him a four-page letter addressed, among others, to President Rajapaksa and General Secretary Sirisena. He said he had also brought adequate copies to be distributed to members of the CC. He said when the CC took a decision; he hoped adequate time would be given for them to answer whatever charges that are levelled.
Samaraweera then declared he was leaving the meeting. He expressed the view it was not ethically correct for him to remain when a matter relating to his own conduct was being discussed. President Rajapaksa, who was moving side ways on his swivel chair, said "you can stay." Rajapaksa was to say the SLFP was a democratic party and did not plan to discuss issues in secret. However, Samraweera walked away.
Samaraweera later learnt that copies of his four-page letter, left behind at the CC meeting, had not been distributed to the members. In fact, a few copies that were handed over had been withdrawn. He shot off a letter of protest to Sirisena. Later, he was to ensure copies of the four-page letter reached the CC members.
Pointing out that he had addressed an open letter to the President replying allegations levelled against him and Sooriyaratchchi, Samaraweera said in his four-page letter that the "only fault we have done to deserve dismissal is our giving vent to the injustice caused to us". Samaraweera said it was the duty and responsibility of the CC to learn why they were sacked as Ministers.
He asked, "is our request that we should have a clear strategy to end LTTE terrorism and work in a manner that human rights are protected against our party policies? Is the request that the three-decade old war should be given a political solution against our party policies, or does the request that the prestigious international image we have gained since 1994 should be retained? Was I wrong when I asked that help be sought from US and Palestinian Governments which flaunt polarized views? Or even the policy that the leadership be brought to the notice of the system where political patronage hinders the arrest of corruption and nepotism, contravenes SLFP policies?"
These developments came as the Presidential Secretariat carried out a survey to ascertain the Government's popularity with the public. Though fuller details are not known, it became clear there was overwhelming support for the Government particularly in the North Central Province and the districts of Puttalam and Kurunegala. In the South, however, there was a different trend particularly after the Government's erstwhile ally, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), started carrying out a campaign.
Against this backdrop, the President's senior advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, was meeting representative groups in villages in the south to explain to them the Gama Neguma concept and to seek their assistance. Basil was also to confess to friends, during a discussion, that he had telephoned brother President Rajapaksa from New Delhi urging him not to sack three ministers Sripathi, Mangala and Anura. The latter later returned after claiming he was misled. The remarks came when it was pointed out that during an informal gathering of a group of ministers, Minister Susil Premajayantha had reminisced of an occasion where former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga told them she had decided to sack then Minister, S.B. Dissanayake. They had asked her not to do so and the advise had then prevailed. Consequently, the political destinies of the country then did not change.
These developments have made an otherwise politically lukewarm opposition United National Party to activate itself. The Opposition UNP was getting somewhat activated smelling blood within the Government ranks. The crossovers from the UNP had triggered the blood-letting within the Government, and in a sense, those who had caused a split within the UNP were now the cause of a split within the Government.
The break-away UNPers were now calling themselves - the UNP New Democratic Party, and had obtained an enjoining order from the District Court preventing them from being sacked from the party's highest policy-making body, the Working Committee (WC). But when the WC met this week, none of them was present. They don't want to be sacked from it, nor do they want to attend its meetings.
The WC meeting began with the UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake reading out the letters of excuse. None of the 18 breakway members, now calling themselves the UNP-NDP, sent any letters excusing themselves, except for Hemakumara Nanayakkara. He had 'Nila' work to do - not Blue, but official work. The WC promptly rejected his excuse. Attanayake then announced the confirmation of the date for the special party convention scheduled for the 17th of this month. Daya Pelpola, the party's lawyer began reading out the Resolutions that were to be adopted on that date.
Main among them were the abolition of the twin posts of Deputy Leader and Assistant Leader, and the procedural changes that would ensure the 'democartisation' of the party with powers of the party leader transferred to the several committees that would run the party machinery henceforth.
Party leader Ranil Wickremeasinghe then read out what deposed Deputy Leader and now PA Government's Minister of Home Affairs and Public Administration Karu Jayasuriya had stated recently in relation to the on-going controversy over the Parliamentary Oversight Committee - COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises)report. That report had two damning findings on the manner in which two public enterprises, Lanka Marine Services and Sri Lanka Insurance were privatised during the period the UNP was in Government (2001-2004).
Jayasuriya has said the privatisation of these enterprises was done on the advice of the Economic Affairs Committee under the UNP Government which was chaired by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, absolving himself of all responsibility, and clearly insinuating where the blame should lie. (Jayasuriya was the Minister then in charge of Lanka Marine Services - while Milinda Moragoda, the current Tourism Minister, another crossover like Jayasuriya, was the Minister in charge of privatisation).
Former Speaker Joseph Michael-Perera asked what the UNP's position was on the need to initiate, or to support moves, to have the COPE report investigated, and proceeded to give the answer himself, by saying that the party should call for an inquiry. This was approved by the WC. The newly-appointed Colombo District organiser, Ravi Karunanayake specifically referred to the privatisation process of Sri Lanka Insurance, where Cabinet approval was obtained a month after it was executed. WC members were saying that Moragoda (who is now in Berlin attending the World Travel Mart) had not said a word about his role in the privatisation of Sri Lanka Insurance -- and Lanka Marine Services.
Then, came the issue of UNP appointed MP Navin Dissanayake's letter to the party leader where he had charged that former Chairman Malik Samarawickrama was the de-facto party leader, and an interview Matara MP Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene had given a Sinhala language newspaper. The WC decided to inquire into both these matters.
Finally, Wickremesinghe came out with a bombshell. He referred to the UNP's discussions with the LTTE on the eve of the 2005 Presidential Elections. He said that the UNP, in fact, had negotiations with the LTTE through intermediaries. This official revelation comes right in the middle of accusations being made elsewhere by incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Chief Campaign Manager Mangala Samaraweera saying that the Rajapaksa camp also had secret negotiations with the LTTE, and more, that money passed hands to strike a deal.
Wickremesinghe told his partymen that the discussions were conducted by a close conduit of his. He did not reveal the name of that conduit, but he had later confided in some of his close political allies who that person was. It was none other than one of the crossovers, now a Cabinet Minister in the Rajapaksa Government -- someone who had been dealing with the LTTE officially on behalf of the Wickremesinghe Government during the 2002-2004 peace talks.
However, he insisted that the UNP's request from the LTTE was simply to permit the citizens of the Northern and Eastern provinces to cast their vote. The LTTE had made a demand in return -- to place its signature before the elections to ISGA -- the controversial Internal Self-Governing Authority that the LTTE had asked for during the peace talks, the subject that the then PA Government under President Chandrika Kumratunga, together with the JVP made a meal of, and was the downfall of the UNP Government.
The UNP screamed at the time, that ISGA was only an LTTE proposal, and that the UNP had not agreed to it. They had only said they would negotiate on the proposal. But the PA-JVP combine at the time made enough propaganda of it, to defeat the UNP at the 2004 snap polls. Wickremesinghe said he had refused to sign, and the negotiations broke down with that refusal, which might have been the reason the LTTE decided to drop him, and launch a boycott of the Presidential Elections in the North and East. They knew such a boycott would help Mahinda Rajapksa win the elections.
Soon after Wickremesinghe had spoken, Sashidaran, the Batticaloa District organiser, newly appointed to the WC slammed both Milinda Moragoda and Navin Dissanayake for giving newspaper interviews on the eve of the Presidential Elections saying that the birth of the Karuna faction was the result of the UNP peace talks, and that this was one of the reasons that prompted an LTTE boycott resulting in the UNP's defeat. Having got the UNP defeated, the two of them have jumped onto the Government, he said. So, it seems that everybody has been doing business with the LTTE on the sly, while an unsuspecting public is always the last to know.