OPINION

Post civil war: The defrauding opportunities of war’s end

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by Rajan Hoole

We have faced the tragic and unnecessary deaths of thousands, great and small. All of them are important in their circle and a great loss. I submit that our queries are largely un-replied because we miss the questions that call for an answer.

If you go forward from 2006, a mere 18 years, serious issues were raised in the letters pages of journals. The vicious circle of violence during the conflict dehumanised whole communities and every killing was explained away or ignored with ideological bias, and society entrapped itself in the simple survival mode. How the ethnic conflict evolved and led to a destructive war has been documented by many. The overdetermination of ethnic identity was identified as the cause for the continuation of the war and the sheer destructiveness it unloosed on the population.

The economic cost of the war and militarization of the state and ever-increasing corruption of our body politic were ignored by the elite whose sympathies were bent on justifying in some way the war effort. But finally, the reality struck us on the face and showed how bankrupt our country is on all fronts, economic, political and the social milieu.

But even in the face of these tragedies and the evident bankruptcy, did any serious soul-searching take place among our elites? The state’s cavalier approach in using various para military groupings and arms of the military to carry out targeted killings, eventually led to new formations by the State in 1986, transporting Colombo hooligans to form a Muslim group in Kalmunai, to set the lead against Tamils in Karaitivu. And these in turn developed their own dynamic independent of the State as seen in 2019.

Once you fund a militant group, it finds its own money and forms its ways. This practice led to the root cause of the Easter bombing. The LTTE was destroyed in the battlefield as a military formation but its ideology continues to have its hold on Tamil political discourse. But to what extent is the state that transformed itself into a killing machine prepared to become accountable for its past? Here we have a glimpse of how the state carried out assassinations with the help of various para-military and state intelligence groups and its crass unwillingness to make them accountable.

We could see the slow deterioration of the nation’s polity from 1948, when it became acceptable to treat the disenfranchisement of a section of the working class – the labour from India – as non-persons, through the Citizenship Acts — more accurately robbery of citizenship from hill-country Tamils, who produced the most to keep us economically afloat.

Warnings were made when the citizenship Acts were debated soon after independence. We saw hell opening before us when L.H. Mettananda became an advocate of Sinhala Only by 1953. In what followed, although our eyes were closed, we edged nearer the abyss. Today the fact cannot be denied but those who brought us nearer the abyss remain our leaders and prospective leaders. Remember that N.M. Perera spoke eloquently against Sinhala Only in 1955. However, by 1966 he had joined the accursed bandwagon. And so, with the Communist Party, even though Sarath Muttetuwegama saw the writing on the wall and opposed Sinhala Only politically, until his untimely car crash in 1986.

That is the main reason why I would vote for the JVP for the presidency although it is tainted with the same stain that marks the UNP and SLFP. Having come out of the murk that marked Sinhala Only vandalism, the JVP may still carry the same message, but might see things through a cleaner glass. That is the risk open to us minorities.

The two Tamil National Alliance (TNA) candidates shot and killed in 2006 were persons who sought to be our representatives, namely Joseph Pararajasingam and Nadarajah Raviraj. Yet, for several reasons we could think of, we largely ignored their murders as an issue and it has retarded or almost wholly destroyed the way we make our political choices and lead our lives. Their deaths have been discussed in a not unfriendly vein, with those who wish us ill, namely our top political leaders, so much so that even those who think murder cowardly and dishonorable, tend to treat it as normal. It is a long story, but to cut it short, we will refer to the shocking manner in which the murders of the two named have been treated, not merely by the State that was responsible, but also by us Tamils reeling in fear.

At the hearings following 7 Sept. 2016 into the murder of the two Tamil MPs above, Liyanarachchige Abeyratne, an ex-constable, told the court that former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was aware of the murder of former MP Nadaraja Raviraj and arranged a payment of Rs. 50 million to the Karuna faction. Abeyratna’s testimony was refuted by Nilantha Jayewardene, who was then SIS director. Sumanthiran MP’s challenge to Nilantha Jayawardena was refused through deliberately misleading the court.

Vavunativu, where it begun

In the five years following the victory in war of 2009, the government failed to better its chances at elections. The Government went on trying to show that the LTTE was alive and powerful through artificial instances of terror.

In the Vavunativu killing of two police constables on 29th November 2018, the information from the police under SIS Director Nilantha Jayewardena was that the killers were from the supposedly rejuvenated LTTE. While this was supported by nearly all police sources, it was decisively opposed by Director CID, Shani Abeysekera. The system, especially the police department connived to place Shani in a hopeless minority. Shani Abeysekera stated: “On several occasions, intelligence operatives misled criminal investigators chasing suspects and planted “evidence” in the run up to April 2019 Easter bombings.”

The Commission of Inquiry into the Easter bombings, under Justice Janak de Silva, of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, signed the verdict on 31st January 2021, while Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was still president (from 18th November 2019 to 14th July 2022). Shani Abeysekera appears in this narrative mainly as a shadowy figure, whose conclusions are rejected by the commission. His name appears on p 216 of the commission report as Director CID (under Interdiction). Though an outstandingly honest officer, he was not given much credit thereafter in official communiques, precisely because he could not be browbeaten by those in power. His statements retain their value because of his un-faulted honesty in situations where many others would have thrown in the towel.

Shani Abeysekera’s petition to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka of 19th February 2022, explained what he had been through. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who had him sacked was still in power. Shani Abeysekara rather than blaming Zahran alone, pointed to a political hand behind the terror that killed 269 people. SSP Abeysekera’s investigations have revealed the shadowy hand of state intelligence services (SIS) in the Easter terror attacks and exposed prominently, the Gotabhaya Rajapaksa regime’s failure to bring the perpetrators of wanton murder to justice.

In this connection, an investigation by Shani ties up with Hanzeer Azad Maulana’s testimony in the attempted bombing incident at Taj Samudra Hotel on the fatal Easter Sunday, Apr. 21, 2019.

Hanzeer’s Testimony:On the morning at 7.00 AM on the fatal Sunday, Hanzeer reportedly received a telephone call from Major General Suresh Sally, incumbent Director of State Intelligence Service (head of intelligence), asking him to go immediately to the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo, to pick up a person who was waiting there and ‘take the person’s phone.’ Hanzeer replied that he was currently in Batticaloa and not in Colombo.

About an hour later, there were simultaneous terrorist attacks across the country.  It was much later, says Hanzeer, that he learnt through the President’s Investigation Commission and the inquiries of the CID that the person whom Suresh Sallay had wanted him to meet was Abdul Latif Jameel Mohamed, who had been tasked to carry out a suicide attack at the Taj Samudra Hotel but then, apparently in a last-minute change of plans by those who sent him, left the Taj and later exploded himself in a small hotel in Dehiwela. We have below, the testimony by Shani Abeysekara:

S.S.P. Abeysekara: What follows is the testimony of SSP Abeysekara, the chief investigating officer: “The man [the bomber] had received a telephone call, as seen on CCTV footage, and then left the Taj hotel without setting off his backpack of explosives. DMI operatives were [meanwhile] at Jamil’s house and speaking with his wife just before he carried out a bombing at Tropical Inn, Dehiwala, after leaving the Taj … The DMI man was at Jamil’s house and had been listening to the conversation between the mosque’s security officer and Jamil’s wife. Abeysekara raises questions about DMI links to Jamil and the others involved. 

Ranga Jayasooriya: “Maulana says during the day of the Easter Sunday attack, Sallay called him and wanted him to transport an attacker [i.e. Jameel] from the Taj Samudra Hotel to an undisclosed location.” Ranga continued that his bomb is believed to have malfunctioned; and proceeds, “he was seen in the CCTV cameras trying to reset the switch before he left the hotel and took a three-wheeler to Tropical Inn guest house in Dehiwala.”

To be more accurate, what Hanzeer said is, “About an hour after this conversation, simultaneous terrorist attacks took place across the country. Immediately after the attacks Pillaiyan sent a message through a prison guard and asked me to meet him urgently. When I saw him in [Batticaloa] Prison at about 11 a.m. on Easter Sunday he told me that the mastermind behind the Easter attack was Suresh Sallay and that he had assumed that an attack like this would happen.”

Abeysekara who would have been careful, given his experience and position, has not been disputed and gives credit to Hanzeer’s testimony. If you take the long list of state crimes, even starting with the murder of Five Students in 2005, and the systematic naval killings for money during 2007 to 2009, Shani Abeysekara comes out brave and clean.

The one attempt to implant honesty into the system by appointing Travis Sinniah as navy commander barely lasted two months, from August – October 2017. His address to his men in the first few days of his promotion must have set off alarms:

The Vice Admiral told reporters at his first press conference at navy headquarters on 23 August 2017 that “even the biggest war hero” could not escape the full face of the law if a crime had been committed during or after the war. “Even if you are a hero, it does not give you the sanction to do acts that are crimes…If you have done something wrong, there is no forgiveness for that act.” “Whatever you have done during the war, if you are the biggest hero, wearing this uniform does not give you the sanction to murder, or commit torture.” He was removed after a mere two months of service.

Today, we are in the midst of economic ruin without hope. Whether we would be better off with the country divided into three states with significant autonomy, as in the early days of the 18th Century, is something we should seriously consider, given the scale of our enwrapment in crime and murder, the only features that have burgeoned since the early 1950s and accelerated in the 2000s.

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