Political killings: from S.W.R.D to DM
by Shamindra Ferdinando

About 30 minutes prior to Nation Building Minister D. M. Dasanayake being hit by a powerful roadside claymore mine blast close to Ja-ela police station Tuesday (January 8) morning, I phoned a contact of mine and asked for a list of assassinated parliamentarians.

I received a two-page list which placed UNP Colombo District MP Thiyagarajah Maheswaran, assassinated by a gunman from Gurunagar, Jaffna on January 1, at the Kochchikade kovil as the 30th victim. But by the time I received the list at about 5.40 pm, Dasanayake who was no stranger to violence had been added to the list.

The figure is far short of the actual number of MPs killed.

Although it correctly listed Joseph Pararajasingham assassinated on December 25, 2005 in Batticaloa (National List), Nadaraja Raviraj in Colombo (Jaffna District) and Thiyagarajah Maheswaran (Colombo District) as the last three victims, a glance through the list revealed that it didn’t include many other victims (parliamentarians). Despite it being maintained by Parliament, it hadn’t been complete and strangely avoided parliamentarians assassinated during the JVP inspired second insurgency; Those who were felled by the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya, the dreaded military wing of the JVP and faceless killers who may have worked for powerful politicians at that time.

1956 killing

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Prime Minister and first MP for Attanagalle electorate (UNP) had been the first to be felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1956.

Bandaranaike had been a member of the 14-member first Cabinet of Ministers of independent Ceylon and held the portfolios of health and local government. He had been the Leader of the House. Unguarded Bandaranaike, shot at his Rosmead Place Residence was the first political victim of a conspiracy and it highlighted the danger of an influential clique getting together for a common objective, in this instance getting rid of a popular Premier who couldn’t be manipulated. The Bandaranaike killing which was an isolated attack shook the Nation. For almost two decades there hadn’t been a major political killing.

But once the northern insurgency erupted in the early 70s with sporadic attempts on the lives of Jaffna-based target politicians, it highlighted the fluidity of the situation.

First major Jaffna killing

Alfred Duraiyappah had been the first parliamentarian killed by terrorists. The popular Mayor of Jaffna was gunned down outside Krishnan Temple at Ponnalai on July 27, 1975. In fact, the LTTE hadn’t been formally set up at that time and Duraiyappah killers had been with TNT Tamil New Tigers). Velupillai Prabhakaran is believed to have been among the three youth who shot dead the politician as he got down from his car. Had he survived the assassination, he would have definitely returned to Parliament which he first entered in 1960.

Duraiyappah who contested the Jaffna electorate as an independent contestant defeated All Ceylon Tamil Congress leader G.G. Ponnambalam, QC, and Federal Party candidate Kadirawelipillai.

It set the stage for a bloody campaign against elected representatives. Tamil youth made several attempts on his life beginning with a bomb attack on his Jaffna residence in February 71. In March the same year a bomb was placed inside his car. In August that year, bombs were thrown at a carnival organised at the Duraiyappah stadium.

C. Kumarasoorier, the then Posts and Telecommunications Minister had been another politician stalked by Tamil terrorists. MP for Nallur C. Arulampalan and A. Thiyagarajah, MP for Vaddukkodai, Ranjan Selvanayagam, the second MP for Batticaloa and Kanagaratnam who crossed over to the UNP from the TULF had been targeted in the early 70s.

Vaddukkodai MP killed

But Vaddukkodai MP Thiyagarajah was one of the first Tamil MP to die in the hands of a Tamil assassin. His assassination on May 25, 1981 was the first major political killing after the Duraiyappah assassination six years earlier. Attacks on politicians identified with the then government in power increased as Tamil groups slowly strengthened their position with training and financial assistance provided by the Government of India.

Although the LTTE was widely believed to be responsible for Thiyagarajah’s assassination, the abduction and killing of Visvanather Dharmalingham (MP for Manipay) and K. Alalasundaram (MP for Kopay) in early September 1985 were believed to be the work of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO). The Manipay MP was the incumbent PLOTE leader Dharmalingham Siddarthan’s father. The TELO which weilded immense power was accused of the double murder.

Indian hand in early killings

Like Duraiyappah, Dharmalingham had first entered Parliament in March 1960. Siddarthan, in an interview with this writer early December 1997 (carried by The Sunday Island on its December 7, 1997 issue) alleged that TELO assassinated the two MPs on the instructions of its Indian masters. The soft spoken politician said that had the LTTE known of the attempt on their lives, it would have probably thwarted the TELO assassination bid. Accusing India of playing a double game, he insisted that Indian Intelligence Services were directly behind the assassinations. He charged that the TELO had received orders from India to assassinate four Jaffna based TULF MPs. TELO led by Sri Sabaratnam (Tall Sri) despite being a friend of the MPs, had no option but to assassinate them. A local TELO leader identified as Bobby had been identified as the leader of killer squad. TELO leader Das had refused to assassinate the remaining two TULF MPs living in Vadamaratchchy. According to him, the Indian Intelligence Services had felt that the presence of TULF MPs would give the party influence. The Indians wanted to undermine TULF leader Amirthalingam’s authority and one way of doing that was to assassinate his MPs.

Of course Siddarthan was referring to the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foremost intelligence agency established in September 1968 on the basis of Kautilyan principles.

J.N. Dixit, a former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, in his widely read Makers of India’s Foreign Policy Raja Ram Mohan to Yashwant Sinha, briefly discussed India’s disputed role in Sri Lanka. Dixit’s frank assessment of the then Indian Premier Indira Gandhi who authorised the recruitment, arming, training and financing of Sri Lankan Tamil groups was evidence of Indian’s direct role in triggering chaos in Sri Lanka. Dixit claimed that Gandhi could be faulted for two foreign policy decisions-her ambiguous response to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 and support to Sri Lankan armed groups. This is what Dixit said, "She couldn’t afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly 50 years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils."

Raid on Male

Had PLOTE succeeded in its attempt to overthrow the Maldivian government in 1988, many parliamentarians would have been killed. India had to intervene in Male where Indian troops swooped on PLOTE cadres, almost all of them trained in India by RAW personnel or Indian military seconded to the spy agency.

India should be ashamed of her role in Sri Lanka. The Indian Intelligence Services which had been directly answerable to the Prime Minister had ordered political assassinations in a neighbouring country as part of a diabolical strategy to subvert the TULF. Had we ever tried to analyse the impact of the Indian action here or at least present our case before the international community? President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently talked of his desire to involve India in the peace process. As he emphasised New Delhi’s support would be critical, but we should be fully aware of the India’s hand in destabilising Sri Lanka. Actually India should publicly regret her actions which created monstrous terrorist organisations which wrecked havoc in Sri Lanka.

Worst single attack

Since then at least 40 former and sitting MPs had been assassinated with the September 1994 suicide attack on an UNP rally at Thotalanga being the single worst target killing of politicians. The blast claimed the lives of five MPs- National List MP Dr. Gamini Wijesekera who was also the General Secretary of the party, Kurunegala District heavyweight G.M. Premachandra, Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, Ossie Abeygunasekera and Gamini Dissanayake, the UNP presidential election candidate contesting PA candidate Chandrika Kumaratunga. The Kumaratunga administration which was engaged in negotiations with the LTTE refrained from directly blaming the LTTE. She was also determined to continue with the peace process at any cost.

Killed during IPKF deplyment

Former SLFP MP Abdul Majeed who represented the Trincomalee district was shot dead at his Kinniya residence in November 1987. The gunmen struck despite the heavy presence of the IPKF. Although the killers weren’t found, the LTTE or some other Tamil group could have carried out the killing.

UNP facilitates LTTE killings

Kumaratunga did not stoop to the level of President Ranasinghe Premadasa whose government turned a Nelsonian eye to LTTE atrocities during a 14-month long honeymoon during which the LTTE assassinated TULF leader A. Amirthalingam and Vettivelu Yogeswaran on July 13, 1989 in Colombo. The fact that the assassins had arrived in Colombo in an Air Force chopper revealed the pathetic state of affairs. The killers had gained entrance to Yogeswaran’s residence by prior appointment claiming that they were coming for talks with the TULF leaders. Yogeswaran had tried desperately to bring about a settlement between the LTTE and the TULF. After failing to persuade the TULF leaders to visit Mullaithivu, the LTTE had sent two assassins Vishu, a senior intelligence wing cadre and Aloysious to assassinate them. The calmly pulled out weapons and fired at Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and M. Sivasithamparam after Mrs Yogeswaran served them refreshments. Sivasithamparam survived despite receiving gun shot injuries. Bodyguards provided by the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) who allowed LTTE cadres inside the Yogeswaran Colombo 7 residence without subjecting them to security checks on the instructions of TULF leaders, killed both gunmen. Had they managed to flee the LTTE would never have been implicated. Instead, the attack would have been blamed on faceless killers. The possibility of the UNP blaming the JVP which was waging a bloody battle against the Premadasa administration couldn’t be ruled out. But the recovery of bodies with their pistols revealed the LTTE link. The UNP did absolutely nothing to punish the LTTE. UNP leaders including those who shed crocodile tears for Maheswaran turned the other way and the honeymoon continued until the LTTE resumed hostilities in June 1990.

Thambirajah Kandasamy of the MSD told police that LTTE cadres weren’t checked on the instructions of Amirthalingam. According to him, Amirthalingam was to leave for dinner hosted by the then Indian High Commissioner at Taj where he was to meet a visiting Indian envoy. For the TULF which branded Duraiyappah as a traitor for supporting the SLFP, the killings, particularly that of Amirthalingam signalled the end of an uneasy relationship.

Even Gamini Dissanayake who was instrumental in providing police security to TULF leaders remained silent. It would be interesting to analyse the UNP’s conduct during the honeymoon and also the relationship between the UNP and the LTTE. The LTTE took advantage of the relationship to decimate rival Tamil groups. The TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF had been at the receiving end but once the LTTE resumed hostilities in June 1990, the UNP sought the assistance of these groups. The EPDP too was brought in by the UNP. That relationship remained until the PA won the parliamentary and presidential elections in 1994.

Continued on Wednesday January 23


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