CFA, security issues and Eelam War IV



By Shamindra Ferdinando


In the wake of the ongoing inquiry by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) into the Norwegian arranged CFA signed in February 2002 and its subsequent collapse leading to the Eelam War IV, The Island examined two vital issues-(CFA & misconception of int’l ‘safety net’ and CFA & media issues, on Aug 30 and 31, 2010, respectively) and today the focus is on the CFA and security issues.

Former Defence Secretary Austin Fernando and the first head of the Peace Secretariat Bernard A. B. Goonetilleke told the LLRC that they had nothing to do with the CFA.

Fernando went to the extent of claiming that he had been in the dark as to the provisions of the CFA until the then Navy Commander (Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri) and the Army Commander (Lt. General Lionel Balagalle) raised the issue with him. An irate Sandagiri contradicted his former civilian boss. Sandagiri is on record as saying that nothing can be further from the truth.

To the credit of the then Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj.Gen.Sarath Fonseka, he strongly opposed the CFA.  He was the only officer, who had the guts to publicly oppose the CFA, particularly a move to remove high security zones as long as the LTTE had artillery pieces and long range mortars in its arsenal.

In his presentation to the LLRC, Fernando accused Gen.Fonseka of undermining the entire peace process by refusing to cooperate in the implementation of the provision with regard to the vacation of public buildings in the Jaffna peninsula. Regardless of Gen.Fonseka’s recent political venture, the country should be grateful to him for taking a tough stand on the CFA. Had he given into political pressure, the outcome of the Eelam War IV could have been very much different. A weakened defence would have given the LTTE an opportunity to overrun the isolated Jaffna peninsula and the Jaffna islands. The absence of depth in defence of key military bases in the peninsula would have given the attackers the upper hand leading to a situation similar to that of 2000 when the army faced a humiliating defeat in Jaffna.

The tripartite agreement also forced the government to disarm all Tamil groups engaged in operations in support of the security forces and suspension of the PTA. The government released hundreds of suspects taken into custody under the PTA, while the LTTE stepped up intelligence operations in the South taking advantage of the relaxed security environment. The elimination of some of those involved with the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) after the UNP exposed clandestine operations undertaken behind the enemy lines even before the signing of the CFA. The revelation made on the basis the DMI had planned to assassinate the then UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the run up to the December 5, 2001 parliamentary election caused irreparable damage to the intelligence apparatus.  

The CFA gave unparalleled advantage to the LTTE on the ground, both in the Jaffna peninsula and the East. The decision makers of the UNP kept the military top brass in the dark as to the provisions in the CFA, which forced the army to reduce its strength in Jaffna and re-deploy troops at the expense of its own security. The bottom line is that the army couldn’t have maintained the required troop strength as the government had agreed to vacate all public buildings in the peninsula. Had that happened, the entire security strategy would have been in chaos. A drop in troop strength in Jaffna would have given the advantage to the LTTE and helped it achieve what it always wanted since December 1995 when it lost Jaffna town. The liberation of Jaffna had been CBK’s biggest achievement, though poor planning and failure on the part of the military top brass to anticipate LTTE counter offensives in the Vanni theatre caused massive losses. In a series of operations in 1998 and 1999, the LTTE cleared the Vanni of government bases and overran Elephant Pass in April 2000 to make way for an assault on Jaffna.

Prabhakaran, in his heroes’ day message in 1996, vowed to regain Jaffna and almost succeeded in 2000.  The then Majors General Janaka Perera and Sarath Fonseka derailed the LTTE plan, but the situation deteriorated again after they were moved out of the peninsula.

The government never recovered from the failed ground offensive Agnikheela (2000) in the Jaffna peninsula and a devastating raid on Katunayake airbase and BIA (July 2001).

The UNP accepted the CFA jointly prepared by the Norwegians and the LTTE. Before the UNP stepped in, CBK  held crucial talks with the Norwegians in 2000 amid bloody fighting in the north, though they failed to reach an agreement before the UNP returned to power in December 2001.

 This is what Austin Fernando says in an article headlined ‘The Peace Process and Security Issues’ -Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka-volume II) edited by one-time major recipients of the Norwegian funds Kumar Rupesinghe: "It is true that some provisions in the CFA were not adhered to by both parties. Nevertheless, on the whole, CFA implementation was carried out in an environment conducive for confidence building. This too was interpreted by critics as giving in to the LTTE demands. The fact that the CFA solidly withstood every calamity for four years and the region resumed social and economic development logically concludes the success of the implementation of the security related CFA provisions."

Before discussing Fernando’s assessment, it would be important to know that the project had been funded by Norway, Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry and the Berghof Centre for Conflict Studies, Sri Lanka

Fernando said: "The military chiefs were not consulted in the drafting of the CFA. Of course, a casual opportunity was given to them to discuss the draft with the ministers of Defence and Constitutional Affairs. This was not considered adequate by the commanders, as they did not get an opportunity to discuss the CFA with their senior officers..."

Commenting on the media coverage, Fernando said: "The antagonistic private media, weak state media interventions and non-aggressive media personnel in the government’s Peace Secretariat, contributed to the easy conviction among the masses of the liability of the UNF regime…"

Fernando also discussed the acquisition of  US Coast Guard vessel Courageous  and the then Minister Milinda Moragoda’s role in acquiring it and talks with New Delhi regarding a Defence Pact between Sri Lanka and India. Fernando said that the acquisition of the US vessel irked the LTTE but more so when one of the negotiators (Milinda Moragoda) was given publicity going onboard the vessel. The former Defence Secretary asserted that on the other hand, one could have argued that at a time the LTTE was brining in arms while engaged in talks, the minister’s action boosted the morale of the government.

Although the navy sank two LTTE vessels brining in armaments off Mullaitivu in 2003 in two separate confrontations , the group succeeded in smuggling in a massive quantity of weapons until the navy  intercepted an LTTE vessel off the East coast in mid September 2006. Interestingly, the vessel acquired from the US by the UNP had led the attack on the LTTE ship.

Between the sinking of two ships in 2003 and September 2006, the LTTE smuggled in a range of weapons from different sources, particularly from China. The LTTE exploited the CFA to its advantage and raised funds abroad to acquire arms, ammunition and communication equipment. It would be important to identify those who had contributed to the CFA paving the way for the LTTE to bolster its military muscle, while weakening the military. At one stage, the navy had to curtail patrols due to shortage of spares for the Fast Attack Craft (FAC) fleet. On another occasion, the government questioned the reliability of information obtained by the navy and its decision to bring the then PA frontliner MP Lakshman Kadirgamar into the picture following the dispute over LTTE setting up base at Manirasakulam. The navy alleged that new LTTE positions threatened the Trincomalee navy base, and jeopardized the sea line of communication between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai.

As the former Defence Secretary told the LLRC, the government had no funds even to buy shoes, while the then Treasury Chief (Charitha Ratwatte) pushed for sharp cut in defence spending. While Fernando criticized the media for letting down the CFA and the government, he conveniently forgot how the then government crippled the army media directorate, closed down the Vanni Sevaya which catered to the security forces and police and allowed the LTTE to bring in sophisticated communication equipment.  Fernando alleged that ‘small camps exposed as severe security threats were temporary transit camps that had been in existence and a few that have been newly organized as transit camps. The military had their plans to deal with them…"

Kumar Rupesinghe, though no longer in the good books of the Norwegians, should be commended for accommodating revealing articles by former Defence Secretary Fernando, ex-Peace Secretariat chief Goonetilleke, PM’s Secretary Bradman Weerakoon, Prof. Peiris and Erik Solheim in Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka.   

This is what Goonetilleke had to say about the CFA: "Having been associated with the peace process from the inception, I vividly recall the initial discussion on the first draft with the Norwegian facilitators. Their priority was to sign the formal agreement by February 2002, before the end of the third monthly extension of the informal ceasefire. In that process, the swift signing of the CFA was given priority over the sustenance of the agreement."

Goonetilleke added: "The armed forces were not given an opportunity to study the text fully and come up with their observations. Moreover, the Norwegians insisted that their text, which had the benefit of inputs from the LTTE, had the best chance of being accepted by that organization, meaning that they did not wish to see any tinkering with the text (emphasis mine).

Goonetilleke admitted that from the beginning the LTTE’s primary objective was to expand its domination over government-held areas, get rid of the army based in the Jaffna peninsula and engage in political maneuver to pressure the government to vacate Jaffna bases. In that context it would be interesting to read what the former Defence Secretary had to say: "…Even if there were any attempts made to shift camps, as was done in the Jaffna peninsula where 152 camp sites were to be reduced to 88, the LTTE would not agree and instigate the public to protest. This was the same in the case of relocating Subash Hotel in Jaffna town."

Prof Peiris, in an interview published in Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka, while praising the CFA to high heavens asserted that the subsequent experience with regard to the signing of the Joint Mechanism or P-TOMS as it was called showed that the modalities that were adopted in respect of the CFA were indeed correct. Commending the then Premier Wickremesinghe for signing the CFA like a statesman in a fashion similar to that of JRJ in agreeing to Indo-Lanka Accord, he alleged that the government of the UPFA had no coherent policy at all to deal with the peace process. (Prof. Peiris was speaking on behalf of the UNP before he switched his allegiance to President Rajapaksa).

Commenting on the November 2005 presidential election, this is what Prof Peiris had to say: "We have a great deal of hope about the future with Ranil Wickremesinghe as President-having access to presidential power, the entire picture is transformed. Then you have a government that single mindedly pursues this (read as peace) objective, backed up by the full might of the state; not truncated state power. The bottom line is that the leader of Wickremesinghe’s negotiating team, Prof Peiris felt that the UNP’s peace initiative could have succeeded if CBK had not exercised her power to manipulate the armed forces chiefs.

What would have happened if Wickremesinghe had won the 2005 presidential election? The UNP leader could have emerged the winner had the LTTE allowed the Tamils, particularly in the northern and eastern provinces to exercise their franchise. At the last presidential election, they were urged to vote for General Fonseka by the TNA, which had recognized the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. In their bid to defeat Rajapaksa, the TNA threw its weight behind the man, who had undermined the CFA during the UNP administration and then spearheaded a three-year offensive. The JVP, which supported the eelam war IV and the architects joined forces along with the INGO / NGO brigade to help Fonseka win the January 26 presidential poll.


(Part IV: Next Erik Solheim & beginning of the peace process) 

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