2008 in Retrospect
2008: Progress on Vanni front amidst political and economic turmoil
So far in 2008, The army has captured a vast track of LTTE territories from Omanthai to Mankulam in the north and from Mannar to Pooneryn on the northwestern coastal belt -- for the first time after a decade. The LTTE is using all its might to stop the advancing military. The number of bodies transferred across the army and LTTE frontlines this year is evidence of the ferocity of battles in the Vanni theatre. ICRC said that almost 800 bodies had been transferred this year.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Having captured the eastern province from the LTTE in 2007 after nearly two decades, Sri Lanka is inching towards taking control of Kilinochchi, a small northern town that has been the rebel political hub.
The year 2008 dawned on a violent note when opposition MP T. Maheshwaran was gunned down by gunmen during New Year prayers in a Hindu temple in the Sri Lankan capital.
Confident of a military victory, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa formally spiked on Jan 16 the Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement signed with the LTTE in 2002. This not only saw the ceasefire monitoring mission pack their bags but marked a virtual end to peace moves by Norway.
So far in 2008, The army has captured a vast track of LTTE territories from Omanthai to Mankulam in the north and from Mannar to Pooneryn on the northwestern coastal belt -- for the first time after a decade. The LTTE is using all its might to stop the advancing military.
On the eve of the Sinhala-Tamil New Year in April, cabinet minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was killed in a suicide bomb attack outside Colombo, for which the Tigers were blamed. Another minister, D.M. Dassanayake, and a Tamil MP sympathetic to the LTTE, S. Sivanesan, were killed in tit-for-tat killings.
There have been claymore mine attacks targeting buses carrying both military personnel and civilians elsewhere in the island. The military has been blamed for similar attacks in LTTE areas.
The holding of the maiden provincial council elections in the eastern province after seizing it from the LTTE was seen as a major political event. This was won by the group that broke away from the LTTE in 2004 - and a former child soldier became chief minister of the province.
The LTTE announced a unilateral ceasefire ahead of the SAARC summit in Colombo in early August, but the government rejected the offer, saying it will fight on.
President Rajapaksa made several foreign trips this year. He went to China and addressed the UN General Assembly besides going to Turkey, India and the Maldives.
The year saw a few foreign heads of state, including Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives -- who has since lost power -- journeying to Sri Lanka.
An Indian delegation led by National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and comprising the defence secretary and the foreign secretary made a previously unannounced visit to Colombo in June.
Following a chat with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Rajapaksa sent his brother Basil Rajapaksa as a special envoy to New Delhi in October to brief Indian leaders about the steps his government has taken to protect the civilians trapped in the war zone.
An Indian ship carrying 1,700 tonnes of food and other items for Tamil civilians in the north reached Colombo Nov 16. The goods were handed over to the Red Cross to be distributed among the needy in the war zone.
In early September, the LTTE staged a major pre-dawn ground and air assault on an army-air force base in Vavuniya, 250 km north of Colombo. It wounded two Indian radar technicians -- embarrassing New Delhi.
Addressing an all-party meeting, Rajapaksa urged the LTTE to surrender its weapons and enter the democratic process to avoid a military defeat.
LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran responded Nov 27, vowing to carry on the separatist campaign despite facing "an intense war as never before". Extending an olive branch, he called India a "superpower" and urged it to lift the ban on his group.
The Tigers are offering fierce resistance to the military around Kilinochchi. But if the town does fall, it would be a major loss to the LTTE and a huge politico-military victory to the government. However, even if that happens, analysts warn that Sri Lanka's ethnic war will be far from over.
That the government is bracing for more fighting next year was evident when it allocated 177 billion rupees (1.6 billion dollars) for defence in 2009, up from 166 billion rupees in 2008.
Despite their shrinking terrain, LTTE cadres are offering stiff resistance. The number of bodies transferred across the army and LTTE frontlines this year is evidence of the ferocity of battles in the Vanni theatre where the army is advancing on multiple fronts. ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne told that almost 800 bodies had been transferred this year. In November and December alone, the ICRC had facilitated the transfer of about 200 bodies.
With the military saying that the LTTE is throwing its hardcore fighters into the battles, the horrific fighting that has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes is sure to drag on.
January 1-Tigers assassinated Colombo District UNP MP Thiyagarajah Maheswaran in a Kochchikade Hindu Kovil on New Year’s Day as he was performing religious rites on his knees. The government would have been in serious trouble had the gunman, subsequently identified as Colin Jonathan, an undercover LTTE operative, who may have had associated with the wealthy ship owner some time ago, managed to flee.
The UNP asserted that the MP’s life could have been saved had his 18-man security contingent remained intact without being reduced to two men. Subsequent investigations revealed that the assassin shot and wounded by one of the MP’s police body guards, PC Dharmasiri was handed over to the National Hospital by one of his associates, a Tamil, who had wrongly identified Colin as a victim of the attack. Ironically, police arrested the man who rushed the bleeding man to the National Hospital before releasing him several months later.
January 1-Bus bomb blast at Slave Island claimed the lives of four persons and wounded 28.
January 2-On the advice of outspoken Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the government announced its long awaited decision to do away with the Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) which came into operation on February 22, 2002. Under the agreement negotiated by the then UNP government and the LTTE, the Norwegian government had to be given two weeks notice by either party to the agreement if it intended to quit the pact.
January 5-Self style Colonel Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias Charles was killed with three other Tigers north of Mannar by troops operating behind LTTE lines. The army targeted a vehicle carrying Charles with a claymore mine as part of its strategy to threaten and destabilize LTTE movements.
January 6-A controversial move by A. L. S. Hameed, Chairman of the loss-making Ceylon Shipping Corporation and its executive director Mayantha Dissanayake to increase their monthly salaries is revealed. Despite the corporation categorised as a B grade institution on the basis of its performances couldn’t increase salaries of its executives without Treasury approval, Hameed and Dissanayake had lavishly served themselves with over a 100 per cent increase.
January 8-Two persons, including Puttalam District MP D. M. Dassanayake were killed in a roadside bombing near the Ja-ela police station. The blast wounded a dozen people.
Dassanayake, who held the nation building portfolio but was not a member of the cabinet, died at the Ragama hospital after receiving multiple injuries in the claymore attack which some security officials believed was a case of a mistaken identity. They believed the assassin wrongly targeted Dassanayake’s vehicle believing Chief Government Whip and Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was on his way to Parliament.
January 12-IGP Victor Perera acknowledged that the current focus on VVIP and VIP security was flawed and a re-thinking of the strategy was needed to meet the growing threat.
January 16- Claymore blast directed at a SLTB bus claimed the lives of 26 men, women and children at Buttala.
January 18-Ten civilians massacred at Tanamalwila.
January 22- JVP heavyweight Lal Kantha said that Parliament was a hive of waste and corruption and irregularities and no tangible action had been taken to tackle the crisis. He said that the pathetic situation in the House had immensely contributed to the overall economic chaos in the country, now struggling to cope with the adverse economic conditions.
January 24-Villagers lead police to 16 bullet riddled bodies at Kiriketuwewa in the Kebitigollewa police area.
January 25-Veteran Rupavahini employee Lal Hemantha Mawalage, who had received several death threats over the telephone after the Mervin Silva affray was attacked. Mawalage, who resisted Silva’s raid on Rupavahini, was targeted by goons on his way home. He was one of the Rupavahini employees targeted by goons following the assault on Silva. The police and army intervened to rescue Silva who received a through beating by Rupavahini workers. Lal Kantha subsequently asserted that there could be complicity on the part of the top SLRC administration and Colombo police in the recent spate of attacks on Rupavahini workers. This accusation was made after goons attacked Arunasiri Hettige, a leading JVP trade union activist who had been among 21 workers accused (by the management) of attacking the politician. Silva continued with his sordid operations until the Supreme Court recently forced him to eat humble pie over his attack on a Sirasa crew at the commissioning of the Kelaniya flyover.
January 28-Negombo High Court Judge Ms P. M. T. P. Tennakoon sentenced Initiaz Ahmed, the former senior manager in charge of the Negombo branch of the Union Bank, to a 16-year prison term, a further four years unless he paid Rs. 3 million. He was among six persons, including his father (T. M. Ahmed) and brother (Suraj Ahmed), charged by the CID in connection with a series of fraudulent transactions to the tune of Rs 77 million, believed to be the biggest ever detected fraud involving electronic money transfers. Delivering the judgment, Ms Tennakoon said that people would lose faith in the banking system if the guilty were allowed to get away with corrupt practices.
January 29-Supreme Court Judge Shiranee Thilakawardene, Chairperson of a Presidential Commission, which investigated a series of fraudulent arms procurement deals, during the period 2000-2005, handed over a confidential report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees. The three-member commission comprising outspoken Thilakawardene and SC judges, N. E, Dissanayake and M. K. Udalagama called for punitive action against several senior officers, some of them now retired, for their alleged involvement in fraudulent activity. The government, so far, has turned a blind eye on the Thilakawardene Commission’s findings.
February 2-Tigers blast a private bus at the Dambulla bus stand killing 20 civilians, mostly elderly women and wounded about 50. They were on their way to participate at a state-sponsored ceremony to offer flowers at Ruwanweliseya.
February 3-An attack carried out by a female LTTE suicide cadre at the Fort Railway station claimed the lives of 14 civilians, including several students of D. S.Senanayake College.
February 4-LTTE attack on bus in the Weli Oya area claimed the lives of 15 persons and wounded 17.
February 4-LTTE cadres on board two Indian trawlers blast a locally built patrol craft north of Talaimannar close to Iranativu Island as it approached an Indian trawler. According to the only survivor of the seven-man crew, men onboard one of the Indian trawlers which carried the attackers, had called for assistance claiming that their boat had been disabled.
February 6-Speaker W. J. M. Lokubanda said that if there been a decline in parliamentary standards, the voters should be held responsible. Speaking at the Waters Edge, the Speaker asserted that the voters should exercise their franchise with responsibility. Had there been an erosion of Parliament, those who have elected unsuitable persons should accept the responsibility squarely.
February 17-Former ITAK M. K. Eelaventhan said that he lost his National List seat as a result of an over three month long absence from parliament due to no fault of own. He accused some of his ITAK colleagues and the then Chief Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle of conspiring to deny him his parliamentary seat.
Early February-Arrest of an LTTE operative at Mabole, Wattala tasked with supplying suicide jackets, explosives and small arms and ammunition to LTTE operatives in the city and its suburbs revealed a hitherto unknown link between the group and a religious order.
Late February –Piyasena Dissanayake, Director General of Bribery Commission moved to Presidential Secretariat following what was widely believed to be a conspiracy hatched by an influential section of officials.
February 23-An alert passenger saved many lives by detecting an LTTE time bomb concealed in an unattended parcel left in a Pettah bound private coach at Mount Lavinia.
March-The government-TMVP alliance secured the Batticaloa Municipal Council while the breakaway LTTE faction took control of all eight local government bodies in the Batticaloa district. The expansion of their relationship boosted the battle against the LTTE and enhanced the government’s overall strategy against the Vanni Tigers.
March 4-Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva slammed successive governments for short-sighted policies as in the case of creating a monstrous LP gas monopoly, waste, corruption and irregularities which, he asserted, had brought misery upon the people. He categorised the privatisation of gas supply as an act of the mentally retarded and said that those who benefited from corrupt transactions would end up in hell. In a brief, but hard-hitting speech at the ceremonial opening of a Special Consumer court at Aluthkade, the CJ indicated that the judiciary was determined to tackle the crisis.
March 6-A claymore mine blast off Mankulam claimed the life ITAK MP K. Sivanesan. TULF leader V. Anandasangaree claimed that the claymore had been set off by some LTTE cadres targeting their own leaders and not at the Jaffna District MP, as reported by a section of the media.
March 10-Bomb blast at Wellawatte killed one and wounded six.
March 16-Anura Bandaranaike, MP, passed away at his official residence, Visumpaya.
March 17-Police arrest UNICEF consultant Ms Lisa Woods after the recovery of 80 mg of heroin in one of the pockets of her pair of denims. The UN sent her back.
Early March-Against the backdrop of a violent campaign against Rupavahini workers, Cashew Corporation Deputy Chairman Priyanath Mahiman Peiris received a one-year jail sentence for assaulting R. M. Jayawardene, Bibile correspondent of Divaina and Police Constable K. M. Jayasuriya.
March 22-Tigers blast Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Mullaitivu, killing ten personnel. Subsequent investigations revealed the attackers had used a special explosives-laden craft to ram the vessel.
April 1-The Rajapaksa administration engineered the cross over of SLMC heavyweight M. L. A.M.Hisbullah to contest the first election to the Eastern Provincial Council on the UPFA ticket.
April 3-The government marked the taking over of the Sri Lankan Airlines management by organising a meeting at the airport premises with the participation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who warned of dire consequences if the new management failed to revive the loss making national carrier. Emirates Airlines took 43.63 per cent of shares of Sri Lankan Airlines in 1998. Although President Kumaratunga’s government had retained 51.05 per cent shares, under a disputable deal, Emirates took control of the management.
April 6-Minister Jeyaraj Fernandoplle assassinated at his home base, Weliweriya, in the Katana electorate by an LTTE suicide cadre. The blast also claimed the lives of 15 others, including National Athletics Coach Lakshman de Alwis and Olympic runner K. A. Karunaratne. The blast wounded about 80 others. The Island photo journalist Nishan S.Priyantaha, an eyewitness said that the minister was about to flag off a race when the full force of the blast hit the minister. On the day of Fernandopulle’s funeral, Access Chief Sumal Perera celebrated his 50th birthday in grand style at Waters Edge with the participation of some 600 guests. The celebration coincided with the completion of the Kelaniya flyover by the Access group under the leadership of British Mabey and Johnson. It wouldn’t have been a reality without Fernandopulle’s blessings.
April 7-The presidential inquiry into the massacre of f 17 aid workers employed by French aid agency Action Against Hunger in the first week of August, 2006, took a dramatic turn, with the agency quitting proceedings.
April 8-JVP firebrand Wimal Weerawansa triggered the political crisis in the Marxist party by switching allegiance to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. Of the ten MPs who had followed him, Mrs Sujatha Alahakoon, returned to Somawansa Amarasinhe’s camp within 24 hours. The Rajapaksa administration, which made an abortive bid to involve, the JVP in the government after November 2005 presidential polls, facilitated Weerawansa move. A simmering battle between the Weerawansa and Somawansa faction as anticipated revealed waste and corruption. A case in point was the revelation of the abuse of duty free car permits obtained by JVP MPs.
April 23-The army lost 80 officers and men in a failed offensive on the Jaffna front. Army Chief Lt. Gen.Sarath Fonseka dismissed LTTE claims that 53 and 55 Divisions had lost almost 150 men in action and over 300 wounded.
April 25-A blast in a Kahapola bound SLTB bus as it left Piliyandala claimed the lives of 26 persons, including children. Over 70 were injured in the blast. Acting on a tip off, the Piliyandala police arrested the bomber and his Sinhala accomplice within 24 hours.
April 28-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Colombo on a three-day visit which paved the way for enhanced Iranian assistance to the Rajapaksa administration, including a major project to enhance the capacity of Sri Lanka’s only oil refinery at Sapugaskanda.
April 29-An SLAF fixed wing aircraft was deployed to evacuate Deputy Labour Minister Mervin Silva wounded in an accident near the Sandagalatenna Bridge along the Dehiattakandiya-Aralaganwila road.
April 30-Troops arrest UN employee Thiyagarajah Prabhakaran as he attempted to cross joint army-police check point at Irratteperiyakulam. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa demanded that the UN check LTTE infiltration.
May 9-On the eve of the first ever Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) poll, the LTTE triggered a blast near the Ampara clock tower, killing a dozen civilians, including two women.
May 9-The UK released TMVP leader Karuna arrested the previous November and jailed in January for using a Sri Lankan diplomatic passport to enter Britain.
May 10-Waste at House appointed Scholarship Board revealed. The Scholarship board set up during the previous UNP administration had offered only three scholarships in six years.
May 10-The government-UPFA alliance bagged the EPC by taking 20 seats including the two bonus seats of the 37-member council. The LTTE infiltrated the Trincomalee harbour about five hours before the commencement of polling in the first election to the EPC to blow up A 520 inside the Ashraff jetty. The government thwarted an attempt to destabilise the EPC over the President’s decision to appoint Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan, one-time deputy to Karuna as the Chief Minister of the EPC. The government moved swiftly to persuade an angry Hisbullah not to leave the alliance.
May 13-Gunmen in army type fatigues shot dead top EPDP official Ms Maheswari Velayudan in Vadamaradchchy.
May 22-The government was accused of abducting Keith Noyar, Associate Editor of The Nation for criticism levelled against the military, a charge denied by the government.
May 24-An LTTE attempt to blast a private passenger bus on its way to Kossinna from Pettah thwarted by its conductor.
May 26-About 20 wounded in blast on Dehiwela rail track. The premature blast saved the lives of many people. Had the blast occurred under the train, it would have caused the train to go off the track.
June 6-The chance detection of a bomb by a sailor on his way to Pettah from Avissawella averted a tragedy.
June 6-The LTTE blasted a bus at Katubedde, killing 22 civilians and injuring about 60. Another blast at Polgolla, Kandy claimed the lives of two and wounded 20.
June 16-12 police personnel die in suicide attack near Vavuniya police station.
July 3-Karuna returns to Sri Lanka. His return triggers a clash between him and Pilleyan finally leading to the assassination of Ragu, a close associate of Pilleyan, allegedly involved with a foreign intelligence service. Pilleyan publicly cleared the LTTE of the assassination.
July 7-LTTE attack on bus at Kataragama area claimed the lives of four persons.
July 24-A landmark SC ruling against JKH involving the privatization of Lanka Marine Service (LMS) which was coupled with a tax holiday sent shockwaves through both private and public sectors. The SC censured Treasury Chief Dr. P. B. Jayasundera for giving illegal advantages to JKH against the public interest. Jayasundera quit his post in disgrace on September 17.
August-Controversy over Sri Lanka jeopardising Indian Security Advisor M.K.Narayanan’s security by failing to take adequate precautions at the 15th SAARC summit.
August 23-The government secured both North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces bagging all 27 electorates in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kegalle and Ratnapura districts. The defeat triggered fresh calls for UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s immediate replacement.
August 26-LTTE air attack on the Navy’s Eastern Area Headquarters in the Trincomalee Dockyard. Four killed and several wounded.
August 30-Forty four persons wounded in bomb blast in Pettah.
September 9-The LTTE raid on Vavuniya air base thwarted by SLAF personnel with the support of the army. LTTE aircraft dropped bombs on the area defended by security forces. Forces lose a dozen men and several wounded. The SLAF claimed that one of its F7 interceptors had shot down one enemy aircraft returning to base following the bombing raid.
September 16-The government requests all INGOs, including UN agencies, to quit LTTE-held areas by September 29. They completed the withdrawal over a week before.
September 16-Bus bomb blast at Horton Place
September 20-A contaminated infant milk powder scandal in China triggers fears of contaminated milk powder reaching the local market.
September-The JVP’s case against the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the Dubai-based Serendib Flour Mills (Private) Limited over the setting up of a flour mill in the Prince Vijaya Quay (PVQ) in the Colombo port took a surprise turn with Appeal Court judges S. Sriskandarajah and Upali Abeyratne who had heard the controversial case calling for a re-trial.
September-One of Sri Lanka’s biggest ever financial scams rocks the country as the perpetrator aka Deshamanya Sakvithi Sir flees before law enforcement agencies get to him. Edwin Ariyadasa, a prominent media personality who had helped the conman to deceive thousands of people and received a monthly package of Rs. 100,000 told The Island that he and his relatives hadn’t invested on the Sakvithi venture. Police are yet to track down the conman. An influential section of the government prevented the state media from highlighting the plight of victims. Ariyadasa had been the Joint Managing Director of S. R. Property Sharing Investment (Private) Limited and appeared on television programmes on behalf of the conman.
October 6-War veteran Major General (redt) Janaka Perera assassinated at the opening of a new UNP party office at Anuradhapura. The assassination of Perera, the Opposition Leader of the NCP triggered a major UNP attack on the government with a section of the UNP accusing the government of complicity. The blast killed about 30 people and wounded about 100.
October- Karuna appointed to Parliament on the National List vacancy created by the resignation of Wasantha Samarasinghe to contest the NCP PC polls. The Supreme Court dismissed a petition against Karuna’s appointment on the basis that the JVP nominee Samarasinghe had been on the UPFA National List.
October 9-A suicide attack on a speeding convoy carrying SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena at Katuwawala, near the Pirivena road junction on the Boralesgamuwa-Pliyandala main road.
October-Close on the heels of severe criticism of the General Treasury and other state agencies by the Supreme Court over financial irregularities pertaining to LMS (Lanka Marine Services) and Waters Edge transactions, Nihal Sri Amarasekere successfully challenged the Appropriation Bill 2008, on the basis that it was inconsistent with the Constitution.
October 28-LTTE aircraft attack Kelanitissa power station and Talladi base.
November25-Claiming that the very survival of the Sinhala Buddhists was at stake the newly launched Jela Udawa Jathika Viyaparaya called for a baby boom.
November 28-Amid the crisis over the controversial oil hedging deal, the Supreme Court asked that Petroleum Resources Minister A.H.M. Fowzie be stripped of his portfolio and for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to take over the ministry and consider appointing another minister.
The court also ordered the immediate suspension of CPC Chairman Ashantha de Mel.
The 3-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva made this order while granting leave to proceed in the fundamental rights petition filed by Laugfs Gas Chairman W.K.H. Wegapitiya and a separate (similar) petition filed by Chief Incumbent of the Nalandarama Vihara, Nugegoda Ven. Theeniyawala Palitha Thera, UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake and Legal Coordinator of ‘Corruption Watch’ attorney Ravi Jayawardena as a public interest litigation.
The petitioners claimed their fundamental rights have been violated due to the oil hedging agreement of the CPC with two foreign banks and some local banks and, due to this, the non-reduction of local fuel prices in line with world market prices.
The court also ordered the CPC to suspend hedging payments to the banks until an ongoing probe by the Central Bank into the matter is over. The court also ordered the Treasury to submit a report within a week on the possibility of reducing local fuel prices by reviewing the taxes levied on petroleum products.
Hadn’t they moved the SC, the government would have been forced to make massive payments to foreign banks, thereby crippling the country economically.
December 10-Karu Jayasuriya switched his allegiance back to the UNP and accepted the post of Deputy Leader following President Rajapaksa’s criticism of denying grama sevaka appointments to SLFP supporters. This effectively thwarted calls for a secret vote to elect top officer bearers including that of the Deputy Leader. Had there been a contest, among those interested in contesting were S. B. Dissanayake, Sajith Premadasa and Wajira Abeywardena.
December 23- With Ceylinco subsidiary Golden Key Credit Card Company in financial turmoil with thousands depositors demanding their money back, the entire Ceylinco Group would come under pressure. Nothing could be as bad as the failure to weed out corrupt practices at financial institutions against the backdrop of the recent over billion rupee Sakvithi scam. The Ceylinco Group which offered to rescue people deceived by Sakvithi Sir, recently seemed to be in an unprecedented crisis. Failure to arrest this trend could cause a catastrophe, particularly against the backdrop of tight economic conditions.
With the government calling for elections for the Wayamba and Central Provinces early next year, the stage is set for political mayhem at the expense of the war effort. But everything would depend on how quickly the government and the judiciary resolve their dispute over the price of petrol. The failure would pave the way for a catastrophic confrontation amidst the final stages of the ambitious combined security forces offensive to wipe out the LTTE.