Arming the enemy - Handing over arms to the LTTE
PRESIDENT RANASINGHE PREMADASA held negotiations with the LTTE between May 1989 and June 1990. The two came together because they found a convergence of interests: to get the IPKF out of Sri Lanka. Premadasa was extending a hand of friendship to Prabhakaran, the man who had refused to accept the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Prabakaran had no illusions about the bona fides of the Premadasa Government or its willingness and ability to fulfil Tamil aspirations. The negotiations were only tactical moves to take advantage of the common concerns and extract concessions from Colombo.
Premadasa consenting to the LTTE's demand to call publicly for the IPKF to be withdrawn, informed India that he wanted an early departure of the Indian troops. President Premadasa cut a deal with the LTTE and began Operation Double Cross, which ironically claimed his life. Once Premadasa formally issued the ultimatum for the IPKF to leave Sri Lanka in June 1989, it became clear that his eviction strategy sponsored by the LTTE was irrevocable.
The Indian military and RAW had set up a proxy Tamil armed force called the Tamil National Army (TNA). TNA was created by RAW as an adhesive for the India-backed ERPLF-led North East Provincial Council. The TNA, not the IPKF, became the new target for the LTTE and also its source of Indian weaponry.
As the IPKF withdrew, the LTTE moved in. The Tigers quickly crushed the Indian sponsored Tamil National Army (TNA). Large numbers of TNA members were killed by the LTTE. Other prominent rivals and critics of the LTTE were also assassinated, including the leadership of the EPRLF.
The large quantity of military weapons handed over to the LTTE by the Premadasa regime as part of the secreat deal included T-56 and M-16 rifles, mortar shells, rocket propelled grenades, grenades besides several thousand rounds of ammunition.
Once Premadasa agreed to the initial request, like a reluctant father to his prodigal son, Prabhakaran pressed for more and more, taking on the role of a patriotic Sri Lankan determined to drive away invading Indians. The LTTE sought Colombo's help to import equipment from Singapore and demanded concertina wire, batteries, cement, concrete and even handcuffs. All request were approved and acted upon. It was during this period the LTTE, without Colombo's knowledge, quietly laid a network of agents and sleepers who would one day wreak havoc in Sri Lanka.
The honeymoon lasted only until the IPKF left the island on March 30, 1990. The vacuum left by the IPKF was filled by the LTTE, which gained complete control of the northeastern region. After the IPKF left, Prabakaran put forward two demands - the dissolution of the North-Eastern Provincial Council and the repeal of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The Government rejected the demands and the Second Eelam War broke out.
The LTTE took control of the Eastern province and after June 11, 1991, it was alleged that the LTTE used weapons given by Premadasa, to kill hundreds of Sri Lankan police officers in the Eastern province.
A few months later Premadasa fell victim to an LTTE suicide squad.
Source: SRI LANKA: THE UNTOLD STORY by By K T Rajasingham
Even when the IPKF operations were going on, President Premadasa started entering into negotiations with the LTTE. By the end of April, 1989, it was reported that two LTTE leaders Anton Balasingham and Lawrence Thilakar would be reaching Colombo for talks with the Sri Lankan Government primarily concentrating on certain demands as pre-conditions for discussion, namely, immediate withdrawal of the IPKF and the dissolution of the North Eastern Provincial Council.
K H J Wijedasa, who was the Secretary of President Premadasa, in his testimony to the commission for probing the killing of Lt. Gen. Danzil Kobbekaduwa and several other top brass of the Army and Navy, said that, Premadasa gave the fax number of the LTTE's London office and a telephone number and requested him to get the names of the LTTE delegation. Subsequently, what are commonly referred to as peace talk followed. According to Wijedasa's statement at the Commission: The Government delegation included Wijedasa, B Weerakoon - advisor on international relations to the President, Felix Dias Abeyasinghe, Bernard Thilakaratne - secretary, foreign affairs, General Sepala Attyagala - secretary, defence, while the LTTE delegation was led by Anton Balasingham, which included Yogi and two others. Adele Balasingham was secretary/observer. Politicians joined after four or five rounds. Helicopters were sent to the Welioya jungles to bring the LTTE cadres to Colombo. They were accommodated in the best hotels.
Wijedasa said that the first intimation he got of the arms deal was when General Attyagala came to see him all upset. Attyagala prevailed on Wijedasa to canvas the decision of Premadasa to issue arms and ammunition to the LTTE. It was towards the end of April 1989. Ranjan Wijeratne, the Minister of State for Defense too, wanted Wijedasa to talk to the President.
Wijedasa told that when he spoke to the President and the President explained to him - (a) Why he made the decision namely that Varatharajah Perumal, under the guise of a volunteer force, was establishing a Tamil National Army (TNA) with the help of the IPKF; (b) that he had every right to make the decision and he need not consult anybody, (this he said because that some one suggested that he consult the former President J.R.Jayewardene); (c) that the LTTE would wipe out the Tamil National Army; (d) he did not like Sri Lankan forces got involved, as they were safe in their camps during that period of time.
General Attyagala said that he was given the list of weapons by the President himself, to be given to the LTTE, which Premadasa got it from the LTTE. It contained a large number of items. Premadasa told him to get those weapons and hand them over to the LTTE. In the list, there were weapons such as Rocket Propelled grenade and mortars. General Attyagale said that, he was taken aback. He explained these weapons to the President and asked him for his rationale in wanting to give such forces of destruction to the LTTE.
Premadasa explained that, he had met with the LTTE the previous night and he was convinced that the TNA was being formed by the IPKF, who were leaving behind their proxy to carry on. General Attyagale said to the Commission that, he told Premadasa that, this was a risk that one should not take. Premadasa said that he had plan to bring peace; this was his strategy and he does not want Sri Lankan forces involved. Attyagale said he told Premadasa that no general would agree to give such heavy weapons. Attyagale showed the list weapons to Minister Ranjan Wijeratne who was quite alarmed. Wijeratne spoke to Premadasa who insisted on giving weapons. Premadasa has assumed that they will not be used against the Sri Lankan forces. Premadasa's obsession was to get the IPKF out of the country. General Sepala Attyagale next spoke to Minister ACS Hameed and Secretary Wijedasa complaining of the list of items. He sent General Ranatunge and General Wanasinghe the Army Commander to speak to the President but all to no avail.
As his persuasion bore no fruit he was compelled to comply with the President's instruction. Accordingly, General Attyagale informed service commanders and the STF (Special Task Force) of the President orders and arms and ammunition are taken from the Government stocks and handed over to the LTTE, by services and STF personnel at different places.
Ilangakoon who was SSP of the STF told the Commission that, that within 3 or 4 days that arms being delivered to the LTTE at Karadiyanaru (in the Eastern Province). This time it was at Kiran camp. LTTE cadres came to the camp and said that leaders had informed from Colombo to collect ammunition. Ilangakoon informed Lionel Karunasena, his assistant, who said that there were no orders. Later Karunasena contacted the Defence Secretary who said to give whatever he could. Accordingly Ilangakoon handed over 5000 rounds of 7.62 and 5.52 ammunition, T 56 rifles and s 84 and M 16 rifles plus 20-25 motor shells.
Brigadier Bohoran under oath to Commission said that, Army Commander General Wanasinghe told him that, there will be a consignment of arms and ammunition to be sent to Welioya for the LTTE and that a LTTE representative would take delivery. He said that General Wanasinghe told him to keep this matter secretly. According to Brigadier Bohoran, the consignment went by road in 4 trucks, the LTTE came by air force helicopters to his Welioya camp helipad. Lawrence Thilkakar and two or three others were there. General Wanasinghe had already told him that being a soldier their feelings did not matter. They had to carry out orders from the top.
Bohoran said that he changed the drivers of the truck and the escorts to take the lorries into the jungle to the unloading point. Bohoran had some special forces troops who helped him put on this operation. He said that he told them to keep secrecy. The unloading took place at a point close to Kent Farm (Kalyanapura). The LTTE was waiting. It was close to midnight. One of the officers who participated in this operation was Lieutenant Vathiyage.
The weapons delivered on 6 July 1989, according to the list of Brigadier Bohoran, were 500 T56 automatic rifles from the Central armory of the Army Headquarters. Again, according to Brigadier Bohoran, he received another consignment in two lorries load on 7 July 1989, the very next day. The consignment included 1 lakh ammunitions for self loading rifles, 200,000 rounds for T56 rifles. He said over 100 LTTE cadres came to secure the weapons in tractors. The handing over of weapons took place about 15 kilometers from the Welioya Base camp.
After the outbreak of the Eelam War 2, on June 11, 1990, Premadasa was in a dilemma. Wijedasa the Secretary to the President told the Commission that, at this point of time, Premadasa told Wijedasa, to do whatever he wanted. The Commission adduced if what Wijedasa said was true, that amounts to the de facto abdication of certain Presidential powers by Premadasa. Wijedasa said that Premadasa told him that he does not know what to do. He had realized that it was too late. Premadasa according to Wijedasa does not talk of resigning from his Presidency, he was a very strong-willed person. According to the Commissioners, they reported that this was the administration that was foisted on the country during those days.
According to witnesses, who testified at the Commission, it became evident that, there was an element of compulsion. Premadasa who insisted on arming the LTTE as part of his political strategy.
"The Sri Lankan Government appointed a Commission headed by the Supreme Court Judge, Justice T.D. Bandarnayke for probing the killing of Lt. Gen. Danzil Kobbekaduwa and several other top brass of the Army and Navy in a landmine explosion at Arali Point, Kaytes Island of Jaffna in 1992.
Lt. V. Priyalal Jagath Vishwakumara gave evidence before the Commission that Sri Lankan Army handed over about 2000 T-56 rifles and 50,000 grenades to 75 members of the LTTE in the jungles of Mullaittivu to fight the IPKF. These arms and ammunition were delivered by two trucks driven by himself one after another. The third truck load of explosives was also handed over to the LTTE. He said the arms were to be handed over to the LTTE Members Yogi, Captain Justice and three others, according to what a 'superior' officer told him. He explained that when he was at the Welloya Camp in 1988, officers there had heard, there had been secret discussions between the LTTE and President Premadasa. Information had reached the officers to the effect that the then Government had wanted to send IPKF out of Jaffna Peninsula and further to arm the LTTE to achieve this. The 'superior' officer came at the scene in a jeep at the end of the delivery of the arms and told him that three weeks later another consignment of arms and ammunition was to be given to the LTTE members. Till then he was told to supply food to the LTTE. `Captain Justice' of the LTTE gave money to buy meat and other food stuffs for LTTE cadres. Lt. Vishwakumara said that although he hated the whole issue at heart, he was forced to go through the project out of fear. `Captain Justice' of the LTTE also told him that the LTTE got arms from Kankesanthurai and Vavuniya too. Capt. Justice also told that President Premadasa and the LTTE were good friends and they will continue to be so. He further said that General Kobberkaduwa was an obstruction for the well being of the LTTE and also an obstruction to the friendship between the LTTE and President Premadasa. Lt. Vishwakumara also said that the LTTE members had even used the helicopters of the Armed Forces while there had been a dearth of helicopters to carry injured soldiers. `Capt. Justice and Yogi had travelled to Colombo in helicopter probably to meet President Premadasa. Lt. Vishwakumara also deposed before the Commission that the LTTE cadres who met President Premadasa had received six parcels, one parcel had bundles of Rs.500 notes. After three weeks, a second consignment was handed over to the LTTE. He added that the arms were handed over to the LTTE in June-July, 1989. This statement was reported by the Agencies on Saturday, 23rd March, 1996"
Source: JAIN COMMISSION REPORT VOL VIII CHAPTER II PARA 19.2/3