By Rajan Hoole –
This ongoing process was given unwanted publicity by the fiasco at Maduru Oya during September. The JOSSOP was set up in late September or early October as a military arm of this process. In mid-October, Dissanayake and the Sun orchestrated scare stories of Tamil hordes and of a Tamil Eelam with a ‘human boundary’. What the Government needed badly more than expertise was money.
A very relevant point missed out by the Mossad Commission is that two days before the signing of the agreement for two Israeli experts, there was a far more important signing event. General Vernon Walters arrived in Colombo on 7th November. He had a meeting and lunch with President Jayewardene on the 8th. To the Press, he was evasive on what he had discussed. He expressed confidence that Sri Lanka can solve its own problems and that Jayewardene had all cylinders firing. Saying that he would not go anywhere near Trincomalee to avoid controversy, he added that he would visit Kandy the next day, as he was a ‘history buff’.
It subsequently became well known that Jayewardene had in fact signed an agreement allowing the Voice of America facilities in Sri Lanka – it is now tucked away unostentatiously in the Chilaw District. Jayewardene’s delicate game is indicated by the fact that the previous day (7th) he had met the Indian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy Gopalasamy Parthasarathy. This was with a view to hammering out a political solution that was being negated by the meeting with Walters.
Now there is no doubt that the agreement with the US and Israeli expertise, whether for ‘agricultural’ purposes or otherwise, were part and parcel of the same arrangement. It was with much alacrity that the Government got about cementing its deals in November 1983. Ravi Jayewardene was given responsibility for dealing with the Israelis and the President’s confidante and cabinet secretary G.V.P. Samarasinghe finalised the deal with the Israelis in Europe and New York the same month (Ratnatunga p.163). The agreement of 10th November 1983 for two Israeli experts for the Mahaveli Authority cannot be isolated from this activity. What was after all so special about Israelis for the Mahaveli Authority in this time of tur- moil and confusion? It is hard to imagine that their purpose was bona fide.
Moreover, Jayewardene was strapped for cash and needed it for his so-called counter-insurgency programmes through the JOSSOP and grand Sinhalese settlements. This was no doubt a priority in his discussions with Casper Weinberger and Vernon Walters. Given the known facts and the desire of the US neither to get involved directly in the ethnic conflict, nor to confront India, we could say with reasonable certainty that the US government agreed to use its influence at the World Bank to fund a project prepared by Israeli experts.
The Maduru River basin had just attracted bad publicity and provoked a Tamil minister to protest loudly. However, Panditharatne had already marked out an area for Sinhalese settlement based on T.H. Karunatilleke’s report dated 10th October 1983. This was in Manal Aru (now Weli Oya) in the Mullaitivu District. We can be sure that Karunatilleke’s report and other information pertaining to the area were given to the Israelis by Panditharatne and Dissanayake, after the signing of the agreement.
One need not expect the Mahaveli Authority to have any documentation on this, since it did not get legally involved in Manal Aru until 1988. We may also surmise that Ravi Jayewardene was to oversee settlement in Manal Aru as the first of his projects.
The closeness of the US and Israel in this arrangement is exemplified by the singular fact that the Israelis were housed in the US embassy. The donors listed for downstream work in the Mahaveli Project were the USA, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and international agencies in- cluding the World Bank.
We then find things going awry. This is the import of Mrs. Penny Jayewardene’s remarks as reported by Ostrovsky. There could be many reasons. The two Arab states above were creating difficulties over Israeli involvement in Sri Lanka. Israeli experts may have found that there was no way they could slip the Manal Aru project past World Bank officials. It is a dry area with little irrigation. There was already a Tamil population there and India was bound to protest. The project was obviously bound to increase the level of violence sharply as did happen. Further, the sharp rise in the level of violence after Athulathmudali’s appointment as National Security Minister in March 1984, along with the Sri Lankan Army’s notoriety, would have made even covert US involvement more problematic. The liabilities were fast overtaking the expected returns.
There was another visit by General Walters about 22nd September 1984. It appears that on both sides expectations were not being fulfilled. Israel was not given full diplomatic status by Sri Lanka as originally promised. A company fronting the US Navy was awarded the tender for the oil tank farm in Trincomalee. The US however backed off from taking it. From what we understand no direct foreign funding went into the project in Manal Aru (Weli Oya), after its long delayed commencement in October 1984. The description of the project given by Don Mithuna (Sect. 13.14) points to resources from the ministries of science and industry (Mathew’s), agriculture and plantations being surreptitiously diverted into this project. These ministries had already been flexing their muscles in the Trincomalee district to the south of Manal Aru.
In conclusion, the essential core of the information given to us by Viktor Ostrovsky commends itself by its explanatory power. We can match events far better by accepting, rather than by rejecting, what he has said. The book angered the establishment in Colombo which had much to hide. Few of them would forgive Premadasa for appointing the Mossad Commission. Mervyn de Silva was among the few willing to give Ostrovsky the credit due. One has little difficulty in accepting that far from fibbing, there was genuine protest in Ostrovsky’s writing of the book.
To be continued..