By Rajan Hoole –
Formal talks between the Premadasa Government and the LTTE commenced in May 1989. Present at these sessions along with Premadasa, were Defence Secretary General Attygalle and cabinet ministers, among whom were, Ranjan Wijeratne, Wijayapala Mendis, Festus Perera, A.C.S. Hameed and Ranil Wickremesinghe. About July 1989 President Premadasa asked Attygalle to hand over to the LTTE a consignment of arms in accordance with a hand-written list, apparently given by the LTTE. Attygalle averred that this had not been discussed at the talks and that he had deleted heavy artillery and mortars from the list. He named Colonel T.M. Bohran and SSP Lionel Karunasena, Commandant STF, as among those who took part in arms deliveries and that Wanasinghe had got orders from his superior officers. The event also reveals Premadasa’s style of doing the important business secretively, through the back door.
According to Colonel Bohran who was then the Army’s Civil Co-ordinating Officer at Weli Oya, Defence Secretary Attygalle had once called him and asked him to ‘turn a blind eye to the LTTE’s activities in Weli Oya and not to care about their attacks’. In effect, this meant, ignore attacks on Sinhalese settlers. Later, he was called by General Cyril Ranatunge, who was in charge of Operational Head Quarters, and sent to the Army Commander (Wanasinghe). Wanasinghe had asked him to hand over a consignment of arms to the LTTE and keep it a secret. The total consignment passed on through several points included a thousand or more rifles, several hundred thousand rounds of ammunition, hundreds of RPGs etc. The Defence Ministry also cleared imports for the LTTE, which included communication spares, along with handcuffs and finger cuffs for its famous detention camps.
Attygalle claimed that Premadasa had told him that the weapons given to the LTTE were meant to neutralise the Tamil National Army set up with conscripts by the IPKF. Bohran had on the other hand testified that Deputy Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne had told him that the arms were meant to attack the IPKF as happened in Valvettithurai and Mannar in early August 1989. In Valvettithurai, the LTTE leader’s hometown, the LTTE breached an unofficial cease-fire in firing at an Indian Army patrol. There were reprisals against civilians by the IPKF, after which Ranjan Wijeratne went there to commiserate with the civilians. The Indians knew of the weapons handover.
The incident reveals how a President acting on astoundingly foolish political calculations could subvert the interests of the country and the Army by working through a defence establishment where real power was in the hands of retired generals, whose positions depended on the President’s will and pleasure. Note also how the operation was carried out in violation of proper channels of communication. General Ranatunge and Deputy Defence Minister Wijeratne had dealt directly with Colonel Bohran and the Army Commander Wanasinghe asked Bohran to do the job, by- passing his brigadier and major general, and asked him to keep it secret.
One also sees a certain cynicism here. Bohran is non-Sinhalese and belongs to a small minority group, and so makes a good scapegoat. He has been something of the Army’s scavenger, who had served long in Weli Oya, one of the Army’s dirtiest postings. Major Bohran was there in 1984 when, by intention, the convict settlers at Kent and Dollar Farms were harassing Tamil civilians and raping women, and then during the LTTE massacre. Five years later Colonel Bohran gave weapons to the LTTE in the same place. There was a military debacle in the region in November 1999 when Bohran was brigadier and again turned out to be a handy scapegoat. But it was not Bohran’s fault that communication channels in the Army had become muddled after many years of anarchy.
But more importantly, Wanasinghe and Bohran could have, unlike the retired generals, refused to handover arms to the LTTE. No action could have been taken against them, except perhaps to deny them the plums of post- retirement employment. Wanasinghe knew it was inimical to the Army’s interest to break relations with the IPKF in such a treacherous manner. Moreover, all those involved were collectively guilty of some of the gravest crimes. It involved handing over weapons belonging to the security forces to a potential enemy and the act in itself marked also the gravest breach of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, apart from the normal law and army regulations.
That it was done on the orders of the late President does not reduce their guilt in any way. The courts would not take a kinder view of a civilian who claims that he planted a bomb because his father, or even the President, had asked him to. The system may not have minded throwing Bohran to the wolves, although he did only the menial part. Despite the difficult years Bohran has put in at Weli Oya, there is no memorial to mark his service. Others have stolen the limelight. Weli Oya has a General Kobbekaduwe Street, a Colonel Janaka Perera Street and several more monuments named after the last personage. Bohran was to be seen and not heard.
*To be continued.. Next week – The Withdrawal of the IPKF
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here