By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 14
We mentioned earlier that links between the Premadasa faction of the UNP and the JVP had very much been the subject of speculation. That such links existed and featured in the choice of UNP targets by the JVP was strongly believed by the Jayewardene faction of the UNP as journalists have testified. The belief was also shared by police officers who have testified before commissions and also privately to us. But it has never been proved. A particular suspicion has been that a link existed through former Minister Sirisena Cooray and his brother-in-law and senior JVP leader Somawanse Amerasinghe, a brother of the former’s wife.
Based on the following, a former JVP leader thought that the relationship between the two was cold. After the JVP leaders were released from prison in 1977, they launched a house-to- house collection and collected Rs. 100,000/-. This was left by Amerasinghe at Cooray’s house. Later, according to this leader, Amerasinghe collected the money and informed the group that it was about Rs 10,000/ – short. They discussed it and Amerasinghe said he would get it back if necessary by stealing from Cooray’s house. The JVP decided to forget the matter, as they did not want to antagonise the UNP at that stage.
The JVP had been crushed by early 1990 and nearly all the leading members including Wijeweera, Gamanayake and Saman Ferando had been killed. Amerasinghe was the only figure who had evaded the security forces. A case of considerable interest came up before the High Court subsequently and was heard by F.N.D. Jayasuriya. A woman naval officer or wren (in British naval parlance) had forwarded an identity card application for a man who was purported to be her husband. Military Intelligence, which scrutinised such applications, became suspicious and checked back with the village headman in Madampe who had signed the application. They then went to the wren, who confessed that the man concerned was not her husband.
Military Intelligence found that the wren was working with one Captain Nissanka of the Navy to obtain an identity card for Somawanse Amerasinghe – an identity card is needed to apply for a passport. Nissanka has been absconding from that time. The two were indicted in court and Nissanka was sentenced in absentia. Following the change of government in 1994, the surviving JVPers including Amerasinghe were pardoned, and consequently the case against the wren was dropped. According to lawyers familiar with the details of the case, the two naval personnel had worked on getting an identity card for Amerasinghe to oblige persons very high up in the government of the day who solicited a favour. Finally, Amerasinghe is believed to have escaped to India by boat.
Why are the country’s ruling interests indifferent and even hostile to facing up to the truth about the assassinations of its leading personalities? Is the recent JVP rebellion something we can forget as a bad dream? Has not the history of which this is part, left the country’s moral fibre and institutions hopelessly impaired? Was it not a history that made the well being of people hostage to a union between politics and crime?
The continuing effect of this cannot be hidden by the simple assumption that the JVP in the virulent form it assumed has been destroyed, thanks to the security forces, and we can now sleep in peace. In many ways it has made the Tamil problem more difficult to resolve.
It has played an important role in further destroying the impartiality of the legal process upon which the credibility of the State ultimately rests. The Police and to some extent magistrates have become unabashed tools of the powers that be. What becomes of the office of the Attorney General when the incumbent is expected to accept report after report from the Police claiming that someone in custody died while resorting to violence in an escape attempt, knowing well the claim to be untrue? The AG’s job has virtually become one of damage limitation for the government of the day. What are we to make of the AG’s department and members of the judiciary who co-operated in the shoddy Udugampola affair? In early 1992 Udugampola was given notice of termination from the Police after having enjoyed highly
favoured status, and subsequently a magistrate’s order was issued impounding his passport. He was then asked to report for a CID investigation about human rights abuses.
He left the country illegally and flew back into the country from India after Premadasa was killed. Following talks with the new president, he agreed to disclaim his highly publicised allegations about Black Cats and ministers. Then came a staged high court appearance where he was granted bail. The charges against him were effectively dropped and he was given a sinecure as deputy director of the Ports Authority. What trust can one place on this system? This is only the surface of a very corrupt state.
Falsification is necessary for many to cover up their own role, their cowardice in complicity and their lack of any sense of honour. After all it is the erstwhile friends of Athulathmudali and the Press, who doted on his Oxford Union credentials and his role as National Security Minister, who were the most anxious to falsify the circumstances of his death. In so doing, they denied him any status of honour. Were it the LTTE that had killed him, it would have been a trivial event. But he died for defying the bosses of his own party, whose capabilities he clearly understood, and for ushering in an era where people could hope for benign change. Even if that is inconvenient for the ruling interests, the truth must be recorded to honour him for what was the laudable part of his career.
Despite the important role he played, the death of Ranjan Wijeratne remains a mystery – something so characteristic of a country where the legal process has suffered degradation. His death caused bafflement, and has ironically raised questions similar to those raised on account of the victims of his actions. Again we may have to look at the nebulous interface between politics and the underworld, which the LTTE too has taken advantage of like the JVP before it. We saw some indications of this in the assassination of Premadasa.
It is a fact of life in this country that good police officers have resorted to what the critique calls “brutally efficient” methods in dealing with captured JVPers. But was it really so efficient? Ethics and regulations governing police procedure come from long experience. When a conscientious police officer dealing with an insurgency finds that his professional training and ethics have become meaningless, while judicial procedures are seen to be unworkable, more than the insurgents, we must question the system – the State.
This is what we tend to miss when we conduct an argument without a deeper interest in what really happens below the surface. We often end up exonerating the system, which restored order by “brutally efficient” means. There are also other hard facts which have not been written about, but have been dropped in conversation and forgotten.
Many police officers did their duty during the JVP insurgency, harbouring deep cynicism about the political bosses in charge of the state machinery. They did believe that many or most killings of leading personalities, supposedly done by the JVP, were in fact orchestrated by Premadasa and his cohorts in the UNP. They did believe that there was collusion between the JVP and the Premadasa faction of the UNP until after Premadasa entered power. They were skeptical about holding leading JVPers in custody because they feared that they would be released by orders from the top.
To this day, they continue to function in the belief that there are close links between politicians of whatever hue holding the reins of power and the underworld. For this reason they are skeptical about bringing criminals to court and prefer ‘brutally efficient’ methods. The foregoing has given some insight into this side of the Sri Lankan reality. It has placed the country in a political culture of permanent crisis and permanent conflict where nothing works. The Commissions were necessary. The PA government did unfortunately not use them to reform the State. While continuing more or less the same unreformed structures, it has tried to shift the blame onto earlier regimes. The task of reforming the State has hardly begun. Indeed governments are singularly resistant to it (see Chapter 21).
To be continued..