By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 10
On 18th May 1983, Jayewardene in a bid to show that the UNP was popular despite parliamentary elections not being held and to improve the ‘quality’ of his MPs, held bye- elections in 18 constituencies where the UNP had lost during the December 1982 Referendum. The Kesbewa electorate to the south-east of Colombo containing Piliyandala was one of these. The new contestant first proposed by the UNP was Srinal de Mel, the JSS secretary. This was turned down by the UNP working committee on the grounds that he was too unpopular. It was then Srinal de Mel who proposed Lokuge, his friend and businessman. Thus Lokuge came in as a protégé of the JSS bosses Cyril Mathew and de Mel. Lokuge was one of those who invested in Trincomalee in the wake of Mathew’s patriotic crusade, which held out good pickings for followers. Lokuge took over Welcombe Hotel and waxed eloquent in Parliament about the “Sinhalese banding themselves together” for defence during the June ’83 violence in Trincomalee (Sect.5.6).
Indeed, he had proved his mettle at the bye- election the previous month which was literally fought tooth and nail with the resources of the State, CTB buses, JSS goons and local thugs. His victory was phenomenal, polling 27,721 votes against 23,962 by his SLFP opponent Dickson Perera. The corresponding UNP and anti-UNP votes were 25,576 and 29,831 respectively at the presidential election and 21,487 and 25,061 respectively at the Referendum. This meant a turn-around by about 4000 voters in favour of the UNP. By comparison K. Jayakody of the UNP managed to achieve a turn-around of only about 1000 votes against Vijaya Kumaratunge at Mahara, in the heartland of the forces of Mathew and Wickremasinghe and after the abduction of 25 SLFP polling agents and the shooting of one supporter.
Thus did Lokuge earn his spurs as part of Jayewardene’s campaign to roll-up the electoral map of Sri Lanka. The Press and especially the Sun credited the UNP, which had won 14 out of the 18 bye-elections, with retaining the support of the people. Some of the new blood brought in acquitted themselves as knights in shining armour in the one-sided fight against the Tamils in July 1983 using the same forces with which they fought the elections. Piliyandala was one of the staging areas for the July 1983 violence.
Like every good UNPer who follows the leader of the moment, Lokuge later performed the same loyal services for Premadasa. After the DUNF split away from the UNP, Lokuge did his duty by the leader. On 7th April 1993, a DUNF team was returning after a meeting at Madapatha, Piliyandala, addressed by Athulathmudali. A group of them was stopped by a mob led by Deputy Minister for Tourism Gamini Lokuge. They were assaulted, a vehicle damaged, and one of them testified to being assaulted with hands and kicked in the abdomen by Lokuge himself. Later in the evening when they went to Piliyandala police station to lodge a complaint, they found Lokuge occupying the chair of the OIC.
Addiris Costa had been around even after the Daya Pathirana murder, and given his nature there was no reason for Lokuge to seek an open confrontation with the JVP. It was by April ’87 a significant force with incidents being reported frequently. The Pathirana case too had fizzled out with the worsening situation. With the UNP and the JVP both linked to the Piliyandala underworld, the logical policy would have been as far as possible to ‘live and let live’. This would have become more difficult from July 1987 when the JVP unleashed violence against the UNP and as Chadraprema tells us, the situation did become difficult in the Piliyandale underworld. The violence invaded not only gangs but also families. Addiris Costa’s father’s elder brother was a well-known UNP supporter, but with no underworld links. Many families were thus caught up in a painful dilemma where the question of life and death had rendered party- connection thicker than blood.
We had mentioned earlier that Mavittara Sarath the UNPer and Mahipala the JVPer were reputed to have been in hold-up operations together. Another UNPer in this line of business was Kalki of Horana. In the course of 1987, the UNP and JVP sections of the underworld were drifting apart. Mahipala and Addiris Costa were involved in a robbery in Jaela to collect money for the JVP. (In such robberies, Mahipala kept part of the loot.) Mahipala had dropped his identity card at the scene of the crime and was arrested by the Police. Costa went underground. When the JVP started targetting UNPers, one of the first to be killed in the area was Magammana Veda Mahattaya (Native Doctor) of Halpita, Kesbewa. The alarm was out and there was the threat of open warfare between the UNP and JVP sections of the underworld.
A particular episode illustrates this polarisation. Gunaratne says in his book that on 2nd December 1987, a security guard of the Kesbewa MP was shot at with a pistol and injured. The injured man was in fact Mavittara Sarath. Though injured, Sarath reportedly saved himself by riding his motor cycle into the Piliyandala police station. On the night of 3rd December, the following day, an armed party raided the home of Addiris Costa and abducted his wife Dayaseeli and her mother, took them some distance and shot dead Dayaseeli. Her mother was left grief stricken, crying over her daughter’s corpse on the roadside. Although allegedly done with the help of the local police, the people of the area associate the incident with the UNP.
On this night Addiris Costa and two other JVPers, Nimal Balasuriya and Mahipala, are said by local sources to have been given refuge by Chandana Kathriarachchi. Balasuriya had earlier driven a bus owned by family of Kathriarachchi. The latter became a JVP target after joining Vijaya Kumaratunga’s SLMP, and in turn became closely associated with the PRRA, which hunted the JVP.
Dayaseeli’s episode appears to have been a breaking point. The incident is also notable for the fact that it was the first time during the insurgency that a woman was killed in a reprisal attack. The cruelty and the sadism involved in it had the markings of gang warfare.
Another factor is of significance for our inquiry. It was about the same time that Mavittara Sarath was attacked that Terrence Perera was also killed. If it were true that Lokuge’s gun was used in killing Perera, it is unlikely to have been from any direct link between Lokuge and the JVP. The active hostility seen in December 1987 may have eased in the months to come as sections of the UNP made overtures to the JVP. It was a game of survival. We may roughly distinguish three phases. Between the time of the Accord in July 1987 to about the end of the year, it was open warfare between the JVP and UNP. The bomb attack in Parliament on 18th August 1987 was ostensibly meant for Jayewardene, but it was Premadasa sitting next to him who was slightly injured – a cut below the knee. During 1988, the JVP’s targets for assassination from the UNP were carefully selected. There was also an expectation that with Premadasa chosen as presidential candidate, attacks on the UNP would cease. From the time in early 1989 that the JVP turned down Premadasa’s overtures, it was back to outright confrontation. We do know that the JVP made at least two attempts on Lokuge. One was reportedly thwarted by the attackers running into a naval patrol and the other by two of the attackers stepping into a well in the dark. The JVP is said to have killed several dozens of persons in the area on account of their being supporters of the UNP or Lokuge. But Lokuge certainly had lines of communication with the JVP and there was a common interest in limiting the conflict in the underworld. But by 1989 things had got out of control.
Thus if there is any truth in the claim of Lokuge’s gun having been used in one or more of the assassinations under reference, it is very likely to have been through loose underworld links. It would have been in some circumstance similar to the use of Mavittara Sarath’s van in the Daya Pathirana killing.
To the reasons given by the Commission for accepting Dias Dahanayake’s account of what Tarzan Weerasinghe told him, one may add another. It fits well with the staging of the assassinations from Piliyandale. If the source of the weapon in that account were an invention, it served no purpose since no one was directly implicated. It also appears that Lokuge and Dahanayake are total strangers. According to Dahanayake, Tarzan Weerasinghe also told him that with the help of a security guard attached to Lokuge, he left the country for a time to work in the Middle-East. Interestingly Lokuge was the first accused in a case at the Panadura High Court, in which he and five of his supporters were indicted by the Attorney General with unlawful assembly causing mischief and damage to property (CDN 19.8.99). The second accused Bernard Ramya Kumara de Costa of Piliyandale was away from this country on foreign employment and the Court issued a warrant for him.
Given the close links enumerated between the UNP and JVP-sections of the underworld in Piliyandale, the supposed use of a gun belonging to Lokuge’s security detail by JVP assassins in the climate of early 1988 may not be readily explained, but is not an absurd suggestion. There was no need to invent it. It is to some extent quite natural in operating in the climate of the underworld, where one does not ask too many questions about another’s use of one’s equipment.
To be continued..