Colombo Telegraph

Rajapaksa – Tiger Deal On WikiLeaks And Political Analysis

By Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

“Like many pundits, even Wickremesinghe, who brokered the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE and probably has the most direct experience dealing with the Tigers of any national leader, was surprised by the Tigers’ decision to enforce a boycott on the election.” US Ambassador to Colombo Jeffrey Lunstead informed Washington in November 22, 2005. According to the “confidential” cable written by the Ambassador, on November 22, the Ambassador met with Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the opposition United National Party (UNP) and unsuccessful candidate in the November 17 presidential election by a margin of fewer than 200,000 votes.

The Ambassador wrote, “Wickremesinghe expressed surprise that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) blocked Tamils in the north and east from voting – a move that probably cost him the presidency.”
“Ranil Wickremesinghe noted that he had not expected the LTTE to block Tamils from voting in the north and east. He speculated that if current president Mahinda Rajapakse had won the election with Tamils in those regions permitted to vote, then the LTTE might have made the case that Rajapakse’s Sinhalese nationalist supporters were intractable and unwilling to accommodate the Tamil minority. However, Wickremesinghe posited, the LTTE undermined that claim and squandered any potential international sympathy by not letting Tamils vote. He assessed that the Tigers had not accounted for the international condemnation that ensued from ‘hardliners’ within the LTTE deciding to prohibit Tamils from voting.”

Ranil analyses the election result

“Wickremesinghe said that the election commissioner turned down his request for re-polling in the north and the east. He also said he’d had reports that the French, Dutch, and Italian Ambassadors had pressured the EU observer team not to insist on re-polling. However, he said he won’t pursue the case in court, joking, ‘We can use that money for a good meal!’ He agreed with the Ambassador’s assessment that the LTTE’s campaign of voter intimidation would probably ensure that a re-poll would have probably yielded the same result. When the Ambassador asked about reports of names being stricken from voter rolls, Wickremesinghe replied that if the UNP voters whose names had been culled from election roll sheets had been permitted to vote, he would have ‘won the south.’” he further wrote.

According to Ranil’s analysis and the US diplomatic cable, it is clear that at the time of the 2005 presidential election neither Ranil nor the US were aware of what really took place behind closed doors. Many post-election post mortems were written as political analysis. For some people Rajapaksa’s victory was a clear indication against Ranil’s “peace process”, to some others, the people of Sri Lanka rejected Wickremesinghe’s “neo-liberal economic policies”. To Ravaya editor Victor Ivan Sri Lankan voters rejected two family dynasties, one was Bandaranaikes/Ratwattes and the other was Wickremesinghe/ Senanayakes, the ruling elites since Independence.

Were they really objective analysis? It is important to remember what really happened in the context of the 2005 presidential election because a sector of society still believes above analysis. Let us see the context in more detail. Since Ranil Wickremesinghe is often describes as an LTTE supporter and US supporter, it is better to read in context with leaked US diplomatic cables.

Rajapaksa – LTTE connections on WikiLeaks

According to the cable on December 15, 2005, the Ambassador met with the newly formed Sri Lankan Reconstruction and Development Agency’s newly appointed Chairman, Tiran Alles, and COO, Saliya Wickramasuriya, on December 5. Ambassador Lunstead wrote; “Alles is also rumoured to be a close confidant of the President, and is reportedly a liaison with the LTTE (this is unconfirmed and he did not discuss it with the Ambassador during this meeting).” That was the first time a US diplomatic cable mentioned the Rajapaksa – LTTE connections.

On February 12, 2007 Ambassador Robert O. Blake wrote a “Secret” cable updating Secretary of State saying;  “Meanwhile, newspapers are reporting a threat planted on a pro-Rajapaksa Web site that says the ‘head of Government will be finished in three months.’ This threat to the President has been linked to the chairman of a state organization, who is also a prominent businessman and newspaper publisher closely associated with recently sacked Minister of Ports and Aviation Mangala Samaraweera. All signs point to Tiran Alles, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Aviation Authority, often rumoured to be the GSL’s behind-the-scenes link to the LTTE. Local papers say the security forces will soon arrest this individual on charges of conspiracy and links to the LTTE. The President announced at a ruling party meeting over the weekend that there is an LTTE conspiracy to assassinate him. An Embassy journalist contact told a PAO FSN that Tiran Alles is at the centre of a web involving Sinhalese support to the LTTE.”

It was the media build up just after the abduction of three Sinhalese members of the Railway Services Trade Union for aiding the LTTE.
Placing a comment to the cable the Ambassador wrote, “Alles was previously trusted by the President to carry messages to the LTTE. Rumours abound that Alles helped co-ordinate the LTTE’s efforts to prevent voting in LTTE controlled areas, widely believed to be the reason for Rajapaksa’s electoral victory. However, the implication that Rajapaksa’s former Foreign Minister, through the connection to Maudima, may be involved in an assassination plot against the President strikes us as improbably baroque. It unclear whether the President is cracking down on Alles to get back at Samaraweera, who he sees as disloyal, or if the LTTE was actually employing Alles in an attempt to eliminate the President.

Mangala Samaraweera confirmed LTTE contacts

Ambassador Blake called on Ex-Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera at his residence on February 26, 2007 at Samaraweera’s request. Blake wrote after the meeting in a “Secret” cable that, “Samaraweera complained of harassment against his closest associates, especially former Aviation Chairman Tiran Alles (ref c). Samaraweera confirmed that Alles and Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s brother and advisor, had been in close and frequent contact regarding the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since 2004. (Note: Alles has LTTE contacts through his business activities in the North and East.) According to Samaraweera, the President also became good friends with Alles. The relationship between the two turned sour after the newspaper ‘Maudima,’ financed by Alles, began to criticize the President. Samaraweera insisted that the paper’s criticism was mild, but noted the President is very sensitive to the slings and arrows of the media. As the animosity grew, the Government began raiding Alles offices. On February 22, the Attorney General canceled Alles’s passport. The Terrorist Investigations Division, on orders from Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, arrested Maudima Publisher Dushyantha Basnayake on February 26.”

On June 1, 2007, Blake wrote in a “Confidential” cable “On May 30, 2007, the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) arrested Tiran Alles at the hospital where he was receiving treatment for complications associated with diabetes. According to Alles’ parents, the arrest came after approximately a week of interrogations by the TID regarding unspecified allegations that Alles violated the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) by aiding the LTTE.”

“Rumours have been rampant for months that Alles provided large sums of cash to the Tamil Tigers during the 2005 presidential campaign. Media outlets have reported that Alles gave money to the LTTE at the direction of then-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign manager, Mangala Samaraweera, and Rajapaksa’s brother Basil (ref A). According to these reports, Rajapaksa sought the aid of the LTTE to suppress Tamil votes, the vast majority of which would likely have been cast for Rajapaksa’s opponent, Ranil Wickremesinghe” Blake further wrote.

Alles filmed the Tiger deal

“Alles’ friend and former Deputy Minister of Ports, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, has been the most vocal about Rajapaksa’s alleged involvement in bribing the LTTE. He has continued to hurl these charges even after his arrest on March 17, 2007 for misuse of a government vehicle (ref B). The hostility between Sooriyarachchi, Samaraweera, Alles and Rajapaksa did not break out into the open until shortly before President Rajapaksa dismissed Sooriyarachchi and Samaraweera from their ministerial posts on February 9, 2007”.

Placing a comment Blake wrote, “Rumours that Sooriyarachchi possesses a video tape implicating Basil Rajapaksa in the LTTE bribery scandal have circulated for months. Some Embassy interlocutors claim to have seen parts of it. With the arrest of Tiran Alles, rumours are again swirling that Sooriyarachchi will publicly release the video. However, we have yet to see any concrete evidence that the video exists.”

On June 14, 2007, Ambassador Blake wrote, “United National Party (UNP) Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, citing the same grounds used by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) to arrest Tiran Alles (ref A), has called for the arrest of the President’s brother Basil Rajapaksa and other members of the President’s inner circle. Alles has documented his own involvement and the involvement of Basil and others in a secret agreement with the Tamil Tigers to suppress Tamil votes in the 2005 Presidential election.

Alles reportedly placed a sworn affidavit and a video disk of at least one secret meeting with the Tigers in a secure location for his attorney’s possible use in his legal defense. On June 13, Alles was released on bail, but while he was in court for his hearing, his house was reportedly ransacked and the video disk stolen.”

Basil conceded to US of the pre-election contacts with the LTTE

“Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told his United National Party parliamentary group that the President’s brother and advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Presidential Chief of Staff Lalith Weeratunga, and Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera were implicated in the alleged pre-election deal with the Tamil Tigers to assure Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election. They should therefore also be arrested, just as former Airport Authority Chairman Tiran Alles was. Alles’ sworn statement to the Terrorism Investigation Division reportedly accuses all three of having engineered a multi-million dollar payoff to the Tigers” Blake further wrote.

Blake wrote, “A confidential source within the FIU told us the government was apparently using the FIU to harass and intimidate Alles. The former head of the FIU had declined to sign the order freezing Alles’ accounts, saying there was no legal basis for doing so. He relented, under intense pressure from Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal, and signed the orders just days before his own resignation. Basil Rajapaksa conceded to Ambassador (ref B) that the pre-election contacts with the LTTE had taken place. It is not yet established that money changed hands in these meetings or what Kanthan may have done subsequently with the funds. However, the sensitivity of the Rajapaksas to the allegations is understandable. It is a historical fact that threats by the Tamil Tigers suppressed the Tamil vote not just in the areas they control, but in all districts of the Northeast. Even the suggestion of a deal with the Tigers is anathema to many of the president’s supporters, especially the JVP, parts of which have begun to distance themselves from the Rajapaksas (ref C). It still seems unlikely to us that the GSL can successfully prosecute Alles; the collateral damage to Basil and the other figures in the case would be enormous. Already, the heavy-handed efforts to neutralize Alles, former Foreign Minister Samaraweera and his understudy, Sooriyarachchi, have come at a high political cost and undermined the stability of the government. Alles’ release on bail may be a sign that the parties are again trying to settle their differences. If the new attempt is successful, the story will likely disappear.”

As Blake clearly predicted the story disappeared! Tiran was released without any charges, he is doing well now. The story disappeared. This is a story of a how Sri Lankan government can use Anti Terrorists laws against political opponents and also a story of, “how to steal the presidency and get away with it”. This is a lawless country and political analysts are still preaching, Ranil was rejected by the people, Rajapaksa has grassroots support, Ranil cannot win elections, etcetera, etcetera… What utter nonsense.

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