26 May, 2019

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Sri Lanka: Lionel Bopage On New Left party, Tamil Rights And State Repression

Lionel Bopage, former JVP general secretary.

By Peter Boyle –

April 17, 2012 — The Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) was launched in Colombo, Sri Lanka, amidst international media outcry about the illegal abduction of four of its activists in the lead up to the launch by security forces. Two of these abducteesPremakumar Gunaratnam (an Australian citizen) and Dimuth Atygalle (a prominent woman leader of the group) have since been released. Gunaratnam, who has been deported to Australia, says he was tortured before being released. Two other FSP activists are still being illegally detained.

The FSP comes from a major split from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (Peoples’ Liberation Front, JVP), a group which led two bloodily repressed insurrections in 1971 and 1987. Socialist Alliance’s Peter Boyle interviewed Lionel Bopage, a former general secretary of the JVP (1979-1984) who left the party because of the JVP’s opposition to the Tamil minority’s right to national self-determination.

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As a former general secretary of the JVP you are familiar with the type of repression being used by the Sri Lankan state against leftists, Tamil nationalists and other dissidents, but are you surprised at the continuing operation of secret death and torture squads after the total suppression of all armed oppositions?

No. I am not surprised at the continuing operation of death and torture squads by the state. Several major factors have contributed to this situation.

It is less well known that death and torture squads were originally formed during the 1988-89 period, when about 60,000 people were said to have been killed. Death and torture squads continued to operate during the war against the Tamil militancy. These squads are currently being used to suppress any active political opposition to the state. Opposition and human rights organisations allege that during the past six months at least 56 political activists and journalists have been abducted by armed men mainly in white vans; 29 of them occurred during February and March 2012. It is an open secret that these squads operate hand in glove with the government security forces. In addition, a huge military machine is being maintained and expanded. One cannot challenge the selective and discriminatory application of law according to the regime’s whims and fancies.

The main challenge facing sovereignty of developing countries such as Sri Lanka is neoliberalism. Neoliberal forces are waging a ruthless war on resource-rich countries the world under the pretext of combating terrorism and promoting democracy and human rights. In this environment, the Sri Lankan government received the full political, economic and military backing of almost the entire world. Apparently, the United States (which recently sponsored the UNHRC resolution) and India (which voted for the US resolution) provided their political and military backing on the understanding that at the end of the war, structural reforms will be made for addressing the political roots of the conflict.

The economic growth rate has declined. The Gini coefficient indicates that income disparities have grown significantly in the urban and estate sector and income has remained relatively static in the rural sector. The increase in consumption and service provision distribution is skewed in favour of the affluent in the land, in particular, geographically towards the western province. The burden of the current economic crisis is being placed on the shoulders of working people with public services being gradually cut down through privatisation policies following demands of the International Monetary Fund to reduce the budget deficit.

Recently, to avert the balance of payments crisis in Sri Lanka, the IMF released a loan instalment of about US$0.5 billion (as part of its $2.6 billion standby loan). As a result of the loan, there has been an 18% cap on credit growth, electricity and petroleum price hikes, devaluation of the rupee and a pledge to cut this year’s budget deficit to 6.2% of GDP. In addition to the recent tax increases made on alcohol, cigarettes and all imported vehicles, social services and jobs are expected to be axed, and fuel prices are to be raised once again.

The war [against the Tamils] has created additional disadvantages in the region of the North and East in terms of economic infrastructure, livelihood, health and education. The state’s cultural policies towards non-Sinhala people are designed and implemented to build the majoritarian support for discrimination and exclusion of non-Sinhala people so that the attention of the working people can be diverted from the significant socio-economic issues that prevail at the time.

It is in the best interests of the ruling elites for Lankan society to remain fragmented so that no united effort on the people’s part will threaten their power, control, interests and privileges of the regime. When a crisis looms, as our own historical experiences indicate, such layers and individuals will do everything at whatever cost to safeguard their regime.

Therefore, the Sri Lanka regime needs to have a public enemy both locally and internationally to divert the attention of the working people. The syndrome of a “new public enemy” that needs suppressing through a new insurgency seems to have been created soon after the termination of armed conflict in May 2009. In 2010, the state, its intelligence services and the government declared that they were aware of another insurgency to be launched soon using university students. This declaration was made in an environment of a crackdown targeting the university students across the country, aimed at suppressing opposition to its planned measures for privatisation of education.

It will be interesting to compare the repression the state launched in the 1988-89 period, which developed into a massive spiral of violence leading to the insurgency, killing about 60,000 people. Incidentally, several political and military personalities, who had been involved in serious human rights abuses such as disappearances, death and destruction on their political opponents at the time, continue to hold responsible positions under the current status quo.

It is in this light that one can understand the process of autocratic militarisation of all sectors of the island, heavy-handed measures used against the working people and the rural poor, and the dogmatically chauvinist ideological campaign carried out against the non-Sinhala people. So any protest against the government would become unpatriotic and traitorous based on the claim that there is a so-called western conspiracy against Sri Lanka.

So, the continuing operation of secret death and torture squads after the total suppression of the progressive forces in the country will continue.

What do you think brought about the release of Sri Lankan-born Australian citizen Premakumar Gunaratnam and his comrade from the newly formed Frontline Socialist Party? What is the fate of the two still in detention?

As far as I know, two out of the four persons of the newly formed FSP abducted are still in detention. FSP full-time political activists, Lalith Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganandan, were abducted on December 9, 2011. Despite the Sri Lankan state denying having anything to do with their abductions, certain news reports allege that they are being held and tortured on the 6th floor of the Police Welfare Building, located opposite the Manning Market in Colombo. This abduction, torture and disappearance phenomenon is allegedly implemented under the supervision of a certain deputy inspector general (DIG) of police in-charge of Colombo. It is also alleged that this torture chamber is being managed by a police inspector loyal to this DIG, who enjoys special privileges under the current defence establishment.

As usual, the state and the government immediately denied any role in the abductions of Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimithu Attygalle. The inspector general of police claimed that the police had deployed several teams to investigate. The foreign minister issued a statement after Gunaratnam’s release, saying the disappearances had occurred with the deliberate intention of causing embarrassment to the government and it was grossly unfair to point the finger at the state.

The debut of the new party, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) was to be held on April 9, two days after the abduction of Gunaratnam and Attygalle.

This new party emerged out of the old JVP and it seems to have wanted to make Gunaratnam, its leader. The state was aware of his involvement with the group and wanted to stop this new group from coming out. Last December, when his wife was visiting Sri Lanka, she had been followed by the state agents, and when she was leaving Sri Lanka, she was arrested, detained and questioned at the airport about her husband. Therefore, there is nothing surprising that he had to work clandestinely and under different names. Rohana Wijeweera, Podi Athula and Wimal Weerawansa are such well-known acquired names, while, internationally, Ho Chi Min, Lenin, Mao are also well-known acquired names.

Apparently, Gunaratnam fled to Australia in the 1990s and became an Australian citizen. It seems that he changed his name and returned to Sri Lanka in late 2011 to participate in FSP activities. Having heard of the abduction of their son, his parents requested the Australian High Commission to intervene. According to Gunaratnam, following the intervention by the Australian government, his abductors dumped him near a Colombo police station and told him to go there and surrender. The police then informed the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka, which supervised Gunaratnam’s deportation.

Gunaratnam and Attygale seem to have been detained at separate covert locations in Kiribathgoda (close to Colombo), they have been brought together for questioning and collaborating each of their responses by the abductors. Hence Gunaratnam knew that Attygale was held by the same agents that abducted him.

The questioning was about if the FSP had any links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) remnants, and if the FSP was readying itself for an armed struggle. As such, to deport Gunaratnam and to make Attygalle disappear would have been a political and diplomatic risk that the Sri Lankan state wanted to avoid at any cost, in particular, after the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution. This may explain the release of Attygale, after deporting Gunaratnam.

In my opinion, the first factor that led to their release was the urgent international publicity that the abduction of Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle received. Particularly, in the current international environment Sri Lankan state has encountered, the Australian High Commission’s intervention would have placed the Sri Lanka state in an awkward position. Thus, the course of action taken by the Sri Lankan state would have been to avoid a diplomatic embarrassment.

The second factor is that there was information leaked regarding where Gunaratnam had been detained taken after kidnapping. Such information would have come from certain individuals in the ranks, who either would have really been concerned of what the regime is doing in terms of kidnapping people violating their rights to freely engage in conducting their political activities democratically, or would have been disgruntled by the undemocratic behaviours of politicians and the top brass of the security forces.

The exact nature of what happened leading to their release is not clear. I believe it will take some time and those reasons will become known in due course.

For a certain time, after you left the JVP, that party supported the Sri Lankan government’s war against the Tamil independence movement but now it is seen as an opposition party. Why is this? And what are the politics of the FSP split from the JVP?

Though I can express my opinion regarding this situation, the best person to respond to this question would be Premkumar Gunaratnam himself.

In fairness to the newly emerging FSP, I need to say that at its first congress, it issued a new policy declaration and a self-criticism of the JVP past, which is not yet available here in Australia, so it is too early to make a critical assessment of its current political positions.

Gunaratnam’s visit to Sri Lanka has been to work with his former colleagues in the JVP who thought that the party’s strategic political approach needed a complete overhaul: mainly, regarding the use of violence as a means of social change, to actively engage in changing the authoritarian rule in Sri Lanka through democratic means, and changing its previous chauvinistic approach towards the national question.

I would characterise the JVP as a semi-proletarian movement of the rural youth, landless peasants, the unemployed and other oppressed sections of the Sri Lankan society. The main aim of the JVP was achieving social justice for the oppressed and equitable resource and income distributions. However, petty-bourgeois thinking, vacillation and opportunism have prevailed in its ideological positions.

In its history, the JVP has gone through several different policy positions regarding the national question. Between 1971 and 1983, the JVP recognised, in principle, the Leninist position on right of nations to self-determination. However, it continuously rejected agitating for the rights of non-Sinhala people. In the face of discrimination and repression against the Tamil people, the JVP central committee remained deadly silent. At the beginning of 1983 there was no difference between what the JVP was advocating and what an orthodox parliamentary party would have been advocating on the national question.

In July 1983 by concocting a conspiracy, the UNP government proscribed the JVP and drove it underground. In 1985, the JVP decided to build an underground organisation and to use the national question in an opportunistic manner to gain political power. Instead of relying on people power, in late 1985, the JVP had based their hopes on arms. 1986 saw a major shift in the JVP’s approach towards the national question. The JVP terror campaign in earnest appeared to have begun in 1987, with the Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya’s (DJV, Patriotic Peoples’ Movement) decision to declare curfew and kill civilians who do not abide by its orders. The government sponsored July 1983 pogrom against the Tamils had exacerbated the Tamil militancy in the north-east which by then has become a full scale civil war. In mid-1987 India airdropped supplies over the north east to prevent a full-scale invasion of the Jaffna Peninsula by the Sri Lankan state.

Since the 1990s, the JVP was traversing the right-wing route. It made a major shift towards class collaboration with the bourgeois leadership of the PA, thus taking a comparable route traversed by the old left in the 1960s. The JVP agitation was based on the claim that Sri Lanka’s, national independence and sovereignty were in grave danger. They opposed negotiations with the LTTE unless they drop the demand for separation and disarmed, which was politically equivalent to a complete surrender.

Worst was their statement that there has been no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. With regard to the national question they joined hands with Sinhala chauvinist groups. Condemnation of terror by the JVP was one-sided. While condemning the terror campaigns conducted by the LTTE, they praised the terror campaigns conducted by the security forces as patriotic.

The JVP became pawns in the hands of reactionary political forces of the worst kind in the history of Sri Lanka. Sadly, many in the left have helped and are still helping bourgeois ruling elites in diverse ways to implement their neoliberal agenda. No wonder the left is in crisis in Sri Lanka.

It is in this light that we need to critically look at what the emerging FSP is attempting to do. There are lot of antagonisms regarding what [its members] have done in the past. However, we of the left need to welcome and encourage any positive change in their political direction, even if we do not agree with their political agenda and line of action in their entirety. It is only through the united action of those in the left in collaboration with those who value democratic and human rights and rule of law, that Sri Lanka will be able to come out from its current precarious situation.

[The Lionel Bopage Story: Rebellion, repression and the struggle for justice in Sri Lanka by Michael Cooke
(Agahas Publishers 2011), 566 pp, A$25.00 is available from Resistance Books. A review of this book by Ben Courtice can be read here. A review by Dr V. Suryanarayan can be read here.

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

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Latest comments

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    An excellent article Lionel, very good analysis

    Worst was their statement that there has been no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. With regard to the national question they joined hands with Sinhala chauvinist groups. Condemnation of terror by the JVP was one-sided. While condemning the terror campaigns conducted by the LTTE, they praised the terror campaigns conducted by the security forces as patriotic

    Thanks for exposing JVP´s double moral

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    This Bopage is another JVP goon that used to preach so-called socialism and caused another calamity in 1971 in Sri Lanka. Because of this aimless leadership how many young valuable lives got perished invain?

    Now having a luxury life in Aus. Hey Bope are you enjoying that socialism over in Kangarooland?

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      Bopage the former Marxist terrorist now retired in capitalist Australia.Damned frauds!

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        He still wants to cash in from the mayhem he was a part of. What a crook!

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        Isnt your king Mahinda & his brothers fraudsters who swindled Tsunami funds,Gold & Cash worth millions from LTTE, didn’t they divert LTTE money to their foreign accounts through KP for his security, didnt they intimidate Lalith Kotelawala & seize many of his properties.
        Arent they criminals to shield another criminal & Drug dealer Duminda Silva Mervyn silvas & Max Silva you, how many criminals they have pardoned serving sentences in prison.

        How many companies acquired by fraudulent means through their proxy companies.

        By abducting they have become killers & Murderers, we have ample evidence to prove Mahinda & Gota behind these abductions.

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        Max Silva:
        Is there truly no end to your hypocrisy? You and your masters have clasped those merchants of death from the LTTE – Karuna, KP etc. etc. – to your bosoms and yet you have the effrontery to accuse Bopage of duplicity! Look in a mirror sometime, you piece of you-know-what!

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    Who is Bopagae Lional?What his background of politicial history!
    He enter into politics last year in Univeristy of Peradiniya. He even not READ Communist Manifistro of Marx when he during and after join JVP with PDN Wijeweera.
    He was just oriniary student,not activily involve with any student movement during his studentship until 1968!He was friend of Justin (Sartah) Fernando who had been enter into university form Kegalle. He who influance for his politicial guidence.Until 1968 Peradeiniya (Groupe of low cast- Padu kandayam leader of Ranhami-alais-Sarath Wijesinghe) lead to join PDN Wijeweera, terrorist out-fit; overnight RECIVED FIVE lessons of JVP classes Bope become member of terrorist gang.Then he approch by The Wijeweera being closed to him by cook or hook.He had been kiking upstaris by Wijweera,until he left JVP; he was hand pick by JVP leader and he was very loyal TO Wijeweera,being ANTI-TAMIL, SINHALESE CHIVANIST.Until he left JVP he was ANTI-TAMIL AND SINHALESE CHIVANIST!Now he perach socialism for people of Sri Lanka. HIS THROEY OF RIGHT OF SELF -DETERMINIATION IS HIPOCARCY OF SOCIALISM! Since in oversees and Sri Lankan he was TRAIN BY VATICAN MORBUIND ROMAN EMPIRE OF CATHILOT CURUCH.NEEDLESS TO SAY HE BELIVE BIBAL OF GOD MORE THAN SOCIALIST MINDSET.

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      @ Senaka Siriwardene
      Stupid Ignorant comment Lionel in Australia for the past ten years, he didnt enter University last year, he has read Marxism maybe before you were born, mind you he was not antiTamil, he left Jvp because their Bhuddhist Chauvanism hard line policy.

      Before commenting go improve your English.

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      Senaka Siriwaredana
      In case nobody noticed, you are probably a bigger IDIOT than Max Silva!

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    You guys, who has written this article? Not Lionel!

    Again an evidence you never read before writing your bullshit!

    Peter Boyle, ever heard his name, check in google and wish you a pleasant sleep!

    Dream from “No Fire Zones, War Crimes and The Haig Courts”

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      Vasu,
      Hurt pretty bad,ah!Now that your savior “Velu”taking his right place in hell,you grab on to anything and anyone in trying to fulfill your goddamn daydream.What a pathetic show on display!Now you expect to have a piggyback ride,ah!But unfortunately it is some others who are going on a piggyback ride on the shoulders of you stupid defeated Tamil Tigers turned Hyenas.Lionel Bopage,Bomba Gunda,Doc Brian are all waiting for you to take them on your piggyback ride.To where?To the bank to cash in the $$$$.Oh!you poor soul!I need to hire your rickshaw,first go to my kitchen and eat whatever is left,there’s a long grueling journey ahead for you.Destination?If you act as the defeatists will will have mercy on you.If not destination”Nandikadal”.

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        God bless your soul!

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    Hey Podiyan Vasu

    Pull your wetti down and cover up your LTTE tiger tail becuase we all can see that.

    Whoever this Peter Boyle, it appears that he is on LTTE bandwagon.

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      Huna Kaka
      You sound suspiciously like that Max [Edited out] Silva. Own up you ……………!

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    JVP very incepation was anti-Tamil politicial party. You have no-knowlegde of history of JVP political movement in Sri Lanka.Bope join JVP 1968 as third year student in Peradiniya campus.He ever-never read Communist Manisfctro.Even his knowledge of socialism is very very poor.
    Asked him why he join JVP as terrorist-anachist out-fit in 1968 May?
    What was policy of JVP .How many TAMIL CARDES IN JVP VERY BEGINING SINCE 1965?
    why PDN Wijeweera opposed Nagaligam Shamugadasa as Tamil leadrship of Ceylon Communist Party.On the basis of His Tamil-origin. Bope knew anti-Tamil policy of JVP very well.

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    you kind of people manged to escaped from the country while thousand of innocent poor young people living in the hand of butchers.you can make some money and have good time in your new country.JVP is on the way to borralla kannatha.

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    JVP

    JVP has blood in their hands,whether they are the old JVP or the new JVP,these people do not care for a race culture religion or family ties,they will be willing even to kill their own parents,they killed many just because they were UNP supporters or had kept their shops open,or drove a private bus in spite of warnings,or went to work like the great song writer Premakeerthi de Alwis,or a leader of a rival party like Vijaya Kumaratunge, because they felt that these people were against their movement or their ideology,one can only imagine how dreadful it would be if they ever come to power, some of the JVP leaders are expert speakers giving logical arguments,convincing gullible youths,but though they are expert speakers they are not so pragmatic,as the saying goes “lots of thunder but no rain,some of the JVP’ers I knew were very lazy & jealous of other people’s success’s, & ever ready to criticize any hard-working man earning money as a capitalist, I am sure the new JVP has plans to start another bloodshed,even if they deny it, I do not trust them,the leopard will never change its spots even if it changes the forest,some time ago before the war ended a group of breakaway JVP’ers had joined hands with the tamil tigers,(they were called the “Sinhala tigers”) to try & overthrow the government,their fairytale plan was to overthrow the government & give the north & the east to the LTTE, & to run the government in the South,they were thinking that once they overthrow the government they can establish a socialist state & can live happily ever after like a fairy tale,
    I am not against passive socialism in a democratic society, but we have now come to a key crossroad ,it is the duty of the parents to guide the misled youth who will fall prey to these foolish ideologies, while even the renowned communist countries like Russia & China are changing, I once told a russian lady that some Srtilankan youths wanted to overthrow the elected government & establish a ultra left government,she laughed & said “we were under communist rule for a long time & we know how hard it is,you people have not tasted it”.
    I already survived a bomb explosion where a colleague of mine died during the 30 years of brutal war,I do not wish to see another uprising,with bombs exploding in buses,markets,schools& youths being burnt on tyres ,etc..this is my frank opinion perhaps people who are inclined towards JVP ideology will not appreciate what I say but I thought of writing this because of the love I have for my country,Though there were periods of declinations or stagnations in the history of mankind, humanity should evolve & will,communist ideas had been tried out & experimented in many countries,& after many years slowly it started to unravel,one should go deeper into the subject & analyse to find out why it failed,if one is intelligent one should not swallow every word as the gospel truth that Karl Marx or Lenin preached, certainly there were positive aspects in these theories,one should inquire why the people of those communist bloc countries got fed up with communism,& during the cold war why did east Germans try to defect to west Germany risking their lives of being shot at or by crossing mine fields in the process (My German teacher took the risk of running to cross the east German border while bullets shot by east German guards were whizzing past her head) ,why did Cubans take risks of trying to cross the shark infested ocean in inflated rubber tubes to reach the USA side,even today we hear of starving north Koreans taking enormous risks to defect,but it didn’t happen vice-versa, even the theoretician Mr.Kumar Gunaratnam, of the newly formed Frontline Socialist Party – FSP,instead of going to Cuba,or North Korea,migrated to a renowned capitalist country Australia from where he gives counselling on the telephone on the evil nature of capitalism & its dangers & the importance of overthrowing the democratically elected Srilankan government,to the FSP working committee,same can be said of Mr. Lional Bopage whom I believe live in “Capitalist white governed Australia”all the while enjoying the freedom & comforts offered by the democratically elected capitalist Australian government. I have spoken to many people from the former communist bloc countries & learnt much,democracy offers the people to choose a government & kick them out if they dont like them,& the freedom to create new ideas innovations machines,poetry essays paintings etc…without any political hindrance, on the other hand there are negative aspects of Capitalism too, in the united states there is a big gap between the poor & the rich, if you are poor & lazy it would be hell there, but if you are hard working even if you are poor,you have a chance of coming up in life,I am not totally against socialism or capitalism,one should amalgamate the best ideas of the two.

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    This is one of the best ever comments I have seen in these discussions Tissa.

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    @Tissa

    I can only say you are a sucker of capitalist media lies.

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    When one reads a well written article, the discerning reader immediately begins to appreciate and respect the writer, as he or she naturally identifies decency, knowledge, insight, analytical skill, skill of making comparative analogies, sicere debate etc.

    However, the prejudiced, violently indoctrinated and blind reader would probably look for how extensively, the writer deviates from the reader’s world-view and severely programmed mind, and then begins to repeat his invective on the others at large.

    The cases in point above, also want some notoriety. If he is unsuccessful in getting the attention he craves, in legitimate ways that have respect, he will resort to nasty methods. This is somewhat akin to a child, not getting his parent’s attention when he tries to show them a badly drawn picture, proceeds to break a vase or ornament, simply so that he gets the attention, even if it involves a public berating or condemnation…..

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    Bopaga Lional was working with JVP terroeist-anachist out-fot since 1968 to up 1983,almost 15 full years.He knew JVP was Chavanist and anti-Tamil party like other UNP and SLFP MEP Helauramaya and other parties.He knew form of struggle of JVP was base on armed gun-point violance.(Bopega) HE had been working as high post of self-begotten SG of JVP knowing principle line of policy of JVP being CHAVINIST PARTY AND ANACHIST out-fit.Now he says he is for right of self-determanation of Tamils!How can you belive this tratior in what context?
    How L.Bopega be EXONERATE from all politicial crimes he had committed during his 15 years in JVP politics.How can BOPAGE LIONAL become NEW MAN FOR 2ist SOCIALISM IN ANY PART OF WORLD.?

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    SIRI LANKA JOKERS

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