By Rajan Hoole –
1989: The Eclipse of the JVP and the Perplexity of the Left – Part 3
The PRRA (Peoples Revolutionary Red Army)
The core of the PRRA was drawn mainly from the SLMP (Sri Lanka People’s Party). It also had close links with the ISU (Independent Students’ Union) whose leader Daya Pathirana had been killed by the JVP and its new leader Dharmasiri was under threat and was killed in the latter half of 1989. Another group SRRA (the Socialist Revolutionary Red Army) had similar connections. The account below relies mainly on a police report.
The beginnings of the PRRA are connected with the formation of death squads, mainly under leading UNP politicians. With the multiplication of these squads, they were loosely linked through a hierarchy of government politicians, military co-ordinating officers and police officers. The North Western Province (NWP) was divided into two areas coming under Cabinet Minister Festus Perera based in Wennapuwa and Chief Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera based in Kurunegala. Security meetings were held in these two locations with security officials, and decisions to be carried were made by these politicians. Decisions were also taken about those who did not co-operate. Colonel Janaka Perera was made co-ordinating officer for the NWP from about the end of 1988.
The antecedents of the PRRA were some men of the PLOTE, a Tamil militant group, based at Festus Perera’s house. [These PLOTE members may be those connected with Uma Prakash. Members of this faction who went to India after the internal killing of Uma Maheswaran in July 1989, were brought back from India reportedly after discussions with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe for security operations in Colombo in 1993.] Those based in Wenappuwa are said to have been used to carry out assassinations. They ‘disappeared’ after becoming a nuisance through indulging in unauthorised criminal activities on their own. [Interestingly, Uma Prakash faced a similar fate in early 1994.]
About the same time as the PLOTE men disappeared, about March 1989, killer teams were formed based on police districts commanded by ASPs. These teams were formed of CSU (Counter-Subversive Unit) members and in the NWP. They were based in Wennappuwa, Chilaw, Puttalam, Nikeravetiya, Kurunegala, Kuliyapitiya, Mahawe and one or two other places. Several men in different units who did not take part are said to have been eliminated. Some who left the CSU had become traumatised.
The PRRA put up posters in the Southern Province threatening the JVP and their first killing of an alleged JVPer was reported from Matara in November 1988. Their initial arms were those given to Socialist Alliance candidates who took part in the April 1988 provincial councils elections. It enhanced its striking capacity by getting trained militants from the Tamil group TELO. Their contact was through a TELO leader Suresh. They became active in the NWP about March 1989 where they worked in co-operation with the CSU killer squads. Sarath(Podi) Silva (PS) was the leader of this group from 1989 to1991. Testimony about his movements and contacts comes from PS’s diary as well as from Suriyaratne alias Siripala who worked as a driver for the group.
PS’s contacts among politicians ranged from UNP cabinet ministers Festus Perera and Ranil Wickremasinghe to several Left politicians, mostly of the SLMP. Among the senior politicians mentioned are Y.P. Silva (SLMP and ex-CP) and Bernard Soyza (LSSP). This suggests that there was at least a reluctant consensus among the Left about responding to the JVP threat. PS himself had belonged to the SLMP.
There are also on record discussions with leaders of some Tamil groups. There are on record two meetings (April and May) with Colonel Janaka Perera who supplied them with weapons. Among these weapons were 2 AK 47s and 2 SLRs. The report points to the PRRA having connections with the Black Cat operation in Batalanda with which Ranil Wickremasinghe has been associated. On the 19th June 1989 PS is recorded as having gone to meet Mr. Wickremasinghe with Dharmasiri (ISU leader?)
where also present were Ossie Abeygoonesekera and DIG Merril Gunaratne. Three days later PS and Dharmasiri met with DIG Gunaratne and also SSP Douglas Peiris and SP Gamini Silva, the persons running, supervising or allied to the Batalanda operation.
There are references in PS’s diary to the medical professional, whose role seems to have been pivotal with regard to getting help from the State. The following diary entries are of interest. All refer to the year 1989:
5th Jan: Met Minister and brought TELO team.
20thJan: Gave the assignment to Rajitha Senaratne.
21st Jan: Decided to kill Gabriel.
25th Jan: Final day of Divaina reporter.
1st Feb: Brought 2 girls.
6th Feb: Gave 9mm (revolver) to Rajitha.
3rd Mar: Ossie & YP came to residence (in Mattakuliya).
18th Mar: Met Commander Janaka Perera.
30th Mar: Met MPC Kesbewa (Kathriarachchi).
31stMar: Met MPC Kesbewa & Dr. Rajitha Senaratne. It was successful.
20th Apr: Met Janaka Perera in Kurunegala.
12th May: Both vehicles went in the night and financially settled both people. Rohana was shot.
25th May: Met Janaka Perera again.
8th Jun: Stayed the night with Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.
9th Jun: Had discussion with Pathmanathan [our note: EPRLF leader Pathmanabha?] at 11.00 AM.
19th Jun: Meeting with Ranil Wickremasinghe and DIG along with Dhamasiri and Ossie.
22nd Jun: Meeting with DIG Merril Gunaratne along with Dharmasiri.
24thJuly: Had a discussion with Pathmanathan……
PS was based at the HQ, which was the house of Shelton Nonis, an SLMP member of the provincial council, in Wenappuwa. Apart from the domestic staff, about 40 were employed there. A similar operation, we understand was run from the house of Chandana Kathriarachchi of Piliyandala, a Western Provincial Council member, also from the SLMP. Siripala, a driver who worked for PS, testified that he once went to the latter place from which they brought 3 detainees. He does not know what happened to them. PS’s group was given a Pajero and a Mazda vehicle and borrowed other vehicles when required. They once took Festus Perera’s Pugeot 504 to carry out an assassination in Dummalasuriya. They also had a centre at or near Dankotuwa Police Station.
The PRRA functioned as a unit involved in death squad operations planned by the CSU. Among the planners listed in the report are SP Gunatileka (Gadaffi) and SP Gamini Silva. Before going on operations the PRRA is said to have taken instructions from one or more of several police officers including SSP Solagararachchi and SP Alwis of Dankotuwa. A sample from their operations is given below:
25.1.89 -Went to Dankotuwa, met Alwis. That was the last day the Divaina reporter lived.
20.6.89 – Went in the night with Alwis and settled Ossie’s financial account.
26.6.89 – Met Alwis and did a round up with him. Went to Mankulama and brought a watcher [of an estate].
July ’89 – At Haladawatawana school shot one person and arrested another.
May ’89- Took a detainee from Dankotuwa Police Station and shot him dead at Koduwai. Shot dead someone coming after service from Katuneriya Church.
Also reported are the arrest of Peter Thanisius Fernando who was released after a payment of Rs. 10,000, and the killing of 2 TELO members.
Another case of extortion is reported in the diary as follows:
29th Jul: Brought Marshal and kept under custody.
Went at 6.00 AM to Marshall’s house and received Rs. 5 lakhs.
The latter stages of the operation in the second half of 1989 were characterised by mass killings. The CSU groups in Chilaw, Puttalam, Kurunegala, Gampaha and Colombo districts worked together, switching vehicles and abducting from different areas where the officers were unknown. No one could identify who abducted whom. Dead bodies from Negombo, Gampaha, and Peliyagoda (i.e. Batalanda) were dumped into a large cave in Ruwanwela that the river flows into.
The testimony above transpired in an investigation done by L.G. Wimon Perera, Chief Inspector, Chilaw Police, in mid 1997. The report was sent to DIG Dr. Dharmadasa Silva. The investigation was taken over by the CID and is for practical purposes, stalled.
We may note that a part of this story which transpired in the Police investigation into the PRRA, runs into and complements that reported by the Batalanda Commission. The Commission comprised Justice D. Jayawickrama, Court of Appeal, and Hon. N. E. Dissanayake, High Court, Colombo. The Commission found (vide CDN 18.12.99) Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, then minister for science and industries and Mr. Nalin Delgoda, then SSP Kelaniya, indirectly responsible for the maintenance of the ‘unlawful detention and torture chambers’ in certain houses of the Batalanda Housing Scheme. These chambers were used by CSU (Counter Subversive Unit) men under ASP Douglas Peiris.
The Commission moreover found that unauthorised security meetings were held in two houses in the Batalanda Scheme that were assigned to Minister Wickremasinghe. Merril Gunaratne DIG, Greater Colombo; Nalin Delgoda, SSP, Kelaniya; Douglas Peiris, ASP, CSU; and Raja Dias, ASP are named as some of the police officers who attended these unauthorised security meetings. The Commission observed that these officers tookorders from provincial and national politicians (two other UNP MPs in the locality were John Amaratunge and Joseph Michael Perera) and on their own admission received promotions and other benefits through politicians (Sunday Times 12.4.98).
IGP Ernest Perera testified that at Mr. Wickremasinghe’s bidding, he had the lawyer Liyannarachchi brought from police custody in Tangalle and handed over to the ‘special team’ under Douglas Peiris on 1st Sept. 1988. Liyannarachchi was hospitalised about midnight on the 2nd and succumbed shortly afterwards.
What we have from the story of the PRRA again points to SLMP and ISU officials connected with it meeting Ranil Wickremasinghe and DIG Gunaratne in the Batalanda Scheme. PRRA too was closely associated with the CSU. It may be noted that rather than use the Batalanda Commission Report to initiate legal proceedings, President Kumaratunge had 21 months after receiving it, used extracts as election propaganda (e.g. at the Dec. 1999 presidential election). The selective use of commission reports, which become the property of the executive president, as propaganda, was started by Jayewardene (e.g. Sansoni Report). It diminishes the standing of theJudiciary.
We now move onto a more sophisticated operation against the JVP.
To be continued..
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