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Fonseka questions credibility of CBK era Millennium City operation

(Courtesy for the Island)

Many an eyebrow was raised recently when Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka cleared the then UNP government of the shocking exposure of a clandestine operation behind enemy lines, conducted by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) at the time of the Dec 5, 2001 parliamentary polls.

War-winning Army Chief Fonseka referred to what was widely dubbed the Millennium City affair in parliament on June 04, 2019, afternoon, on the second day of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probe on the Easter Sunday attacks. Responding to Joint Opposition accusations that the opening of PSC proceedings, to the media, would jeopardize security, the Sinha Regiment veteran declared there was absolutely no basis for such politically motivated claims.

Recalling his role as Security Forces, Commander, Jaffna, at that time, the war veteran ridiculed the Sergeant-in-Charge of the Millennium City safe house. Fonseka mocked how could the pot-bellied Sergeant, unable to climb a couple of steps, engaged in LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) operations deep behind the enemy lines.

The comments were made during interdicted DIG Nalaka Silva’s appearance before the PSC, chaired by Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, PC.

The PSC comprised Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri (UNP/Moneragala), Rauff Hakeem (UNP/Mahanuwara), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara), Prof. Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (UNP National List), Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa (JVP/Kalutara) and M. A. Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna). SLMC leader Hakeem contested the last parliamentary election, on the UNP ticket, whereas the LSSP stalwart Dr. Wickremaratne, one of the key architects of the 19thAmendment, was accommodated on the UNP National List.

Last Friday, June 07, 2019, President Maithripala Sirisena moved to sabotage the PSC by depriving it of the opportunity to summon serving intelligence officers. President Sirisena made his controversial move in the wake of suspended IGP Pujith Jayasundera and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando blaming the Commander-in-Chief for the shocking failure to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks. Sirisena suffered a debilitating setback. Of the five witnesses, so far before the PSC, four, namely Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) DIG, Retd, Sisira Mendis, interdicted DIG Nalaka Silva, suspended IGP Pujith Jayasundera and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando embarrassed the President quite badly. Hemasiri Fernando’s successor Gen. (retd) Shantha Kottegoda was certainly cautious in his approach.

Interestingly, members of the PSC conveniently refrained from asking as to why those privy to the Indian intelligence warning, made available on April 04, 2019, refrained from bringing the information to the notice of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and Commander of the Army Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake as well as the Director, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) Brig. Chula Kodituwakku. Can there be any justification in withholding such valuable intelligence warning from the military?

The bottom line is that the CNI, the IGP and Defence Secretary can never absolve themselves of the responsibility for the grave lapse/negligence on their part to thwart the coordinated suicide bomb attacks. They certainly didn’t require the approval of President Sirisena to quietly alert the Catholic Church and depending on the situation, make a public announcement. The shameless trio did nothing.

It would be pertinent to revisit the Millennium City affair, a contentious issue that figured prominently in political debates over the years. Scrutiny of the 2002 incident and subsequent developments can be quite useful to those interested in knowing the truth about the police raid on the DMI safe house in Millennium City, soon after the Dec 5, 2001 general election.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga called very early general election, after having dissolved parliament, on Oct 10, 2001, amidst political turmoil. Kumaratunga had no option but to dissolve parliament in the wake of some of her parliamentary group members switching their allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, beginning with 11 SLMC members (June 20, 2001), Bandula Gunawardena (Oct 09, 2001), eight PA MPs, including S.B. Dissanayake and Prof. G.L. Peiris (Oct 10, 2001) and four CWC MPs (Oct 10, 2001). The PA secured 107 seats at the previous general election, held on Oct 10, 2000. The UNP managed to secure only 89 seats, though a section of Kumaratunga’s PA brought down the government by betraying Kumaratunga. Having won the Dec 05, 2001 general election, the UNP moved swiftly to finalize a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Feb. 21, 2002 literally through the back door.

At the time of the CFA, the LTTE had the upper hand in the northern theater of operations, after having inflicted the worst single loss on the Army, in early 2000. The LTTE decisively defeated a Division plus troops, deployed at Elephant Pass following a series of battles south of the base.

Let me examine Fonseka’s comparison of allegations directed at the PSC, probing the Easter attacks, in April 2019, and the raid on the DMI safe house, in Jan 2002.

The CFA made direct reference to operations, undertaken by the DMI, though Fonseka ridiculed the Aturugiriya project. In respect of ‘Military Operations,’ the CFA stated neither party shall engage in any offensive military operation. This requires the total cessation of all military action and includes, but is not limited to, such acts as: (a) The firing of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of military or civilian property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units (emphasis mine) (b) Aerial bombardment and (c) Offensive naval operations.

The LTTE called for suspension of deep penetration units as it posed quite a challenge to the terror outfit. The then UNP government never bothered to consult the military, regarding the CFA. Instead, Norway prepared controversial document that was meant to recognize an area under the LTTE administrative control. The CFA arrangement undermined the military. The CFA also ensured movement of LTTE cadres across military-held areas, much to the disappointment of the security forces top brass. The government turned a blind eye to security concerns. The then Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim, in an interview with NGO guru Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, explained the circumstances under which the CFA came into being.

The following is the relevant question and answer:

(Question) To come back to the CFA, how did it happen? Was there a clear text that you took to the two parties? How did the actual CFA itself come about?

(Answer) I had long discussions with Anton Balasingham in London, then with government leaders like G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and others in Colombo about the main requirements. We spent tens of hours discussing issues and concerns and then looking at the text. Two parties made a lot of changes and brought it back to us and it was discussed orally. Then again I drafted a new proposal, which took about two months. It was signed on the 22nd of February. A period of 6-8 weeks were spent in discussion and writing the agreement,” (Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons, Volume II). Edited by Dr. Rupesinghe, it was launched in Feb 2006 as the country was rapidly moving towards an all-out war.

UNP targets DMI

Lionel Balagalle, one-time head of the DMI and the Commander of the Army at the time of the signing of the CFA, told the writer several years ago, that the exposure of some of those involved in the DMI operations, due to the police raid on a ‘safe house’ at Millennium City, Athurugiriya, operated by the DMI, facilitated LTTE operations. Those at the helm of the decision-making process, at that time, had not realized the LTTE’s strategy of using the CFA to further its cause, Lt. Gen. Balagalle said.

In the run-up to the Dec 5, 2001 parliamentary polls, UNP leader Wickremesinghe alleged that the DMI was planning to assassinate him. He claimed that the DMI was training Tamil terrorists at the Panaluwa Army Testing Range to mount an attack on his campaign bus, as well as his political rallies. The unprecedented allegation caused chaos with the army placed in an extremely embarrassing position.

On a directive of Wickremesinghe, the then UNP Chairman Charitha Ratwatte and Deputy Chairman Daya Palpola wrote a hard-hitting letter to Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle warning that he would be held responsible ‘in the event of an unfortunate incident’. The UNP duo accused the Army Chief of training personnel to carry out a destabilization campaign against the UNP.

Having consulted the then administration, an irate Lt. Gen. Balagalle addressed a letter to Ratwatte and Palpola dismissing their accusations. The Island, in a front-page exclusive headlined ‘Army chief says no truth in UNP claims,’ in its Nov 11, 2001 issue revealed the exchange between army headquarters and UNP headquarters, Sirikotha. The report was based on what Lt. Gen. Balagalle told this writer the previous evening. The Army Chief, himself, a one-time head of the DMI, said that there was absolutely no basis for the UNP claim that a hit squad was undergoing training in the use of high explosives and thermobaric weapons.

The UNP ignored the army chief’s letter. The allegation was repeated throughout the campaign.

The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) emerged victorious with 109 seats, while the defeated PA secured 77. The remaining seats were shared by the JVP (16), TNA (15), SLMC (5), EPDP (2) and the DPLF (1). It was one of the bloodiest elections. During the five-week long campaign almost 50 people were killed, with the Dec. 5 massacre of a group of SLMC supporters at Udathalawinna being the single worst incident. This massacre, allegedly carried out by troops attached to the Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (VIR) caused a vindictive UNP leadership to order a raid on a safe house used by the DMI, situated at Millennium City, Aturugiriya, in January 2002, which changed the course of the conflict. The UNF cited intelligence reports that Anuruddha Ratwatte’s sons, wanted in connection with the Udathalawinna massacre, were taking refuge at Aturugiriya.

Had the UNP leadership been a little cautious, it would never have publicly accused the Army of an assassination plot, Gen. Balagalle told the writer.

Operating hit squads behind enemy lines had been a key element in the Army’s strategy, Lt. Gen. Balagalle said, alleging the then Opposition had failed to grasp what was going on. Balagalle said: “Had they quietly raised the issue with us and sought a clarification, without playing politics with national security, the Aturugiriya fiasco could have been averted. Even ex-LTTE cadres were brought in for operations, along with valuable inputs from civilian informants. We were successful due to many reasons such as training received from Pakistani instructors. We also accommodated troops from other fighting battalions to engage in operations behind the enemy lines, though the Special Forces and Army Commandos spearheaded the campaign.”

The Aturugiriya raid ruptured relations between the UNP and the Army. It caused irreparable damage to national security and gave the PA an opportunity to undermine the UNF government.

At the behest of the UNP, a section of the media, including the Colombo-based correspondents working for international news agencies, highlighted the Aturugiriya raid, speculating the Army’s alleged involvement in anti-government activities. Investigating officers alleged that those based at Aturugiriya had been involved in the alleged attempt to assassinate Wickremesinghe in the run-up to the Dec 5 polls. Subsequently, they were accused of planning attacks in the city and suburbs to sabotage the Norwegian-led peace process.

The UNP allegations had the desired impact in the wake of state television showing recovered items, which included 66 sets of LTTE uniforms, four thermobaric weapons, seven claymore mines, each weighing 10 kgs, 10 claymore mines, each weighing one kg, three T-56 assault rifles along with 400 rounds of ammunition, 10 anti-tank weapons, detonators, cyanide capsules, exploders, remote controlled devices and wire rolls. While a section of the media lashed out at the Army, in a front-page exclusive headlined ‘Controversy over police raid on army officer’s Millennium City residence,’ on Jan 4, 2002, The Island revealed that the police team from Kandy, led by UNP loyalist, Kulasiri Udugampola, had raided an Army safe house. In a separate story headlined ‘…were involved in Army duties’ also published on Jan 04, 2002, The Island reported Defence Ministry assurance that the duties performed by the arrested personnel were not beyond the official duties of the services.

The police team was backed by a team of CCMP (Ceylon Corps of Military Police). In spite of the Army strongly objecting to the police action, with both Lt. Gen. Balagalle and the then Director of DMI, Brigadier Kapila Hendarawithana (now retired) reassuring the government of the legitimacy of operations undertaken by the DMI, the police was let loose on covert operatives. In spite of Lt. Gen. Balagalle rushing Hendarawithana, who later figured in many controversies, to the scene, SP Udugampola went ahead with the raid. He had obtained permission from courts to search the premises. Udugampola had the backing of the then Interior Minister, John Amaratunga. IGP Lucky Kodituwakku, though being convinced of the legitimacy of the DMI operation, was helpless.

The Kandy police raided the safe house, shortly after the officer-in-charge of the DMI operation had handed over part of their arsenal to authorities. Those involved in the hit-and-run operations, in LTTE held-areas, had returned to Colombo, on Dec 27, 2001, in the wake of the Wickremesinghe administration declaring its readiness to go ahead with a Norwegian initiative to bring about a truce. The Kandy police also accused the Army of planting two claymore mines targeting a UNP candidate along the Wattegama-Panwila road, in the run-up to the Dec 5, 2001 polls.

The then security forces spokesman, Brig. Sanath Karunaratne emphasised that those operating from Aturugiriya were involved in ‘army duties’. Regardless of protests by the Army, those arrested were taken away to the Narahenpita CMP headquarters before being transferred to Kandy. They were treated like criminals and held under humiliating conditions. Six of them, including an officer, were held in one room. For two weeks, the media reported all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Those arrested were held for almost two weeks before being released. The police raid would never have been possible without an influential section, within the Army, cooperating with the political establishment to undermine a vital operation meant to destabilize the LTTE.

The UNP and the police justified Udugampola’s raid. Asked whether he had used the safe house to accommodate his sons, one-time Defence Chief, Anuruddha Ratwatte, candidly acknowledged that he wasn’t even among those who knew of the existence of that particular rear base, though the Army kept him informed of operations undertaken by the DMI. (Anuruddha praises Marapana for skilful handling of Athurugiriya crisis-The Island, Feb 01, 2002)

The then Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana, one-time Attorney General, to his credit, thwarted an attempt by the Kandy police to prolong the detention of DMI operatives using the provisions of the PTA.

The UNP realised the importance of clandestine operations undertaken by the DMI when the CFA declared that ACTIVITIES BY DEEP PENETRATION UNITS should be ceased along with the cessation of all military action. The LTTE wouldn’t have demanded a ban on DMI operations unless it had been vulnerable to those hunting them in their own backyard.

Retired Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne, who was Defence Advisor to Wickremesinghe during the CFA, exposed the UNP leadership in his ‘COP IN THE CROSSFIRE,’ launched a few years ago. The first book of its kind, written by one-time Director General of Intelligence, revealed how the top UNP leadership had taken security issues lightly at the expense of the country, as well as the party. Asked whether he had been involved in the operation to move the Kandy police against the DMI, Gunaratne told The Island that he categorically opposed the move. “I was convinced the PA government wouldn’t have targeted Wickremesinghe, thereby allowing the UNP to benefit from the sympathy vote. Unfortunately, Wickremesinghe and his top advisors felt the Army was hell bent on destroying the UNP.”

‘COP IN THE CROSSFIRE’ revealed how the then Interior Minister John Amaratunga’s son-in-law (Dinesh Weerakkody), did a weekly piece on military/intelligence matters after he turned down a directive to do a newspaper column in support of the peace effort.

The Aturugiriya raid had a catastrophic impact on the armed forces, which experienced untold hardships due to miscalculations on the part of political and military leaders. Following the betrayal of the DMI, the LTTE unleashed a series of operations in the city, its suburbs and in the Eastern Province. Altogether, about 50 military personnel, Tamil informants as well as ex-LTTE cadres were killed. Their identities were revealed due to the raid on the DMI safe house and subsequent investigations.

The dead included two senior military officers, both killed in Colombo. Although the two military officials, holding the rank of Major and Colonel, could have been on a hit list, regardless of the Aturugiriya fiasco, the LTTE exploited the situation to demoralise the Army. Daring operations, directed at the DMI and police intelligence, helped boost the LTTE’s image. The military was placed in an unenviable position as the suspension of the PTA effectively neutralised counter-measures directed at LTTE hit squads.

Inspector Dale Gunaratne, the then President of the Police Inspectors’ Association, was perhaps the only official publicly critical of the UNP’s response to the LTTE threat. Although his superiors reacted angrily, Gunaratne lashed out at the government for allowing the LTTE to exploit the CFA to its advantage. Citing the killing of Inspector Thabrew, at the Dehiwela police station, IP Gunaratne alleged that the suspension of the PTA, in keeping with the CFA, was nothing but a grievous threat to those fighting terrorism. He lambasted the UNP and his own superiors for not taking action to neutralise the LTTE threat. But, the UNP was determined to salvage the crumbling peace process at any cost. For those at the helm of the government, the lives of security forces and police didn’t matter, as long as they believed the LTTE would remain in the negotiating process. Politicians felt whatever the provocations, the peace process should continue. That thinking changed only in 2006 August after the LTTE declared all-out war. The Rajapaksa administration launched a counter offensive in early Sept 2006. The offensive lasted almost three years until the LTTE was eradicated on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May 2009.

To be continued on June 19, 2019
By Shamindra Ferdinando



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