High profile killings after Thimpu fiasco
in TELO killings alleged
*War on terror revisited
Various demands submitted by the TULF and Tamil groups were meant to cause suspicious and angst among the government as well as security forces top brass. The TULF demands spelt out in a letter dated July 26, 1985 addressed to the Indian premier, is a case in point. The TULF said: "The fundamental basis for any solution to the Tamil problem will be the recognition of the right of the Tamil people to rule themselves in their homeland. Serious inroads have been made into these homelands by a policy of planned colonization with Sinhalese carried out by successive Sinhala governments since independence, in the teeth of opposition by the Tamil people and in violation of the solemn undertakings given by Prime Ministers, in the same pattern as Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine."
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Much to the embarrassment of the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the tripartite talks aimed at resolving Sri Lanka’s national problem, in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu, involving the governments of India and Sri Lanka as well as representatives of Tamil speaking people of Sri Lankan origin, collapsed during the third week of August 1985.
An irate Indian leader ordered the immediate deportation of LTTE theoretician, Anton Balasingham, a former employee of the British High Commission in Colombo. At the time of Balasingham’s deportation on August 23, 1985, Prabhakaran had been in Sri Lanka, though the date of his return to Tamil Nadu couldn’t be established.
The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and a grouping of Indian sponsored terrorist organisations calling itself Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF) represented the Tamils at the Thimpu talks. However, the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) wasn’t part of the ENLF, though present at the Thimpu deliberations.
The abortive Thimpu deliberations comprised two rounds of talks; first in early July 1985 and the other in August.
The unsuccessful talks were the first attempt to solve Sri Lanka’s national question held outside India. However, India pressured the then President JRJ to have another round of talks in New Delhi. The Sri Lankan delegation led by President JRJ’s brother, H.W. Jayewardene left Thimpu for New Delhi at the invitation of the then Indian Foreign Secretary, Romesh Bhandari for fresh talks to find a solution. India pushed both President JRJ and those representing the Sri Lankan Tamil community to reach an understanding without further delay.
At the conclusion of a series of talks, the governments of India and Sri Lanka declared the finalisation of a new agreement called the Delhi Accord of August 1985, which envisaged that the proposed unit of devolution would be a province and not a district as earlier proposed. One-time Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to New Delhi and Foreign Secretary, Bernard Tilakaratna, has alleged that the Delhi Accord couldn’t proceed due to the LTTE’s refusal to accept anything short of a separate Tamil state. The LTTE’s uncompromising stand even after President JRJ had agreed that the unit of devolution would be a province, prompted other armed groups, too, to dissociate themselves from the Delhi Accord (Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons-February 1998. An International Alert publication).
Plot against TULF
The killings of veteran former TULF MPs, M. Alalasundaram and V. Dharmalingam on the morning of Sept. 3, 1985 should be examined against the backdrop of the Thimpu fiasco as well as the short-lived Delhi Accord of 1985.
Those hell bent on destabilising Sri Lanka ordered the killings with a view to discrediting the LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The assassinations were meant to isolate the LTTE, thereby paving the way for rival groups to consolidate their power in the post-Thimpu environment. Another objective was to curb the TULF influence over the Jaffna populace in spite of the then TULF leader A. Amirthalingam being away in India. Whoever had the power to decide on the fate of two politicians, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) led by Sri Sabaratnam alias Tall Sri had been given the dastardly assignment. Obviously, the enmity between Prabhakaran and Sri Sabaratnam had been taken into consideration when the latter was ordered to carry out the killings. At the time of the assassinations, Prabhakaran had been underground, while Sri Sabaratnam was believed to be in India.
The JRJ government wrongly blamed the LTTE for the killings. Sri Lankan authorities never made a genuine attempt to investigate the assassinations. India, too, conveniently failed to conduct a proper probe into the Jaffna killings.
Interestingly, TULF heavyweights, M. Sivasithamparam and A. Amirthalingam were in New Delhi to meet Premier Gandhi when TELO cadres abducted the aforesaid politicians. Having discussed the Delhi Accord of 1985 with Premier Gandhi, the TULF leaders returned to Chennai, where they rejected the latest initiative on the basis it didn’t address three vital issues, namely Tamil homeland in a merged North-East Province, the devolution of power in respect of land as well as police powers. They insisted that land should be a devolved to thwart what they called the planned Sinhala colonisation of the Tamil homeland.
While the PLOTE, too, briefed India with regard to its position on the New Delhi Accord, the ENLF leaders went underground. Under pressure from Prabhakaran, the ENLF declined to meet Premier Gandhi, citing Balasingham’s expulsion as the LTTE’s grouse.
The TELO, a member of the ENLF, assassinated two MPs amidst efforts to convince Prabhakaran to meet Premier Gandhi. In fact, TELO had been one of the three original members of the ENLF, whereas the LTTE joined it later. The other original members of the outfit were the EROS (Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students and the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front.
Siddarthan speaks out
Twelve years after the double murder, in an exclusive interview with the writer, Dharmalingham Siddarthan, the only son of Visvanather Dharmalingham, discussed the circumstances under which his father had been killed along with his parliamentary colleague, Alalasundaram (My mother prepared thosai for us; Prabhakaran was a regular visitor to our home––The Island Dec. 7, 1997). Siddarthan didn’t mince his words when he blamed India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for the assassinations. The then Vanni District MP (Democratic People’s Liberation Front) 49-year-old Dharmalingham Siddarthan claimed that Prabhakaran would have had definitely intervened on his father’s behalf if he had been aware of the plot to kill him. Siddarthan said that the LTTE had the wherewithal to thwart the assassination bid if the RAW-LTTE project had been brought to Prabhakaran’s notice.
Siddarthan had been in New Delhi, after having represented the PLOTE at the Thimpu talks. Siddarthan said that the Thimpu talks, in spite of failing to achieve desired results, were of significance in that the Sri Lankan government had agreed to sit down for face to face negotiations with militant groups.
Alleging that India had played a double game, the soft spoken Siddarthan said that RAW had acted contrary to public statements attributed to various leaders.
A bigger role for terrorists
According to Siddarthan, RAW had upgraded the status of militant groups, including the LTTE by accommodating them at the negotiating table at Thimpu. Although the TULF resented the move, it couldn’t interfere with Indian intelligence, hence their acceptance of armed groups at the negotiating process. A grave looking Siddarthan said that RAW had wanted to undermine TULF leader Amirthalingam’s influence. India decided that senior TULF politicians living in the Jaffna peninsula had to die a violent death at that the hands of ‘boys’ as terrorists were fondly called by the Jaffna public at that time. Dharmalingham and Alalasundaram had been among the four politicians whose fate was decided in New Delhi.
Having abducted Alalasundaram, TELO cadres visited Dharmalingham’s residence situated at Kandarodai, about three miles away from Chunnakam. Siddarthan’s mother, Saraswathie sent one of Siddarthan’s cousins to fetch Dharmalingham, who was at a nearby wedding ceremony. Siddarthan said: "My father had left the wedding ceremony believing that TELO cadres and Alalasundaram wanted to meet him urgently. As Alalasundaram and the TELO had worked closely, my father wouldn’t have suspected any sinister plan. In fact,TELO regularly used Alalasundaram’s telephone. My father was abducted as he was rushing home from the wedding ceremony."
Dharmalingham’s body was found at Thavady in his electorate, Uduvil subsequently called Manipay.
Dharmalingam first entered parliament after having won the newly created Uduvil electorate at the March 1960 parliamentary polls. As any political party couldn’t obtain the necessary majority to form a government, fresh parliamentary election were called in July the same year. Dharmalingam secured the Uduvil electorate again. In 1970, he retained the seat, having contested on the Federal Party ticket.
Alalasundaram had been MP for Kopay.
Siddarthan said: "My father never lost an election until the TELO took his life. He was a man of peace, a humble man who believed in a peaceful settlement, though he never criticized those fighting the then government."
Siddarthan alleged that the gang of TELO cadres responsible for the heinous crime had been led by the local leader called Bobby. However, Das, in charge of TELO operations in the Vadamaratchchy sector at that time had declined to carry out the directive to assassinate two TULF members, Siddarthan said.
Siddarthan had been a member of Prabhakaran’s outfit before he joined Uma Maheswarn, the founder of the PLOTE, one-time favourite of the Indians.
Years later, various interested parties had alleged that the assassination order issued by Sri Sabaratnam had been carried out by Das, who in fact saved the lives of former MPs Thurairatnam and Rajalingham by warning Bobby not to target them.
Premier Gandhi went to the extent of meeting leaders of terrorist groups, comprising the TELO, the EPRLF, the EROS and the LTTE shortly after the assassination of the two elderly Jaffna based politicians. The meeting which reportedly took place on Sept. 23, 1985 in New Delhi, three weeks after the Jaffna assassinations meant Premier Gandhi was either unaware of the role played by RAW in eliminating the TULF influence in northern Sri Lanka or he previously knew of the issuing of death warrants on Dharmalingam and Alalasundaram in accordance with intelligence strategy. Prabhakaran, who had been in hiding since the collapse of Thimpu initiative, was present.
spite of heavy pressure Rajiv brought to
bear on Tamil groups, they continued to
insist that they wouldn’t give up their
aspiration for a separate homeland.
Thimpu: Representatives of Tamil groups (L) in direct talks with Sri Lankan representatives (R) in July 1985. Dharmalingham Siddarthan is closest to the camera.
Had India acted decisively in the wake of the intransigence of those militant groups, it could have avoided a subsequent bloodbath. Unfortunately, it continued to mollycoddle the terrorists, though it could have easily disarmed all groups in India and take tangible measures to block the transfer of arms, ammunition and men across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary. Regardless of the inflexibility of the terrorists, particularly those representing the LTTE, India continued to provide safe haven, believing that they could be made use of if President JRJ didn’t succumb to diplomatic pressure. India felt it shouldn’t neutralise armed groups once and for all at the expense of its overall strategy. Having realised India’s intensions as well as their dilemma, terrorists fully exploited the situation to their advantage.
The international community ignored Sri Lanka’s plea for intervention, though major powers knew what was happening on the ground.
In the run-up to the Sept. 23 meeting, the then Indian High Commissioner J. N. Dixit and H. W. Jayewardene, QC, who had led the Sri Lankan delegation at the Thimpu talks, were in New Delhi for consultations. According to the media, the talks focused on the TULF demand for a homeland as well as police and land powers. Although Premier Gandhi had wanted to meet Prabhakaran and his murderous colleagues before H. W. Jayewardene’s visit to New Delhi (Sept. 10-13, 1985), they delayed responding to the Indian leader’s summons.
First formal Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism
LTTE, TELO, EROS and EPRLF leaders met the then Tamil Nadu strongman M.G. Ramachandran in Chennai on September 13, 1985 and worked out a strategy before moving to New Delhi for meetings with Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari and Premier Gandhi. Ahead of the arrival of terrorist leaders in New Delhi on Sept. 18, 1985, Sri Lanka announced a unilateral decision to extend the ceasefire, which was to lapse on that day by three more months. The ceasefire came into operation on June 18, 1985, to pave the way for the Thimpu talks. India felt that the terrorist groups should positively reciprocate President JRJ’s decision, though they as well as the TULF asserted that the ceasefire wouldn’t bring relief to the Tamils. India demanded their cooperation regardless of reservations. In a bid to scuttle the Indian move, they consented to the extension of the ceasefire, if India could convince President JRJ to set up a Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (CMC) to ensure the implementation of the extended ceasefire. Much to the surprise of terrorists, President JRJ agreed to the formation of a CMC. Premier Gandhi talked proudly of the agreement on the proposed CMC at the Sept. 23, 1985 meeting with terrorist leaders. After bickering over a week, they agreed on the formation of a five member CMC with the power to visit those in police and security forces custody as well as submit reports on its investigations into allegations as regards excesses by both parties. The CMC comprised three government representatives led by Felix Dias Abeysinghe and two nominated by the terrorists namely, Prof. Kathigesu Sivathamby, Chairman, Co-coordinating Committee of Citizens Committees and Kandaratnam Sivapalan, Chairman, Trincomalee Citizens Committee. The TULF was left out of this arrangement.
The CMC collapsed soon after JRJ,
probably under the influence of his
trusted National Security Minister,
expanded it by accommodating six more
persons-five Sinhalese and a Muslim. Sri
Lanka announced its decision to expand
the CMC on Oct. 17, 1985 ahead of the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
(CHOGM) in the Bahamas.