Talks, negotiators and peace process
by Shamindra Ferdinando
President Mahinda Rajapakse’s peace delegation is undergoing a
crash course in the fundamentals of negotiations to prepare a vastly
experienced team to meet LTTE negotiators led by the London-
based former British High Commission employee Anton
Balasingham. His Australian-born wife Adele, a former constable of
the Sri Lankan police turned Thamileelam police chief Nadesan and
S. P. Thamilselvan who led the LTTE delegation during
Prabhakaran-Chandrika honeymoon (mid 1994-April 1995) are
included in the team.
The inexperienced delegation led by Health Minister Nimal Siripala
de Silva is learning the basics of constitutional government such as
what is federalism, confederalism, the difference between united and
unitary concepts and the Oslo-arranged Cease-Fire Agreement and
the do’s and don’ts in negotiations. Professor G. L. Pieris who led
the Ranil Wickremesinghe peace delegation and the then Defence
Secretary Austin Fernando and some expatriates shared their
experiences with Rajapakse’s delegation.
Milinda Moragoda, a key member of Wickremesinghe’s team is
believed to have expressed concern over sharing his views with
government delegates at an open forum. Rajapakse has been
severely criticised for his team selection, particularly the
appointment of de Silva as the chief negotiator.
But let me examine the negotiations conducted by previous
governments in the post-IPKF period, key negotiators, failed
negotiations and the repercussions and most importantly the
difference between the LTTE and government negotiators. An
analysis of Norway’s role and the EU, too, would indicate their bias
towards the LTTE and it would be important to be fully briefed on the
past and the ground realities before the forthcoming Geneva
Perhaps the most important point is the difference between the two
parties. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran since the Indo-Lanka
accord of July 1987 dealt with Presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa
and Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, Prime Minister Chandrika
Kumaratunga for a short period (August-October/November 1994),
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe and now President Mahinda Rajapakse. A careful
analysis of previous negotiations would reveal the transparent LTTE
strategy of giving false hopes to successive Sri Lankan leaders to
regain lost ground whether it be political, military or diminishing
overseas support. The brief lull is always followed by a massive
LTTE onslaught. The LTTE strategy is in line with its final objective.
The group has never altered its commitment while political parties
interpret talks differently. For them, the return of the LTTE to the
negotiating table means a short term political victory at the expense
of the main opposition.
Talks in Premadasa’s style
Anton Stanislaus Balasingham arrived at the then Katunayake
International Airport on April 26, 1989. He was accompanied by wife
Adele. The visit was in response to President Ranasinghe
Premadasa’s call to the LTTE. This was the first post Indo-Lanka
accord negotiations. It was wholly an indigenous affair and President
Premadasa personally handled it although one-time Foreign Minister
A.C.S. Hameed was his chief negotiator. Interestingly Hameed was in
charge of the Higher Education portfolio while Ranjan Wijeratne
handled foreign affairs. Premadasa’s Secretary K. H. J. Wijedasa, I’m
sure, would be able to brief Rajapakse’s team of the situation.
Wijedasa who was present at almost all the deliberations between
the two parties in Colombo would be able to impart valuable
Don’t forget that talks were taking place in the backdrop of bloody
battles between the LTTE and the IPKF in the northern and eastern
provinces. The LTTE was also hunting for members of rival groups
and let me remind you that Karuna was in charge of the operations
The first round of talks took place on May 28, 1989 in Colombo. The
LTTE delegation included Yogiratnam Yogi, Lawrance Thilagar and
Mahattaya who was subsequently tortured and executed on the
charge of being a traitor to their cause. Premadasa also allowed an
armed LTTE squad to protect the delegation.
The LTTE won over Premadasa by taking an anti-India/IPKF stand.
Premadasa was thrilled and planned to use the LTTE both against
the IPKF and other groups. The LTTE mesmerised Premadasa with
false promises. And in a moment of insanity, Premadasa requested
India to cease operations against the LTTE and subsequently called
for the IPKF pullout by July 29, 1989. Indo-Lanka relations hit a new
low as the LTTE expertly manoeuvred Premadasa to act in the group’
s interest. Their task was made easier by the fact they had direct
access to Premadasa. Hameed was regularly bypassed while
ministers, service chiefs and the IGP on and off summoned by
Premadasa were mere spectators. NO one dared challenge
Premadasa. It was the only instance a Head of State dealt directly
with the LTTE. A clash between Sri Lankan and Indian troops at
Atambagaskada claimed the lives of two IPKF personnel and
wounded three. The LTTE hunted as it pleased. Jaffna Government
Agent M. Panchalingham was one of the victims.
Premadasa thought of involving the LTTE in an All Party
Conference. The meeting took place on September 13, 1989 at the
BMICH without the active participation of the LTTE. He appeased the
LTTE. Manori Daniels serving a seven-year term of imprisonment for
her role in the October 1987 Maradana blast was released on a
directive of the Attorney General. This was done on a presidential
order. The severity of the blast that claimed the lives of 38 civilians
and wounded about 100 was forgotten.
The bases at Point Pedro and Velvettiturai were given-up.
Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu was sent to the UK for medical
treatment in October 1989.
LTTE seized Indian fishing trawlers off the northern coast. India
responded to a series of provocations, particularly the unilateral
demand for IPKF pullout, by arming a private militia dubbed the
Tamil National Army (TNA). It had two primary tasks-protecting
EPRLF Chief Minister Annamalai Varatharaja Perumal from
Premadasa’s administration and the LTTE. India went ahead with the
project despite Premadasa’s protests. But Premadasa and
Prabhakaran co-operated to tackle the TNA. By the time the IPKF
completed its pull out in early March 1990, the TNA had ceased to
exit. A series of LTTE assaults annihilated the EPRLF-led TNA.
Premadasa facilitated attacks by ordering his service chiefs to
confine troops to their barracks. The worst hit was Batticaloa where
Karuna brutally crushed resistance as troops turned a Nelsonian
I had the opportunity to interview (the article appeared on October
15, 1989-Sunday Island) Balasingham at Galadari (then Galadari
Meridien) where he clearly articulated their stand on the need for a
one-party rule in the northern and eastern provinces. Guarded by
elite police commandos assigned for Premadasa’s own security,
Balasingham emphasised the need to get rid of the IPKF.
Balasingham’s suite was the venue for the third round of talks with
the participation of A.C.S. Hameed, General (retd) Sepala Attygalle
and General (retd) Cyril Ranatunga. Both Generals won plum
diplomatic posts subsequently.
Fielding questions, Balasingham stressed the necessity to thwart the
Indian move to set up the TNA to fill the vacuum created by the IPKF
The LTTE launched clearing operations in early November 1989.
Over 50 EPRLF and TELO cadres were killed in the first wave of
killings in the Thambuluvil area as Premadasa himself scored a
major victory in his battle against the JVP. The JVP lost its leader
Rohana Wijeweera, his Deputy Upatissa Gamanayake and scores of
key leaders October-December 1989. Premadasa was in a jubilant
In December, 1989 the LTTE secured political recognition. Despite
its refusal even to discuss the possibility of laying down arms,
Elections Commissioner Chandrananda de Silva accepted the PFLT
(People’s Front of Liberation Tigers led by Mahattaya) as the
political wing of the LTTE. The approval came after Balasingham
and Yogiratnam Yogi met the polls chief. But the political recognition
did not deter the LTTE from continuing its terror campaign. Kala,
wife of MP Sam Thambimuttu and their son were abducted in mid
December 1989 after LTTE gunmen killed their EPRLF bodyguards
in Batticaloa. They were released only due to the forceful
intervention of the British High Commission. But the LTTE had the
last say when Tambimuttu and Kala were killed in May 1990 in
Gunmen who accompanied LTTE delegates for talks with
Premadasa assassinated TULF leader A. Amirthalingham and
Vettivelu Yogeswaran in July 1989. The list is too long to mention
Premadasa also facilitated a meeting between the LTTE and
TamilNadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi.
I covered a press conference given by Balasingham on December
20, 1989, in Colombo where he acknowledged an understanding
with the government regarding operations launched against the TNA
in the northern and eastern provinces. He was particular about the
operation conducted by Karuna in Batticaloa and its suburbs on
December 13, 1989 where over 100 TNA cadres died in an orgy of
violence under the very nose of security forces.
The IPKF shot down a US built Bell 212 chopper as it was coming to
in land at Cheddikulam on December 22m 1989. Premadasa was not
worried. Then the LTTE dropped a bombshell. The LTTE declared
that police and government security forces should not fill the vacuum
created by the IPKF pull out.
I met Mahattaya and Yogi at Koliyakulam, Vavuniya in the company
of a group of Colombo-based Indian journalists. Mahattaya who led
negotiations with Premadasa ruled out compromise with rival groups.
He reiterated their decision to wipe out their rivals. This was about
three weeks before they arrived in Colombo for a three-hour
meeting with Premadasa. Premadasa made available choppers for
Mahattaya and Yogi to travel within the northern and eastern
provinces. The forces and police were placed in an embarrassing
position. Batticaloa police was ordered to meet LTTE
representatives at the Batticaloa Multi Purpose Cooperative Building
where the LTTE authorised the police to resume traffic duties. What
a shame. This was in early February. Mahattaya and Balasingham
again met Premadasa on February 22, 1990.
Chief Minister of the NE province Perumal’s Unilateral Declaration of
Independence followed on March 1, 1990 shortly before the IPKF
completed the pull out.
Minister Hameed met the LTTE at Kallady, Batticaloa followed by a
meeting at the Trincomalee Navy Base on the instructions of
Premadasa who feared a breakdown of his truce with Prabhakaran.
Premadasa failed to identify the danger signals even after the LTTE
fired at a contingent of troops moving across what the LTTE claimed
was their territory.
Premadasa made a desperate bid to restore the truce after the
LTTE shattered it by killing over 400 policemen in the east and
taking hundreds of prisoners. Tigers fired mortars at the Palaly
airbase as the aircraft carrying Hameed was taking off. Premadasa
ordered Hameed to negotiate a fresh deal with the LTTE but his bid
ended in failure.
The LTTE assassinated Premadasa on May Day, 1993.
Investigations revealed that the suicide bomber (Babu) had been
known to Premadasa’s valet for over two years.
D.B. Wijetunga’s bid
The release of five policemen taken prisoner during Premadasa’s
administration, on June 22, 1993 paved the way for a relationship
between the LTTE and Wijetunga.
The LTTE offered to release 39 government personnel in custody to
their families. The five personnel released on June 22 were among
the 39 member group held by them. The LTTE requested a
delegation of family members to visit the peninsula. Wijetunga
obliged. The LTTE responded by demanding the lifting of all
restrictions on the movement of goods to the Jaffna peninsula. This
was followed by a request to send a government representative to
discuss the release of prisoners. Brigadier Ananda Weerasekera
visited the peninsula. The visit facilitated by the ICRC helped the
LTTE gain a propaganda victory although he failed to secure the
release of the prisoners.
The LTTE overran the Janakapura detachment in July 1993. The
LTTE hit Pooneryn-Komar Point and Nagathevanthurai bases in
early November. Although Thondaman senior offered to mediate in
July after meeting the Europe-based LTTE representatives including
Lawrence Thilagar, the government ignored the offer.
CBK’s chief negotiator
Kumaratunga picked her Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi to head
the peace delegation. It comprised Rajan Asiriwathan, Navin
Gunaratne, Lionel Fernando, Brigadier Siri Peiris and Captain
Prasanna Rajaratne. The first round was held in Jaffna on October
13, 1994 with the LTTE turning the event to a major propaganda
victory. She ordered the resumption of official contacts in her
capacity as the newly elected Prime Minister following the August 16
This was after the Anglican Bishop of Colombo Rev.Kenneth
Fernando, Sarvodaya leader A. T. Ariyaratne accompanied by his
wife and a Catholic delegation led by the Bishop of Colombo Rt.
Rev. Nicholas Marcus Fernando visited Jaffna with the government’s
blessings in February 1994. Rt. Rev. Fernando secured the release
of two policemen and they were handed over to his representative
Rev. Father Alfred Alexander by Anton Balasingham. The religious
leaders achieved nothing although their visits gave the LTTE plenty
The LTTE blew-up an Offshore Patrol Vessel (SLNS Sagarwardene)
off Mannar late September. Prime Minister Kumaratunga did not take
it seriously and went ahead with the peace moves. The first round
on October 13, 1994 took place in Jaffna. The LTTE facilitated
Kumaratunga’s victory at the presidential poll the following month by
assassinating her rival Gamini Dissanayake. The veteran politician
who advocated a joint Indo-Lanka effort to neutralise the LTTE
threat was assassinated along with several other UNP MPs at
Thotalanga. The Thotalanga massacre came just ten days after the
first round of deliberations in Jaffna.
The second round took place in January 3, 1995. The notable
absentee was Lionel Fernando, a former Government Agent of
Jaffna. He quit as Secretary to the Media, Tourism and Aviation
Secretary. He also gave up the top job at the board of directors of
the national career.
The Norwegians were deeply involved in the Kumaratunga-led
process. Under an agreement worked out in the first week of
January 1995, four teams headed by expatriates were to monitor the
cessation of hostilities. The government and the LTTE were to
assign two nominees each to the monitoring teams.
The teams were headed by Dutch Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri
Horsting, Canadian Major General C. Milner and Norwegians Audun
Holm, Jihan Gabrielson. They met Balapatabendi after meeting
Balasingham, Thamilselvan and Prabhakaran on February 5, 1990.
They also met the LTTE nominees. But the LTTE did not allow the
nominees to sit. Subsequently the LTTE demanded the setting up of
two more monitoring committees while making further demands. The
LTTE wanted a Special Development Bank in Jaffna. The LTTE also
demanded the setting up a decision making body.
The third round was also held in Jaffna in February 1995. The
meeting failed to reach agreement on the re-opening of Sangupiddy-
Kerathivu ferry services to facilitate civilian traffic.
A plethora of demands including the shifting of Pooneryn-Komar
bases undermined the peace process. The fourth round of talks
took place in Jaffna on April 10, 1995. The LTTE was led by
Thamilselvan while the Balapatabendi led government delegation
included Bishop Kenneth Fernando, Charles Abeysekara and Dr.
Jayadeva Uyangoda, Brigadier Siri Peiris and Captain Prasanna
It was the last meeting before the LTTE blew up two navy vessels
anchored at the Trincomalee harbour.
A visit by Colombo based representatives of 12 countries including
France, UK, Australia, US, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden,
Canada, Japan, Finland and Norway in the second week of March to
Jaffna where they strongly urged the LTTE to remain committed to
the peace process did not deter the LTTE.
The attacks were followed by the shooting down of two British built
Avros over Palaly airbase. The shoulder-fired missiles claimed t7he
lives of about 100 officers and men and forced the Airforce to
suspend flights to and from the airbase. The LTTE held sway until
forces launched before combined security forces offensive Riviresa
wrest control of the peninsula and brought Jaffna under the Lion
Kumaratunga survived an assassination bid in December 1999. It
was to facilitate UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory.
Although the assassination failed, Wickremesinghe continued with
the Oslo-led peace bid and finalised the infamous Cease-Fire
Agreement in February 2002. I would not detail Wickremesinghe’s
handling of the peace process except that he created a new problem
by allowing a member of his delegation Rauff Hakeem to reach a
private pact with Prabhakaran. The LTTE also politically
assassinated Wickremesinghe by forcing the Tamils to boycott the
November presidential polls. The rest is recent history.
Negotiating with the LTTE is not an easy task. Contact Dr. Peter
Nicolaus, the senior protection officer with the UNHCR based in
Colombo in 1992-1993. He would be delighted to reveal his contacts
with LTTE heavyweights during his failed bid to establish a safe
passage for civilian movement to and from the peninsula. The LTTE
refused to cooperate unless the government vacated the Pooneryn-
Komar point-Nagathevanthurai bases that prevented the LTTE easy
access to the peninsula. The LTTE resisted UNHCR efforts until it
was ready to hit Pooneryn-Komar point and Nagathevanthurai bases
in early November, 1993. Suddenly the UNHCR had no role to play
as the Nagathevanthurai naval base responsible for detecting and
destroying traffic on the Jaffna lagoon was taken out in a multi-
pronged assault. [Island]