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Saturday, April 18, 1998

Premadasa armed LTTE: Panel

Nirupama Subramanian  
COLOMBO, April 17: If the Jain Commission report was the official acknowledgement that India armed and financed Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka, the report of a commission inquiring into another assassination here in Sri Lanka has made it official that the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa armed the Tamil Tigers to fight the Indian Peace Keeping Force(IPKF).

The recently published report of a Presidential commission to inquire into the 1992 assassination of one of the seniormost officers in the Sri Lankan army, Lt Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa, concluded that the assassination was masterminded by none other than Premadasa himself. According to the commission, the President's plan to eliminate him was executed by a section of the army, contrary to earlier reports that he was killed when his vehicle ran over an LTTE pressure mine.

Kobbekaduwa, who was rated as a brilliant strategist and one of the best officers in the Sri Lankan army, was the commander in charge of northern Sri Lanka when he was killed. Nineothers, including senior army officers and a commodore were killed along with him.

During its investigations, the commission found evidence to conclusively establish that Premadasa befriended the LTTE and armed them with sophisticated weapons in order to undermine the Indian Army. According to the commission, besides the fact that Kobbekaduwa was gaining in popularity and Premadasa feared him as a potential rival, he was also apprehensive that the doughty soldier was planning to expose his 1990 pact with the Tigers which led to disastrous consequences for Sri Lanka.

It has also used this evidence to demonstrate that certain sections of the Sri Lankan defence establishment would ``bow to the will'' of Premadasa even against their better judgement.

Premadasa's relationship with the LTTE from the time he became President in early 1989 till the breakout of Eelam War II in 1990 with the departure of the IPKF, has been dealt with at length by the commission, which was appointed in 1994 by President ChandrikaKumaratunga.

Each delivery of weapons to the Tigers, the names of the officers involved and the consequences of this policy have been recorded in great detail. The ``huge clandestine operation'' involved President Premadasa, K H J Wijedasa (secretary to the President), defence secretary Sepala Attygalla, commandant of the special task force Lionel Karunasena, army commander Hamilton Wanasinghe and several other armed services and police officers, the report notes.

``According to the evidence of K H J Wijedasa and General Sepala Attygalla, it was the presence of the IPKF in the country that prompted Premadasa to abandon caution, trust the Tigers and find himself badly let down at the end,'' states the report.

Weapons that were delivered to the LTTE were stolen by the army officers from stocks and this set off ``all manner of corrupt practices'', says the report. ``Black marketing in weapons became easy as there was no count and no accountability. It became the ruin of organised decent society. Eventoday the country is plagued with possession and use of unlicensed weapons in the hands of political thugs and bandits,'' it points out.

According to statements before the commission by then defence secretary Attygalla, the President gave him a list of weapons to hand over to the LTTE in June-July 1989. Included in the list were RPGs and mortars. Premadasa explained to a shocked Attygalla that he had the LTTE's assurance that these would not be used against the Sri Lankan forces.

They were meant for the IPKF and the Tamil National Army (TNA), a force created by the IPKF to replace them when they left in March 1990. He further told Attygalla that he had a strategy for peace but did not want the Sri Lankan forces to get involved.

Parcels containing arms and ammunition were thereafter dropped by air force helicopters at various camps of the Special Task Force in the east and LTTE cadres would come in vehicles to collect them. In another instance, in July 1989, a consignment of weapons came in four trucksto Weli Oya army camp. Soon after, an air force helicopter dropped the LTTE's Lawrence Thilakar and two or three others at the camp. With the help of certain men and officers in the army, the LTTE took this consignment to the jungles. In that consignment were 500 T56 rifles, Another consignment delivered to the LTTE 15 km north of Weli Oya base consisted of 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 200,000 rounds for T56 rifles. Over 100 LTTE cadres came in tractors to collect the ammunition.

``We have evidence that Premadasa trusted the LTTE so much that he undermined the Indian forces who had been invited into the country, which policy resulted in the deaths of over 360 police officers in the eastern province; we have evidence that Premadasa was even prepared to give heavy weapons to the enemy, and did in fact supply the LTTE with electrical and other components of land mines that blow up the feet of soldiers, civilians, animals,'' the report states.

In fact, consignments of weapons were delivered to the LTTEeven after the outbreak of hostilities between the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers in June 1990.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.



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