Speaking lies to power: Sri Lanka’s PM and the LTTE in India

India’s mistake was to take our Prime Minister seriously. Ours is to allow him to continue in office.

Few in Sri Lanka care to know what is said in Parliament, and it is only when India vehemently denied the Prime Minister’s claim that there were LTTE training camps operating in India that most realised he had actually said it. The first media reports of the PM’s statement in Parliament noted that he had expressly said ” the LTTE has three training centers in Tamil Nadu and one is where the Tigers are being trained to assassinate VIPs” and that “intelligence information regarding this has been confirmed and warned that the Tigers may attempt to carry out small scale attacks in Sri Lanka as well.”

Emphasis ours.

The UNP questioned this assertion, noting that “this information regarding the LTTE being trained in Tamil Nadu seems to have been shared with the PM by the Defence Ministry in Colombo” and that “it is protocol for Sri Lanka to share such information with its neighbour considering that the claims are very serious.”

Later on 10th March, AFP and other international media carried a story that was the first egg on our PM’s face. Noting the unequivocal rejection of our Government’s claims, the article quoted Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Vishnu Prakash who said that India “…categorically denies [the] existence of any LTTE camps in India” and urged “Sri Lanka to desist from reacting to speculative and uncorroborated reports”. Interestingly, the rebuttal came via Twitter, which can be either read as as a sign of utter contempt at our confounded farrago of ‘confirmed intelligence information’ or being so annoyed as to use whatever media at their disposal to quickly allay any fears of an LTTE threat within their borders. The Tamil Nadu Director-General of Police Letika Saran went a step further and categorically denied every single assertion the PM had made in parliament.

This wasn’t good. In attempting to save face, our imaginative PM then claimed that he had based his submission in Parliament on two media reports, that had later turned out to be false. The Daily Mirror story on this is worth a fuller excerpt,

Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne said yesterday that his parliamentary speech, which asserted that there were three LTTE training camps in Tamil Nadu, had been based on some reports published in local newspapers; but that these reports had later been found to be false. Commenting on India’s rejecting his allegation, the prime minister said: “It was a thing mentioned in two newspaper reports. There appears to be false information in these reports. It was nothing more than that.” However, in his speech, he had said that there were intelligence reports regarding these camps.

After what was tantamount to a diplomatic slap in the face, trying to blame local media wasn’t very original. However, we decided to take his word and scoured the Sinhala print media for anything he may have misinterpreted to be a ‘confirmed intelligence report’. We found one article in the Divaina, published on 25th February, worth translating.

Download a high-resolution scan here (~3Mb).

The article, published on page 9, flags an Indian Home Affairs Ministry intelligence report which had stated that by 20th December 2010, a group of LTTE cadre in India had completed weapons training and procured arms. Later on in the article, quoting the same intelligence report by the Indian Home Affairs Ministry, the scribe notes that this group was going to target the Indian PM, Minister of Defence, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and others. We could not find any other reference to an armed LTTE presence in India in the Sinhala press.

We wonder what the Indians would have to say about a Home Affairs Ministry intelligence report that our government seems to know more intimately than they do. A report in the Daily Mirror today claims that the PM had made a statement acknowledging his mistake. However, there is no record of this statement on the Government’s official news portal, the Prime Minister’s official website (tellingly last updated in September 2010) or the Official Website of the Government of Sri Lanka.

We can only deduce that the PM’s retraction is an official secret, and while the government’s mistakes are free to misinform the public, the facts are kept well hidden. To add insult to injury, the Sri Lankan government actually believes that this kind of baseless allegation actually strengthens the friendship between India and Sri Lanka. As noted in the Daily Mirror today,

The government today said it was glad that the Indian government rejected the claim made by Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne that there were three LTTE training camps in Tamil Nadu. “The denial of the existence of LTTE camps in Indian soil strengthened the friendship between the two countries,” Youth Affairs and Skills development Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said.

Come again? Is this then an invitation to make all sorts of wild statements concerning the LTTE and India in the expectation of stronger bi-lateral relations? Or was this all a ploy that horribly backfired intended only to prolong emergency rule in Sri Lanka by the worst sort of fear-mongering?

After this fiasco, we can only hope India sees our PM’s pronouncements more as yarns for voters than informed commentary, for ours is a government that all too often neither knows nor means what it says.

Updated: 12 March 2010

A report published in the Island newspaper yesterday suggests the PM’s statements were based on reports published in the Indian media. LTTE’ camps in TN: PM’s statement based on Indian media reports by Shamindra Ferdinando, who we have flagged on this website earlier for his outrageous coverage of submissions to the LLRC, notes that

“a senior government official told The Island on the condition of anonymity, that the Premier Jayaratne had gone by what was reported in the Indian media. Premier Jayaratne had based his statement on Indian media reports dated Feb. 13, 2011 reproduced by local press the official said.”

The story alluded to is one published in The Hindu newspaper on 13 February 2011, titled “LTTE plans to target VVIPs during Assembly elections”. Long excerpts of the Hindu article that appear in the Island article prima facie suggest that the PM was right to believe and say what he did. However, it only takes a cursory reading of the original report in the Hindu to see that the PM, the Island and the Divaina only highlight what is convenient and match their own bias, ignoring other key points made explicitly. For example, nowhere in the Island or Divaina articles are the following paragraphs included in the Hindu report mentioned,

Ruling out the possibility of LTTE cadre regrouping in Tamil Nadu, [a senior police officer] said there was information about some “ex-Tigers organising human smuggling (of Sri Lankan Tamils staying in Tamil Nadu as refugees) to Christmas Islands (Australia) or Canada.”

Tamil Nadu Director General of Police Letika Saran said there was no presence of LTTE cadre in the State. “We take every alert message seriously…police investigate and go into the finer details of every input. The Coastal Security Group police are in constant touch with ‘village vigilance committees’ and will know of any suspicious activity along the coast.”

As of now there is no specific input indicating any design of VIP security or internal security implications…there are general inputs which are being followed up,” Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence) M.S. Jaffar Sait said.

Emphasis ours. The more the government and their apparatchiks try to make out that this was the media’s fault, the more they look very silly. But for a government that got away with calling Sri Lankan Tamils jokers, there is no shame in continuing with business as usual.