Colombo, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict

War-footing after the aborted peace talks 15 years ago

Yesterday marked the ending of the fourth round of peace talks endorsed by the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, FM, in the Kumaratunga administration on January 08,1995.

On the night of April 19, 1995, leader of the LTTE Velupillai Piraparkaran informed President Chandrika Kumaratunga that since the points put forward by the LTTE and agreed upon by the government were not fulfilled the ceasefire would be null and void or something to that effect. The Black Sea Tigers in their maiden assault blasted two naval gunships in Trincomalee and ended any talks with the Kumaratunga administration. The war had resumed.

Chandrika was all washed-behind-the-ears enthusiasm when she wrested power from the UNP’s 17 year rule in August 1994. But before her presidential election in October 1994 the LTTE assassinated UNP’s key presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake and  LSSPer Ossie Abeygoonesekera among others in an election rally in Colombo as she prepared for talks with the LTTE in Jaffna on October 20, 2004.

The international media descended on the capital wanting to record this momentous event when finally the war between the Tamil minority and the Sinhala majority power could be brought to a peaceful end. The 30 journalists cooped up in Subash Hotel in Jaffna were in for a rude awakening on the night of October 20, 1994 around 3.00 am when they were informed first by All India Radio that they need not bother to stay in Jaffna and hastily to return to Colombo.

Jaffna then did not have electricity and this reporter was in a darkened room slumbering amidst the buzzing of the mosquitoes and just a candle to write down a report. The AK47 carrying LTTE cadres manned the corridors and grounds of Subash Hotel. In the twilight hours the journalists were dispatched to the Jaffna Stadium grounds outside Veerasingham  Hall from where they were bundled into helicopters.

Ms Kumaranatunga held peace talks and was genuinely interested in solving the ethnic issue which had plagued the nation since independence. But her uncle Anuruddha Ratwatte who was Defence Minister had other ideas. While the peace talks were going on both the government and the LTTE were re-grouping and enhancing their war machine. Neither party trusted each other. The demands of the LTTE were to open the Poonahari Causeway, supply electricity to Jaffna, disarm paramilitary groups in the East, repatriation of the displaced to Jaffna and remove the fishing ban.

Verbally these were agreed upon and generators were sent to Jaffna but without the cables to make them function. The LTTE saw this laissez faire attitude as an insult. The LTTE was also confiscating essential goods sent by Colombo for the use civilians and firmly establishing a de facto state in the North and East.

Meanwhile Vasudeva Nanakkara, Y.P De Silva, Balakrishnan from MIRJE  (Movement for Inter-racial Justice and Equality), Dr Jayadeva Uyangoda visited the LTTE in Jaffna in February 1995 carrying with them 20,000 signatures across the island and met with the LTTE leadership including late Dr Anton Balasingam.

In December 1995 the government’s all-out offensive to wipe out the LTTE resulted in the whole of Jaffna population fleeing in their tens of thousands through Kilaly lagoon and any mode of transport available. This exodus would be repeated many times over.

On December 05, 1995 General Anuruddha Ratwatte hoisted the national flag in the ghost town of Jaffna only occupied by the armed forces.

The LTTE would bomb Central Bank and caused the slaughter of innocent civilians numbering 800 in Colombo with the explosive laden truck driven into the precincts of Colombo.

The rest is history.