By Saumya Liyanage
“Come back. Even as a shadow, even as a dream.”
Popularly known as KB, Kapuru Banda Herath, a talented playwright and theatre director, passed away in the early hours of 29 January 2023. Unlike other celebrities, and popular television stars who update their sardonic profiles on Facebook, KB died at the National Hospital, Colombo. KB’s death did not create any turbulence,or receive state attention.
KB died after a battle with a chronic disease. While he was breathing his last, some people were in the streets demanding the abolition of the draconian tax regime, and the release of student leaders behind bars. But the majority did not know that KB, a playwright and director in modern Sri Lankan theatre, had passed away. They did not know who KB Herath was or what he had written or produced for theatre. The tax issue has led to turmoil with the cost of living rising. The local government polls are around the corner. A few bereaved theatergoers, actors, writers and artists gathered at the funeral parlour, where his remains were kept. KB left the Sinhala Theatre unnoticed.
When I received the news about KB’s demise, I was with my students, working for a new musical theatre at the University of Visual and Performing Arts (UVPA) Colombo. KB was one of the visiting lecturers at the Department of Theatre Ballet and Modern Dance, Faculty of Dance and Drama, UVPA, Colombo, where I have been working since 2007. When I was the Head of the Department, I invited KB to visit UVPA and teach scriptwriting, and directing to our undergraduates. KB was among the few playwrights who shared their knowledge with our students. He spent a lot of time and energy with students, guiding them in writing and dramaturgy. KB was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Visual and Performing Arts, in 2022, recognising his contribution to theatre and television.
I intend to write this essay for two reasons. One is that KB was one of the leading playwrights and directors in the modern Sri Lankan theatre. Secondly, as a writer, he excavated the dominant historical narratives and restructured them to unveil political and social contexts of his time. In this sense, KB was an important writer who reinterpreted some of the popular hegemonic narratives of history, kinships, and family sagas, or dynasty of Sri Lanka, and turned those narratives into powerful political allegories for proscenium theatre.
Text and Meaning
KB Herath started his theatre career with the production, titled Delowaka Kathava, in 1968. Yet, his presence as a playwright and director attracted a wider audience after his play Sudu Karal, in 1979. Hence, KB and his contemporaries are identified by some theatre critics as ‘theatre makers of the 1970s.’ KB has been bracketed with his peers such as Simon Navagaththegama, Hemasiri Liyanage, Vijitha Gunaratne, Gamini Haththotuwegama, Bandula Withanage, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Parakrama Niriella and others. Many of these playwrights actively engaged in theatre making in that era. 1971 saw the first JVP uprising to topple the second Bandaranaike’s government and it was crushed with Indian support (DeVotta, 2007). It is observed that most of the ’70s playwrights were believers in social transformation through arts. They and directors were also inspired by the revolutionary changes taking place in Latin America and elsewhere. Hence, the theatre makers in the ’70s, employed their theatre practice in favour of social change, and KB was among them. They were of the view that theatre was a powerful tool to influence people’s minds and shape their thinking, but that should be done through artistic means. They, save a few, rejected the propagandist practice of theatre and tried to find ways and means of doing it with aesthetically refined ways. Therefore, KB believed that good theatre consisted in the aesthetically refined play script and its literal sublimity.
KB and his contemporaries used chronicles of Sri Lankan history and folklore to develop their political parables on stage. In a way, that was reminiscent of what Sarachchandra did in 1956 to find ‘Sinhala theatre’ and its ‘indigenous identity.’ Sarachchandra used the Mahavamsa chronicle to write his plays and touched upon some of the relevant and uniform themes of human life of his time. Similarly, playwrights in the ’70s also used folklore and other chronicles to dramatise the politically-charged and socially relevant themes of the ’70s. When Sarachcahandra did so with his own aesthetics to find a uniform theatre for the Sinhala speaking masses, ’70s playwrights wanted to do it through their socialist realism derived from their Marxist ideology. KB chose the same path, exploring Sinhala chronicles to narrate contemporary socio-political realities. Many of his plays such as Dona Katharina (1995), Deveni Mahinda (1998) and Vāsudewa (1999) are based on such narratives retold in theatrical excellence to depict his own people and time. Similar to his predecessors of theatre of revolt in the ’70s, KB saw theatre as a medium to communicate political ideologies by reinterpreting and staging historical narratives. For him, theatre was an ideological transaction or a community action (Kershaw, 2002) between the playwright and the audience.
However, KB lived in an era when the theatre was fully understood as a matter of text, which played a key role in theatrical representation.
When Sarachchandra propagated modern Sinhala theatre as an ‘aesthetic transaction’ between proscenium and the audience member, playwrights and directors in the ’70s, in general, shared some of the co-values that Sarachchandra envisioned in his theatre philosophy. His liberal humanism and Sanskrit aesthetic theories influenced some of the ’70s theatre makers including KB. Writing about KB’s theatre and his ‘theatrical vision’, one writer has said KB was a writer who had a vision filtered through his village life and his heightened artistic ability developed through his education and his contemporaries he has associated with’ (Author translation Chandrasiri, 2003, pp. 237–259).
KB’s theatrical intervention should not be limited to liberal humanistic value systems, and his textual intervention in modern Sri Lankan theatre deserves recognition.
Death of the Author
KB’s theatre was a text-based theatre, which is again framed within the proscenium arch. His political discourse was based on his historical narratives written and structured in such a way that the dramatic theatre was enhanced through the culmination of the tragic hero.
People visited KB’s theatre not because his theatre is more performative and visually appealing to them but because they grasped aesthetic sentiments through the dialogical structures perceived through the text. This phenomenon has been a dominant element in KB’s plays. His text dominated dramatic action on stage. As stated above, the era when KB started writing plays and producing them for the stage was dominated by literary excellence that resulted from liberal humanism. In this discourse, the text and its characters, dramatic actions, culmination, and resolution were predominant dramatic elements governed through centuries old Aristotelian narratology. KB’s intervention was no exception. His textual narratives were also composed in such a way that the Aristotelian narratives were completed and fulfilled and finally the cathartic experience of the audience was achieved.
KB’s theatre is discussed as a powerful dramatic enactment but has been explored to discuss its logocentric meaning through the textual narratives. For KB, theatre is all about text, which is essential to create socio-political meanings through which his ideological stances could be transferred to the spectator. Writing about his theatre work, Gamini Haththotuwegama once said, “K. B. Herath is a dramatist, who is a grim, macabre, sardonic excavator of unpleasant “truth” about family, marriage, women, religion” (Haththotuwegama, 1998, p. 157). What does Haththotuwegama intend to convey through this statement? As I see, his intention is to point out how KB explored the tragedy of family, women, marriage, and religion, which are the basis of all these social entanglements. Yet, KB stuck to the logo-centric textuality, where the theatre is taking place within his own text instead of stage. KB was a poet, who viewed this theatre as a tapestry of poetic enactment through which his characters and the dramatic action were merely enacted through his text. The modern Sinhala theatre was doomed when KB shifted from live theatre to television. Although he was still a believer in the domination of text in the theatre practice, this era of text and the dramatic theatre was overridden by the postdramatic theatre in the world. I never heard theatre makers or playwrights of his generation discuss the paradigmatic changes taking place over the past five decades in theatre and performance studies in many countries including those in Asia, Australasia, the UK and the US. KB still stuck to his text-based theatre which gave the pleasure and salvation in his literary kingdom, as it were. During the past few decades, ‘the performative turn of the arts’ has marked the significant rupture of the traditional notion of literature, playwriting and theatre. The artistes and their work of art have become more performative than ever before. Literary text evolved into hyper-text. Rather than reading on paper, poetry recitals and readings came to be performed. Bodies of actors and dancers ceased to be space where the playwright’s ideas and thoughts were projected or conveyed through symbols. The performer’s body itself has become a text, elevating its inherent subjugation to the literary text. KB must have been aware of such paradigmatic changes happening in the post-democratic, post-dramatic era of the world. Yet, he seemed to stick to his own passion of the authorship and the meaning maker of his own text while aligning himself with his predecessors of Sri Lankan modern theatre.
KB’s contribution to Sri Lanka’s modern theatre and, especially text-based theatre, is immense and he explored uncanny elements of the so-called Sinhala dynasty and revealed unpleasant tragedies of men and women whose lives have been more or less hidden in the popular histories. During his last years, KB worked as a writer for other media including soap-operas, developing episodic stories to entertain the masses. However, due to his involvement in television and writing teledramas, much of his creative energy was drawn into popular narratives and shallow entertainment. Yet, KB was a playwright who brought tragic elements to Sinhala speaking modern theatre. He believed theatre to be a forceful medium to change people’s destinies. He directed his artistic virtuosity to create theatre on stage and made his audience empathise with his protagonists and experience the catharsis at the end. But as Hans-Thies Lehman asserts, ‘Dramatic theatre ends when these elements are no longer the regulating principle but merely one possible variant of theatrical art’ (Lehmann 2006, p. 22).
Chandrasiri, B. (Ed.). (2003). Dramatists in the ’70s (9th ed., pp. 237–259). Department of Cultural Affairs. (Original work published)
DeVotta, N. (2007). Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist ideology: implications for politics and conflict resolution in Sri Lanka. Washington, D.C.: East-West Center Washington
Haththotuwegama, G. (1998). Unresolved Contradictions Paradoxical Discourse and Alternative Strategies in the Post-Colonial Sinhala Theatre. In R. Abeypala, A. Vickramasighe, & V. Pathiraja (Eds.), Abhinaya (pp. 130–169). Sethsiripaya, Baththaramulla: Sinhala Drama Panel, Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Kershaw, B. (2002). The Politics of Performance. Routledge.
Lehmann, Hans-Thies. (2006). Postdramatic theatre. London; New York: Routledge.
(The writer is Professor in Drama and Theatre at the Department of Theatre Ballet and Modern Dance, Faculty of Dance and Drama, University of the Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo.)
How shoddy handling of accountability issues facilitated anti-Sri Lanka Geneva project
Sri Lanka’s failure on the Geneva front has facilitated a high profile project to undermine the country’s unitary status. The Geneva role in the controversial bid to introduce a brand new Constitution during the Yahapalana administration with the involvement of the rebel UPFA group (now SLPP) has been quietly forgotten. At one point, Wimal Weerawansa quit the process, warning the then Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to leave the UNP-led operation or face the consequences.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
In the absence of a cohesive and holistic effort on the part of Sri Lanka, till now, to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, the country remains enmeshed in the Geneva trap.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009 in spite of Western efforts at scuttling it, even at the eleventh hour, by dispatching a powerful team of foreign Ministers from the UK and France to prevail on the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to halt the war when we were on a certain winning path, proving many a pundit wrong.
With such a powerful Western delegation, comprising French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Dr. Bernard Kouchner and Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom David Miliband trailing President Rajapaksa he even conveniently fled to Embilipitiya to avoid them but they pursued him there and pleaded their case in late April 2009. The President simply rejected their plea. So, no wonder, the West left no stone unturned to destroy that government and the Rakapaksas! That is not to say that we consider the Rajapaksas’ to be lily white; they were far from it.
The basis for the continued harassment, and humiliation, of war-winning Sri Lanka, is the report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability here, released on 31 March, 2011. It was authored by Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) and Steven Ratner (US).
On 01 October, 2015, Sri Lanka became the first country to betray her own armed forces by co-sponsoring UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution 30/1 that ostensibly promoted reconciliation, accountability and human rights. Since then Geneva has gleefully engaged in bashing Sri Lanka annually.
The ongoing 54th Geneva sessions (11 Sept. – 23 Oct., 2023) is no exception. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Himalee Arunatilaka rejected the latest Geneva statement (written update). The career diplomat also strongly disputed the reference to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. That reference, obviously, was based on UK television station Channel 4 allegation that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa engineered near simultaneous Easter Sunday suicide attacks which claimed the lives of 269 persons, including 45 foreigners, based on an allegation levelled by a sole individual, while trying to seek political asylum in Switzerland.
On the basis of Geneva claims, some of those who successfully spearheaded what was repeatedly dubbed an unwinnable war, have been harshly dealt with. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Shavendra Silva is one. Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage, who retired in late 2018, is another. The list is long. When the writer raised the issue with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, a year ago, he didn’t mince his words when he declared that not only individuals but the entire fighting formations have been condemned.
Sri Lanka never made a genuine effort to address accountability issues. The Rajapaksas unashamedly exploited the Geneva threat to their advantage, whereas other political parties played politics with the issue. Defeated LTTE’s sidekick, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind the Geneva project.
Arunatilaka who previously served as our Ambassador to Nepal (Oct. 2019 to Dec. 2022) succeeded C.A. Chandraprema in January this year following the election of Ranil Wickremesinghe as President. Parliament elected Wickremesinghe on July 20, 2022, a week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a thumping 6.9 mn votes, was forced to flee the country, following an unprecedented public protest campaign over the disruption of basic services, with lavish funding from both local and foreign sources angry with the Rajapaksas. In the latter case they were angry at them for delivering a crushing defeat to the LTTE. The declaration of bankruptcy by the Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, during the tail end of Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, was long overdue. In January, this year, Dr. Weerasinghe said that Sri Lanka had been bankrupt much earlier but didn’t acknowledge the reality.
But the irony is Sri Lanka has gone bankrupt with a foreign debt of little over USD 50 billion, a sizeable amount out of it had been borrowed at high interest rates during the Yahapalana regime (2015-2019). The situation had been exacerbated by that regime loosening exchange controls by doing away with the time-tested Exchange Control Act that had been in place since the early 1950s. As a result, Sri Lanka has been made open to unscrupulous elements to steal valuable foreign exchange from the country. To make the situation worse, even according to Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, some unscrupulous exporters have parked export proceeds abroad to the tune of about USD100 billion that should have been legitimately brought back to Sri Lanka. So in actual fact our bankruptcy is entirely an artificial one created by interested parties! So the billion dollar question is why the government is not taking action to bring back the money that legitimately belongs to this country, or at least name the culprits in public.
At the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored resolution 30/1, career diplomat Ravinatha Aryasinha (currently Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute) served as Permanent Representative there (19 July, 2012 to 31 March, 2018), according to our mission website. The late Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera directed Aryasinha to go ahead, regardless of serious concerns raised by him. At the behest of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, Aryasinha was simply overruled.
Another career diplomat A.L. Azeez succeeded Aryasinha. Azeez and served there from 12 April, 2018 to 31 January, 2020, also according to the website. Therefore, at the time Sri Lanka declared its withdrawal from the Geneva process, on 26 February, 2020, the Geneva position remained vacant. That silly announcement was meant to deceive the gullible people as the ongoing Geneva session reminds Sri Lanka of the tightening noose laid by the West.
Veteran bilingual newspaper columnist Chadraprema served as our PR there 10 Nov., 2020 to 31 Dec., 2022, and was replaced by Arunatilaka, who joined the Foreign Service in 1998.
A pathetic response
Whoever had been at the helm, the Government of Sri Lanka was determined not to set the record straight, both locally and internationally. The war-winning Rajapaksa administration and the Wickremesinghe-Sirisena government, that co-sponsored the treacherous 30/1 US-led resolution in Oct. 2015 against one’s own country, refrained from addressing specific issues. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was definitely the worst. Instead of mounting a proper defence, it merely declared the country’s withdrawal from that resolution.
It would be pertinent to mention that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government hired US-based WR group and a private equity fund manager Imaad Zuberi at a cost of USD 6.5 mn (approximately Rs 1.31 bn) to influence US policy. The payments made over a period of five months, in 2014, were meant to divert US attention from Sri Lanka, ahead of the 2015 Geneva sessions. With the change of government, Sri Lanka joined the US in co-sponsoring a 30/1 resolution against her own armed forces.
In February 2021, Imaad Zuberi was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, foreign influence-peddling and campaign finance violations.
Five years before the endorsement of the 30/1 resolution, the Tamil speaking people, living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, declared their faith in the warwinning Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, for President. The US, too, affirmed her confidence in the SLA by throwing its weight behind Gen. Fonseka, who contested the first national election after the eradication of separatist Tamil terrorism. The Tamil electorate voted for Fonseka against the backdrop of the TNA’s endorsement of the General, whose ruthless tactics brought the LTTE down to its knees within three years. Then why did the Tamil electorate overwhelmingly vote for Fonseka? Had they really despised General Fonseka for Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, the electorate could have boycotted the poll, regardless of the TNA’s intervention. Let me stress that all those Tamil speaking people, who voted for Fonseka and Commander-in-Chief of armed forces Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, did so because they appreciated the eradication of the LTTE. That is the truth.
Unfortunately, no government ever referred to this fact in Geneva. Sri Lanka should have taken up this matter with the Sri Lanka Core Group,comprising the US, the UK, Canada, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia, at the UNHRC.
Having endorsed Fonseka at a national election, less than a year after his Army crushed the LTTE, it would be quite absurd for Tamil representatives in Parliament to press for an international inquiry. And those demanding for external intervention are silent on the origins of terrorism. The TNA, instead of demanding an international investigation, should make a public apology for its recognition of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people, way back in 2001.
Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to declare a sordid relationship between the TNA and the LTTE before the UNHRC as well as to bring it to the notice of the UN, officially. TNA lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, attended meetings on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York. For some strange reason, successive governments refrained from placing all facts, officially, before the international community, thereby allowing all those interested in hounding Sri Lanka for defeating LTTE terrorism, especially in the West, along with their cronies like Malawi, exploit a hapless country.
In fact, there is no point in blaming the Western powers, and India, for Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to set the record straight no doubt because of their international clout. In addition to the far reaching disclosure made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct. 2017 that disputed the very basis of the Darusman report, there were a number of other instances/developments which could have been utilized to build Sri Lanka’s defence. But irresponsible political leadership ignored such developments. Sri Lanka’s first major mistake was its failure to use the overwhelming Tamils’ recognition of General Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election.
Having faulted the SLA, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing No. 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.”
Those in authority should have paid attention to the following cases. The writer, on numerous occasions, underscored the responsibility on the part of the government to explore ways and means of exploring the following matters as part of overall strategy to build a solid defence (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by wartime US Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of the PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examination of the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct. 2017 disclosure based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war (Jan.-May 2009). Sri Lanka never used Lord Naseby’s disclosure to her advantage. (3) WikiLeaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some of these cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important WikiLeaks revelations disputed Sri Lanka deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives claimed by the UN and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept, 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept. 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit the so-called Mannar mass graves during the Yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry, under the Yahapalana rule, conveniently remained silent on the Mannar graves, while Western diplomats played politics, only to be proved utterly wrong. Acting at the interest of those hell-bent on blaming Sri Lanka, the then Geneva Chief Michelle Bachet faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation. The then Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran (Jaffna District MP now) rejected scientific findings of the Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct. 2015 to January 2019. We come to wonder whether she was actually a victim of Gen. Pinochet or a mere manufactured victim. Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is a relevant section bearing No. 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran, in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016, accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in the deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wignewaran is on record as having said a US medical team visiting Jaffna at that time would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.
By Lynn Ockersz
They are on a sad trek back home,
Our Isle’s ardent cricket fans,
Since their side has let them down,
Being routed by an opposing side,
Leaving not an iota of fame behind,
But handing them a bout of feel bad,
Whereas a grand win at the game,
Would have proved a heady opiate,
Which would have helped drive away,
For just a fleeting moment at least,
The depression born of a fallen state.
C 4 narrative reminiscent of its previous ones on the eve of the annual Geneva sessions and Sallay’s challenge
Easter Sunday plot:
C4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy towards the end of their latest film on Sri Lanka, posed three questions to the viewers. Did Sallay meet those who perpetrated the Easter Sunday massacre? Did the Directorate of Military Intelligence mislead police, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the President, sabotage the investigation? Those accused should answer these questions. As Guru-Murthy stressed that the families of those who perished deserved the truth. Perhaps, those genuinely interested in establishing the truth should also investigate/seek an explanation why extremist NTJ mounted suicide attacks to facilitate the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, always portrayed as a Sinhala Buddhist hardliner. C4 should accept Sallay’s challenge to verify his whereabouts/activities in 2018 and 2019 with Malaysian and Indian authorities. On its own, C4 can verify when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country. The Indian origin Guru-Murthy declared that Rajapaksa fled on Sept. 22, 2022 whereas the truth is the President flew out of Colombo on July 13, 2022 and returned on Sept 03, 2022. That basic blunder highlights how the media can be overwhelmed by a ‘story.’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Hanzeer Azad Maulana, who had been with Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan aka Pilleyan (formerly of the LTTE), till he fled the country and decided to seek political asylum in the West last year, in an interview with Channel 4 (C4) Television last week accused Maj. Gen. Suresh Sallay of facilitating the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage to get Gotabaya elected as the President.
How could Sallay have had engineered such a big clandestine operation that included meeting would-be terrorist suicide bombers at a coconut estate as allegedly arranged by Maulana at the behest of Pillayen, while being posted to the Sri Lanka High Commission in Malaysia (Dec. 2016-Dec. 2018) and then from January 2019-Nov. 2019 when he was at the National Defence College, India, including on the day of the cowardly near simultaneous suicide blasts targeting civilians on the morning of Easter Sunday April 21, 2019, and another a few hours later at New Tropical Inn, Dehiwela, near the National Zoo that sent shock waves, not only through Sri Lanka, but across the world?
State Minister Pilleyan is the Leader of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), a breakaway faction of the LTTE in Parliament. Pilleyan, elected from the eastern Batticaloa district, is the only TMVP MP in Parliament aligned with the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government.
Sallay’s alleged role in the Easter Sunday carnage is based on the claim of a sole individual Maulana that the senior military officer met the group of would-be suicide bombers at a large coconut estate, bordering the Kalpitiya lagoon at Karadipuval, in Wanathavilluwa, in the Puttalam District, in Feb. 2018. whereas the officer being accused says there are plenty of international alibis to prove he was not in Sri Lanka during the period concerned. Sallay insists that he never left Malaysia, for any destination, during 2018. The estate is called Lactowatta. The blasts claimed the lives of 269 persons, including 43 foreigners. Eight British tourists were among them. It would be necessary to stress Maulana’s claim that he arranged the meeting at the behest of directives received from Pilleyan, in September 2017 and January 2018.
During this entire period, Pilleyan, an erstwhile sidekick of Karuna (Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan aka Karuna), had been in remand for his alleged involvement in the assassination of Joseph Pararajasingham of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA National List) in Dec. 2005.
In response to queries posed in August this year by the UK-based production company, Basement Films, which produced the latest C4 film, Sallay asked them to verify with Malaysian and Indian authorities of his whereabouts in Feb. 2018 and April 19, 2021. That is the crux of the matter.
War-winning Army Chief Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s suggestion that Sallay may have entered Sri Lanka through an illegal route, in 2018, shows how diabolical and politically motivated he could be, having jumped headlong into the political cesspit at the end of the war.
Our Colombo 07-type folks might still swallow that myth about the British sense of justice and fair play and will readily accept anything aired by its media institutions as the gospel truth. Let us first of all not forget that it was the BBC that gave the signal to topple the duly elected democratic government of Iran, led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953.
The truth is London, which was deeply involved in slavery, having plundered much of the world in the name of god and king/queen, is still up to the same old tricks but in less lethal ways. In recent decades, virtually all their “highly respectable” banks have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars by American regulators for laundering drug money for international narcotic cartels. So we need not talk about how it went to war with China to dump opium in that country, in the 19th Century.
The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government should request Malaysian and Indian assistance in this regard. The government shouldn’t, under any circumstance, hesitate to have these accusations investigated. The failure to take tangible measures to ascertain the truth, without further delay, can cause catastrophic and irreversible damage. There shouldn’t be any issue with the government seeking foreign assistance as Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), European Intelligence services and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had been already involved in the Easter Sunday investigations.
C4 declared that Maulana, who fled Sri Lanka in 2022, and submitted himself to European Intelligence agencies and the United Nations Human Rights Council, won the confidence of interviewers. Against the backdrop of UNHRC and European Intelligence services asserting Maulana’s claim credible, it would be pertinent to ask them whether they verified Maulana’s claim that Sallay travelled to Colombo and then Lactowatta, in Feb, 2018. Had they done so, the latest C4 episode would have ‘decapitated’ Sallay.
In fact, the meeting at Lactowatta seems to be central to the heinous plot as towards the end of the much-touted C4 film, Maulana declared with authority that the Feb. 2018 secret meeting between Sallay and would-be suicide bombers took place at the same location. Therefore, Sri Lanka should immediately have Sallay’s ‘clandestine’ visit to Colombo, in Feb. 2018, as alleged by C4, investigated with the highest international participation.
Perhaps, the vast majority of complacent Sri Lankans had quite conveniently forgotten the raid conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Lactowatta, on January 16, 2019. The plainclothesmen were later joined by elite Police Commandos. The CID was hunting for those who had vandalized Buddhist statues in the Mawanella, Peradeniya and Velambada police areas from Dec 23, 2018 to Dec 26, 2018. Some authorities described Lactowatta as a Jihadist Training Camp though it didn’t have any infrastructure.
Allegations pertaining to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) hindering investigations into extremist activities should be examined taking into consideration a petition filed by Gnanendra Shani Abeysekara, retired SSP who served as the Director, CID (2017-2019). The veteran investigator moved SC in terms of Article 126 read with Article 17 of the Constitution in Feb. 2022 claiming an attempt to implicate him over his failure to thwart the Easter Sunday carnage.
The ex-top cop’s specific allegations directed at the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and DMI as regards the overall investigation into extremist activities, including high profile claim that two persons, including an ex-LTTE cadre, were falsely implicated in the killing of two police constables (Ganesh Dinesh and Walpita Gamage Niroshan Indika Prasanna) on Nov 30, 2018, at a checkpoint at Vavunathivu, Batticaloa. What Abeysekara said was astonishing. The heavyset one-time Police Commando alleged that the SIS and DMI made a deliberate bid to deceive the CID pertaining to the Vavunathivu incident. Abeysekara also declared that the Easter Sunday carnage could have been averted if the SIS and DMI shared information regarding those who killed the constables. If Sri Lanka is genuinely interested in establishing the truth, the entire gamut of issues should be investigated.
The CID swooped down on Lactowatta in the late afternoon of January 16, 2019. Mohamad Razik Thaslim, Coordinating Secretary to the then Yahapalana Minister Kabir Hashim, accompanied the CID team to Lactowatta. On March 29, 2019, Thaslim was shot in the head while he was asleep at his home located at Danagama, Mawanella, by Islamic extremists soon thereafter. In spite of receiving severe injuries, he survived.
Who really prevented the government from going all out against the extremist groups, at least after the raid on Lactowatta, and the assassination attempt on Kabir Hashim’s aide? Regardless of the SIS and DMI not providing anticipated support to the CID, the raid on Lactowatta revealed the growing threat posed by extremists, led by deranged Zahran. The Yahapalana leadership owed an explanation why it couldn’t/didn’t thwart the plot, especially after India warned, on April 04, 2019, of imminent attacks.
The conduct of the SIS and DMI during that period should be thoroughly examined and if the retired SSP allegation proved right those responsible should be appropriately and harshly dealt with.
Rajan Hoole’s disclosure
Academic Dr. Rajan Hoole dealt with the Easter Sunday carnage several weeks before the last presidential election on Nov. 16, 2019. Titled ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth’ in the Ravaya publication. It skillfully discussed the circumstances leading to the first and the only terrorist attack since the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009. At that time, Hoole deliberated the Easter Sunday plot, Maulana remained with Pilleyan. If what Maulana claimed in his interview with C4 is true then he had no qualms in working with Pilleyan, even after the Easter Sunday massacre, until he left the country.
The author is the brother of Ratnajeevan Hoole, who served as a member of the Election Commission during the Yahapalana administration. Having perused the book and its Sinhala translation (translated by Mahinda Hatthaka, Movement for Defense of Democratic Rights), there cannot be any dispute Hoole shed light on the complex web of secrets/situations/relationships that created an environment conducive for the murderous plot.
Hoole, who authored ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ in January 2001, quite clearly blamed the State elements for the attack. A founding member of the daring and pioneering University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) Jaffna that defied the LTTE at its might with its clandestine publications, Dr. Hoole is explicit in his accusation that those who backed SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa created an environment to deprive the Muslims of an opportunity to vote at the Nov. 2019 presidential election. The author asserted that the attempt failed while making reference to the plantation Tamils being disenfranchised in 1949, consequent to the 1948 Citizenship Act. However, the author quite conveniently refrained from recalling how the LTTE-TNA combine denied the northern community an opportunity to vote at the Nov. 2005 presidential election. That calculated move definitely cost UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the election. Wickremesinghe lost by 186,000 votes. The writer discussed Hoole’s assertions in an article titled ‘Failed 2015 political project may have triggered Easter Sunday attacks,” on Oct. 21, 2020 edition of The Island.
Therefore, Moulana’s interview didn’t surprise the vast majority though he appeared to have caused an unnecessary complication by his unsubstantiated claim that Sallay met would-be suicide bombers at Lactowatta in Feb. 2018 whereas the officer being accused challenged C4 to check with Malaysia whether he left for Colombo during the whole of that year.
At the time Zahran mounted the attacks, the UNP-SLFP Yahapalana arrangement was in tatters against the backdrop of President Sirisena’s failed bid to oust Premier Wickremesinghe. The extremists couldn’t have been unaware of the pathetic state of governance and sought to exploit the situation. The overall failure of that government should be reviewed taking into consideration a specific warning given to President Sirisena by the then Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne, in charge of the CID and SSP (petitioner) Abeysekara regarding the extremist threat as the destruction of Buddhist statues was carried out by the group that managed Lactowatta.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, SSP Abeysekara alleged that President Sirisena didn’t keep his promise to grant Seneviratne an opportunity to brief the National Security Council of the extremist threat, thereby marshaling SIS and DMI support to eradicate it. The ex-President must be asked to explain as to why he failed to take action after having met the two cops on Feb. 02, 2019, about 11 weeks ahead of the attacks. Sri Lanka received the first Indian warning on April 04, 2019.
As Maulana alleged, could Sallay interfere with the DMI while serving as Minister Counsellor in Malaysia and subsequently during the NDC course? If India knew of the plot, its intelligence services couldn’t have missed Sallay’s alleged involvement and placed him under surveillance.
A fresh look at accountability issues
Former CID officer Inspector Nishantha Silva was among those interviewed by C4. The British television channel disclosed that European intelligence services talked to Silva, too. The Swiss Embassy in Colombo facilitated Silva’s clandestine departure just over a week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election, as the seventh executive president, with an overwhelming majority. Claiming that he was obstructed by Navy and Army intelligence, the experienced investigator essentially commented on the assassination of the founding editor of Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickramatunga on January 08, 2009. The C4 film blamed Wickrematunga’s assassination on what it called ‘Tripoli platoon’ run by Pilleyan. C4 described the unit as a para-military outfit tasked with eliminating those who earned the wrath of the Rajapaksas. The unit was accused of enforcing disappearances.
It would be pertinent to mention that close on the heels of Inspector Silva fleeing to Switzerland, local Swiss Embassy employee Garnier Francis, formerly Siriyalatha Perera, caused quite a controversy by alleging government agents sexually abused her after having abducted her outside the mission. Her claim was subsequently proved to be a blatant lie. The case was settled after she retracted her claims that were given prominent attention by the New York Times, but not her retraction or the exoneration of the government by the ccourts.
The others interviewed by C4 were Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, former Human Rights Commissioner (during the Yahapalana administration) and Attorney-at-Law Ambika Satkunanathan, former Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz, slain Sunday Leader editor’s elder brother, Lal Wickrematunga, former lawmaker (UNP) and one-time Ambassador to Germany Sarath Kongahage (Mahinda Rajapaksa administration), a few victims of the Easter Sunday carnage and a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Statements that cannot be examined should be discarded. (General Sarath Fonseka was sentenced to three years in jail and fined Rs.5000 in a two-one split verdict delivered in the white flag case based on an interview Jansz did in Dec. 2009, a few weeks before the presidential election. Jansz did the interview in her capacity as the Editor of Sunday Leader. It was headlined “Gota ordered them to be shot – General Sarath Fonseka’ in the Dec. 13, 2009 edition).
As anticipated, C4 dealt with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election at the 2005 presidential election and the developments beginning with the LTTE taking up arms. C4 refrained from mentioning the origins of terrorism here but reiterated unsubstantiated allegations that 40,000 civilians perished in the final phase of the government offensive on the Vanni east front in 2009. The failure on the part of many to mention that India caused terrorism in Sri Lanka is baffling. Sri Lanka lacked the backbone to set the record straight at the UNHRC with regard to the origins of terrorism here.
Perhaps C4 still doesn’t accept that the UK Foreign Office, in response to queries posed under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in 2014 after a three year delay acknowledged that the death toll was 7,000-8,000 not 40,000 as claimed on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Like the person who spoke to C4 on the condition of anonymity, the identities of those who claimed 40,000 killings during that period would remain buried at least till 2031. C4 cannot ignore the official British records against the backdrop of its readiness to accept unsubstantiated allegations made by Maulana and an unidentified person. Their approach reminds us of how the UK media propagated the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) allegation to facilitate the US-British led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
At the beginning of the C4 film, reference was made to the deaths of eight British tourists in the Easter Sunday carnage. The British must be reminded how they allowed the LTTE a free hand in the UK until the Sri Lankan military erased the LTTE conventional military capability. The LTTE maintained its so-called International Secretariat in London even up to the time the terrorist group assassinated the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with a suicide bomber in April 1991, while their ideologue Anton Balasingham enjoyed the status of a British citizen until he died there peacefully in Dec. 2006 and his widow Adele, notorious for adorning their trade mark suicide capsules on Tiger female cadres, continue to live there scot free. Those shedding crocodile tears for terrorists should probe how millions in foreign currency were raised by the LTTE in the West since the ’80s to wage the terrorist war in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka political leadership should be ashamed for its pathetic failure to represent the country’s interests. Sri Lanka’s sponsorship of the 2015 Geneva Resolution proved the then Yahapalana government’s treachery. It betrayed its own armed forces before turning a blind eye to the growing extremist threat that culminated with the devastating 2019 Easter Sunday massacre.
The world must be reminded how LTTE terrorism here influenced far right extremist Andres Breivik to go on a killing spree in Norway in July 2011. The massacre of 77 innocent people, mostly teenagers, shocked the world. The onetime Norwegian diplomat’s son declared, ahead of the attacks, that he was inspired by the LTTE. In July 2016, European Union member state Germany asserted that an18-year-old gunman who had massacred nine people at the Olympia shopping mall in Munich was inspired by Breivik.
Even 15 years after the eradication of the LTTE, Sri Lankan political leaders haven’t been able to address accusations pertaining to accountability issues. Sri Lankan political parties seem only good at perpetrating corruption, fraud, irregularities and mismanagement. They collectively bankrupted the country, thereby helping those who still remained committed to separatist agenda here. Continuing offensive over the accountability issues is central to their overall strategy meant to do away with Sri Lanka’s unitary status. That is the bottom line.
Apropos ‘Alleged secret meeting with NTJ: Maj. Gen. Sallay says he was not in Sri Lanka for the whole of 2018’ in Sept. 07 edition of The Island, at the time Sallay arrived in Malaysia as Minister Counsellor, Pakeer Mohideen Amza served as our HC there. The career diplomat was replaced by A. J. M. Muzammil in late Feb. 2017. He was there at the time of the Easter Sunday carnage.
We thank journalist Ranga Srilal for pointing out the error in our report.
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