July 29, 2015 marked 28 years since India violated Sri Lanka’s air space, dropped food items, intimidated the UNP Government and President Jayewardene and forced him to sign the Indo-Lanka Accord.
By the middle of 1987 ‘Operation Liberation’ aimed at freeing Vadamarachchi in the North from Tamil separatists was moving ahead successfully. Directed by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, 8,000 troops were participating in the battle under the command of Brigadier Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Colonel Vijaya Wimalaratne. Brigadier GH de Silva was Overall Operations Commander. The Government was able to end the operation victoriously on June 3, 1987. It was the country’s biggest military operation since independence.
A telex message received on the previous night said that the Tamil Nadu Government were sending 25 boat loads of dhal (lentils) and other food items, foreign media personnel and 94 Red Cross monitors to the North. Nineteen boats which left Rameshwaram on June 3 entered Sri Lankan territorial waters on the same day at 6.00 pm.Captain Suraj Munasinghe, Commanding Officer of the naval vessel ‘Edithara’ under instructions from Northern Navy Commander, Mohan Samarasekera stopped the Indian boats from moving forward. Minister Lalith Athulathmuali and Combined Operations Commander Cyril Ranatunga directed the naval operation by radio communication. After waiting at sea for three-and-a-half hours, the boats turned back at 9.30 pm. to return to India.
The Indian Government summoned Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Bernard Tillekeratne to Indian Foreign Minstry in Delhi on June 4, 1987 at 2.30 pm,and informed him that they had decided to airdrop relief items to Jaffna. High Commissioner Tillekeratne conveyed the message to Foreign Minster ACS Hameed in Colombo at 2.55 pm, the same day.
After hearing the message, President Jayawardene said that Sri Lanka would take no action against India’s violation of the island’s air space to drop relief supplies. At 3.55 pm the same day, five Indian Air Force transport planes from their base in Bangalore flew towards Sri Lanka, carrying 25 tons of dry rations in boxes which they dropped by parachute over the Jaffna Peninsula at 5.00 pm. India did this to force the Sri Lankan Government to stop the continuation of ‘Operation Liberation’ in Vadamarchchi to recapture Jaffna by mid-June. Consequently, President Jayewardene announced that the operation would be stopped.
By this time, the JVP had launched its second insurgency, claiming that it was the only force that could resist the (1) ‘treacherous’ UNP Government (2) armed Tamil separatism and (3) Indian aggression.
Three days after the Indian airdrop, the JVP’s Armed Wing, the Deshapremi Janatha Vyapaaraya (Patriotic People’s Movement) stormed the Katunayake Air Force Base and the Kotalawala Defence Academy, Ratmalana and seized 14, T-56 assault rifles, 53 sub-machine guns, two light machine guns, six pistols and 3,300 rounds of ammunition.
In the fighting that ensued two insurgents, Sumith Ranasinghe of Ragama and Jayewardenapura University Student Ronnie, were killed. The DJV took responsibility for the June 7, 1987 attack and announced that they would use the seized weapons against the Indian aggressor since the UNP regime did not use them against the enemy in defence of the motherland.
Daily demonstrations were held opposite the Indian High Commission and the High Commissioner’s official residence to protest against India’s violation of Sri Lankan airspace. High Commissioner JN Dixit informed Indian nationals in Sri Lanka to leave their homes and stay in hotels. In the meantime, secret talks were underway with the participation of Dixit, ‘The Hindu’ Associate Editor N. Ram and Minister Gamini Dissanayake on signing an accord between the two countries. The Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agency was drawing up the necessary plans.
Accordingly, Indian High Commssion’s Second Secretary HS Puri left for Jaffna and met LTTE Chief V. Prabhakaran and other Tamil militant leaders. High Commissioner Dixit went to Madras and met leaders of Sri Lankan Tamil organisations. TULF leaders insisted on merging the Northern and Eastern Provinces and setting up a separate Provincial Council to administer the region. Dixit conveyed their proposals to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi. President Jayewardene summoned Government MPs on July 23,1987 and informed that he would work in cooperation with India to solve the crisis. The majority of MPs approved it.
Two Indian military helicopters which landed in Jaffna from Madurai on July 24, 1987 took LTTE Chief Prabhakaran first to Madras and then to Delhi to meet PM Rajiv Gandhi. The purpose was get Prabhakaran to agree to a Indo-Lanka Accord to which TULF and other Tamil organisations had agreed. The talks were held at Ashok Hotel, Delhi, where Gandhi promised give more powers to the LTTE in an interim adminstration. The PM also agreed to pay its members Indian Rupees five million monthly until the new adminstration started functioning properly.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa was on an official tour of Japan at this time returned to the island on July 26, 1987, after hearing about the planned accord. He expressed his displeasure over President Jayawardene agreeing to it without informing him. There was a heated debate in Parliament over the proposed accord to which Opposition MPs Dinesh Gunawardena and Richard Pathirana vehemently opposed. The Government’s response was to postpone parliamentary sessions by a majority of 65 votes to August 18.
The UNP Government declared an island-wide curfew on the night of July 28, 1987, following an anti-accord protest campaign which began near the Bo-Tree Junction Pettah earlier on the same day at 8.00 am. When this writer went there about 6.30 am to report the event, he saw JVP politburo members HB Herath and Gunaratne Wanasinghe, Central Commitee Members Gamini Wijegunasekera, Thangaraja and hundreds of other high-level JVP activists already present.
By that morning red colored posters, slogans and black flags appeared in Colombo and many other main cities, expressing strong opposition to the UNP Government, the Indo-Lanka Accord and Tamil separatism.
Venerable Hedigalle Pannatissa, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha, Ven. Muruttetuwe Ananda, Ven. Dr. Wilegoda Ariyadewa, MPs Dinesh Gunawardena and Prince Gunasekera were representing the Mawbima Surekeemay Vyaparaya (Motherland Protection Movement) at the protest rally. Also participating were SLFP Leader Sirima Bandaranaike, Jinadasa Niyathapala, Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka, Gamini Iriyagolla, Anura Bandaranaike and many other SLFP Parliamentarians. All activities were organised by the Inter-University Students’ Federation and the Bhikku Front. The unseen hand behind the country-wide protest campaign was the JVP.
By 11.30 am on July 28, 1987, all roads in and around the Fort area were blocked since 20,000 people had gathered near the Bo-Tree Junction. Seth pirith chanting was heard. People panicked when the police baton-charged after tear gassing the crowd. There was repeated gunfire.Ten procesions, each comprising over a thousand people marched in four different directions. The protestors setfire to buses and other state property, sending clouds of black smoke int the air.
The first to be shot dead in the anti-accord protest was Moratuwa University Engineering Student Clifford Perera. This writer identified the body and sent a message to his father who was employed at Millers Limited Colombo. A total of 21 persons died as a result of shooting at the same spot. People in the vicinity took the dead and the injured to hospital. The violence which started near the Bo-tree Junction quickly spread all over the island. According to official government estimates, 132 protesters were killed and 712 persons including 56 bhikkus were taken into custody during five days from July 27 to August 2. The number of violent incidents was 2,527. An anti-accord group (suspected to be DJV) shot dead Tangalle’s UNP MP Jinadasa Weerasinghe on August 1, 1987.
In addition to President Jayewardene, Minister Gamini Dissanayake too played a key role in connection with the Indo-Lanka Accord. Prime Minister Premadasa and Minister Athulathmudali expressed their silent disapproval of it. Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and wife Sonia Gandhi arrived in Sri Lanka on July 29, 1987 at 10.30 am. From Katunayake they travelled by helicopter to Galle Face.
On the same day at 11.30 am, unofficial talks were begun between President Jayewardene and the Indian PM. Three discussions were held till midnight and the final talks were held on the morning of July 30. Defying the curfew, hundreds and thousands of people were demonstrating against the accord, which was signed on July 29, 1987 at 3.37 pm. On the same day, Cabinet Minister Gamini Jayasuriya resigned from the Government in protest against the accord. MP Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena did not vote for the Provincial Council Bill when it came up in Parliament following the accord.
Before Rajiv Gandhi’s departure, a Naval Guard of Honor was held opposite the President’s House, Fort. Prime Minster Premadasa and Minister Athulathmudali boycotted the ceremony which began on July 30 at 9.30 am. As the Indian PM, escorted by a Sri Lankan Navy Officer Lieutenant Mendis, was inspecting the Guard of Honor, one of its members Leading Rate Wijemuni Vijitha Rohana attacked Rajiv Gandhi with his rifle butt. Although the PM ducked to avoid the blow, it struck his shoulder, but with no serious injuries. The only cameraman who was able to photographically record the incident was Sena Vidanagama of Lake House. This writer was among the media personnel who were present there to report the Guard of Honor. Rajiv Gandhi as scheduled left for Delhi from Katunayake on the same day at 11.30 am.
Wijemuni Vijitha Rohana, born in Boossa, Ratgama, was 22-years-old at the time. He told the Court-Martial that he had no intention of killing the Indian PM, but only did so to disgrace him internationally for intimidating Sri Lanka and using force on the country to impose the accord. Attorneys including Stanley Tillekeratne, Donald Hewagama, Susil Premajayantha appeared voluntarily for Wijemuni who was sentenced to six years rigorous imprisonment by the Court- Martial for attempted culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Later he was pardoned and released on April 3, 1990.
Even before the Indian PM‘s departure, Indian troops – the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) – had established themselves in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern Provinces by the afternoon of July 29, 1987. Nearly 100,000 Indian soldiers landed in the island during this period. The number of Indian military personnel including officers killed during the anti-LTTE operations in the North and East was 1,500. About 8,000 Tamil separatist terrorists and others were killed by the Indian troops. This resulted in IPKF being branded the ‘Indian People Killing Force.’ Evacuating them from Sri Lanka began from the Ampara District on October 25, 1989. The last Indian Army unit left for India from Trincomalee on March 13, 1990.
The Indo-Lanka Accord, the 13th Amendment and Provincial Councils are links in a single chain. The Provincial Council system which has been called a white elephant was born out of the Indo-Lanka Accord which introduced the 13th Amendment. The aim of the second JVP insurgency was to oppose the accord which India forced on Sri Lanka. The insurgency claimed the lives of 41,813 people.
Following the Accord’s failure to end the Tamil separatist struggle, Prime Minster Ranil Wicktremesinghe of the UNP Government which came to power in 2002 signed a ceasefire agreement with Prabhakaran via the Norwegian Government. That too was a failure. Eventually, it was President Mahinda Rajapaksa who won the war by totally defeating the LTTE on May 18, 2009.