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Capitalizing on tragedy

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The assassination of Janaka Perera, shook the nation last week. The LTTE, which in recent times had not been able to do anything that really could make people stand up and take notice, was able to do so by killing Janaka Perera who had become a soft target after taking to politics. There was one story that the late general used to tell his friends – that if your time had come, you had to go and nothing could prevent it. The example he gave was that of his own father, who while out on a walk, had been run over by a vehicle but had survived. Years later, he had died of complications resulting from a fall in the bathroom.
Likewise, Perera survived years of war and terrorist attacks only to die at a political meeting. The general always lived dangerously and was never afraid to take risks, even ones that put his very life on the line. In 2000, when he was to be sent to Jaffna following the fall of Elephant Pass, and the LTTE was pushing the Armed Forces back, his children had pleaded with him not to go. But he had told them that if he goes to Jaffna and he gets killed, four or five people will be sad. But if he doesn’t go, 40,000 lives will be lost – and he went.

That was Janaka Perera. He was the most complete and total family man that this writer has ever known, yet when it came to the nation even his family came second. He was the stuff that heroes were made of. The last time I spoke to him, he was referring to the people of the NCP as ‘my people’. He died doing what he liked to do. He had always had political ambitions. From his point of view, going out while still in the limelight, was better than dying of old age in bed. He was 62 years-old, but retirement and coasting along until the end of his days, was never on his mind. Farewell my friend, may you and your wonderful wife, Vajira, rest in peace.

Samaraweera’s silence

The UNP leader got to know of the assassination within minutes of the incident. He swung into action detailing party general secretary Tissa Attanayake and MPs John Amaratunga and Palitha Range Bandara to explain matters to the public at a press conference. Later Wickremesinghe summoned Tissa Attanayake, Vajira Abeywardene, Ravi Karunanyake, Joseph Michael Perera, Rukman Senanayake and John Amaratunga to discuss the situation arising from the assassination. It was discussed at this meeting that Janaka Perera had made a complaint to the Anuradhapura police station that he was under threat by the LTTE and requested security. But this call had gone unheeded. It was also discussed that Gotabhaya Rajapakse had declared that Perera’s name was not on the LTTE hit list and therefore it was not possible to provide him with security. When the UNP parliamentary group met, many parliamentarians were of the opinion that the government kept the door open for this assassination and that they cannot escape blame.

It was Attanayake who was sent to Anuradhapura to attend to the needful with regard to the bodies of Janaka Perera and his wife. It was decided to bring the bodies to Colombo for embalming and at Attanayake’s and Wickremesinghe’s request, the Prime Minister had expeditiously provided a helicopter to bring the bodies to Colombo. With regard to taking the bodies back to Anuradhapura to lie in state, there was some confusion resulting in the two bodies and the accompanying relatives spending nearly four hours at the Ratmalana airport. When the air force authorities refused to let the party into the airport, and calls were going back and forth between the stranded party and Tissa Attanayake, Perera’s eldest daughter had rung up Minister Kumara Welgama who was a family friend. Welgama had immediately phoned Gotabhaya Rajapakse who was then in Russia. He had then phoned the president, who had checked and found that a chopper was not available and he had immediately sent a police escort to take the bodies to Anuradhapura by road.

It is certainly true that the Rajapakse government has been less than accommodating of Janaka Perera. When President Rajapakse was elected to office in 2005, Perera was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Indonesia. Last year, he was suddenly recalled without any reason being given for his removal. This was the start of the chain of events which led to Janaka Perera taking to politics. So let’s start at the beginning. Who was responsible for throwing Perera out of the foreign service? The general belief is that it was Gotabhaya Rajapakse who had pushed for Perera’s removal from the position of Ambassador. But at the time of his removal, Mangala Samaraweera was the foreign minister, but he has never commented on why Perera was removed. It couldn’t be that he failed to notice it, because Perera was the most high profile individual serving in any Sri Lankan mission overseas.

That was the time before Palitha Kohona was appointed foreign secretary. Mr Palihakkara had retired and an acting secretary was in charge of the ministry. Since Mr Mangala Samaraweera is now in the opposition, the public would like to know from the former foreign minister whether it was really Gotabhaya Rajapakse who ordered that Perera be recalled from Indonesia?

After leaving the government, the Mangala Samaraweera/ Sripathy Sooriyarachchi duo accused the government of everything including having a secret pact with the LTTE. But they never accused the government of having removed the Ambassador to Indonesia who had done so much to block arms shipments from the Indonesian archipelago to the north of Sri Lanka. When he got wind of the news that he was to be removed from the position of Ambassador, Perera sent a letter to Samaraweera, outlining all that he had done in stymieing the LTTE in Indonesia. But nothing happened. The strange thing is even after both Samraweera and Perera ended up on the same side, Samaraweera continued to maintain that silence on Perera’s removal. Samaraweera was always a man who resented interference in his ministries. One of the main reasons why he fell out with president Rajapakse was because the president insisted on appointing Kohona as foreign secretary. In such a context, for Samaraweera not to raise even a whimper if Gotabhaya Rajapakse or even the president had been trying to tell him whom to recall and not to recall, would seem strange.

The story of Janaka Perera’s removal from the ambassadorial position he held still needs to be told; and the person who has to start is the then minister of foreign affairs. If undue pressure was brought on him by the defense secretary to have Perera removed, then this is the opportune moment to come out with the truth. What really happened? Was Perera sacked at the behest of either the president or the defense secretary or was it a common decision of the government in which Samaraweera also concurred? If the inexplicable silence continues, then one has to assume that it was Samaraweera who sacked Perera.


 

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