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Suppression of JVP terror and Premadasa regime





R.Premadasa Richard de Soyza Vartharaja Perumal Upatissa Gamanayaka

After the 1989 general election, President Premadasa made an appeal to the JVP to give up violence and enter the political mainstream. It was of no avail and the situation worsened day by day. There were explosion of bombs, slaughter of dissidents, attacks on security personnel, killing of police officers and taking their weapons were reported from all over the country.

The JVP organised a Hartal for several days to commemorate the 18th anniversary of 1971 Insurgency of April 5, 1989. As a result transport came to standstill and the work in offices were crippled. Several people who defied the hartal were assassinated. The hartal forced on people was somewhat a success.

Thereafter the JVP took up an anti-Indian stance and organised a boycott of Indian products. They took students and undergraduates to the streets for demonstrations. They prohibited CTB and private buses from plying and the efforts made by the government to run them by providing security by Armed Forces proved futile. Public property like buses and post offices were destroyed. There was a complete breakdown in civil administration and the government reimposed the Emergency on June 22, 1989.

On the other hand, Ranjan Wijeratne, the Deputy Defence Minister took stern measures to suppress the JVP. He gave wide powers to the Armed Forces to curb terrorist activities. The JVP organised a protest for July 28 and 29 to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the Indo-Lanka Accord. But the government deployed the Forces and took firm action to crush it. The demonstrations organised by the JVP were dispersed by firing which resulted in many deaths.

In the meantime the Deshapremi Janatha Sannaddh a Balakaya published a notice that if the members of the Armed Forces do not resign before October 20, 1989, the members of their families would be killed.

Added vigour

There was a view that this was a ploy by the government. Nonetheless now the members of the Armed Forces acted with firm determination and added vigour to wipe out the JVP. Besides para-military organisations like 'Pra' and 'Yellow Cats' were deployed to kill JVP members. Around this period numerous corpses half or fully burnt were found on the waysides.

There was a plan to round up the JVP leaders as well. The first to be arrested was D.M. Ananda, a politburo member of the JVP. On information extracted from him, Rohana Wijeweera, the leader of the JVP was taken into custody at an estate bungalow in Ulapane. Thereafter Upatissa Gamanayaka, the deputy leader of the JVP and a majority of its central committee members were also taken into custody. In due course almost all the leaders of the JVP were rounded up and were put to death. Since then although there were minor incidents here and there, the terrorist activities of the JVP ceased.

The 1988-89 JVP uprising was a devastating reign of terror compared to the 1971 Insurgency. The main target of 1971 Insurgency was the Armed Forces and it did not cause much harm to the civilians. The 1988-89 movement was a ruthless exercise. It infused terror on civilians, killing many innocent people.

The suppression of the 1988-89 terror was equally ruthless. It is said that over 100,000 youth of the JVP were killed by the Forces and para-military groups, without proper judicial process.

In the meantime, the LTTE posed as the only organisation that represented the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It began to assassinate members of other armed groups who by this time had entered the democratic mainstream. On the other hand the IPKF managed to confine the LTTE to the Vanni jungles which created a conducive environment to hold provincial council elections for the North-East. However, President R. Premadasa detested the presence of IPKF in Sri Lanka. He called the LTTE for a Peace Treaty in May 1989.

Initiative

Accordingly, President Premadasa summoned the LTTE to Colombo for Peace Talks. He provided the LTTE with weapons and other facilities. He, to please the LTTE even dissolved the North-East Provincial Council which was under EPRLF administration with Vartharaja Perumal as Chief Minister. Eventually, the IPKF left Sri Lanka in March 1990, on the initiative of President R. Premadasa. The LTTE that managed to fool R. Premadasa again waged war on June 11, 1990 and assassinated 400 odd police officers who surrendered.

The folly of President Premadasa in dealing with the LTTE tarnished his image in the country. Nevertheless he proved himself to be a person sincerely committed to the welfare of people. His Janasaviya program, putting up 15,000 houses and opening 200 apparel centres immensely benefited the poor. He looked into the problems of commoners and directed the State power and government officers to provide relief to them.

However, President Premadasa was accused of running a one-man show disregarding the views of Ministers and MPs. It is said that he abhorred criticism and took revenge on opponents. Premadasa administration was detested by many when Lakshaman Perera, a UNP, MMC of Dehiwala who was instrumental in staging a drama which was a satire on government with Richard de Soyza, in the lead role criticising the government, were brutally assassinated.

In September 1991, an impeachment motion to oust President Premadasa was handed over to the Speaker in Parliament. It was signed by a few Ministers and MPs of both the government and the Opposition. The big wigs of the UNP, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and M.G. Premachandra played a leading role in the impeachment move.

President Premadasa did everything possible to face the impeachment. He first prorogued Parliament and brought various pressures on the signatories. As a result some expressed that they had signed without any knowledge and others disclaimed their very own signatures. At the end the Speaker declared that there were insufficient number of signatures and not proceed with the impeachment.Because of the failed impeachment bid, 12 MPs including Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and M.G. Premachandra were expelled from the UNP. The 12 MPs went to Courts but could not get any relief. Thereupon they formed a new party called Democratic United National Front. The DUNF soon posed a threat to the UNP.

The DUNF contested the 1993 Provincial Council Elections and from the response of the people it was clear that it could raise its head as a third force. However, at a propaganda rally of the DUNF held at Kirillapona on April 24, 1993 one of its co-leaders Lalith Athlathmudali was assasinated. Although it was concluded that it was the work of the LTTE, many pointed their fingers at the Premadasa administration. The Lalith Athulathmudali Assassination Commission appointed by the P.A. Government later also made some aspirations to that effect.

A week after the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, President R. Premadasa too was killed by a bomb attack by the LTTE on May Day. D.B. Wijetunga the Prime Minister was appointed to succeed him as the President for the remaining period of one and half years.

The moment D.B. Wijetunga assumed duties as the President, he dissolved the Police Unit formed under a retired DIG to probe the activities of the opponents of the government.

He also did away with the one-man show and Ministers were restored to their due position. He also did away with the extravagant Gam Udawa.

At the Provincial Council elections held under the D.B. Wijetunga administration, the combined opposition of the P.A. and the DUNF won power in Western, South and North Western provinces. The UNP retained the power in four provinces barring the North East. The UNP polled 46.9% of the total votes and the P.A. got 36.1%. The DUNF formed a few weeks before polled 14.5% and showed future prospects.

The concepts of D.B. Wijetunga were quite different from that of R. Premadasa and the outlook of the UNP changed under him. As a result the leaders of the DUNF like Gamini Dissanayake, M.G. Premachandra and Sarath Amunugama re-joined the UNP. Mrs. Srimani Athulathmudali remained in the party and it came to be known as the DUNF - Srimani Athulathmudali faction.

At this time there was a marked change in the SLFP too. In 1992 Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga re-joined the party and in due course became powerful in the party. With the ascendancy of Kumaratunga, Anura Bandaranaike left the party and joined the UNP.

In 1994 Kumaratunga was made a Vice-President of the SLFP. Mahinda Rajapaksa who revived the SLFP from 1989 to 1992 organising a long walk and Jana Gosha against the iron rule of R. Premadasa was relegated to the background. So were the others in the SLFP like Dr. Neville Fernando, Halim Ishak, Tilak Karunaratne and Jinadasa Niyathapala. At this time the SLMP led by Ossie Abeygunasekera joined the UNP. At the beginning of 1994 T.D. Fransiscu, a member of the PA in power in the Southern Provincial Council by one vote, crossed sides and there was confusion in the Council. The Governor dissolved the Council and the election was fixed for March 1994. As Mrs. Sirimavo Bandranaike was indisposed Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga led the PA in that election campaign. The PA won it with 32 seats as against 23 by the UNP. Immediately after this victory at a ceremony for entrepreneurs Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga declared that in a future SLFP government the open economy would be continued but with a human touch. The Presidential term of D.B. Wijetunga was due to expire at the end of 1994 but the Parliament could continue till 1995. But he decided to have the Parliamentary elections first and dissolved the Parliament on June 22, 1994.

At the general election that was fixed for August 16, 1994 the UNP contested with an alliance with the Workers' Congress led by S. Thondaman. The SLFP, LSSP, CP, Y.G. de Silva led fraction of the SLMP, Srimani Athulathmudali faction of the DUNF all joined together and contested as the PA. It had a no contest pact with the SLMC.

Although the MEP did not endorse the open economy, it too wanted to contest from the PA. But it was denied entry at the last moment and had to go alone.

During the Presidential term of D. B. Wijetunga there was 6.9 development in the economy and a marked increase of foreign investment.

He also stood firm and refused 300 hours of work demanded by the Workers' Congress and won the accolades of Sinhala people in plantations. At this time the forces were in command in the Eastern province except Thoppigala, and D. B. Wijetunga asked for power to clear the North as well. He also made a statement that what was found in Sri Lanka was not an ethnic issue but a terrorist problem.

However, the majority of the people were fed up with the 17 - year UNP rule. As Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga pledged to continue to open economy some of the entrepreneurs helped the PA. D. B. Wijetunga was branded a racist and the PA got the support of the minorities and some NGOs. The tabloids and some of the Catholic priests too were seen supporting the PA.

In the 1994 election the PA led with 105 seats and the UNP could get only 94 seats. The SLMC got 7 seats and the TULF won 5. The PA which got the support of the SLMC and the TULF could form the government. The LSSP and the CP which contested under the PA got 3 seats each.

The MEP which contested alone could not win a single seat. As it wanted to contest from the PA till the last moment it had no time to get well organised for the election. Besides at that election all the progressives wanted to oust the UNP and they might have thought voting for the MEP would be wasting their vote.

Most of the votes of those who had an affection to Boralugoda Walauvva went to the PA as Indika Gunawardena of the CP contested from the PA.

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