An extract from Sugeeswara Senadhira, "The cyanide drama that brought referee Rajiv into the ring," Sunday Times, Colombo, 1 October 1989.
Many people including the former President J.R.Jayewardene, share the opinion that the turning point was the arrest and subsequent suicide of the 17 L.T.T.E. members including two area commanders, Pulendran and Kumarappa. Referring to this Mr. Jayewardene said in a recent interview, The referee Rajiv entered the ring to fight my battle.
Inside facts of that interesting episode were never related and after talking to many people including the Tigers, the I.P.K.F. and senior Sri Lankan officials and a senior minister, I managed to put the pieces together and link up the story which is as follows.
On October 2, 1987 the Sri Lanka Navy received a tip off about a boat seen in the Palk Straits and that it may be carrying arms. According to Navy sources, the tip came from the I.P.K.F.. A naval patrol craft was dispatched to the area. The navy men saw a fast boat trying to cross over to Sri Lankan shores. They gave chase and caught up with it. When they approached the boat the sailors saw the mounted gun and realised it was a vessel carrying Tamil militants. But when they ordered the people in the boat to surrender, they did so without a fight.
But the Navy did not know they had a prize catch until they brought the prisoners and the huge stock of arms found in the boat to the Kankesanturai port where Pulendran was recognised by a soldier. He recognised the L.T.T.E.s Trinco Commander Pulendran as the dreaded terrorist leader who together with a group of guerrillas stopped two buses at Kithulotuwa in Habarana and massacred 126 civilians.
Pulendran and the L.T.T.E. leader of Batticaloa were handed over to the local commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Brigadier Jayantha Jayaratne.
The prisoners were frisked and their cyanide capsules were removed. According to Dilip Yogi, the Tigers did not protest because they thought they would be released as there was a general amnesty.
Brigadier (later promoted to the rank of Major General and died in October 1988) Jayaratne immediately informed his superiors and he was told that a special plane would be sent to bring them to Colombo. By then the Tigers had come to know about the arrest of their colleagues and they requested the I.P.K.F. Commander, General Rodriguez, to get them released as the Government of Sri Lanka granted a general amnesty to Tamil militants.
General Rodriguez asked Brigadier Jayaratne either to release them or hand them over to the I.P.K.F.'s charge. After speaking to Colombo, Jayaratne informed his Indian counterpart that the prisoners would be sent to Colombo. But he agreed to allow a few Tiger leaders, including their theoretician Dr. Anton Balasingam, to visit the prisoners.
The I.P.K.F. chief wanted to keep some Indian soldiers to guard the Tigers, Brigadier Jayaratne agreed to allow the Indians to stand about 10 yards behind the Lankan troops guarding the prisoners.
Within a short time, more than 3000 women and children arrived at the Palali camp, demonstrated and demanded the release of the 17 prisoners.
Rodriguez walked into Brigadier Jayaratnes makeshift office at Palali and once again demanded the release of the Tigers.
If you try to take them to Colombo, the demonstrators will forcefully enter the camp. How can we control them?. We cant shoot women and children. he argued. Brig. Jayaratne explained that he had to obey orders.
When he went to the hanger to ask the Tigers to board the plane, he was in for surprise. The 17 L.T.T.E. men took out cyanide capsules and warned that they would swallow them if there was an attempt to take them to Colombo (cyanide capsules were passed on to them when the L.T.T.E. leaders met them).
Jayaratne reported the latest development to Colombo. But he was instructed to send the Tigers to Colombo immediately.
As soon as Jayaratne replaced the receiver, the I.P.K.F. commander walked in again and said, Dont send them to Colombo. If they die there will be a bloodbath. No I have my orders. I have to send them to Colombo, Jayaratne replied.
You may have your order but you are the man on the spot. It is your responsibility to avoid any step which could have disastrous consequences, Rodriguez argued.
When Jayaratne refused to change his decision, Rodriguez asked him to delay the departure of the plane by 12 hours. Dixit (Indian High Commissioner) is in Delhi now and he is expected to land at Katunayake at 5 p.m today. He can drive to the Presidents house and obtain an order from President Jayewardene for the prisoners to be handed over to the I.P.K.F..
When Jayaratne refused to budge, Rodriguez tried to bully him. I will not allow your plane to take off with the prisoners. Ill order B.M.P.s (armoured cars) on to the runaway, he threatened.
Ill shoot your B.M.P.s sir, was the reply given by the Sri Lankan officer.
However Jayaratne phoned Colombo again and made another attempt to which the reply he got was, If you dont send the prisoners to Colombo within the next two hours, you hand over your charge to your second-in-command and come to Colombo under arrest.
Jayaratne selected 34 of his strongmen and told them to rush into the hanger when they received his signal and prevent the Tigers from taking cyanide. He kept the doctors, ambulances and stomach pumps ready.
Then he walked into the hanger with his soldiers. But they could not stop the Tigers from biting into the capsules. Pulendran, Kumarappa and seven others died immediately, four died in the hospital and four were saved.[Top]
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