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check The Janak Perera Affair - 04-30-2007, 04:36 PM

Last week, the name of war veteran, Major General Janaka Perera was thrown into the political ring. In the past couple of weeks a controversy in which his name figured set off a chain reaction which overshadowed the UNP’s now fading rajayoga hopes. A couple of weeks ago, there were reports in the newspapers (not of the Upali Group) that Perera had a long discussion with Ranil Wickremesinghe, and had been offered the position of an electoral organizer in the UNP. A few days later, Wickremesinghe went public saying that Gotabhaya Rajapakse should be removed from his post because he failed to prevent the Katunayake air base attack and that he should be replaced as Defence secretary by Perera. This statement by the UNP leader added credence to the story that Perera was gravitating towards the greens.
Rajitha intervenes
But when the Island contacted Perera who was then in London after having relinquished his position as Sri Lankan Ambassador to Indonesia, he said he had not spoken to Wickremesighe either in person or over the phone and that he has not been offered a position of an electoral organizer. The Island front paged this story. We stated in this column, two weeks ago, that to use Perera’s name like this, without his knowledge or approval, was tantamount to using him as cannon fodder in the UNP’s quest for political power. We assumed that speculation about Perera would stop after the Island report that he had no contact with Wickremesinghe. But last Sunday, another newspaper reported once again, that Wickremasinghe had a long conversation with Perera who was going to join the UNP. On Monday, a Sinhala newspaper reported that Wickremasinghe had once again called for Perera to be appointed defence secretary..
On Tuesday, Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who has known Perera for many years decided to get in touch with him to find out what was going on. When Rajitha phoned him that evening, Perera was unaware that a Sunday newspaper had reported that he was joining the UNP or that a Sinhala daily had reported Ranil’s repeated call for him to be appointed as the defense secretary. Rajitha then read out what the newspapers had been saying about him and Perera told Rajitha that he had not met Wickremesinghe or spoken to him over the phone and that he has not been offered a electoral organiser post - the same story that Perera told The Island the week before .
Rajitha then asked Perera about a meeting he is supposed to have had with Sonali Samarasinghe of the Sunday Leader in Singapore. The story was that the UNP had entrusted the task of winning over Perera to this journalist who had worked for a while with Perera in the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra. Perera had told Rajitha that he had not been to Singapore, and had not seen Samarasinghe since she left Canberra.
Before speaking to Perera personally, Rajitha had been convinced that Perera was in close contact with the UNP but that he was not making it public. Rajitha had assumed that Perera’s denial to The Island was incorrect. "There can’t be smoke without a fire. Would these newspapers keep repeating the same story if it were not true?" was what Rajitha told a close associate about the Perera affair. However, after having spoken to Perera, Rajitha was convinced that The Island was correct and that the news reports appearing in other newspapers about Perera were false. Immediately after speaking to Perera, Rajitha spoke to Gotabhaya, and told him what had transpired in the conversation with Perera.
Conflict escalates
In the meantime, other conflicts were beginning to spin off from the controversy surrounding Perera. Ranil Wickremesinghe resigned from the dayaka sabha of the Hiunupitiya Gangarama temple over comments made by Podihamuduruwo to the effect that Wickremasinghe should have appointed Perera as the Defense Secretary when he had the chance to do so when he was Prime Minister of the country; and that he should not be telling the government to do what he himself chose not to do. After Wickremesinghe resigned in a huff from the Gangarama dayaka sabha, another leading monk Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira went on TV criticizing Wickremesinghe’s action and defending the Podihamuduruwo’s statement, accusing Wickremasinghe of wanting to foment a division within the armed forces by using Perera’s name. In the meantime, the Ministers’ Private Secretaries Organization held a well attended demonstration in support of Gotabhaya in front of the Fort railway station. Posters also have appeared countrywide in support of the defense secretary. S.L..Gunasekera of the JVP-backed Patriotic National Movement, also issued a statement in defense of the defense secretary.
It was obvious last week from the stories planted in the press about Janaka Perera’s supposed connections with the UNP that his name was being used as bludgeon against the government. What gives the UNP and Wickremesinghe the leverage to so blatantly use his name in their campaign against the government? And why hasn’t Perera still issued a public denial if those stories were untrue? If at this stage, Perera goes public and rejects calls by Wickremesinghe that he be appointed as defense secretary in place of Gotabhaya, and publicly denies that he had conversations with the UNP leader with a view to taking to politics, that would be fatal to the UNP. In a situation where the government has not fallen in April according to the astrological predictions, and even the rift between Mahinda and Mangala showing signs of healing, the UNP’s plans are in tatters, Any hope of being able to persuade some of those who defected to the government to come back into the UNP evaporated with the ‘hoo reception’given to Edward Gunasekera.
In such circumstances Janaka Perera is the only weapon the UNP is left with to bludgeon the government with. When the UNP calls for Gotabhaya to be sacked, they know that the question that will go begging will be who can replace him at the present juncture? The UNP knows that they can’t possibly suggest Austin Fernando’s name as that might provoke a country wide anti-UNP riot. So they have to suggest the name of someone whom the public would be inclined to believe is up to the task. - hence the use of Perera’s name
Perera himself cannot possibly believe that he would ever be appointed as defense secretary under a Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNP government. The last time Wickremesinghe was in power, he appointed Austin Fernando as the Secretary and Tilak Marapone as the Defense Minister. In December 2005, Sagala Ratnayake was tipped to be the Defense Minister if Wickremesinghe became President.
Hands tied
Knowing all this, and also the fact that he UNP’s use of his name has put him back on the LTTE;s hit list, Perera dares not publicly snub the UNP Indeed he would be foolish to do so in the circumstances that he finds himself in. The government has just booted him out of his job as Ambassador to Indonesia. This is no simply a case of having been bought back after his term ended. Nor has he been displaced as a result of someone else having taken up the job. Major General Nanda Mallawarachchi was supposed to replace Perera in Jakarta, but Perera was brought back before a successor was named, leaving the mission without a head.
Perera naturally did not want to antagonize anybody by making any public rebuttal and has opted to remain silent and leave the country soon in order to be with his children, as he had explained to Rajitha. Perera’s problems with the government began last October with an official visit by Prime Minster Ratnasisri Wickremanayake to Indonesia. Following this visit, Perera got to know through the grapevine that somebody had been telling tales to the president about him and his effectiveness as ambassador. He wrote a lengthy letter to the then Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S.Palihakkara with a copy to the Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, stating that he wishes to place on record certain facts relating to the visit of the PM to Indonesia as he has been made to understand by ‘unimpeachable sources’ that the president has been given wrong information to the following effect.
1. That he failed to get the appointment with the Indonesian President for the Prime Minister;
2. That the appointments with the President of Indonesia and other relevant authorities were obtained thanks to the efforts of the foreign secretary; and
3. That the Sri Lankan mission in Indonesia has not taken any action to stop arms shipments of the LTTE through Indonesian territorial waters.
Perera states in his letter, that "despite some initial difficulties, it is agreed by all concerned that the visit of Hon. Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to Indonesia was a success". The present columnist, contacted a top foreign ministry source and he confirmed this statement of Perera’s. The source further stated that the Indonesian visit cannot be a reason for Perera’s removal, but only a pretext. Be that as it may this was not a normal overseas visit by the prime minister, but a special visit for a specific purpose. On October 16, 2006, Perera had been suddenly contacted by the then Foreign Secretary Palihakkara who had told him that a delegation led by the PM would be visiting Indonesia on October 24 to meet the Indonesian President on October 25.
PM’s Ramazan visit
Perera had explained to the foreign secretary that October 24, 2006 would be Idul Fitri and thereafter Lebaran (Ramazaan Holidays), and such a visit would be difficult during this period. The Foreign Secretary had replied that he had discussed this matter with Dr. Hassan Wirajuda, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in Indonesia and he agreed to a meeting with the Indonesian President on October 25 and requested Perera to coordinate with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Official visits are not organized on the spur of the moment. Reasonable time is usually given to the Sri Lankan Embassy overseas to co-ordinate the visit at their end. In this instance, Perera was given given virtually no time to get things arranged. And to make matters worse, the Sri Lankan government delegation was going to visit the world’s largest Muslim nation during the most important festival in the Muslim calendar.
Whose daft plan to was to make an official visit to Indonesia on this particular day, remains a mystery. Moreover, why this particular visit had to be made on that particular day and not earlier or later, is an even bigger mystery. It looks as if somebody got out of bed one morning and decided that an official visit should be arranged to Indonesia the very next week. There was no conceivable reason as to why that visit had to be so sudden. It was not a case of trying to stop an LTTE arms shipment or something like that because in such cases, a phone call to the relevant Indonesian authorities by the Sri Lankan authorities would have sufficed. When the present writer asked a top foreign ministry source what the normal period of notice is for a foreign mission to organize a official visit is, the answer that was given is that reasonable notice has to be given and that under no circumstances would an overseas mission be told "We are coming next week, do the needful."
Like Sri Lankan politicians, Indonesian polticians also have to visit their villages and celebrate the festival with their constituents. During the new year period, some newspapers had falsely reported that President Rajapakse was going overseas for the new year and this gave rise to quite a furor and the state media went out of its way to show the president performing the customary rites in his home town. The same pressures apply to the Indonesians. The day after he received a call followed by a fax message from the foreign secretary, Perera had spoken to the Director General for Asia Pacific & African Affairs, at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and the first question he had been asked was "Why did you decide on this program during Lebaran period?" When Perera told him that the Sri Lankan Secretary Foreign Affairs had spoken to the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the minister had informed our foreign secretary that the Indonesian President agreed for a meeting on the 25th, Perera was told by the Director General that both meetings were scheduled for 25th as requested, but that they were awaiting confirmation from the Presidential Secretariat.
The next day, the Director General for Asia Pacific & African Affairs of Indonesian Foreign Ministry informed Perera that the Presidential Secretariat had said the dates are not suitable and advised him to reschedule the visit due to the intervening Lebaran Holidays. When Perera told Palihakkara of the problem, he had told Perera, that arrangements have already been made for the PM to leave Colombo on October 24, and that Perera should use his influence and personal contacts to prevail on the Indonesian authorities to accept this period for the visit. After contacting all sources, Perera had managed to convince the authorities concerned to agree to the PM meeting the Indonesian President on October 26. The Indonesian Presidential Secretariat had also suggested that the Sri Lankan delegation should leave Colombo on October 25 rather than the previous day
Muslim hospitality
Thereafter, Perera had arranged the subsequent meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defence, Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Navy, and the officials involved in anti-terrorism operations in Indonesia. Perera had personally spoken to every individual concerned and requested them to treat this as personal request of his and to meet with our delegation. Many of them had been reluctant as they had panned to leave for their home towns in different provinces for the customary Lebaran holidays with their families, relatives and friends. However, they had agreed to fly back to Jakarta to meet the Sri Lankan delegation. Even the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs who had agreed to the meeting in the first place, had to be cajoled by Perera, into meeting the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary and the Secretary to the Prime Minister. Earlier, the Indonesian foreign minister had stated that since he was meeting the Sri Lankan Prime Minister at the airport, there was no need for a further meeting.
Despite these initial hiccups, the meeting had gone off well. Perera had been able to establish a good rapport with President Yudhyono as he too was an ex-military man. How close the rapport between Perera and Yudhyono was, can be gauged from the fact that when Prime Minister Wickremanayake suggested that there should be some individual assigned to be a line of direct contact with him, the response of the Indonesian President was: "There is no necessity for that as Sri Lankan Ambassador here in Jakarta has direct access to me at any time he wants." When he first came to Indonesia in May 2005, the Indonesian President, had suggested to Perera, obviously because of his background in combating terrorism, that he visit Aceh and other conflict zones and to give his views to the Indonesian government as an independent observer. But this had been stymied with the foreign ministry delaying the release of the USD 640 which was the estimated cost of the visit Due to the good relations Perera had developed in Indonesia, the Indonesian Ministry of State Owned Enterprises released the Fast Passenger Craft PS Jetliner, valued at over USD 12 million for the use of the Sri Lanka Navy without any collateral.
The conspiracy to oust Perera began with this visit. Among the misinformation that had been conveyed to the President, was that Perera had been ineffective in stopping arms procurement and transshipment from Indonesian territorial waters to the LTTE. However, Perera had been able to establish a very close working relationship with the Indonesian Intelligence Services, and also obtained the assistance of such organizations from other countries in the region. In his letter to the Foreign Secretary, Perera claimed to have been able to stop six arms shipments out of seven during his tenure, and 21 LTTE operatives had been arrested. Even the one shipment that got through, the Second Secretary in our mission in Jakarta received the information through his sources and informed the State Intelligence Services, Colombo by Fax Message No. JA/SS/SIS/46 dated 31 August 2006, so that the SLAF and SLN were able to intercept and destroy the ship on September 16, 2006.
An unwilling bride
The question that goes begging is why has the foreign ministry been intriguing against Perera by conveying the wrong information to the president? On December 17, about seven weeks after the Indonesian visit, Perera received a call from the Director General of Overseas Administration of the foreign ministry that his services had been terminated on the instructions of the president, and giving him three months notice. At that time, the president was quite convinced that the foreign ministry which was then under Mangala Samaraweera, was doing all they could to undermine his government. Perera has an image in the country and some even wanted him to contest the 2005 Presidential elections. When such a man is booted out by one side, he naturally falls into the clutches of the other.
Was the sudden and unceremonious removal of Perera part of somebody’s plan to destablise the Rajapakse government?
If it was, it has certainly succeeded. Had Janaka Perera been allowed to complete his term in Indonesia without people telling tales to the president about him, the UNP would not be able to use his name in their campaign against Gotabhaya. The UNP is able to make use of his name confidently, because they know that he has been victimized by the government and for fear of losing everybody, he would keep quiet when the UNP used his name even without his permission. Some weeks ago, it was reported in this column that the UNP was throwing itself at the JVP, and even planting stories in the press that the UNP and the JVP were working together. In order to topple the government in Parliament the UNP needed the support of the JVP and they were trying to convey the impression to the country that they did in fact have the JVP’s backing. But the JVP realized what the UNP was doing, and reacted with some furious statements to the effect that they would never join with the UNP in any plan to topple the government.
What the UNP then tried to do to the JVP, they are now doing to Janaka Perera, by planting stories in the press to give the impression that he is with the UNP. The fact is that he is not with the UNP, but being only an individual, and one who has been victimized and rejected by the government, he should not fall in between two stools by making an open statement and embarrassing the UNP the way the JVP did. What he is doing now is, keeping his head low, and making preparations to leave the country. Such is the treatment that old soldiers get from this ungrateful nation - being rejected by the government and sold to the butcher by the opposition!
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