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The Attack on ITAK Jaffna MP, Shritharan in Anuradhapura

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A noteworthy incident was the attack launched on the vehicle he was travelling in by “unknown” gunmen more than 23 years ago. In the news story appearing in the “Uthayan”, Shritharan was quoted that the attack was a planned attempt to kill him and that his Tamil political opponents who were aligned with the government for concessions and ministerial posts were responsible. 

Shritharan has been projecting himself as a supporter and fellow traveller of the LTTE from the time he entered Parliament. This has earned him bouquets from pro-Tiger elements and brickbats from anti-Tiger elements. While the pro-LTTE label has helped him in politics, it has at times placed him in jeopardy too

The media spotlight is focused to a great extent on Jaffna District Parliamentarian, Sivagnanam Shritharan these days. The 55 year old former school principal has been elected as the President of Sri Lanka’s premier Tamil political party, the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) known in English as the Federal Party (FP). Shritharan has been elected an MP continuously since 2010.
Shritharan contested the ITAK Presidential election on a pro-LTTE platform euphemistically described as “Thamizh Thesiyam” (Tamil Nationalism). The newly elected ITAK leader demonstrated that he was a hawk in Tamil politics by paying obeisance at the LTTE cemetery in Kilinochchi. He also issued a statement calling upon all Tamil nationalist parties to join him and realise the dreams of fallen LTTE fighters known as “Maaveerar” or “great heroes”. 
Shritharan has been projecting himself as a supporter and fellow traveller of the LTTE from the time he entered Parliament. This has earned him bouquets from pro-Tiger elements and brickbats from anti-Tiger elements. While the pro-LTTE label has helped him in politics, it has at times placed him in jeopardy too. 
A noteworthy incident in this regard was the attack launched on the vehicle he was travelling in by “unknown” gunmen. This attack took place on the road in the Anuradhapura district more than 23 years ago. I wrote extensively about the incident then. This column re-visits the attack on Shritharan with the aid of those earlier writings this week.
According to the complaints made by Shritharan to the Police and to the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa what had reportedly happened then was this: 
Parliament was to convene on March 8th 2011. Shritharan, based in Kilinochchi, left for Colombo on March 7th 2011 to attend sittings in the House by the Diyawanna Oya. It was his usual practice to start out from Kilinochchi in the afternoon on the day before Parliament was scheduled to convene and reach Colombo after nightfall. 


WP – HG 4846


The Jaffna District MP, after an early lunch, started out from Kilinochchi at 1.00 pm in his Toyota van bearing the number plate WP – HG 4846. There were five persons in the vehicle. They were Shritharan, his driver, his Police bodyguard and two others. The Policeman was a Sinhalese while the driver and the other two passengers were Tamils.
One of these passengers was a close relative of the MP who was to be dropped off at Vavuniya. The other was a young undergraduate who was the son of a close supporter. The youth was to accompany the MP to Colombo. The van reached Vavuniya at about 3.30 pm. After a brief stopover during which the relative took his leave, the van resumed its journey with four occupants at about 4 pm.
The van was somewhere in the Medawachchiya region when a white van with unmarked number plates crossed them. Within minutes the same vehicle did a “U” turn and changed direction .The unnumbered white van overtook the MP’s vehicle slowly and then sped away ahead. Soon it was lost. Although the antics of the white van attracted attention it did not cause too much concern.
Shritharan’s van that was going along the A-9 highway or Jaffna–Kandy road changed course at Anuradhapura. The vehicle now got on to the A-12 highway or Puttalam–Trincomalee road. The stretch between Anuradhapura and Puttalam along the A–12 is 71.54 kilometres (44.45 miles).


Ulukkulama Area


The vehicle was travelling along the A-12 in the Ulukkulama area of the Maha Bulankulama region when it negotiated a small bend on the road. Further down was a pond. A white van without number plates was parked by the roadside. Two men in denim trousers and white t-shirts were standing by the vehicle. The time was about 5.30 pm.
As the van proceeded, the two men in white drew out pistols and began firing at the front of the vehicle. Two shots pierced the windscreen and entered but did not hit anyone. Alarmed but alert, the driver began to accelerate. The attackers were now seen with a hand grenade each. As the vehicle drew near, one of the men pulled the clip and tossed it in front. The other tried to roll the grenade under the van. Thereafter, they drew back and continued to fire at the van.
The driver who had been accelerating saw the grenades and veered to a side. One of the grenades exploded without causing much damage to the vehicle. One of the rear wheel tyres burst but it was not clear whether the grenade or the gunfire caused the damage.
Seeing that the rear wheel was damaged the assailants kept on firing at the back of the van. A third person in denims and a black t-shirt presumed to be the white van driver also joined the other two.


Policeman Fires


The solitary Policeman in the vehicle had only a nine millimetre pistol. The cop was seated by the side of the driver in the front. He now tried to fire back at the trio through the side from within the vehicle. It was difficult to aim accurately in this position and the first shot was an “own goal” hitting their vehicle’s rear screen.
The Policeman then asked the driver to stop. Seeing the vehicle stop the three gunmen started running towards the van with their firing guns. But the lone policeman bravely got down on the road and began firing at them. The trio were unprepared for this and immediately ran back towards their van. Altogether the cop had fired nine rounds.
The Policeman then got in and the van proceeded on the road despite the damaged rear wheel. The van reportedly plodded along the road for a further 8 km. But finally the tyre was totally deflated and the van was forced to stop somewhere in the Nochchiyagama area. The time was about 6 pm.
The four people got down from the van and went to a house nearby. Upon being told of the predicament the hospitable household invited the four inside. As is customary among rural folk, the Sinhala family showered them with hospitality serving them refreshments.


Nochchiyagama


Meanwhile Shritharan had begun telephoning the Police while the van was going towards Nochchiyagama after the incident. He informed Police Emergency and the Anuradhapura Police of the incident. The Police bodyguard also informed his superiors of the incident.
Shritharan then tried to telephone fellow Jaffna district MP and the then ITAK Secretary, Maavai Senathirajah, but Senathirajah was at a meeting and had switched off his cellular phone. Shritharan then called the then National List MP, MA Sumanthiran in Colombo.
Upon hearing of the incident Sumanthiran also made a round of telephone calls to various Police circles. He also called the Ministerial Security Division. Despite these efforts the official response was rather lethargic. Shritharan and the other three continued to remain at the Sinhala household in Nochchiyagama without any one from the Police coming there or contacting them.


MA Sumanthiran


Disappointed by this lack of response, MA Sumanthiran telephoned the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mahinda Balasuriya directly. The IGP to his credit, apologised for the delay by the Police in responding. Within minutes the IGP got cracking and the Police machinery got into action.
Balasuriya got the telephone number of Shritharan from Sumanthiran and telephoned him personally. The IGP told the MP not to worry and assured him of speedy Police action. Within a short time, a Police party from Nochchiyagama arrived at the house and escorted Shritharan and the others to the Nochchiyagama Police station. The damaged vehicle was also towed there. Shritharan lodged a formal complaint about the attack at the Nochchiyagama Police Station.
A police contingent also went to the spot where the attack took place and cordoned off the area. A full scale probe was launched at daylight. Several people in the vicinity were questioned and statements recorded.
 Much evidence like shattered glass, empty bullets, grenade clip, unexploded grenade, etc were collected and photographs were taken. In addition to these, other pieces of evidence found in the vehicle were also collected. A team from the Government Analysts Department went to Nochchiyagama and conducted an inspection. The evidence collected was sent down to the Government Analysts Department in Colombo for further examination.
Statements were also recorded in detail from Shritharan, the bodyguard, driver and the undergraduate. Fortunately, none of them had any serious injury. Finally, the Police transported Shritharan and the rest in a Police vehicle to Colombo with increased Police escort. They had been at the Nochchiyagama Police Station from 7.14 to 11.30 pm. Shritharan reached his official residence at Madiwela at about 2.30 am.


Chamal Rajapaksa


Shritharan together with colleagues Senathirajah and Sumanthiran called on the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa at his chambers in the morning of March 8th before Parliament sittings commenced. The Speaker was shocked to hear of the attack. He promised the TNA of a full–fledged investigation into the incident. He contacted the IGP immediately and asked him for a full report. 
The IGP assured the speaker that he would provide a preliminary report on the following morning (March 9th). The Speaker then asked the TNA to be with him when the IGP presented the report.
Chamal Rajapaksa also allowed Sivagnanam Shritharan to raise a breach of privilege issue in Parliament. Shritharan made a short statement explaining in brief what had occurred. He also thanked his Police bodyguard and driver for their commendable action in safeguarding him.
Responding to Shritharan, the Speaker assured full safety and security for all MP’s. He also told Parliament that a full investigation will be conducted into the incident and a comprehensive report would be presented to Parliament in due course.


IGP Mahinda Balasuriya


When IGP Mahinda  Balasuriya  came with the preliminary report compiled by the Anuradhapura DIG of Police, several Tamil Parliamentarians including Shritharan were also present at the Speaker’s chambers. The IGP brought several photographs of the crime scene and the affected vehicle. He also related the different lines of inquiry being followed by the Police.
The IGP then stated that two teams of Police sleuths were investigating the incident. One was from the Anuradhapura district where the attack happened. The other was a special team sent from Colombo. Mahinda Balasuriya told Chamal Rajapaksa that a final report would be submitted in due course.


“Uthayan” Daily


Apart from his statement in Parliament, Sivagnanam Shritharan also made statements to various media organs about the attack. In a statement made to the “Uthayan” daily, Shritharan made an interesting observation. In the news story appearing in the “Uthayan”, Shritharan was quoted that the attack was a planned attempt to kill him and that his Tamil political opponents who were aligned with the government for concessions and ministerial posts were responsible.
EPDP leader and Cabinet Minister, Douglas Devananda responded to Shritharan’s coded attack by alleging that the so called attack had never taken place. Wimal Weerawansa also said the alleged incident was fabricated friction.
Responding to Weerawansa, former ITAK Jaffna district MP, Saravanabavan said that they had met the IGP earlier in the Speakers chambers where the Police chief had submitted a report with photographs about the incident. Contrary to Weerawansa, the IGP had confirmed clearly that there had been an attempt to kill Shritharan, said Saravanabavan.


Fabrication


There were also reports in some overseas Tamil websites insinuating that the attack on Shritharan was a fabrication. It was alleged that the entire episode was a contrived drama and that there had been no real assassination attempt. None of these accusations were substantiated with credible proof. They were for the most part wild speculation tinged with venom against Shritharan. However, the fact remains that no one was arrested or charged over the incident. The investigation petered out with the passage of time. For some inexplicable reason, Shritharan himself never pursued this firmly. He never exerted pressure on successive governments to probe and bring to book those allegedly responsible. 


Forgotten Chapter


Shritharan also did not make much of the incident in the propaganda speeches he made during the elections of 2015 and 2020.  The episode is almost like a forgotten or omitted chapter in the book about Shritharan’s life.
D.B.S. Jeyaraj  can be reached at 
dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com

 

 


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