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Three Years Later We Miss Kumar Ponnambalam

By V.Thangavelu

 

It was like yesterday, but 3 long years have vanished since assassins cowardly pumped bullets into the body of Kumar Ponnambalam on the fateful day 5th of January 2000 when he was driving his Mercedes along Ramakrishna Terrace, Wellawatte, Colombo. Tragically   one of the would be assassins who had earlier lured Kumar out of his house was seated in the back of his car.  His bullet-riddled body was discovered less than an hour later still at the wheel of his Mercedes.

The news of his assassination in such cowardly circumstances reverberated around the globe provoking uncontrollable anger, anguish and sorrow among Thamil Diaspora.

Out of dozens of political murders that took place during President Chandrika’s Kumaratunga's presidency; the most foul was arguably that of Kumar Ponnambalam. He was the General Secretary of the All Ceylon Thamil Congress founded by his father G.G. Ponnambalam, Q.C.  

 

It took full two days for President Kumaratunga to convey her condolence message to the bereaved family though she was living close by and knew Kumar Ponnambalam quite well.

 

President Chandrika Kumaratunga expressed shock and grief, but she lied through her teeth as subsequent events revealed.  Ironically though the condolence letter was delivered to Mrs. Kumar Ponnambalam’s residence on January 07, 2000 it was actually dated May 06,1999!  She was hard-put to explain the glaring and ominous discrepancy in the date!

 

Kumar Ponnambalam was an eminent human rights defender to whom victims or their relatives turned in great numbers when there is arrest, detention, torture, rape and extra-judicial killings to secure justice.  According to the Attorney General’s Department Kumar Ponnambalam appeared in 98% of the cases under the notorious PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act). This Act enacted to target Thamil militants was widely used or misused by the armed forces to arrest, torture and murder ordinary civilians with impunity. After arresting Thamils on flimsy grounds, the authorities kept them locked up in jails for years on end without charges or trial. Hundreds of such political detainees are still languishing in prisons.  Confessions were extracted from Thamil detainees under torture and almost all the suspects who were lucky to be charged under the PTA in courts got acquitted by the presiding judges.

In the eighties Kumar Ponnambalam used to appear in cases involving Sinhala youths who were arrested under the PTA for suspected involvement with the JVP. 

As a Thamil politician he was the first to articulate the Thimpu principles of Nation, Homeland and Self-determination not merely as basic rights but as the “aspirations" of the Thamil People. He was also steadfast in his belief that the mandate obtained by the TULF in 1977 “while being members of the National State Assembly of Ceylon, will also form themselves into the National Assembly of Thamil Eelam which will draft a constitution for the state of Thamil Eelam and establish the independence of Thamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle" is sacrosanct and the TULF is duty bound to honour it.

In 1977 Thamil people voted to return 17 TULF Members throughout the north and east. They voted for them primarily as their representatives to the  proposed National Assembly of Thamil Eelam, which would draft a constitution and establish the independence of the Thamil Eelam.

Therefore, Kumar Ponnambalam came hard on those TULF members of parliament, who ignored or wanted to set aside the 1977 mandate given by the people and the principles articulated by all Thamil parties at Thimpu. He poured scorn on those cooperating with the government led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and were ready to barter the Thamil nations right to self-determination to earn favours while the Thamil youths were sacrificing their dear lives for the very same rights. To him the TULF M.PP were a set of  “Quislings” and he lost no opportunity to berate them right royally in his writings and speeches.

 

Kumar Ponnambalam’s open support to the cause of Thamil Eelam in the “den of the lions” often invoked the wrath of Sinhala hardliners, but he was unrepentant.  In real life he was a pacifist who counted among his closest friends many Sinhalese opposed to his views. It was said he was one of the greatest admirers of the Sri Lankan cricket team.

 

The year 1997 was a turning point in Kumar Ponnambalam’s political career. For over a decade he has been championing the cause of Thamils, but he never found a popular platform to air his views. He lost every election he contested.

 

In November 1997 he came to Canada on a private visit, but I decided to ask him to address the Maveerar Vizha held by the World Thamil Movement. I was then the Vice President of the WTM and President of FACT and that gave me a lot of muscle to brush aside opposition from a few well meaning but politically green friends.

 

On November 29, Kumar Ponnambalam addressed an overflowing North Albion Collegiate Hall in Toronto and on the following day at Woburn Collegiate at Scarborough. In both these commemorative meetings he spoke his heart out without mincing words.  He heaped praise on all those martyrs who sacrificed their dear lives for the cause of Thamil Eelam. He said the best tribute the Thamils could pay to the memory of the fallen heroes was to translate their dreams into reality. His speech was punctuated with thunderous applause by an appreciative audience. 

 

On December 01, he spoke at a largely attended FACT dinner where he was the chief guest speaker. This time he spoke in English to the benefit of Members of both Federal and Provincial Parliament who were present on the occasion.   A Minister of the Ontario Provincial Parliament who followed him confessed that it is difficult for him to speak after Kumar Ponnambalam's powerful oratory!

 

It was after his appearance at the Maveerar Vizha in Canada; Kumar Ponnambalam began exposing the human rights violations of President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government with added vigour and ferocity. He used his skills of advocacy to present the plight of the Thamils who day in and day out were subjected to heavy aerial bombardment, artillery shelling, severe economic embargo, arrest, detention, torture and extra-judicial killings in international forums.  In short the systematic and pervasive violations of their civil and political rights.  He addressed the European Parliament (Brussels), the Council of Europe (Strasbourg) and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (Geneva). He also spoke at seminars and conferences in Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK and USA. Whenever he returned to the island after his sojourn abroad there were always rumours circulating in the pro-Sinhala press of his imminent arrest and detention! 

Though 3 long years have passed the assassins of Kumar Ponnambalam have not been arraigned before the courts. On December 23, 2001 The Sunday Leader dropped a bombshell when it published a report dated September 7, 2000, addressed to President Kumaratunga by Bandula 'Show' Wickramasinghe, Senior Superintendent of Police and (then) Director of the Colombo Crime Detective Bureau who was in charge of Kumar Ponnambalam’s murder investigation.  The Sunday Leader article was appropriately captioned  CBK's 'bloody' secrets in the house of conspiracy.” Among other things the Police officer stated in his report-

 

Few weeks prior to the assassination of Ponnambalam, Mahen Ratwatte had told Moratuwa Saman and RPC Ranasinghe in Sinhalese ayi yakko sinhala minissu marannay, puluwannam ara Kumar Ponnambalam jathi wadi wagay thadi demelek marapanko. As per the instigations of Mahen Ratwatte, RPC Ranasinghe master planned the assassination and got friendly with Kumar Ponnambalam, posing as one 'Shantha.'

On January 5, 2000 'Shantha' personally went to the house of Kumar Ponnambalam's revealed that “On January 5, 2000 'Shantha' personally went to the house of Kumar Ponnambalam's around 8.30 in the morning and lured him……….. As arranged, Moratuwa Saman and Sujeewa waited for the arrival of Ponnambalam, and the both of them fired five rounds from their pistol. Ponnambalam succumbed to his gunshot injuries. After the assassination, the RPC immediately informed Mahen Ratwatte about the killing. But however, he was prevented from surrendering by Mahen Ratwatte. I contacted Mahen Ratwatte and spoke to him requesting from him to surrender RPC Ranasinghe, but Mahen Ratwatte prevented his appearance and told me 'why are you worried, all the top people know about the assassination.'

 

Besides the information provided by RPC Ranasinghe, my private informants have brought to my notice that Ranasinghe had been harboured by Lohan Ratwatte and Mahen Ratwatte and at present Dhammika is being kept at his mothers home on top of a hill close to Mahiyawwa cemetery, Kandy. It is also common knowledge amongst Kandy residents that Dhammika Perera travels along with Lohan Ratwatte in a tinted four-wheel drive vehicle. “ (Emphasis mine)

 

Apparently Chandrika knew the persons who committed the murder and those who abetted the crime at least as early as September 2000, but she kept mum and chose to do nothing. She deliberately shielded the culprits from the long arm of the law by sitting on the report she received from the Police Officer for close to 4 months!

 

Her complicity in the commitment of the crime goes without saying. She is what in legal jargon “an accessory after the fact” viz one who, knowing that a person (s) has been a party to the offence, receives, comforts or assists that person for the purpose of enabling that person to escape.

 

Today we miss Kumar Ponnambalam when his skills as a distinguished lawyer and his advocacy as a human rights activist are badly in need.