Rohana Wijeweera

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Rohana Wijeweera

රෝහන විජෙවීර

றோகண விஜயவீர
Rohana Wijeweera (1943-1989).jpg
1st Leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
In office
14 May 1965 – 13 November 1989
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Saman Piyasiri Fernando
Personal details
Born Patabendi Don Nandasiri Wijeweera
(1943-07-14)14 July 1943
Kottegoda, Matara, British Ceylon
Died 13 November 1989(1989-11-13) (aged 46)
Borella, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Nationality Sri Lankan
Political party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna People's Liberation Front
Education Goda Uda Government Senior School
Dharmasoka College
Alma mater Lumumba University
Occupation Politician

Patabendi Don Nandasiri Wijeweera (Sinhalese: පටබැඳි දොන් නන්දසිරි විජෙවීර; 14 July 1943 – 13 November 1989) known as Rohana Wijeweera, was a Sri Lankan Marxist politician, rebel and the founding leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. Wijeweera led the party in two unsuccessful insurrections in Sri Lanka, in 1971 and 1987 to 1989.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Wijeweera was born on 14 July 1943 (Bastille Day) to Patabendi Don Andris Wijeweera and Nasi Nona Wickramakalutota who lived in Kottegoda, a coastal fishing village situated in southern Sri Lanka and belonged to the Karava caste hierarchy. The eldest in the family, he had a younger brother Ananda and a younger sister Chitranie.

His father was an active member of Ceylon Communist Party (pro-Soviet wing) and very close to Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe. He was disabled after an attack by thugs believed to be members of an opposing political party during the 1947 Parliamentary election campaign for the candidate Premalal Kumarasiri. He died in 1965.[3]

Education[edit]

Wijeweera had his primary education at Goda Uda Government School in Kottegoda from 1947 to 1953. In 1954 he entered Goda Uda Government Senior School to obtain the secondary education and was there until mid-1959. He entered Ambalangoda Dharmashoka College in July 1959 to study SSC examination.

In September 1960 he went to the Soviet Union and entered Lumumba University to study medicine. He completed the Russian language examination within seven and a half months, obtaining a distinction, and spent his holidays travelling through the USSR. He also worked during this time as an agricultural worker in the Moldavian Republic. He worked through his medical studies well up to third year and also obtained a distinction in political economics in 1963. In late 1963 he became ill and received medical treatment from a hospital in Moscow, but finally requested a full academic term of medical leave and returned to Ceylon. At that time the Communist Party of Ceylon was divided into two groups which were pro-Chinese and pro-Soviet. He did not get visa to return to the USSR as he joined the pro-Chinese group.[citation needed]

Political career[edit]

Wijeweera became a functionary of the Ceylon Communist Party pro-Chinese group. Soon he was at odds with party leaders and impatient with its lack of revolutionary purpose and formed his own movement on 14 May 1965 after a discussion held in a house at Akmeemana in the Galle district with like minded youth. Initially identified simply as the New Left, this group drew on students and unemployed youths from rural areas, most of them in the 16 to 25-year-old range who felt that their economic interests had been neglected by the nation's leftist coalitions. It became known as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or JVP, a Marxist political party.[4]

After forming the political movement JVP, Wijeweera conducted a series of political lectures for the purpose of educating the people according to their political doctrine. These lectures popularly known as JVP five classes, is one of the key factor in their political agenda.

  • Crisis of the capitalist system in Sri Lanka
  • The history of the left movement in Sri Lanka
  • The history of the socialist revolutions
  • Indian expansionism
  • The path of revolution in Sri Lanka

Capturing the state power for the purpose of implementing the JVP's socio-economic policies in the country, was another key factor of Wijeweera's political agenda. Period of the late 1960s Wijeweera and the JVP believed that the armed struggle is the most suitable way to capture the state power.

1971 Insurrection and prison[edit]

Main article: 1971 JVP Insurrection

In 1970 while campaigning for the United Front of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the general election, Wijeweera was arrested, but released shortly. Bandaranaike's United Front won the elections.

In April 1971 JVP led armed campaign known as the 1971 April Rebellion a failed attempt to capture the state power from the Dominion of Ceylon under the government of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, happened according to the Wijeweera-led JVP's political agenda.

Wijeweera was arrested before the armed attack took place in April 1971, and an attempt by students release him from prison failed. He was later tried by the Criminal Justice Commission that was formed after the failed insurrection under the charges of aiding and abetting to overthrow Her Majesty's Government of Ceylon. The commission sentenced him to life imprisonment after which he made an historic speech, stating "we may be killed but our voice will never die" echoing "History Will Absolve Me" by Fidel Castro, at the end of Moncada Barracks trial in 1953.[5] On appeal the sentence was reduce to 20 years rigorous imprisonment

After the victory of the United National Party in the 1977 elections, however, the new government attempted to broaden its mandate with a period of political tolerance. Wijeweera was freed.

Presidential elections[edit]

After the ban on the party was lifted, the JVP entered the arena of legal political competition. As a candidate in the 1982 presidential elections, Wijeweera finished third, with more than 250,000 votes (4%, as compared with Jayewardene's 3.2 million).

1987 – 1989 Insurrection and prison[edit]

In the 1987 the JVP launched a second insurrection. Unlike in 1971, this was not an open revolt, but a low intensity conflict with subversion, assassinations, raids and attacks on military and civilian targets.

In October 1989, following the arrest and interrogation of two leading JVP members, Wijeweera was arrested, having been living on a tea estate in Ulapane, masquerading as a planter under the name of Attanayake.[2]

Death[edit]

On 13 November 1989 Wijeweera was shot dead, but the actual circumstances remain a subject of speculation.[2] Several versions of his death were circulated following the incident. The Sri Lankan Army stated that he had been shot in a confrontation between members of the JVP and the Army when he was taken by the Army under custody to help look at a JVP safe house. A rumour circulated that he was taken to a cemetery, shot in the leg and then summarily executed by being burnt alive in the crematorium. The official line from Minister of State Defence Ranjan Wijeratne's press brief was that Wijeweera and a fellow JVP member H.B. Herath had been taken to the safe house to help the Army locate part of the JVP's "treasure", while the search was in progress Herath had pulled out a gun and shot Wijeweera dead.[2] It is widely believed that the Army, at the behest of the Government, were responsible for his death, that it was politically motivated assassination.[6][7] Indeed, the Government itself gave conflicting answers, Foreign Minister A. C. S. Hameed corroborated Defence Minister Wijeratne's account that Herath had shot at Wijeweera, but states that the Army subsequently opened fire upon the two, killing both.[6] The closest account of events leading up to Wijeweera's death surfaces from Major-General Sarath Munasinghe who recounts the situation in his book A Soldier's Version:

"The time was 11.30pm. We reached the premises of HQ 'Operation Combine'. There were many officers of other services too. We were conducted to the conference table where Rohana Wijeweera was seated. I was given a chair just opposite Wijeweera across the table. I commenced having a conversation with him. Mr Ernie Wijesuriya, director, National Intelligence Bureau, his deputy and some others were present. I spoke to Rohana Wijeweera at length.

Whenever I questioned him in English, he answered in Sinhalese. In fact, he asked me whether I knew the Russian language. I replied in the negative. Rohana Wijeweera told me that his second language was Russian. He told me all about his personal life, initially at Bandarawela and later at Ulapane in Kandy. He was reluctant to talk about the activities of the JVP.

While this discussion was going on, the 'Operation Combine' commander was with his deputy in the adjoining room, which was his office. Just past midnight, the deputy Defense Minister General Ranjan Wijeratne walked in and sat at the head of the conference table. Gen Wijeratne asked few questions, but Rohana Wijeweera did not respond. Gen. Wijeratne joined the 'Operation Combine' commander in his office. We continued with our conversation. We had many cups of plain tea (dark tea), while talking. I made a request to Rohana Wijeweera to advise his membership to refrain from violence. He agreed after persuasion. So we managed to record his words and also his picture in still camera.

After some time, a well-known Superintendent of Police arrived at the HQ Operation Combine. As the police officer walked in, he held Rohana Wijeweera's hair from the rear and gave two taps on Wijeweera's cheek. Wijeweera looked back, and having identified the officer said, 'I knew it had to be a person like you'. The police officer joined the Minister and Operation Combined Commander. We continued with our conversation. Wijeweera related a few interesting stories. One day, a group of JVP activists had visited the residence of Nimal Kirthisri Attanayake [Rohana Wijeweera] at Ulapane. They demanded money for their movement. Wijeweera responded quickly by giving Rs 100. The youngsters did not have a clue about their leader. Wijeweera was full of smiles when he divulged this story.

The time was around 3.45am on 13 November 1989. I was informed to conclude the questioning and to take Rohana Wijeweera downstairs. Together we walked downstairs and were close to each other. Wijeweera held my hand and said, 'I am very happy I met you even at the last moment. I may not live any longer. Please convey my message to my wife'. Rohana Wijeweera's message contained five important points. They were all very personal matters concerning his family.

Moments later, Wijeweera was blindfolded and helped into the rear seat of a green Pajero. Two people sat on either side of Wijeweera. There were others at the rear of the vehicle. Just then a senior police officer arrived near the vehicle. I politely rejected his invitation to join them. The Pajero took off. I joined Col Lionel Balagalle standing near the main entrance of the Operation Combine HQ building. We were having a brief chat when a senior officer came downstairs to get into his car. We greeted him. He was in a very good mood. But the atmosphere changed all of a sudden. A military police officer appeared in front of us. The senior officer blasted him for not accompanying Wijeweera and party. The military officer dashed towards his vehicle and sped away. The senior officer departed. We also went home thinking of a good sleep.

Late in the morning I was busy getting Wijeweera's photograph printed. No one would recognise Wijeweera without his beard. So I had to seek help and add the beard to Wijeweera's photograph. It was done very well. Late in the afternoon there was a press conference at the Joint Operation Command. Minister Ranjan Wijeratne briefed the press. 'Wijeweera and HB Herath [another JVP leader] had been taken to a house just outside Colombo, where the JVP had hidden part of their treasure. While the search was in progress, Herath pulled out a pistol and shot Wijeweera dead'. The minister went on to give more details. Subsequent to the killing of Wijeweera, violence by the JVP ceased gradually and there was peace in the country, except in the north and east."[2]

Family[edit]

Wijeweera was married to Srimathi Chitrangani, with whom he had four daughters and two sons. After his death in 1989, his widow and children handed themselves over to the Army Headquarters and the government assured protection for the family. They were housed at the staff quarters in SLN Dockyard in Trincomalee and was later in 1992 were moved to staff quarters in the naval barracks at SLNS Gemunu in Welisara where they have lived under state patronage.[8] In February 2015, the Security Council decided that there was no security threat and requested the family to vacate the naval quarters that they were occupying.[9]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bandu, Oruvala (2008). Lumumbāven bihi vū Rōhaṇa Vijēvīra (in Sinhalese). Kŏḷamba: Dayāvṃśa Jayakodi saha Samāgama. ISBN 978-9-55551-579-5. 
  • Alles, Anthony Christopher (1979). Insurgency – 1971: An Account of the April Insurrection in Sri Lanka (3rd revised and enlarged ed.). Colombo: The Colombo Apothecaries' Co. 
  • Chandraprema, C. A. (1991). Sri Lanka, the years of terror: The J.V.P. insurrection, 1987–1989. Colombo: Lake House Bookshop. ISBN 9559029037. 
  • Indradasa, Godahewa (2012). Failed Revolts in Sri Lanka (1971 and 1987-1989). Sri Lanka: Godahewa Indradasa. ISBN 978-9-55543-980-0. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Wijeweera murder investigation not priority : JVP". BBC News Sinhala. 10 November 2004. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Rajasingham, K. T. (18 May 2002). "Sri Lanka:The Untold Story: Chapter 40: Rohana Wijeweera's killing – still a mystery". Asia Times. 
  3. ^ Gunaratna, Rohan (1990). Sri Lanka – A Lost Revolution?. Kandy: Institute of Fundamental Studies. pp. 1–3. ISBN 955-26-0004-9. 
  4. ^ "A Lost Revolution: The JVP Insurrection 1971". LankaLibrary. 
  5. ^ Samaranayake, Ajith. "Rohana Wijeweera – The Age of Innocence, The April uprising & Tragedy or nemesis". LankaLibrary. 
  6. ^ a b "Sri Lanka Government Forces Kill Leader of Sinhalese Group". The New York Times. 14 November 1989. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Pathirana, Leel. "Death of a Rebel – Poem". Sri Lanka Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "Daughter of Rohana Wijeweera arrested". The Daily Mirror. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2015. 
  9. ^ "Wijeweera's family allowed to stay six more months". The Daily Mirror. 22 September 2015. 

External links[edit]

News media (Sinhala)[edit]