By Dharman Wickremaratne
In the late 1980s the Janatha vimukthi peramuna(JVP) was active only in 19 out of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts. It was not present in the five districts of the North and Batticaloa District in the East. Accordingly there were 19 JVP District Secretaries. The Central Committee comprised politburo members, district secretaries and secretaries of the military wing.
In`1986 to 1989 the party’s politburo(PB) members were Rohana Wijeweera, Upatissa Gamanayake, Sumith Athukorala, D.M. Ananda, Saman Piyasiri Fernando, Piyadasa Ranasinghe, H.B. Herath, Gunaratne Wanasinghe, R.B. Wimalaratne, Somawansa Amarasinghe, Shantha Bandara, Nandatilaka Galappaththi and Lalith Wijeratne.
D.M. Ananda and Saman Piyasiri although not necessarily senior, became the most active members during the last years of the insurgency. D.M. Ananda functioned as Party’s Political Secretary of the Western and Sabaragamuwa Regions while leading the party’s student, women’s and bhikku fronts. Saman Piyasiri Fernando alias Keerthi Wijebahu was the leader of the military wing – Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (DJV). During the final stages it was the two of them who led the JVP when Rohana Wijeweera lost control of the party.
In the end it was only Somawansa Amarasinghe who survived out of all JVP Politburo members. It was he who took the decisive steps after a difficult journey in reorganising the party which had almost disintegrated and brought it back to active politics in 1994. Many among others also made a major contribution to the JVP’s revival.
At the time Somawansa Amarasinghe was known as ‘Siri Aiya’ alias ‘Uncle Reggie’ alias Reginald Patrick. In the latter half of the 1980s during the JVP’s second insurgency he maintained regular contacts with human rights, cultural and media circles in Colombo and coordinated with JVP leaders and people’s organisations. He was the unseen hand behind many demonstrations. A first cousin of the then Minister Sirisena Cooray – President Premadasa’s ‘right hand’ man – was married to a sister of Somawansa Amarasinghe.
Except four of the above 13 JVP Politburo members the others were the writer’s professional associates. There were many instances when they visited the editorial office and the writer’s home during 1986-90. Among them was ‘Siri Aiya’ who always wore long-sleeved shirts. He was proficient in English. His red-and-white car was a familiar sight. He often visited the writer in the early hours of the day. The father of one child his wife Irangani Malani Munasinghe was a school teacher in Kalutara.
Araliyawatte in Lilambe area Wariyapola, the house at Gonapola junction Batuwita and the mansion, Katugaha Walawwa at Neluwa near Atampitiya Road were purchased for the party under the name Reginald Patrick. During JVP Leader Wijeweera’s last days Somwansa was his best friend in the party’s inner circle.
Somawansa’s father was John Amarasinghe who first served in the police and later in the Irrigation Department. Mother was a housewife. Somawansa is the youngest in a family of four elder brothers and three sisters . Born in Payagala, Kalutara, he entered Kalutara Vidyalaya as a grade two student after having his primary education at the Kalutara Ladies College. Later he served as a Irrigation Department technical officer in Colombo, Galle, Kalmune, Bibile and Rajangana.
In 1969 he attended JVP classes conducted in ‘Danoris Aiya’s trade union office in the Land Development Department, Castle Street, Colombo. It is said that Navaratne Banda made Somawansa join the party. He was provided with a Honda motorbicycle No. 5 Sri 6022 on the party’s behalf.
During the April 1971 JVP insurgency the plan was to give Somawansa the job of driving the vehicle carrying Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike once she was abducted from er Rosmead Place residence. He was assigned to the task because of his driving skills, according to Piyasiri Kularatne. Although Somawansa was waiting near the Ritz Cinema Borella on April 4, 1971 till 11.30 p.m. to join the Rosmead place operation no one came. He then went to his place of residence at Kotahena in a hired vehicle, carrying the bag of bombs. Later he was arrested and detained at the Galle,welikada and Jaffna prisons. Rohana Wijeweera met Somawansa for the first time in 1975.
In December of the following year Somawansa was released along with several others including Kelly Senananayake, Upatissa Gamanayake and Ragama Somay. Thereafter Somawansa appealed for the release of the remaining political prisoners and helped to reorganise the party. His headquarters was Siripala’s house at Dewanampiyatissa Mawatha, Maradana.
Among the photos in the police notice issued following the proscription of the JVP in 1983, was that of Somawansa. The authorities also had a list of 380 JVP activists. Simultaneously with the ban on the party Somawansa began working incognito with other party activists. He was appointed a Politburo member after coming to Colombo in April, 1984 following Lionel Bopage’s resignation from the party. Sumith Athukorala, Piyadasa Ranasinghe,Nandathilaka Galapathi,Gunarathne Wanasinghe,Shantha Bandara,Saman Piyasiri Fernando and D.M. Ananda also became Poliburo members in the same year.
It was Somawansa who took Wijeweera and his family to the house in Walhaputenna, Haputale. According to the statement of Wijeweera’s wife Srimathie Chitraganie Somawansa played the role of Wijeweera’s brother-in-law. It was he who took Wijeweera’s children to buy their school uniforms. It was in March 1988 that Wijeweera went to reside in the house at Ulapane.
In the meantime Somawansa was also active working with people’s organisations in Colombo. He was frequently seen at Gothami Vihara, Borella. When an armed gang broke into the Gothami Vihara on September 7, 1988 and abducted eight bhikkus of the Manawa Hithawdi organisation after seizing all documents, Somawansa who by then had gone ‘underground’ gave a phone call to Amnesty International in London which in turn called Minister Ranjan Wijeratne and requested that those taken into custody be provided with security. Later they were freed on the intervention of the then UNP Mayor of Colombo Ratnasiri Rajapaksa.
Although Somawansa’s wife and son were sent to Japan in April 1989 for their safety they returned to Sri Lanka in September of the same year. Later they resided on the ground floor of a Muslim-owned house near Trinity College, Kandy. Somawansa again succeeded in sending them to a friend’s house in Kerala, India towards the end of 1989. From there he sent them to the UK via Thailand and Italy.
The last JVP politburo meeting presided over by Wijeweera was scheduled to be held on November 11, 12 and 13, 1989. But Wanasinghe and D.M. Ananda did not turn up raising Somawansa’ suspicions. He promptly informed Wijeweera to take safety precautions but the latter did not take the warning seriously. The Government declared a curfew on November 12 causing the JVP to end the Politburo meeting in the afternoon of the same day.
After the meeting Saman Piyasiri, Lalith Wijeratne, Gamanayake and Wijeweera left by car. Shantha Bandara went separately. Somawansa Amarasinghe and Piyadasa Ranasinghe left for Madawala returning from where Somawansa gets off at Trinity Hill. Piyadasa Ranasinghe was arrested at Kandy. In the evening of the same day H.B. Herath was taken into custody at his home in Galaha. In the same evening Wijeweera and the following morning Gamanayake were arrested. Somawansa’s intuition helped him to survive.
It is thereafter that he decided to flee the country. Matale Wicky alias Selva helped him to escape. A leading JVP actvist Wicky (Wickramasinghe) was a wholesale manager at Eswaran Brothers, Colombo and resided at Alwis Avenue, Kotahena. Somawansa wearing a verti and a ‘pottu’ on his forehead disguised himself as a Tamil obtained an Indian Visa after going to the Indian Hgh Commission with Wickremasinghe. Although Somawansa came to the Galle Face Hotel that day no one recognized him.
However Somawansa wanted to avoid air travel since it was a risk and decided go by sea. In early March 1990 he fled to India in a double-engine boat after paying Rs.50,000 to a boat owner in Kalpitiya. In India he met his wife Irangani Munasinghe and son in Kerala and sent them to the UK via Thailand and Italy. Somawansa traveled to Italy via France and thereafter to Switzerland.
Legal action was filed against Wickremasinghe alias Matale Wicky and Army Captain Nissanka in High Courts for helping Somawansa Amarasinghe to escape. Wickremasinghe pleaded guilty and was given a five-year suspended sentence. Capt. Nissanka was given a 15-year suspended sentence but was acquitted on appeal. The writer once met Captain Nissanka with BBC Sinhala Service Sandeshaya Producer Chandana Bandara’s London home. The writer also met Wickremasinghe in Madras (Chennai).
In 1994 the JVP contested the Parliamentary Election via the National Salvation Front. Later Somawansa returned to Sri Lanka and has been engaged fulltime in JVP activities since then.
The above is the true story of the role Somawansa played internationally in reviving the JVP after the reign of terror in the 1980s, despite various criticisms about him.
(The writer is a Senior Sri Lankan Journalist who could be reached at email@example.com))