Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Unraveling the mystery of ‘missing’ Tamils




by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Maithripara Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration faces the daunting task of unraveling the mystery of missing Tamils, in accordance with Sri Lanka’s overall strategy to disapprove accountability issue, pertaining to war-time disappearances, as well as cases after the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009.

Of course, the focus is on those who had disappeared during the eelam war IV (August 2006-May 2009) and the post-war period.

In spite of Western powers, changing their hostile attitude towards the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), since war-winning president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the January 8, 2015, presidential election, the new administration must take tangible measures to address the contentious issue. A thorough inquiry to identify those who had been living overseas, after having left the country clandestinely, is of pivotal importance.

Successive governments ignored the need to address the issue of ‘missing Tamils’. Don’t forget there are missing Sinhalese, too. The disappearance of media personality, Prageeth Ekneligoda, is a case in point. Since the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009, the matter is now an accountability issue. It would be pertinent to examine a high profile ‘disappearance’, reported years ago, to highlight the difficulty in tracking down those who had disappeared, under mysterious circumstances, sometimes in service of the LTTE.

Let me discuss the case of the LTTE suicide cadre, who blew up one-time Indian Prime Minister and Congress Leader, Rajiv Gandhi, on the night of May 21, 1991, in Sriperumbudur, South India. The LTTE and the assassin’s family, went to extraordinary length to suppress the assassn’s identity. Although investigations carried out by Sri Lankan and Indian police identified the assassin as Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, alias Dhanu, the LTTE never acknowledged the that fact. D.R. Kaarthikeyan, who spearheaded the investigation into Gandhi assassination, as well as Radhavinod Raju, who played an important role in that probe, asserted the assassin could be Ms Rajaratnam, though they were not sure. But all available evidence pointed to the family of Rajaratnam contributing a suicide cadre for an operation that changed the destinies of both India and Sri Lanka.

The writer recently queried Selvarasa Pathmanathan, alias ‘KP’, whether he could shed light on the identity of the Gandhi assassin. A guarded Pathmanathan insisted that he wasn’t aware of the assassin’s identity and those involved in the operation. Pathmanathan asserted that it was unfair to direct that question to him. Pathmanathan has categorically denied his role in the Gandhi assassination in an interview titled ‘Transformation of a Top Tiger Leader – 1 with Canada-based D.B.S. Jeyaraj.

Some of those who had then voluntarily joined the LTTE, as well as other Tamil groups, died overseas during operations. The People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) lost several personnel during an abortive sea-borne raid in the Maldives (meant to dispose of the then President) and due to subsequent Indian navy action while they were fleeing that country in a commandeered merchant vessel. The Maldives adventure took place in early Nov., 1988.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), during the inquiry, recovered a set of photographs and video cassettes that had been smuggled in from Jaffna to Tamil Nadu, in Oct. 1990. The Indians recognized Gandhi’s assassin, known as Dhanu, among female LTTE cadres in one of the video cassettes. She had been leading a column of cadres, to the tune of martial tunes. Meticulous investigations led to Dhanu being identified as a daughter of Rajaratnam, a close associate of the top LTTE leadership. After having inspired Tamil separatism, Rajaratnam had passed away in Chennai, in 1975, long years before Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. However, Rajaratnam had been among eight persons, including poet, Kasi Ananthan, honored by the LTTE, soon after the Gandhi assassination. Many believed the LTTE honored Rajaratnam posthumously for being Dhanu’s father - a macabre ritual in deed. LTTE Central Committee member, Kasi Ananthan, had met Gandhi on behalf of the group, in March, 1991, a few weeks before his assassination. Interestingly, at the time of the pow-vow between Gandhi and Kasi Ananthan, the LTTE had decided to eliminate Gandhi. The March 5, 1991, meeting, at the Gandhi residence, in New Delhi, underscored the devious ways of the LTTE. Perhaps the meeting was especially meant to give Gandhi a false sense of security. (Assassinated Sri Lanka Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, too, is widely believed to have had received an assurance from the LTTE as regards his personal security). Dhanu had arrived in Tamil Nadu, early May, 1991. Dhanu was accompanied by another assassin known as Subha. Subha was to carry out the suicide attack in case Dhanu couldn’t, for some unforeseen reason. Having attended a meeting at Nandanan, Chennai, on May 7, 1991, chaired by one-time Indian prime minister V.P. Singh, the duo got close to the VIP with the latter accepting a garland from Dhanu’s hands. It was a ‘dry run’ for Gandhi’s assassination.

Indian investigators believed that Dhanu was in fact Rajaratnam’s third daughter by a second marriage. However, Rajaratnam’s family insisted that Rajaratnam’s third daughter, Kalaivani, alias Captain Akino, died in a confrontation with the Sri Lankan Army, at Weli Oya, on September 8, 1991.Rajaratnam had three daughters from his second marriage. While his eldest daughter, Vasugi, married and lived in Canada, at that time, the second daughter, Anuja, and the third, Kalaivani, fought for the LTTE. LTTE battlefield records placed Kalaivani as one of the seven female cadres, died in action, on September 8, 1991. According to the LTTE, the Rajaratnams lived at Kaithadi, Nunavil, Chavakachcheri. If Kalavani hadn’t been the suicide cadre, and died in battle, with the SLA, in Weli Oya, who assassinated Gandhi?

Indian and Sri Lankan investigators never made an attempt to established the true identity of Subha, who later committed suicide in an LTTE hideout, in Bangalore, during an Indian operation to capture her.

A three-month police hunt to apprehend LTTE terrorists, involved in the Gandhi assassination, ended when seven persons, including the main chief suspect (one-eyed Jack Pakischanran, alias Sivaraja Master, alias Raghuvaran, alias Sivarasan, alias Raghu Anna, and Subha, committed suicide as the police closed in on their hideout in the southern city of Bangalore. Sivarasan shot himself in the head. Others consumed cyanide.

Sivarasan, nicknamed One-Eyed Jack after he had lost an eye in an earlier bomb explosion, in Sri Lanka, was identified by the police as the key figure in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi.

The seven terrorists had been tracked to their hideout, but they were able to hold off the police in a three-hour gunfight in which five policemen were wounded. Interestingly, the Indian media identified Sivarasan, who was 32 years old, as Raja Arumainayagam, and he was a government employee, in Sri Lanka’s eastern province.

Investigators first came to know of Silvarsan’s role in the killing of Gandhi when an Indian photographer, sympathetic to the macabre eelam cause (Haribabu), Silvarsan had hired to photograph the assassination, was himself killed in the blast. The camera, with 10 pictures, was seized by the police. It included a photo taken moments before the explosion that showed Sivarasan, with a notebook in hand, and three women, including the assassin, awaiting Gandhi.

The suicide deaths in Bangalore occurred on Gandhi’s 47th birthday.

The Gandhi assassination probe revealed that the mastermind of the killer squad had been among those who received military training in India. Sri Lankan security authorities, too, firmly believed that Sivarasan had undergone weapons training in India and freely operated there. They also pointed out that Selvarasa had been responsible for multiple killings, in India, before he undertook the project to assassinate Gandhi. The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: The Investigation, authored by D.R. Kaarthikeyan, and Radhavinod Raju, quoted one Suthenthiraraja, whom they identified as a classmate of Sivarasan’s younger brother, Ravichandran, as having said that the LTTE mastermind’s actual name was Pakiachandran, son of Chandrasekharam Pillai, of Veerabhadra, Koiladdy, Udippidy, Jaffna. According to Suthenthiraraja, Pakiachandran had been an employee of the Ceylon Electricity Board, Batticaloa. He had joined the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) but later switched his allegiance to the LTTE and lost his left eye during a confrontation with the Sri Lankan Army, in May 1987. two months before the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, on July 29, 1987.

The authors, who had been directly involved in the Gandhi assassination probe referred to reports of Sivarasan being one of those wounded LTTE cadres who had been flown by the Indian Air Force to Tamil Nadu for treatment, consequent to the Indo-Lanka accord of July, 1987. Having admitted that Sivarasan had been treated at the Aravind Eye Hospital, Madurai, the authors claimed they couldn’t find any records to prove Sivarasan being there during August, 1987.

As I have mentioned previously, Sivarasan receiving Indian training and the subsequent Gandhi assassination should be examined in the context of India’s admission that it intervened in Sri Lankan.

J.N. Dixit, who had been India’s High Commissioner, in Colombo, at the height of the Indian military intervention, in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’, revealed that Sri Lanka had been plunged into a destructive war, in accordance with India’s foreign policy. Causing a terrorist war, very much similar to the one launched by one-time Liberian President, Charles Taylor, targeting Sierra Leonne, had been nothing but a foreign policy counter measure meant to meet the US challenge. Sri Lanka had been a major preoccupation of India’s foreign policy, during Indira Gandhi’s last two years of life, according to Dixit, who examined the Indian action in terms of New Delhi security concerns caused by Sri Lanka’s relationship with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Indira Gandhi’s policy approach is a glaring example of a misguided notion causing massive death and destruction. India’s policy had a devastating impact on Sri Lanka, and the Maldives escaped mayhem, thanks to a planned terrorist attack going wrong.

Let me quote Dixit verbatim: "It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the large perspective of the international and regional strategic environment obtaining between 1980 and 1984. President Reagan was in power in the US and the Soviet Union was going through post Brezhnev uncertainties, preceding Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrival on the scene...."

The Gandhi assassination probe also established beyond any doubt Sivarasan carrying out the massacre of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leadership during third week of June, 1990, in Chennai.

Had Sivarasan received injuries, during a May, 1987, confrontation with the army, where did the confrontation take place? Suthenthiraraja, obviously cooperated with Indian investigators and went to the extent of revealing his involvement in the massacre of the EPRLF leadership. In fact, Suthenthiraraja, who had been first brought to Tamil Nadu by the Indian military, in February, 1990, subsequently worked for the LTTE. Recruited by Sivarasan, he provided specific intelligence that led to LTTE hit squad storming the EPRLF office. The killer squad used guns and grenades to massacre 14 EPRLF personnel, including the then EPRLF Finance Minister, Kirubhakaran, Jaffna MP Yoga Shankari and leader Padmanabha. Suthenthiraraja had been also directly involved in the Gandhi assassination, though he obviously escaped the law by cooperating with India.

In hindsight, Sivarasan would never have thought Indian investigators picking up Chinon camera, used by Haribabu to capture the suicide blast, directed at Gandhi, or the photographer taking a picture of him (Sivarasan). Obviously, Haribabu absolutely had no idea about the direction of the blast. Had he been briefed by Sivarasan, he would have positioned himself at a safer distance. Had the blast obliterated the camera, investigators would have found it extremely difficult to prove the LTTE’s direct involvement in the Gandhi assassination. In fact, the photographs, taken by Haribabu, led to the investigators to the hit squad. If not for those pictures, Sivarasan, Subha, as well as other LTTE members, involved in the Gandhi assassination, would have had an opportunity to leave Tamil Nadu by boat, at their pleasure. It would be pertinent to mention that the LTTE hadn’t been the only suspect organization which could have carried out the world’s first suicide blast, directed at a political leader. If not for Haribabu’s photographs, Indian investigators would have spent time inquiring into the possibility of Sikh or some other terrorist organization carrying out the attack. But the publication of the suicide cadre Dhanu’s picture moments before the blast on the front-page of The Hindu on May 24, 1991, caused panic among the hit squad, comprising of Sri Lankans and Indians. There had never been a case of people of any nationality conspiring with external elements to mount a suicide attack on one of their own political leaders. The Gandhi assassination was the first such diabolical act. If not for the timely The Hindu revelation, those who had been involved in the conspiracy could have escaped. Among the escapees would have been Indian trained Sivarasan, who could have died in action, in Sri Lanka, or survived the war, to receive political asylum in some European or Scandinavian country or reached Australia through the risky sea route, before tightening of Australian laws to thwart human smugglers.

A thorough international investigation is required to identify those who had obtained foreign nationalities after having committed atrocities in Sri Lanka and India. Those who had fought for the LTTE committed heinous crimes for the advancement of the murderous eelam cause, though today they are taking shelter behind new identities.

Sri Lanka should request India, and influential Diaspora organizations, to support its efforts to locate those who had been categorized as missing. It wouldn’t be a task handled alone by Sri Lanka and those demand accountability on the part of the previous GoSL should assist the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to establish the truth.