SPECIAL REPORT : Part 123May 24, 2016, 7:02 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The launch of ‘Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata’ (In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword), Sinhala translation of ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’, life story of high ranking LTTE cadre, Subramaniam Sivakamy alias ‘Col’ Thamilini, took place at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on May 13, 2016.
‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ was launched on March 19, 2016, in Kilinochchi, a one-time LTTE bastion.
Her husband, Jeyakumaran Mahadevan, British national of Sri Lankan origin, earned the wrath of an influential section of Tamil politicians, as well as Tamil Diaspora, for releasing the book. They made a desperate bid to thwart the revelations, made by Thamilini, one of those senior personnel who had access to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and top battlefield commanders, throughout the eelam war IV.
The police, too, strongly opposed the release of ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ on the basis it included Thamilini in LTTE uniform. The police obviously didn’t realize the importance of revelations as well as assertions made by Thamilini in her previous capacity as the Women Political Wing leader.
Thamilini’s memoirs rattled those who had been demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka for alleged atrocities committed by the military, during the eelam war IV. Thamilini set the record straight in respect of the collapse of the Norwegian-led peace process, leading to the resumption of the war (2006), assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar (August, 2006), execution of one-time LTTE Deputy Commander Mahatattaya (early ‘90s) and circumstances leading to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov. 2005 presidential polls.
Thamilini also revealed the unprecedented crisis caused during a crucial stage of the Vanni war in areas under LTTE control, by troops mounting devastating operations behind the Tiger lines. Acknowledging that the LTTE had suffered a massive setback, due to operations carried out by troops, within the area under its control, Thamilini revealed the group could never overcome the threat.
In spite of strong opposition, Mahadevan went ahead with the book launch, at Kilinochchi, followed by a well-attended event in Colombo, this month. The Tamil media largely ignored the event. A section of the Colombo-based diplomatic community, too, conveniently remained silent.
Veteran filmmaker, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, who had played a significant role in the high profile political campaign to thwart President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid to secure a third term, at the January, 2015 presidential polls, facilitated Mahadevan’s efforts. Bandaranayake is on record as having stated that Thamilini and Mahadevan undertook the book project on a request made by him soon after the former LTTE cadre was diagnosed with cancer. Bandaranayake appealed ,not to consider the release of Thamilini’s memoirs as a wrongdoing on his part. Mahadevan and Bandaranayake should be commended for going ahead with the release of ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ and its Sinhala translation, regardless of concerns expressed by various interested parties.
The writer was among those who had been invited for the book launch in Colombo, attended by many civil society activists.
Thamilini’s revelations disputed those who had wanted to blame the Sri Lankan government for undermining the Norwegian peace process, thereby causing over 40,000 civilian deaths.
Thamilini died, in mid-October, 2015, of cancer. She had begun writing her memoirs, months before she was diagnosed with cancer, and her work would have probably remained unpublished if not for Mahadevan’s controversial decision.
Thamilini made a spate of significant statements and assertions in respect of the conflict. Let me examine Thamilini’s claims against the backdrop of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopting a resolution in Oct. 2015, to set up a hybrid mechanism to inquire into war crimes allegations.
The strategic war-time partnership between the LTTE and the then five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), headed by Trincomalee District Parliamentarian R. Sampanthan, currently the Leader of the Opposition, had been one of the most important statements made by Thamilini. She expertly dealt with Velupillai Prabhakaran ensuring the TNA’s victory, at the April, 2004, parliamentary polls, to influence the decision-making process in parliament. Thamilini discussed the LTTE-TNA partnership, amidst crisis caused by Karuna Amman deserting the organization, along with thousands of cadres from the Eastern Province. Thamilini confirmed the damning declaration made by the EU Election Observation Mission, regarding the LTTE-TNA alliance, in rigging the April 2004 parliamentary polls in the Northeast.
Prabhakaran on CFA
Thamilini dealt with Prabhakaran’s decision to exploit the Oslo-arranged CFA to rapidly enhance the group’s conventional fighting capability, in preparation for the final war. She quoted the then LTTE Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilchelvan, as having told senior cadres, close on the heels of the finalization of the CFA, preparations for war should be made in spite of the CFA. Thamilchelvan had shared Prabhakaran’s opinion that peace talks had been meant to deceive, what he called the outside world, whereas they should prepare for war. Prabhakaran wanted those responsible for recruitment of fresh cadres to target Tamil-speaking youth, living in areas under government control. Prabhakaran’s direction should be examined in the wake of the CFA giving them access to the government-held area. Thamilchelvam pointed out that the LTTE had plenty of weapons and immediately needed fresh cadres to exploit the situation.
Thamilchelvan had repeated Prabhakaran’s decision to resume war even before the group officially quit the negotiating table in April, 2003, at a meeting held at the LTTE Peace Secretariat.
‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ confirmed Prabhakaran ordering the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in the wake of the Oslo-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) alleging CFA violations by both parties. Thamilini quoted Prabhakaran as having confirmed the LTTE carrying out the assassination, on the night of August 12, 2005. Interestingly, the Sinhala translation of ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ was launched two days after former Justice Ministry Secretary Dr Nihal Jayawickrama raised the issue of Kadirgamar’s assassination. Delivering Dr P.R. Anthonis memorial lecture, titled ‘Healing the nation: A question of leadership’, at the Sasakawa Hall auditorium, Dr Jayawickrama said Kadirgamar’s killing had been still classified and shrouded in mystery. Dr Jayawickrama made the statement in respect of the former Foreign Minister’s assassination immediately after accusing the previous government of carrying out 300 political killings during 2005, and 700 extra-judicial killings in 2006 and 2007. Both Prabhakaran and Thamilchelvn believed that Kadirgamar’s assassination proved their ability to strike deep within the enemy territory. They also asserted that the EU proscribing of the group in the immediate aftermath of Kadirgamar’s assassination reflected the international community recognizing the group military power. According to Thamilini, the LTTE had been blinded by its perceived military capability, hence provoked the military. The top LTTE leadership strongly believed in a swift and decisive war could lead to their victory. (In his first interview with the media, Kumaran Pathmanathan told the writer the LTTE believed that the Army could be overwhelmed in two years. The Directorate of Military Intelligence allowed the interview in July, 2010)
LTTE backing for MR
Prabhakaran had felt that victory for Mahinda Rajapaksa would pave the way for the LTTE to resume war. The LTTE believed Rajapaksa would act recklessly. The LTTE resumed claymore mine attacks, in the North, within weeks of Rajapaksa being sworn in as the President. Thamilchelvan had revealed the LTTE leader’s assertion at a meeting attended by section heads in the run-up to the presidential polls, in Nov. 2005. Prabhakaran had asserted that the LTTE could certainly emerge victorious in case of a fresh war, and election of Rajapaksa was a prerequisite for such an eventuality. However, Thamilini refrained from discussing the part about the TNA directing Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise in support of either Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremesinghe at the behest of the LTTE. Mark Salter’s ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka,’ too, discussed the northern Tamils boycott. Salter alleged that Rajapaksa had bribed the LTTE to prevent Tamils from exercising their franchise at the crucial polls.
Sornam causes Mavilaru crisis
Thamilini discussed the circumstances leading to eelam war IV, in the wake of Prabhakaran approving Trincomalee District LTTE commander Sornama’s move to close the Mavilaru sluice gates, in mid-2006. Sornam believed that he could successfully deploy artillery pieces. The battle for supremacy in Trincomalee, ended with the LTTE experiencing a debilitating setback. Thamilini blamed Prabhakaran for declaring his commitment to a military solution at his heroes’ day speech, in late Nov. 2006, in spite of the heavy defeat, in Trincomalee. She also accused Prabhakaran of totally ignoring the changing international environment. Thamilini revealed that she had heard Sornam’s failed strategy from Trincomalee District political leader Elilan (missing husband of Northern Provincial Council member Ananthi Sasitharan) during the war.
Mahattaya and Karuna
The veteran LTTEer compared the disappearance of Mahattaya, in the early 90s, after being accused of working with premier Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and the rift between Prabhakaran and experienced battlefield commander, Karuna, credited with spearheading conventional fighting units in the Vanni region. According to her, both incidents greatly disturbed the organization and caused irreparable damage. The LTTE accused Mahattaya of conspiring with the RAW to assassinate Prabhakaran at the opening of a memorial hall, built at Kodikamam, in memory of those who had perished during the 1991 assault on the strategic Elephant Pass base. The LTTE claimed that the RAW planned to use a Tiger working for the Indian spy network to kill Mahattaya, thereby paving the way for him to take over the leadership. The LTTE Intelligence executed scores of cadres, including those holding senior command positions, for being allegedly involved in the conspiracy. The executed included a Susilan, who had driven away a tank, captured during the LTTE attack on the Pooneryn army base, in Nov. 1993, to the LTTE-held area. Thamilini declared that the way the organization had moved against Karuna reminded her of the Mahattaya episode and the circumstances under which the LTTE wiped out rival Tamil organizations. Thamilini questioned the validity of accusations, including conspiracy against the leader, misappropriation of funds and sexual misconduct directed at various personnel, over the years.
P’karan on Pottu Amman
Thamilini revealed about Prabhakaran faulting his dreaded Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman for constantly complaining against other senior commanders, including Karuna. Prabhakaran had commented about Pottu Amman’s conduct during a meeting with Thamilini and front line commander Durga of the women fighting cadre. At a different occasion, Durga had expressed disappointment with regard to Pottu Amman’s conduct amidst growing difficulties on the Vanni front as troops relentlessly advanced, in spite of fierce resistance offered by LTTE units. Thamilini quoted Durga as having told her that she lost even the little bit of respect she had for Pottu Amman for not taking stark ground realities into consideration. Thamilini had met Durga shortly after the latter had met Prabhakaran in the company of Pottu Amman during the final phase of fighting, on the Vanni east front.
P’karan admits defeat
Soon after losing Kilinochchi, in early January, 2009, Prabhakaran admitted that he couldn’t do anything to reverse the ground situation, Thamilini revealed how she was told of Prabhakaran’s plight by a well-recognized fighter who had been a bodyguard to Thamilselvan. Prabhakaran had said that he was helpless though many believed he had the wherewithal to change the ground situation. By early 2009, the LTTE had lost the capacity to conduct a large scale offensive operation to regain Kilinochchi. Subsequently, Prabhakaran had told Durga that 25,000 trained cadre and ammunition for artillery pieces were required to regain Kilinochchi. However, many believed that the LTTE would allow the Army to move into Kilinochchi before launching an all-out attack. Canada-based journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj claimed in Dec 2008, powerful LTTE forces would annihilate the Army on the Vanni east front.
Thamilini also examined targeted assassinations, carried out by Army units, operating in areas under LTTE control. In spite of knowing that the Army was hunting for senior LTTEers, including Prabhakaran, the organization couldn’t overcome the problem. Special security measures taken to neutralize the threat posed by the Army had been in vain. Thamilini disclosed how she experienced a claymore mine attack, directed at a senior LTTE leader along the Puthukudirippu-Oddusudan road. The blast had been directed at a vehicle at close proximity to the road leading to Prabhakaran’s base.
Senior LTTE commander Balraj escaped a similar claymore mine attack along the A9 road.
Thamilini revealed the crisis faced by the organization due to a strategic bombing campaign carried out by the Air Force. The Air Force had caused heavy losses to the LTTE and eroded its capacity to launch a major offensive action, contrary to lies propagated by interested parties. Thamilini said that the Air Force carried out accurate bombing of identified targets, including those frequented by senior leaders, including Prabhakaran.
Awaiting TN intervention
Thamilselvan’s successor Nadesan strongly felt that Tamil Nadu could influence New Delhi to intervene in Sri Lanka to arrange a ceasefire. According to Thamilini, Nadesan had believed in Indian intervention until the collapse of LTTE resistance, on multiple fronts, in the Vanni battlefield. Having failed to secure Indian intervention, the LTTE made a last ditch attempt to flood advancing troops by blasting the anicut of the Vishvamadu tank. Thamilini alleged that heavy artillery and air strikes on LTTE artillery pieces, positioned on the Vanni east front, including Wallipuram and Devipuram, had caused a massive number of deaths among civilians. Thamilini asserted that due to wrong decisions taken by the LTTE leadership the entire Vanni population, trapped on the Vanni east front, faced annihilation. Thamilini had met Nadesan on May 13, 2009, for the last time. Thamilini claimed that Nadesan hadn’t confidently discussed the possibility of Indian intervention. Thamilini felt that Nadesan had wanted to reveal something serious though he refrained from doing so and the meeting concluded in the wake of the area coming under artillery fire.
Top LTTE leadership’s bid to escape
Contrary to repeated claims by the previous government that heavy weapons hadn’t been used during the final phase, the Army fired artillery at the area under LTTE control even during the last few days of the offensive. Thamilini recalled the area under heavy artillery fire on May 15, 2009, four days before fighting ended on the Vanni east front. Head of Sea Tigers’ Women Wing, Purni had confided in Thamilini that Prabhakaran and several other senior commanders were trying to smash through Army defences after having crossed the Nanthikadal lagoon in small boats. According to Purni, Prabhakaran’s contingent planned to reach the sea through the jungles. Another woman fighter had told Purni and Thamilini that her lover too confirmed the plan. The revelation meant, the LTTE leadership planned to desert the fighting cadre and those who had been wounded in battle.
Prabhakaran made his attempt in the early hours of May 17, 2009. Within 24 hours Prabhakaran and some of his close associates died in combat.
Thamilini’s work sheds light on the LTTE and particularly its conduct after signing of the CFA in Feb. 2002. Her memoirs clearly contradict those who had been working overtime to blame the Sri Lanka state for resumption of war in Aug. 2006. No other LTTE leader who had been with the fighting cadre, during the final phase of the conflict, made such revelations. It would be the responsibility of the government and the military to verify Thamilini’s version of events as Sri Lanka faces the Geneva gauntlet.
Thamilini’s version of events, I believe, is as important as former Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit’s memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ launched during 2004. The writer had dealt with Dixit’s memoirs on more than one occasion and discussed the matter on other media. In short, Dixit faulted the then Indian PM Indira Gandhi for intervening in Sri Lanka for external and domestic reasons causing massive death and destruction in a neighbouring country.....