Tuesday, 31 May 2016

LTTE’s rapid collapse after Kilinochchi debacle through the eyes of Thamilini



Vidusha ordered to shoot surrendering civilians

Commander of the Malathy Regiment, Vidusha, had started to cry as soon as she saw ‘Colonel’ Thamilini walking towards her. The chance meeting had taken place at Sugandipuram, one of the last remaining LTTE bastions, east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini quoted Vidusha as having told her that she was embarrassed when she thought of the organisation’s conduct. Vidusha had revealed receiving instructions from the top leadership to shoot those wanting to surrender to the army below their knees. Although, she had resented the directive, she instructed some cadres of the situation. They had told her how could they shoot their relatives and it was better to shoot themselves.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini quoted Vidusha as having told her regretfully the situation the organisation had fallen to by ordering mass scale shooting of civilians.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Subramanium Sivagami alias ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata (In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword), the Sinhala translation of Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil, intimately dealt with the final phase of the war on the Vanni east front.

Thamilini, who had served the front line LTTE fighting formations before being appointed leader of the Tiger Women’s Political Wing, discussed Intelligence Wing leader Pottu Amman’s ridiculous efforts to halt advancing government forces. Senior LTTE commanders had been extremely angry over a spate of directives, issued by Pottu Amman, without taking into consideration severe difficulties experienced by fighting formations. Pottu Amman had earned the wrath of fellow commanders for ignoring the plight of the fighting formations, close on the heels of the LTTE being forced to abandon Kilinochchi, during the first week of January, 2009.

Those who had been demanding to know the truth were strangely silent on ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s first hand account, though Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil was launched in Kilinochchi on March 19, 2016. The Sinhala version was launched at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on May 13, 2016.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s husband, Jeyakumaran Mahadevan, a British national of Sri Lankan origin, earned the wrath of an influential section of Tamil politicians, as well as Tamil Diaspora, for releasing shocking memoirs.

By January, 2009, several fighting formations had been engaged in large scale offensive operations, on the Vanni east front. The military had eradicated the LTTE fighting cadre, in the Vanni west, and the remaining units surrounded in the Vanni east, across the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. But the LTTE continued to resist in spite of rapidly losing its capacity to face the army.

Much to the anger of fellow field commanders, Pottu Amman had positioned disabled cadres with explosives, to thwart the army advance on Puthukuduirippu, the main LTTE bastion, east of A9. At the behest of Pottu Amman, disabled cadres had carried out suicide attacks on troops advancing on Puthukuduirippu. The LTTE Intelligence Wing leader had also ordered Black Tigers to mount claymore mine attacks. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini declared that a large number of LTTE cadres had perished during the final phase of an unwinnable war.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini inferred that Pottu Amman had the blessings of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. She quoted Prabhakaran as having declared that he would ensure that the Black Tigers would be the most powerful weapon of the weak community.

Both Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman believed the army could be halted by carrying out mass scale suicide attacks. Referring to a Black Tiger suicide attack mounted during the first week of February, 2009, on the 59.3 Brigade, south of Puthukuduirippu, ‘Colonel’ Thamilini acknowledged the group lacked the wherewithal to halt the army. She said that the global community had been both suspicious and shocked over the collapse of what it had hitherto believed was a very powerful organisation. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini asserted Prabhakaran’s unilateral decisions caused massive destruction to the Tamil-speaking people.

Although, Prabhakaran had faulted Pottu Amman for constantly complaining against other senior commanders, including Karuna, he didn’t obviously intervene. Commander of the Malathy Regiment, ‘Colonel’ Vidusha had expressed disappointment with regard to Pottu Amman’s conduct, Thamilini quoted ‘Colonel’ Vidusha as having told her, at a medical facility, at Iranapalai, 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 ‘Colonel’ Vidusha shortly after the latter had met Prabhakaran, in the company of Pottu Amman, during the final phase of fighting on the Vanni east front.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini succumbed to cancer, in Oct, 2015. Perhaps, her revelations should be examined by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) pursuing war crimes investigation, in respect of offensive action, on the Vanni east front, as well as the government. The government should seriously consider seeking the expertise of the Paranagama Commission, including its international experts, to examine the LTTEers’ claims and assertions. The government shouldn’t ignore an opportunity to produce an add-on to the Paranagama Report. The Paranagama Commission’s legal advisory council comprised Sir Desmond de Silva, QC (UK), Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC (UK), and Professor David M. Crane (US). The team received the support of several experts, including retired Maj. Gen. John Holmes, one-time Commanding Officer of the elite Special Air Services (SAS).

‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s revelations sent shock waves through those who had been propagating war crimes allegations. Her memoirs should be examined against the backdrop of the UN declaring, in March, 2011, that those who accused the previous government of war crimes wouldn’t be subjected to cross examination, under any circumstances, until 2031 (UNSG’s Panel of Experts Report, March 31, 2011). A second inquiry, on the basis of which UNHRC adopted a Resolution on Oct. 1, 2015 paving the way for a hybrid court, too, refrained from revealing the identities of those who made unsubstantiated allegations. Colombo-based foreign-funded civil society organizations, promoting accountability process, should reveal their stand on the deceased Tiger’s memoirs published by her husband with the support of veteran film maker, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, who openly campaigned to end the Rajapaksa administration.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini dealt with the last meeting, attended by heads of all formations and units engaged on the Vanni east front, during March 2009. Held at a camp, at Puthukuduirippu, once considered the most vital high security zone in the North, the meeting revealed the imminent collapse of the organization’s conventional fighting capability. Having summoned senior colleagues, for a final briefing, Pottu Amman admitted that the LTTE could achieve battlefield victory only through a miracle. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini quoted Pottu Amman as having said that victory was no longer a reality. Having warned them that those LTTE personnel who surrendered to the army, along with civilians, would be shot by the security forces the moment they admitted being members of the organisation, Pottu Amman again reiterated only a miracle could save them. The LTTE Intelligence Wing Leader had ordered them to destroy all documents in their hands. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini briefly explained the deep mental trauma as senior commanders resented talking with each other. The top level grouping conveniently failed to discuss the issue of the large group of wounded LTTE personnel.

There hasn’t been a previous detailed account of what took place, on the Vanni east front, after troops secured Kilinochchi. Thamilini described the final counter offensive, launched by the LTTE, during the first week of April, 2009, leading to the loss of over 600 cadres, including several senior personnel. According to ‘Colonel’ Thamilini, senior commander Bhanu had conducted the operation, in the Anandapuram area, east of Puthukudirippu operation, which lasted three days before troops brought the situation under control. Those who survived fled leaving both the dead and the wounded, as all organised resistance crumpled.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini confirmed Wikileaks report pertaining to the LTTE conducting all its operations from among the civilian community in the wake of the organisation losing Kilinochchi. Diplomatic cables, originating from US embassies, quoted top ICRC official as having confirmed that the LTTE positioned itself among civilians. In spite of realizing that resistance couldn’t be sustained, Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman engaged in desperate measures to thwart the army advance. The organisation ordered forced conscription and execution of those who had quit the LTTE. The LTTEer alleged that Voice of Tigers (VOT) engaged in propaganda meant to convince the population that external assistance was on its way while, on the ground people struggled to secure approval to go on board ICRC ships operating between Puthumathalan and Pulmoddai.

It would be pertinent to stress that the government allowed the evacuation of those who had been wounded on the Vanni east front, with an Indian medical team positioned in Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee to receive them. The UNSG’s Panel of Experts (PoE) referred to the ICRC operation in its report released on March 31, 2011. The PoE declared that the LTTE prevented wounded cadres from leaving the area, in ICRC - run ships.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s reference to the deployment of the navy, off the Mullaitivu coast, during the final phase of the offensive highlighted the crucial role played by the Navy ably commanded by Vice Admial Wasantha Karannagoda. The LTTEer recalled leader of the Women’s Wing of the Sea Tigers Purni (a close relative of TULF leader A. Amirthalingam) confiding in her the inability of Prabhakaran and his chief lieutenants to escape by sea, due to heavy navy deployment. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini had received information, from Purni, in this regard, on the evening of May 15, 2009, at Mullivaikkal. Thanks to VA Karannagoda, the writer had an opportunity to visit the naval cordon, off Mullaitivu-Chalai, during the last week of April, 2009. The navy sustained the operation until the army overran the remaining LTTE - held territory on the Vanni east front. VA Karannagoda threw the sea cordon in the wake of the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka declaring that Prabhakaran could escape by sea.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s sentiments clearly reflected the pathetic situation experienced by the once powerful LTTE combat formations. The LTTE lacked the wherewithal to breakthrough army lines, nor a plan to take care of those who had been wounded in battle. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini asserted that the top leadership had decided to leave them to face the army, while a selected few escaped. Reference to well-known Sothiya Regiment underscored the crisis. By the third week of May, 2009, there had been only a few left of the Sothiya Regiment, then deployed at Mullivaikkal. A conversation between Sea Tiger commander Sri Ram and ‘Colonel’ Thamilini also revealed the collapse of their fighting capability. By then, the top leadership had abandoned civilians though it resorted to violence to stop them surrendering to the army.

Having joined the LTTE for a period of 18 years, Thamilini surrendered to the army, on May 16, 2009, several hours before Prabhakaran made an abortive bid to escape.

Wikileaks,  Stockholm-based author, Mark Salter (To END A CIVIL WAR; NORWAY’S PEACE ENGAGEMENT IN SRI LANKA), serving diplomat Dr Chanaka Thalpahewa (NORWEGIAN INVOLVEMENT IN THE SRI LANKAN PEACE PROCESS), Norwegian  report (PAWNS OF PEACE : EVALUATION OF NORWEGIAN PEACE EFFORTS IN SRI LANKA) and the Paranagama Commission (REPORT ON THE SECOND MANDATE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO COMPLAINTS OF ABDUCTIONS AND DISAPPEARANCES) dealt with the situation on the front, during the final phase of ground operations.

Unfortunately, the war-winning Rajapaksa government ignored the need to conduct a thorough examination of events leading to the conflict with the focus on eelam war IV (August 2006-May 2009). Had the administration undertaken such an inquiry, the LTTE rump, the Tamil Diaspora and Western powers wouldn’t have been able to propagate that the government of Sri Lanka engaged in systematic crimes. The previous government had been so foolish it didn’t even bother to examine Wikileaks until the Legal Advisory Council, and other foreign experts, joined the Paranagama Commission. The Norwegian evaluation too took Wikileaks into consideration. Wikileaks revealed the ICRC admitting the army paying a heavy price on the Vanni east front due to them taking the civilian factor into consideration.

‘Colonel’ Thamilini reminiscences about war weary people along with LTTE cadres surrendering to the army. They had walked along the Mullivaikkal road and passed Wattuwakal bridge to reach what ‘Colonel’ Thamilini called Mullaitivu central area. The army had been advancing towards Mullivaikkal on both sides of the road, leaving people to walk towards Mullaitivu central area. The army had made special arrangements to receive those entering into the area under their control. Arrangements that had been in place highlighted their readiness to accommodate large groups of people, including LTTE combatants. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini appreciated the army having made prior arrangements to ensure the safety and security of those surrendering as the fighting entered the final stage.

The LTTEer explained the transfer of people and LTTE cadres from Mullaitivu to Omanthai in buses escorted by the army. Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata and Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil discussed a situation hitherto neglected by the Tamil community. Those who had been demanding accountability, on the part of the government, never acknowledged efforts made by the army to safely receive Tamils on the Vanni east front. The LTTEer had been lucky to meet her mother and accompany her to Omanthai.

Strangely, the JOINT OPPOSITION, loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is yet to comment on revelations made by ‘Colonel’ Thamilini. The grouping obviously lacked a strategy to collect information which can be used to defend the military.

Most importantly in spite of her being part of the top command and control structure of the LTTE, ‘Colonel’ Thamilini never made any reference to the group planning to surrender to the army. Her version of events, leading to the group’s annihilation, revealed Prabhakaran and his sidekick Pottu Amman acting recklessly and foolishly in the wake of the debilitating setback, suffered at Kilinochchi, during the first week of January 2009. ‘Colonel’ Thamilini asserted that the LTTE never had a chance to recoup, following the Kilinochchi defeat. According to ‘Colonel’ Thamilini, there had never been a serious attempt to reach an understanding with the government and obviously Prabhakaran and his close associates believed in fleeing Vanni leaving even the wounded behind. Wartime US Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, in early June, 2011, in Colombo, declared that there had never been an agreement between the government and the LTTE for the latter to surrender. The official dismissed reports pertaining to LTTE Political Wing seniors, Nadesan and Pulithevan, reaching an understanding in this regard during the final phase of fighting. An exclusive report on statement made by the US official was denied by the then US State Department Deputy spokesperson Mark C. Toner.

 Toner declared:  Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panellist. My understanding is that the defense attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.

The US was embarrassed. The previous government acted as if nothing happened. It was busy hiring expensive US PR firms to enhance its image.