ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 18
Front Page Columns
Situation Report

'LTTE planning big hits'

  • Renegade LTTE leader warns against complacency: Wounded Tiger is a dangerous Tiger
  • Defence Ministry decrees news control via MCNS

By Iqbal Athas

A few months after the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was badly disturbed by an incident.

Somewhere near a house in which his wife Mathivathani and children lived in the Wanni, a land mine had gone off. He wondered whether this was part of an internal plot to eliminate him. For reasons of security, he lived separately and visited the family regularly. As chief of the Intelligence and Operations Wing Shanmuganathan Shivashankar alias Pottu Amman was ordered to conduct a full inquiry, most of the LTTE leader's personal bodyguards were hurriedly purged.

Mr Prabhakaran then turned to his most trusted confidante for help. That was Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, then the LTTE's military "Commander" for the East. He promptly dispatched 500 of his highly trained cadres from Batticaloa to Kilinochchi. The men were to form the inner caucus of Mr. Prabhakaran's personal protection unit.

The strength of Karuna's armed cadres in the East is growing in numbers. Here are new recruits going through their paces at a camp in Batticaloa district.

Such was the trust placed on Karuna. The families of the LTTE leader and Karuna were very close. Mathivathani and Karuna's wife Neera were inseparable friends. During the past three phases of Eelam War, it was he who led all the major LTTE military offensives against Security Forces. This was together with his trained hardcore and battle-hardened cadres from the East. That included both defensive and offensive roles. In the first, he gave leadership to thwart the Security Forces' advance in 1997 to link Vavuniya to Kilinochchi. It was during the military's longest, costliest and nearly two-year-long offensive codenamed "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (Victory Assured). In the latter, he led guerrilla cadres on a string of offensives which the LTTE codenamed "Oyatha Alaikal" (Unceasing Waves). They led to the fall of Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and adjoining areas that were under Security Forces control in 1999.

If Mr. Prabhakaran trusted Karuna for his prowess in the battlefield, he trusted him equally on the peace front too. So much so, he was made a part of the LTTE delegation for peace talks with the then United National Front (UNF) Government. Besides shedding his Tiger stripe camouflage uniform for a lounge suit to travel to venues for peace talks, Karuna built a strong military machine for the LTTE in the East. The guerrilla strength that was around 1,500 in the East was raised to over 6,500. East became the breeding ground for LTTErs. The LTTE leader made sure more military hardware was made available to him. Karuna began raising funds for LTTE activities in his area of command.

Tensions between Pottu Amman and Karuna led to serious misgivings. When Mr. Prabhakaran summoned him to Wanni, he felt suspicious. He learnt that would be the beginning of the end for him. So Karuna parted ways from the LTTE in April 2003. That saga was studded with episodes where some higher ups in the political and security establishment confidently made promises to help him but failed to honour their pledges. Badly let down, he ordered his cadres to destroy some of the heavy weapons. Some were later re-captured by cadres loyal to the Wanni leadership. This was after they launched a fierce offensive across the Verugal River (south of Trincomalee), the border with the Batticaloa district. Karuna also disbanded cadres he had recruited. They were handed back to their parents or families. Some went abroad.

Months later, after a brief respite in Colombo, Karuna left the shores of Sri Lanka. But a group of hardcore cadres loyal to him remained in the Batticaloa district. Mr Prabhakaran immediately disarmed the 500 cadres Karuna had provided for his security. The men were distributed to play unarmed, secondary roles in the LTTE defence lines at Nagerkovil. He also pumped cadres from the Wanni to the East to fill in the vacuum but they have to date failed to regain full control. The small band of Karuna loyalists, not more than 200 in number then, periodically engaged their erstwhile colleagues loyal to the Wanni leadership. Today, that relatively small group has grown in numbers. They have been trained and armed to take on LTTE cadres. They are emerging as a new armed force.

It is in this backdrop that the LTTE and the Security Forces engaged each other in Eelam War IV. Immediately after triggering off major confrontations by blockading water at the Mavil Aru anicut, they turned to the Trincomalee district for a major offensive. Mutur and the adjoining areas came under a temporary siege as they directed artillery fire at the Eastern Naval Area Headquarters in Trincomalee and later at the Air Force Base nearby at China Bay. Whilst curbing naval and ship movements from Trincomalee to Jaffna, the lifeline for some 40,000 troops and policemen in the peninsula, the LTTE mounted an attack on the Muhamalai defences together with the entry-exit point there. This strategic location is the divide between the LTTE-held Wanni and the Government-controlled Jaffna peninsula.

There again they failed. Besides the main reason, the LTTE continued to be unlucky too. As a prelude to a move into Jaffna, a thrust to seize adjoining Mandaitivu also failed. One of their main thrusts during the Muhamalai offensive was a planned boat landing in the Kilali lagoon. The LTTE had miscalculated. When a flotilla of boats loaded with heavily armed cadres was approaching a stretch at Kilali, they found it was low tide. The boats could not reach the shore. The Army had positioned their Main Battle Tanks in the area. They opened fire. Soldiers saw how debris from the boat as well as guerrilla cadres were thrust into the air as gunfire hit them. Though troops made a tactical withdrawal, they later advanced to occupy the first line of guerrilla defences south of the Muhamalai gateway.

Similarly, in the East the Security Forces re-captured Sampur, an area from which artillery and mortar fire had been directed at the Navy and the Air Force. Like at Muhamalai, it was a significant gain. With these achievements the Security Forces have been successful in thwarting the LTTE from placing a siege on the Jaffna peninsula. They are continuing their efforts to deny the LTTE any military advantage.

In the light of this, sections of the political and defence establishment are engulfed in heavy euphoria that the LTTE has been defeated. There is absolutely no doubt that the guerrillas have suffered severe setbacks militarily. Despite the enhancement of their firepower, acquisition of new weaponry, fresh recruits and other measures to boost their military machine during the ceasefire, the LTTE failed. Hospitals in the Wanni are still full of casualties. There are reports of some parents wanting their children back. This means Mr. Prabhakaran wants more time to sort out his domestic problems, regroup and plan attacks.

But the theory that the LTTE has been defeated is bolstered heavily by a recurring syndrome that Sri Lankans are subjected to during all phases of the Eelam Wars. That is the dissemination of information, particularly details of casualty counts by both sides. They are heavily exaggerated. On many occasions in the past months I have been approached by many top brass in the security establishment who want their "successes" highlighted prominently. This is in the Situation Report.

For the past three weeks it did not appear in The Sunday Times since I was away on vacation. If it did generate many reader queries, a smaller section of the security establishment had perceived that the non appearance of the report was because nothing was now available to write on. They believed all sources have been identified and sealed off by one of them. But a laughable episode came at an Asian restaurant in the suburbs of London. In a table adjoining where I was seated for lunch, two persons, presumably Sri Lankans, were talking about developments in the battlefront. "Do you know the Government has banned the Situation Report in the Times," asked one from the other. I did not venture out to offer the answer.

The casualty counts offered by these top brass are often in three digits. Adding up figures would mean at least half the LTTE strength, publicly proclaimed by senior military leaders in media interviews would have been wiped out. There are others who are offended that the "heroic" role they play is not publicized. They want punitive action against sections of the media on the grounds that they receive information from their own sources. Thus some of those reporting on defence matters have become their targets. Like the enemy, the LTTE, those from some media outlets are in the line of fire.

It is here that the personal interest overrides national interests. And now, the Ministry of Defence has decreed that "any news" gathered independently by the media "should be subjected to clarification and confirmation from the MCNS (Media Centre for National Security), in order to ensure that correct information is published, telecast or broadcast." I need hardly comment on whether what is called "correct information" is a euphemism for propaganda where only what the top officials or top brass deem fit the Sri Lankans should know is publicized.

With high morale and a strong commitment, the Security Forces played a commendable role in causing debacle after debacle for the LTTE. The Army was strong on the ground. The Air Force came in for high praise for the accuracy with which their pilots acquired targets. The Navy, on a number of occasions, resisted Sea Tiger attacks to cause them considerable damage.

Facilitating this further was the total lack of middle level leadership. A stronger segment of the "teeth arm" of the LTTE, provided by Karuna and his cadres, are no longer there. The middle level leaders failed Mr.Prabhakaran. Some of the cadres do not want to face battles and desertions, though in a small way, have begun. Has the LTTE been defeated?

I posed the question to Karuna during a telephone conversation with him at his secret location. His reply: "I will not agree that the LTTE can be treated as a spent force. A wounded Tiger is a dangerous Tiger. The LTTE can regroup itself and engage in unconventional warfare. Having faced serious political and military setbacks, the LTTE will find ways to sustain its presence by engaging in terrorist activities which will include suicide bombings, ambushes, subjugating innocent people through violent means even by using weapons like swords, axes etc."

Karuna said "we must win the hearts and minds of the people to defeat the LTTE fully." He said the people in the Wanni and Jaffna do not like the Tigers and their agents, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) representing them in the legislature. But, unfortunately they are unable to go against them because there is no political alternative. The moment the Government provides an acceptable political framework which could accommodate the Tamil people as part of Sri Lanka, under a federal system they will walk away from the LTTE for good, he added.

The renegade LTTE eastern leader warned that the LTTE must be licking its wounds now. "They will contemplate terrorist attacks in a big way at an opportune moment in other parts of Sri Lanka. They have clearly stated their objectives in their official media that they will make Sri Lanka bleed. You should know what it means. Even their recent cartoon confirms that the island of Sri Lanka being pushed 45 degrees away from its present location in the Indian Ocean. That is the degree of venom in which the LTTE mindset is working."

Karuna warned that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family will be prime targets for Mr. Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman. "They know terror is the only way they could show their authority and they will be going for big hits. This is their indisputable strategy. Any efforts to talk (to the LTTE) will be very cynical and must be handled with extreme care to prevent their extended agenda getting executed."

Karuna also provided answers to a number of other questions I posed. They appear on a box story on this page.

Karuna's warnings come as Eelam War IV continues amidst Norway's efforts to revive the peace process. Their special envoy Jon Hanssen Bauer arrives in Colombo today for talks with Government and LTTE leaders. From September 1 to 26, over 70 security forces personnel and policemen have been killed and more than 400 wounded.

Commenting on the recent hostilities, a senior Army officer, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, told The Sunday Times, "the notion that the LTTE fights till the last man and the last bullet is wrong." He said during "Operation Liberation" to gain control of the Vadamaratchchi sector in the Jaffna peninsula in 1987, the LTTE resisted until troops moved towards Valvettiturai and backed out. During "Operation Balavegaya" to regain control of Elephant Pass in July 1991, they disengaged. Similarly, during "Operation Riviresa" in 1995, they resisted until troops reached Neerveli and withdrew to the Wanni, he pointed out. "There is a message in all these events," he added.

The Sunday Times (Situation Report - September 3) revealed how the LTTE re-activated itself within seven months after Security Forces re-captured the Jaffna peninsula in 1995. But unlike then, there is now a time compulsion.

Within seven weeks, LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is due to make his annual "Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day" address.

He declared last year: "Our people have lost patience, hope and reached the brink of utter frustration. They are not prepared to be tolerant any longer. The new government should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people. This is our urgent and final appeal. If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our homeland."

Just three weeks ago, LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan declared that they were willing to have "unconditional" talks with the Government. That no doubt was with the concurrence of his leader.

But, after the rhetoric of last year, can Mr. Prabhakaran now meekly say he wants "unconditional" talks. Or is he preparing for something else?

Even if one is to act on the advice of the Ministry of Defence and ask the Media Centre for National Security for answers, I am sure, they will not know "the correct information." Only the coming weeks will tell.

Karuna calls for India's mediation, federal solution

He was once the most trusted confidante of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He led all his battles with the Security Forces.

Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna

And now, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, better known as Karuna, is his arch rival. He has strengthened his armed group and formed his own political party, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).
From his secret location outside Sri Lanka, Karuna spoke to The Sunday Times. Here are answers he gave to questions posed to him:


The LTTE faced major setbacks. They provoked the army for a full-scale war and ended up being battered. An undeclared war was started by them way back in November 2005. The initial attacks were disguised as uprising of the people. The so-called Makkal Padai (People's Force) disappeared from the scene after the Presidential election and it became warfare between the LTTE and the Security Forces. The deception practised by the LTTE to engage in a war resulted in Tamil people experiencing deaths and untold misery.

In the first place, LTTE politically mishandled the situation by not permitting the Tamil people to participate in the Presidential election. They have now come to the desperate stage and are seeking India's help. They expect India to forget the past. They are still trying to dictate terms. This is after they conducted themselves in an undemocratic, hegemonic and arrogant way since the Presidential election. It is LTTE which inflicted its wounds on them by inviting the Sri Lankan forces to a war.


Truth is the first casualty of any war. Leaving aside the claims and the counter-claims, I will say it is our knowledge that LTTE experienced major setbacks this time. They wanted full-scale war by provoking the Government forces.


Batticaloa was a factor and will be a factor in any future warfare. It is not only the lack of fighting cadres from there. There are also serious drawbacks with regard to the military leadership. The majority of the military commanders are becoming old and infirm. Because of lack of leadership, poor cadres are becoming easy victims. Of course, the Batticaloa factor was a determinant factor in many past LTTE victories. With my departure, Prabakaran is facing serious drawbacks. He has lost good calibre recruits and committed leadership which had obtained major victories for the LTTE.

It is noteworthy how the Elephant Pass came under the LTTE control following two disastrous attempts previously. The third effort was initially commanded by Balraj but he got entrapped. When he started the offensive, we were about to be routed by the Sri Lankan forces. I was asked by Pirabakaran to go and help him. I was able to overcome the Army and release Balraj from a siege.

Prabhakaran gave the responsibility to me to take over the Elephant Pass. I was firm and was able to ignore his plans. I took forward my own alternative military strategy. They gave the LTTE a major victory. Forces under my command even reached Ariyalai from Elephant Pass but could not proceed to Jaffna town due to Prabhakaran's selfish demand. He wanted some of the important weaponry in our disposal to fortify his own "Punitha Bhumi" (sacred ground). At this stage Prabhakaran's personal security became important than the wider interest of the struggle.

The LTTE capture of Pooneryn was another major victory for the LTTE. I did this with the Jayanthan Padai (Force) which was under my command.


It is our knowledge that LTTE used both its 'reserves' and 'regular' cadres. The failure was due to lack of military leadership.


It is obvious. Norwegians are like the proverbial emperor without clothes now! We can see their nakedness, the ugliness and warts, which they refuse to see themselves.

We must now move from facilitation by Norway. We must go further by appointing a mediator who will have more powers than the weaker Norwegian facilitation. It is TMVP's position that India must be brought in as the honest negotiator to resolve this conflict in the best interest of all the communities in Sri Lanka. Irish peace initiative is a good example to follow. Everything needed from bi-partisan approach to powerful mediation were there to settle the conflict in Northern Ireland.


We have our own agenda. We know that we are putting the LTTE on the defensive and even make them run. Our stand has weakened the LTTE considerably. We have not engaged in any military warfare with the Army against the LTTE. We have carried out operations against the LTTE in the eastern front on our own and have driven them out. We did this to safeguard the people in the area.

Our military efforts will be defensive and we will only engage when our security is threatened.


Our main objective is political. We will participate in the democratic process. We have the will to do it and the Sinhalese people also must have the courage to accommodate the Tamil and Muslim people to be part of Sri Lanka and live together.


We are not a faction. We are a political body. Though I pulled out from the LTTE, I have taken forward a democratic struggle in a wider scale. We have a military force and hold arms to defend ourselves from the LTTE. Our military wing will renounce arms when a political settlement is reached. There are various matters to be considered at that stage including disengagement and assimilation into regular forces to defend Sri Lanka.

We are not for separate state of Eelam. We are for a united Sri Lanka under a federal constitution. We need a clearly defined constitution which recognises the north and east. It should provide extensive devolved powers for the Tamils to run an administration of their own.


We have serious reservations, as the forum is not transparent and is limited in many ways. APC should have been given a mandate to consider anything more than the 13th amendment to the constitution. Just imagine if the outcome of the APC is going to be district level devolution. This will throw everything back to square one.

We will not compromise in the demand for a federal structure for a united North and East which has to be pre-requite for any political resolution to the conflict. The Sinhala leadership cannot shy away from offering this to the Tamils on the grounds of their parochial political objectives.


There is enormous suffering in Wanni. In particular we are aware that the situation in Killinochchi is very bad. There are insufficient medical facilities and medication. Children are not attending school. Many of them are debarred from attending due to the green card system introduced by the LTTE to make military training compulsory for the students. The civilian population is the real victim. The LTTE got enough to feed its cadres and the family members of their dead cadres. In the seven major confrontations including our attack in Amparai over 700 LTTE cadres have died and many wounded. These losses are not easy to replenish in the ever dwindling recruitment field.


Muhamalai attack was definitely a miscalculation. This is part of their intended plan to break the defences of the Sri Lankan army and advance. It was long cherished aim of LTTE to take control of Jaffna peninsula. They tried every method from random attacks on the Army, asking the population to move out to Wanni, carrying out civil disobedience campaign etc. Nothing worked. Their final try was the forceful takeover. If Jaffna comes under their control they can spin more money by coercive tactics. Jaffna's link to the massive Tamil Diaspora will reward them with wealth to sustain their activities.


In the current status quo the East is a no go area for the LTTE. The misadventures of Prabhakaran in Sampur and Mavil Aru have made the LTTE presence in the East hopeless. This could only get worse for them in the future.


LTTE is desperate. In desperation they will do desperate things. The wounded Tiger is a dangerous Tiger holding its paws tight to pounce at the right time. Pottu's days will be numbered if he does not release his suicide missions appropriately on important targets in the South. Pottu must be having sleepless nights to execute his expertise.


LTTE knows that it is very weak and only way out for it is to buy further time. The very same LTTE few months ago imposed a condition that it wanted the Eastern "commanders" to attend a meeting in Killinochchi before it went for talks in Geneva. Now to ask for unconditional talks reflect the desperation they are in at present. The timing of the offer is noteworthy. The olive branch was shown just before the sinking of the LTTE ship carrying arms. Their intention was to keep the Sri Lankan forces at bay and unload the weapons. Prabhakaran and Pottu are master tricksters; I am glad their tricks did not work.


It is important that both the government and the opposition UNP must realise that they cannot find a solution without our contribution and engagement. The present APC mandate is not clear-cut and we fear that something minimum will come out of this effort which could have serious political consequences. If there was clear direction to find a solution under a federal system we would have contributed in the present process.

The European Union in its candid resolution on 7 September 2006 has recognised the need to engage us in any future talks. They understood the difficulties without us. Any resolution to the conflict without our engagement is doomed to fail.


We are militarily stronger now. Our objective is to work towards finding an early settlement to the political problem and until then we will progressively train ourselves to become a force which can be relied upon by our people.


The LTTE has lost its credibility on all fronts. Prabhakaran is hiding in the bunker and is commanding a disabled bunch of "Commanders." They have become a spent force. The future is very bleak for the LTTE. This could be easily assessed from S. P. Thamilselvan's facial expressions since the LTTE faced the debacles. The sparkle has disappeared altogether from him. It is not only in Wanni, the LTTE is loosing grounds in the Tamil Diaspora and even the international opinion has turned against it. My departure from the LTTE was the starting point for its decline and it has lost large chunk of real estate it controlled in the east. Very soon it will have to face our cadres in Wanni and Jaffna.

They will go to the extreme under Pottu's direction and engage in suicide attacks. If the situation becomes life threatening for Prabhakaran you could expect nasty things to happen. This is something I am aware of and am trying very hard to safeguard our people.


The LTTE will try and put on a brave front when they celebrate “Great Heroes” Day events. Having faced serious setbacks Prabhakaran will find it hard to give a brave speech. His guru Anton Balasingham is said to be seriously sick and has been marginalised. It will be interesting to listen to his speech. It may be that hard core Pirabakaran and Pottu will do something heroic to galvanise the events as they are desperate. They will do desperate things to put a brave face to their hard core supporters.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.