- Renegade LTTE leader warns against
complacency: Wounded Tiger is a dangerous Tiger
- Defence Ministry decrees news
control via MCNS
A few months after the Ceasefire Agreement
of February 2002, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was badly disturbed by
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
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
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
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,"
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
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:
BETWEEN THE LTTE AND SECURITY FORCES:
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.
ON EXAGGERATED CLAIMS
BY BOTH SIDES:
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.
THE ABSENCE OF (KARUNA'S)
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.
WHETHER LTTE UNLEASHED
ONLY THEIR 'RESERVES' IN RECENT BATTLES:
It is our knowledge that LTTE used both its
'reserves' and 'regular' cadres. The failure was
due to lack of military leadership.
AND NORWEGIAN FACILITATION:
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
WHETHER HIS CADRES
TOOK PART IN RECENT BATTLES:
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.
ON TMVP POLITICAL
OFFICE IN COLOMBO AND WHETHER THEY WOULD CONTEST
LOCAL POLLS IN NORTH EAST:
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.
WHETHER HIS GROUP
HAS RENOUNCED THE ARMED STRUGGLE:
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.
ON THE ALL-PARTY CONFERENCE:
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.
WHETHER LTTE ATTACKS
ON MUHAMALAI A MISCALCULATION:
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
LTTE'S STRENGTH AND
ABILITY IN THE EAST:
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.
ON POSSIBLE ATTACKS
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 OFFER OF 'UNCONDITIONAL
TALKS' AFTER MILITARY SETBACKS:
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.
ON TMVP BEING INVITED
FOR PEACE TALKS:
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
ON THE MILITARY STRENGTH
OF HIS CADRES:
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.
ON THE FUTURE OF LTTE:
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
ON THE 'MAVEERAR (GREAT
HEROES) DAY SPEECH:
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.