KILINOCHCHI: Looking back at the annihilation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, past members and non-members in the know of conditions at that time, give different reasons for the unexpected denouement including betrayal by some close lieutenants of Tiger chieftain, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Talking to Express in her home at Selvanagar in the outskirts of Kilinochchi, ex-fighting cadre, Ranjini, said that some of Prabhakaran’s trusted lieutenants had indulged in duplicity.
“As we say in Tamil, these people were Paalukkum Kaaval, Poonaikkum Thozhan” (They were guarding the milk while being friends with the cat),” she said.
Many top leaders, barring Prabhakaran, were more interested in their personal comforts and welfare than in the organization and the leader by whom they swore, Ranjini recalled.
But when asked to name the betrayers, Ranjini said: “Sorry!”
Like other cadre, Ranjini saw Prabhakaran as being above reproach.
“He was totally committed to the cause, did not bow to any power, and fought till the last. He saw to it that the Maveerar families (families of dead cadre) were well looked after,” she said.
But seeing the pompous and exclusive lifestyle of the other leaders, those lower down in the hierarchy also became “selfish”, which was the “second most important reason” for the collapse of the organization, she said.
Ranjini had joined the LTTE voluntarily in 1989 as a 19 year old, and had taken part in several battles as a company commander, till a series of debilitating injuries resulted in her discharge from the outfit in 2000.
Married to a serving member of the “Radha Vaan Padai” (the LTTE’s anti-aircraft unit) in 2001, Ranjini surrendered to the Lankan army in April 2009, and was released a year later after “rehabilitation.”
Infiltrated by Lankan Intelligence
According to ex-LTTE Women’s Political Wing leader, the Late Thamilini, infiltration of the LTTE’s top echelons by Lankan military intelligence was one of the main reasons for the annihilation of the organization. Apparently, moles were ensconced in Prabhakaran’s inner most circle, Thamilini had told her husband, Jayakumaran Mahadevan.
In her book Koorvaalin Nizhalil (In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword) published posthumously after the war, Thamilini did not mention moles, but had noted that the LTTE leadership was amazed and perplexed by the accuracy of the Lankan army’s intelligence about the movements of top commanders.
Some of these highly protected commanders, like Shankar, whose movements were a top secret, were killed in landmine blasts triggered by the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) of the Lankan army.
“Till the end, the LTTE leadership was clueless about how the army got such precise intelligence,” Thamilini wrote.
Pottu Amman’s Conduct
According to Thamilini’s husband, Jayakumaran Mahadevan, intelligence Chief Pottu Amman’s abrasive conduct had put off a number of senior cadre. He had an obsessive tendency to test the cadre’s loyalty and probity.
“He tested Thamilini too. The LTTE had a policy of returning the jewelry of dead female cadre to their families. In one case, instead of sending the jewelry to the family concerned, Pottu Amman had it delivered to Thamilini to test if she would take it and keep it for herself. Thamilini knew what Pottu Amman was up to, and sent it back with an angry retort,” Jayakumaran recalled.
The harsh punishments meted out even for minor infringements, also put off the cadre. Thamilini writes that when a suicide squad returned to the headquarters in the Wanni without hitting the intended target at Colombo harbor, the squad members were suspected, tortured and imprisoned. Some cadres had killed themselves unable to take the punishments.
In the final phase of the war, Pottu Amman heartlessly sent wounded cadre strapped with bombs to confront advancing Lankan troops. Many wounded cadres lost their lives in this way, Thamilini wrote. In the last few days, Pottu Amman also ordered that fleeing Tamil civilians be shot dead.
But according to Tamil poet Selvarasa Karunagaran who saw it all from beginning to end in situ, the LTTE was defeated not by betrayal, but by the superior resources and tactics of the Lankan Security Forces.
“The Lankans fought a scientific war,” he told Express.
“By the beginning of 2009, the Lankan forces had blocked the LTTE’s supplies coming from the sea. And they had closed the jungle in the West, leaving only the Eastern sea open. In the prolonged war of attrition from 2007, fifty percent of the LTTE’s power had vanished by January 2009. The only frontline fighting formations left were the men’s Charles Anthony brigade and the women’s Malathi brigade.
And with the forcible recruitment of kids beginning in 2007, civilians got alienated from the movement, which proved to be a huge drawback for an organization which depended on peoples support, Karunagaran said.
Asked if he thought betrayal within the LTTE’s inner circle was a key cause, Karunagaran said that just as the LTTE had infiltrated the Lankan Establishment to collect information on military leaders and military plans, Lankan intelligence had infiltrated the LTTE.
“This had begun in 2002-2004 during the peace process,” he said.
Workers from the South who went in to the “uncleared areas” to work on LTTE’s construction projects could have been intelligence agents. And with the defection of Eastern Commander Karuna in 2004, the Security Forces might have come to know of the LTTE’s methods, strengths and weaknesses.
When Gen.Sarath Fonseka took over as Army chief, the Lankan forces gave up past doctrines and began to follow the LTTE’s tactics with devastating effect. As the LTTE did earlier, the army sent eight-man small commando groups deep into the LTTE-held areas, taking the LTTE by surprise, Karunagaran said.
International support for Lanka was a decisive factor in the war, according to Karunagaran.
“The war was not fought by Sri Lanka alone. It was fought by other countries also, principally China and Pakistan which supplied weapons to the Lankan forces,” he said.
Karunagaran suspects that because of the involvement of the international community in the prosecution of the war, war crimes charges are unlikely to be pursued seriously.
“In course of time, the victims will get fed up and the evidence will also have disappeared,” he predicted.