“Operation KP”: Extraordinary rendition of New Tiger Chief

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias “KP” a.k.a. Kumaran Pathmanathan is currently in the custody of Sri Lankan officials at a secret location. A team of terrorism investigators is interrogating the man who was designated last month as head of the re-structured Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Earlier Foreign secretary Palitha Kohona confirmed KP’s arrest to the “Daily Mirror”.Cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella did the same to “Rupavahini”. Presidential siblings Gotabhaya the defence secretary and Basil Rajapakse the presidential adviser also confirmed the arrest to BBC and “Hindustan Times” respectively.

Controversy surrounds the circumstances of KP’s arrest. While some news reports state that KP was arrested in Thailand other reports say he was apprehended first in Malaysia and then brought to Colombo via Bangkok. Another report says he was arrested in Singapore.

Pathmanathan or KP as he is generally known married a Thai national in 2003. He was residing in suburban Bangkok. In recent times KP was traveling between Malaysia and Thailand frequently.

Apparently KP found Kuala Lumpur (KL) a convenient venue to meet with people in connection with his new role as Global tiger chief.

The new LTTE chief, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, also known as KP, is seen seated in the foreground with (from left) Velupillai Prabakaran, Anton Balasingham and ‘Col.’ Sankar behind him.

The former chief arms procurer of the tigers was appointed by Velupillai Prabhakaran as head of the LTTE’s newly created International relations department in January this year.

LEADERSHIP

After Prabhakaran’s demise in May this year KP donned the mantle of LTTE leadership as he was the senior most tiger alive. This move was opposed by some sections of the tigers overseas led by Perinpanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan.

After protracted intra-tiger discussions an accord was reached last July.KP was to be “Thalaimai Seyalar” (Chief secretary/secretary general) and head the organization. Nediyavan was in charge of administering overseas LTTE branches as chief of the Diaspora affairs department. An executive committee was also formed.

KP’s leadership was recognized indirectly in an official press release by the re-structured LTTE which stated as follows:

“We, the Executive Committee of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, wish to officially let our beloved Tamil people and the international communityknow that Mr Selvarasa Pathmanathan, who had been appointed as Headof International Relations by our National Leader, will lead us into the next steps of our freedom struggle according to the vision of our esteemed leader.”

CABAL

Despite this agreement there was an influential cabal within the Diasporic tigers that refused to accept KP’s leadership. This cabal continued to oppose and obstruct KP within the movement. It was suspected that Nediyavan was backing this cabal in a conspiratorial bid to topple KP.

It was against this backdrop of an internal hostile environment that KP set about consolidating his leadership. Since KP himself was proclaimed as wanted by the Interpol and also due to health reasons KP had begun avoiding international travel.

As a result many members of the Tamil Dispora had to visit Malaysia to inter-act with the global tiger chief. Even a TV crew from “Channel Four” in Britain went to KL to interview the new tiger supremo. KP himself shuttled between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

On Wednesday August 5th KP who was in KL went around noon to the “First Tune Hotels” at 316 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman road in the heart of KL city. His mission was to meet with two visitors from London, England.


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VISITORS

Apparently KP has a few guys with him who function as aides, chauffeurs and bodyguards. But when he goes out to meet people he trusts, KP travels with only the driver of his vehicle.

On the day in question KP had gone to the Tune Hotel with his driver a man called “Appu”. KP went up to the hotel room with his visitors who were waiting for KP outside the hotel building. Appu parked the vehicle and stayed inside it.

One of the British visitors was Balasingham Balendran, the younger brother of former tiger political commissar Balasingham Mahendran alias Nadesan. The other was Nadesan’s own son who had gone to London some years ago and was staying with his paternal uncle.

The trio was engaged in amiable conversation when a friend called KP on his cellular phone at about 2 pm. KP removed his glasses and laid it on a table and began chatting. At one point KP had signalled to Balendran and nephew that he was going out to the corridor to talk and went out with the telephone.

The British visitors waited inside the room for about 15-20 minutes. Nadesan’s son then went out but could not see KP anywhere. Uncle and nephew then began searching for KP but the veteran tiger leader had vanished.

There was no sign of KP’s vehicle or Appu either. A much worried Balendran began calling his Tamil contacts to relate the tale of KP going missing suddenly.

PERTURBED

Meanwhile the friend who had telephoned KP was also perturbed. This trusted confidante had been engaged in conversation with KP when he heard a sudden “thud” sound and a noisy commotion.

Then KP’s phone went dead. The agitated friend kept on ringing KP but there was no answer and then the mobile was switched off.

This friend too began alerting KP’s contacts and aides in KL about the incident. They went to the place KP was staying in thinking that KP may have gone back suddenly for some reason.

[Tune Hotel-KL]

But there was no KP. But KP’s insulin, syringes and other medical items were in his room. KP being a diabetic never travelled around without his insulin.

Now KP’s aides were worried as they knew the boss wouldn’t have gone anywhere far without his insulin. When the British visitors informed KP’s aides of what they knew it was possible to surmise what had happened by comparing notes.

KP’s friends and aides realised that the new LTTE leader had been seized or abducted by some persons. Naturally they suspected the Malaysian authorities of having a hand in this. But the finger of suspicion also pointed to Sri Lanka and India also. As the story of the missing KP went buzzing on the global Tamil grapevine there was a lot of suspense and speculation about what had exactly happened.

VERSIONS

The news began breaking out “semi-officially”. Newspapers and news agencies began reporting that the new LTTE chief KP had been arrested in Thailand.Army spokesperson Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara told Reuters that KP had been arrested in Bangkok and that was all “we knew at the moment”.But things were not so simple as that.

There were two conflicting versions about what had happened.According to one account KP and Appu were transported to Bangkok from Kuala Lumpur by his “abductors”. An impression was then created that KP was arrested in Thailand. A Police team from the terrorism investigation dept in Sri Lanka went to Thailand and brought KP to Colombo by a special flight rom Bangkok.

The second version however states that the Sri Lankan team had gone to Malaysia. They had taken custody of KP in Kulala Lumpur and brought him to Colombo by air. The special flight had tarried in Bangkok briefly.

But according to a Thailand News Agency report, Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had said on Friday (7th) that he has ordered the country’s security agencies to provide details following a news report that the head of Sri Lanka’s recently defeated Tamil Tiger separatists was captured in Thailand.

The French news agency Agence-France-Presse (AFP) earlier reported that Selvarasa Pathmanathan, a foreign-based leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was returned to Sri Lanka on Thursday for questioning after being arrested in Thailand.

The Thai premier said that he was informed of the matter late Thursday (6th) night and that he had assigned the security agencies to seek more details.

Acting Government Spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said that an initial report said that Pathmanathan had travelled in and out of Thailand but it was not identified where he was arrested.

Mr Panitan, however, noted that Mr Pathmanathan reportedly was married to a Thai and lived in the northern part of the country.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s Special Branch police chief Theeradej Rodphothong said that the LTTE head was captured in Singapore, not in Thailand.

Lt-Gen Theeradej noted that Thailand was mentioned in the news report becuase the LTTE head formerly had a Thai wife and he usually moved among three Southeast Asian countries-Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

From this news report it was possible to figure out that Thai officials were concerned about reports that KP was arrested in Bangkok. Reading between the lines it appeared that Thailand was uncomfortable about the publicity regarding KP’s alleged arrest in Bangkok. Apparently he was not arrested in Thailand and the story about KP being arrested in Bangkok amounted to “fiction” propagated by Colombo to shift focus away from the Kuala Lumpur connection.

CONFIRMATION

Though information about the mode and manner in which KP was arrested or was brought to Colombo is yet hazy there is confirmation from informed sources at Katunayake that two persons were seen being whisked away in vehicles with tinted glassesby officials in plains clothes. The faces and heads of both handcuffed men were covered with masks. This was after nightfall.

The two men in official custody were presumed to be KP and Appu. They had been taken to a secret location for interrogation.Subsequently Basil Rajapakse told “Hindustan Times” that KP was being questioned in Colombo. There was no mention of Appu.

Two years ago in September 2007 there was much excitement in Sri Lanka when KP was detained by authorities in Thailand. It was expected that KP would be deported to Sri Lanka or India.But nothing further materialised and KP was soon “free”. But this time there seems to have been a difference

Two developments are to be noted in the “capture” of KP in Malaysia.

DEVELOPMENTS

Firstly the request made by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on May 29 to Malaysian Defence Minister Dr Ahamd Zahid bin Hamidi YB Dato Seri to hand over ‘KP’to facilitate ongoing investigations into LTTE operations overseas.The appeal was made on the sidelines of the 8th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. A Foreign Ministry press statement on Bogollagama’s meet with his Malaysian counterpart didn’t refer to Sri Lanka’s call for KP’s extradition though it said Sri Lanka had urged Malaysia to proscribe the LTTE.

Secondly, Sri Lank a had recently appointed Brigadier Udaya Perera as Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia to meet the new threat posed by the LTTE. Subsequently promoted as Major-General, G.V. D. U. A .Perera is the first serving army officer to receive a diplomatic appointment. The appointment followed after Perera impressed foreign ministry mandarins at a special meeting called to brief top envoys of several countries in the run up to the final battle.It was also understood that Gen. Udaya Perera’s prime yet unpublicised assignment was “operation KP”.

It had become obvious that KP was using Malaysia for key LTTE operation s for quite some time. In recent times KP’s presence in KL became noted after the Norwegian envoy in Colombo went up to Malaysia to meet him. Another person who confessed to meeting KP in Malaysia was the “disgraced” Lt. Colonel from the Sri Lankan army in custody for alleged LTTE links. Senior UN officials had also contacted KP in Malaysia.

Though details are scanty there is reason to believe that Sri Lanka with the aid of “intelligence officials” from other countries had accomplished the feat of seizing and transporting KP from Kula Lumpur to Colombo. It is also assumed that the exercise amounted to an “extraordinary rendition” on the lines of what the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been doing in the aftermath of the twin towers assault on September 11th 2009. More details about “Operation KP” are likely to be revealed in the near future.

CAPTURE

Another factor in the KP capture is the fact that the overseas LTTE is hopelessly divided. The venomous attacks on KP in sections of the tiger media abroad indicate a very high level of hostility towards KP. Given the familiar tiger trait of betraying their own to the “enemy” for selfish purposes there is strong suspicion that valuable “inside” information about KP’s moves was leaked out.

Another puzzling aspect is KP’s reckless disregard for his safety. He had two warrants issued against him by Interpol yet KP was brazenly going public. He met with people openly, granted print, TV and Radio interviews, wrote regularly in his own blog and engaged in telephone conversations on a global scale. This made him highly vulnerable as far as law-enforcement officials were concerned.But he did not play safe and adopt a low –key profile .

According to circles close to KP the reason for his confidence was due to the “protection” he enjoyed from a very powerful “Agency”. It was this “agency” that had rescued KP when he was arrested in 2007. It was this “agency” that had extended its protective umbrella over him. But what had happened now? Had KP outlived his usefulness to the “agency”? or had “operation KP” outsmarted even this powerful entity? The answers may be forthcoming in the days to come.

There is jubilation in many circles that the last of the great tigers has been caught. But in another sense KP’s arrest could be a major setback to the cause of peace. Though KP had not abandoned the Tamil Eelam goal he wanted to do away with the armed struggle. KP’s stated ambition was to transform the LTTE into a democratic, non-violent organization. It was this which caused resentment among the hard-liners surrounding nediyavan. With KP gone the chances of the LTTE making this much-needed transition seem remote.

MYLIDDY

The man known as KP was born on April 6th, 1955 in the northern coastal town of Kankesanthurai (KKS). His name was Pathmanathan and his father’s name was Selvarasa. Though he was known by a number of names and aliases in his later life, KP’s real name was Selvarasa Pathmanathan.

KP, though born in KKS, was a native of Myliddy, also a coastal area in the Valigamam north region. Myliddy was essentially an agriculture cum fisheries area but also had a proud tradition of rearing the finest racing bulls. Myliddy carters used to win almost all ‘vandil chavaris’ (cart races) held in Jaffna during more peaceful and prosperous times.

Pathmanathan was one of eight children. His father was a fisherman from Veeramanickthevanthurai in Myliddy. The traditional occupation of the people here was fishing but they were not originally of a fishing caste.

The place derives its name from a Maravar Chieftain named Veeramanickathevan from Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu, who settled in Myliddy with his clan centuries ago. The Maravars are of the Mukkulathor warrior caste and the people of Veeramanickthevanthurai also trace their lineage as being Kshatriya.

Pathmanathan had his education at Nadeswara College, KKS and Mahajana College, Thellipalai. He was involved in the politics of the Federal Party (FP) and later the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Pathmanathan’s radicalisation was mainly through another native of Myliddy, Pushparajan, who succumbed to cancer some years ago.

Pushparajan was one of those who pioneered the Tamil Ilaingar Peravai or Youth Front in the ’70s and was detained without trial for many years then.

Pathmanathan’s pet name at home was Kutty (pup or cub). This was the name most Myliddy people called him as well. During his childhood he was very thin and as a result, he was nicknamed ‘oosi’ (needle) in school.

Pathmanathan was not a very bright student and required more than one attempt to qualify for his O/L and A/L examinations. He entered the Jaffna University in his 20s but did not complete his degree.

It was during his campus days that the letters ‘KP’ attached on to him. Apparently there were two Pathmanathans in the same batch and in order to differentiate among them, he became KP. Since he was also known as Kutty, the K in Kutty and the P in Pathmanathan became KP. The tall, light-skinned, handsome KP was a big hit with the girls.

MILITANCY

While at the Jaffna campus, KP was attracted to Tamil militancy. Initially he joined the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) led by the legendary Thangathurai and Kuttimani. KP doubled up as a TELO militant while being an undergrad. His nom de guerre in the TELO was ‘Kumaran.’ Kumaran participated as a lookout in the Thinnevely Bank robbery where Rs. 1.08 million was robbed.

There was a major split in the original LTTE in 1980. Kandiah Umamaheswaran broke away with a large number and formed the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). The residual cadres under Velupillai Prabhakaran were a dejected lot. For about two years the LTTE under Prabhakaran tied up with the TELO under Thangathurai-Kuttimani. It was then that KP began interacting with Prabhakaran.

The Neervely robbery on March 25, 1981 was a watershed in the history of the Tamil militant movement. The People’s Bank van was collecting hard cash from the branches in the Vadamaratchy sector and returning to Jaffna along the Jaffna-Point Pedro Road. It was waylaid at Neervely and a massive sum of Rs. 8. 1 million rupees was robbed.

This was a combined TELO-LTTE operation. KP’s role in this was to ride a motorcycle behind the People’s Bank van and its escort police vehicle. There were no walkie-talkies or cellular phones then. At one point KP had to speed up ahead of the vehicles and alert the militants lying in wait that the target was approaching. KP did his part and sped away. He did not participate in the robbery directly.

But suspicious officials had noted down the motorcycle number, which actually did not belong to KP but to a fellow undergrad, who had absolutely no idea that KP had borrowed it to use in a robbery. The motorcycle was traced and the innocent owner arrested. This led to a massive varsity demonstration demanding his release, but KP had flown.

INDIA

In what was perhaps the first of his many escapes from the law, KP simply abandoned everything and fled to India. He was then staying at 180, KKS Road in Jaffna. KP was then in his final year but was compelled to give up his studies. He never completed his degree.

After fleeing to India, KP dropped out of Tamil militancy for a while. He teamed up with smugglers cum racketeers in Bombay (now Mumbai), on the fringes of the Tamil militant movement. Some other militants like Sellakkili also joined this group. One motivating reason was survival as they had no funds. This life came to an end after the July 1983 pogrom.

Sellakkili had returned earlier to LTTE folds and was killed in the Thinnevely attack on July 23 that triggered off the island-wide anti-Tamil violence. KP went down to Madras, now Chennai, and enlisted himself in militant ranks again. This time he joined the LTTE and not his former outfit, TELO.

Since Thangathurai and Kuttimani were no more and the TELO was under Sree Sabaratnam, KP preferred to join the LTTE as he had struck up good rapport with Prabhakaran. KP had come down to Madurai once in 1982 with Sellakkili and stayed for some days with Prabhakaran during which period the LTTE Leader had invited him to join the Tigers whenever he wanted.

After inducting KP into the LTTE, Prabhakaran did not make him take up formal arms training. Prabhakaran recognised that KP’s talents lay elsewhere. KP was asked to use the contacts and experience he had gained to raise funds and buy arms for the LTTE.

Together with helpers from the LTTE as well as the Indian underworld, KP began acquiring arms and equipment for the LTTE. Some of these clandestine acts were done without even Indian authorities knowing about them. Some of KP’s original aides in India were Vakeel, Radha, Thavam, Eesan, Kumar, Ranjith and Shankar.

As time progressed KP’s duties began expanding. He was required to travel to many countries in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Australia, North America and South East Asia and meet Tamil expatriate groups to mobilise funds. This was a time when several Tamil militant groups were active and competing for expatriate funds so it was indeed a formidable task to generate funds.

OVERSEAS

The overseas fund raising also involved the setting up of LTTE branches and the appointment of Tiger representatives abroad. This too became KP’s responsibility. In the ’80s and ’90s it was KP who controlled and coordinated the LTTE overseas branches. His objective was to garner as much funds as possible and utilise it for purchase of arms.

In addition to raising funds and administering the overseas branches, KP also had the daunting task of scouring the international illicit arms bazaars and shops. He travelled to many parts of the world and bought up arms and armaments. He also had to make arrangements to ship them clandestinely to India first and later directly to north east Sri Lanka.

There was no beaten track or set procedures. It was a case of playing it by ear. KP was a pioneering pathfinder as he had to improvise and evolve on the job. Much of the early accomplishments were through trial and error.

["KP"-pic: puthinam.com]

It was astounding that Pathmanathan, a man of humble origins from Myliddy, had metamorphosed into KP, the transnational purchaser and transporter of arms. It is amazing to think that this ex- undergrad was now dealing successfully with dangerous arms merchants in many parts of the globe.

“DONKEY”

Selvarasa Pathmanathan is now widely known as KP. But within the upper echelons of the LTTE there is another name for him. It is ‘Kazhuthai,’ or Donkey. This was a name bestowed affectionately on KP by Prabhakaran himself. The donkey is an animal that carries loads on its back. KP is a man whose efforts resulted in loads of arms being supplied to the LTTE. Hence, the name Donkey.

As chief procurer of arms for the LTTE KP had made himself almost indispensable for the LTTE then. He, like Prabhakaran, was responsible in a large way for the growth of the LTTE.

It was his ambition after becoming the new LTTE leader to transform the LTTE and take the tigers in a new direction.But that is not to be and he is now detained in Sri Lanka.

KP is a man whose knowledge and information would be of great value not only to Sri Lankan authorities but also to intelligence agencies of several countries.

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj2005@yahoo.com