By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Selvarasah Pathmanathan alias “KP” who is under the protective custody of the Sri Lankan Government has been relocated from Colombo to Kilinochchi last week by the authorities.
The former chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE)who was detained in suburban Colombo earlier will now reside within Kilinochchi urban limits. KP will be housed in premises that would also be the head office of the organization founded by him namely the North Eastern Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NERDO).
The building in which KP and the NERDO Office are located is a two –storeyed house in which former LTTE political wing head Suppiah Paramu Thamilchelvan once lived in.
It is located in the Thiruvaiaaru area of Kilinochchi south and is about one km away from the Iranaimadhu junction. The house situated along the Thondaman by- lane in a compound of around four acres is about 100-150 metres to the interior of the Jaffna –Kandy road known as the A -9 highway.
It is indeed ironic and somewhat symbolic of changed circumstances that KP the one time chief procurer of arms of the LTTE has now moved to the house where the former LTTE political commissar SP (Suppiah Paramu)Thamilchelvan once stayed. The building was used by Thamilchelvan as one of his residences cum office at the heyday of the LTTE. While the lower floor has several residential rooms the greater part of the upper floor had been converted into a meeting hall able to accommodate around 175 -200 persons at a time.
It was also within these precincts that the LTTE political division chief met his death in 2007. He was sleeping in an underground bunker located in the compound but away from the main house.
At first light on Friday Nov 2nd 2007 , Israeli built K-fir jet bombers and Russian supersonic MiG 27 ’s engaged in aerial bombardment over Iranaimadhu east, South Kilinochchi town and its suburbs like Anandapuram and Thiruvaiyaaru. Suppiah Paramu Thamilchelvan the 40 year old head of the LTTE’s Political division was killed along with five other tigers in the aerial attack.Thamilchelvan was promoted posthumously as “Brigadier” by the LTTE hierarchy.
The others killed along with Thamilchelvan in the Thiruvaiyaaru bombing were Muthukkumaru Soundarakrishnan alias Lt Col Anpumani , Dharmarajah Vijayakumar alias Major Mihuthan, Karunanidhi Vasanthakumar alias Capt. Kalaiyarasan, Panchatcharam Sajeeban alias Lt Aatchivel, and Muthukkumaarakkurukkal Srigayathrinatha Sarma alias Lt Maavaikumaran.All of them were from villages in Jaffna district.
Maavaikumaran was the son of a brahmin priest. Kalaiyarasan aka Nethaji , Aatchivel and Maavaikumaran were Thamilchelvan’s bodyguards.Anpumani also known as Alex and Mihuthan were from the political wing.
Anpumani or Alex was a skilled photographer and known to many media persons. He was in charge of the strategic communications unit of the LTTE’s political wing. Closely associated with Thamilchelvan, Anpumani had accompanied the political commissar on trips to Europe.
Tamil Nadu film director and actor Sebastian Seemon alias Senthamizhan Seeman the head of the Naam Thamizhar Katchi or “We Tamil Party” is to marry the widow of Soundarajan alias Alex shortly. Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar Katchi has been in the forefront of planned attacks on Sri Lankan tourists and pilgrims to Tamil Nadu. Seeman himself known for his rabid anti –Sinhala views was deported from Canada and denied entry to the USA.
Thamilchelvan hailing from Madduvil in the Jaffna peninsula was born in 1967. He joined the LTTE in 1983 and was in the fourth batch of tiger recruits trained at the Thirumalai camp near Dindigul in Tamil Nadu. He served as a bodyguard to LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and also his wife Madhivathany in Tamil Nadu. He used the nom de guerre Dinesh then
Subsequently he served in several capacities in the LTTE such as Thenmaratchy sector head, Jaffna district commander. After being injured in the Poonagary battle of November 11th 1993 , Thamilchelvan sustained a permanent limp and had to move about with the aid of a walking stick. Thereafter he was appointed the head of the LTTE ‘s political division and participated in many discussions within Sri Lanka.
Thamilchelvan and others had been killed in their sleep. In those days senior LTTE leaders did not sleep at the same place each night due to security reasons. Thamilchelvan used to rotate among three or four different places. On that night the political chief had arrived in Kilinochchi from Poonagary and had slept at the bunker in the Thiruvaiyaaru premises. The bomber jets had dropped “bunkerbuster” type of powerful bombs and scored “bull’s eye”.
The entire structure had crumbled due to the bombing. The target was hit a few minutes after 6 am.It took LTTE cadres several hours to excavate the bodies from under the debris. Thamilchelvan’s body was the last to be dug out. The main house however had suffered some minor damage but remained virtually intact.
It is in this house that the head office of NERDO would start functioning. Currently the NERDO office is situated elsewhere in Kilinochchi.Selvarasah Pathmanathan alias KP too will reside in the same venue. Since KP is under protective custody the special contingent of security personnel assigned to be with him are to be housed in barracks set up in an adjacent house. The security personnel will be at the house lodging KP and NERDO on a rotational basis.
KP will now use these premises to conduct the day to day work of the NERDO. The NERDO is involved in a number of activities such as managing orphanages for boys and girls,helping needy students,improving educational facilities, providing computer training, English classes, technical and handicraft skills, cookery and sewing classes, running a model farm, helping widows with young children, uplifting underprivileged families, helping differently abled people, old and destitute people etc.
The NERDO also liaises with representatives from the Global Tamil Diaspora. These representatives working on a voluntary basis have been greatly responsible for collecting and providing the bulk of funds to implement NERDO projects. These representatives are based mainly in Britain, Australia, Canada, USA, Norway,France,Switzerland, Germany and a few Middle Eastern and South East Asian countries.
Pathmananathan alias KP in his capacity as Secretary is the key figure in NERDO. He used to coordinate affairs from Colombo but will now do so from Kilinochchi. Since most work undertaken by NERDO is in the Kilinochchi,Mullaitheevu and Jaffna districts being located in the central spot of Kilinochchi town will help facilitate. KP will also have greater autonomy of action in Kilinochchi. In Colombo he used to have “approved”meetings with people at Ministry of Defence premises but now he would have greater freedom in meeting people at the NERDO office premises directly. He would however be provided with security personnel and be under benign supervision of the Defence ministry to which he may have to furnish regular progress reports.
The shift from Colombo to Kilinochchi is another significant milepost in the life journey of Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP. The 57 year old one time undergrad of the Jaffna University acquired his nickname “KP” at the Thirunelvely campus due to him being called “Kannadi “ (on account of his spectacles)Pathmanathan to differentiate him from several others by the name of Pathmanathan. KP was an abbreviation of Kannadi Pathmanathan though some sections of the media refer to him inaccurately as Kumaran Pathmanathan.Subsequently the nom de plume “KP” became the nom de guerre too.
Selvarasa Pathanathan as elevated to the position of being in charge of overseas acquisition of the LTTE. This section of the LTTE under KP was known euphemistically as “KP dept”.The man who was at one time the chief arms procurer of the LTTE went on to become the international chief of the tigers. After the demise of tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, KP succeeded him on grounds of seniority.
In a re-structured LTTE, Pathmanathan alias KP was appointed the “Thalaimai Seyalar “or chief secretary. This post was akin to being leader.This elevation did not come easily as an overseas cabal led by Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan opposed it bitterly.
However KP’s moment of glory as head of the LTTE was very brief. In a sudden operation amounting to an “extraordinary rendition” Pathmanathan was apprehended in Malaysia and transported to Sri Lanka in August 2009. He has been kept in protective custody by the Rajapakse regime since then.
In articles written for the “Daily Mirror” in the past, this column has emphasized that it was the relationship which KP forged with Defence and Urban development secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa that helped the ex-LTTE chief to withstand ,survive and even soften the hardship of detention. It has also been his source of strength. KP reached the lowest point of his eventful life when he was seized in Malaysia and transported to Sri Lanka. But he has obtained a fresh lease of life from the jaws of virtual obliteration.
In earlier articles, this column has outlined tha backdrop against which KP started cooperating with Colombo. KP’s reprieve was due to his success in convincing the Defence secretary and Intelligence chief Gen. Kapila Hendavitarane that he should be treated as a worthwhile asset. He has been able to persuade Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Director of Intelligence that his co-operation would be of great value. Thereafter he has earned their regard and won their trust by his conduct.
For KP after being captured and brought to Colombo it was a case of adapting pragmatically for sheer survival. Fate had delivered a nasty blow. The unimaginable had happened. Sri Lanka with the aid of Malaysian authorities had captured him in a clandestine operation costing millions of Singaporean Dollars. He was ensnared in the Lion’s den. There was no way out.
There were only two options. One was to follow the path of least resistance. In short co-operate. The other was to confront defiantly. The former course would provide a chance to survive. The latter meant risk of death or prolonged incarceration after perhaps intensive interrogation amounting to torture.
More importantly the LTTE had been annihilated. There was no armed struggle or war of liberation on. KP’s leader Prabhakaran himself was no more. There was perhaps some reason to resist and risk suffering if the leader was alive and the fight was continuing. But that was not so. In such a situation was there any purpose in resisting or swimming against a rising tide? KP opted to go with the flow.
Besides KP himself was of the opinion that the armed struggle was over. He had wanted the LTTE under his leadership to change course and adopt new non – violent, democratic strategies and methods. This divergent approach had aggravated differences between KP and the Castro faction led by Nediyavan. Now it was all over and realistically it was Hobson’s choice for KP.
By cooperating with the Government KP would not only save himself but also could be empowered gradually. If he could gain some clout with the government then that “power” could in turn be used to help the Tamil people. The armed struggle was over and the LTTE was demolished. The only option was to associate with the Govt and help the Tamil people. Nothing constructive could be accomplished without the Government’s approval or assistance.
In a bizarre twist of fate the LTTE’s short lived new chief began cooperating with the Colombo Government in a remarkable transformation. The man who purchased and shipped arms and ammunition regularly to keep the fires of war burning was now engaged in cooling the embers of that bitter conflict.
KP is a captive of circumstances both metaphorically and literally! The KP who was “free” devoted his talents, abilities and efforts towards a destructive purpose. The “caged” KP however is engaged in a constructive capacity. In a philosophical sense KP, though shackled, was on the road to redemption and true freedom.
The LTTE has brought about irredeemable harm to the Sri Lankan Tamil people. KP too has played a role in this. Now the shattered and battered Tamil people are trying to pick up the pieces and get along with life amidst drastically altered circumstances. It was easy to wreck and destroy in the name of Tamil liberation but it does require a monumental effort to salvage and re-build in the quest for Tamil restoration.
KP to his credit seems to have suffered pangs of conscience over the tragic predicament of the Tamil people. Realising that the LTTE has to bear much of the blame for this sad state of affairs. Although in custody, he initiated an exercise to alleviate the plight of the people to the best of his ability.
A crucial step in this endeavour was the setting up of a new Non – Governmental organization (NGO). The name of the NGO is North – East Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NERDO).
In starting the NERDO , KP’s sole concern was helping to restore a life of dignity to the Tamil people. He wanted the displaced Tamils to be rehabilitated and re-settled. He wanted to boost development and bring about an economic renaissance in the North and East. He wanted to secure the speedy release and re-integration of former LTTE cadres in detention.
The creation of the new NGO known as the NERDO two years ago was aimed at achieving those goals effectively and expeditiously. KP hoped to enlist the services and assistance of Tamil expatriate and other charitable organizations for this purpose. He was optimistic then that a substantial amount of funds could be channeled through LTTE or pro-LTTE sources abroad. The idea was to provide an opportunity for diasporic tiger elements to play a constructive role in the upliftment of the Tamil people in the North-East.
This column interviewed Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP through extended Telephone conversations two years ago shortly after NERDO had been formally registered. The four part interview conducted in Tamil was published in four consecutive Saturday issues the “Daily Mirror” in August 2010. In that interview KP was rather optimistic about his future plans and hopes for NERDO. Here are a few relevant excerpts in question and answer form –
Question: What is it that motivates you in this respect?
Answer: I am perhaps the most senior among former tiger leaders today. I feel very very guilty when I see the tragic plight of the Tamil people today. I feel extremely sad and bad when I see the fate of these young people. I cannot deny that many of these children were forcibly recruited against their will.
I also feel a lot of remorse when I see the civilians of the Wanni. They were prosperous once but are now in abject poverty due to the war. Because of this I want to do some penance at least by helping them as far as possible.
This is why I am motivated and I formed the North-East Rehabilitation and Development Organization(NERDO). It was formally registered on July 6th 2010. We have also been given security clearance to move about the north and east and have access to resettled IDP’s and rehabilitees.
Q: Your plans are impressive but do you have the resources to implement them?
A: No, not yet but we are in an embryonic stage.
In the first place we must also be realistic enough to recognize that our people have gone back decades and decades in development. For instance our Railway line is not there in the north.
Our community was proud of our educational tradition. Today our schools are destroyed and students are squatting under trees for classes. A large number of children are not attending school due to poverty and lack of uniforms, footwear and text books. We are commissioning a survey of this situation.
But as our plans unfold and people get the message we hope to get lots of help and aid from our fellow Tamils from abroad. Already some qualified expatriates have agreed to come over and provide their academic and professional expertise on a voluntary basis. A few have promised financial assistance for special projects. I am confident that NERDO will gradually perform well with the help of our people.
Q: The problem is that a vociferous section of the Tamil Diaspora with great access to the media is conducting a vicious campaign against you and NERDO. They accuse you of being a govt stooge and that NERDO is a ruse to attract Tamil expatriate money from abroad and siphon it off to govt coffers. In such a hostile climate how do you hope to succeed?
A: Yes. You are right about the current climate but this will be a temporary situation I think. For one thing these sections unleashing a negative campaign are a minority but as you said they have a near monopoly on Tamil media abroad and therefore have an impact exceeding their actual strength. But still they are a minority and their campaign is based on lies and falsehood
What I am confident about and relying on is “sathiyam” (Truth).
Firstly we hope to publish all details about our projects and expenses and accounts of money received and spent on our website in addition to providing receipts. We will also answer all genuine queries. As more and more people see that we are open and transparent about these things the false propaganda wont be able to sustain itself.
Secondly we are also optimistic that the recipients of our aid and assistance will inform their friends and relatives abroad of the actual situation. When these people provide factual details about our genuine efforts those spreading false information will be exposed.
Thirdly we will encourage Diaspora members to visit Sri Lanka and see the situation themselves. We are ready to help them see things first-hand and arrive at their own conclusions. We have nothing to hide. NERDO is prepared to even assist people to travel to the north and east if they contact us. We are even thinking of stationing a NERDO representative at the Katunayake airport if necessary.
So gradually the truth will triumph and NERDO will succeed.
Q: I can see that you are an optimist. I saw a video clip of your meeting with some rehabilitees where you say “Nambikkai Thaan Vaalkkai” (Hope is life). I understand your mindset but do you think you can succeed against such formidable odds?
A: When I was given the task of overseas procurement (arms acquisition) by Prabhakaran in 1983 I was an utter novice. I came from a very common background. My father was politically conscious but was an ordinary fisherman.I did not study in elite schools. My English knowledge was weak. I had never travelled outside Sri Lanka and India. The LTTE was a fledgling organization without any important contacts in the arms trade.
Yet I developed my department slowly and steadily. I expanded the LTTE’s power to a stage where we were acquiring arms from diverse sources on a worldwide basis and shipping them regularly to the north-east. As long as I was in charge of overseas purchasing the LTTE was able to prolong the war successfully because I was able to procure arms continuously
If I could succeed then in a task which caused death and destruction why cant I succeed in this new task where my objective is to help people and re-build lives instead of destroying people and lives as in the past?
Q: I don’t want to sound discouraging. I also do not dispute your ability and talent but the biggest difference here is that you are in custody and not a free man. Unlike earlier times you cannot move about freely to do things. Also you are older now and not in good health. Besides there is a fanatical lobby actively working against you. That is why I am doubtful.
A: You have a point but I do feel I will succeed. Yes it is frustrating to be detained and having to do attend to things by telephone, fax, skype and internet instead of being able to go to the places directly. I know that if I am on the spot I can get things done faster and better but then I have to face reality. I think to myself I may be under detention but at least I have this opportunity to do some thing worthwhile for people.
Let me tell you one thing from the bottom of my heart. This is my third big task and opportunity. The first task was when I was appointed by Prabhakaran to procure arms. I succeeded in that. The second task was when I re-joined the movement to bring about a ceasefire and save the leadership and movement. I failed in that task
Now this is my third big task. In this my mission and vision is to help people. I am neither trying to arm a movement or trying to save it. This time I am engaged in a noble, worthy task of helping people to re-build lives. So I will definitely succeed.
Q: Why not make a request that you be released so that you can engage without any restraints or constraints in your mission to help people?
A: I will not make such a request now due to two reasons. One is that I don’t want to be a free man when thousands of ex-LTTE cadres are not free yet. When the situation improves and the greater part of ex-cadres are released or brought to courts then I too can think of being free.
The other is that it may cause the govt some embarrassment to do so. Already the govt particularly the defence secretary is being criticized severely by the opposition on account of me. I don’t want to make it more complicated. I think the President who is the defence minister will take a policy decision in consultation with the defence secretary about the LTTE on the whole at the appropriate time. I don’t know what my fate will be. Until then I will do what I can under these circumstances
Q: Some people say the govt is simply using you and will discard you later. What do you think?
A: I work in hope and trust and faith. I don’t think that will happen. But for argument’s sake let’s say it happens. Even then I would have succeeded in helping some people at least as I am doing now. That’s enough for me.”
Two years and two months have passed since the words above were expressed by KP. What has been the NERDO’s performance so far? Have the misgivings expressed by this column been proven right?
The “transformation”of KP in the Angulimala tradition strikes a responsive chord in many hearts. This column too opines that the manner in which the KP issue has been handled by Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one of the commendable accomplishments of the Rajapaksa regime. The progress achieved or not achieved by KP and NERDO in the current context will be assessed by this column in a forthcoming article
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org