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“Col Charles”: The”tiger” Mastermind Behind LTTE Attacks Outside North-East

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by D.B.S.Jeyaraj

‘Col. Charles’

Fifth Death Anniversary of Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias Col Arulventhan a.k.a Charles

(Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias Col Arulventhan a.k.a Charles of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE)was killed on January 5th 2008. This article written within a week of his death in Jan 2008 is reproduced here on account of his fifth death anniversary)

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) received a tremendous blow when Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias “Col” Arulventhan a.k.a.Charles was killed with three other tigers in Mannar on Jan 5th . The white hiace van in which he was travelling along the Mannar – Pooneryn road got caught in a claymore mine explosion at a spot between Iluppaikkadavai and Pallamadhu. The time was around 3. 10 – 15 pm.

35 year old Ravishankar joined the LTTE in his early teens in Dec 1985 . His original nom de guerre was Charles. Years later when the LTTE underwent a “Pure Tamil” transformation of names, the English name Charles was turned into Arulventhan.It was however as Charles that he was known for years to most people. Arulventhan or Charles held Lt. Col rank when killed. He was promoted posthumously as “Colonel”.

At the time of his death Ravishankar alias Charles held three leadership positions in the LTTE. He was head of the military intelligence division; he was in charge of all external operations; he was commander of a special combat unit engaged in Mannar district.

Charles was a protegee of Pottu Amman the dreaded intelligence chief of the tigers. He was an able deputy of Pottu Amman and in later life became near equal to his mentor

It is said that the efficient Charles was capable of replacing Pottu Amman if something ever happened to the chief tiger spy. The loss of Charles will be felt keenly by Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabakharan.

Ironically Charles hailing from Puloly in the Vadamaratchy division of Jaffna peninsula became “known” to most Tamil people only after his death. He was for long a clandestine operator using many pseudonyms and working undercover. He was engaged in exciting cloak and dagger antics for the LTTE and shunned limelight.

LTTE sea tiger special commander “Col” Soosai summed up the life of Charles well by saying “He was a man about whom our people knew very little but our opponents however knew all about him”. Speaking at memorial meeting in Puthukkuditiruppu , Soosai observed that the high profile attacks masterminded by the low – profile Charles had captured global attention.

Charles was travelling from Mulangaavil to Pallamadhu when his vehicle was hit by a claymore landmine. The State’s deep penetration squad was accused of being responsible by the LTTE. Three of the Militari Intelligence chief’s lieutenants were also killed in the ambush.

They were Sukanthan (Sivapalan Sreetharan) from Jeyapuram, Veeramaravan (Pararajasingham Suthan) from Mallaavi and . Kalai (Sinnaththamby Kangatharan) from Vaddakkachchi. Sukanthan was the chief bodyguard and close associate of Arulventhan/Charles.

The LTTE is a home grown liberation movement possessing unique characteristics. Chief among these is the phenomenon of how simple sons of the Jaffna soil without tertiary education became top guerilla leaders who excelled in the discharge of duties allocated to them. Charles is one such tiger who accomplished his destructive goals at immense human cost.

For many years he worked in the LTTE’s intelligence division under the direct command of Pottu Amman. He was placed in charge of external operations, an euphemism for attacks outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces.In order to conduct such “operations” in hostile, enemy terrain an elaborate network of supportive structures has to be set up.

Reportedly , Charles was the pioneer who laid such groundwork. This, despite the fact that he had no previous contacts or experience in Colombo or other parts of Southern Sri Lanka. Until the time of his death Charles was associated with external operations in addition to other duties.

In 2004 he was appointed head of military intelligence. This involves close monitoring of all security installations and movement of security personnel. Much information has to be obtained about a key “target” before the actual operation in order to plan , co-ordinate and execute the attack.

This requires intensive reconnaissance known as “rekki ” in tiger circles. Details have to be procured from informants within military ranks also

In recent times Charles was also placed in charge of a special combat unit. This unit was related to military intelligence and deployed for special operations along the Mannar – Vavuniya district border.

This unit was not engaged in defensive operations. Instead it played a key role in launching raids on military positions held by Sri Lankan security forces. Charles was functioning in this capacity when killed.

Shanmuganathan Ravishankar was inducted into the LTTE as a student in his thirteenth year. He like many other tigers was inducted as a child soldier.The LTTE’s Jaffna commander then was Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar alias “Col” Kittu. The Vadamaratchy area chief was Thillaiambalam Sivanesan alias “Col” Soosai the present sea tiger commander.

The mid – eighties of the last century saw the security forces in Jaffna peninsula being confined to barracks through the combined efforts of all Tamil militant movements active then. The LTTE played a very important role in this. Thus most parts of Jaffna was in a state of “semi – liberation”.

What used to happen then was that the Tamil organizations stationed sentry groups in close proximity to security force camps. If and when troop movement outside the camps was detected the sentries would alert their respective bases. Immediately armed guerillas would rush to the vicinity and confront the security personnel. Usually the forces would return to camps after a skirmish.

Young Ravishankar who joined the LTTE in Dec 1985 received his baptism of fire as a sentry near the Point Pedro army camp. He was then a part – time guerilla , attending school during daytime and engaging in sentry duty for some hours in the night. According to colleagues he was a brilliant student who abandoned formal studies in 1987 at the age of fifteen.

After doing sentry duty for a while Ravishankar alias Charles was posted as a salesman in a retail shop run by the LTTE known as “niyaaya vilai kadai” or “fair priced store”. During this period Charles received local training in Jaffna.

It was during “Operation Liberation” launched by the armed forces in May 1987 that Charles engaged in formal combat. The bulk of Vadamaratchy division was recaptured by the armed forces.

The LTTE launched a counter strike by attacking the newly set up camp at Nelliaddy Central College on July 5th. Major Kamal led the attack. Charles participated in the attack. The assault was preceded by the LTTE’s first suicide attack. Capt.Miller rammed an explosive laden truck into the camp .

The advent of the Indian Army saw a new conflict arise. The LTTE was at war with the IPKF. Charles remained in Jaffna peninsula engaging in guerilla operations. He was stationed in the Vadamaratchy east sector under the leadership of Capt. Morris.

It was Kili , Pottu Amman’s bodyguard, who first introduced Charles to the intelligence chief. Pottu was impressed and transferred Charles to the Wanni. He received some training in intelligence gathering techniques in the Wanni.

Charles was sent to Colombo in early 1990 with a few other intelligence operatives to establish a clandestine LTTE presence there. This was the time when talks with the Premadasa regime was on. The truce crumbled in June 1990 and war erupted. Charles returned to the North.

There was however a new challenge. Speaking at his former deputy’s funeral in Kilinochchi ,Pottu Amman related details of it. Apparently the LTTE received information about an alleged assassination plot being hatched by former deputy defence minister Ranjan Wijeratne.

Prabakharan’s wife Mathivathani used to worship frequently at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple then.The alleged assassination conspiracy was related to this.

The Joint Operations Command (JOC) was allegedly planning a major offensive immediately after the assassination.The LTTE was angered. It was decided that Colombo should be taught a bitter lesson.

Charles, then only nineteen was entrusted with the task. He moved into Colombo in January 1991 and set two plans of attack in motion. Within a few weeks the LTTE struck in Colombo. The JOC headquarters was blown up. Ranjan Wijeratne was killed by a car bomb.

This was only the beginning. Charles as an “unknown face” of the LTTE remained incognito in Colombo till 1997. What his “cover” in Colombo was then is not known. It is presumed that he made occasional trips to and from the North during this time to obtain first hand instructions and also report back directly.

Though working under Pottu Amman , Charles was mainly instrumental in building up a clandestine LTTE presence in Colombo and some outstation areas. The setting up of safe houses, sleeper cells, moles, hidden storages, along with other tasks like intelligence gathering, ” turning” security personnel, establishing convenient “routes” etc were all functions under his purview.

Charles played a significant role in planning, co-ordinating and executing a series of assassinations in Colombo ranging from former Navy chief Clancy Fernando, Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake, Weerasinghe Mallimratchy, GM Premachandra, Damini Wijesekera, Ossie Abeygunasekera etc.

He also had a hand in plotting operations like the attacks on the Kolonnawa oil facility and the Central bank.

When the security authorities became aware of his presence in Colombo , Charles shifted in 1997 to the East. He began directing clandestine operations in the South from places in the Batticaloa and Amparai district.

He worked with senior LTTE east based intelligence officials like Newton, Ramanan, Mano, Nizam, Keerthi, Neelan etc then.

Charles was in Batticaloa – Amparai from 1997 – 2000. During this time he masterminded many operations in Colombo. These included the assassination of people like SLFP cabinet minister CV Gooneratne. TULF national list MP Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and former Army General Lucky Algama.

The unsuccessful assassination attempt on Chandrika Kumaratunga also had his imprint. This was the time when most LTTE Colombo operations had an Eastern connection.

Though Charles had a great deal of functional autonomy as head of external operations, he was reporting directly to Pottu Amman. Nominally he was Pottu’s seniormost deputy.

But in 2000 Prabakharan and Pottu Amman tasked him with a fresh , daunting challenge.

The objective was to attack the Air Force base in Katunayake and destroy aircraft. This became the sole responsibility of Charles. According to knowledgeable Tamil sources Charles set up an “independent” team for the purpose.

To avoid possible detection and complications , the existing LTTE intelligence machinery was avoided. Instead Charles established a new network while basing himself in Negombo.

On July 24th 2001 the LTTE attacked Katunayake and demolished several Aircraft. 14 tigers were killed. No civilian was harmed. The Kumaratunga regime suffered a masive setback.

This was perhaps the crowning achievement of “Col” Arulvendan.Yet , Pottu Amman while delivering an eulogy observed that Charles had then told him ” Amman, there will be greater triumphs than Katunayake in the future”

The ceasefire between the Ranil Wickremasinghe government and the LTTE in February 2002 saw Charles in “re-play activity”again.”Col” Arulvendan was tasked once again to do what he did best.

Charles was ordered to revive, renew and re-establish an expanded clandestine LTTE network in Colombo, suburbs and outstations.

This included cultivating several Sinhala officers in the armed forces and Police. He had to also eliminate important members of non – LTTE groups and Tamil operatives of the state intelligence network. This despite the ceasefire expressly forbidding such action.

In 2004 he was recalled to the Wanni and made head of military intelligence. This was because Prabakharan had decided by then to commence hostilities in earlu 2005. Charles had to monitor all security installations and gather necessary intelligence. He was also involved in blueprinting action plans. Charles or Arulvendhan was now the independent head of the military intelligence wing

The Tsunami of Dec 26th 2004 delayed Prabakharan’s design. In the meantime Charles continued with his work as military intelligence head. He also engaged in special assignments for Pottu Amman

When two Britain based Tamils , R. Jeyadevan and A. Vivekanandan were detained by the LTTE in the Wanni over an issue concerning the Eelapatheeswarar hindu temple in London, several tigers had interrogated them. One of them was someone called “Kannan”.

After Charles was killed, Jeyadevan saw his picture in the media and recognized him as “Kannan”. Jeyadevan has gone on record praising Charles for his decent conduct while interrogating him.

As director of military intelligence , Charles was involved in gathering info about the Anuradhapura air base. He was not involved in planning or executing the attack. The attack on naval personnel in Habarana and the assault on the Galle harbour were also the handiwork of Charles.

Sea tiger chief “Col” Soosai recalled with pride that Charles had been responsible for planning the operation and training black sea tigers for the Galle attack. It was the first time that black sea tigers had launched an attack in the deep South.

As is the case in many dangerous persons, Charles was an amiable person with a pleasant disposition. Those who have interacted with him say that he was easy to get along with.

He suffered from migraine and used to take “panadol” regularly. LTTE colleagues referred to him as ” Panadol”.

When the security forces commenced massive operations along the Mannar – Vavuniya border the LTTE found itself under threat. Once again the “special” expertise of Charles was required.

He was placed in charge of a special combat unit that conducted raids of an offensive nature on enemy targets. It was in connection with this new duty that Charles was travelling when he met with death.

The LTTE gave him a grand funeral after displaying the body at various places in the Wanni. Almost all the LTTE top brass except the recently injured Prabakharan were there at the final farewell.

Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias “Col” Arulvendan was buried with LTTE military honours at the Kanagapuram “great heroes abode” in Kilinochchi.

There is no doubt that Charles was a unique though destructive personality. For the LTTE he was a great asset.

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