By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The tiger, they say , does not change its stripes. The leopard too wont change its spots. This inability or refusal to change is certainly true of the four –legged felines.
There are some – perpetually paranoid- who would say this is applicable to the near extinct two –legged tiger in Sri Lanka too. “Once a tiger always a tiger”. In fact there is a proverbial saying in Tamil “Puli Pasithalum Pullai Thinnaathu”(even when hungry the tiger will not eat grass).
Whatever truth these sayings may seek to convey, the reality in Sri Lanka is that of many members and ex-members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) changing their stripes. Ferocious felines are transformed from carnivores into herbivores. The most famous examples of this successful transition were until recently Vinayagamurthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan. The former is a Parliamentarian and Deputy Minister while the latter is Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council.
There are also innumerable instances of nondescript tiger cadres dropping out of the movement and embarking on a new, violence free family life. Thousands of former tigers have sought refuge in foreign countries. Most of them lead quiet, dignified lives contributing immensely to society at large.
Yesteryears: LTTE leader Prabhakaran, ‘KP’, Anton Balasingham and ‘Col.’ Sankar
The latest and brightest star on this firmament is Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP. 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.
Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP
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 last August. He has been a “guest” of the Rajapakse regime since then.
In a bizarre twist of fate the LTTE’s new chief is now 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 is now engaged in cooling the embers of that bitter conflict.
There is a Christian hymn with paradoxical lines “Lord make me a captive, for then I shall truly be free”
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, is 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. He realises that the LTTE has to bear much of the blame for this sad state of affairs. Although in custody, he is involved in 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).
According to persons associated with KP in this project the NERDO will focus on three important areas. a)Speedy re-settlement of displaced persons in the North – East,b)Release and re-integration of ex- LTTE cadres,c)Rehabilitation and Economic development of war –affected regions in the North – East.
Sri Lanka nowadays is a land of contradictions, ironies and paradoxes. The Sri Lankan Government has a pronounced distaste for the NGO sector. This is mainly due to the fact that several NGO’s working in the former LTTE controlled regions allowed themselves to be co-opted or influenced heavily by the LTTE.
As a result of this track record the Govt has prevented many reputed NGO’s and International NGO’s from working with the internally displaced persons. This in turn has hampered re-settlement and rehabilitation work to a very great extent. The government has also been tardy in encouraging the formation of new NGO’s.
Yet the Govt has been very supportive of KP’s project.The new NGO has been approved and recognized in record time. Moreover it is likely to be allowed to formulate and implement several plans to provide relief to IDP’s and help rehabilitate and re-settle them.It will also initiate development projects.Re-integrating ex- tiger cadres will receive top priority.
Thus we see a strange situation where many NGO’s are on the blacklist for alleged collaboration with the LTTE and being restricted access to the IDP’s. But the NGO formed by the nominal chief or ex-chief of the LTTE is allowed to interact with the IDP’s in general and ex- tiger cadres in particular.
While this arrangement perfectly fits the Governments political strategy vis – a – vis the beleaguered Tamil people , the personal dimension too cannot be discounted. The Government’s relationship with the tiger stalwart is also a manifestation of the trust, confidence and understanding shared between Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Selvarasa Pathmanathan.
An immediate task before KP and like –minded souls is that of education for the former tiger cadres. 346 ex-cadres both boys and girls are sitting for the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level examinations this August. KP has shown keen interest in helping these detenues prepare for the exams.
17 of these student detenues are in the science stream while 13 are doing Maths.70 are in commerce while the rest numbering 246 are sitting for Arts subjects. With the help of individual Tamil expatriates KP himself is supplying text books, guides, tutorials, stationery and writing material to the students. An Australia based Tamil organization acting independently of KP is paying for tuition.
While some School teachers have volunteered to coach the students other specialists have been recruited to teach at the rate of 320 rupees per hour.Students are taught in batches for six hours per day.
The total cost for the project is One million and six thousand four hundred rupees. Of this tuition expenses cost 306,000 rupees, text books and guides cost 645,800 , stationery and writing materials cost 34,600 and administrative costs amount to 20,000 rupees. This comprises 15,000 as allowance and 5,000 as fuel for travel by motor cycle.
Once the GCE (AL) exams are over the focus will be on student –detenues sitting for the GCE Ordinary levels in December. The number of student- detenues sitting for the OL is not estimated as yet. But it will certainly run into thousands. This is likely to cost much more than the GCE AL project.
While KP and other groups like the Tamil Diaspora for Dialogue (TDD) garner funds through individual contributions to assist the former LTTE cadres study and re-integrate productively into society , some of the pro – LTTE sections in the Diaspora fritter away large sums of money for unworthy, quixotic activity.
Expenses relating to the recent rounds of elections, referendums and conferences by Diaspora Tamil organizations such as the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and Tamil Eelam Peoples National Assembly (TEPNA) cost millions of dollars.
A fraction of that cost would be enough to help the Tamil IDP’s or ex – tiger cadres. Constructing a small housing unit for instance is estimated at 325,000 rupees. But then do these Diasporic elements indulging in their flights of fancy realise this?
There has been much speculation in the media about Selvarasa Pathmanathan being the Government’s chief ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial council. None can foretell the future accurately. But as of now KP has shown no interest in entering the electoral fray.
When a friend asked him recently whether he had political ambition, KP had laughed it away saying he only wanted to help the people. “The TNA and EPDP have been elected by the people. So let these parties do politics. Let me look after the people” KP had reportedly stated. Yet the possibility of KP entering politics has upset several Tamil politicians.
KP’s sole concern at present seems to be that of restoring a life of dignity to the Tamil people. He wants the displaced Tamils to be rehabilitated and re-settled. He wants to boost development and bring about an economic renaissance in the North and East. He wants to secure the speedy release and re-intergration of former LTTE cadres in detention.
The creation of a new NGO known as the NERDO is aimed at achieving these goals effectively and expeditiously. KP hopes to enlist the services and assistance of Tamil expatriate and other charitable organizations for this purpose. He seems optimistic that a substantial amount of funds could be channeled through LTTE or pro-LTTE sources abroad. The idea is to provide an opportunity for diasporic tiger elements to play a constructive role in the upliftment of the Tamil people in the North-East.
With his NGO project getting the green light last week, KP wants to establish a main office in Vavuniya first and eventually open branch offices in Colombo, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitheevu, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Kalmunai. He wants to base himself at the head office in Vavuniya and has sought Govt permission to re-locate.
Given the amicable relationship KP is said to enjoy with the Defence secretary, it is very likely that KP would get the go ahead to relocate to Vavuniya. He will be under detention but would be granted limited freedom of movement and autonomy of action to discharge his duties. While the utilitarian value of KP to the Rajapakse regime cannot be denied , KP’s windfall in winning the trust and regard of Gotabhaya is also a key factor here.
As I stated earlier the Sri Lanka of today is a land of irony, paradox and contradiction. The Army commander who provided military leadership to win the war against the LTTE is under detention facing three courts martial and a trial -at – bar. But the former eastern tiger commander who ordered the execution of more than 600 Policemen is a government minister.
Likewise the Defence secretary is at loggerheads with the erstwhile army commander who defeated Prabhakaran but has close rapport with Prabhakaran’s successor. Recently when discussing KP with a visiting Tamil expatriate delegation the Defence secretary described “KP” as a “Gentleman”. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is a man who does not mask his thoughts or hide his feelings. Those present felt genuine warmth in his voice and facial expression when he said this.
It is this relationship with Gotabhaya that has helped KP to withstand and survive detention. It is also 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.
KP’s reprieve is due to his success in convincing the Defence secretary and General Kapila Hendavitarane that he should be treated as a worthwhile asset. He has been able to persuade Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Director of Military intelligence that his co-operation would be of great value. Thereafter he has earned their regard and won their trust by his conduct.
Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
According to informed sources KP after being captured and brought to Colombo was taken amidst tight security to meet his “chief” captor Gotabhaya. Though dishevelled and shaken Pathmanathan had noticed a Buddha statue on the premises and referred to that when facing Gotabhaya for the first time. Apparently the Defence secretary was not only taken aback but also captivated by that remark. That heralded “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” between captor and captive as in the case of Bogart and Raines in the classic movie “Casablanca”.
For KP 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 around 40 million 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 KPwould 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.
As far as Colombo was concerned it had decimated the LTTE on the Island but the danger was not entirely over. The overseas structures of the LTTE remained intact. The war had ben fuelled by the funds generated by the LTTE abroad. KP with his knowledge, experience and contacts could be of tremendous help in combating , containing and converting the Diaspora tigers.
Thus began the joint venture. At best it was a partnership of convenience, At worst it was an unholy alliance. KP began providing information about the assets and activities of the overseas tigers. The Government was able to “acquire” at least three ships belonging to the LTTE thanks to KP.
From KP’s perspective his cooperation with the Government was based on five fundamental principles.
Firstly the bulk of Sri Lankan Tamils have to live in Sri Lanka. Their situation was pathetic and perilous. Whatever the Diaspora might say the Tamils living in Lanka had to live in amity with the Sinhalese and Muslims. Their grievances had to be redressed and aspirations accommodated only through the support of the Sinhala dominated Government. An aggressive, irresponsible Diaspora was an impediment in this respect. The pro-tiger elements abroad were projecting a false image that the “war” was continuing.
Secondly the war was over and the LTTE defeated conclusively. There was absolutely no chance and no need for the armed struggle to continue. Vast external assets were required earlier to ensure smooth, steady supplies of arms and ammunition. In the absence of an armed struggle there was no necessity for retaining or generating vast sums of money abroad.
Thirdly there was an urgent need in Sri Lanka for massive amounts of external aid and assistance. The plight of the Tamils particularly the internally displaced was terrible. The Tamil Diaspora bore a moral responsibility to help alleviate this sad situation. Demanding or pleading that the Government or India or the International community should attend to this was not enough. The Diaspora living in relative comfort had to contribute too
Fourthly the pro – tiger elements abroad had a greater responsibility towards the people in Lanka. They had caused most of the misery to fellow Tamils living in the North and East by financing the LTTE war machine. As such they had to give generously of their money to rehabilitate the war affected people and re-develop the war ravaged regions. The vast LTTE assets abroad should be diverted towards this noble objective.
Fifthly the vast tiger assets abroad had to be utilised for the Tamil people. In the final analysis the money, property and funds belonged to the people. The LTTE had elicited or extracted these from the people. With the cessation of the armed struggle these funds and assets would gradually be expropriated by the various individuals, groups and organizations fronting as “Benami” for the LTTE. Corruption and crime could set in. It must be remembered that the “Mafia” had its roots in the Sicilian freedom movement and de-generated after the decline of that freedom struggle.
There was however a problem in fully procuring these assets abroad. KP had been out of the LTTE from 2003 to 2008. He had knowledge only of Diaspora LTTE activity prior to 2003. Also Veerakathy Manivannan alias Castro who took over overseas administration after KP had replaced KP’s loyalists with his those of his own. KP was in the dark about assets acquired after 2003 .In fact a key aspect of the tussle between the Castro faction led by Nediyavan and KP was over control of these assets.
Nevertheless KP set about in his own,methodical way to help Colombo to target these assets abroad. He also provided some information to Sri Lankan intelligence about Diaspora networking. KP also helped “connect” some key expatriate Tamil figures with Colombo.
This does not mean that KP was the sole source of information to the Sri Lankan intelligence about the LTTE structures abroad. A little known fact about the last days of the war against the tigers is how Castro and his deputies abandoned their office as the Army advanced. The office complex with underground bunkers had even a mini-elevator for Castro’s convenience as he was confined to a wheel chair. This native of Valvettithurai and old student of Hartley College,Point Pedro was paralysed from below the neck due to injuries sustained in the Elephant pass battle of 1991.
Castro’s group had vacated the office premises without destroying any of the records or documents. As a result the Army took possession of a large number of files, dossiers and records. These were later handed over to military intelligence operatives who are still involved in the task of unravelling details. Apparently Castro had files about all e-mails,letters and faxes sent and received from overseas branches. There were also tapes and transcripts of telephone conversations. Much data was available on the computers in the office
Interestingly Castro’s office had exact details of contributors and amounts contributed by members of the Tamil Diaspora. During the 2002 – 2005 ceasefire period, hundreds of thousands of Tamils from the Diaspora visited Sri Lanka and travelled through the A-9 highway or Jaffna – Kandy road through LTTE controlled regions of the Wanni. Many sojourned in tiger controlled Wanni areas too.
The LTTE had extracted lots of cash from these Diasporic visitors then. The size of contributions depended on what these Diasporic elements had paid to the LTTE abroad. Those who had paid huge amounts were let off lightly but those who had not paid up or were niggardly had to cough up lots of dough. The LTTE in the Wanni had precise details about all payments abroad. Much of this info was computerised and activating a pincode was all that was necessary to get details. Now all that info is with military intelligence. So the input of KP was not of paramount importance to the officials in this respect.
The fact that KP has indeed been cooperating with the state is a controversial issue to some.Viewed from a different perspective the role played by KP could be portrayed as treachery or betrayal. This perspective rests on the belief that the LTTE was flourishing, the armed struggle was vibrant and Tamil Eelam feasible. KP however was firmly and very correctly convinced that the LTTE was finished, the armed struggle had ended and Tamil Eelam was an impossibility. From that standpoint there was nothing wrong in cooperating with the Government. Moreover there was no need to suffer personally by non – cooperation. On the other hand there was a chance to help the Tamil people by winning the confidence and trust of the Government through cooperation.
Meanwhile KP was slowly winning the hearts and minds of his captors. Initially he was kept incommunicado. But gradually some controls were relaxed. He was first allowed to communicate over the telephone with his wife in Thailand. Next he was allowed to talk to his other family members and close relatives. Later he was permitted to talk to close friends.
This “circle” of contacts began expanding as KP embarked on his new venture namely the enlisting of overseas Tamils to help with rehabilitation and resettlement of IDP’s. In a related development a few of his relatives and loyalists were also allowed to meet him personally.
KP was allowed to move about freely within his place of confinement. He could also talk on the telephone without being monitored. But he was not permitted to meet any one alone. Whenever such meetings took place KP was always accompanied by Intelligence officials.
The 55 year old Pathmanathan was also a diabetic and suffered high blood pressure. He also had coronary problems. Full medical treatment was provided. Special care was taken to cook proper food for him.
Those who have interacted with KP know that the ex-tiger chief is a vibrant ,friendly personality. His inter-personal skills are considerable. Gradually he established good relations with his captors and guardians. He got along famously with his intelligence “handler” known as “Sam”. Even the others became fond of him and would oblige him by supplying cigarettes. When KP’s feet began to swell while sleeping one of his guards gave him a circular mount to rest his legs on.
Subsequently the Defence secretary agreed to KP’s blueprint for establishing an NGO. KP’s idea was to attract funds from the prosperous Tamil Diaspora. He was particularly keen on getting money from pro – tiger functionaries abroad. He knew of several entrepreneurs who were either” fronts” for the LTTE or had heavy tiger investments in their businesses. KP was of the view that these funds should not be given to the Government directly. His idea was to formulate a project and then assign a group of Diaspora individuals to finance and monitor it. The Govt concurred with this proposal. KP’s aim was to reduce the hostility between the Diaspora and the State and hasten reconciliation. In the process the Diaspora would also do some “penance” for their past sin of funding the tigers.
It was against this backdrop that the Diaspora visit of June 2010 occurred. Initially the aim was to arrange for a delegation of tiger activists or sympathisers to visit Sri Lanka before the scheduled victory celebrations of May 18th. This was not to be due to logistical hassles. Besides the torrential rains caused the anniversary celebration to be postponed to June. Incidently the floods resulted in KP being re-located to another house.
KP himself was unable to talk directly with all the persons individually and invite them for a meeting in Colombo. Instead he contacted a few trusted associates and entrusted them with the responsibility of making arrangements. It was envisaged that 22 persons including five former LTTE country chiefs would arrive in Colombo. But this did not happen and only nine representatives from six countries reached Colombo in mid – June for a five day trip.
The visitors were lodged at the Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo. KP was not allowed to visit or stay with them. The delegation was also not permitted to visit KP at his residence. KP was accompanied by four officials whenever he met the visitors. Two officials escorted the visitors at all times.
The delegation was impressed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who politely shook hands with each member. He also had a hug for KP. But the defence secretary was bluntly direct during discussions. He provided a realistic appraisal of the politico-military situation in the North and East. This brutal candour did not go down well with some of the visitors.
The delegation was also amazed at the bonhomie between KP and Kapila Hendavitarane. They joked and teased each other. The military intelligence chief was the First secretary in 2006 at our Embassy in Bangkok. When Kapila stated that he had tried hard to get hold of KP then, Pathmanathan cracked “But you couldn’t catch me, no? To which Kapila retorted “But we finally caught you”. KP guffawed loudly.
The delegation also visited the North. It was the first time that KP was being taken outside greater Colombo. When the intelligence officials fabricated an identity card with a false name, KP was indignant. He said stubbornly that if he were to travel he would do so only under his own name. KP finally got his way and travelled under his real name.
The delegation also saw the soft side of KP at the IDP camps. He was visibly moved by the sight of IDP’s at Zone two in the Chettikulam, Menik farm .He would often withdraw from the crowd and brood silently.
It was an emotional moment for KP when they went to the special camp housing ex- LTTE cadres. Though KP had not been to Sri Lanka after 1990 and the inmates were of a new younger generation, most had heard or knew of him. Many of them warmed to KP and shared their concerns and sorrow. At one stage the rough and tough KP broke down and shed tears uncontrollably.
One of the recommendations made by KP and the delegation was accepted by the authorities and within two days, telephone lines were installed at the camp for relatives to communicate.
The visit to the North and KP’s first –hand interaction with the IDP’s and ex –tiger cadres galvanised the native of Myliddy into action. The plans in the pipeline to set up an NGO were expedited urgently. A project was set up to provide tuition to the 346 ex-tiger detenues sitting for the GCE (AL) exam. More projects are being planned. Their execution depends on the funds KP would be able to garner from expatriates.
Will KP be successful in collecting enough funds from the Diaspora for his newly formed NGO and its envisaged projects? This is literally and figuratively a multi – million rupee question.
The Nediyavan faction opposed to KP has launched a vicious attack on KP and alleged that he is trying to grab overseas Tamil funds for the Govt. This campaign is spearheaded by the “Tamilnet” twins comprising Jeyachandran in Norway and Sreetharan in the USA.
The primary weapon used against KP is the “testimony” given by Dr. Velauthapillai Arudkumar from Britain after the trip to Sri Lanka. Arudkumar reportedly flew to Oslo from Colombo and met with Nediyavan, Jeyachandran and KP Regi ,former executive director of TRO before returning to London.
The “Tamilnet” which is a mouthpiece of the Nediyavan faction is using Arudkumars account of the trip to demonstrate that KP is in the custody of Sri Lankan intelligence. Puerile attempts are being made to portray this fact as a new discovery. The pro – Nediyavan Tamil media is now blaming KP for the LTTE debacle. The truth is being distorted to make a scapegoat of KP.
Another member of the delegation, Charles Anthonydas also in London has set the record straight through some media interviews. It may be recalled that Charles represented the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) during the Thimphu talks of 1985. Apart from exposing the terminological inexactitudes and inaccuracies in Arudkumar’s allegations, Charles has also made a pertinent point.
He says that everyone in the delegation knew very well that KP had been captured by the Sri Lankan government and that he was in their custody. Therefore it was nothing new to find KP in the hands of the military intelligence. The purpose of the visit was not to discover an already known fact. Charles says that the objective of the visit was to explore possibilities of creating a “space” through which the Diaspora could help the Tamils there. This could only be done through the good offices of the Colombo government.
The campaign against KP by the “Tamilnet” and its allies suggests that the Nediyavan faction is jittery about the outcome of KP’s efforts. If KP succeeds in getting enough aid from the Diaspora and utilise it to help the affected Tamils the thinking of the Diaspora could be radically transformed. Instead of continuing on a confrontational course the Diaspora could cooperate with the Colombo Govt and thereby enter a new phase in ethnic relations. This prospect is unpalatable to the Tamil hawks and hence the frantic attempt to denigrate KP and pre-empt such a move.
“KP” ~ Recent picture
In such a situation where the anti-KP faction is hell bent on vilifying him as a traitor it remains to be seen whether Pathmanathan would be able to convince influential sections of the Diaspora into supporting his venture. For KP to succeed he should be able to demonstrate that funds generated from the Diaspora are utilized transparently and efficiently for the betterment of the affected people in the North – East.
There should be no Governmental interference or (mis)appropriation of the funds. It is only then that KP’s initiative could succeed. One can only hope that the Rajapakse regime is aware of this and creates the correct conditions for Selvarasa Pathmanathan to realise his dream of helping affected people.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com