By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
It was one year ago on August 5th 2009 that Thambiaiya Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias “KP” was taken into custody in Kuala Lumpur at First Tune Hotel on 316 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman road.The former chief arms procurer of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) was brought to Colombo the following day.
Thambiaiya Selvarasa Pathmanathan
KP’s capture was hailed as a significant breakthrough because the senior tiger operative was at that time the nominal chief of the re-structured LTTE. In the aftermath of the Mullivaaikkaal debacle resulting in the demise of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and senior tiger commanders, KP assumed leadership of the movement abroad. The LTTE was re-structured with KP being appointed “Thalaimai Seyalar” or chief secretary.
With KP’s capture punitive action against him by Colombo was anticipated. However in an unexpected turn of events there evolved a remarkable relationship between captor and captive where the Sri Lankan government extended its hand of friendship towards KP in a magnanimous gesture. KP in turn reciprocated pragmatically by responding in a conciliatory and co-operative spirit.
Though under detention, KP has been afforded great autonomy of action by the Government to play a constructive role in uplifting the Tamil people and achieving ethnic reconciliation.. The ex-LTTE chief has set up a new non –governmental organization known as the North – East Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NERDO).
The NERDO is focusing on the release, rehabilitastion and re-settlement of ex –LTTE cadres and IDP’s of the North – East. KP himself is concentrating on garnering aid and assistance from sections of the Tamil Diaspora for the NERDO to formulate and implement projects.
The current status and role of KP is now a matter of great controversy. He is viciously attacked by extremist sections of the Diaspora as a traitor who has sold out to the Rajapaksa regime. The Sri Lankan opposition questions the “leniency” shown to the ex-LTTE chief by the Govt and contrasts it with the treatment meted out to former army chief General Fonseka.
It is against this backdrop that this writer had an extended telephone conversation with KP on Thursday Aug 5th the first anniversary of his capture. In what was a frank and open discussion in Tamil, the ex-tiger chief disclosed several details about the past, present and future. In the process KP dispelled several rumours circulating about him and set the record straight on a number of issues.
KP is firmly of the opinion that Tamil Eelam is a lost cause and that the armed struggle is a thing of the past. He feels that the immediate priority of Sri Lankan Tamils is to get out of the tragic situation they are in right now. The future is to live with equal rights and dignity in a united ,pluralistic Sri Lanka.
KP also expressed regret for the violence perpetrated by the LTTE against civilians and hardship caused during the course of the LTTE campaign for Tamil Eelam. A remorseful KP tendered an open apology to all the people of Sri Lanka for the suffering caused in the past.
Here are some translated excerpts of the interview:
You were seized in Malaysia last year on August 5th. How will you describe your present situation after being under detention for one year ?
I was shocked when I was arrested and for about an hour I was dazed. But later I recovered. I was also worried when brought to Sri Lanka. But I believe in an almighty God. Though I feared the worst would happen I have been fortunate.
My being captured in a way has been a benefit to me. I have now got an opportunity to serve the suffering Tamil people. Our struggle has reduced our people in Sri Lanka particularly those in the Wanni to a pathetic situation. Now I have a chance to help them in a small way at least through the work of NERDO.
Q: What are the conditions under which you are being detained?
A: I am being kept in a house. I cannot go outside. But within the house I can move about freely. I am given full freedom to talk to people on the telephone. People are not allowed to meet me here.When I want to meet people outside I have to get clearance. Some officials accompany me when I have to go out to meet them.I also have unrestricted e-mail access
Q: Were you ill-treated in any way?
A: No. I have been treated with great kindness and courtesy.In the early days there was some sort of mild tension. But as the days progressed an atmosphere of trust, mutual respect and cordiality prevails.
Q: How did this situation develop? Some people in the Tamil Diaspora allege that you had a “deal” with the govt and that your arrest itself was a drama?How were you arrested and brought here?
A: I know that these types of accusations are being levelled against me. But you know how I was arrested. You were the first person to write about my arrest in detail in English. When I got to read it much later I found that most of what you had written was correct except for some minor details. Whatever these people may say the truth is that I was arrested and transported to Sri Lanka
Q: Can you relate how you were caught and brought here?
A: I was sitting in the Hotel room talking to former LTTE political commissar Nadesan’s brother and son who had come down from England to Malaysia.I then got a telephone call from Canada. It was Ragavan from the CMR radio . The reception was not good. So I excused myself and went out.
I sat outside on a chair in the lobby and kept talking. Suddenly a group of Malaysian officials surrounded me. One of them said “Very sorry Mr.KP” and grasped my phone. It fell to the ground and was picked up by an officer. They asked me to come with them. I had no choice but to go with them
I was taken to the immigration detention centre in KL and kept there for nearly 36 hours for about two days and a night. I had to sleep there in the detention centre room. I realised from their conversation that I was going to be officially deported. But I was not sure whether it was going to be Sri Lanka, India ,USA or somewhere else.
Then I was taken to the KL airport where a Sri Lankan airlines plane was waiting. Then I knew I was going to Colombo. I was taken into the plane through the economy class entrance and then moved inside to the business class. There I was formally handed over to some Sri Lankan officials and brought to Colombo.
Q: You were a Resident in Thailand when you were arrested. Why did you operate out of Kuala Lumpur instead of Bangkok? Was it because you were arrested in Thailand in 2007?
A: I had been leading a quiet life in Thailand for many years when I was out of the LTTE. It was also known that I was living there.So when I started being active in the LTTE again I did not want to attract attention to my family in Thailand. That is why I moved to KL. Also it was easy for people from all over to travel to Malaysia and meet me.
Actually I was never arrested in 2007 .What happened was that there was a move to arrest me then and some officials had rounded up my residence early morning. Fortunately I was not there. But the news was leaked in Sri Lanka that I had been arrested. This helped to prevent follow up action to arrest me. But after that I kept a very low profile in Thailand
Q: What happened when you arrived in Colombo? I’ve heard some stories about how you established rapport with the Defence secretary at your first meeting itself?
A: During the flight to Colombo I had a long chat for about three hours with a Sri Lankan officer. He was very cordial. The way in which I was treated by the Lankan officers was very decent. That made me relaxed.
But I was still worried in my heart about what would happen after reaching Sri Lanka. To be honest I was very concerned about the defence secy. The impression I had of him was that he was a tough talking Sinhala hardliner. So I was really dreading an encounter with him.
But something happened when I was taken to the defence secretary’s residence. There was a Buddha statue there with a light shining at the back. For a few minutes I simply stood and gazed on the Buddha. My nerves got calmed by that
In Thailand I have gone to Buddhist temples frequently with my wife. In my house there are pictures of deities from all three religions including the Buddha. So somehow I felt that no great harm will come to me then.
The defence secretary was seated with some other officials. He got up as I entered and shook hands with me and said “please sit down”. He introduced the others to me. Mr. Gotabhaya was very polite. He told me not to worry about anything. I don’t exactly remember what I then told him but it was something like this “I saw the Buddha statue near the entrance and felt safe and calm”.
Q: Your reference to the Buddha statue incident will also be twisted by your critics within the Tamil Diaspora to portray you as a traitor praising the Buddha?
A: I know .You are right but I am telling you what really happened. I don’t want to hide anything. I told about the Buddha statue to the nine member Tamil expatriate delegation that came to Sri Lanka last June also.
Because of my home environment and my wife’s religious belief I am familiar with Buddhist worship and temples .So seeing the Buddha statue really helped me emotionally. This is the truth. If they want to attack me because of that, then let them do it. I don’t care. I have nothing against the Buddha or Buddhism
Q: I understand your feelings. So how did your meeting with the Defence secretary go?
A: Cakes and tea were served. The defence secretary said that they had tried to solve the problem peacefully but were compelled to wage full fledged war. He said it was sad that finally all the LTTE leaders including Prabhakaran had to die in the war.
He also had lots of information about the communications within the LTTE during the last days of war. He asked me some questions and I answered truthfully . When I didn’t know something I told him so instead of bluffing. He seemed satisfied with my response. I also told him clearly that the war was over for me a long time ago and that my only goal now was to help my people recover from the war and lead normal lives.
I was really amazed by the attitude of the defence secretary. At one point I told him that the image I had of him when I saw TV interviews was that he was a tough hardliner and that his soft behaviour was a pleasant surprise. He laughed and said “I am really like this all the time.Some of these media people irritate me. That is why I get angry like that”.
After a long conversation the defence secretary introduced a particular officer and said he was responsible for me. I was told that I could communicate with him on all matters and that I could send word through this officer to him if necessary. He then shook hands again and I was taken to a house in Colombo. So began a new chapter in my life.
Q: What happened thereafter? There are allegations and reports that you have been collaborating with the government and providing information about Diaspora LTTE activities abroad to the Govt?
A: Let me tell this clearly. When the Sri Lankan intelligence officers began talking to me there were two choices for me. One was to confront them and the other was to cooperate. If I confronted I would have had to face long prison term and not be of any use to anyone. But if I cooperated I could win their trust and confidence. This may have given me an opportunity to do be of some service to our people.
If the struggle was still continuing and my leader was alive then I would have willingly challenged the govt and not cooperated. I would have faced any consequence. But that was not so. Everything was over. So there was no point in confronting. So I chose to cooperate.
Again another point I must mention is this. I had been out of the movement from 2003 January to 2008 December. I had knowledge only about pre -2003 matters. Much of the structure had changed in these years and personnel involved had been changed by those who came after me. I told this very clearly to the intelligence officials who knew and understood my position
When we kept on talking a funny thing happened. At one point the officers started laughing at me and said jokingly “You don’t know anything about the LTTE now”. They were right because I was in a way living in the past. I could only tell about things and structures existing years ago. I was not well informed about the post -2002 situation. They realised it and that is why they were laughing at me.
You know what? The Sri Lankan intelligence is not stupid as some of our people think. They are vey modernised and sophisticated. Besides there is lots of exchanges with intelligence agencies of other countries. From their conversation I gathered that they were very well informed about the LTTE and its overseas structures.
Q: But the propaganda against you by the pro-Castro group headed by Nediyavan and some media organs allege that you are supplying the govt with information about LTTE activity in the Diaspora?
A: I know that. But the truth is something different. In addition to the information gained by the intelligence people through different sources the y have been presented with lots of information by Castro’s people.
Q: How is that?
A: I am a little reluctant to tell this but since you are asking I will tell. When the army advanced into Viswamadhu, Castro and his department people abandoned everything and ran. So now the Sri Lankan officials have lots of data about the overseas activities of the LTTE. They have computers and data bases. They have charts of the people who gave money to the LTTE and the amounts and dates. They have copies of tax receipts. They know who the fund raisers in each country are. They know who and who are running LTTE funded businesses and properties. They even have all the visiting cards of people from overseas who visited the Wanni during the peace talks period.
So the reality is that Castro and his dept people have let all this information fall into the hands of Sri Lankan officials. The Lankan intelligence don’t need outdated or hearsay information from people like me. They have real up to date information now. The reality is that the Lankan intelligence knows far more about overseas tigers than I know. But what can I do if people keep slandering me as an informant?
Q: There were newspaper reports about the personal diaries of Castro also being recovered? Is that true?
A: I have not seen any diary. But intelligence people talking to me unofficially on a friendly basis told me that Castro’s diaries of about 20 years are in their possession. Apparently he has written lots of things in those diaries. Once an officer asked me with a smile “Did Castro have a love affair?”. I said that I was not aware of it. He then laughed and related the whole story. Castro had written about that too.
Q: There was a time when you were very powerful in the LTTE overseas structure. You were in charge of three key functions namely arms purchasing, macro-management of LTTE branches and fund raising. You seemed to have lost clout after you quit the movement in 2003 and found it difficult to re-establish yourself when you re-joined in 2009. What happened then? Why did you quit?Was it because you got married?
A: No, no. It was not due to my getting married. I got married in the early nineties of the last century and not in this century. My daughter is in her late teens now.
What happened was something else. When the peace process began and a ceasefire was declared in 2002 the leader Prabhakaran tried to re-organise the LTTE in a new way. He wanted me to come and see him in the Wanni about these matters.
But I was then high on the lists of people wanted by intelligence networks of many countries.The incidents of Sep 11th 2001 in the USA had changed the security situation world-wide. I did not want to take the risk of travelling to Sri Lanka then. I knew from my own sources of information that I had been specifically targeted and that several intelligence agencies were very keen to get hold of me. So I hesitated. This annoyed my leader.
Another thing that happened was the change in the “link” between me and the movement and leader. There was this person called Velu. For more than 15 years he had been the “communications link” betweeb me and the LTTE and Prabhakaran. Suddenly he was changed and another took over. I had grown accustomed to Velu and found myself unable to adjust to the new guy. In a way there was a break-down in communications for me.
In the meantime different senior leaders in the LTTE were keen on using the ceasefire to enlarge their authority.
Sea tiger commander Soosai wanted the sea tigers to control the LTTE shipping fleet. Up to that time I was in charge. Political Commissar SP Thamilselvan wanted to control political activity in the Diaspora. Castro who was in charge of overseas administration wanted to exert full control over overseas branches. Thamilendhi in charge of finance division wanted a greater say in fund raising functions
So they all wanted Prabhakaran to curtail my power and authority and allocate control to them. Since there was a ceasefire many people from Diaspora travelled frequently to the Wanni. So the other senior LTTE leaders were able to persuade Prabakharan that they could handle everything through direct contacts and through telephone,fax and e-mail
Then Prabhakaran told me that I was burdened with too many responsibilities and that I should take a rest from some of these functions. So what can I do? I agreed.
Q: Were not some allegations also made against you and some of your key assistants abroad?
A: Yes. There were some allegations.They went to the extent of getting some people including women to go to Wanni directly and complain against me, Mano in Paris and Sarve in Oslo to Prabhakaran personally. I heard some women wept and sobbed loudly in front of Prabhakaran
Q: This was a put up job then? Who was behind it?
A: Of course it was a plot. Castro and Thamilselvan were behind it. Sadly the leader was deceived and we could not defend ourselves in person
Q: So then what happened?
A: As I said earlier the leader asked me to take rest. So I had to retire. Castro took over the overseas administration in full. He removed all the old hands whom he regarded as my loyalists. Almost everything was changed in a few months . Many old faithful LTTE activists were removed from their positions in a very unfair manner.
Q: But you were still in charge of overseas purchasing or arms procurement. Why was that changed? How did Anandarajan alias Aiyah replace you?
A: That’s another story. Aiyah was in a sense my man. He had good travel documents and could travel freely.He was also a qualified accountant. So on my instructions he used to go to all the countries and audit our accounts.
Later as I became increasingly known and wanted by the intelligence agencies I was forced to restrict my travelling and movements. So I began to use him to some extent in travelling to source points where one could purchase in arms bazaars. He became familiar with these places.
Then I sent him to meet Prabhakaran also as my representative. I was very confident about him and thought he was loyal to me. I was shocked when one of my friends in the Wanni asked me “Is this guy really your man? He is poisoning the leader’s mind against you”. I learnt that Aiyah was giving an impression that he had been handling all the arms purchasing and could do everything on his own.
I realised then that Bala Annai was right about Aiyah
Q: What did Bala Annai (Anton Balasingham) tell you about Aiyah?
A: You see when Bala Annai and Adele Aunty had come out of the Wanni by sea in 1999, I made arrangements for them to stay in Malaysia and Singapore and get medical treatment before going to London. Since I was stuck in Indonesia at that time I got Aiyah to look after them. But Bala Annai, a shrewd judge of people told me later “You are trusting this fellow but wait and see, he will grasp what you have one day”.
By the time I realised Bala Annai’s wisdom it was too late.
Q: So you were relieved from the LTTE’s overseas purchases department known as KP department? What was the reason given?
A: You see as I had told you earlier I had not been travelling to Sri Lanka to meet the leader because I felt that it was dangerous for me to travel about as I was high on the wanted list of so many intelligence agencies. Now Prabhakaran told me that he did not want me to risk danger by travelling about to purchase arms
He simply told me to take rest for a while and to try and come and meet him. He said only when I meet you in person can I tell you what I think and what my plans are.
After this I had no choice other than to relinquish my duties
Prabhakaran said that those who would replace me will continue to ask me for advice. But that never happened
Q: Whan did this happen? Was there an estrangement with Prabhakaran and yourself? What happened next?
A: This happened in the latter part of 2002. From 2003 I was out of the movement in day to day life but had never formally resigned or quit the movement. It was like retirement without a pension
There was also no estrangement like that with Prabhakaran. I can never be estranged from him.My loyalty and respect to him never changed. He was my leader and friend and like an elder brother to me. But I was hurt by what happened and did not contact him regularly as I did earlier. He may have expected me to do so but I did not . We sort of drifted away from each other but never split.Our mutual regard remained.
Q: Part of the campaign against you is that you and Prabhakaran had fallen out and that you were regarded as a traitor by him then?
A: I am aware of that. Since I went off the LTTE radar after 2003 the new crop of tiger activists abroad don’t know anything about me or the past. So anything could be said against me.
The reality was that both of us had great regard and affection for each other though we had parted ways.
Thanks to an incident there is written testimony about Prabhakaran’s regard for me. One of the LTTE Air wing operatives abroad needed to consult me for some matter. He was not sure whether the leader would approve. So he sent a message asking the leader whether he could contact his “Munnaal Nanbar” (former friend) KP.
Prabhakaran replied in writing that he could do so and emphasised that KP was not a former friend but was “Indrum endrum nalla visuvaasamana nanban” (Now and forever a god and loyal friend)
Q: So when you went into retirement from the LTTE. Did you think it was all over and between you and the tigers?
A: I did think so at that time. I remember telling my wife then that I was out of the LTTE and that I would spend more time with her and our daughter now. But she asked me “Can you really do that? If VP asks you again will you not go back”?
‘KP’ at the wedding of Prabhakaran and Madhivadhani
My wife realised the strength of bonds between Prabhakaran and myself. She used to talk to Prabhakaran’s wife Madhivadhani on the phone those days and both knew about the close relationship between their husbands
Q: So how did the return occur? How and why did you re-join the movement?What was your role during the last days of the war?
A: That’s another long story……………….
TO BE CONTINUED
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related earlier posts: ~ “Operation KP”: Extraordinary rendition of New Tiger Chief