by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Question: 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?
Answer: That’s another long story.
I was now out of the movement and leading a quiet life in Thailand with my family.I had no idea of returning to the movement though my wife felt that I would always go back if asked by Prabhakaran himself.
As for me I did not think that I would re-join because it is extremely rare for anyone being recalled by the LTTE after his or her services were discontinued. Also I knew the extent to which some senior LTTE leaders had worked against me and poisoned Prabhakaran’s mind against me.
But even though I was out of the LTTE I was always following the news about what was happening. Though I was out of the LTTE, I was getting worried as events unfolded because I could see from the news that the LTTE was not faring well.
The tiger ships were getting knocked out at sea by the Sri Lankan navy. As the man who had kept the LTTE supplied, I knew how important it was for the LTTE to maintain supplies throughout by the sea. So I realised that the ships getting destroyed was a bad thing
Q: How did that happen? How did the Sri Lankan navy become so efficient in taking out so many tiger vessels ?
A: I think various Colombo governments over the years had gradually built up and modernised the Navy. They were also getting additional intelligence inputs from different countries. So the Navy at the time of the ceasefire had reached high levels of efficiency. The ceasefire conditions and rules were not clear about movement in the sea. So the Navy was able to move about freely and monitor LTTE ships
Q: Did not the LTTE anticipate this?
A: Prabhakaran did anticipate this. He told me in 2000 that in the coming years the outcome of the war would be decided at sea. He wanted to build up the sea tigers to greater levels and meet the challenge.
I don’t know why but he seems to have changed plans later. The LTTE started to build up the fighters in the land and develop the air wing. Prabhakaran did not develop the LTTE’s sea power as he had intended earlier.
On the other sthe Navy was very active and strong.They put up a blockade around Lanka’s territorial waters. The navy also went out to far off spots and destroyed LTTE ships at sea.
The combination of effective Intelligence about LTTE ship movements and increased efficiency of the Navy resulted in LTTE sea movement getting severely restricted. I was told later that no LTTE ships were able to bring stuff to the east coast from 2007 onwards. Soosai told me “not even a panadol”.
Q: But did not this situation change after you re-joined the movement. There were reports in the media that the LTTE had been able to get two ships through in late 2008 and early 2009 . It was believed that you were responsible.
A: No that is not correct. I did not send any ships through. In fact I had not even tried to do that .
Q: I was under the impression that you had re-joined the movement to be in charge of sending supplies by sea and that you had done that by sending two ships through?
A: It is correct that initially the LTTE wanted me to re-join in order to send supplies by sea. But I had clearly explained that it was not possible at short notice.I went back to the LTTE to help work out some ceasefire arrangement and stop the war and not to resume supplying by sea
Q: Before we talk about that matter I want to ask you something bluntly.Some of your detractors blame you for the way in which LTTE ships were destroyed by the Navy. I have seen accusations against you in the Tamil media that you had pocketed the money given to buy arms and sent empty ships to Lanka and gave information to the Colombo govt and got the navy to destroy the ships.
A: Yes. I have seen the propaganda against me which you describe. This conspiracy theory shows the levels of imagination of some of our people.
Let me tell you clearly. I was out of the LTTE effectively from 2002 December. But the duty of handling the LTTE shipping fleet was taken away from me end of February 2002 as soon as the ceasefire came into place.It was brought under the sea tigers headed by Soosai.
I had nothing to do with the ships from that time. Then in December 2002 I was relieved of my duties of overseas purchasing (euphemism for arms procurement)The department known as KP dept was disbanded.
The arms procurement and transport responsibility was handled by Aiya and another called Ilankuttuvan. I had no knowledge of anything. I was not in charge of “kolvanavu” (purchasing). That being the real situation how could I have any information to pass on to the govt?
Q: But could you not have obtained info about ship movement from other LTTE cadres involved and passed it on?Some of your KP dept people with whom you would have some influence?
A: The LTTE works on a strict need to know basis. One unit does not know what the other does. So it would be impossible to get full info unless one contacted all the units involved
As for my KP dept people almost all of them were recalled and given new duties or discontinued. So there was no way that I could get information from them
One thing to note is that I too stopped talking to those involved in the work. Even when I got a friendly call once in a way I never asked about these matters.
I know the LTTE mentality very well. If I had even referred to these matters casually and then due to bad luck something drastic happened they would start suspecting me. So I never tried to get info about these matters from anyone.
You must remember that these types of accusation s are being said only now by people who have no knowledge about how the LTTE works. There was no charge like this earlier when the LTTE leadership was there. If there had been any suspicion I would not have been approached by the LTTE or given a new role after re-joining.
Q: Yes. I think we have digressed a little. So please relate the circumstances of your re-joining the LTTE?
A: As I told you earlier , I was observing events and realised that the LTTE was getting into difficulties because the sea supplies were not getting through. But I was now out and could do nothing. Then in the latter part of 2008 , Sea tiger commander Soosai and senior military commander Sornam began calling me frequently.
They explained that the situation was getting bad and that sea supplies had to be restored. They said that only I could ensure resumption of sea supplies and appealed to me to re-join the movement and take charge of overseas purchasing again.
I was in a dilemma. Though I felt bad I was reluctant to get back again. I had been living quietly for many years and enjoying family life. Also I fully well knew the international situation. Earlier the LTTE was not on the global terrorist radar. We could discreetly purchase what we wanted from the arms bazaar’s and ship them to the Island.
But now in a post – Sep 11th 2001 situation it was not so easy. I doubted very much whether even I could do what was expected of me. Besides I was out of touch for five years and needed time to set up things again.So I did not give them a word.
But then on December 31st 2008 everything changed.
Q: What happened on that day?
A: Prabhakaran called me and had a very very long conversation. He told me of the military situation in veryfrank terms. When he called me on Dec 31st Kilinochchi had not fallen but Prabhakaran said it would fall very soon. He then said that the fighting would shift east of the A-9 road afterwards.
Prabhakaran was optimistic that the LTTE would be able to hold on to a piece of territory with access to the coast for a long time. But he knew it could not be for ever and ever.Meanwhile he wanted me to re-join the movement and start purchasing and transporting supplies again.
When Prabhakaran asked me directly I could not say no. I agreed to re-join the LTTE but told him that my immediate goal would be to bring about a ceasefire and not resumption of supplies.
Q: Why did you say this and how did he respond?
A: I explained to him that the international situation had changed drastically. Intelligence agencies of many countries in the west particularly the US were swarming on areas of potential arms sales. Maritime movement was being monitored very strictly.Unlike the earlier days it would require much effort and preparation to resume sea supply effectively
I also told him that my KP dept network had been dismantled.I was out of touch and lost most contacts. Also I was being closely watched. So if I was to resume arms procurement I needed time to start work clandestinely and set up the network again.
I told Prabhakaran ,I needed at least one year to get things going.He said that may perhaps be too late.
In that case I suggested that the LTTE should go in for a ceasefire. Earlier in 1989 when the Indian army was strangulating the LTTE, Bala annai had played a crucial role and brought about an understanding with the Premadasa govt. I too had a supportive role in this
Now Bala annai was no more. Prabhakaran said that I must spearhead the task of bringing about a ceasefire and getting the LTTE a respite. He wanted me to commence talks with whoever necessary and bring about a ceasefire.
I then said I must be given a relevant position so that I could represent the LTTE officially and that I should get full cooperation from the LTTE overseas branches.Prabhakaran agreed and so when 2009 dawned I was back in the LTTE again.
Q: So you came back to the LTTE to coordinate and lead efforts to bring about a ceasefire? How did you go about it? Did you get the backing of the overseas tiger structure?
A: I was made the head of International relations in the LTTE. I was tasked to interact and negotiate with international actors and somehow bring about a ceasefire.The overseas branches were instructed to support me fully in my efforts.
Since Castro and I were not on good terms the Political commissar Nadesan was to be my link with the leader in these matters. Nadesan was to coordinate with Castro about issues concerning me.
But things were not easy or rosy. Even though I started work from January first week in 2009 ,the announcement about my appointment was delayed. Castro took a long time to convey it to the overseas branches. The “Tamilnet” delayed carrying a news item. The overseas Tamil media under Nediyavan’s control blacked me out.
Mar 29, 2009 in Ottawa – pic by
By Mikey G
Through Nadesan and the political wing , I got overseas branches to organize demonstrations highlighting the civilian plight and demanding a ceasefire. I specifically asked them to demonstrate without any symbols of the LTTE and make it a non-partisan humanitarian exercise.
There were many demonstrations and we were getting a positive response. But within weeks Castro gave instructions through Nediyavan that the demonstrators should carry LTTE flags and Prabhakaran’s portrait . Placards were shown asking the international community to remove the ban on the LTTE and recognize it as the sole representatives of Tamils.
When I tried to stop that I was portrayed as being against Prabhakaran. As a result of this political stupidity we had massive demonstrations without any results because they were seen as pro –LTTE and not pro-People demonstrations.
Q: In such a situation where Castro’s people were sabotaging you, how did you carry out your duties as LTTE international relations chief?
A: The way in which the overseas branches started sabotaging my work was terrible. They would not cooperate. I was not given sufficient funds. When I tried to get some funds from the branches it was refused. So I had to rely on my own funds and funds from supporters and LTTE associates in a personal capacity. I also had to set up my own staff and network by appealing to the old loyalists many of whom were now “retired”. These people rallied around me in a wonderful way.
Q: But why did you not complain to Prabhakaran and rectify the situation?
A: I did and sent messages to him but with 2009 the military situation had changed. The army was rapidly advancing. Prabhakaran’s personal security was threatened. So he had to maintain a low profile. Also without Velu, my earlier contact-link with Prabhakaran, communicating with the leader was difficult. The new guys were not very efficient or helpful in these matters. Nadesan also was hesitant to complain about Castro. Both had a good relationship.
Besides with the war hotting up I was also reluctant to pressure Prabhakaran continuously on these matters. I was also doubtful whether even Prabhakaran could have changed the situation. The Castro group was well-entrenched abroad. His deputy Nediyavan was running things. They knew how to delay or scuttle matters.
Q: I want to clarify something. I hope you will give me a candid answer.Was this peace initiative to bring about a ceasefire a time –buying exercise? Were you striving for a ceasefire on the one hand and trying to buy arms and ship them on the other?
A: My answer is NO.
I do not know about others in the LTTE leadership.Some may have thought of using it as a ploy but I was sincere and serious about a ceasefire. I was genuinely trying for one because I knew the LTTE was doomed if the war continued and I wanted to save the life of the people, Prabhakaran, my other comrades and the young fighters of the movement.
I did not play a double game of trying to negotiate peace and acquire arms at the same time. I believe in doing whatever task at hand with sincerity and without deception. If I were to try hard for a ceasefire openly and at the same time try to transport arms clandestinely it would be dishonest. I have to give my 100% to peacemaking and nothing else.
Also look at it this way. If I were found out or if international players helping me for a ceasefire got information that I was shipping arms then my credibility would have been lost. Trust in me and the intentions of the LTTE would have been destroyed. Just imagine the Sri Lankan government’s position if it was discovered that I was playing a double game?. All chances of a ceasefire would have been lost forever.
Q: Did this mean that the LTTE was not trying to ferry arms while you were working towards a ceasefire?
A: What I can say is that I was not doing or trying to do anything of the sort. But others may have been trying. You see with arms procurement and transport becoming difficult Prabhakaran had delegated such duties to some other divisions also. While Aiya was in charge of arms procurement the intelligence division under Pottu Amman, the international affairs division under Castro and sea tigers under Soosai were also delegated arms procurement duties. The situation was so desperate that Prabhakaran had put all these actors on to this stage. But still no progress was made.
Q: It looks like a case of too many cooks spoiling the soup. Do you think that you may have never let this situation develop had you been in charge all along?
A: Well I must say that arms procurement is not a simple thing like buying things over a counter. It is because of inexperienced eager people being entrusted with this task that some arrests were made like in Canada and the USA
When Soosai, Sornam and later Prabhakaran spoke to me they did say that it was a mistake to have removed me from arms procurement and that these problems would not have occurred if I was in charge
Though I was happy to hear that I doubt whether I could have managed to succeed under changed circumstances. With powerful countries monitoring movements like us in the global war against terrorism and the performance of a highly improved navy, I too may have found it difficult to procure and transport arms as required.
Q: Again let me ask you – were you trying for a ceasefire only to save the LTTE or was your commitment to peace deeper and really genuine?
A: I am glad you asked me this because I can speak openly about my change of heart. It was a slow process.
The time that I was out of the LTTE and leading a quiet life gave me time to give deep thought and reflect on things. I was also able to observe the world being transformed in the aftermath of September 11th 2001. Earlier they used to say one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Now they were saying there is no good or bad terrorist. All are terrorists
I realised that a movement like the LTTE could not continue to fight and survive in a changing environment. The whole world will gang up against us. Also after decades of conflict the Tamil people were suffering. They needed peace.
So I really thought we must negotiate and reach a political settlement. Bala annai and I were of the same mind in this. I tried to convince Prabhakaran also of this. He then said to negotiate we must have a ceasefire first. So I began working earnestly for a ceasefire as a first step for a negotiated peace
Q: But were you really hopeful of a ceasefire?were you not fighting a lost battle? Looking back with the wisdom of hindsight what do you think?
A: At that time I was really hopeful about a ceasefire. I knew that somehow a ceasefire had to be brought about to save the lives of the LTTE leaders, cadres and innocent civilians caught in the middle.
Q: Did you not try to save the civilians by getting the LTTE to release them?
A: I did try at the start.
There was even an offer by the Americans to transport them by sea to Trincomalee. But the LTTE hierarchy was not agreeable. This attitude was most unfortunate and may appear as inhuman. I am not trying to condone or justify this action but when I reflect upon the past I think the LTTE leadership also had no choice. If they released the people first, then only the tigers would be left there. Thereafter all of them could have been wiped out.
Q: Mao Ze Dong’s famous dictum about guerillas being the fish swimming in an ocean of people.If the ocean was drained the fish would flounder. So the fish wanted to retain the water?
A:Exactly. That is why I tried for a ceasefire so that everyone ,the people and the fighters could be saved. But looking back now I think the LTTE leadership was too late in trying for a ceasefire. Had we tried in mid 2008 when the fighting was on the west of the A -9 highway there was a good chance of working out an agreement
But after Poonagary,paranthan, Kilinochchi and Elephant pass fell the prospects of victory were imminent for the government. The pace of events was too fast. From their point of view, with outright victory in sight , it would have been stupid to go in for a ceasefire
Q: Under these circumstances what did you do? What could you achieve?
A: I am essentially a worker. If given a responsibility I start doing it instead of finding reasons for not doing it. Also in this case it was a matter of life and death. I had to somehow work out a ceasefire and save the people,movement and leadership.
So with the meagre funds at my disposal and the support of like-minded people I commenced my work. I was in touch with international political leaders, top bureaucrats, diplomats,opinion makers of different countries and also high –ranking UN officials. I contacted some of them directly. Influential people contacted some others on my behalf.
In March 2009 I thought I had made a breakthrough but sadly Prabhakaran rejected the proposal.
Q: Was this the “lock-off” plan that was rejected by Prabhakaran in just three words? Could you elaborate please?
A: Well Yes.I had a tentative plan with international endorsement. The LTTE was to lay down arms by hoarding them in specific locations. The words used were “lock –off”. That is arms particularly heavy weapons were to be locked off in specific places.
They were to be handed over to representatives of the UN. Afterwards there was to be a cessation of hostilities in which the people were to be kept in specific “no firing zones”. Negotiations were to be conducted between the Govt and LTTE with Norwegian facilitation.
Tentatively about 25 to 50 top leaders with their families were to be transported to a foreign country if necessary.The middle level leaders and cadres were to be detained, charged in courts and given relatively minor sentences. The low level junior cadres were to be given a general amnesty.
The scheme was to endorsed by the west including Norway, EU and the USA. The Americans were ready to send their naval fleet in to do evacuation if necessary
Q: Was the Sri Lankan government agreeable
A: I don’t think there was any official intimation to Colombo but maybe they were sounded out informally. But the plan was never concretised because the main man concerned, Prabhakaran rejected it.
I had written an outline of the plan and sent it to him for approval. If he said “Proceed” I would have concretised it and started work on implementing it. But when I faxed the details in a 16 page memorandum he rejected the 16 pages in just three words “Ithai Etrukkolla Mudiyathu” (This is unacceptable)So I had to drop it
Q: Even if Prabhakaran had agreed to it do you think the Govt would have complied given the fact that the armed forces were on the verge of annihilating the LTTE?
A: I don’t know. Most probably the Govt may not have obliged because it was on the verge of victory and would not have wanted to be deprived of it. But the point is that it was never concretised and submitted to the Govt. Given the situation the LTTE was in, Prabhakaran should have taken it.
Q: Why did Prabhakaran reject it then?
A; I don’t know I can only guess.It is too painful to dwell on it because he is no more and I will always be thinking “why didn’t he accept this opportunity”?
Q: But your attempts to save Prabhakaran did not stop did it? There was some talk of a helicopter rescue attempt?
A: Yes. That was another plan but that too did not materialise because of the non – cooperation of Nediyavan and his cohorts abroad. Whenever I think of the fate that befell Prabhakaran’s family I grieve and then silently curse Nediyavan and his people.
Q: Do you think you can relate what happened if it is not too painful for you or you think that it needs to be told?
A: It is painful but I do think our people must know the truth about this matter. Maybe speaking about it may give me emotional relief.
What happened was that in early May 2009 , Prabhakaran’s eldest son Charles Anthony called me frantically. He calls me “KP Mama” or KP Uncle. Charles said that the situation was getting very bad and that I should somehow arrange to get his father, mother, sister and younger brother out to safety.
Q: What about Charles himself
A: No he did not want to escape.Charles said he was ready to fight to the last and die if necessary. It was his family he was worried about.
I was very upset after talking to Charles. So I thought of a plan. I wanted to charter a ship and keep it ready in international waters way beyond the reach of the Sri Lankan navy. I wanted to buy a helicopter and get some of the trained LTTE airwing pilots to fly it into the Wanni and pick up the family and bring them to the ship. Thereafter I had plans of keeping them safe in one of three countries
Q: But would Prabhakaran have agreed to this
A: I am not sure but after I had formulated a plan I got in touch with Charles and told him.I asked him whether his father would agree. Charles said he will try and make Prabhakaran agree but if he would not agree , I was to save his mother and two younger siblings.
Knowing Prabhakaran I felt he would never try to escape with his family ,leaving others behind. But I thought the helicopter could take him and some others to a jungle somewhere first and land him safely.Then the helicopter could fly out with Madhivadhani, Duwaraga and Balachandran
Q: What happened finally? Why did the plan not take off?
A: It’s a very sad story…………………………….(TO BE CONTINUED)
(THE THIRD AND FINAL PART OF THIS CONVERSATION WITH KP WILL CONCLUDE NEXT WEEK)
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
Related earlier posts: ~ “Operation KP”: Extraordinary rendition of New Tiger Chief