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Shooting Incident at Tharmapuram: Is There a Real LTTE Resurgence in the North?

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by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Two pistol shots rang out in the afternoon of Thursday March 13th 2014 at house No. 5 of the Indian Housing scheme in Musalampitty in the Puliyampokkanai area of Tharmapuram region in Kilinochchi district. A fifty year old Police officer named Ratnakumara attached to the Terrorism Investigation Division(TID)was injured. The man suspected of firing the shots from a 9 mm handgun was 31 year old Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias Gobi a former intelligence operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

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Hoarding in Kilinochchi – Nov 2013-pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai-courtesy: flickr.com/PassionParade

The incident sent shock waves down the Defence establishment of Sri Lanka. For the first time since the war ended a Sri Lankan defence official had been fired upon and injured by someone connected to the LTTE. The country in general and the Northern province in particular have been experiencing a period of normalcy and stability since May 2009 when the LTTE known as the tigers were defeated on the banks of Nandhikkadal lagoon. Despite problems and setbacks the country and people had been progressing since the war ended. There had been no compelling sign of the LTTE re-emerging in the North for the past 58 months. The Tamil people themselves were living in an environment where war violence was absent. Now that relative tranquility was shattered literally and metaphorically after the gunshots in Tharmapuram. The consequences of the incident were likely to drastically alter the prevailing situation in the North.

Subsequent events in the aftermath of the incident seemed to demonstrate the validity of such ominous forebodings. Prior to the shooting incident the defence and law enforcement officials had been pursuing a line of inquiry into the possibility of a revival of the LTTE in the north. Pamphlets espousing a tiger renaissance had been seized. Mini-arsenals of weapons had been uncovered. Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias Gobi himself had been on the wanted list on this account. With the shooting incident all suspicion about a potential LTTE re-grouping seemed to have come true.

Alerted Security authorities have now launched an intensive widespread manhunt for Kajeepan alias Gobi and his sidekick Navaneethan alias Appan. ”Wanted” notices are plastered on the walls and trees of the Northern mainland known as the Wanni. Massive contingents of Police and military personnel are once again mounting cordon and search operations in different parts of the Mullaitheevu, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi districts. Large numbers of youths are being rounded up and interrogated. While most are released a few continue to be held for further inquiries. Vehicles are stopped systematically and passengers checked. Identity cards of people are checked at random.

KAJEEBAN ALIAS GOBI

As is customary in situations like these the youths both male and female are subjected to more intensive scrutiny. Most of the former LTTE cadres now leading different lives after rehabilitation are also under the spotlight. These wretched souls of the Wanni earth would be treated as the “usual suspects” in situations like the present. Many of the ex-tigers are now required to report to the authorities. Their movements are being closely monitored. The search by the security forces in the Wanni is not only for the elusive Kajeeban alias Gobi but is also being conducted with the objective of crushing any possible revival of the LTTE in the North. Ex-tigers who did not formally surrender and be rehabilitated are also being sought now.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ceased to exist as an organization in Sri Lanka after the military debacle in May 2009 at Mullivaaikkaal in the Mullaitheevu district. Tiger supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran and numerous other frontline leaders were dead. Over 11,000 other leaders and cadres who had surrendered underwent rehabilitation at detention centres. Over 10,000 were released in stages. Less than a thousand remain in custody with some being produced in courts.

The overseas structures of the LTTE however remained active though losing much of the earlier lethal venom. The bulk of LTTE branches, front organizations and business ventures in the global Tamil Diaspora remained under the overall hegemony of Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan or “tall man”. Nediyavan living in Norway adopted a low profile and relocated to a small town about 150 miles away from capital city Oslo from where he continued to direct the organization through two trusted aides named Ilamporai and Nanthakopan.

On another level many of the tiger and pro-tiger activists abroad transformed themselves into human rights champions. Ostensibly the name of the LTTE game was no longer an armed struggle to achieve national liberation. It was now a lofty quest for justice, accountability, reconciliation and equality. A tragic-comic aspect of the changed scenario was the spectacle of accredited representatives from respected human rights organizations associating with yesteryear tigers gloating in their new avatar. The battlefront had seemingly shifted to the UN Human Rights Council arena in the new venue of Geneva.

INTELLIGENCE REPORTS

Even as these antics by the overseas LTTE continued the Defence establishment in Sri Lanka continued to be vigilant. There were intelligence reports of attempts by tiger elements in the Diaspora to foment violence in the Tamil areas of the North – East. The overseas tigers needed some kind of violent incident or incidents to occur to be portrayed abroad as the harbinger of armed resistance. After all there is still a sizable number of numbskulls who believe that 12,000 LTTE cadres are undergoing arms training in Eritrea and that Prabhakaran is alive.

Defence authorities in Sri Lanka were aware that the LTTE was no longer a viable entity in Sri Lanka. There was however concern about the ongoing efforts by the diaspora tiger elements and the money power they possessed. It was possible to pay cash to some ex-tigers or former supporters of the LTTE and encourage them to engage in violence. This would affect the prevailing situation in the North and East. It is this anticipation of a potential resurgence of political violence that is cited as justification of the stance to maintain an extra-ordinarily large military presence in the North. Though this excessive militarization has been criticised by many quarters the Rajapaksa regime has steadfastly refused to minimise this military personnel fearing a potential LTTE resurgence. Against this backdrop of a possible LTTE re-emergence it appears that future calls for reduction of troops in the North would be disregarded.

For a better understanding of the current crisis , recent related developments in the North are worth delving into. According to informed sources it all began with the security forces in the north being alerted over controversial leaflets in January this year. These leaflets in Tamil had been found in front of several dwellings in the Wanni.Some youths had also distributed these by hand to people travelling in buses and vans. Stacks of leaflets had been left in public places including temples, schools and eating houses. A few were found nailed to trees or pasted on walls.

The distribution/display of leaflets was done overnight on a widespread scale. It seemed to have been done in a staggered manner with one locality being targeted at a time. Apparently there was not enough manpower in the leafleteer circles. Also it may have been a ruse to prevent security forces being alarmed.

GUARDIAN DEITIES

The notices in Tamil were worded in emotional rhetoric appealing to the nationalist sentiments of the Tamil people. The people were requested to unite and support the resurgence of the “Kaaval Theivangal” or Guardian Deities. In earlier times the LTTE had often been described as the Kaaval Theivangal or guardian deities of the Tamil people as the organization claimed to be the sentinels, protectors and liberators of the Tamil people.

The leaflets urged the Tamil people to express solidarity and surge forward to achieve the long desired goal of absolute freedom under the leadership of the LTTE euphemistically referred to as guardian deities. It was also stated that the international situation was now conducive and that the time was ripe for Tamil Eelam.

Initially when security circles became aware of such leaflets they were not overly concerned and did not view the leaflets too seriously. However routine inquiries were pursued. As investigations progressed more disturbing details were unearthed. According to knowledgeable circles preliminary information revealed the possible existence of an organized group seeking to resurrect the LTTE and re-launch the armed struggle. It also appeared that arms and ammunition were being hoarded and sympathisers were being recruited.

Further investigations resulted in the identification of a man who was suspected of being the mastermind behind this exercise. This was none other than thirty-one year old Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeeban alias Gobi a.k. a.Kasiyan.This six-footer of medium complexion with a scar on his left upper lip was now living in the Tharmapuram area and functioning as a heavy vehicle driver. Kajeeban alias Gobi had been formerly an LTTE intelligence wing functionary under the dreaded Shanmugalingam Sivasangaran alias Pottu Ammaan. Kajeeban had surrendered at the end of the war and been accommodated at the Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centre(PARC)at Poonthottam in Vavuniya.

NEDIYAVAN

It is suspected that Gobi exited from the Poonthottam camp with the aid of a Tamil member of the ruling regime and made his way to Quatar. After working for a while in that country Kajeeban alias Gobi had made his way to Europe. He had travelled widely in Europe and gone also to Norway. It is now suspected that Gobi had met with prominent LTTE activists in Europe including the low-profile high-ranking leader Nediyavan and his senior deputies Irumborai and Nanthagopan during his European sojourn.

He had then returned to Sri Lanka and started working as a heavy vehicle driver. It is said that he travels frequently to Colombo and also to towns such as Mullaitheevu, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Jaffna. Security circles opine that Gobi has been entrusted with the task of reviving the LTTE in the North. Apparently it does not matter whether such a revival attempt is a success or not. What is necessary for the tiger hierarchy in the Diaspora is an incident or series of incidents heralding the re-activation of the LTTE on what is termed as “Tamil Eelam”soil.Thereafter the overseas LTTE would derive much propaganda mileage and re-launch a huge fund raising drive saying “we are back”!

Gobi it seemed was the ideal cat’s-paw or tiger’s-paw in this cynical exercise. The security forces now aware of Gobi and his mission began a search for him. When they went to his residence Gobi’s wife stated that her husband was not living with her and that she did not know where he was. Advertisements were then placed in media organs citing Gobi as a wanted person.

Even as the search for Gobi went on there were other developments too. Members of the Tamil public who were also worried about a tiger re-activation began to provide informative tips to the security authorities. These were analysed and acted upon by the Terrorism Investigation Division(TID) of the Sri Lankan Police.

ARMS CACHE

One such tip led to the discovery of an arms cache at the compound of a residence in Viswamadhu. The arms cache consisted of mortars, rocket propelled grenades, hand grenades, one claymore bomb and rounds of ammunition for T-56 weapons. The occupants of the house comprising a 27 year old woman Nitharshana and her mother and brother were taken in for questioning. The mother and brother were released but the woman is yet being held for further inquiries.

When the security authorities started their investigations they found themselves in a dicey situation disclosed informed sources. Apparently the information garnered involved some persons who were actively involved in mass protests and demonstrations for persons who had gone missing or regarded as being among the disappeared category. These persons were family members of missing/disappeared persons or relatives of LTTE members who were no more.

Security officials probing the conduct or monitoring the movements of these persons for alleged LTTE activity could be construed by some as harassment of family members of war victims or persecution of human rights defenders by the state apparatus. This would be extremely embarrassing to the Government as it was facing considerable international pressure at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The upper echelons of the Defence establishment however were resolutely firm. The sleuths on the trail of the tigers were told to proceed on course without any faltering. It was pointed out that the potential LTTE revival could threaten the security of the country and its people. Therefore it was paramountly imperative that the investigations continue and action be taken. Any possible fall –out in Geneva could be handled separately it was emphasised.

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Jeyakumari Palendran, whose third son was recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has surrendered to the Sri Lankan security forces during the last phase of the war. But, he has gone missing afterwards. Her other two sons have been killed in the war-pic by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Having gained the green light for a no holds barred probe the security sleuths continued with investigations. According to informed sources a valuable tip off was received by the Police TID at Kilinochchi on Thursday March 13th. The information from a source in the area stated that a man fitting the description of Kajeepan alias Gobi was seen entering the house of Mrs. Jeyakumari Balendhiira.

JEYAKUMARI BALENDHIRA

Fifty-one year old Mrs.Jeyakumari Balendra was living alone with her 13 year old daughter Vibhooshika at house number 5 of the Indian Housing scheme colony in Musalampitty, Puliyampokkanai, Tharmapuram. The mother and daughter were quite well known in media and Human rights activist circles as both participated regularly in mass protests and demonstrations concerning persons who had disappeared or gone missing.

There was a very good reason for the mother-daughter duo to be involved in such activism. As a family both were in a pathetic plight as victims of the cruel war. Jeyakumari’s husband was no more. Some say he had disappeared after being abducted by “unknown” persons while other say he was killed by shelling in the war. The eldest son joined the LTTE and died in the Maavilaaru battle in Trincomalee district. The second son also joined the LTTE voluntarily and was killed in the fighting at Aananthapuram in Mullaitheevu district.

The third son who was fifteen years of age was forcibly conscripted by the LTTE under Sinnathurai Sasitharan alias “Major Ezhilan” during the final phase of the war in the Karaithuraipatru division in Mullaitheevu district. He escaped from LTTE clutches and returned to his mother in the final week of war in May 2009.The mother handed him over to the security forces as a “tiger” surrendee. She also has a Govt publication with a photo of her son doing physical exercises as part of a rehabilitation program at an official detention centre. After a while there was no news of the son’s whereabouts. He was reported missing. Thus Jeyakumari and Vibhooshika are regularly seen in demonstrations voicing for the son and brother. Their wails and tears has attracted much media attention. Both victims talk to the media boldly about their loss.

It was in this context that a TID team in plain clothes went to Tharmapuram in search of the elusive Gobi reportedly seen at Jeyakumari’s house. According to the Police narrative they had parked their vehicle at a distance from the house and proceeded quietly on foot to the house. When they entered the house Ms.Jeyakumari and daughter were taken aback. When questioned about Gobi Ms. Jeyakumari had raised her voice and stated there was no one like that in the house.

TID OFFICER

TID officials had then gone into the interior of the house .When a TID officer went into a room with a bed and started looking around an unexpected act occurred. A man hiding under the bed fired twice from the floor at TID officer Ratnakumara who was hit on the thigh and groin. The other Police officers were startled by the firing as they had not expected it. The man then jumped out and ran out through the back firing in the air once more. The officers running to the backyard behind the house could not stop him. According to Police sources they had not anticipated armed resistance and hence did not have adequate firearms to counter it.

The TID officers were concerned over their profusely bleeding colleague and summoned an ambulance hastily. The injured cop was taken to Kiinochchi hospital first. The TID officers then continued to remain at the residence and began questioning the mother and daughter. The computer and its contents were examined. More Police officials and over 300 military personnel gathered at the scene. An intensive search was launched for the missing assailant now identified as Gobi in the vicinity.

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Vibhushika Palendran weeps, and demands to know the whereabouts of her missing brother. Her elder brother Mahinthan Palendran was forcibly recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, and has surrendered to the Sri Lanka security forces towards the end of the war. But, he has gone missing after the surrender- pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

After many hours of grilling the mother and daughter were to be taken to Kilinochchi Police station. When it was found that the daughter Vibhooshika had attained puberty only ten days ago on March 3rd the Police wanted to leave her at the house of a neighbour or relative in the vicinity. The mother however said there was no one suitable to leave her in the neighbourhood and wanted the daughter to accompany her. Police sources say it was because of the Mother’s wish that the young girl was also taken along.

After further questioning of the mother at Kilinochchi both were taken to Vavuniya and presented to the Judicial medical officer for a physical inspection as there was no JMO in Kilinochchi on that day. Police sources say that they obtained a clean certificate from the JMO that both mother and daughter were physically unharmed in any way.

VIBHOOSHIKA

The duo was then brought back to Kilinochchi late in the night on March 14th and produced before Kilinochchi acting magistrate Mr.S.Sivabalasubramaniam. Thereafter Mrs.Jeyakumari Balendra was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for 18 days until April 1st for further investigations. The magistrate further instructed that the 13 year old daughter Vibhooshika be admitted to Kilinochchi hospital for a medical checkup and then be handed over to the Kilinochchi probation officer to be housed in a safe abode.

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United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay is being welcomed by Vibhushika Palendran along with two other girls, to an event to mark the International Day of the Disappeared – Aug 30, 2013 – pic by: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Vibhooshika was admitted over the week-end to Kilinochchi hospital and pronounced to be in good health. Kiinochchi probation officer Mr. V.Muthukumaru then arranged for the girl to be accommodated at the “Mahadeva Aachirama Saivach Chiruvar Illam” (Mahadeva Ashram Saivaite Childrens home) in Kilinochchi. The childrens home is administered by former Kilinochchi District Government Agent Mr.T. Rasanayagam. Rasanayagam who is the abode’s manager. Earlier efforts were made to house her at the “Anbagham” home run by Catholic sisters in Vavuniya. This however was not possible and the magistrate approved on March 17th that Vibhooshika be accommodated at Mahadeva childrens home.

Meanwhile Mrs. Jeyakumari Balendra was taken to the detention centre in Boosa. Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the centre, met with Ms. Jeyakumari and inspected her living conditions there. She is being questioned further by TID officers.

This then is the version of events according to Police sources and informed sources affiliated to the defence establishment. There is however a counter narrative to this official narrative. There have been also other related events subsequent to the shooting incident at Tharmapuram and the detention of Mrs. Jeyakumari Balendra. These events and the counter narrative will be dealt with extensively in a forthcoming article.

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at djeyaraj2005@yahoo.com

This article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appears in the “Daily Mirror” of March 22nd, 2014. It can be accessed via this link: http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/dbsjeyaraj-column/44821-tharmapuram-shooting.html

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