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Assassination of Tamil Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam by the LTTE 25 Years Ago

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D.B.S.Jeyaraj

July 13th 1989 was the date on which the well-known Sri Lankan Tamil leader Appapillai Amirthalingam was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE).The former leader of the Opposition was a national list MP of the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF)at the time he was gunned down in Colombo.

Appapillai Amirthalingam(26 August 1927 - 13 July 1989)

Appapillai Amirthalingam
(26 August 1927 – 13 July 1989)

Amirthalingam was killed along with former TULF Jaffna MP Vettivelu Yogeswaran 25 years ago.The tiger killers shot dead Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran even as talks were going on between an official delegation of the LTTE and the Govt of President Ranasinghe Premadasa in Colombo.It was the assassination of Amirthalingam that demonstrated clearly the true nature of the LTTE to the world at large.

Some background details about the political situation prevailing at that time are necessary to understand the context in which the killing took place.The Indo-Lanka Accord signed on July 29th 1987 by former Indian Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Junius Richard Jayewardena had resulted in the induction of the Indian army into the north and east of Sri Lanka as peace keepers.War had erupted between the Indian army designated as the Indian peace keeping force(IPKF) and the LTTE.

Rajiv Gandhi:               Photo by Ashok Vahie

Rajiv Gandhi: Photo by Ashok Vahie

According to military analysts the hard pressed tigers were reportedly “gasping for oxygen”at that time.

The presence of the Indian army in Sri Lanka caused much resentment among Sinhala nationalists who perceived it as a violation of sovereignty.The United National Party’s Premadasa had been elected as president with a narrow majority. Premadsa had pledged he would send away the Indian army if elected. A campaign of violence was being spear -headed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP).

It was at this point that the unorthodox Premadsa stretched out his “hand of friendship”to both the JVP and LTTE. While the JVP spurned the offer, the struggling LTTE grasped it. Talks in Colombo started between the Govt and LTTE while the Indian army kept battling the tigers in the north and east.President Premadasa and the LTTE had a common objective. They both wanted the Indian army out for different reasons.Citing the commencement of political dialogue with the LTTE, President Premadasa began demanding that a deadline be set for the Indian army to leave Sri Lanka permanently.

For both sides the perceived fly in the ointment was former opposition leader Appapillai Amirthalingam. The TULF secretary-general was a firm supporter of the Indo-Lanka accord and the Indian army presence in Sri Lanka. Though the LTTE had acquired a certain status through its violence and destructive capacity it was the opinion of the non –violent political leader Amirthalingam that carried greater clout internationally due to his political credentials and stature.The fears of the Govt and LTTE were partially realised in June 1989 when Amirthalingam eloquently argued that the Indian army should not be sent away from Sri Lanka at that juncture.

Appapillai Amirthalingam hailing from Pannaaham in Jaffna was born on August 26th 1927.He was a charismatic and dynamic politician who served for many years as the chief lieutenant of the respected Tamil leader SJV Chelvanayagam known as the Gandhi of Eelam.Amirthalingam was a lawyer by profession and had been the MP for Vaddukkoddai from 1956 to 1970 and the MP for Kankesanthurai from 1977 to 1983. He was appointed TULF national list MP after the 1989 polls.

TULF Flag and A. Amirthalingam

A. Amirthalingam beside the flag of TULF

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

Amirthalingam was at one time very popular among Tamil youths and perceived as a hard liner in Tamil politics.The TULF under the joint leadership of Appapillai Amirthalingam and Murugesu Sivasithamparam had won 18 seats in 1977 contesting on a separatist platform. With the UNP getting 141 seats and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) being reduced to 8, the TULF became the chief opposition party in a parliament of 168 MP’s. Amirthalingam became the first Sri Lankan Tamil to hold the Leader of the opposition office.

The anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983 and the sixth Constitutional amendment disavowing separatism resulted in the TULF boycotting parliament and forfeiting their seats. Amirthalingam along with several other TULF leaders went into self-exile in India.The armed struggle waged by many Tamil militant groups gathered momentum.The Indo-Lanka accord brought about a ceasefire that did not last long. While the TULF and all the other militant groups accepted the accord and gave up the goal of “Tamil Eelam” the LTTE continued to fight. The chief military adversary of the LTTE was now the Indian army and not the Sri Lankan army.

Meanwhile elections under very unsatisfactory conditions were held to the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provincial council in 1988.The TULF declined to contest and so India installed Annamalai Varatharapperumal of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation front(EPRLF)as the first (and only)chief minister of the North –Eastern province.When parliament polls were held in 1989 the TULF was also forced to contest by India. India brought militant organizations like the EPRLF, TELO and ENDLF to contest along with the moderate TULF under the aegis of the TULF and its sun symbol.

Amirthalingam and his wife Mangaiyarkkarasi who was herself a political figure in her own right returned to Colombo from Chennai. The first of the TULF ex-MP’s to return from self –exile in India was the former Jaffna MP Vettivelu Yogeswaran.The popular Yogeswaran living with his wife Sarojini (she too was killed later by the LTTE after becoming Jaffna mayor)returned to Jaffna alone several months before the Indo-Lanka accord was signed.He obtained clearance from the LTTE hierarchy in Chennai before doing so.

YOGESWARAN

Vettivelu Yogeswaran (Feb 5, 1934-July 13, 1989)-pic courtesy of: K.Gowrikanthan.Navalyur

Vettivelu Yogeswaran (Feb 5, 1934-July 13, 1989)-pic courtesy of: K.Gowrikanthan.Navalyur

Yogeswaran however was placed under virtual house arrest by the LTTE after he returned to Jaffna. His movements were restricted. Only a few visitors were permitted to see him.Yogeswaran remained a captive of circumstances until the advent of the Indian army.Thereafter he moved to Colombo and lived at a relative’s house in Kotelawela terrace,Bambalapitiya.Subsequently his wife Sarojini also joined him.

With the Amirthalingams and Yogeswarans returning to Colombo, a safe house for them and other TULF personalities became necessary.Given LTTE hostility neither of them could stay in Jaffna safely. Therefore a secure house was needed. Former Mannar MP P. Soosaithasan and former Vaddukkoddai MP Dr.Neelan Tiruchelvam arranged for such a house at 342/2 Bauddhaloka Mawatte/Bullers Road in Colombo 7.It belonged to a prominent Muslim businessman from Mannar engaged in the manufacture of garments.

Former Mahaweli Development minister Gamini Dissanayake was strongly supportive of the Indo- Lanka accord and resultant peace efforts. He played a prominent part in encouraging self-exiled TULF leaders to return and be re-absorbed into the political mainstream during the latter stages of the JR Jayewardena Govt .Gamini Dissanayake in 1988 took the initiative in ensuring the security of TULF leaders when he was a minister .A six member team from Mahaweli ministry security and the Police was stationed at the premises.

Amirthalingam dubbed “Naavalar”(Orator)and “Thalapathy”(commander /General)by youthful supporters at one time had fallen foul of the LTTE later. The tigers regarded his attempts to reach a negotiated settlement in a united Sri Lanka as a sell-out of the “Tamil Eelam” dream.It is indeed an undeniable fact that “Amir Annan”(elder brother Amir)was at one time the foremost Tamil leader espousing the cause of Tamil Eelam who fired the separatist imagination of a generation of Tamil youths including this columnist.The pragmatic approach he adopted in later years disillusioned the youths particularly those who had taken up arms to achieve their goal.

“THUROGI” OR TRAITOR

Thus Amirthalingam who himself had named Tamil politicians aligned to Governments as “Thurogi”or traitor in the past found himself called thurogi by the LTTE and other extremist youths of their ilk.There was also another reason for militant antipathy towards Amirthalingam which had nothing to do with his real or imagined betrayal of the Tamil Eelam cause.Tamil militant leaders could dictate terms through their arms but none of them had the widespread recognition or leadership credentials of Amirthalingam.Whether in or out of office Amirthalingam was the most respected Sri Lankan Tamil leader.There could be no pretender to the throne as long as he lived. It was only after Amirthalingam’s death that LTTE minions started describing Prabhakaran as “Thesiyath Thalaiver”or National leader.

Amirthalingam himself was fully aware of the danger awaiting him in Sri Lanka. Prior to his permanent departure from India to Sri Lanka, Amirthalingam had met former TULF Kilinochchi MP Veerasingham Aanandasangaree in Chennai.During the conversation Amirthalingam had remarked”Some of us know what lies in store for us in Sri Lanka,Sangaree. But we must face it if we are to help our people”.

It was against this backdrop that the assassination of Appapillai Amirthalingam occurred 25 years ago. I was in Canada when it happened.However I have spoken at different times with different people connected to the TULF like the late M. Sivasithamparam,Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam,Ms. Sarojin Yogeswaran and others such as Mrs. Mangaiyarkkarasi Amirthalingam,Dr. Baheerathan Amirthalingam, Mr. V. Anandasangaree, Mr. P. Soosaithasan and Mr. Somasundaram (Mavai)Senathirajah about the incident. It is on the basis of such conversations and related media reports that I write now about the anatomy of the assassination.

The LTTE did not try to harm Amirthalingam or any other prominent TULF leader when they were on Indian soil fearing the wrath of New Delhi.(subsequently the LTTE shed this caution and dared to kill Rajiv Gandhi on Tamil Nadu soil thereby continuing to pay the price for doing so)Once Amirthalingam returned to Sri Lanka he became a target.In a bid to put the Tamil leaders off their guard the LTTE began making overtures to the TULF. They selected Yogeswaran as the most gullible of TULF leaders and approached him. The lovable Yogeswaran always had a soft corner for the boys despite his bad experiences with some of them.He was also an ardent advocate of broader Tamil unity and strove hard to bring about rapprochement between the TULF and all Tamil groups including the LTTE.

M. Sivasithamparam (July 20, 1923 - June 5, 2002)

M. Sivasithamparam (July 20, 1923 – June 5, 2002)

SIVAKUMAR ALIAS ARIVU

Yogeswaran was first approached by an LTTE cadre Sivakumar alias Arivu who was staying in Colombo under another name doing reconnaissance for the tigers. Arivu told Yogeswaran that the LTTE leadership in the Wanni wanted to meet with him and discuss ways and means of achieving Tamil unity. Always eager to bring about “Ottrumai”or unity Yogeswaran was willing in principle.Thereafter Yogeswaran was contacted on the telephone by someone from the LTTE in Vavuniya called Vigna. Yogeswaran was asked to bring Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam along with him if possible. Sivasithamparam was then TULF president and Amirthalingam the secretary-general.

The impulsive Yogeswaran decided to take the risk of undertaking a task which he thought was in the interests of greater Tamil unity.He decided to keep the matter under wraps until he was sure of LTTE bona fides in the matter.So Yogeswaran in February 1989 told his colleagues that he was going for a short trip to the up country and left Colombo in a jeep with his wife Sarojini and a trusted driver.He dropped off Sarojini at the house of a relative near Kandy and then proceeded north. Yogeswaran met the LTTE in a secret location at Pandikulam a village few miles north of Vavuniya town.

It was at Pandikulam that Yogeswaran discovered the identity of Vigna who had invited him on the telephone to come over. Vigna was none other than Peter Leon Aloysius the LTTE acting political wing head for Vavuniya. Aloysius welcomed Yogeswaran heartily but expressed disappointment that Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam had not come. Aloysius said that LTTE deputy leader Gopalswamy Mahendrarajah was prepared to meet Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam when they arrived.Yogeswaran apologised for their absence and said he had come alone first to finalise arrangements for subsequent meetings with the TULF leaders.He said he will return soon to Pandikulam with Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam.

Yogeswaran was treated well by the LTTE and given a meal with venison curry.Satisfied and happy about the reception given by the tigers, Yogeswaran returned to Colombo via Kandy picking up his wife Sarojini.Back in Colombo, Yogeswaran kept up the pretence initially that he had gone only to the hill country.Yet he had made a few blunders that cast doubts on his claim. It was the shrewd Anandasangaree who discovered some reddish soil marks on the tyres indicative of Northern rather than highland soil.Also Yogeswaran brought back Jak fruits of the northern variety instead of up country vegetables or fruits.When Sangaree persisted in quizzing Yoges about his trip the former Jaffna MP explained that he had gone north to settle some land dispute. He did not reveal about his meeting with the LTTE to his colleagues at that time.

PANDIKULAM

Yogeswaran however underwent a lot of pressure from the tigers after his meeting with the LTTE. He would frequently get telephone calls from Vavuniya asking when he was going to bring Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam to meet the LTTE at Pandikulam.Sivakumar alias Arivu based in Colombo also would telephone regularly and ask the same. Yogeswaran however was reluctant to tell the TULF President and Secretary about it and kept matters dragging on.

At one stage Sivasithamparam left for Chennai where his wife was living with their daughter and son in law.When Yogeswaran told the LTTE about it,he was told to bring Amirthalingam and come to Vavuniya without delaying by waiting for Sivasithamparam.Finally Yogeswaran told Amirthalingam confidentially about what had happened and that the LTTE wanted to meet him.Amirthalingam known for his quick temper got very angry at Yogeswaran and scolded him severely. The former opposition leader ruled out firmly the suggestion that he should meet the LTTE in the north.Yogeswaran was now in a fix.

Matters took a different turn at this stage as the Government of President Premadasa commenced talks with the LTTE directly. A tiger team led by political adviser Anton Stanislaus Balasingham and then head of the LTTE political wing Narendran alias Yogi came to Colombo for talks. Several other tiger members not directly involved in the taks also accompanied them.Among these was Peter Leon Aloysius alias Vigna.Using the talks as a cover the tigers began to systematically infiltrate Colombo and the suburbs.

Aloysius himself found a permanent place to stay in Narahenpita.He began to pester Yogeswaran about the proposed meeting with Amirthalingam. Unable and unwilling to tell the LTTE that Amirthalingam had refused, Yogeswaran was in a difficult stressful situation.The former Jaffna MP suffered a heart attack and had to be hospitalised in Colombo. While in hospital Yogeswaran was visited by Aloysius and another senior tiger named Visu.

ARAVINTHARAJA ALIAS VISU

Rasiah Aravintharaja alias Visu hailed from an upper middle class family at Vathiri in the Vadamaratchy sector of Jaffna district. He abandoned higher studies and joined the LTTE after the anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983.Visu obtained arms training as part of the LTTE’s second batch of recruits from the Indian military at Juwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh in North India.

After training Visu returned to Sri Lanka and worked under Gopalswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya who was the LTTE commander for the Wanni region at that time. Mahathaya was in charge of the Kilinochchi,Vavuniya and Mullaitheevu districts of the Wanni while Mannar remained separate under a different commander then.Visu became a close confidante of Mahathaya.

1987 saw LTTE supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran returning to Jaffna from India on January 5th. A few days later the Sri Lankan armed forces stepped up a military offensive in the Wanni. This was followed by elaborate preparations for a military offensive in Jaffna to wrest back areas under LTTE control.These developments resulted in LTTE cadres of the Wanni relocating to Jaffna in large numbers in a bid to counter the anticipated military offensive.

Visu accompanied Mahathaya and went to Jaffna. Mahathaya who was appointed deputy leader of the LTTE by Prabhakaran formed a special intelligence unit of the LTTE known as “Beta-2”.Visu was placed in charge.After fighting erupted between the Indian army and the LTTE , Visu went across to Tamil Nadu.He operated from the LTTE office in Chennai.

SHASTHRIKOOLANKULAM

In June 1988 the LTTE handed over an Indian soldier from the 8th Mahar regiment whom they had captured at Nellukulam in Vavuniya.Journalists from Colombo and Chennai were present for the handing over event that took place in a place called Shasthrikoolankulam in Vavuniya.I too was present there as a journalist representing “The Island”.Well –known analyst and commentator Col.R.Hariharan who was then attached to Indian military intelligence was also there.

Two LTTE leaders were brought from Chennai to Vavuniya by Indian authorities then. One was Castro who later became the LTTE leader in charge of the Overseas tiger structures.The other was Visu. This was the first and only time I met Visu in person. He was tall and smart with a polished look. We exchanged a few words during which Visu told me that he was happy to see me there as the LTTE leadership had specifically wanted Iqbal Athas and myself to witness the handing over event.

It was this Visu the head of the LTTE’s Beta -2 who accompanied Aloysius to see Yogeswaran at the hospital.Visu had known Yogeswaran earlier.Former Mannar MP Soosaithasan was also at the scene when the LTTE duo visited Yogeswaran. He told me that the two tigers talked tough to Yogeswaran despite the 55 year old ex-MP lying on a hospital bed.Apparently the LTTE was irritated over the delay in setting up a meeting with Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam.

After Yogeswaran was discharged and went home to Bullers road there were some more visits by Aloysius and Sivakumar to the house itself. Visu did not accompany them. The ostensible reason for the visits was to inquire about Yogeswaran’s health. These visits did not last long and left Yogeswaran in low spirits.No other TULF member was present during these visits.There had been four such LTTE visits prior to the fateful fifth visit on July 13th 1989.

MANGAIYARKKARASI

Amirthalingam and wife Mangaiyatkarasi-pic courtesy of: K.Gowrikanthan.Navalyur

Amirthalingam and wife Mangaiyatkarasi Amirthalingam-pic courtesy of: K.Gowrikanthan.Navalyur

Once Amirthalingam and wife Mangaiyatkarasi were outside the house taking an evening walk when the two tigers arrived.They stared at Amirthalingam intently. Mrs. Amirthalingam told me years later in Canada that she had been upset by their menacing grimaces and had told her husband that she was afraid because the way they looked at him was troubling. Amir had chided her saying in Tamil “Thavam (Amir’s pet name for her)you are always worrying unnecessarily.They are militants so they appear tough.Just let them be”.

Meanwhile Sivasithamparam returned to Colombo from Chennai.The LTTE kept insisting that Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam come to Vavuniya and meet the LTTE leadership in Pandikulam.Unable to withstand the relentless tiger pressure Yogeswaran managed to persuade Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam to meet the tigers at least in Colombo. Yogeswaran genuinely felt that the LTTE was keen about achieving overall Tamil unity and that it would benefit the TULF to arrive at an understanding with the tigers. Incidently LTTE supremo Prabhakaran had once used Soccer parlance and remarked in Chennai that Yogeswaran was a man who “ kicked same-side goals”.

Yogeswaran informed Sivakumar that Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam were ready to meet the LTTE in Colombo.He said that a meeting could be arranged in their house itself.Sivakumar told Yogeswaran that the tigers would discuss the matter and let him know their decision.On Thursday July 13th 1989, Aloysius rang Yogeswaran at about 10 am and said that the LTTE was amenable to the suggestion.The meeting was scheduled for 6 pm on the same day.

Yogeswaran informed Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam. There was a hitch as both of them had to attend a dinner hosted by the then Indian High commissioner in Colombo Lekhan Lal Mehrotra at the Taj Samudra Hotel.The dinner was in honour of BG Deshmukh who served as cabinet secretary and later as the Prime minister’s principal secretary under Rajiv Gandhi. Deshmukh was in Colombo as a special envoy of the Indian premier to deliver a letter to President Premadasa.Yogeswaran requested both TULF leaders to stay and meet the tigers at 6 pm and then leave early for the Indian envoy’s dinner. They agree to do so.

NARENDRAN ALIAS YOGI

Yogeswaran received a second phone call from Aloysius at about 4 pm. Aloysius said that Narendran alias Yogi the LTTE’s political wing chief was likely to participate in the meeting. Yogi,Anton Balasingham and other members of the LTTE delegation were staying at the Galadari Meridien Hotel.Aloysius said that the LTTE would be there between 6.30 and 7 pm and not at 6 pm as arranged earlier.He also had a request.Yogeswaran was asked to tell the security men not to frisk or search the LTTE team when it arrived as a leader of Yogi’s stature would feel insulted by such acts.

Yogeswaran was excited at the prospect of Yogi participating at the talks.He immediately instructed head of security Sub –inspector Thambirajah Kandasamy not to search the LTTE team scheduled to arrive in the evening because they would feel humiliated. Kandasamy demurred saying ‘you cant trust these fellows sir”.Yogeswaran assured him that nothing would happen.He said that a senior LTTE leader was expected and that he should not feel insulted.”We must treat them with respect as they are our guests. If they feel insulted they wont come in the future and our discussions will collapse”said Yoges.Kandasamy agreed somewhat reluctantly and instructed his subordinates accordingly.

Yogeswaran and wife Sarojini along with Sivasithamparam were staying in the upper storey of the house while the Amirthalingams and Somasuntharam Senathirajah alias “Mavai” were on the ground floor. Senathirajah who is currently a senior Tamil National alliance parliamentarian was not an MP at that time.Amirthalingam’s younger son Baheerathan called Ravi and his wife Malarvizhi with their new born eldest son had been visiting from the UK. This was the first time the Amirthalingams saw their new grandson.They had returned to Britain on the 12th. Amirthalingam was expecting a call from the son after he reached London.

PETER LEON ALOYSIUS

It was 6.40 pm when the LTTE trio arrived in a yellow cab.Contrary to expectations Yogi was not present. The three tigers were Rasiah Aravintharaja alias Visu,Peter Leon Aloysius a.k.a Vigna and Sivakumar alias Arivu.Police officer Sathiyamoorthy who was manning the entrance allowed the trio to enter without searching them as was customary.Sathiyamoorthy informed Kandasamy who told him to send the people up to meet Yogeswaran.Visu and Aloysius went up while Arivu positioned himself at the foot of the stairs.

Yogeswaran was watching TV upstairs with his wife. Upon being told that the tigers had come he went down the stairs and met Visu and Aloysius half way. Yogeswaran was disappointed that Yogi had not come but greeted Visu warmly. They sat down and chatted. Sarojini went to prepare refreshments. Yogeswaran sent a note through the servant boy Raju to Amirthalingam who along with his wife, Sivasithamparam and Senathirajah was also watching TV downstairs.Both Amir and Siva dressed up to attend the Indian envoy’s dinner went upstairs while Mangaiyarkkarasi and Senathirajah continued to watch TV. Amirthalingam told his wife to send word to him if their son Ravi called from London.

The two tigers stood up when Amir and Siva entered. Amirthalingam patted one on the shoulder and sat between them on a cane chair. Sivasithamparam sat down a little further. Yogeswaran got up and went to help his wife with the refreshments. Sarojini brought tomato sandwiches and biscuits. She asked what they wanted to drink. The two tigers wanted a soft drink. Amirthalingam opted for tea. Siva and Yoges did not want anything to drink. Sarojini made two passion fruit drinks and a cup of tea. She then retired to her room.

After Yogeswaran made the introductions the tigers said they were very happy to meet the TULF leaders. Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam reciprocated with similar sentiments.The two TULF leaders said they admired and respected the Tamil militants for their dedication and sacrifices.It was now necessary for all Tamil groups to come together and forge unity and evolve a common approach. Otherwise the gains made through the Indo-Lanka accord would be lost. Amirthalingam assured the tigers that any political arrangement would give pride of place to the LTTE.

TIGER LEADERSHIP

Visu said that he would convey the views expressed to the tiger leadership.He said the LTTE hierarchy was keen to meet them in Pandikulam and discuss these matters.”Why did you not come” Visu asked Amirthalingam directly. Amirthalingam replied that matters got delayed by Yogeswaran’s illness and Sivasithamparam’s departure to India. Amirthalingam also said that a meeting in Pandikulam was not a sound idea as it would have attracted attention and exposed the location of the LTTE camp.

Visi then said that senior LTTE leaders would be prepared to meet and discuss further with the TULF but the meeting should not be in a TULF residence or office.The senior LTTE leaders could meet the TULF in another place and suggested the name of a lodge in Colombo for a second round of talks.Amirthalingam dismissed the suggestion saying it was not safe, secure or secluded. Sivasithamparam then said a meeting could be set up in a “neutral” Colombo residence. Visu agreed with the proviso that they had to inspect the place prior to the meeting for security reasons.

The conversation was qute cordial. Most of the talking was done by the Amir-Siva duo and Visu while Yogeswaran and Aloysius were quite silent.At one stage Amirthalingam stated benignly that it was time for the LTTE to give up the armed struggle and turn to the democratic path. Sivasithamparam stated “Democracy may seem old-fashioned to youths like you all but please listen patiently to what we old people tell you also”. When asked about the progress of the Govt-LTTE talks Visu quipped “ Both sides are deceiving each other and talking”. This elicited a loud laugh from all.

Meanwhile there was some excitement downstairs. Sivakumar alias Arivu who was waiting below began to get agitated after 7 pm. He kept glancing at his watch and paced up and down restlessly often looking upwards in an anxious manner.One of the Policemen on duty got suspicious at Sivakumar’s conduct.His name was Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa whose native place was Akiriyagala in Hettimulla in the Kegalle district.Nissanka as he was called had been seconded for Amirthalingam’s security from the Mahaweli ministry.

THAMBIRAJAH KANDASAMY

Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa and Sathiyamoorthy forcibly searched Sivakumar and found a grenade and live bullets on his person. Thambirajah Kandasamy was informed.After placing Sivakumar under Sathiyamoorthy’s custody, Kandasamy and Nissanka went upstairs quietly. While Kandasamy remained at the top of the stairs, Nissanka went to the balcony and stationed himself there staying out of the sight of the occupants in the main room.Both did not want to disturb the on going conversation but were alert because of the grenade and bullets found in Sivakumar’s possession.

The spirit of Bonhomie continued to prevail inside.And then it happened! It was about 7. 20 pm. Visu finished his drink and got up to place the empty glass on the table. He then turned and looking at Amirthalingam said” everyone thinks we tigers are the “arakkar”(ogres) but actually you all are the real ogres”.The TULF trio thought Visu was joking. Yogeswaran guffawed while Amir and Siva smiled. Visu then pulled out a gun and began firing at Amirthalingam. Yogeswaran shouted out and rose from his chair. Aloysius whipped out a gun and fired at him. A stunned Sivasithamparam sitting further away stood up shouting “Dont , don’t” in Tamil.. Visu fired hitting him in the right shoulder.

Sarojini Yogeswaran-pic: island.lk

Sarojini Yogeswaran-pic: island.lk

Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa heard the shots and looked inside. Seeing what was happening he began firing through the glass panes. He shot and injured both. Visu and Aloysius then ran outside. Kandasamy who also heard the shots ran towards both firing.The injured Visu and Aloysius fired back and tried to run down the stairs but Nissanka who had a second gun with him came around and kept firing. He killed both.

Upon hearing the shots Sathiyamoorthy had grabbed Sivakumar who began grappling with him. Sivakumar alias Arivu broke free and tried to take hold of the grenade seized from him earlier. Before he could lob it, Nissanka who ran down shot and wounded him. Sivakumar then tried to run but Nissanka fired again and brought him down. All three assassins were killed on the spot by Nissanka.

“BASTARDS, BASTARDS”

Mangaiyarkkarasi, Sarojini and Senathirajah heard the shots and ran upstairs by the second stairway behind. Amirthalingam sat motionless on his chair bleeding. His wife not realising her husband was dead placed a cushion behind his head and held him up. The dying Yogeswaran lying in a pool of blood on the floor kept muttering “bastards, bastards”in English as Sarojini knelt at his side. Sivasithamparam slumped against the wall speechless and dazed. Ambulances arrived and the victims were taken to hospital.

Mrs. Amirthalingam Visiting Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa

Mrs. Amirthalingam Visiting Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa

Colombo Judicial medical officer Dr. MSL Salgado conducted the autopsy on Amirthalingam and declared that death was caused by injuries to the head and chest.Deputy medical officer Dr.LBL de Alwis performed the autopsy on Yogeswaran and stated that death had resulted due to bullet injuries to the heart and liver. Sivasithamparam survived and was the only witness to what had actually transpired on that dismal night.Siva died many years later in 2000.

This then is the tragic tale of how former opposition leader Appapillai Amirthalingam was assassinated along with Vettivelu Yogeswaran by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. When Lasantha Wickrematunge informed the opposition leader Sirima Bandaranaike of the incident , she hastily inquired “who did it?. When told it was the LTTE, Mrs. Bandaranaike heaved a sigh of relief saying “ I am so glad that no Sinhalese killed him”.Many Sinhalese may have hated the politics of Amirthalingam but they did not kill him. He was killed by the Tamil youths who regarded him as a hero earlier.

NISSANKA THIBBOTUMUNUWA

Mrs. Amirthalingam Visiting Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa

Mrs. Amirthalingam Visiting Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa

The only hero in this sorrowful assassination saga was the Sinhala cop Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa who shot dead all three tiger assassins.It was the first and perhaps the only occasion where all tiger assassins involved had been shot dead. Nissanka however was deeply regretful that he could not save Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran.

Amirthalingam’s second son Baheerathan had left for Britain on July 12th. Nissanka had accompanied him to the Katunayake airport and bade farewell telling him not to worry about the father and assured the son that he Nissanka would guard him with his life.

On July 13th Amirthalingam was killed. Baheerathan returned to Sri Lanka after the death on July 15th. Nissanka who was at the airport fell down at Baheerathan’s feet asking pardon for not being able to protect Amirthalingam as he had promised. Baheerathan was in tears when he related this to me.

21 years after Amirthalingam’s assassination there was an emotional reunion in the Sabaragamuwa province. Mrs. Amirthalingam and Dr.Baheerathan Amirthalingam paid a visit to see Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa at his home in Kegalle. Nissanka now retired and his wife Shyamila Pramila Kumari welcomed mother and son. Mrs. Amirthalingam and Baheerathan embraced Nissanka and wept upon seeing him.

On that poignant note I conclude.

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at djeyaraj2005@yahoo.com

This article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appears in the “Daily Mirror” of July 19th, 2014. It can be accessed via this link:

http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/dbsjeyaraj-column/49900-tamil-leader-appapillai-amirthalingams-assassination-by-the-ltte-25-years-ago.html

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