By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
(Former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) political commissar for Batticaloa and Amparai districts Eliyathamby Nagenthiran Lingarasa alias Kausalyan and Tamil National Alliance (TNA)ex-parliamentarian from Amparai district Ariyanayagam Chandranehru and seven others were assassinated along the Batticaloa-Polonnaruwa road on February 7th 2005. This article published in “The Sunday Leader” at that time is reproduced here without any changes to denote the 10th anniversary of the incident…..DBSJ)
The time was around 7.45 p.m. on Monday, February 7. The Toyota Hiace van, numbered 57 – 1020 going along the Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa road or A-11 highway slowed down as a vehicle with blinking lights was parked ahead on the right side of the road. With the lights signalling to go ahead, the van driven by Vinayagamoorthy slowly passed the white coloured van parked alongside the road with its motor running.
There were nine people inside the Hiace van. In front, seated next to driver Vinayagamoorthy was former Amparai District Parliamentarian, Ariyanayagam Chandra Nehru. Sitting next to him was a policeman from Thirukkovil, Chandrasekeran. In the middlewas the Tiger Political Commissar for Batticaloa and Amparai, Kausalyan, his comrade at arms Pugalan and another constable Nagarajah. Three other LTTE cadres Senthamilan, Nithimaran and Vinothan were seated at the rear.
All hell breaks loose
Even as they passed the parked vehicle the front seat occupants saw two or three men in uniform standing ahead in front of the white van. One of them raised a hand as if hailing them or asking them to stop. The van that was already moving at snail’s pace now slowed down further. Suddenly all hell was let loose. Rapid gunfire from behind and to one side of the Toyota ensued. Vinothan seated behind saw the driver and Kausalyan slumping forward.
The two policemen inside the vehicle were boduguards assigned to protect Chandra Nehru. They had a T-56 each. Furthermore, Chandra Nehru had a 9mm pistol in his possession for his personal protection. There was no time for any counter fire. Even as the vehicle and occupants were hit in a hail of gunfire, atleast one of the cops jumped out but fell down as gunfire hit him. The five LTTE men were unarmed. Without any retaliation the attack was simply a cold blooded massacre. Within two minutes it was all over and the assassins fled away in their vehicle.
Five of the men inside – Kausalyan, Pugalan, Nithimaran and Senthamilan and the driver Vinayagamoorthy were dead. The two policemen, Chandra Nehru and LTTE cadre Vinothan were injured. However, Chandrasekeran and Vinothan though bleeding were conscious. Chandra Nehru, Kausalyan and another LTTE cadre had a cellular phone each. But neither of the conscious persons thought of using them. In about 10 minutes after the shooting soldiers from the Welikanda camp, about five km away came to the scene.
The dead and injured persons were taken to Welikanda and then transferred to the Polonnaruwa Hospital. The injured persons were later airlifted to Colombo and admitted to the National Hospital. Emergency surgery was performed on Chandra Nehru who was later placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Initially, Nehru showed signs of recovery but started sinking later and died. Thus the death toll in the massacre became six. The condition of both Chandrasekeran and Vinothan improved to an extent where they were able to testify at the inquest and also be interviewed by sections of the media.
The ambush took place on the deserted stretch of road between the 104th and 105th mileposts. It was in the vicinity of a comparatively new Sinhala settlement known as Namalgama. It is suspected that the parked white van was the same vehicle that had been following the ill fated Toyota Hiace after they had passed the 23rd brigade headquarters at Welikanda. It had overtaken them at Pillaiyarady between the 103rd and 104th milepost when the driver Vinayagamoorthy and the two policemen had alighted to worship at the shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesh and also put money into the till.
The incident had occurred near the Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa District border. The two nearest military camps on the A-11 highway at Welikanda and Punanai were about 14 km apart. The attack happened at a spot five km from Welikanda. Furthermore, there were three other army camps in proximate region. Navaladdy and Valaichchenai in Batticaloa District and Minneriya in Polonnaruwa. Yet the assailants seem to have vanished without a trace.
Security forces complicity
The LTTE and their propaganda organs have levelled overt and covert charges of security forces complicity in themassacre. It is not known whether the suspected white van travelled along the A-11 highway after the massacre or not. If so the Punanai and Welikanda army camps must be having some knowledge. There are also other routes through which the vehicle could have reached Minneriya or Thoppigala. Moreover, the areas around the place where the incident occurred are now Sinhala or Muslim inhabited. Twenty five years ago the area was predominantly Tamil. This column still remembers the delicious milk sold by Tamil vendors at Welikanda when the buses stopped there.
Lt. Col. Kausalyan, Major Pugalan, Major Senthamilan and 2nd Lt. Nidhimaran were all promoted posthumously. Nidhimaran from Mandoor was only 16 years old. He had been conscripted three years ago just as he entered his teens. Chandra Nehru was given the “Naatuppatraalar” (patriotic citizen) award by the LTTE. This is the second highest civilian award of the LTTE . The greatest loss to the LTTE was of course its Political Wing Head for Batticaloa and Amparai, Kausalyan.
Despite his seniority and experience, 32 year old Kausalyan seems to have acted with rash carelessness.The ceasefire regulations permit security to be provided to senior Tigers when passing through government controlled territory. Kausalyan’s boss, the overall LTTE Political Wing Chief, Tamilselvan for example always demands and gets helicopter transport. In Kausalyan’s case he seems to have gone to Kilinochchi with recently appointed Eastern Commander, Bhanu.
After some discussions there regarding the post-tsunami rehabilitation work, Kausalyan had returned by road. He and the accompanying cadres were unarmed. They were travelling in a double cab – NP 6886. The LTTE Head of Finance Division, Thamilendhi (nee Ranjith Appa) accompanied him from Puthukudiyiruppu upto Puliyankulam. Thereafter, Thamilendhi turned back. This, however led to a rumour initially that Thamilendhi too was killed in the attack. The LTTE issued a denial and also sent Thamilendhi to the funeral ceremony in Batticaloa to prove that their ‘chancellor of the exchequer’ was still alive.
After reaching Polonnaruwa, Kausalyan had changed vehicles. Former Amparai District MP, Chandra Nehru who is now the district representative of the LTTE human rights outfit, North-Eastern Center for Human Rights, had gone in the Toyota Hiace van,57-1020 to Polonnaruwa. They had according to the LTTE website, Nidharsanam, met at a side road in Polonnaruwa. According to the policeman who survived, Nehru and Kausalyan had been communicating via cellular phone. After switching vehicles Kausalyan had sent the double cab back to the Wanni.
Kausalyan had checked in with the security forces at the entry and exit point at Omanthai at about 3 pm. He had not requested any security escort and opted to travel alone and unarmed in government controlled territory. Contrary to some reports, Chandra Nehru had not been travelling with Kausalyan from Kilinochchi. So there was absolutely no security cover as the two injured policemen, 35 year old Chandrasekeran and 36 year old Nagarajah were assigned to Nehru because as a former Eastern Tamil MP, he was in potential danger.
The Tigers had broken journey in Vavuniya, Habarana and Polonnaruwa for refreshments. Chandra Nehru’s vehicle had initially passed Kaushalyan at Polonnaruwa. Later Kausalyan had phoned him and the van turned back. Interestingly Chandra Nehru had not told the two policemen of the purpose for travelling. They were told that Chandra Nehru was going to Colombo. It was only after Kausalyan and the comrades entered the vehicle which turned back towards Batticaloa that the cops became aware of their mission.
Likewise, the driver Vinayagamoorthy too was unaware of his destination. He had told his wife that he was going with Nehru to Vavuniya. Incidently the van was not owned by Chandra Nehru or Vinayagamoorthy. It was a hired vehicle. Vinayagamoorthy had worked for a long time in Saudi Arabia. After returning to the island he had bought his own van and drove it for hire. Recently he had sold it and worked as a freelance driver. He was a close associate of Nehru and worked diligently for him during the election campaign.
It appears therefore that Kausalyan and Chandra Nehru had a pre-arranged plan to switch vehicles at Polonnaruwa. If Kausalyan had thought this “switch” and the two armed cops were enough security, he had been sadly mistaken. Another cardinal error had been delaying the Wanni departure till afternoon because by the time he passed Polonnaruwa it was dusk rendering him more vulnerable.The switch would have become known when the passenger identity was checked at Welikanda. Moreover, a Tiger website says that switching vehicles at Polonnaruwa was observed by the “enemy”.
Being an active Political Commissar, Kausalyan had often been compelled to work in government controlled areas without security. He had been warned by security personnel not to take such risks. Yet Kausalyan persisted, perhaps because he did not want the security forces to keep track of his movements under the pretext of protection. Batticaloa and Amparai LTTE Administrative Head, Dayamohan has explained the reluctance to seek security as being due to delays and red tape by the security forces. Whenever such requests were made there was always inordinate delay in accommodating them, he alleges.
When news of the ambush became known the immediate suspects were the Karuna cadres. If there was any doubt it was dispelled the following day when some of Karuna’s operatives began telephoning people in Batticaloa and abroad that the military wing of the newly formed Tamil Eelam Ikkiya Viduthalai Munnani (Tamil Eelam United Liberation Front) was responsible. This was a union between Karuna’s party the Tamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalai Puligal and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF), led by Paranthan Rajan.
The military wing of the new outfit is known as the ‘Tamil Thesiya Padai’ or Tamil National Force (TNF). On Thursday, February 10, a statement was issued in Europe by a person called Cheran. It was openly claimed that the TNF was responsible. By this time the Batticaloa grapevine was humming with the news that five people comprising both ex LTTE and ENDLF cadres were responsible. The actual firing was done by Mangalam Master and Thooyaseelan.
Both were Karuna loyalists. Thooyaseelan had earlier been LTTE chief of the Kaluwankerny area. Mangalam Master was an aide de camp to the former Vinothan Regiment Commander, Bharathidasan who was killed at Vaaharai in the LTTE internecine warfare last April. An AK 47 assault rifle and an HK 33 sub machine gun had been used. The assassins apparently had made their escape along the Maradanwela road.
Curiously the grapevine also had it that the assassins had no knowledge of the victims’ identities. It seemed that Mangalam Master had been elated afterwards that they had taken out Kausalyan and rushed to claim credit. The killers had not deliberately disfigured Kausalyan as alleged in some quarters. Though Kausalyan’s face was severely damaged it was not due to his being shot at close quarters. It was because he had received bullets which entered the back and exited from the face thereby damaging the face severely.
The assassins had also not taken away the baggage in the van. Kausalyan’s briefcase with important documents was not taken. So too were the two T-56s , Nehru’s revolver and the three cell phones. The operation smacked of being in haste. The assassins knew there were Tigers inside and finished them off as quickly as possible. They had then sped away presumably because the security forces would have been at the scene soon.
LTTE and pro-Tiger elements however allege that it was a deliberate operation clearly aimed at Kausalyan. The notion that the security forces were involved to some extent is believed widely. The statement issued by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) insinuates this clearly. It also makes a valid point that the government cannot disclaim responsibility. The Monitoring Mission however opines that the ambush was not a ceasefire violation. This means that the SLMM feels that it was purely an “intra-Tamil” killing without security force participation.
Given the propaganda barrage unleashed by the pro-Tiger sections, few Tamils will believe that the security forces had no role. There is also suspicion that the assassins could have simply taken refuge at a military installation. After the Karuna revolt, the LTTE maintains a stance that it was only a one man show and that there are no Karuna cadres in the east. This is simply not true. Cadres loyal to Karuna are living in areas north of Batticaloa town from Arumugathankudiyiruppu onwards.
The areas between Chenkalladdy and Valaichenai along with areas like Vaaharai, Kirimichai, Omadhiyamadhu, Mankerni, Panichankerny, Kalkudah etc., are Karuna strongholds. The jungle areas around Kudumbimalai, Tharavai, Kattumurivu. Vaganeri and Vadamunai are also no go areas to the mainstream LTTE because of a strong pro-Karuna cadre presence. The border areas along Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa too are infested with Karuna’s cadres
The mainstream LTTE will simply not acknowledge this. They take up the position that Karuna is no more a factor to reckon with. The charge is that some pro-Karuna remnants along with Tamil para military groups allied to the security forces are engaging in hit and run tactics with the security forces aiding and abetting. The LTTE says that these elements are either staying in close proximity to military camps or within the camps itself. In any case the LTTE feels that the anti-Tiger violence in the east is not possible without some military connivance. This accusation is not entirely without foundation.
When the LTTE conveyed these sentiments to President Kumaratunga through the Norwegians she denied any state complicity. She however admitted that some elements in the security forces could be aiding the pro Karuna elements in an unofficial capacity. Cadres fleeing the wrath of Pirapaharan who seek refuge at military camps will be granted sanctuary. Whatever the truth, it has not been the practice for states in any part of the world to admit to such activity. Covert operations are usually “officially sanctioned unofficial action”.
The LTTE in its official statements does not refer to Karuna or the existence of his outfit. The reference is to paramilitary forces. The interference is that these are linked to the security forces and enjoy their support. This is due to two reasons. One is that the LTTE considers it infra-dig to admit that Karuna is still a problem and that his cadres can inflict damage to the supposedly “invincible” LTTE. Any damage is possible only because of security force involvement is the LTTE position.
Secondly admitting to an internal squabble will take the offence out of the Monitoring Mission’s purview. Who can forget or forgive the Norwegians for washing their hands off the whole Karuna revolt and remaining all off, while a massacre of innocents was perpetrated by Piraba loyalists? Emphasising “paramilitary” involvement makes it a ceasefire offence.
Whatever the outcome of these charges and counter charges, there is no doubt that the Karuna and Paranthan Rajan combine has made a significant hit. Further attacks of this nature are on the cards. It is reported that Karuna is back with a vengeance. The anniversary of his inglorious exit from Batticaloa on April 12 is drawing near. The renegade Colonel has sworn that the Batticaloa situation will be transformed by the April New Year. The LTTE will certainly resist. This means that terrible bloodshed is on the cards.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ firstname.lastname@example.org