Thillaiambalam Sivanesan alias Soosai was the former commander and special commander of the naval division of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) known as “Kadal Puligal” or Sea Tigers. This native of Polygandy in Vadamaratchy fought to the very end and died in Mulllivaaikkaal in Mullaitheevu district on May 17/18th 2009.
Soosai born on October 16th 1963 is a first batch tiger recruit who received training in North India. He was the former LTTE Vadamaratchy area chief under Satasivampillai Krishnakumar alias Kittu in the eighties of the last century.
Soosai has been in charge of the sea tigers from 1991 first as commander and later as special commander. Soosai’s codesign for communications is Sea Oscar.
Gradually Soosai more or less personified the sea tigers.The sea tigers as Soosai himself was fond of saying was a “child brought up ” (naan valartha pillai) by him.Soosai was an old timer of the LTTE who proved to be a tower of strength to the LTTE until the last.
The Coastal community relying on fishing as an occupation was intricately inter – twined with the sea tigers. Soosai himself hailing from the coastal village of Polygandy in Jaffna peninsula shared a common heritage and empathy with these people. He had the common touch and was one of the few tiger leaders who was genuinely liked by the ordinary people. Like former Tamil Nadu chief minister MG Ramachandran the popular Soosai was also called “Makkal Thilagam” (peoples leader)
Soosai had been injured during the fighting with the Indian Army. The injuries sustained.then continued to trouble him.Later during the Oslo sponsored peace process Soosai obtained treatment for this in Singapore.On October 2004 Soosai carrying a passport (N 13565685) issued in the name of Thillaiambalam Sivanesan flew aboard an Airbus 330 on the Sri Lankan airlines flight UL 316 to Singapore. He was accompanied by a doctor from the Wanni , Gnanasekaram Camillus Dharmendra and two bodyguards Quintus Sahayarathnarajah and Gopalapillai Sathyamuhundan.He returned to Kilinochchi after five days in Singapore.
I met Soosai for the first time in 1986 when working as Colombo correspondent of The Hindu and Frontline. There was an on going clash between the army and the tigers in Thondaimanaru in the vicinity of the Sellvasannathi Murugan temple. When I expressed a wish to see the actual fighting the LTTE Jaffna commander Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar alias “Col” Kittu called someone who I think was Mariyanesan “Sukhla” and asked him to take me to the scene of fighting.
Kittu changed his mind suddenly and called Soosai. Kittu then introduced Soosai to me and said of Soosai ” He is careful and acts with patience and responsibility. He will take you and bring you back safely”. He then bade us good – bye telling Soosai only one word “Kavanam” (careful). I recall Soosai asking me to remove my cream coloured shirt and then crawling behind him clad in denim trousers to the different tiger positions to witness the combat. As Kittu said Soosai brought me back safely after that experience.
Soosai married Satyadevi the sister of Satyanathan alias Shankar of Kambarmalai. Shankar was the first LTTE cadre to die due to combat. He passed away on Nov 27th 1982 and the LTTE observes the date as great heroes day annually.Soosai married his sister Satyadevi after falling in love with her.The marriage was an inter – caste union.
They had three children. The last was Shankar named after his maternal uncle. Shankar died in 2007 at the age of five in an accident at sea. On July 18th 2007 the sea tigers had received four new boats. They were being tried and tested off the Wattawagal coast. Soosai himself was aboard one of the new boats with his youngest child . when the accident occurred. Shankar was seated on the new boat with his father when the accident happened on that fateful day. Apparently one speedboat overturned and collided with another. There was also an explosion.
Shankar was killed. So too was a bodyguard. Three other cadres were seriously injured. Others got minor injuries. Soosai himself sustained major injuries mainly on his back, neck and back of the head. He was reportedly in a coma. Soosai was taken to the Ponnambalam nursing home in Puthukudiyiruppu. Thereafter he was whisked away to an undisclosed location to be treated by the LTTE’s medical unit.Soosai re-emerged publicly on September 26th 2007.
Soosai was a person extremely fond of his children. Nelliaddy residents recall the first birthday of his eldest son Kadalarasan (sea king). The Sivanesans had ordered a massive cake in the shape of “Kadalpura” (sea dove) the first maritime vessel owned by the LTTE. The cake baked at Nelliaddy’s Subash bakery was so large in length, breadth and height that it had to be placed in a pick – up van and take to the birthday party.
So when the end drew nigh Soosai arranged for his wife and children to escape and save their lives.Soosai’s wife Satyadevi and their two children along with some other relatives including Soosai’s sister in law and children tried to escape in a boat from the Karaithuraippatru coast on May 12th 2009. They were apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy. Satyadevi was identified as Soosai’s wife. She was detained separately with the children and interrogated.
Thereafter she and the children were detained within the Navy camp premises in Trincomalee.Likewise LTTE political wing chief Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan’s widow and children were detained at the Army cantonment in Panagoda.
Subsequently Thamilselvan’s family was given a restricted release. The family is now living in a Colombo suburb subject to certain conditions. Similarly Soosai’s family also was given a restricted release. The family is now living in Trincomalee subject to certain restrictions.
Recently Chamara Lakshan Kumara interviewed Satyadevi for “The Nation” English Weekly published in Colombo. Satyadevi recounted some of her experiences as answers in that interview
I am reproducing the interview on my blog with due acknowledgement to “The Nation”
Here it is Friends-DBS Jeyaraj
Soosai’s wife recalls drama in the high seas
By Chamara Lakshan Kumara
The LTTE boss Velupillai Prabhakaran once bragged that the next Eelam war would be fought on the high seas. His braggadocio emanated from the fact that the so-called Sea Tigers with their varied vessels and craft had become a menace to the Navy in the north and east. The Sea Tiger leader Soosai was killed in the final battle against the LTTE and his wife Sathyadevi with her two children were leaving the Nandikadal area with some kinsfolk in a boat her husband had provided for them to flee. In an exclusive interview with The Nation she relives those challenging days and her present life in protective custody
Q: Tell us how you met your husband Soosai for the first time?
Soosai was a friend of my older brother Shanker who worked with the LTTE. He used to visit our home at that time. He was the first cadre to sacrifice his life for the LTTE in 1982. Even after my brother’s death, Soosai used to visit our home. I began to like him. He was very helpful to the needy and did not hesitate to help those in need. His good qualities impressed me and we became intimate. When we decided to get married my parents did not agree to it as he was working for the LTTE. At that time he was a local leader of the Vadmarachchi area. Anyhow we got married and soon after that he was made the leader of the Sea Tigers.
Q: Had you also joined the LTTE by then?
Q: Even after marriage to Soosai did that position change?
Not even then.
I did not consider it necessary and Soosai never forced me to join the LTTE.
Q: Didn’t Soosai discuss LTTE matters at home?
He never discussed any such thing. We discussed only our personal and family affairs at home.
Q: What did he discuss when he came home?
He had very little leisure. When he came home it was mainly to sleep.
Q: Where was your home?
We lived at Jaffna at the beginning but when the army launched the operation Riviresa we shifted out of the town. We lived in Devapuram, Mullaiveli, Vallikulam and finally in 2007 to Pudukudirippu.
Q: Soosai who was known to be a strong minded man, though was a good father to his children, many have written or said. Was that correct?
True. He loved his children very much. On the first birthday of our son he brought our son a cake made in the shape of the first sea tiger vessel of the LTTE. It was baked at the Subhash bakery Nelliady. Yet his duties did not permit him to spend much time with the children but he had entrusted me with looking after them carefully.
Q: In 2004 Soosai visited Singapore. What have you got to say about that visit of his?
Soosai had sustained injuries in an attack on an Indian Navy vessel by Sea Tigers. The LTTE police chief Nadesan and revenue chief Thamilanadin were also injured in that skirmish. Though temporary dressings for the wounds were done after that some injuries became very bad later and it was necessary to send Soosai abroad for intensive treatment.
Q: How did he get the opportunity to go to Singapore?
I was not aware of how it was done. He told me he had to go to Singapore for medical treatment. The LTTE had informed the government to give permission for Soosai to go to Singapore and the government had made it possible. He was accompanied by a doctor and two bodyguards when he left. An LTTE person gave me a telephone to talk to Soosai. He spoke to me from Singapore over the telephone twice.
Q: How was the relationship between Prabhakaran and Soosai?
Soosai had great trust in Prabhakaran and Prabhakaran too had great trust in Soosai.
Q: What kind of relationship did your family have with Prabhakaran’s family?
When our children were born all members of Prabhakran’s family paid us visits but there were no other visits. But of course we used to see one another during LTTE functions or events. Then we speak about various things that were of concern to us. Both Prabhakaran and Madivadini used to ask how our children’s education was progressing.
Q: Though you were given protection by the LTTE did you begin to feel fear when the war was entering a dangerous phase?
Why not, who will not feel fear?
Q: Didn’t you feel like asking him to leave the LTTE even then?
Even if I asked him I knew he would never quit the LTTE. He always used to say his death would come to him while working for the LTTE and in no other way.
Q: The year 2007 was a bad one for you. Your younger son Shanker died and Soosai himself was badly injured?
I remember the date. It was July 18. I was leaving for a function at Kilinohchi in a vehicle. Our younger son loves to go about in vehicles and he loved the sea. But Soosai never took our son to sea. He leaves his son in a boat on the coast and leaves for the high seas. Shanker plays with others in the boat. On this day too Soosai had done the same but somehow or other he had asked his men to bring the boat with my son to the deep sea. At that time the vessels were engaged in some exercises in the sea and one of the LTTE vessels in the exercise had collided with Soosai’s boat and the boat of our son. I lost my son in the accident.
Q: We heard that was a preplanned accident?
There was a rumour like that but I believe it was only an accident.
Q: What happened to Soosai in that accident?
His stomach was cut right across although I don’t know what exactly happened and he was in a critical condition for three weeks after that.
Q: The rumour was that Pottu Amman had arranged the boat accident, especially it gave credence to the rumour as the LTTE observed a strict silence on the accident?
But I don’t think that he arranged the accident.
Q: Did Pottu Amman speak to you after the accident?
Yes he spoke to me. Not only Pottu Amman all other LTTE leaders spoke to me. All the LTTE leaders attended the funeral of our son.
Q: After recovering from the injury what did Soosai say about the accident?
He was deeply shocked over the loss of our son. It was with him over a long time. I asked him to be out of LTTE activities for some time but help them if necessary. But he did not listen to my advice.
Q: It was said you did not help the LTTE. What did you do at home?
I looked after my children and saw to their needs at home. I also cultivated crops we needed for our use. I also joined to watch the TV with my children.
Q: Although the LTTE did not provide you with domestic help all LTTE leaders’ families were given vehicles and provided security to them?
We were given a van and a three wheeler with a driver and a security person.
Q: Did you have access to information of things that were happening outside the north like in Colombo?
We watched the TV and came to know those things. Sometimes when Soosai came home he used to bring a newspaper printed in the south.
Q: When did you learn that the war was entering a dangerous phase?
From the beginning we were living in fear. At the final stages we knew that if we leave the bunkers we would invariably be injured. Things had become so bad.
Q: When there were cricket matches between India and Sri Lanka whom did you support?
We supported India. We liked Sachin Tendulkar.
Q: What about Muralidharan?
We liked Muralidharan but we liked Tendulkar even more than that.
Q: At the final phase of the war you decided to leave Pudukudirippu. Why?
We decided to leave the place on May 12. At that time a large number of people were packed in a small area of land and LTTE’s defeat was clearly evident then. We decided to send our daughter Sindumani, son Kadalarasan, Soosai’s older brother’s wife and child in a boat out of the place. But I had not decided to leave the others as Soosai did not wish to do so. But finally I decided to leave with my children. Still Soosai didn’t agree to it. Soosai said he would fight to the last for the LTTE but later he agreed to give us a boat to leave.
Q: Where did you wish to flee in the boat?
We had two objectives. One was to flee to India if possible but we would have to face the Sri Lanka Navy vessels on high seas. But we did not think about getting caught to the Navy but our minds were on our children’s safety. Although we decided to leave on May 12 the fighting became severe forcing us to remain in the bunkers. So we finally left on May 14.
Q: On May 12 did you see Prabhakaran and his family at Pudukudirippu?
Yes they were there. They were all safe till we left the place.
Q: Did you speak to them before you were left the place?
I did not speak to them. Sometimes Soosai may have told them we were leaving.
Q: Was Prabhakaran separated from the others or was he also with the others who were confined to the place?
At the final phase there was no separate place left for them but they were provided with high security.
Q: What did Soosai say before you left him?
The last time I saw him was on May 12. But on May 14 when we quit the place I did not see him. He didn’t know we were quitting as on that day we did not have a separate bunker but were sharing a bunker with others.
Q: You did not try to find out where Soosai was before you left?
In the situation we were facing there was no possibility to do that. The war was almost at hand. We told an LTTE cadre we knew to tell Soosai we were leaving. We left around 9.00 in the night. There were 12 of us in the boat but we were able to sail only for 4 minutes when the boat was attacked.
Q: What happened then?
When they attacked the person who was steering it he got shot and fell inside the boat. There were holes in many places of the boat and it began taking in water. When we were throwing out the water a small Navy boat approached us about 20 minutes later. I heard someone shouting ‘Kotiya, Kotiya’ and we feared they would shoot at us. Just then a bigger boat came towards us and put on a strong light. Soosai’s brother’s wife lifted the infant child of Ruben. The men in the small boat came closer to us and spoke to us in Tamil. They said “Don’t fear. We will rescue you. Then they took us to their boat and brought us to the shore.
Q: Did they recognise you as Soosai’s wife?
Not at once. I told that my two children were those of Soosai’s brother’s and I said I was a distant relation of Ruben who had left alone of my own accord. Before we left we had planned to say so in case we were caught by the navy. However, when Soosai’s brother had to go for a dressing of a wound on her leg to the medical centre with me after first security check, one of the LTTE cadres that had surrendered to the Navy pointed at me and said I was Soosai’s wife. At once a large number of Navy men surrounded me and I was separated from the others for the second time. They asked me whether I had a telephone. They asked me why I had left the LTTE area and where I had intended to go. I said I wanted to go to India if the Navy had not intercepted. Once in India I would make a telephone call to my brother in London and get something arranged, I told the Navy.
Q: Didn’t the Navy question you about Soosai?
They asked me whether I knew Soosai’s telephone number and I said I did not know but I gave them the telephone number of my brother.
Q: Are you saying that Soosai did not use a telephone?
He used one but on May 12 when I saw him for the last time he did not have a telephone with him.
Q: On May 12 did you know that Soosai had known the LTTE would be defeated in the war?
We had no time to ask him whether we will win or lose. It was such a short meeting. He merely wanted to see whether we were there and we were taken to see him by a LTTE cadre. By that time the army was so close that we could not remain in the place.
Q: After the Navy recognised you what happened?
We were taken into their camp. When our boat sprang leaks we jettisoned all our bags to make the boat lighter and we were left with only the clothes we had on at the time. Navy provided us with clothing.
Q: What is your opinion of the present life of yours?
When we were taken in by the Navy I was deeply fearful believing that my children and myself will be detained separated from one another. But when I look back we are all right.
Q: What do you mean you are all right?
It’s like this. We have got more facilities and things than what we believed will be our lot. Our children are allowed to go to school and to the park and I can accompany them. But I am sad that we are not allowed to visit our kinsfolk or go to other places.
Q: Do your kinsfolk speak to you?
My brother and father are living in London. They speak to me over the telephone. They once came to see me.
Q: What are your future plans?
If I can get my two children educated that is all I want and facilities have been provided for them to study.
Q: Don’t you agree it would have been much better if we did not have to go through a war?
Q: What is your daily routine like?
I wake up at 4.30 a.m. and prepare my children’s meals and send them to school. After that I do the washing and arrange the things in the house. I go out to the Kovil or park and at night when I am free I watch TV.
A water spout, which Tamils claim was probably caused by artillery or airstrikes in the last territory held by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in northern Sri Lanka- more pics-Guardian.uk-Apr 28, 2009
Q: I forgot to ask you something important. It was reported when you were intercepted by the Navy vessels you had in your possession 2 kilogrammes of gold and Rs. 600,000 in cash. Why did you carry gold and cash to that extent?
I did not have so much cash but only 200,000 and Ruben’s wife had another Rs. 200,000, one other person among us had Rs. 175,000. All the gold was not mine but owned by all three of us. The gold that was mine were from the presents that were given to me and my children as gifts.
Q: How did you manage to hold on to so much of gold while the war was raging round you and why did you take it away when you were fleeing?
I had put the gold in a suitcase I carried with me when we were leaving to be used for the future of my children and myself.