By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
(This is an article written and posted by me ten years ago on May 26th 2006 under the heading “Life and Times of Kandiah Ulaganathan – (“Col” Ramanan)”. It is being re-posted here to denote the tenth anniversary of Ulaganathan alias Ramanan’s death)
Kandiah Ulaganathan known to the world as “Col” Ramanan of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was killed on Sunday May 21st 2006 . Ramanan fell victim to a sniper or hidden gunman as he was inspecting the forward defence lines (FDL’s)at Vavunatheevu in the region known as “Paduvaankarai” (Shore of the setting sun) on the west of Mattakkalappu Vaavi or Batticaloa lagoon.
Ramanan was a senior commander serving with the tigers since 1986. Rising from the ranks he has held many different positions within LTTE folds during the course of his tumultous career as freedom fighter. It was only a few weeks ago that Ramanan was made Lt. Col and nominated as deputy – military commmander of Batticaloa – Amparai LTTE by tiger supremo Velupillai Pirapakaran.
“Col’ Bhanu from Ariyalai in the North ern Province is in overall charge for Batticaloa – Amparai districts as Special Commander. Senior tiger leader Nagesh had been appointed military – commander for both districts with Ramanan as his deputy. Both Nagesh and Ramanan are sons of the Eastern soil. In addition to being deputy military commander Ramanan was also supervising the intelligence wing in the region with Keerthy running day to day affairs.
Ramanan had been on an inspection tour of LTTE positions along the lagoon shores from noon that Sunday 26th. He was almost winding up that evening when he reached Vavunatheevu. He was chatting merrily with tiger cadres manning the frontline outposts when an accurate bullet from a sniper’s rifle smashed into his skull.
Even as Ramanan fell his body guards and other tiger cadres at the FDL’s fired away all round hoping to hit the elusive enemy. But it was of no use as the assassin was a solitary sniper lurking on top of a tree in the no man’s land between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) controlled territory and areas under tiger control. The distance between GOSL and LTTE positions was about 350 to 375 metres.
There were many trees in this space and the sniper had been concealed on the branch of one tree. The trajectory of the bullet which entered the back of Ramanan’s head suggested that say informed Tamil sources. Since Ramanan’s back was turned he would not have had the slightest inkling about what hit him.
The LTTE cadres carried Ramanan towards the interior and applied immediate first aid. Thereafter they rushed him to a nearby medical clinic. But Ramanan was no more. He had died within 15 to 20 minutes of the firing which took place around 5. 30 – 35 pm.
It was apparent from the smoothness of the operation that a cool, efficient assassin was responsible. The LTTE charged the army of being responsible. Given the sniper position’s proximity to the Vavunatheevu army camp and its forward defence lines the tiger accusation seemed valid.It seemed that some member of the special forces with excellent sniping skills was responsible.
But the renegade faction of the LTTE led by former Eastern tiger special commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna jumped in with the claim that they were responsible. The Karuna faction is called Tamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TEMVP). It has an office at Covington road in Batticaloa town. This is a house that belonged to former Batticaloa Parliamentarian Sam Thambimuthu who along with his wife Kala was killed by the LTTE in 1990.The house was later used by the Eelam Revolutionary Organization (EROS) as an office.
The TEMVP has a spokesperson called Thooyavan. Statements were released in his name that they were responsible for Ramanan’s killing. Later Thooyavan was interviewed by the BBC Tamil Service. He claimed that TEMVP cadres had launched an ambush. First a landmine was triggered and then there was firing said “Thooyavan”. Thooyavan’s answers however did not sound convincing when Ethiraj Anbarasan of “Thamizhosai” probed him about the incident.
The official stance of the Mahinda Rajapakse regime on the question of Karuna and his men is that no alternative armed groups are operating in GOSL areas. The TEMVP office in Batticaloa is a political office. So Thooyavan says that his comrades operating in tiger held areas were responsible.
But anyone familiar with the geography of the area where Ramanan was assassinated will realise that even infiltrating the place let alone operating from there is virtually impossible. This stretch of land has the lagoon one side as border. It is more agrarian with comparatively little forest cover. With the LTTE well – fortified here infiltrating the area from the interior can be ruled out.
Apart from the TEMVP claim there is no information about any landmine ambush or exchange of fire having taken place in the area. Only a lone sniper possibly with a sidekick seems to have been busy. The only way to get into the no mans land would be through the FDL’s of either side. Since the LTTE would not have done so the obvious conclusion is that it would have been from the army controlled side.
The few attacks on LTTE sentries and bunkers in this area have all been launched by persons coming from the Vavunatheevu army premises. Those responsible for such hit and run acts returned to the army camp promptly. In this case too the inescapable conclusion seems to be that the sniper came into the buffer zone from the army camp premises. It does not matter whether the actual assassin was a soldier or Karunas cadre. What matters is that he or she could not have done so without the army factor.
It is on this basis perhaps that the LTTE keeps on saying that the army was responsible despite the TEMVP jumping up like jackrabbits to claim “credit”. Another reason could be the LTTE feeling that even accusing the Karuna faction of such smooth sniping would be infra – dig.
Usually it is the LTTE that has achieved sniping credits like that of Thambirajah Subathiran alias Robert of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (Varathar faction) in Jaffna town. It is very possible that there are crack shots within the Karuna faction too.
Even if the actual sniper was not from the Karuna faction three important facts have come to light through this incident. Firstly it implicates the Vavunatheevu army camp in the killing.
Secondly the “responsibility” claim made by Thooyavan from an office within Batticaloa town demonstrates that the Karuna faction is linked to unprovoked anti – tiger violence while being in GOSL controlled areas.
Thirdly the marksman lying in wait for Ramanan to turn up shows that either there was a leak from within the LTTE or that tiger leaders had been very predictable in their routine and movements.
The killing of Ramanan would no doubt have brought much joy to his one time chief Karuna. As stated in these columns earlier Ramanan too was initially aligned to Karuna when the LTTE split occurred. Like many of the Eastern senior tigers like Ramesh, Karikalan, Prabha, Ram and others Ramanan too stood with Karuna when the latter rebelled against Kilinochchi.
It was Ramanan who was functioning as head of the Batticaloa – Amparai intelligence under Karuna when the LTTE cracked. Acting under Karunas orders Ramanan arrested a number of LTTE intelligence operatives including Keerthi who were reporting directly to Pottu Amman. They were detained at Kannankudah.
Yet in what seemed a remarkable “somersault” at that time Ramanan freed those detenues and escaped to the Wanni with them. Others like Ramesh and Karikalan followeed. Kausalyan who refused to throw in his lot with Karuna had already reached Kilinochchi.
It was the deserting of Karuna by these seniors that strengthened Prabakharans hand. It was also suspected by Karuna that Ramanan had always been loyal to Prabakharan and that he had functioned as an “agent” for Kilinochchi. This was realised by Prabakharan himself who warned Ramanan that he would be number one target for Karuna in taking revenge. This warning was given by the LTTE leader to Ramanan during a four hour conversation in 2004 during which LTTE deputy military chief “Col” Balraj was present.
There were other reasons too for Karuna and his followers to be furious with Ramanan. When the LTTE forces under “Col” Sornam launched the Good Friday counter – offensive in 2004 against Karuna Ramanan played a major role in hoodwinking Karuna faction cadres guarding the Verugal river. Some tigers pretended to be switching loyalties and crossed over.
They then turned tables on unsuspecting Karuna cadres. Thereafter others from the Trincomalee side too crossed over. Thereafter all hell was let loose. Many Karuna cadres were shot dead in cold blood and dumped in the Verugal river. Ramanan’s role in this received condemnation.
Then came the Sri Lankan defence establishment’s “betrayal” of Karuna. Soldiers manning points in Koralaipattru North division were instructed to turn a blind eye to mainstream LTTE personnel moving into GOSL areas from the North. A tiger brigade led by Ramanan was the first to enter GOSL areas and cross the Valaichenai – Polonnaruwa road. Suddenly the tigers were in Karuna’s rear. Karuna never expected this to happen . This was a crucial factor in Karuna quitting positional warfare then.
Later Ramanan was engaged in counter – intelligence activity against Karuna cadres, He even came to Colombo for a while to oversee these operations. One such act was the infamous massacre at Kottawa where eight Karuna cadres were shot in their sleep.Another inmate in the safe house had been “turned” into drugging the food surreptitiously and then calling the tigers in.
Another was the manner in which four senior tigresses including Nilavini and Laavanyaa who were loyal to Karuna were captured in Colombo. Ramanan had abducted their close relatives in Batticaloa and then got to these girls through them They were later paraded in a press conference as having escaped from Karuna’s clutches.
Ramanan also played a prominent role in tracking down many of the LTTE cadres who quit after the split. Many youngsters were seized forcibly and transported to the Wanni.
Under these circumstances it seems obvious that Ramanan was high on the Karuna faction list for vengeance. Whichever the hand that pulled the trigger there is no denying that there is much jubiliation in the ranks of Karuna.
Ramanan or Kandiah Ulaganathan like Karuna was born in 1966. He is a native of Palugaamam. Ramanan was one of ten children. The family was agriculturist but did not own much land. Ramanan studied at the Kandumani Maha Vidyalayam in Palugamam and completed his “A” levels but did not get Varsity admission.
Ramanan’s elder brother who joined the EPRLF was the first from the family to join a militant movement. He quit the EPRLF after it began collaborating with the Indian Army in 1987. He then teamed up with the LTTE and was killed in a skirmish with the IPKF in 1988.
Ramanan was first a tiger helper during the period when Aruna was LTTE Batticaloa commander. He joined the LTTE formally in 1986 when Kumarappah was Batticaloa tiger chief.Ramanan was trained locally and not in India. He was of the third Eastern batch to be trained at the Kanchikudicharu jungle base. Ramanan started out as a cadre under the command of Reagan the tiger leader from Vellaveli.
Ramanan’s first battlefront experience was in 1987 when the LTTE engaged in fighting the Sri Lankan army at Ambilanthurai.. It was during the Indian army period that Ramanan made his mark as a group leader . He once led a successful attack on an IPKF patrol in Palugamam with the aid of a single LMG. In another attack led by Ramanan an IPKF bunker in Kokkatticholai was destroyed.
After the IPKF period Ramanan worked closely with Newton in Batticaloa and learnt many intelligence techniques from him. He also joined the first Eastern Tamil infantry division Jeyanthan Brigade Apart from minor skirmishes in the East the Jeyanthan brigade was also deployed at times in the North.
Ramanan too went along and participated in the Pooneryn – Nagathevanthurai attack in 1993 and some of the operational battles of Jayasikurui and Oyatha Alaigal between 1996 – 99. He also received specialised intelligence training under Pottu Amman during these years.
Ramanan functioned as deputy intelligence chief under Nizam for a while. After Major Nizam was killed by a deep penetration assassination squad Ramanan became acting intelligence chief. Later he was made intelligence chief on a permanent basis.
Among two prominent operations planned and supervised personally by Ramanan were the killing of former STF deputy commandant Sahabandhu and the EPRLF paramilitary group leader Razeek. There was also a time when Pottu Amman used the Batticaloa “route” to send bombs and assassins to Colombo. Ramanan was Pottu’s point man in many of these and was intensely involved along with Newton.
Ramanan had a reputation for being tough and controversial. Some of his actions proved counter- productive. Ramanan along with people like Kaushalyan was responsible for the land distribution scheme done by the LTTE in the East. Given his social background Ramanan was against the “podiar” or big land owner system.
Large tracts of land belonging to Tamil and Muslim landowners were seized and parcelled out in small allotments to poor. landless families. Fragmenting productive land along with the lack of a sustainable support system led to most new owners abandoning agriculture and the scheme failing miserably.Today most of these once fertile lands lie barren and the rice bowl of Lanka has become a dust bowl.
Another of Ramanan’s actions which caused much resentment was the destruction of nine Hindu temples in the region. These temples were owned by some feudal upper – class “Vannakkar” families. Ramanan in his zeal for social reform demolished these temples and erected other buildings in their place. In one place a fish market came up on temple premises. This caused much heartburn and finally Ramanan had to be restrained on direct orders from Pirapakaran.
Ramanan was also cruel and hard in inflicting punishment. The fate of one victim who lives to tell the tale is illuminating. This was an Eastern academic once tipped to be Vice – Chancellor of the Eastern University. He was also a close relative of a prominent journalist affiliated to the LTTE. The man was on assignment in Colombo for an International Institution when the Karuna revolt occurred.
The academic was interviewed by a reputed media organization about it. Some of the comments made pointed out that regionalism was a factor in Eastern Tamil politics. The tigers were offended. Later the academic returned to Batticaloa. He was immediately taken by the LTTE to Paduvaankarai.
Ramanan personally was in charge of “interrogation”. The man who was eminently qualified to be a future head of Batticaloa varsity was manacled and handcuffed. One method of inflicting pain was to strap both thighs together and make him walk in chains. Ramanan repeatedly told him that a decision to kill him had been taken on the day of the offensive media interview itself.
It was only high – level pressure from various quarters that secured the academics release. He is now living abroad after being warned never to go public about his experience.
This then was Ramanan a man who was no respecter of human life, dignity or values when it came to his goal and mission. A sad indictment of how war and conflict brutalises and distorts values. Ramanan is not a solitary example in that respect.There are many such mirror images of him in the LTTE, Sri Lankan armed forces and paramilitary groups too.
After the Karuna revolt was contained Ramanan was made commander of the Mavadimunmarikottam zone. Then came the recent elevation as deputy – military commander for Baatticaloa – Amparai districts. Even before he could demonstrate his abilities in that command fate in the form of a sniper struck.
Ramanan was posthumously promoted as “Colonel”. He is the fourth tiger and first Easterner to be made Colonel post – humously. The first was Kittu who committed suicide at sea when the Indian navy encircled the ship he was travelling in. Then came Shankar who was killed by a deep penetration assassination squad landmine in Oddisuddan. The third was Raju who died while receiving surgery in Malaysia.
Two of Ramanan’s brothers and a sister are members of the LTTE. In the early nineties the Sri Lankan army blasted his mothers house as retaliation for an operation masterminded by Ramanan. In 2004 Karuna destroyed Ramanan’s own house as retribution for deserting him and going to Kilinochchi.
Ramanan married Vedha , a former LTTE woman militant from Mahiladitheevu.They have two children. His family was staying in Puthukkudiyiruppu in the Wanni. Ramanan’s wife assisted by the Red Cross came over to Batticaloa for the funeral.
Given the current security situation it was not possible to take Ramanan’s body to the Wanni. Special commemorative ceremonies were held in Kilinochchi and Puthukudiyiruppu with people like Col. Balraj, Col. Jeyam , Lt. Col Ramesh . Ilanthitaiyan “Marshall”, KV Balakumaran and Pottu Amman participating.
In Batticaloa Ramanan’s body was taken in procession and displayed for the public to pay their respects. Black flags and posters appeared. There was also a work stoppage. Yet all these were in LTTE controlled areas and not in GOSL areas.
The final farewell to Ramanan was on May 24th at Thandiyadi. Col. Bhanu, political chief Dayamohan, Womens wing leader Kuveni and TNA Parliamentarian Aiyanendran spoke at the funeral. Though many people from the tiger controlled areas were present those from GOSL areas were conspicuous by their absence. Even Independent Tamil media was not present. This was in sharp contrast to Kaushalyan’s funeral. Kandiah Ulaganathan’s body was finally laid to rest at the tiger great heroes cemetery in Thandiaddy.
One noticeable feature in all this was the absence of a public statement on Ramanan by LTTE chief Prabakharan. I did not see anything of the sort in the media. There is no doubt that Ramanan’s death is an irreparable loss to Prabakharan. His death will not go avenged. That would be the way perhaps that the tiger supremo would mourn the loss of his able lieutnenant.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org