The five-day-long ‘Pottuvil to Poligandy’ (P2P) protest that began in the East on Wednesday 3 February concluded in the north on Sunday 7 February on a triumphant note.
Thousands of Tamils marched on foot and proceeded in vehicles from Pottuvil in the Amparai District to Poligandy in the Jaffna District. Tens of thousands of Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims demonstrated their support for the protest along the route in a remarkable show of solidarity and unity.
The ‘P2P’ protest march or demonstration was initially organised by committed Tamil civil society activists of the north and east in tandem with Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) Parliamentarians Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran and Shanakkiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam.
The campaign was officially supported by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Soon other Tamil organisations as well as political parties also lent support. As the protest got underway there was a spontaneous upsurge of support by Tamils as well as the Tamil speaking Muslims of the east.
10 Key Issues
The primary objective of the ‘Pottuvil to Poligandy’ protest was to draw attention to some crucial issues affecting the Tamil-speaking people in particular and Sri Lankans in general. Ten basic issues were highlighted in a letter dated 1 February that was widely circulated. Apart from being published widely in the media, the 10 demands were printed as leaflets and distributed along the way. Slogans were also raised. The 10 basic issues were part of the proclamation read out at the official conclusion of P2P in Aaladdy in Poligandy.
The 10 issues were as follows:
1.Continuing land grab in Tamil areas and converting our traditional and historical places into Sinhalese areas by establishing Buddhist temples after destroying Hindu temples. The Government is also targeting around 200 temples for this purpose.
2.Since the war ended 10 years ago, the militarisation of Tamil areas is continuing and Tamil’s historical identity is destroyed with the aim to change demography in favour of Sinhalese, using different government departments, especially the archaeological department. Also, Government-sponsored Sinhalese settlements are continuing.
3. Disturbingly, Government is targeting journalists who bring to light human rights abuses and civil society activists who protest human rights abuses.
4. Tamil cattle owners are facing numerous problems, where their grazing areas are being occupied by Sinhalese and their cows killed.
5. Tamils have been denied the right to remember their war dead, as demonstrated by denying remembrance events, destruction of cemeteries of the war dead and demolition of memorials.
6. Muslims who died due to COVID are cremated against the wishes of the families and against Islamic teachings.
7. PTA has been used to imprison Tamil youths without charge or trial for over 40 years and is now being used against Muslims.
8. Tamil political prisoners have been imprisoned for years without trial. The Government pardoned Sinhalese on a regular basis, but none of the Tamil political prisoners were pardoned.
9. Families of the enforced disappeared have been protesting to find their loved ones, but the Government refuses to give them an answer.
10. Tamils in the upcountry are urging for pay raise of 1,000 rupees, but the Government is not responding to their demands.
Joint Appeal to UNHRC
Apart from the above stated issues, the letter also requested the implementation of the joint appeal made by Tamil political parties and religious leaders and civil society representatives to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and to UN Human Rights Council the Member States on 15 January.
The P2P protest trek proceeded along the littoral in the Eastern Province and crisscrossed the hinterland in the Northern Province. The long journey covered over a distance of 700 km across the Districts of Amparai, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna.
The two civil society coordinators deserve much praise for their commendable efforts. Sabharathinam Sivayohanathan was the Eastern Province Coordinator while S.C.C. Elangovan was the Northern Province Coordinator.
However as the ‘P2P’ protest ended, it became crystal clear that the roles played by Jaffna MP Sumanthiran and Batticaloa MP Shanakkiyan had been of pivotal importance in the execution of the protest. Sumanthiran was the lynchpin while Shanakkiyan was the livewire. The three Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) MPs who were present in Pottuvil at the commencement of the Protest were present at its conclusion in Poligandy. They were Sumanthiran, Shanakkiyan and TNA National List Parliamentarian Thavarajah Kalaiarasan. It was Shanakkiyan who planted the memorial stone denoting the P2P in Poligandy.
After the P2P protest ended, the officer in charge of the Special Task Force (STF) contingent in charge of Sumanthiran’s personal security informed the Jaffna District MP that his superiors had ordered him to return as a decision had been taken to stop providing STF security further. Apart from the MSD security provided to all MPs, special security in the form of a STF detail had been assigned for Sumanthiran’s protection during the presidency of Maithripala Sirisena in January 2017. The number of STF personnel was enhanced further in July last year during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency.
STF protection was given to Sumanthiran following the uncovering of a plot by some former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to assassinate the MP. The conspiracy was hatched by extremist Tigerish elements in the global Tamil diaspora. Currently a case has been filed in this regard against four persons under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) at the Colombo High Court (HC 242/2018).
Apart from this conspiracy to assassinate Sumanthiran, law enforcement authorities have subsequently detected several other plots targeting the TNA Parliamentarian. Almost every attempt to revive the LTTE again in Sri Lanka through acts of violence after the war ended in 2009 have been “involving” Sumanthiran as a target.
The overseas Tigers and their fellow travellers have been consistently aiming to assassinate Sumanthiran by financing economically impoverished ex-LTTE cadres in Sri Lanka. Several Tamils numbering over a dozen have been taken into custody as suspects in this respect. Financially well-endowed members of the global Tamil diaspora have even gone to the extent of hiring members of the Colombo underworld to kill Sumanthiran. There are at least 15 underworld figures – most of them Sinhalese – in detention pending inquiries. Some B-reports too have been filed in the Chief Magistrate Courts.
Ongoing Security Threat
It is against this backdrop of an ongoing security threat faced by Sumanthiran that his security was strengthened by enhancing the STF deployed for his protection after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over. This was done in July last year before the August 2020 Parliamentary Elections following security assessments.
It is noteworthy that Sumanthiran himself had at no stage requested for special security. It was the Government of Sirisena-Wickremesinghe and the Government of Gotabaya-Mahinda Rajapaksas that had afforded the MP special STF protection because there was a dangerous security threat. Now that protection has been removed suddenly without prior notice.
MA Sumanthiran in parliament on Feb 9, 2021
The Jaffna District MP referred to this removal of STF security in Parliament. After explaining what the P2P protest was about and observing that it was conducted peacefully, Sumanthiran said: “The special security given to me was removed the moment this event was over.”
Sumanthiran went on to say that he himself had not complained to anyone about facing a security threat and that it was the Government which had stated so and provided special security. Waving a file with particulars, Sumanthiran said that there were cases filed in this regard at the Colombo High Court and Chief Magistrates Court. He also said that over 30 suspects including Sinhala underworld members were in custody. All this was because the State had proclaimed there was a threat to his life.
Continuing further the Jaffna District MP asked why the Government has withdrawn his special security if there was a security threat against him and made three related observations. Firstly he said the Government may have removed his security despite the threat because it was annoyed due to his participation in the successful protest event. Secondly he said that if indeed there was no security threat, the State had arrested and detained over 30 innocent persons. Thirdly he said the security removal may have the sinister motive of giving signals to those who want to harm him. Sumanthiran concluded by saying, “If anything happens, the Government must bear full responsibility.”
Sarath Weerasekara’s Stance
The news about removal of STF security for Sumanthiran began to spread. There was much speculation as to how and why it had happened. Soon Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara told ‘Hiru’ TV that the Special Task Force security assigned for Tamil National Alliance MP M. A. Sumanthiran was removed on his orders.
The Minister said the special security was removed as Sumanthiran had participated in a protest march despite claiming to have threats to his life. Minister Weerasekara pointed out that if Sumanthiran’s life was in threat, then he would not have participated in a public event. He further said the Police protection provided to all Parliamentarians will continue to be provided to MP Sumanthiran as he is entitled to it.
Cabinet Minister Weerasekara’s comments are rather puzzling and somewhat amusing. As the newly-appointed Minister of Public Security, he would be privy to all security reports and security assessment reports. It is to be expected therefore that the Minister would be fully aware of the security threat faced by Sumanthiran. Under such circumstances the reasons trotted out by him for STF security removal do seem puerile. Furthermore if something untoward were to happen to Sumanthiran due to the security removal, the greater part of the responsibility or blame would have to be borne by the Public Security Minister himself.
Threats to Sumanthiran’s Life
The security threat to Sumanthiran is very real. It is an incontrovertible fact that the LTTE elements overseas and pro-Tiger elements within Sri Lanka are extremely antagonistic towards Sumanthiran. He has been continuously attacked viciously by Tiger and pro-Tiger media organs. The diaspora Tigers spent huge sums of money to defeat Sumanthiran at the 2015 elections. Sumanthiran won handsomely but the people backed by the overseas Tigers lost badly.
Thereafter the Tigers orchestrated a campaign to abuse and humiliate Sumanthiran publicly at different places in Jaffna and in western countries like Australia, Britain and Switzerland. The idea was to pressurise Sumanthiran into quitting politics. This too did not happen. Thereafter the overseas LTTE changed its approach and opted to eliminate Sumanthiran through assassination. Such attempts have become a continual saga worth recounting in the current context where the Public Security Minister has removed the special security given the Jaffna MP.
It was the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Police which first unearthed details of a conspiracy to assassinate Sumanthiran. After an intensive probe, it was on 23 December 2016, that the TID had concrete proof of a plot against Sumanthiran. The TID headquarters in Colombo was alerted about the potential threat to MP Sumanthiran’s life. The President’s Office was also informed. On 24 December 2016, Shantha Bandara of the Presidential Secretariat telephoned Sumanthiran and told him of a possible threat to his life.
The then TID Director DIG Nalaka de Silva himself took personal charge and began directing his officials in the probe. Five former members of the LTTE were arrested and detained. They reportedly divulged much information about how three individuals living overseas had conspired, instigated and instructed them on how to execute the assassination plot against Sumanthiran. All communication between the overseas “handlers” and the five ex-Tigers in Sri Lanka had been through the telephone. Police were authorised by courts to send the telephones used by the five suspects to the Moratuwa University for further decryption and analysis. This provided more information to sleuths.
The three persons from overseas who interacted with the five ex-Tigers in Sri Lanka to assassinate Sumanthiran belonged to the diaspora LTTE organisation headed by Norway based Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias “Nediyavan”. They were “Maran” from France, “Vetri” from Australia and “Amuthan” from Malaysia.
Detailed instructions on how to go about the assassination were issued regularly by Vetri from down under. Maran from France was the distributor of cash. Police traced two payments of Rs. 800,000 and Rs. 600,000 being sent by Maran to Lanka. Amuthan also known as “Yarl Amuthan” was reportedly the mastermind behind the plot. He had been in overall charge coordinating matters. Amuthan though based in Malaysia had been using a Brazilian SIM card. Subsequently Amuthan went elsewhere from Malaysia.
Sumanthiran Targeted Thrice
According to information uncovered by the TID, the would-be assassins had attempted thrice to target the TNA Parliamentarian. Their efforts had proved abortive due to circumstances beyond their control. All three attempts were aimed at assassinating Sumanthiran by using explosive devices while he was travelling along the B-402 Soranpatru-Thaalayadi road in the Jaffna peninsula. The Jaffna MP was unaware of all three attempts until the arrest of suspects afterwards.
The first planned attempt was to have occurred on 12 December 2016 when MP Sumanthiran was on his way to a cultural festival held in Maruthankerni in the Jaffna peninsula. The plot had failed because the MP had been travelling in the vehicle of TNA Northern Province Councillor Kesavan Sajanthan instead of his own vehicle. This had confused the would-be assassins.
The second attempt was to have taken place on 26 December 2016. The suspects were aware that the TNA Parliamentarian was in Jaffna on 24 December. They had expected him to attend the tsunami anniversary event in Maruthankerni-Thaalayadi on 26 December. Sumanthiran however had returned to Colombo on 25 December to be at home with his family for Christmas. Thus he did not go for the tsunami event as anticipated by the suspects.
The third attempt was to be on 13 January 2017 when Sumanthiran MP was expected to participate at a forum on setting up a desalination plant at Maruthankerni. Initially he was scheduled to travel along with his wife. However, he was forced to cancel his plans to go to Jaffna at the last minute due to unexpected reasons. Therefore the suspects could not go through with their plot as envisaged.
Arrested Five Suspects
The first suspect arrested over the assassination plot was Karalasingham Kulendran alias “Master”. He was a senior member of the LTTE who was involved in training new Tiger recruits when the LTTE was active while the war was on. Since LTTE trainers were addressed as “Master” by other cadres, Kulendran was still called Master by some. Several of the ex-Tigers in custody as suspects along with “Master” were reportedly trained by him. Kulendran “Master” resided at 43/1, Thiruvaiyaaru in Kilinochchi. A powerful claymore mine was recovered from Kulendran’s possession in Kilinochchi by the Police.
The second suspect arrested was Gnanasekaralingam Rajmathan alias Vasudevan. Rajmathan is from Naduppirappanthidal in Thambalagaamam in Trincomalee District. Though Rajmathan had a wife and children in Trincomalee, he had been staying continually for many months in the north shuttling between Kilinochchi on the northern mainland and Thaalayadi in the Jaffna peninsula. Police recovered a locally-manufactured explosive device and detonators from the place Rajmathan was staying in at Kilinochchi.
The third suspect arrested was Murugaiya Thavendran, also from Kilinochchi. Thavendran who lost a hand in an explosion when he was active in the LTTE resided in a house near the 3rd Mile Post on Wilson Street in Thiruvaiyaaru in Kilinochchi. Thavendran known also as ‘Thavam’ surrendered to the Army at Oamanthai on 18 May 2009. He was detained at the Nelukkulam camp for 10 months and released on 7 March 2010 after undergoing rehabilitation.
The fourth suspect arrested was Velayuthan Vijayakumar also known as Vijayan. Vijayakumar alias Vijayan is a native of Vaettiaiyaanmurippu in Mannar. The powerful claymore mine in Kulendran’s possession was reportedly supplied by Vijayan to Master.
The fifth suspect arrested was Mariyanayagam Lewis Ajanthan also known by the nom de plume Jana. Ajanthan’s nom de guerre while in the LTTE was Kadalavan. Hailing from Thaalayadi on the eastern littoral of the Jaffna peninsula, the rehabilitated former LTTE member was a trishaw driver who drove his vehicle in the areas of Thaalayadi, Maruthankerni, Sembiyanpatru and Maamunai. TID also recovered a locally manufactured explosive device and detonators from Ajanthan’s possession.
Next week: More about the assassination plots
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This Article was Written for the “Political Pulse” Column Appearing in the “Daily Financial Times” of February 11th 2021. It can be accessed here: