By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
“Nallavan” (not his real name) is a Tamil youth living in a Northern village. He was a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization who had surrendered to the armed forces in May 2009. He was incarcerated for a period of time and released after undergoing a process of rehabilitation. Life in a post-war Northern environment was painfully difficult because Nallavan could not get gainful employment anywhere. Neither did he have adequate financial resources to go abroad. Nallavan lived with an aged aunt and engaged occasionally in manual work as a casual worker
Nallavan was approached by a former LTTE cadre called “Master” in November last year. Master asked “Nallavan” to hoist the LTTE flag clandestinely at particular places in Kilinochchi on November 26 night. The following day Nov 27 was the “Maaveerar Naal” or Great heroes day of the LTTE. He was offered Rs. 5,000 for it. Nallavan being hard-pressed accepted the offer and executed the assigned task. He was promptly paid the promised sum.
The TID officials were initially doubtful about Nallavan’s bona fides but after prolonged interrogation felt he was telling the truth. The TID headquarters in Colombo was alerted about the potential threat to MP Sumanthiran’s life.
A few days later “Master” came to meet Nallavan in the company of another ex-Tiger with a disfigured hand. They had a proposition. Nallavan was asked to join them on a new mission. He was told that there was a “contract” to kill an important Tamil politician. Nallavan would be given fifteen lakhs of rupees payment. Also safe passage would be provided for him if necessary to go to India and from there to Europe via a south-east Asian country. The duo said some tiger leaders living overseas had wanted this done and guaranteed payment and safe passage. Nallavan said he could arrive at a decision only if he knew who the target was. When the ex-tiger duo revealed the name of the target Nallavan was shocked.
The Tamil politician target was Maithiaparanam Abraham Sumanthiran, the Tamil National alliance MP from Jaffna district. When told that the contract was to kill Sumanthiran, a horrified Nallavan refused vehemently. He said that he had been observing Sumanthiran’s politics in recent times and had been impressed by him. Nallavan said the war was now over and that Tamils must live in Sri Lanka with equal rights. He said Sumanthiran along with people like Sampanthan and Senathirajah were doing their best to win back the lost rights of Tamils without violence through democratic methods. Besides as a lawyer, Sumanthiran was helping in the cases of so many Tamils including ex-Tiger cadres. Nallavan also said that laying hands on someone like Sumanthiran would upset the present situation of fragile peace and invite massive State suppression.
The other two did not agree. They insisted that Sumanthiran was a traitor and had to be weeded out. Nallavan however stood his ground firmly in the ensuing argument and insisted that no attempt should be made on anyone’s life in general and Sumanthiran in particular. Seeing Nallavan’s determination and firm resolve the other two departed saying we will give up this idea. They told Nallavan the matter was over and to forget what happened.
Nothing more was heard and Nallavan thought the assassination plan had been abandoned. However a few weeks later Nallavan ran across the guy called “Master” and simply asked him in Tamil “How are things going?”. The answer was cryptic.” Things will go on whatever happens”. This set the bells ringing in Nallavan’s brain. Were they planning to proceed with the plot hatched to assassinate Sumanthiran” he began worrying.
Terrorism Investigation Department
After a few days of agonizing, Nallavan thought it was best to inform authorities of what he knew and his suspicions. He knew he was taking a huge risk but Nallavan thought it was his duty to do so. Nallavan approached a distant relative who was a Govt official and was acquainted with the Police. After listening to what Nallavan said the Govt official relative got perturbed and said we must tell the Police. So an appointment was secured with officers of the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) in Vavuniya. Nallavan related all that had happened and also what he suspected was happening to the officials. This was on December 23, 2016.
The TID officials were initially doubtful about Nallavan’s bona fides but after prolonged interrogation felt he was telling the truth. The TID headquarters in Colombo was alerted about the potential threat to MP Sumanthiran’s life. The Presidents office was also informed. On December 24, Sumanthiran was on his way from Colombo to Jaffna to attend a cultural festival in Karaveddy where he was the chief guest. Shantha Bandara of the Presidential Secretariat telephoned Sumanthiran enroute to Jaffna and told him of a possible threat to his life and advised him to turn back. Sumanthiran however had passed beyond Vavuniya at that time and decided to proceed as planned.
Sumanthiran reached Jaffna and went to Karaveddy for the festival. He learnt that security had been beefed up for the event and that bomb squad officials had undertaken a thorough search of the stage and premises. Nothing further or untoward happened on that day. Sumanthiran returned to Colombo for Christmas and thereafter went to a South Asian country on a holiday with his family. The trip had been scheduled months before the security threat scare. The Jaffna district MP who is also the official spokesperson of both the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and its chief constituent the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) returned to Lanka with his family in the first week of the new year.
Meanwhile the TID advised “Nallavan” to keep quiet and go on with his day to day life as usual.The anti-terrorism officials traced the whereabouts of the ex-LTTE members who interacted with Nallavan and quietly placed them under observation. The intelligence wings of both the Police and army have established and maintained a network of spies, informants and agents in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The movements of both the ex-LTTE members implicated by Nallavan were placed under scrutiny as “persons of interest” and monitored inconspicuously. The movements of both on Jan 12 and 13 gave grounds of suspicion. The TID decided to strike. A team comprising three Policemen - two in uniform, one in civil - went to a house on Wilson street in Thiruvaiyaaru, Kilinochchi on the night of Jan 14/15 2017. The trio identified themselves as TID officers from Vavuniya and took into custody a 32-year-old Murugiah Thavaventhan, a former LTTE member. Thavaventhan who had surrendered to the Army at Oamanthai on May 18, 2009 had been detained at the Nelukkulam camp for 10 months and released on March 7, 2010 after undergoing rehabilitation. He was taken to Vavuniya for further interrogation.
Thiruvaiyaaru in Kilinochchi
On January 16, 2017, a team of TID officials went to a financial institution in Kilinochchi town and took into custody a 37-year-old ex-LTTE member employed there. The man was Karalasingham Kulendran alias “Master”. He was also a resident of Thiruvaiyaaru in Kilinochchi. He too was taken to Vavuniya for further interrogation.
The interrogation of 32-year-old Murugiah Thavaventhan and 37-year-old Karalasingham Kulendran by the TID yielded further results. Acting on information procured through interrogation, TID officials of the Police raided a house belonging to a relative of Kulendran alias Master in Ootrupulam, Kilinochchi and recovered two claymore mines one of which was particularly powerful. Police also arrested two more ex-Tigers in Trincomalee and Thaalayadi respectively consequent to the interrogation of the two Thiruvaiaaru residents.
Chandrasekaralingam Vasudevan alias Mathan was arrested at a house in Alles Gardens,Trincomalee. Two parcels of “Kerala Ganja” weighing 2 kg each were also seized. Three other occupants in the house including a husband and wife couple were also arrested and charged for Narcotic offences. Vasudevan alias Mathan who was also a rehabilitated ex-Tiger was detained by the TID and further interrogated.
TID officers arrested a fourth person at Maruthankerni on the eastern littoral of the Jaffna peninsula. He was a rehabilitated former LTTE member now driving a trishaw. The man whose name was Mariyanayagam Lewis Ajanthan was also known by the nom de plume Jana. His nom de guerre while in the LTTE was Kadalavan. Police also recovered 6 exploders and related equipment from Ajanthan’s residence. Interestingly enough about 8 to 10 kg of “Kerala Ganja” was also recovered here.
All four arrested were ex-LTTE members and linked to each other
Thavaventhan and Kulendran being residents of Thiruvaiyaaru interacted with each other frequently. Vasudevan too visited Kilinochchi regularly and would stay for several weeks at a stretch. He had been in Kilinochchi during the “Thaipongal” festival in 2017 too. Apparently Vasudevan used to stay in the Ootrupulam house where the claymore mines were found. It appeared to investigators that the four arrested persons were involved in distributing “Kerala Ganja” smuggled from India to the Thaalayadi coast and then taken to Trincomalee. Vasu was the acknowledged leader of the quartet.
Remanded to fiscal custody
After obtaining full statements from Vasudevan, Thavaventhan, Kulendran and Ajanthan, the TID produced the four on January 20 at the Kilinochchi Courts before District Judge A. A. Anandarajan. In an unusual move, the four were not indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Instead they were charged for being in possession of explosives and narcotics. Also there was no specific reference to the assassination attempt on Sumanthiran MP. Instead there was only a reference to a plot to attack a political VIP. All four were remanded to fiscal custody and are currently being held at the Anuradhapura prisons.
The reasons for the Police not charging the four under the PTA is unclear at the moment. Also puzzling is the vague description about a political VIP instead of an explicit reference to Sumanthiran. One reason may be due to a reluctance to charge anyone under the draconian PTA which is to be repealed and replaced soon. Another reason may be a design on the part of the TID to conduct a more comprehensive investigation into the matter and probe the overseas LTTE connection extensively.
There could also be another motive. The opposition led by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been critical of the Sirisena-Wickremrsinghe Govt over a number of matters. Chief among these is the accusation that the Govt through various acts of omission and commission have created an environment where separatist/terrorist elements are on the rise and national security is at risk. The plot to assassinate Sumanthiran could therefore be utilised by the opposition to declare that the LTTE has been revived and criticise the Govt vehemently on that count. Whatever be the rationale behind the conduct of the Police in charging the suspects, it would be useful to remember the proverbial saying about the futile exercise of trying to hide a whole pumpkin in a plate of rice.
I was able to gather some details about the on going probe from security related sources. According to information divulged by members of this “gang of four” there are three overseas tiger operatives “handling” them by sending them cash and issuing instructions. They were known as “Vetri”, “Maaran” and “Amuthan”. All three are suspected of belonging to the overseas LTTE faction headed by Norway-based Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan. Maaran is based in France and Vetri in Australia. Amuthan is reportedly in Malaysia. Sri Lankan sleuths suspect that Amuthan from Malaysia is actually a former LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Ammaan’s senior deputy Chiranjeevi master whose real name is Jeevaratnam Jeevakumar.
All four persons were interrogated separately. What they disclosed to officials was more or less similar in content and detail. The information garnered revealed that a plot had been hatched to assassinate TNA parliamentarian and lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran. A clear overseas LTTE connection was also established. What shocked investigating sleuths was the fact that the would be assassins may have succeeded in killing Sumanthiran but for an accidental quirk of fate or an act of divine providence depending upon how one perceives these matters.
“Vadamaratchy” region of Jaffna
Sumanthiran in his capacity as a Jaffna district MP of the TNA looks after the electoral divisions of Uduppiddy and Point Pedro. Together these two areas comprise what is known as the “Vadamaratchy” region of Jaffna. The three divisional secretariats within these two electoral divisions are Maruthankerni, Karaveddy and Point Pedro. The Maruthankerni division consists mainly of littoral villages of the Vadamaratchy east coast. It is relatively underdeveloped when compared to other hinterland areas of the Jaffna peninsula. Therefore as an elected Parliamentarian, Sumanthiran has been devoting a considerable amount of time and effort to cater to the needs of the people from this under developed area. As such he regularly visits Maruthankerni while in the North.
The interrogation of 32-year-old Murugiah Thavaventhan and 37-year-old Karalasingham Kulendran by the TID yielded further results. Acting on information procured through interrogation, TID officials of the Police raided a house belonging to a relative of Kulendran alias Master in Ootrupulam, Kilinochchi and recovered two claymore mines one of which was particularly powerful. Police also arrested two more ex-Tigers in Trincomalee and Thaalayadi respectively consequent to the interrogation of the two Thiruvaiaaru residents
Maruthankerni is 306 km from Colombo, 43 km from Jaffna town and 28 km from the Point Pedro town. Maruthankerni could be accessed via two “B” class roads. One is the 28.96 km long Point Pedro-Maruthankerni road known as B 371. The other is the 7.48 km long Soranpattru-Thaalayadi road known as B 402. The Soranpattru-Thaalayadi road branches off to the east from the key Jaffna - Kandy road known as the A-9 highway at “Puthukaattu Chanthi” or Puthukaadu junction. This stretch of road runs through coconut estates, shrub jungle, plains and a few paddy fields. The area which includes the villages of Soranpatru and Maasaar is sparsely populated. The road proceeding to Thaalayadi on the east coast from Puthukaadu junction reaches the Maruthankerni junction at Thaalayady. Maruthankerni is adjacent to Thaalayadi. Many people travelling to and from Maruthankerni from Jaffna prefer to use the B 402 instead of the B 371. Sumanthiran uses this road regularly to reach Maruthankerni.
According to information provided by security related sources, the ex-LTTE gang of four had plotted to assassinate Sumanthiran while he was travelling along this Soranpatru-Thaalayadi road to Maruthankerni and back. The straight road running through sparsely populated areas with dense foliage on either side was quite conducive to explode a landmine at an approaching vehicle.,Two operations to explode claymore mines and kill Sumanthiran had been planned. Both the assault plans targeting Sumanthiran were never put into action due to reasons beyond their control.
In the first instance, Sumanthiran was scheduled to be the chief guest at a cultural festival organized by the Vadamaratchy east divisional secretariat at Maruthankerni. The function was at 4.00 pm on December 12, 2016. The would be assassins had been lying in wait along the Soranpatru-Thaalayadi road. However, Sumanthiran’s vehicle had not proceeded on the road as planned. It was believed that Sumanthiran was not going to attend the event as scheduled. However, the conspirators were surprised to hear later that Sumanthiran had arrived and participated in the event as planned.
B 402 Soranpattru-Thaalayady road
The second instance was on January 13, 2017. There is a proposal to set up a sea water de-salination plant on the Thaalayadi coast. This project has had a mixed reception with some supporting and others opposing it. Besides there is much confusion about the details of the envisaged project. Hence a seminar cum public meeting was to be held on Jan 13 to clarify doubts. A number of knowledgeable experts were to address the gathering. Sumanthiran was to chair the meeting. Apparently the plotters knowing Sumanthiran was expected had been prepared to explode a claymore on the B 402 Soranpatru-Thaalayady road and assassinate the TNA parliamentarian. Again Sumanthiran did not come as anticipated. Apparently Sumanthiran had cancelled his trip to Jaffna.
It was quite clear that Sumanthiran could have been killed on either of these occasions if events had not taken different turns. Neither the TNA lawmaker nor the law enforcement authorities had been aware of the nefarious plot targeting Sumanthiran. How then did Sumanthiran escape from an attack that would have surely caused a loss of life or limb on the B402 Road on the fateful dates of December 12, 2016 and on January 13, 2017? In a bid to find out more I contacted Sumanthiran by telephone.The TNA parliamentarian confirmed that the Police as well as upper echelons of the Govt had informed him of the assassination plot and the aborted attempts on his life. Sumanthiran however was reluctant to comment further at this point of time preferring to wait till more details of the plot were available. I then asked him about how he had escaped the “death traps” of December 12 and January 13, and what had happened. This was what Sumanthiran said:-
“The vehicle I used whenever I travelled to the North from Colombo was not available in December last year when I went to Jaffna. So I hired a vehicle for the purpose. On the morning of December 12, I participated at a seminar in Nallur about the proposed new Constitution that went on till noon. TNA Northern Provincial Councillor and fellow lawyer Kesavan Sayanthan also was present at the seminar. When it was over he wanted to discuss some matters with me. Sayanthan said he too was going to Maruthankerni for the cultural event and that we too could travel together and discuss. So I decided to go along with Sayanthan in his vehicle. My vehicle and security detail followed behind. We went down the A-9 road to Puthukaadu junction and turned left on the Thaalayady road and reached Maruthankerni. We had a good discussion on the way and did not observe anything or anyone suspicious.Thereafter Sayanthan returned a little early from Maruthankerni but I stayed on. I then returned to Jaffna in my vehicle”.
I then asked Sumanthiran about the attempt on his life that had been planned on that day and how he had escaped. The TNA parliamentarian replied thus “I too am unable to say anything definite until full details of the plot are disclosed by the investigators. But from what I have been told so far it appears that they were waiting for my usual vehicle to come along the road. So when I went in Sayanthan’s vehicle they would have been unprepared and must have missed me. I am unclear as to whether they were lying in wait for me when I returned to Jaffna along the same route. If they had been waiting there, they may have been on the look out for my regular vehicle which is well-known in the North. Since I was using a different, hired vehicle they may have missed me again”.
Alerted on Dec 24 about security threat
I then asked Sumanthiran about the attack planned for January 13 and what had happened then. I specifically asked him whether he had cancelled the trip to the north because he had had prior warning about the threats to his life. Sumanthiran replied as follows - “ No, no, I didn’t cancel the trip due to security threats. It is correct that I was alerted on December 24 last year by the Presidential Secretariat about a security threat and advised to cancel the trip. But I was halfway through by then and did not want to turn back. I was away from the country during the last week of December and first week of January. Upon returning I began attending to my usual duties”
Speaking further Sumanthiran said “What had happened was that I had planned to be at the sea water de-salination project seminar as scheduled on January 13. My wife too was to accompany me on the trip to Jaffna. But suddenly on January 11 another issue turned up which compelled me to remain in Colombo. This was due to some legal issues that I was handling as a lawyer and had nothing to do with politics or security matters. I was very keen to be present at the de-salination project meeting but could not do so as planned. So I had to inform the officials on January 12 that I would not be able to attend. From what I heard so far they had been well prepared this time to target me but my cancelling the trip at the last minute seems to have thwarted their plans”.
Observing that these accidental turns of events on two occasions seem to have saved his life, I asked the Jaffna district MP whether adequate provisions for enhancing his security have been made. Sumanthiran said that Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake had communicated with him about it. The minister had told him that the issue had been discussed at the National Security Council meeting and that a sound security arrangement has been made. Sumanthiran said that the new enhanced security scheme was currently coming into force. For obvious reasons I did not ask him to elaborate further on the new security arrangements.
Sumathiran also said that both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had been in touch with him and expressed concern. The PM had expressed tremendous relief that he had not been harmed in any way and also quipped “If you hadn’t cancelled your Jaffna trip on Friday 13, you wouldn’t be alive today”. The President who was also worried by the turn of events had talked to Sumanthiran in detail about his (Sirisena’s) experiences of being under threat.”Whatever happens, you must keep on going to Jaffna and keep on doing your duties” President Sirisena had
“I will continue to go to North as before”
At this juncture I queried from Sumanthiran whether he would be travelling to the North as he did earlier in view of the perceived threat to his life. His reply was tersely to the point. Sumanthiran said “I will continue to go to the North as before and continue to directly engage with the people as I have been doing in the past”..
I then asked the TNA parliamentarian about the arrested suspects being former LTTE members and of information available about overseas Tiger involvement in the plot. I asked him whether this was another exercise in the series of attempts by the diaspora Tigers to revive the LTTE again in the Country. Sumanthiran was cautious in replying saying it was too premature to arrive at conclusions whether this was a case of the LTTE being revived or not. He went on to say “What seems to be clear now is that some misguided former LTTE cadres living in the island are being exploited by certain overseas elements through cash incentives to engage in acts of violence on Sri Lankan soil. We can’t be sure at this time whether this is an individual act targeting me or whether it is part of a more comprehensive design to revive the LTTE again. I am confident that the security agencies will probe this further and arrive at definite conclusions very soon”.
As MP Sumanthiran himself opines it is too early to speculate whether the targeting of the TNA parliamentarian is an isolated matter or part of another broader attempt to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka. There have been many such attempts before and have been delved into in great detail in these columns earlier. Also troubling is the fact that he has been intensively vilified and derogated by pro-LTTE elements in Sri Lanka and abroad. Traitorization and character assassination has been the usual LTTE practice before and after killing a person. This modus operandi was patently visible in the assassination of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam.
Sumanthiran has been playing a very positive role in bridging the gulf between the ethnicities and striving to ensure the restoration of Tamil rights through democratic means. In recent times he has been making a constructive contribution to the Constitution-making process in his capacity as TNA member of the Constitutional Assembly steering committee and also as co-chair along with Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne of the Management Committee of the secretariat for the Constitutional Assembly. It is widely acknowledged that the enactment of a progressive Constitution would be a significant achievement that could usher in true justice, equality and ethnic reconciliation. This has resulted in hawkish elements on both sides of the ethnic divide being united in opposition to the envisaged Constitution for different reasons.
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 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 such as Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Suresh Premachandran 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 pressurize Sumanthiran into quitting politics. This too has not happened.
Chance, luck or divinely ordained providence
Against this backdrop, there are sufficient grounds to suspect that the overseas LTTE has now changed its approach and opted to eliminate Sumanthiran through assassination. As investigations continue into the assassination attempt, there is every chance that further information would be available to shed more light on this. As for now it is obvious that the planned assassination attempts did not succeed or materialise through accidental turns of events attributable to mere chance, sheer luck or divinely ordained providence.
More importantly, the role played by the ex-Tiger, who alerted the Police about the potential assassination deserves very high praise. Actions of whistle blowers like “Nallavan” should be strongly commended. His real name or other related particulars cannot be disclosed due to security reasons. He is certainly a good man. This world is a good place only because of good men. That is why I have bestowed the name “Nallavan” to him in this article. For Nallavan in Tamil means “Good Man”.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org