By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
“What was your first military operation”? was a question posed to Veluppillai Prabhakaran in a media interview many years ago. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader replied “ Alfred Durayappah”. Prabhakaran was of course referring to the popular former Mayor and ex-MP Alfred Thangarajah Durayappah who was gunned down within the Jaffna peninsula on July 27, 1975. Prabhakaran and three others Kalapathy, Kirubakaran and Satkunam were responsible for the cold-blooded murder which took place opposite the Ponnaalai Varadarajaperumal temple.
An assassination of an unarmed civilian holding elected office is generally regarded as an act of terrorism and not as a military operation. But Prabhakaran claiming the murder of Durayappah as his first military operation is indicative of Prabhakaran’s twisted mindset which perceived an act of terrorism as a military operation. This may perhaps throw much light on the personality of the ruthless Tiger supremo whose organization was responsible for the murders of many political leaders from the Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim communities of Sri Lanka.
Starting with Jaffna Mayor Durayappah, Prabhakaran’s LTTE went on to assassinate numerous political leaders, including a former Indian Premier, a Sri Lankan President, a Sri Lankan ex- leader of the Opposition, Several Cabinet ministers, ex-chairmen of District Development Councils, Parliamentarians and ex -parliamentarians, leaders of rival Tamil militant organizations etc. Many analysts have pointed out that the prevailing crisis of a lack of strong political leadership within the Tamil polity is very much due to the effect caused by the spree of continuous political assassinations by the LTTE.
All this however came to an abrupt end in May 2009 when the LTTE was defeated militarily by the armed forces. The Tiger leadership was eliminated. Over 12,000 members of the LTTE who surrendered were detained and released in stages after undergoing a process of rehabilitation. The overseas structures of the Tigers remained intact, but were seriously undermined by the fall of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The Diaspora Tigers though active abroad could do a very little damage in Sri Lanka as their capacity to engage in violence on Lankan soil had virtually ended.
Tamil National Alliance
The Tamil people living in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka in general and their political parties in particular were the main beneficiaries of this changed state of affairs. The premier political configuration of the Sri Lankan Tamil people - the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) - emerged free of the eight-year period of political bondage and servitude suffered under the LTTE. The TNA re-invented itself to changed circumstances accordingly and began chartering its political course independently. The chief constituent of the TNA namely the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) asserted itself more boldly and began playing a more strident role in Tamil politics. The TNA established itself as the dominant political entity representing the Tamils of North - eastern Lanka by doing well at Parliamentary and Provincial Council polls. The TNA won 14 and 16 seats at the 2010 and 2015 Parliamentary elections respectively. The TNA got 11 seats at the 2012 Eastern PC poll and 30 seats at the 2013 Northern PC elections.
Though Tamil politicians would not acknowledge the fact openly, it was in reality the defeat and destruction of the LTTE by the armed forces that had caused this renaissance in the democratic political sphere of Sri Lankan Tamil politics. After many years of being under the Tiger yoke, the Tamil leaders were able to engage in democratic politics without fear. To adapt the Orwellian (George) phrase “Big Brother is watching” to Lankan Tamil politics “Little Brother” (Thamby) was not watching any more. The danger of democratic Tamil politicians facing death at the hands of the LTTE began diminishing. Assassination of Tamil politicians by the Tigers became a distant memory.
Definite plot to kill
This situation underwent a drastic change last month. After many years of comparative calm and safety, the spectre of moderate Tamil political leaders being assassinated by the LTTE was raised again. The possibility of a Tamil parliamentarian being assassinated by the LTTE on Sri Lankan soil became once again a shocking reality. A definite plot to kill TNA MP for Jaffna district and lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran by exploding a claymore mine on the Soranpatru-Thaalayady road known as B402 road on January 13, 2017 was uncovered by the Police Terrorism Investigation Department (TID). Sumanthiran accompanied by his wife was scheduled to travel along the road to participate at a seminar in Maruthankerni on that day (13). However, due to some private reason, he had cancelled the trip on the previous day. This unexpected cancellation unintentionally thwarted the diabolical designs of the would-be assassins.
Four suspects, all of them former members of the LTTE were arrested and produced at the Kilinochchi Courts on January 20. Police told courts that a claymore mine, detonators and stocks of Kerala Ganja (Marijuana) were discovered in their possession. It was also mentioned that there was a conspiracy to kill a political VIP. Sumanthiran’s name was not mentioned. The four suspects were charged separately for the alleged offences of possessing narcotics and dangerous explosives and for plotting to kill a political VIP. Three “B” reports were filed. None of the suspects were charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). All four were remanded to fiscal custody till January 30. They were held at the Anuradhapura prisons. The assassination plot against Sumanthiran had not been reported in the media at this point of time.
Extensive details of the assassination were reported exclusively in Sri Lanka by this column in the “Dailymirror” of January 28, 2017.The Indian English Daily “The Hindu” also carried a news story by its Colombo correspondent. Subsequently other newspapers too picked up the story. So, when the matter was taken up again at the Kilinochchi courts on January 30, the news about Sumanthiran being the target of an assassination plot was well-known.
Three separate reports
Yet, the Police maintained its earlier stance on January 30 too with one change. One more person, Vijayan from Mannar had been arrested and charged. Now there were five suspects. The alleged offences were still the same. There were three separate reports on charges of narcotics possession, possession of dangerous explosives and plot to kill a political VIP. Sumanthiran’s name was not mentioned explicitly. Police also requested the court to sanction the sending of mobile telephones of the five suspects to Moratuwa University for further decryption and analysis. Two lawyers appeared on behalf of the suspects and requested that they be transferred to Jaffna prisons from Anuradhapura. All five were further remanded until February 13.
After remanding the suspects, Kilinochchi Magistrate and District Judge A. A. Anandarajah summoned the Police to his chambers. The Judge queried from TID officials the name of the targeted VIP. He was informed that it was M.A. Sumanthiran MP. Thereafter Judge Anandarajah inquired from the Police as to whether any other political VIP was also being targeted in this regard. The TID had replied that only Sumanthiran MP was the target. Then the Judge had asked as to why the Police was not naming Sumanthiran explicitly in their reports. The Police had said that they wanted to do that after the mobile phones were scrutinised at the Moratuwa University. Thereupon Judge Anandarajah had advised the Police to combine the three separate reports into one report and file it in courts the following day. He also instructed Police to include Sumanthiran MP as the target of the assassination plot in the report.
This was adhered to promptly by the Police who filed a fresh report B 85/2017 on January 31. In that report filed at the Kilinochchi Courts, TNA parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran was specifically mentioned as the intended target of the suspected assassination attempt planned for January 13, 2017. Five persons, Gnanasekaralingam Rajmathan from Trincomalee, Lewis Mariyampillai Ajanthan from Maruthankerni, Karalasingham Kulendran from Kilinochchi, Velayutham Vijayan from Mannar and Murugiah Thavaendran from Kilinochchi are the five suspects. The next hearing will be on February 13, 2017.
It has been the usual practice in matters like this to charge suspects under the PTA and conduct further investigations. This however is not being followed in this matter. This has led to former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L.Peiris raising the issue. Prof. Peiris in a media interview has questioned the Govt as to why the suspects were not being charged under the PTA. According to authoritative sources, this is so because the Govt had already taken a policy decision to repeal the draconian PTA and replace it with more acceptable anti-terrorism legislation. The Govt had decided not to charge anyone under the PTA until it was replaced. As such, the Govt does not want to utilise the PTA in this respect and is trying to conduct further investigations into the case without resorting to the PTA. Since Sumanthiran MP himself has been critical of the PTA in the past, this Govt’s decision is expected to strike a responsive chord with the TNA parliamentarian notwithstanding the fact that he himself is the target in this case.
Safety and security
The decision not to invoke provisions of the PTA does not mean that the Govt is not concerned about the safety and security of Sumanthiran MP in particular and Tamil MP’s in general. The post-war years have seen many futile attempts to revive the LTTE on Lankan soil. These attempts were strongly backed by LTTE and pro-LTTE elements in the Diaspora. Fortunately, these attempts were checked and foiled on time by vigilant Police and Security Forces. This has been the case in this instance also. The plot to kill Sumanthiran has been uncovered. The crucial difference in this attempt as opposed to the earlier ones is the fact that for the first time a clear conspiracy to assassinate a specific individual has been detected. There is nothing vague or ambiguous about the overseas LTTE-backed plot by ex-Tiger cadres to assassinate Sumanthiran on the Soranpatru- Thaalayady road.
Sumanthiran is resented by the extremists in the Tamil community. This is particularly so with the Tiger and pro-Tiger elements in the global Tamil Diaspora. He has been constantly attacked and vilified in media organs partial to or controlled by the LTTE. In early 2015, there was an orchestrated campaign against TNA leader R.Sampanthan and M.A.Sumanthiran amidst the overseas Tamils. Their effigies were burnt. I have focused on those attacks in detail in these columns written for in the “Dailymirror” then.
An excerpt from the article headlined “Tamil extremists target Sampanthan and Sumanthiran” which appeared in the
“Dailymirror” of February 28, 2015 describes the political role of Sumanthiran and why the Tamil extremists attack him. Here is the excerpt - “These ‘opposing’ sections are always on the look out to find fault and embarrass the TNA particularly its leadership. Sumanthiran is singled out specifically because he is the most articulate TNA parliamentarian.
He is widely accepted by Southern politicians nationally as well as leaders and officials internationally. Sumanthiran is the most trusted and able deputy of the octogenarian Sampanthan. In recent times, Sumanthiran has been playing a constructive role in Tamil political affairs. In a blend of public advocacy along with quiet diplomacy, the TNA national list MP has been rendering yeoman service to his community. In many instances, those who want to weaken Sampanthan use Sumanthiran as a target. The idea is to cripple Sampanthan politically by undermining Sumanthiran”.
Sumanthiran’s political role
“Sumanthiran’s political role has been appreciated and praised by many but it has also led to some resentment in certain circles within and outside the TNA. The green eyed devil has much to do in this regard. Among the TNA parliamentarians of today, Sumanthiran is the only MP who has had no interaction with any of the Tamil militant groups including the LTTE prior to his entering politics. Though born at the Mcleod Hospital in Inuvil, Jaffna, he grew up in Colombo and studied at Royal College. Sumanthiran was aloof from active politics, practising law in Colombo until invited by Sampanthan to join the TNA. He was appointed national list MP in 2010 by Sampanthan”.
When I wrote this article in 2015, Sumanthiran was a national list MP. However in the 2015 August polls, he contested from the Jaffna district and was elected MP. The Diaspora Tigers spent huge sums of money to defeat him at the 2015 Elections but he had won handsomely. But the people backed by the overseas Tigers like Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam of TNPF and Suresh Premachandran of EPRLF lost badly. Thereafter the Tigers coordinated and conducted 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 him into quitting politics. This too did not happen.
Sumanthiran has been playing a very positive role in bridging the gap among 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. It is an incontrovertible fact that the LTTE elements overseas and pro-Tiger elements within Sri Lanka are extremely antagonistic towards Sumanthiran. 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 Tiruchchelvam.
Phenomenon of traitorization
I did write about this traitorization and elimination process extensively in an article titled “Recurring Phenomenon of “Traitorization” in Tamil Nationalist Politics” published in the “Dailymirror” of March 14, 2015. Here is an excerpt - “Any Tamil, proposing conciliatory politics or supportive of co-operation with the Government will have the Damoclean sword of Traitorization hanging over them. In the present situation, comparatively moderate TNA leaders such as Sampanthan and Sumanthiran are also being labelled as traitors. Their portraits and effigies are being burnt. The latter is the favourite target of the LTTE elements. He is being vilified widely as a “thurogi” or traitor. As noted earlier, the practise in the past when the Tigers were riding high was to demonize someone as a traitor and then exterminate him”.
“Mercifully, this is no longer an option for the Tigers and their fellow travellers because of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has bestowed a great gift upon the Tamils by destroying the LTTE militarily in Sri Lanka. In a post-Prabhakaran era, the course of action available is not assassination but character assassination. The idea is to “kill without killing” by portraying the targeted victim as a traitor. Unable to kill physically, the bloodthirsty fiends satisfy their lust by “cremating” portraits and effigies. However, there is the danger of this trend acquiring a destructive capacity if left unchecked or not contained now”.
When I wrote the above stated lines nearly two years ago, I was confident that the overseas Tigers and/or their minions would not resort to killing or encourage assassinations in the current post-war situation in Sri Lanka. This is because anyone with a modicum of rationality and at least a tiny amount of concern for the well-being of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka would realise that a resumption or eruption of violence would be suicidally detrimental to the interests
of the community. But the LTTE and its fellow travellers are guided by the politics of irrationality and complete lack of concern for the Tamil people. The course of events that led to the humanitarian catastrophe of Mullivaaikkal and Nanthikkadal illustrate this. The idea is to “kill without killing” by portraying the targeted victim as a traitor. Unable to kill physically, the bloodthirsty fiends satisfy their lust by “cremating” portraits and effigies. However, there is the danger of this trend acquiring a destructive capacity if left unchecked or not contained now”.
When I wrote the above stated lines nearly two years ago, I was confident that the overseas Tigers and/or their minions would not resort to killing or encourage assassinations in the current post-war situation in Sri Lanka. This is because anyone with a modicum of rationality and at least a tiny amount of concern for the well-being of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka would realise that a resumption or eruption of violence would be suicidally detrimental to the interests of the community. But the LTTE and its fellow travellers are guided by the politics of irrationality and complete lack of concern for the Tamil people. The course of events that led to the humanitarian catastrophe of Mullivaaikkal and Nanthikkadal illustrate this.
“All changed utterly”
It is against this backdrop that I warned in March 2015 that the effigy and portrait burning campaign against Sumanthiran could take a dangerous turn and acquire a more lethal and destructive capacity if unchecked or not brought under control. The fears expressed then have now come true. For the first time, after the war concluded, the authorities have detected a conspiracy and plan by Tigerish elements to assassinate a democratic Tamil Parliamentarian. Not only Sumanthiran but all democratic Tamil politicians striving to arrive at reconciliation and peaceful co-existence now face potential risk, This has transformed the political situation entirely. As Yeats wrote in his “Easter 1916” “All (has) changed, changed utterly”.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Govt is not unmindful of this changed scenario. After protracted discussions at the National Security Council meeting chaired by the President and at the intelligence services coordinating meeting chaired by Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi, a new security arrangement has been formulated. Protection for leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan and Jaffna district MP M.A. Sumanthiran will be provided by the Police Special Task Force (STF). In addition, all TNA parliamentarians and Provincial ministers will be provided enhanced Police security.
This applies even to Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran who has been accused in recent times of playing “footsie” with the Diaspora Tigers. The enhanced security scheme came into force from the beginning of this week for Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. The Jaffna district MP who was targeted for death in Jaffna in mid - January undertook a two-day trip to the northern peninsula mid-week to appear for the defendants in a murder trial and also to attend some social and political events. Many people in Jaffna did not expect Sumanthiran to visit Jaffna so soon after the assassination plot was detected. Most of his supporters were pleasantly surprised to see the MP in Jaffna and expressed concern over his safety. Jaffna High Court Judge Manickavasagar Ilanchelliyan told Sumanthiran in court that he did not expect him to be in Jaffna so soon after the plot to kill him was known. He replied that he was committed to appear for the young students charged for murder. Judge Ilanchelliyan instructed that maximum security be provided to Sumanthiran within court precincts and the surrounding environment.
“Vetri”,”Maran” and “Amuthan”
While it is certainly a matter for satisfaction that five suspects have been apprehended and security has been intensified, the fact remains that the ex-LTTE cadres were actually being controlled by Tiger agents abroad. As stated in these columns last week, TID officials have discovered that three persons namely “Vetri” in Australia, “Maran” in France and “Amuthan” in Malaysia have been planning, financing and coordinating the activities of the five ex-Tigers in Sri Lanka. Lankan law enforcement authorities have alerted their counterparts in all three countries. Investigations have commenced and are continuing in France and Australia but Malaysian security circles have indicated that Amuthan is no longer in that country. Incidently the phone used by Amuthan to communicate to Northern Sri Lanka had a Brazilian SIM card.
Amuthan, Maran and Vetri may have been the puppeteers of the five ex-Tigers arrested in Sri Lanka, but this trio too is part of a larger Tiger overseas network. Sri Lankan security officials firmly believe that this network is led by the Tiger operative known as “Nediyavan” whose real name is Perinbanayagam Sivaparan. 40-year-old “Nediyavan” is from Sangarathai, Vaddukkoddai in Valigamam West, Jaffna. He bears the nom de guerre “Nediyavan” means ‘tall man’. Nediyavan had joined the LTTE in 1994 when he was 18. He was sent to Russia for higher studies by the LTTE and studied political science but apparently Sivaparan did not complete his degree in Moscow.
Interestingly the financial arrangements for Nediyavan’s studies in Russia were handled by Selvarasah Pathmanathan alias “KP” who took a personal interest in the youngster. KP who was in charge of overseas administration, fund raising and procurement before 2002, got someone in France to send money regularly to Nediyavan. Ironically, the very same Nediyavan turned against KP later.
Nediyavan functioned in the LTTE’s political wing and accompanied former Tiger political commissar Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan to some of the peace talks during 2002-2003. He was later transferred to the overseas LTTE administration section under Veeragathy Manivannan alias Castro. Nediyavan was in charge of Castro’s public relations unit and interacted with several overseas functionaries visiting the Vanni during the peace process. It was then that Nediyavan met his future wife Sivagowri Shanthamohan. She was a Norwegian citizen. Her father’s brother was Gnanendramohan alias Ranjan Lala. Gnanendramohan was one of the pioneering members of the LTTE and a trusted confidante of Prabhakaran. Ranjan Lala was shot in Jaffna by the Army when riding a motor cycle.
Sivaparan and Sivagowri
Many young, unmarried female Tiger supporters who visited the Vanni during the peace process found themselves unable to resist the “five flower arrows” of “Manmathan” or cupid when they interacted with young Tamil male Tiger militants. Sivaparan and Sivagowri fell in love. Prabhakaran who had been very fond of Ranjan Lala supported the union. After their marriage, Sivaparan went to Norway in 2006. The LTTE had been sending a number of operatives abroad over the years. These cadres belonged to different departments of the LTTE and began functioning as Tiger operatives in these new countries. Most of these cadres were from the political and intelligence wings.
Nediyavan took up residence in Norway. The matrimonial alliance with Sivagowri had strengthened Nediyavan’s clout within the LTTE. Castro used him to communicate with overseas operatives. Contact between the Vanni and Tigers abroad was under strain as the war escalated. So Castro appointed an international representative on his behalf. This person was to be in overall charge of the LTTE overseas branches. This was none other than Nediyavan.
KP, who at one time was in charge of overseas LTTE branches re-joined the LTTE and was appointed head of international relations in January 2009. He, with Prabhakaran’s approval, used this position to re-establish control of the overseas LTTE. This was resented by Castro. With Castro’s authority, Nediyavan spearheaded resistance to KP taking over as global Tiger chief. This resistance continued even after the LTTE leadership was destroyed in May 2009. While KP donned the leadership mantle on account of his seniority, Nediyavan and his loyalists opposed it. After KP was arrested in Malaysia and deported to Sri Lanka in August 2009, Nediyavan established greater control over the overseas LTTE structures.
Nediyavan’s network primarily consists of one-time LTTE branches and front organisations. With the LTTE being proscribed as a foreign terrorist organisation in most western nations many of the identified Tiger branches became dormant or transformed themselves into new entities. New fronts were also established. The Nediyavan group also established a network of “elected” organisations in different countries among the Tamil Diaspora. These organisations were called either “Makkal Peravai” or “Thesiyap Peravai” (Peoples or National Assemblies or Councils) in each country. While these functionaries try to project themselves as democratic political activists at one level, many of them at other levels are involved in shady activity. This is because these outfits are fundamentally LTTE branches pretending to be legitimate political formations.
The ‘Nediyavan’ network
Thus the Nediyavan network, despite its pretensions to the contrary is not transparent or accountable. Its so-called democratic credentials leave much to be desired. Many of Nediyavan’s followers are not committed to non-violence. Moreover, the Nediyavan network is shrouded in secrecy and ambiguity with many activists having shady, controversial pasts. A few of the key office-bearers in different countries are members or ex-members of the LTTE and have had weapons training as well as battlefield experience. Political statements made by the Nediyavan group are released by the LTTE office calling itself the “Anaithulaga Seyalagam” (International Secretariat or office).
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan authorities requested Norway to hand over Nediyavan to them some years ago. Oslo did not oblige but Norwegian officials interviewed Nediyavan and warned him that he should not engage in or promote violence while living on Norwegian soil. Thereafter Nediyavan relocated to a place about 240 km away from Oslo. He maintains a low profile and is generally inaccessible. However, it is believed that he continues to communicate verbally with key deputies through trusted couriers and issues instructions. It is suspected that a major decision, such as the ordering of an assassination would have been done by Nediyavan himself.
It appears that the Sri Lankan Govt is likely to make a formal request once again to Norway that Perinbanayagam Sivaparan, also known as Nediyavan should be handed over to them for further interrogation and possible penalization. Sri Lanka’s case seems to be stronger than earlier in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Sumanthiran. It remains to be seen as to whether Oslo would accede to Colombo’s request this time or not.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org