“Col” Karuna’s Eastern Tiger Revolt Against LTTE Chief Prabhakaran.

27 June 2020 01:13 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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When “operation Jayasikurui” (Operation certain victory) was launched by the armed forces in the 1997-99 period under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the LTTE was very much on the defensive while the army on the ascendant kept gradually advancing in the northern mainland known as the Wanni

When “operation Jayasikurui” (Operation certain victory) was launched by the armed forces in the 1997-99 period under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the LTTE was very much on the defensive while the army on the ascendant kept gradually advancing in the northern mainland known as the Wanni

Karuna held a news conference at the “Thaenagam” secretariat in Karadiyanaaru on March 3, 2004 and declared “independence” for the Eastern tigers from the Wanni-based LTTE. He charged that the LTTE hierarchy had discriminated against the Eastern wing despite the sacrifices and contribution made by the Batticaloa-Amparai sections 

Prabhakaran was killed on the shores of Nanthikkadal lagoon. Karuna himself was brought to the spot to identify his former leader. In what was a striking instance of poignant irony, photographs showed Karuna gazing down pensively on the lifeless Prabhakaran  

 

By
D.B.S.Jeyaraj

inayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias “Karuna Amman” a.k.a. “Col” Karuna has got himself into hot water by shooting his mouth off at an election meeting in the East. Currently Karuna Ammaan is the chief candidate on the Amparai District list of the ‘AhilaIlankai Thamizh Maha Sabha’ (All Ceylon Greater Tamil Council). With an intense election campaign being conducted, political party speakers and propagandists are engaged in banter and riposte with each other, giving as good as they get.   


So when the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Chairman of the Karaitheevu Pradeshiya Sabha Krishnapillai Jeyacyril said Karuna was more deadly than the corona pandemic, Karuna too responded at another meeting. He replied in lighter vein that what the Chairman had said was correct because he (Karuna) was indeed more dangerous than corona. “The corona has killed only 11 people in Sri Lanka so far, but we killed 2,000 to 3,000 Army soldiers in one night alone at ‘AnaiIravu’ (Elephant Pass)”. So what he (Jeyacyril) said was correct,” chortled Karuna. All hell broke loose and a cacophony of voices began baying for Karuna’s blood.   


Acting IGP Chandana Wickramaratne ordered an inquiry into Karuna’s alleged speech. The CID summoned Karuna who initially tried to stay away claiming to be afflicted with fever. However a political VVIP’s aide acting on the boss’s behalf “shelled” the ex-tiger leader on the telephone. Lo and behold! Karuna recovered from the fever miraculously and made his way to the CID headquarters where his statement was recorded after a seven-hour grilling.   


Karuna’s alleged Elephant Pass statement and its aftermath has revived much interest in the former Eastern tiger warlord’s past. There is a lot of curiosity about how Vinayagamoorthy Muraralitharan alias “Karuna Ammaan” (Karuna was Muralitharan’s nom de guerre in the LTTE while the suffix Ammaan meaning uncle is a form of respect) broke away from the LTTE sixteen years ago after raising the flag of rebellion against tiger “numerouno”Veluppillai Prabhakaran. It is against that backdrop therefore that this column focuses on the Eastern tiger revolt engineered by “Col” Karuna against Veluppillai Prabhakaran in 2004.   

 


Beleaguered Prabhakaran Sent “SOS”
When “operation Jayasikurui” (Operation certain victory) was launched by the armed forces in the 1997-99 period under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the LTTE was very much on the defensive while the army on the ascendant kept gradually advancing in the northern mainland known as the Vanni. A beleaguered Prabhakaran sent out a desperate “SOS” to his Eastern regional commander “Col”Karuna who responded to the call by relocating to the Vanni with the Jeyanthan infantry division that was raised in the East.   


Karuna’s entry altered the course of war then. It was Karuna’s military acumen and the sacrifices of the eastern youths which turned the tide in the Jayasikurui phase. After thwarting the offensive, Karuna and his cadres played a significant role in the LTTE counter-offensive code-named ‘Oyatha Alaigal’ or ‘Unceasing Waves’. The LTTE regained the territory from Oddusuddan to Omanthai that was captured by the Army through Operation Jayasikurui.   


Karuna then returned to the east triumphantly and set about consolidating and expanding LTTE control in the hinterland regions of the East. An immensely grateful Prabhakaran allowed “carte blanche” to Karuna. Moreover there were transport and communication difficulties between the Vanni and the East.Thus Karuna ruled the tiger roost in Batticaloa and Amparai having virtual autonomy. 

 
The advent of the Oslo-facilitated ceasefire changed this situation. LTTE leaders from the Vanni visited the East.What these Vanni-based tiger leaders perceived in the East was not complimentary to Karuna. Prabhakaran began to get negative reports about Karuna. Prabhakaran kept summoning Karuna to the Vanni for further inquiries but the latter disobeyed him and stayed put in the East. Karuna feared tiger intelligence chief Pottu Amman who was to Prabhakaran what Beria was to Stalin.   


The simmering tensions erupted into an open revolt on March 3, 2004. Technically a ceasefire facilitated by Norway was in force then between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE. Prabhakaran arranged for a helicopter to pick up Trincomalee LTTE Chief Paduman and Batticaloa-Amparai commander Karuna and bring them to the Vanni for “Consultations”. Paduman complied but Karuna smelling a (Pottu)rat did not. That was the flash point.   

 


“Independence” for Eastern Tigers
Karuna held a news conference at the “Thaenagam” secretariat in Karadiyanaaru on March 3, 2004 and declared “independence” for the Eastern tigers from the Vanni-based LTTE. He charged that the LTTE hierarchy had discriminated against the Eastern wing despite the sacrifices and contribution made by the Batticaloa-Amparai sections.   


Karuna alleged that of the 32 departments within the LTTE, none was headed by an Eastern Tamil. The 15-man central committee had only two Easterners (Col Paduman and Col Karuna ), who were there by virtue of being Trincomalee and Batticaloa-Amparai commanders respectively . Karuna compared this with the military situation where the Eastern Tigers have made proportionately higher sacrifices.   


At that point of time as many as 4,543 Eastern tigers had lost their lives in the armed struggle. Of these 2,302 died in Northern battles. Operations on Eastern soil took only 2,241 lives. Despite these sacrifices, Eastern tigers had not received a fair deal after peace, charged Karuna. With that exercise, news of the LTTE Eastern revolt began spreading like wildfire.   


In such a situation it seemed inevitable that the tigers would launch a savage onslaught in the east to dislodge Karuna. Even as an uneasy stand-off prevailed between the main LTTE and the Eastern tigers both sides began preparing for the soon-to–be-confrontation.   


The military balance between Karuna and the mainstream LTTE at that juncture was quite interesting and precariously fluid. The cadre strength of the actual LTTE without auxiliaries was about 25,000 then. Of these, around 7,000 were either seniors whose fighting days were over, or injured and maimed fighters who could not engage in active fighting. This left about 18,000 fighters, including men and women. About 7,500 of them were from Batticaloa and Ampara districts. Not all of the 7,500 cadre from the East were in their native region. An estimated 1,800 of the Eastern cadre were in the North when the crisis erupted.   

 


Horizontal and Vertical Split
The LTTE-Karuna split was thus both horizontal and vertical. With 1,800 of the 7,500 Eastern cadre deployed in key positions in the North, the repercussions of a regional split could have been severe if mishandled. So the viable option available for Prabhakaran at that time was to throw Eastern cadres into battle and ask them to prove their loyalty by fighting their regional brethren.   


Militarily and politically, Prabhakaran was unable and unwilling to deploy northern cadres to fight Karuna in the East. He preferred to send in Eastern cadres for the job because they knew the terrain and the political fallout would have been less risky. The phenomenon of Northern fighters battling and killing Eastern cadres would have alienated the entire East from the North. So it was important for Prabhakaran to create an east versus east confrontation.   


On March 25, 2004 the LTTE openly declared war on Karuna by issuing a statement. It stated in Tamil that to “safeguard our nation and people it has been decided to get rid of Karuna from our soil. Anybody who opposes disciplinary action against Karuna will be considered to be a traitor to our cause”.   


The ultimatum was followed by selective terror in typical LTTE fashion. A Tiger pistol squad began targeting persons regarded as being close to Karuna. The LTTE’s targeting of these people was to drive home the message that anybody partial to Karuna was in danger. Thus it gave out a stern signal to the people not to support Karuna.   
AFTER the split, Karuna had concentrated the bulk of his forces in the Koralaipattru division of north Batticaloa. He expected an invasion across the Verugal river, which demarcates the border between Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. Karuna set up lines of defence to the south of the river.   


“Good Friday” Attack By LTTE
Few people would have thought that the LTTE would pick April 9 to commence the attack, as it was Good Friday. The LTTE launching an attack on Good Friday and hurting Christian sentiments seemed improbable. The LTTE obviously ignored this and commenced the Good Friday attack.   


The LTTE’s operation was multi-pronged and began around 1.30 a.m. on April 9. Karuna had placed 600 cadres in batches of 30 at various points south of the Verugal river. A Tiger contingent came by sea and landed south of Verugal estuary and proceeded inwards.   


Simultaneously, a group of Tigers came across the river saying they wanted to surrender. These included some senior cadres who had defected from Karuna earlier. Some of Karuna’s cadres had been trained by these men and they welcomed their former “gurus” and “Annans” (“masters” and “elder brothers”). But the LTTE men suddenly opened fire on the unsuspecting Karuna cadres and took control of the ferry point. More Tigers started coming over. The Tigers from the beach, too, proceeded inwards.   


Thereafter, direct fighting commenced. The eastern cadre, mostly in their teens, were no match for the main LTTE. The LTTE also maintained a steady artillery barrage. At least eight 120 mm guns in the hands of Karuna along Verugal river were seized. Karuna’s command control system too went haywire.   


An LTTE flotilla of 50 boats landed near a place called Paalchenai situated on the coast between Kathiraveli and Vaaharai. The men were led by Karuna’s former deputy Ramesh. They took control of Paalchenai and proceeded north and south in two batches.   


One contingent took Kathiraveli and the other the Kandalady base near Vaaharai. This was the operational headquarters of Karuna with his own brother Sivanesathurai alias Reggie in charge. Apparently Reggie was taken by surprise and fled after sustaining injuries.   

 


Trapped On Three Sides
The LTTE had also infiltrated the area in small boats and bullock carts, carrying arms. Unarmed infiltrators now joined up and struck after collecting arms. This enabled Prabhakaran’s men to commence an attack in the rear too. Thus Karuna’s cadres were trapped on three sides.   


The fighting at Verugal was savage initially. By the evening of April 9 the LTTE had taken control of the Verugal-Kathiraveli-Vaaharai region, including eight small and big camps. Apart from those killed, at least 500 of Karuna’s cadre had surrendered.   


On the night of April 9, two counter-attacks were launched by Karuna against the main base under LTTE control in Kandaladdy, Vaaharai. They were led by Robert and Jim Kelly Thatha respectively. The tigers, with a battery of heavy guns, beat the attackers back.   


Karuna changed tactics and asked his cadres to fall back from the area. They were asked to go to camps in the interior. These consisted of the Tharavai-Vadamunai-Kudumbimalai region and the Kokkatticholai-Karadiyanaaru areas on the west coast.   


The LTTE, however, began following and had, by Saturday 10th, entered several spots on the west coast of the lagoon known as “Paduvaankarai” (shore of the setting sun). It was also reported that at least two incursions were made into the Tharavai-Vadamunai-Kudumbimalai region known also as Thoppikkal.   


Karuna’s political headquarters “Thaenagam” was at Karadiyanaaru and military headquarters “Meenagam” at Tharavai. His own jungle hide out “Marutham” was at Kudumbimalai. Karuna, therefore, was expected to entrench himself in this region and hold out.   

 


Reality Dawned On Karuna
Soon reality dawned on Karuna that a long drawn out struggle would cause serious logistical difficulties. It also appeared that the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Norwegian facilitators would not prevent further violence against him. Continuous supply of food and ammunition was going to be a problem with the LTTE slowly creeping in.   


There was also strong dissension within Karuna’s ranks about continuing a fratricidal fight. The enemy was not the Sinhala army or even northern Tigers but their own kith and kin. There was strong pressure from parents of cadres to end the fighting.   


So Karuna decided to throw in the towel. Concerned persons in Sri Lanka and abroad acted as mediators. The LTTE too was willing to end fighting because it knew the dangers of protracted warfare.   


Verbal assurances were given on both sides. Karuna faxed a letter to Kilinochchi promising to disband and leave. The Tiger statement of April 10 gave a sign of the envisaged settlement when it referred to sending Karuna out from Tamil Eelam soil. According to the arrangement worked out, Karuna was required to provide and deliver on certain undertakings.   

 


Arrangement Worked Out
They were: 1. to cease fighting permanently; 2. to disband and disperse his forces and send them home; 3. to facilitate arrangements for the smooth handing over of military assets including arms, armaments and ammunition to the LTTE; 4. to release all Tigers and supporters in Karuna’s custody safely; 5. to vacate “the soil of Tamil Eelam” (Northeastern Province) immediately and never return to it again; 6. to refrain from any direct or indirect military or political activity in future; 7. to maintain silence about all matters concerning the LTTE and avoid all related media publicity; and 8. to seek a new life outside Sri Lanka as early as possible.   


In return the LTTE provided the following assurances to Karuna: 1. It will not deter Karuna from leaving the East or Sri Lanka; 2. will not try to eliminate him while in Sri Lanka or abroad; 3. will not demand return of any money or things of value taken away by Karuna. 4. will not harm all cadres under Karuna’s control and allow them to return to a normal life. 5. to re-absorb only those cadres willing to rejoin the movement; 6. to refrain from punishing all senior cadres who stood by Karuna against the LTTE leadership; 7. to permit them wherever possible to leave the East and/or Sri Lanka; 8. to refrain from taking revenge on Eastern civilians who supported Karuna and engaged in acts like burning effigies, destroying LTTE offices and so on.   


After the deal was struck, Karuna disbanded his units and dispersed around 3,500 to 4,000 cadres, asking them to go home and resume normal lives. The last to leave were about 400 girls at Meenaham. When Karuna assembled them and asked them to go home they refused thinking Karuna was testing their loyalty. To demonstrate his seriousness Karuna had to explode a few grenades to scare them.   

 


Internecine Warfare Debilitated LTTE
The revolt lasting six weeks from March 3 to April 11, 2004 was ruthlessly suppressed through military means by the mainstream LTTE led by tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran. Hundreds of Eastern cadres were killed in the internecine warfare that debilitated the LTTE considerably.   


After rebelling, Karuna, in many interviews to the media, ridiculed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and boasted that he (Karuna) was the military genius behind earlier Tiger victories. But when the actual Eastern fighting occurred the course of the confrontation demonstrated that Prabhakaran was indeed a shrewder military strategist of the two.   


Despite the arrangement that ended the intra-tiger fighting the so called agreement was to be violated by the LTTE which began targeting Karuna loyalists in the East and in other parts of the country including Colombo and suburbs. Some of Karuna’s senior associates who had surrendered to the LTTE upon receiving guarantees of safety and clemency were ruthlessly exterminated in the Vanni. At one point Karuna’s only brother Sivanesathurai alias Reggie was also killed in the East. Some of Karuna’s top aides were killed at a safe house in Kottawa.   


The LTTE betrayal and consequential developments led to Karuna and many of his remaining cadres seeking refuge with the state security apparatus. This act of self-preservation helped them to safeguard their lives. As time progressed the LTTE Karuna faction re-grouped as the TMVP and collaborated actively with the security forces. Gradually the military balance began shifting heavily against the LTTE. 

 

 
Striking Instance of Poignant Irony
 Ultimately the tigers were cornered in the Karaithuraipattru AGA division of the Mullaitheevu district. Finally the LTTE was decisively defeated militarily in the Mullivaaikkaal region. Prabhakaran was killed on the shores of Nanthikkadal lagoon. Karuna himself was brought to the spot to identify his former leader. In what was a striking instance of poignant irony, photographs showed Karuna gazing down pensively on the lifeless Prabhakaran.   
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com   



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