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How LTTE’s ‘Good Friday’ attack crushed Karuna’s Eastern revolt

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Karuna had other troubles facing him on the military front. Of the 5,700  cadres in the East, around 2,000 were young and inexperienced. The  greater part of them were recruited or conscripted after the ceasefire  and had not seen battle.

  • The LTTE was split vertically and horizontally as a result and gradually weakened. By 2007 the LTTE ceased  having territorial control in the Eastern province
  • As stated in the previous articles, Karuna  after the split 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 the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. Karuna set up lines of defence to the south of the river
  • On March 25, 2004 the LTTE  declared open  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
  • However, there is no doubt that  several  hundreds of lives were lost  in that tragic internecine conflict. In  the aftermath of the fighting on “Good Friday”, this writer spoke on the telephone to two young cadres of Karuna and the family members of two others 20 years ago. This was for an article in “The Sunday Leader”

The course of war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan armed forces was drastically altered by the 2004 Eastern  revolt headed by former tiger commander of the Batticaloa and Amparai districts Vinayagamoorthy Muralidharan alias “Col” Karuna. 
The LTTE was split vertically and horizontally as a result and gradually weakened. By 2007 the LTTE ceased  having territorial control in the Eastern province.
This article is the third in a series about the intra-tiger split of 2004 and the fratricidal war that followed. In the first article published on March 16, 2024 the background and reasons for the Eastern Tiger revolt were discussed in detail. In the second article published on March 23, 2024 the course of events leading to the  conflict in the aftermath of “Col” Karuna’s rebellion were recounted. This third article relates  details of the Tiger vs Tiger confrontation that  commenced 20 years ago on Good Friday.
As stated in the previous articles, Karuna  after the split 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 the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. Karuna set up lines of defence to the south of the river.
Initially, Karuna  patrolled most major highways coming into Batticaloa-Amparai districts and also the coast. Later, he relaxed his guard along the seaboard and roads because a large-scale movement of Tiger cadre and weapons would be considered a violation of the prevailing ceasefire. Besides, such movement had to be through government-controlled zones. Hence Karuna was confident that a massive LTTE attack was not possible.
Karuna also left the sprawling Amparai district virtually unguarded. As for the rest of  Batticaloa district, Karuna mainly focussed on fortifying the areas north of Chenkalladdy, some areas on the western shore of the lagoon and the Tharavai-Kudumbimalai region. This left many gaping holes in his defence.
The LTTE exploited these skilfully by infiltrating the region in twos and threes. Many members of the  LTTE intelligence wing moved in clandestinely as well. Some trained LTTE “Leopard” commandos also did so. Thus a powerful fifth column was created.
Moreover, Karuna failed to retain the loyalty of several frontline eastern leaders. Among those who fled to the Wanni were Karikalan, Ramesh, Kausalyan, Praba, Jegathan, Bawa, Ram, Ramanan and Nagesh.
Another advantage Prabhakaran had was the presence of nearly 1,800 Eastern cadres in the Wanni on various assignments and as part of different units. This was explained clearly in the two earlier articles. After the split, most of this cadre were found trustworthy enough to be sent along with the commanders for combat.


East vs East not North vs East


Thus, Prabhakaran was able to dilute the regional divide to some extent. He was very careful not to let the intra-tiger clash turn into a Northern tiger vs Eastern tiger conflict. By deploying easterners in great numbers in the anti-Karuna fight, Prabhakaran ensured that the inevitable clash was between the East and the East and not between the North and the East. 
Apart from this, the Eastern cadre knew the terrain and was also familiar with cadre in Karuna’s camp. Most Eastern leaders who defected were in the vanguard of military advances and fighting. A sad consequence was that the majority of casualties were from the East.
Meanwhile, Karuna had other troubles facing him on the military front. Of the 5,700 cadres in the East, around 2,000 were young and inexperienced. The greater part of them were recruited or conscripted after the ceasefire and had not seen battle. About 1,000 of Karuna’s cadre reportedly said they wanted to be neutral in this internal struggle and “temporarily” left the LTTE. Karuna knowing that people cannot be forced to fight, opted to let them go rather than confine them through force. About 200 of these  cadres fled the East to the North. 
Karuna also sent home about 500 of the new  recruits including  many women. They were asked to remain in reserve. They could be called up for fighting duty if the need arose they were told. For the time being, sending them home eased the financial burden of feeding and maintaining them. The male-female ratio among the Eastern Tiger cadres then was three is to two.


Selective Terror


On March 25, 2004 the LTTE  declared open  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.
On March 26 2004 , a  pistol squad on motor cycles shot and wounded Eastern University Professor Theivanayagam Thiruchelvam at his residence on Mariamman Street, Kalladdy. The 41-year-old  Professor was Acting Dean of the Agriculture Faculty then.
Sixty-three-year-old Batticaloa Government Agent Rathinam Maunagurusamy was shot at by pistol-shooting gunmen at Pillaiarady on March 27, 2004, when returning from an inspection at Vaharai, a Tiger-controlled region at the time. Maungurusamy a Batticaloa Tamil himself was regarded as being close to Karuna.
A 48-year-old tea- stall owner at the Batticaloa bus stand named Velupillai Ganesh was brutally hacked to death on March 29, 2004. He was from Karuna’s village Kiran and had displayed a large picture of Karuna behind the counter.
A Karuna-supported Tamil National Alliance (TNA) candidate 61-year-old Perinbarajah Sathiyamoorthy and his 47-year-old brother-in-law Kandiah Kanagasabai were shot dead on March 31, 2004  as they were coming out from the shrine room after morning puja. The TNA candidate known generally as Rajan Sathiyamoorthy was regarded as a close associate and political adviser of Karuna. The Tigers entered his home at Thandavanveli and shot them both.  Karuna conducted a grand funeral for Sathiyamoorthy and buried him at the LTTE great heroes’ cemetery in Thaandiady. In the night, the mainstream LTTE went to the spot and dug up the body and burnt it on the lagoon shore. The Tigers had defiled the corpse. 
The following morning Karuna recovered the half-burnt body and buried it with honours elsewhere. Rajan Sathiyamoorthy’s daughter Sivageetha Prabhakaran later became Batticaloa’s first woman mayor.
The LTTE’s targeting of these people was to drive home the message that anybody partial towards Karuna was in danger. Thus it gave out a stern signal to the people not to support Karuna. Karuna retaliated by conducting a pre-dawn raid on some homes and arresting suspected LTTE intelligence operatives. A campaign was also started to drive away people of Jaffna origin from Batticaloa. Karuna with his strong regional mindset felt that all Jaffna Tamils were potential enemies. 
It was in this tense climate that elections were held on April 2, 2004. A new Parliament including 22 TNA members were elected. Of these four TNA MP’s were from Batticaloa and one MP from Amparai district. It was now obvious that the long awaited Tiger vs.Tiger confrontation in the East would occur soon. As mentioned earlier  the military campaign had been preceded by selective terror in typical LTTE fashion.


Joseph Anthonydas  alias “Col” Sornam


Although a mainstream LTTE offensive was anticipated in April 2004, few people would have thought that the LTTE would pick April 9 to commence the attack, as it was Good Friday. The possibility of the LTTE launching an attack on Good Friday and hurting Christian sentiments seemed improbable. The LTTE obviously ignored this sensitive issue despite the fact that the senior LTTE commander overseeing the “Good Friday” attack was a Catholic. It was Soosapillai Joseph Anthonydas  alias “Col” Sornam of Trincomalee who devised and supervised the Good Friday attack.


Multi-Pronged Operation


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 cadre who had defected from Karuna earlier. Some of Karuna’s cadre 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 cadre and took control of the ferry point. More Tigers started coming over. The Tigers from the beach, too, proceeded inwards. It was like a pincer move.
Thereafter, fighting commenced. The eastern cadre, mostly in their teens, were no match for the LTTE. The LTTE also maintained a steady artillery barrage. At  least eight long-range artillery  in the hands of Karuna along Verugal river were seized.
Karuna’s command control system too went haywire. A 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. He was now the LTTE special commander for Amparai and Batticaloa districts as a replacement for Karuna. The LTTE led by Ramesh  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.
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 Prabakaran’s men to commence an attack in the rear too. Thus Karuna’s fighters  were trapped on three sides.
The infiltrators also functioned as classic fifth columnists and set up landmines along interior roads to hamper the movement of Karuna’s cadre. Several civilians too were killed and injured in landmine blasts.


“Verugal  Massacre”


The fighting at Verugal was savage. Initially  the LTTE claimed  a bloodless victory and made  no mention of casualties. Later the LTTE said they had zero casualties while 22   Karuna cadres were killed.  This was refuted by the Karuna faction which accused the LTTE of conducting large-scale killings and described it as the “Veruhal massacre”. No reliable numbers have been revealed.
However, there is no doubt that  several  hundreds of lives were lost  in that tragic internecine conflict. In  the aftermath of the fighting on “Good Friday”, this writer spoke on the telephone to two young cadres of Karuna and the family members of two others 20 years ago. This was for an article in “The Sunday Leader”.
According to their versions, several groups fighting at Verugal had begun surrendering after receiving no instructions from their superiors. Several of them had been shot for offering resistance. This  frightened other cadres, which led to their surrender without resistance. Some of those who surrendered were shot dead while others were herded away at gunpoint.
One 17-year-old boy who returned home on April 11, 2004, told this writer that the members of the group he belonged to were shot at for running instead of surrendering. He said he fell into a mud hole and lay there as other comrades were shot brutally. He claimed to have hidden in the underbrush for a day and a half before making his way home. Karuna’s cadre had been killed in Vaaharai too.
By the evening of April 9  2004 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. Of these 269 child soldiers were  returned to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).


Two Counter-attacks


On the night of April 9, 2004, two counter-attacks were launched by Karuna against the main base  brought 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 cadre 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  by  “Holy Saturday” (April 10), entered several spots on the west coast of the lagoon known as “Paduvaankarai” (shore of the setting sun). At  least two incursions were made into the  Karuna controlled Tharavai-Vadamunai-Kudumbimalai region known also as Thoppikkal.


Amparai District


Meanwhile, another batch of LTTE cadres landed off the Thirukkovil coast in the Amparai district. They first took control of the famous Kanchikudicharu base in the jungles. With more than 350 Karuna cadres fleeing from Amparai to Batticaloa without a fight, the LTTE men established control easily.
Many remaining cadre simply switched sides. Soon the LTTE had taken control of most Tamil areas in the multi-ethnic Amparai and also began moving from the south into the western hinterland.
Karuna’s political headquarters “Thenagam” 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 against the LTTE.


Karuna Throws in Towel


Karuna however did not continue the fight as expected by many. The reasons that compelled Karuna to throw in the towel and subsequent events that followed would be narrated in detail in the fourth and final article of  this series. 
D.B.S.Jeyaraj  can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com


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