“All this pomp and glory were short-lived. In the last days when the forces were closing in on Prabhakaran none of them was there to hold his hand. He was a lonely man on the run, hunted by the Sri Lankan forces. “
Right opposite the rusting and cannibalized hull of Farah 3, the Egyptian ship pirated by the Tamil Tigers, a monument is rising now from the sandy beach in Vellamullivaikkal to mark the historic event of May 16, 2009 – the day when the two divisions, 58 and 59, that advanced from the south and the north met, clearing the entire northern and eastern coastline of the last vestiges of Tiger threats to the territorial integrity and national sovereignty. In short, it meant that the military ring of the Security Forces had come full circle, covering every inch of the coastline, and closed all possible routes for Velupillai Prabhakaran to escape via the sea in the east.
This was the first step of the triangular trap closing in on Prabhakaran. The second step was the clearing of Tamil hostages held by Prabhakaran as a human shield. He was still holding a section of the Tamils as hostage — a serious obstacle to the advance of the forces determined to avoid civilian casualties. On the 16th morning the forces began their operations to clear the last of the hostages held by Prabhakaran. He too had no option but to let the people go because he was preparing to escape himself. This time he could not run by dragging the people to follow him. By the morning of the 17th the forces had cleared the hostages and they were free to confront the Tigers cadres without fear of collateral damage to the civilians.
The third major wing of the triangle was the results of the Indian elections announced on May 16. It blasted all his hopes of a rescue operation from his allies abroad, particularly India – the last refuge of desperate Prabhakaran on the run. The victory of the United Progressive Alliance of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh announced on May 16 blighted all hopes of any Indian intervention rushing to lift him out of his hideout in the sliver of land between the sea and the Nanthi Kadal (Nanthi Lagoon).
In his interview with President Mahinda Rajapakse the Editor of The Hindu, N. Ram, stated that the Tamils were expecting Prabhakaran to execute “a daring counter attack” at the last moment. In fact, D. B. S. Jeyaraj, who was quoted by Ram, was expecting Prabhakaran to do a Dunkirk – the place where the Allied Forces paused in World War II to recover and launch a massive counter-attack. The Tamil who had pinned their faith in Prabhakaran’s capacity to rise from the ashes like Phoenix refused to believe that the winner of previous battles could lose in the last encounter. They were expecting him to a pull a military rabbit out of his hat.
The Tamils were like Erik Solheim who thought that Prabhakaran was “a military genius”. They firmly believed that even at the last minute he could turn tables on the Sri Lankan Forces. In fact Solheim, who was sucked in by the yarns spun to him by Anton Balasingham, told President Rajapaksa around March 2006: “Prabhakaran is a military genius. I have seen him in action….” The President said: “He is from the jungles of the North. I am from the jungles of the South. Let’s see who will win!” (Lalith Weeratunga, at the President’s interview with Ram.)
Of course, by May 2009 Prabhakaran was virtually a dead man walking. He was fighting with his back to wall with depleted forces and material. He had lost all the strategic territory he held to launch a serious counter-attack. He had no external or internal force, or land to fall back. The power of his military bases spread out in 15,000 square kilometers had dwindled to 4 square kilometers in a sandy stretch in the neck of Jaffna. Worst of all, he had no strategy to launch a counter-attack and fight his way out. He was trapped in the tiny stretch of land between the sea in the east and the lagoon in the west with no viable exit plan.
President Rajapaksa summed it up precisely when he told Ram: “They (the Tigers) selected the best place for them: on one side the sea, then the lagoon, and there was a small strip. But then it was not they who actually selected the place: they ‘selected’ it but the armed forces made them go there. The No-Fire Zones were all announced by the armed forces. After Kilinochchi, they were saying: “No-Fire Zones, so go there.” So all of them [the LTTE leaders and fighters] went there. These were not areas demarcated by the U.N. or somebody else; they were demarcated by our armed forces. The whole thing was planned by our forces to corner them. The Army was advancing from North to South, South to North, on all sides. So I would say they got cornered by our strategies.”
The Dunkirk expected by the Tamils turned out to be a Dumb-kirk.
May 16 was the decisive day when the national and international forces closed in, once and for all, to seal the fate of doomed Prabhakaran.
After these three fateful events locked in – 1) meeting of 58 and 59 division closing any escape route by the sea, 2) the disappointing results of the Indian election, and 3) the freeing of the last of the Tamil hostages — the last hope for Velupillai Prabhakaran,who was holed up in the place where the Army wanted him to be, was to find an escape route by wading across the water-logged Nanthi Kadal sandwiched in the neck of Jaffna between the sea in the east and the Mullativu jungle in the west.
Faced with the grim realities of May 16 he had to make a quick get away, avoiding the watchful eyes of the Security Forces who were posted at critical points on the escape routes leading to the Mullativu jungle. At this stage he was reduced to a man who could run but not hide or survive. It was too late for him. The Forces had anticipated his moves and were waiting for him to get out of the hole in which he was trapped. He was in a no-win situation with all hopes of any one of the actively involved foreign sources – particularly, Erik Solheim, or David Milliband, or, better still, a new Indian government favourable to the Tigers emerging victorious from the elections – fading out of his radar screen. Contrary to Prabhakaran’s expectations there was none rushing to intervene and save him at the eleventh hour.
As stated by Lalith Weeratunga at the interview: “Kilinochchi was captured on the 1st of January 2009. And the whole operation was over on the 19th of May. So there was ample time [for them to get away].” (The Hindu – July 7 2009)
But Prabhakaran miscalculated his tactical moves ever since he lost in Mavil Aru in July 2006. He deluded himself by saying that he was making “a tactical withdrawal” each time he lost territory. Eventually he led the biggest “tactical withdrawal” known in military history, dragging his cadres with him into the cold waters of Nanthi Kadal – the last battleground.
The Tamil Tiger leadership, which announced over Melbourne Radio from Vanni that they would eat the Sri Lankan forces alive for dinner if they dared to step into Killinochchi, was in total disarray not knowing which way to turn, or which source to tap to save trapped Prabhakaran and the last of his Tigers.
Erik Solheim confessed to BBC Hard Talk (June 13, 2009) that he was contacted by Tamil Tiger agents abroad to save Prabhakaran. But after Solheim had discredited himself by playing the partisan role of siding with his boozing buddy Anton Balasingham, he had ceased to be a credible figure for any rescue mission. Besides, he had no status because the Sri Lankan government, by this time, had kicked him out as a reliable negotiator. His past sins had caught up with him like the way the karmic forces had returned to catch up with Prabhakaran.
Earlier, David Milliband, the British Foreign Minister and Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, rolled in, somewhat like the hit men of the Tamil diaspora, to save Prabhakaran. But Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the no-nonsense and daring Defence Secretary, who stood his ground firmly, sent the two foreign ministers back to the caves from where they came.
In a desperate bid K. Pathmanathan, the arms procurer appointed as Prabhakaran’s sole representative abroad, contacted Western journalists to send messages to George Brown, British Prime Minister, and President Obama. While the leadership in exile were on their knees begging for mercy from Western powers the misguided Tamil diaspora, who believed (mistakenly) that they had the electoral numbers to force the Sri Lankan government to obey their will by demonstrating in streets of Toronto, London, Paris, Melbourne and Sydney, discovered to their horror that they were merely whistling in the wind with no power to manipulate the powerful Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka.
When Prabhakaran waded into the waters of Nanthi Kadal gingerly on the 18th night he would have known that the international leverage he had at the peak of his power, when he held the “military balance” claiming parity of status with the Sri Lankan government, had vanished into thin air. In Phuket and in Geneva Anton Balasingham was arrogantly flaunting the power of their “military balance” gained under Ranil Wickremesinghe’s failed Ceasefire Agreement.
Under the patronage of Ranil Wickremesinghe the Tigers had reached the peak of politico-military power. They were riding high in Phuket where the first of the many rounds of peace talks began. Vidar Helgesen, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Norway, was solemnly addressing Anton Balasingham as “Your Excellency”. Erik Solheim, bamboozled by the spin of Anton Balasingham, was bending over backwards to elevate him to a status of a head of state-in-waiting in the Vanni. The late Lasantha Wickrematunga, the Editor of The Leader, wearing his other hat of an apparatchik of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government, was cozying up to Balasingham in Phuket and Geneva to get exclusives to boost the claims of the triumphant Tigers.
But all this pomp and glory were short-lived. In the last days when the forces were closing in on Prabhakaran none of them was there to hold his hand. He was a lonely man on the run, hunted by the Sri Lankan forces. There were no diplomats queuing up to meet him as in the days when he was in command of Killinochchi, through the blessings of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the gutless wonder of Sri Lankan politics. On the contrary, they were sending messages urging him to surrender and spare the Tamils whom he was holding as hostage. He was internationally ostracized as an untouchable political pariah. The Tigers had lost the national and international goodwill that came with Wickremesinghe’s Ceasefire Agreement.
Last days of Prabhakaran – a humiliated Tiger on the run
“Prabhakaran was unscrupulously exploiting the hatred of the Tamil diaspora for the Sinhalese. They were financing Prabhakaran to kill the Sinhalese but to Prabhakaran his first priority was to kill the Tamils before he turned his guns on the Sinhalese. “
The last and the unbearable thrust that eroded the power of Prabhakaran was when the Tamil people fled through every nook and cranny, running, crawling on their bellies, dodging Tiger bullets sniping at them, to escape his Pol Potist grip straight into the arms of the Sri Lankan forces waiting to receive them. The world gazed in disbelief at 300,000 Tamils running away from the man who claimed to be their protector and saviour. The historical fact is that before the Security Forces could get him the Tamil people kicked him out of their lives contemptuously and unceremoniously. The Tamils had no compunction in kicking out the Tamil “thalivar” who had deceived them and misled them into the depths of misery and despair.
The fleeing Tamils dug the grave of the man who was digging the graves of their children and their future. There could not have been a more humiliating end for the man who claimed to be the “sole representative of the Tamils”. No Tamil leader has gone down, despised and rejected by his people and the world at large, as Prabhakaran.
With no one to prop him up Prabhakaran had to pin his last hopes on the Tamil diaspora reeling under the shock and awe of the irreversible forces, advancing speedily and crushing “the invincible might” of their hollow man with his head full of straw, mostly those coming from Tamil political myths. He has been riding high on concocted Tamil myths which made him believe that he was in reality a messianic giant with extraordinary powers to take on the whole world with his band of gung-ho terrorists. They were psyched to believe that his crimes against humanity and war crimes were necessary evils to win the unwinnable Eelam.
The Tamils who were heaping curses on the Sinhalese after the lunatic fringe of Sinhala mobs killed 300 – 400 in 1983 did not react with similar anger or concern when Prabhakaran went on his outrageous murderous campaign liquidating more Tamils than all the other forces put together, as stated by S. Chandrahasan, son of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, and UN peace award winning TULF leader, V. Anandasangaree. They were brain-washed to overlook the crime of throwing under aged children into a war they did not want on the excuse that the Sri Lankan government had to be defeated at any cost. More than the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Tamils in the diaspora were the most vociferous and indefatigable in polishing the image of Prabhakaran as the “saviour” of the Tamils. They were falling over each other to create anti-Sri Lankan headlines abroad which, in the end, had no impact on their separatist cause or the fate of Prabhakaran.
Tied to this melodrama enacted in Western capitals was the humanitarian issue of saving the Tamil civilians caught in the cross-fire. As usual the Tamil propaganda machine was manufacturing myths to cover up the sins of Prabhakaran – a Pol Potist who climbed to power on mountains of Tamil corpses. Prabhakaran was unscrupulously exploiting the hatred of the Tamil diaspora for the Sinhalese. They were financing Prabhakaran to kill the Sinhalese but to Prabhakaran his first priority was to kill the Tamils before he turned his guns on the Sinhalese.
His first act was to kill Alfred Duraiyappah, the mild-mannered mayor of Jaffna. His last act was to kill the Tamils running away from him. The tragedy is that the hero-worshipping of the Tamils in the diaspora grew in proportion to the number of Tamils he killed. The generosity of the diasporic contributors to Prabhakaran’s war chest too increased in direct proportion to the Tamils laid to rest. Prabhakaran was a merchant of death who thrived and survived by selling Tamil corpses to the affluent Tamils in the diaspora.
Perpetuating the unwanted war was the only means of gathering support, internally and externally, for his survival. As the record shows, there was nothing to crow about his politics except the ruthless power he acquired to kill. His reputation rested mainly on the methodologies, and tactics he developed to eliminate his rivals. Compromise, negotiations, talks were anathema to his brand of negative politics. He came alive only when his victims were liquidated. He got a kick out of watching videos and photos of his victims dying. It was this kink that provided the vital evidence for his involvement in killing Rajiv Gandhi. The negatives found in the camera of the agent appointed to cover the assassination of the electioneering Gandhi spotted “Dhanu” (Themazi Rajaratnam),– a female suicide bomber of the Tigers blowing herself up as she garlanded Gandhi, in Sriperimbudur in Chennai on May 21, 1991. The negatives provided incontrovertible evidence to nail Prabhakaran for good. He never recovered from this colossal blunder.
This was not identity politics as imagined by some pundits. This was sheer brutal and vindictive politics of a beastly terrorist taking revenge on his perceived enemies. Gandhi was the first to underwrite a political space within Sri Lanka for Prabhakaran. In characteristic style Prabhakaran bit the hand that fed him. His insatiable blood thirstiness and the efficacy of his killing machine did empower him to some extent but not to the extent that he and his followers dreamed of. He was bent on hijacking Jaffna jingoism to serve his personal glorification. This was also a part of his myopic politics which was strategized basically to eliminate his real and imagined rivals. Eliminating those who were perceived to be a threat to his maniacal ego had no right to live according to Prabhakaranism. This is what Erik Solheim and the pro-Prabhakaranist propagandist called his “military genius”.
In their eyes, Prabhakaran’s capacity to fine tune a ruthless killing machine that targeted mainly the Tamils was a sign of “military genius”. An officer who was with the soldiers who found his corpse told me: “The bullet that hit his head and sliced a part of it went through easily because there was nothing inside it, except perhaps hatred!” His greatest achievement was in creating the Black Tigers – the killer squad fed with bitter hatred. His heroism was in sending the children of other parents to die while keeping his children under his protective wing and holding lavish birthday parties. He came out of the hatred bred in the womb of Jaffna and died as a victim of his own hatred. To his dying day there wasn’t a smidgen of mercy in his ruthless politics to redeem him either in the eyes of his fellow-man or God.
Those who followed him too are guilty of his war crimes and crimes against humanity. The worst are the Tamils in the diaspora who financed Prabhakaran – “a serial, pathological killer”, according to Prof. James Jupp of Australian National University – knowing that he was using their blood money to kill their own people. They had no compunction in deifying him and forcing their children to worship his portrait in the Neanderthal shrines of Eelam politics. They were falling over each other to go on pilgrimages to Killinochci, where he was presiding over chunks of territory administered by his oppressive bureaucracy. They revered and worshipped the power of their “sole representative” who had turned into a tyrannical war lord defending his survival and not that of the Tamil people.
He dragged the Tamils from Jaffna to Vanni and from Vanni to Mullativu not to save the Tamils – the majority of the Tamils did not rush to flood his Terroristan like the way the Tamils flooded the Army camps — but to use them as human shields and as a reserve body from which he could forcibly recruit other people’s children to fill the gaps in his depleted ranks. Of course, the pro-Prabhakaranists argued that saving Prabhakaran was the only way to save Eelam. One was equated with the other. But as his grip on the Tamil people became oppressive he like, all deified figures of authority, lost touch with reality and believed in the myth that he could save the Tamils only by saving himself. When the Tamil people rejected this myth he had to force them to believe in him.
The more he gained territory and power the more ruthless he became. Though the diasporic Tamils were elated with his territorial gains the people under him were turning against him because they were forced to make sacrifices to defend not themselves but an oppressive regime. In the end, it is the expansion of his territorial gains and power which undermined his power. He was in stalemate unable to deliver his Eelam or to remain in a limbo of pseudo-state which was fast losing its rationale internationally and even among his own people. Nor could he hold the people forever under his oppressive regime. The mass exodus of Tamils running away from him indicates how much trust the Tamils had in him and his politics. His gains, in short, paved the way for his demise. The regime he built was imploding from within. The Security Forces marched in to finish off what was left of it. .
Besides, he was thinly stretched to defend a territory threatened by a superior military force that had outwitted, outnumbered and outdated his strategies from Mavil Aru to Mullativu. Though Prabhakaran was desperately in need of the war to survive Eelam War IV turned out to be a war which could not sustain morally or physically. He could have saved many Tamil lives if he grasped the ground realities more intelligently, without his ingrained arrogance and intransigence.
In the external front of the LTTE, the diaspora had no counter to save Prabhakaran except to denigrate the Sri Lankan government to weaken its military offensive by raking up humanitarian issues. They mobilized their numbers to influence the Western media, the MPs in their pocket boroughs in London, Toronto and Sydney and some lame-duck leaders like George Brown who believe fancifully that they can continue to legislate to their ex-colonies as in the bad old days of gun boat imperialism.
The misguided Tamil diaspora was erecting barricades in London, Toronto and Sydney when the desperate need of the hour was to rush reinforcements and build human barricades in Mullativu, Pudukuduirrupu and Nanthi Kadal. Their heroism was in funding a war fought by children of poor Tamils while the Tamil expats kept their kids safely in the comfortable suburbs of affluent West, feeding them Kentucky Fried chicken, McDonald’s and pizzas. They funded not only his killing machine but also his luxury life style of dipping in swimming pools, hiding in air-conditioned bunkers and celebrating in grand style birthdays of his children while he forcibly plucked the children of other Tamils and sent them to fight in four futile Eelam wars which ended with no glory to either himself or the Tamil people.
They subscribed nearly $300 million annually to keep Prabhakaran alive and kicking — kicking mainly their fellow-Tamils who were kept alive only because they were needed to wage a war that boosted their inflated egos. In the end what did they gain? How far did their shouting, parading and financing go to save the Tamils and their hero, Prabhakaran? When the dust began to settle down they discovered that their investments in Prabhakaran yielded the identical results of the billions deposited in Lalith Kotelawela’s Golden Key that was supposed to open the doors to his akasa kaday (castle in the air).
Suddenly and unexpectedly the pseudo-state of Eelam was collapsing before their stunned eyes like the sand banks built hastily to protect Prabhakaran. The emotionally disturbed Tamils in the diaspora, who were nonplussed not knowing what had hit them, failed to realize that there was no force on earth to stop the advance of the Sri Lankan forces sitting defiantly and confidently on the cusp of final victory. The Forces were not going to throw away the best opportunity they had gained in the longest-running Asian war under noisy pressures – mostly hot air — mounted abroad.
At the ground level in Mullativu the morale of the forces too was running high. It was so high that soldiers refused to take home leave fearing that they would not be there to witness the finale to the war they had waged so valiantly and brilliantly, astounding the world which had written them off as no match to Prabhakaran’s deadly cadres.
In his last days Prabhakaran was caught between the heat of the bullets whizzing past his confused head and the cold waters of Nanthi Kadal. Though he must have had an inkling about his days being numbered he was still hoping against hope to escape through any means – an option he refused to give the desperate Tamils, sometimes crawling on their bellies in the jungles without food or water, to get away from his heartless cadres and his ruthless grip.
End of Evil-laam and birth of a new era
“Brig. De Silva’s non-stop advance from the Western coast of Mannar to the eastern coast by April 21 was a unique and historic movement. He cleared the Western coast, captured A 9 and cut across to the east and was sitting on the eastern coast by 21st am. Of course, other commanders too were moving in from all points of the compass to fight the last battles in Mullativu.”
Prabhakaran on the run was an incredible sight to the world that was made to believe in his inexhaustible and mystical “military genius”. He, like his followers (one of which is Erik Solheim), believed in this fiction not because he had the capacity to bring down the Sri Lankan government to its knees, but because the successive Sri Lankan government lacked the will to take him on. He appeared to be strong only because the Sri Lankan governments withdrew into a shell, cowering under international pressures and the advice of some bull-headed cowards in uniforms who persuaded President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe to virtually surrender.
Looking back it is clear that he was a megalomaniac who was elated at being elevated to be the anointed High Priest of the Tiger cult of death. In turn, the committed Tamils in the diaspora and the young cadres, who knew nothing better, worshipped him for presiding over this cult of death. The assassinations of leaders like Rajiv Gandhi and President Ranasinghe Premadasa made them feel that he was a superior force that can take on the whole world.. They were also swept off their feet by the delusion that they were on the penultimate stage of winning their separate homeland. They were falling over each other to gain Prabhakaran’s Mahamanithar award as a glorious recognition of their contribution to this cult of death which, of course, was advertised under the more anodyne label of a “liberation struggle”.
Some of the Tamil expats were also under the illusion that they could get appointments as ambassadors abroad or commissars in their pseudo-state Eelam. But Prabhakaran, with his extraordinary talent of turning dreams into nightmares, didn’t take long to transfor Eelam into Evil-laam. His regime in the Vanni was the first political experiment of the Tamils to run a state of their own. But from day one he proved that the Tamils were not yet fit for democracy, self-rule, self-respect or good governance that would give them some space free from the age old fascism of the Vellahla casteists. Once he displaced the Vellahla he had no hesitation in substituting his own brand of fascism to that of the Vellahlas. His failed experiment in governance proved that the Tamils always had a better deal under non-Tamils – colonial and non-colonial — than under the religio-political fascism of the Vellahla Tamils at first, and then under the Pol Potist fascism of low-caste Prabhakaran.
In the end, Prabhakaran died confirming that he could not find a better grave digger to bury him than himself. He lived by the gun and, in Nanthi Kadal, the Biblical bullet went right through his head. Though he personally glorified the cult of death his response, when he was surrounded by the Security Forces, was to run away as fast his legs could carry him. When I met K. Ganesh, the Government Agent of Jaffna, at the Jaffna Kachcheri, in June he was somewhat bitter and disappointed that Prabhakaran didn’t die fighting for his people.
Fair enough. If Prabhakaran was the hero that he claimed to be it was incumbent upon him to take the cyanide pill which was, in his book and in the book of those who deified him, the ultimate and sacred sign of sealing the faith in the cause. But to the shock of all, he didn’t even have the pill round his neck which was mandatory to his cadres. Instead he was ready to run with his tail between his legs.
The fighting he did in his last moments was not for the Tamils but to save his own skin. He would have known that the fight for the Tamils was over in Killinochchi, if not in Pudukuduiruppu, or even in Pudumatalan – the last big stand of the Tigers fighting behind a huge earth bank. Brig. Shavendra de Silva, advancing all the way from the rice bowl of Mannar, was tasked to take the earth bund. The Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, was keeping tabs on every move and every inch of the way. Brig. De Silva began his operations at 11.30 p.m. on April 19 and when Gen. Fonseka rang him at 2 a.m. on April 20th to check how far he had advanced he replied: “I am on top of the bund, Sir”. It was in Pudumatalan that practically most of the top commanders of the Tigers were wiped out in one hit.
Brig. De Silva’s non-stop advance from the Western coast of Mannar to the eastern coast by April 21 was a unique and historic movement. He cleared the Western coast, captured A 9 and cut across to the east and was sitting on the eastern coast by 21st am. Of course, other commanders too were moving in from all points of the compass to fight the last battles in Mullativu. At the time, the tensions of rising expectation were too exciting to bear. The eyes of the nation were glued to the TV reports bringing in bulletins of success after success. They were happy and yet not happy because they knew that the war will not come to an end until Prabhakaran was captured or killed. . The waiting was almost unbearable.
However, the Forces were not in a hurry to go after him. Their plan was to wait for him to come to them. They laid the trap and he walked into it.
In the meantime, the Tamil civilians had started to run away from Prabhakaran. At least when the Tamils started running away it should have dawned on Prabhakaran him that his cause had lost its defenders. Voting with their feet they were signaling that they had no faith in Prabhakaran or his elusive and deceptive Eelam. Like the rest of the nation the war-weary Tamils wanted peace and lead normal lives without fear of their children being dragged into futile wars.
As for Prabhakaran there was nothing he could give the Tamils. He could neither sustain a durable peace nor carry on a successful war to achieve his Eelam. The Tamil people had made colossal sacrifices in his name. But after waging a war for thirty-three years he had nothing to give them. He was a miserable failure — a leader who went down like a lead balloon in the murky waters of Nanthi Kadal.
Throughout his career he rejected peace talks, negotiations, international agreements and had offered only violence as a solution to the problems of the Tamil people. He was as brutal as the symbols of his flag – a snarling tiger, 33 bullets and two crossed guns with fixed bayonets. There isn’t a single redeeming feature in the flag that embraced or enhanced humane values and added dignity and grace to honour the glorious culture of the ancient civilization of the proud Tamils. He was as cheap as the street artist in Chennai who designed it for a handful of rupees. Tamils deserved more than a petty Prabhakaran who could not give protection to their children. Even the sick and the old were forcibly dragged from their beds to man military posts. He left them with nothing except hatred, bitterness, death and destruction. He was a disgrace to their culture, their way of life and their future . In the end he left legacy in which the Tamils were equated with terrorists – a banned community wallowing in inhuman politics.
Like most terrorist leaders he was drunk with the power of his initial gains. Like other leaders of his ilk he failed to recognize that retaining power, particularly through brutal force, is not going to be easy as winning a few battles in the beginning. All wars are a big gamble which could go either way. So far, as stated by Bertrand Russell, democracies have consistently triumphed over fascist tyranny. Sri Lankan democracy, with all its defects, triumphed over Prabhakaran’s fascism. Perhaps, it could be argued that this was inevitable given the nature of his arrogant and intransigent character and his politics of violence. At the end of the day, it is the Tamil people who had to pay for his sins and the sins of his fathers who bred him in the womb of mono-ethnic extremism in Jaffna.
The irony is that the Tamils who were quick to pick holes in the Sri Lankan democracy – and there are many corrigible defects, no doubt, — were readily accepting the humiliations and the agonies of living under the incorrigible fascism of Prabhakaran. At best it could be said he was a political Rambo who knew how to kill and destroy but not to build or rise above vindictive politics to embrace higher humane values that elevated, for instance, Elara to a dignified place in Sri Lankan history. This is primarily because he never understood the limitations of power. He believed that his power had the unlimited potential to beat the world and his own people into total submission.
His vision was narrow. His ambitions were to force his own people into submission and fight his wars until the last Tamil died or migrated to Canada. His strategies were brutal. His politics were neither flexible nor broad enough to meet the challenges of the complexities of national and international politics. The only two forces that held him together and drove him frenetically were: 1) his hatred and 2) his ego.
By the time he waded into Nanthi Kadal on May 17th he has outlived his usefulness to the Tamils. His death, it is sad to say, is the best thing that happened to the Tamils and the nation at large. It has given the Tamils in particular the space they need to breathe the air that once permitted them to demonstrate against Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike when she came to open the Jaffna University. It has reinstated the space that was taken away from V. Anandasanagaree, the leader of the TULF, to visit Jaffna and his electorate in Vavuniya. It has restored the political space for Douglas Devananda to campaign in the peninsula without fear of the 14th. , 15th and any other impending threats to his life.
The final battle began on the May 17th evening. In the morning of17th the forces had cleared the last of the Tamil civilians from Prabhakaran’s grip. They had no inhibitions now of unleashing the fire power they had in reserve in any confrontation with Prabhakaran and his cadres. But they didn’t go after him though they knew where he was located. Only Pottu Amman, his wife Mathivathani, his son Charles Anthony and Reagan, head of the Tiger Medical Unit, knew the location of his hideout. Reagan was taken in earlier and he revealed, under interrogation, Prabhakaran’s location. By the dawn of 17th Military Intelligence had located his lair.
MI also learnt that the plan was to cross the lagoon by going west into the Mullativu-Weli Oya jungles and cut across to the Eastern Province via Trincomalee and join “Col” Ram’s team in Batticoloa/Ampara area, At this stage the Tiger leadership had given up two of the three options available to them: 1) surrender; 2) take the cyanide pill and 3) escape via the lagoon.
Working on the lines of something akin to a surrender (they called it the “silencing of the guns”) K. Pathmanathan, the newly appointed international representative of Prabhakaran, was frantically acting as the go-between to the cornered Tiger leadership and Erik Solheim and other journalists and negotiators in the Western capitals. But the negotiations failed. Pathmanathan explained to the Indian new media that he was in touch with Soosai till the last minute and they agreed to “silence the guns” because they had run out of medicine and also because of their inability to face the fierce fire power.
Explaining why the talks failed Pathmanathan told India news media: “The international community continued to insist on the LTTE laying down arms before they took any meaningful steps to stop the war. Our leadership held the view that any process of laying down arms should be linked to an acceptable political solution. Instead of laying down arms, we were seeking a ceasefire and a political negotiation for a political solution.
“Unfortunately, our position was not acceptable to the international community on the grounds that our position was not acceptable to the Sri Lankan government. So no effective measures were taken to stop the war. “
Next option was to take the cyanide pill but, as explained by Karuna Amman, former right hand man of Prabhakaran, he would never take his life. So Prabhakaran went for the third option of moving across the Nanthi Kadal. And the Forces were waiting for him.
The military commanders knew that this was the only route available to Prabhakaran and they were waiting for him. Some forces had taken up their positions in the islands dotting the neck-deep waters of Nanthi Kadal. Some forces were waiting on land for any Tigers cadres seeking to escape by breaching the defence lines.
As the options available to Prabhakaran had narrowed down to a single passage across Nanthi Kadal it was easy to anticipate his moves. The forces were poised to get him from whichever direction he chose to escape. He had lost the surprise element with which he succeeded in previous operations. At this stage reading him was as easy as reading the alphabet. General Sarath Fonseka, succinctly summarized the position when he said that at the beginning his table was littered with hundreds of maps. In the last days he needed only one map. And all eyes were focused on the map of Nanthi Kadal – the last battleground of Prabhakaran.
Fierce fighting broke out on the evening of May 17th. According to Army sources, Prabhakaran, surrounded by his bodyguards, was moving across the waters, shifting among the mangroves. The fighting went on till 3.30 a.m. on May 18th. Sgt. Banda, who was in one of the islets, encountered fierce attacks. He called for reinforcements. They suspected that Prabhakaran must be among the Tiger cadres moving across. With the arrival of new reinforcements fighting went on till 5.30 am.
Col. G. V. Ravipriya told me that nearly 100 terrorists had surrounded them. He added: “I sent another team to assist them.”. The Tigers then escaped to a mangrove in the left of the island.”
Col. Ravipriya then planned to clear the mangrove at dawn. Before that he brought down artillery, armoured tanks, infantry mortars and RPGS. From this base he kept firing till 11 a.m. of May 18th. Col Ravipriya then sent commandos to clear the mangroves. Over 100 bodies were found there. Clearing was over by 6.30 p.m. It was getting dark. Clearing began next morning at 7.30 a.m. Suddenly they were confronted by a group of Tigers. The Forces asked for help and more troops were sent by Col. Ravipriya.
Clearing began again on the 19th. Firing had stopped. The Forces started collecting bodies again around 9.30 a.m.. Sgt. Muthu Banda then cried that he found a body similar to that of Prabhakaran. He was asked to bring the body out of the mangrove bushes. Brig. Commander Col Gamage was the first to identify the body. He found the identity tag :001.
Nobody knows who fired the fatal bullet. It seems to be a gun shot fired within a range of about 10 metres. Later around 2 – 3 p.m Daya Master and Minister Muralitharan visited Nanthi Kadal. Karuna Amman wanted to make sure by checking the birth mark on the thigh. The rest, of course, is history.
When I left Colombo the city was still under surveillance. The policemen were still keeping their vigil as before. The authorities had not relaxed the rules. But the anxiety was more about swine flu than threats from the extinct Tigers. I felt a sense of relief. Even Jaffna was quite normal as if noting had happened earlier to disturb their way of life or the landscape..
Whatever problems there may be in the new order to come, it was obvious that politics without Prabhakaran has to be the only way out to the war-torn nation. Any peaceful alternative is better than the apocalyptic fears that haunted the nation before Nanthi Kadal. It must be said, quite bluntly, that Prabhakaran’s death gives birth to new hopes. Of course, it is tautological to say that all of Prabhakaran’s hopes sank in Nanthi Kadal. Moving from his luxury-style swimming pool in Killinochchi to the brackish waters of Nanthi Kadal must have been galling to him. It was a miserable end to a man who caused so much misery to his own people. No one is to be blamed for Prabhakaran’s failure and miserable ending except Prabhakaran.