“If we fail in our final plan, we would be killed by the Sri Lankan Army. In such an eventuality, no one can claim an Eelam in Sri Lanka and the Eelam dream would become a nightmare.” These were Prabakarans’s last words to the rest of the Tiger leaders
How the Eelam dream became a nightmare
It was during the height of Eelam War IV, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers were pushed to the last remaining piece of real estate. To be exact, even that little bit of real estate was not directly under its control. It was the government declared ‘No Fire Zone’ (NFZ) for the civilians held hostage by the Tigers to take refuge. But the Tigers too had taken refuge among the civilians and positioned their bunkers and big guns among them.
It was in this scenario, that the desperate Tigers attempted to mount a counterstrike on the Sri Lanka Army’s Forward Defence Lines (FDL) in a move to break away from the siege, and flee into the Puthukudyiruppu jungles. But the strike was thwarted by the alert security forces who managed to kill most of the top rung Tiger leaders during the pitched battle.
Tiger captured alive
It was a little after this battle that a senior LTTE member who was wounded in battle was captured alive by the Sri Lanka Army Commandoes and handed over to intelligence officers. The Sri Lanka Army took him into custody and he proved to be a close aide of Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. He had been with his leader during the last days.
And now, he is still in custody at an undisclosed security location, and being interrogated. An intelligence officer gave this column vivid details of the final stages of the vanishing Eelam dream of the LTTE. It was also an account of the last days of Prabhakaran’s life.
This column will not divulge his real name as it may hamper ongoing investigations. We will call him by another name, Gokulan Master, for our convenience. And this is what he had to say to this columnist:
“We were all living in our dream world of Eelam created by our Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. We were isolated from the real world without our realising it. We saw only Prabhakaran’s world. I watched only TV programmes broadcast by the LTTE as well as south Indian televisions and listened to only the Voice of Tigers radio. Prabhakaran had conducted a psychological operation or psy-ops among the Tamils living within the LTTE controlled areas so that he was seen as the supreme invincible leader, who the Sri Lanka Army could not defeat. He also impressed upon the Tamils that his organisation, the LTTE, can easily carry out attacks in any part of the island at will. We never thought that the Sri Lanka Army would kill Prabhakaran but it happened.”
Prabha underestimated the Army
V. Prabhakaran made all these statements because he severely underestimated the capabilities of the Sri Lanka Army. That was the greatest mistake he ever committed. He always believed, even during the final pitched battles, and even made us believe, that Norway will come to our rescue.”
Gokulan Master further told his interrogators that when the LTTE lost both Pooneryn and Elephant Pass, Prabhakaran had been in touch, via his satellite phone, with the USA based V. Rudrakumaran and the elusive Kumaran Pathmanadan alias KP. Prabhakaran had urged them to exert pressure on the international community and the human rights organisation to pressurise the Sri Lankan government to stop the military onslaught on the Tiger defences.
In one instance, Prabhakaran was so desperate that he instructed the LTTE’s Political Wing head B. Nadesan to declare a ceasefire with the military.
Nadesan, the policeman turned LTTE ‘IGP’ and in turn its Political Wing head after S.P. Thamilselvan, and was killed in a Sri Lanka Air Force raid, had tried his best to carry out his instructions, Gokulan Master said.
Prabhakaran desperate within the NFZ
While the remaining LTTE leadership had been confined by the Sri Lanka Army to the small area within the government declared NFZ, Prabhakaran had kept close contact via his satellite phone, with Tamil Nadu Politician Vaiko and Nadumaran, Rudrakumaran from the USA and KP. He repeatedly urged them to bring about an international intervention resulting in a ceasefire.
When the Sri Lanka Army’s Special Forces and Commandos initially attempted to rescue the civilians held hostage, and when the civilians responded by moving towards the army controlled areas, Prabhakaran immediately instructed his cadres to kill anyone who attempted to flee, and display the bodies as a deterrent to the others. He had several such incidents videoed and photographed, and sent them to the international media, putting the blame on the Sri Lankan government forces.
When the LTTE was driven out of the East, Prabhakaran was furious over the Sri Lanka Army’s successes. He never imagined that the SLA was capable of inflicting that sort of damage to the LTTE.
During late 2007, when the battles in the North were ongoing and the military were gaining ground, Prabhakaran summoned his top leaders Pottu Amman, Ratnam Master, Balraj, Theepan, Bhanu, Sornam and Charles, for a meeting. This meeting went into the wee hours of the morning in Prabhakaran’s bunker at Visvamadu.
They discussed strategies and plans to stop or at least slow down the advance of the Sri Lanka Army. A notable feature during this meeting was the details put forward by Balraj. He said, “The Sri Lanka Army’s Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka is adopting different tactics during this battle. Previous commanders had not been able to adopt tactics like these. He also has tremendous political backing, and even the government is not bowing to international pressure. Another element is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (Defence Secretary) who himself was a senior Army officer who has taken part and commanded previous battles. They make a unique combination and may prove difficult to dislodge.”
Recruiting children and elderly
It was following this meeting, that the LTTE decided to increase its manpower and began recruiting children as young as 12 years and adults over 50 years. These persons thus recruited were inducted into the ‘Makkal Padai’ or People’s Force after a very short training.
Simultaneously, on a concept put forward by Theepan and Balraj, the LTTE started putting up earth bunds, going up from five feet to 20 feet in height, depending on the location.
Invest shares in stock market
During the Ceasefire Agreement period, Prabhakaran sent messages to Colombo and overseas Tamil businessmen to invest in the share market in Colombo. He had also instructed them that when they received orders from the United Kingdom, they should sell their shares they had invested in. This was possibly his way of waging an economic war to cripple Sri Lanka’s economy through the share market. But when he was driven away from his areas of control and trapped in the NFZ, his plans went awry.
Prabhakaran’s luxury lifestyle
Although Prabhakaran led the battles and sometimes was present in close proximity, he had all the necessary comforts in life. He stayed in air-conditioned bunkers; he had enough supplies of food and had enough supply of insulin injections for his diabetic condition.
He had a swimming pool which could be used exclusively by him and his family. Only very close associates and visitors were allowed to use it. He also rode in amour plated vehicles, a Pajero and several specially modified vehicles.
But later on, his life became more restrictive. When the SL Army’s Special Forces and Commandos had infiltrated areas under his control, Prabhakaran’s movements were restricted further. He didn’t speak to his leaders over the phone. He always sent a messenger, one of his trusted cadres from his own security unit, with a message summoning anyone to meet him at a said place. Often this place changed several times before the actual meeting took place.
This was due to security fears. Prabhakaran’s lifestyle became more and more secretive as the battles progressed.
He only trusted his own intelligence unit members. Apart from the general intelligence unit of the LTTE, Prabhakaran had his own unit. From this unit, he placed one or two persons of his choice within the other units to act as spies for him on rest of LTTE key leaders. This unit was regularly updated by Prabhakaran.
A doctor named Dr Puri was detailed with providing medical attention to Prabhakaran. He used to check Prabhakaran’s blood pressure at least twice a day. During the latter stages of battle, Prabhakaran’s health too suffered. He suffered from high blood pressure due to the stress, Dr Puri said.
In 2007, V. Prabhakaran appointed his elder son Charles Anthony as the deputy leader of the organisation. When he did this, his spies reported to Prabhakaran that most of the other leaders had voiced their displeasure over this decision. Due to this, Charles Anthony was heavily guarded and always lived with his father.
When the Sri Lanka Army’s Special Forces and Commandos infiltrated LTTE held areas and began eliminating mid-level leaders, Prabhakaran became highly depressed. He used to say that the loss of even a single leader was a big blow to the organisation as it had taken nearly five to six years to train such a leader. The vacuum could not be filled so fast, he opined.
When Charles (not Prabhakaran’s son), the LTTE intelligence leader was ambushed and killed by the Special Forces in Mannar, it dealt a severe blow to the LTTE. Prabhakaran was shocked to hear the news of Charles’ death.
He blamed Pottu Amman for the lack of intelligence. But during and after the Tiger attacks on the Anuradhapura Sri Lanka Air Force Base, Prabhakaran was a happy man. He was also thoroughly pleased when he heard that the suicide bomber had blown himself up killing former Highways Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.
But again, when the attempts to assassinate Army Commander (then) Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and the failed attempt on Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, coupled with the inability to attack and destroy the Security Forces’ radar station at Vavuniya came to light, Prabhakaran was a furious man. He blamed the dearth of proper intelligence and also blamed Pottu Amman.
After the battles progressed and the Tiger leaders were driven from Puthukudyiruppu into the NFZ, Prabhakaran’s movements became increasingly restricted. Prabhakaran never visited Kilinochchi in five years, as he felt that security was not adequate for him in the area. When the LTTE lost Pooneryn and Kilinochchi, Prabhakaran once told Pottu Amman that 75 per cent of his struggle for Eelam had gone downstream.
He said that the LTTE had to boost the sagging morale of its cadres and slow down the enemy, at least till the international community intervened on the LTTE’s behalf.
While these ideas were being bandied about, Balraj was killed in another Special Forces ambush. This dealt another devastating blow to the Tiger outfit.
With a faraway look in his eyes, Gokulan Master continued with his narration. He said by this time the morale of the cadres had reached a low ebb. Everybody had a feeling that the Sri Lankan Army would defeat them very soon. But the LTTE’s psy-ops always insisted that the international community would bail them out, even at the last moment.
When the Sri Lanka Army was about to overrun Visvamadu, Prabhakaran shifted to Puthukudyiruppu. From there he directed the fight while ensconced in underground bunkers set up by utilising containers. These were almost all air-conditioned.
At this juncture, an interrogating officer interrupted Gokulan Master to ask a question.
“What do you think of Prabhakaran’s comforts during these times?”
Gokulan Master’s reply was, “Not only Prabhakaran, even the other upper echelon leaders had all the comforts in life. Prabhakaran enjoyed extraordinary comforts while the others had better than average comforts. They had at least three meals a day while the fighting cadre had only one meal or no meal at all during some days.”
Gokulan Master went onto say that Prabhakaran became increasingly depressed as the battles progressed. When the Sri Lankan Security Forces were poised to take over Puthukudyiruppu, Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman slipped into the ‘No Fire Zone’.
“I too slipped in with them,” added Gokulan Master.
But before slipping into the NFZ, Prabhakaran instructed his cadres to set up bunkers and artillery positions in close proximity to the civilians. While fleeing from Puthukudyiruppu to the NFZ, Prabhakaran could not take most of his personal belongings with him. And at Karayamullivaikkal, all the leaders had their bunkers built close to each other. “We were confined only to the NFZ by then. Then on the night of May, the SL Army’s Special Forces and Commandos entered the NFZ unexpectedly. They opened a safe route for the civilians to enter government controlled areas. They began fleeing in numbers and we could not stop them, however much we tried.”
According to Gokulan Master by then, knowing the situation, Prabhakaran summoned Pottu Amman and ordered him to instruct most of the LTTE intelligence cadres to move into government controlled areas along with the civilians. Some even carried children and infants to allay any suspicions. They were instructed to remain as refugees until such time they receive instructions regarding the weapons which were buried. They were to utilise these weapons as and when necessary to attack the government security forces. When the LTTE was losing territory to the advancing SL Army, Prabhakaran had instructed his cadres to bury all their weapons before retreating.
Once the Special Forces opened up a route for the civilians, Prabhakaran demanded from his leaders as to how it had happened. They said that the Special Forces had moved to close proximity even without their knowledge, and they were too close to be stopped by then.
Gokulan Master continued his narrative
“By then our life was not comfortable at all. Our food was mainly high nutrition biscuits provided by several INGOs earlier. Even during the tsunami of 2004, these INGO and NGOs brought in heavy earth moving equipment for rebuilding purposes. But they left them with us when they went back. Those machines were the ones we used to put up bunds and also build bunkers. During the ceasefire period, we got enough and more construction material like cement, iron rods etc.
‘Then, while the civilians were leaving across the Nanthi Kadal lagoon, we were attacked from the south as well. On May 16, Prabhakaran had an emotional meeting with his leaders. He said there were only two options left now.
He said, the Sri Lanka government was neither giving into international pressure nor stopping its onslaught. The options left were to either mount a massive counter attack on the military Forward Defence Lines (FDL) in the south and make a break towards the Mullaitivu jungles, or to mount a similar attack on the FDL across the Nanthi Kadal lagoon and enter the Puthukudyiruppu jungles. Once inside the jungles, Prabhakaran was sure that we could survive for another month or two.
“According to this plan, on May 15, deploying some suicide cadres, we mounted an attack on the Sri Lanka Army’s Defence Line with committed suicide cadres. But contrary to our expectations, the SL Army was too alert and stronger than we expected. Our attack was a disaster. Many of our top rung cadres were killed during this attack.
On May 17, Prabhakaran told us he was ready for the last gamble, to break through the enemy and enter the Puthukudyiruppu jungles. The plan was to break through the SL Army defence lines and march along the Nanthi Kadala lagoon banks into the Puthukudyiruppu jungles. Prabhakaran told us that if we succeeded, we could stay within the jungles for a few months until the international community or South India intervened on behalf of the LTTE. If we failed, we would be killed by the Sri Lankan Army. In such an eventuality, no one can claim an Eelam in Sri Lanka, he said.
So, on the morning of May 18, the near 35-year-old dream of Tamil Eelam became a nightmare to us.
[Interruption by interrogators]
Question: What will happen now to the other LTTE cadres still hiding in Colombo and the south?
Answer: When there is no leadership how can they function? I can say the entire LTTE organisation died on May 18. If there is a ghost of the LTTE still remaining, it too will be wiped out. As a Tamil, I believe that the LTTE has brought about the greatest disaster to the Tamils. Each and every displaced civilian would be cursing the LTTE and Prabhakaran as its leader.
He spent a luxury life putting others into suffering. Even the soap he used was brought from overseas. And at the tail end, he too had to undergo at least a fraction of the sufferings, without food or shelter, depressed and hunted by an unbelievably strong enemy, the Sri Lankan security forces.