14th March, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 3




















Pottu vs. Karuna: clash of the "Ammans"

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj 

"Amman" in Jaffna Tamil dialect refers to maternal uncle. It is also used as a form of respect in addressing seniors. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organisation has had quite a few leaders called "Amman" by their followers. There was Kittu Amman and Ponnammaan a while ago. Nowadays there are (or were) two senior Ammans in the LTTE. 

Karuna Amman and Pottu Amman

One is the much feared Pottu or Pottu Amman, head of the LTTE intelligence wing known as Tiger Organisation Security Intelligence Service (TOSIS). The other is Karuna or Karuna Amman who was until last week the LTTE's eastern regional commander.

Karuna was dubbed a traitor and expelled from the LTTE for raising a regional cry and rebelling. The revolt however did not occur in a vacuum. It was the culminating point of simmering tensions and seething discontent.

Karuna tries to portray his revolt as an altruistic action on behalf of the down trodden eastern cadres in the LTTE. The Tiger hierarchy says that Karuna had committed serious offences and was required to face an inquiry in the Wanni.

He refused to comply and instead to protect himself led a revolt  against perceivednorthern hegemony. Karuna denies these charges and insists that selfish motives had nothing to do with his courageous rebellion.

First casualty

Truth is the first casualty of war. In this war of words between Mattakkalappu (Batticaloa) and Kilinochchi the truth is fast becoming a casualty. The truth however is that there is some truth in the positions of both sides. The complete truth is beyond the reach of anyone but the nearest to that truth lies somewhere in the middle between the stances of both parties.

Lost in this verbiage of charges and counter charges is the role of the LTTE Intelligence Wing and its Chief Pottu Amman in creating and aggravating this crisis. It is not the sole reason for the current crisis but is certainly a major cause for it.

An underlying factor in this crisis is the deep seated and long standing rivalry between Pottu Amman and Karuna Amman. It has to do with personality differences, seniority within the movement, aspiring to become de facto no. 2 and jockeying to gain closeness to Pirapaharan.

It is also a product of Pirapaharan's own 'divide and rule' policy. He engages in subtle stratagems of promoting rivalry between his senior deputies to stimulate healthy competition and get the best out of them. At the same time such divisiveness prevents a closing of ranks that may engineer a coup d'etat against the Number One.

The extent of Pottu's role in the crisis is not known fully. But Karuna certainly sees him as the villain of the peace. Demonstrations in Batticaloa carry Pottu's effigies in procession and burn them; one of the preconditions Karuna has set for reconciliation is the dismissal of Pottu from Intelligence Wing Chief office; in interviews to Tamil media organs Karuna is explicit in naming Pottu as the primary cause for the split;

Karuna has charged that just as the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) was ruined by its one time intelligence chief Manikkathasan, the LTTE too is being undermined by the antics of its own intelligence chief Pottu Amman.

Both Pottu and Karuna joined the movement in 1982. Pottu was from Ariyalai in Jaffna but resident in adjoining Nayanmarkaddu. Karuna was from Kiran in Batticaloa.

After training in India both began working for the TOSIS in India then headed by Anton Master. There was an incompatibility of temperament between both resulting in much friction.

Later Karuna returned to Batticaloa and joined the regulars. He rose up in ranks and in keeping with the new LTTE policy of giving leadership positions to people of the area, Karuna soon became regional chief in 1987.

Almost around this time Pottu too came to Batticaloa as intelligence chief. Before Karuna, the east had been commanded by people like Basheer Kakka, Aruna and Kumarappa, all of them from Jaffna.

The relatively junior Karuna found it difficult initially to establish his authority in Batticaloa. Pottu exercising authority as intelligence chief of the area was not helpful either. Both of them clashed often. Ironically Pottu fell in love during his stay in Batticaloa with a lass from Karuna's village Kiran.

Soon there was clear division of labour and Pottu became chief of the entire intelligence wing and was stationed in Jafna and later the Wanni. Karuna now commander of Batticaloa and Amparai Districts became the uncrowned Tiger king of the east.With less interaction there were little chances of friction and an uneasy dtente prevailed.

High regard

Karuna's stock went skyhigh in Pirapaharan's estimation after fighting in the Wanni. He virtually saved the LTTE and was field commander in battle. A grateful Pirapaharan made him special regional commander and gave him a great deal of autonomy. It was also said that Karuna was now the de facto No. 2 in the LTTE.

The progress of the peace process also saw Karuna climbing the ladder. He was on the negotiating team with Balasingham and Tamilselvan. Karuna was representing both the Military Wing as well as the Eastern Province. Karuna also established much rapport with overseas Tamils during his foreign jaunts.

Peace also had other dimensions. One was that the major contradiction between the state and its armed forces on the one hand and the LTTE and Tamil people on the other had temporarily ceased. Instead the lesser contradictions within the Tamil community and LTTE began surfacing.Unity at times of war gave way to disunity in peace times.

The second problem was that the LTTE's centralised departments began expanding activities to the regions in a big way. During times of war mobility and functional capacity was restricted. So the regional leadership had greater control of even spheres coming under centralised authority. Now the situation was changing.


At the same time regional leaders too enlarged their activity in many ways transgressing on centralised departments. Friction was increasing. The centralised departments were functioning independent of the regional command in most matters. Thus, the regional commander was being undermined and his authority eroded in the eyes of cadres.

This process had particular effect in Batticaloa. Karuna was a powerful personality and was not prepared to relinquish authority so easily. Secondly, there were regional tensions between the north and east and so a greater sensitivity was required. Thirdly, most of the central departments were headed and manned by northerners.

A sense of hostility and resentment began to develop. This was particularly so in the case of the intelligence division led by Pottu that was monitoring regional activity. The internal affairs section is universally resented by others. This was so in this instance. Furthermore, the personal enmity between Pottu and Karuna complicated matters further.

Pirapaharan relying more and more on Pottu Amman in recent times turned a deaf ear to Karuna's complaints in this regard. The first major incident came after the first round of Tamil-Muslim violence. Pottu Amman investigated it and found Karikalan, Thurai, Visu - all of them Karuna's deputies - had been involved in aiding and abetting it.

Praba summoned them to the Wanni and asked Karuna to suspend them. Karuna removed them from office but kept them in Batticaloa defying the leader's instructions. Karuna and Karikalan also did not cooperate in implementing the LTTE-SLMC accord. Karuna felt that he had to be consulted before the LTTE Leader signed it with Hakeem.

As "Pottu's people" began intensifying their activity, an enraged Karuna started his own intelligence wing called "BAI" (Batticaloa-Amparai Intelligence). This was ironically enough led by Ramanan who has now escaped to the Wanni and has been appointed as military intelligence chief. The BA intelligence began monitoring the activities of Pottu Amman and his employees in the east.

The intelligence wing led by Pottu functioned entirely independent of Karuna. There were many problems. One was the seizure of luxury vehicles by Pottu and the trasportation of those into the Wanni.

Crippled NGO

Another case was Pottu taking around 29 vehicles of an NGO in Batticaloa to the Wanni. Karuna was very angry because the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation funds were not utilised in Batticaloa and Pottu had crippled the NGO trying to help in rehabilitation.

Karuna's alienation with Praba and anger against Pottu was increasing. At the same time the intelligence wing, police service and revenue division conducted an elaborate combined investigation into Karuna's financial irregularities and other alleged offences. An infuriated Karuna asked Praba to stop it but found no response.

A charge sheet was formulated outlining alleged offences. Since Pottu, Nadesan, the police chief and Thamilendhi, the revenue head were all involved in this combined investigation, Karuna was angry with them and this explains his demand that all three be removed if he is to reconcile again with the LTTE.

Despite repeated orders that Karuna come to the Wanni and face a disciplinary inquiry, the eastern leader refused to comply. Apart from the fact whether he was guilty or not, Karuna was extremely suspicious of Pottu. He feared that he would be arrested by Pottu and a confession extracted through torture as in the case of Mahathaya. So Karuna did not budge.

Cash with held

A furious Pirapaharan suspended the monthly issuance of rupees one crore to the eastern region for administrative expenses. This was a pressure tactic to get Karuna out. Also Karuna was excluded from the recent European trip undertaken by Tamilselvan to solicit funds for development. Earlier Karuna had participated in all international activity on par with Tamilselvan.

Karuna became further suspicious when nearly a 100 cadres belonging to the LTTE Intelligence Wing were stationed in Batticaloa. He saw it as a move to curtail his power further. Recently Pottu got wind of a plot to capture him alive and take him to the Wanni for inquiry or kill him if necessary. Karuna also identified a 23 man special squad sent as part of the intelligence personnel to Batticaloa by Pottu for this purpose. It is then that Karuna began conspiring with his trusted deputies to counter strike, his greatest obstacle in this was preventing information about his plans being discovered by Pottu Amman's accomplices. Karuna succeeded in this and Pottu Amman was clueless about the whole project until after it succeeded.

Karuna's loyal cadres in one swift strike rounded up the 23 man special squad first.  He also placed all intelligence personnel under house arrest at Kannankudah on the western shore.

But some of Karuna's erstwhile deputies like Ramesh, Ram and Ramanan did a somersault and escaped to Wanni. They also succeeded in freeing some of the detenues. A furious Karuna executed 12 of Pottu's special squad. Neither Karuna nor the LTTE have revealed this incident so far in keeping with typical Tiger practice. The score will be settled quietly without a beep in protest. It is considered infra dig if the incident is publicised.

Later two other suspected infiltrators were shot dead at Punaanai by Karuna's men. Karuna also closed down all centralised LTTE structures like the courts, police stations, tax offices etc. and expelled the northern personnel.

Karuna has been shrewd in downplaying his personal problems with Pottu and instead focusing attention on regional grievances. He highlights the fact that the LTTE eastern cadres have done much sacrifices that have not been reciprocated or compensated.

On the other hand the LTTE is releasing bits and pieces of information about Karuna's alleged misconduct. He is accused of building a house at Aayithiyamalai from LTTE funds; misappropriating LTTE funds when building the "Thenagam" complex at Karadianaaru and "Meenagam" complex at Tharavai.

He is also charged with having an illicit affair with a senior women's brigade leader "N." She had gone to Colombo for an abortion it is alleged. The driver Ranjan  who took her was later murdered to silencehim. It was made to look like a heart attack.

Another rumour being circulated after Karuna's rebellion is that Karuna's wife Nira and their three children have gone abroad to Malaysia. It is said that she took two suitcases of money with her. Former Batticaloa MP and ex-cabinet Minister Chelliah Rajadurai now in Malaysia is said to have helped them reach Kuala Lumpur. The family is supposedly moving to the USA.

Character assassination

Karuna and his loyalists deny these charges vehemently. They describe these efforts as typical LTTE devices to character assassinate and discredit him. The idea is to make him lose face with the cadres it is alleged.

The truth of these allegations and counter allegations can be ascertained only through an exhaustive inquiry undertaken with due process of law. Neither the LTTE nor Karuna will agree to that. The LTTE type of Kafkauesque trials by a kangaroo court as in the case of Mahathaya will not suffice.

In spite of LTTE assurances that Karuna would be given an amnesty, the chances of Karuna accepting it is extremely unlikely. Karuna Amman knows that Pottu Amman will get him one way or the other. The fate of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law are a pointer in this regard. There is no way out for Karuna as long as Pottu is there.

In any case both sides know that the Rubicon has been crossed. The problem is too deep seated for reconciliation despite the lip service by both. Karuna being a veteran Tiger knows that what lies in store for him is punishment by death and nothing less. But he simply won't godown without fighting. The final verdict however could be rather unexpected.

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