"Tamil Kudumbimalai"be turned
into "Sinhala Thoppigala?"
D. B. S. Jeyaraj
Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka
congratulating troops in
Thoppigala Friday (13)
is a rockymountain with a stonypeakanda
kind of mini-peak on top! Such an
appearance from afarlends itself to
the English authorities it looked like
aristocratic head gear. So it was Baron's
Cap; to the Tamils it was like a tuft of
bound hair on one's head. So it
wasKudumbimalai; to the Muslims it was
like a hat on one's head. So they called
it Thoppikkal; the Sinhalese also
perceived it like the Muslims. So they
called it Thoppigala.
saw it for the first time in 1977 when I
was travelling in a vehicle with the late
Sam Thambimuthu along a dirt track to
Vadamunai. Thambimuthu was a leading
lawyer and stalwart of the Federal Party
and later the Tamil United Liberation
Front (TULF) in Batticaloa. He was legal
secretary of the TULF then and was married
to Kala, the daughter of former FP senator
Manickam. Sam Thambimuthu was later to
become EPRLF parliamentarian for
Batticaloa in 1989. Both he and his wife
were killed by the LTTE in 1990 as they
came out of the Canadian High Commission
lived in harmony
region surrounding Kudumbimalai/Thoppigalawas
sparsely populated. There were Tamils,
Muslims and Sinhalese. There were age old
settlements there called Puranagama or
Puranakamam. Most of them were centred
around natural lakes called villus. These
are depressions in the land filled by rain
of the ancient villages were Kallichenai,
Oothuchenai, Meerandavillu, Keeraniavillu,
Kathavanai, Maha Eliya et al. I think
Kallichenai and Meerandavillu were Muslim
villages while Maha Eliya was Sinhalese.
The others wereTamil.
different communities were living in
absolute harmony. There was inter-marriage
between the Sinhalese and Tamil
communities. Both communities spoke each
others' language to some extent. Some
Tamil and Sinhalese women married Muslims
and converted to Islam but would wear
their traditional clothes and jewellery,
and also maintain links with their kith
and kin. Many of the farmers belonged to
the dying breed ofchena cultivators.
Vadamunai scheme was comparatively new. It
was first started for Tamils driven away
from the Gal Oya Valley in 1956 and 1958.
Later, plantation Tamils uprooted in the
'70s during Hector Kobbekaduwa's land
reform also came to Vadamunai. In 1977
more plantation Tamils affected by the
August violence were settled here. My trip
to Vadamunai with Thambimuthu was to see
such a settlement coordinated by a
dedicated Batticaloa youth called Bobby.
these memories are revived as the area is
now in the news. Sadly, the mountain and
region are notgiven publicity on account
of its natural diversity or ethnic harmony
but because of its so-called strategic
importance in military terms. Even as the
ethnic violence escalated this
little-known area in the remote Eastern
Province has acquired an importance
exceeding that of itsactual relevance.
British being ourcolonial masters then,
the mountain was officiallycalled Baron's
Capeven after independence. Official
records would refer to it as Baron's Cap
and sometimes as 'gap.' But to the people
of the area it was Thoppigala,
Kudumbimalai or Thoppikkal. There was a
large forest around the mountain that was
officially declared as a forest reserve. I
think the total area was around 350-400
sq. kilometers. Almost adjoining it was
the Undugala forest reserve.
of the area
areas are called theKudumbimalai /Thoppigala
region. The region was roughly a triangle
with Vadamunai, Baron's Cap and
Tharavaikulam being the three outlying
points. To the west is the Maduru Oya
basin catchment area; to the south and
east is the Maha Oya-Chenkalady road; to
the north is the Polonnaruwa road; further
to the northwest is Vahaneri tank.
Vadamunai-Kudumbimalai- Tharavai region
evolved in recent years as a stronghold of
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
This happened in the late '80s and '90s
when Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias
"Col." Karuna was eastern
regional commander of the LTTE.
structures set up here was Meenagam - the
military headquarters base. The political
headquarters Thenagam was in Karadiyanaru.
Tharavai was the cemetery for Tigers who
died in the battlefield. They are known as
Maaveerar or 'great heroes.'
region's remoteness made it virtually
inaccessible. With its forests, fields,
waterholes, hills and rocks, the region
provided much cover. Though a number of
structures were set up the LTTE has at no
time in the pastunder Karuna adopted
positional warfare to retain territory.
During Karuna's time the Tigers always
melted away into the forests if and when
the security forces invaded. This was the
situation even when the Indian army
entered the region.
not very interested
guerillas never fought back like a
conventional army to retain the region
under Karuna. They simply fled and
returned after the enemy went away.
Neither the Indian nor Sri Lankan army
remained for long in the region. They did
not set up permanent bases but returned to
Karuna did not try to hold on to this
region even when the split occurred in the
LTTE. Everyone expected Karuna to fall
back to Kudumbimalaiand fight a last ditch
stand after the defeats in Verugal-
Kathiraveli-Vaharai at the hands of the
mainstream LTTE in April 2004. But he did
more interesting was the fact that the
mainstream LTTE too did not try to
maintain a large, permanent presence in
the region after the Karuna revolt. For
reasons best known to them the Tigers shut
down the Meenagam base and dismantled
of the construction material and furniture
were given to Tamil peasant families as
charity. The LTTE also stoppedburials at
Tharavai and began using Thandiaddy near
Kokkaticholai as their burial grounds. All
this shows that the LTTE had been
gradually downsizing their reliance on the
revives "Beirut trail"
was in recent timesthat the LTTE began to
utilise the region more. Once the LTTE
began withdrawing from Trincomalee South,
Vaharai region and then the Paduvaankarai
region, the bulk of the cadres began
relocating to the northern mainland of the
Wanni. The remaining cadres began moving
into the Vadamunai-Kudumbimalai- Tharavai
region. There were reasons for this.
was that recent developments had revived
the importance of the "Beirut
trail" again. The 'Beirut trail' is a
loose term referring to ad hoc jungle
routes followed by cadres travelling to
and from the north.
it be remembered that there was a time
when the LTTE did not control extensive
swathes of territory. The LTTE also did
not have a well-developed Sea Tigers wing
in the not so distant past.
was not possible for Tiger boats to ferry
eastern Tigers to the north and vice versa
easily. So much of the north-east movement
was on foot.
Tigers used to travel through jungle
routes. The journey commenced from the
Kudumbimalai jungles to Vahaneri.
Travelling northwards, they crossed the
Veruhal river. Then they moved through
jungles near Kiliveddy, Mawilaru,
Serunuwara, Kinniya, Kadavanaikulam, etc.,
into the Manalaaru/Weli Oya region and
further north. It was an ardous and
difficult journey but the Tigers used the
Beirut trail frequently.
time progressed and the LTTE acquired much
sea power and also expanded territorial
control, the Beirut trail went out of
mode. Tigers would get into boats at
Vaharai or Paalsenai or Verugal or
Ilakkanthaiand land at Mullaithivu via the
sea. Likewise, Tigers from the north would
travel to the east also by sea.
in recent times the LTTE has lost control
of the eastern coast right down to
Panichankerny in Batticaloa and Sampur in
Trincomalee. With sea movement becoming
restricted the land route of Beirut trail
was reactivated again. This enhanced the
importance of the Kudumbimalai region.
reason for the region's recent importance
was the fact that it offers the best
possible cover for classic guerrilla
provides natural cover to a great extent.
It is possible for small groups of
guerillas to move about in the region and
conduct occasional forays.
appears that the LTTE is now transforming
itself in the east from positional warfare
to guerrilla tactics. The LTTE sent its
last major batch of guerillas from the
east to the north some weeks ago. More
than 300 cadres went back with Col. Ramesh.
The LTTE also managed to transport most of
its military assets as well.
than200 cadres are still left in the
region. Ram, Nagesh, Pallavan, Keerthi,
and Mano Master amongst others are all in
the region with small groups of
guerrillas. All of them are eastern sons
of the soil.
Jeyam, a northerner, is also in the
region. He commands an elite group of
LTTE has also sent most of its new
recruits and conscripts back. Married
cadres have also been sent back. Most of
the women cadres have gone to the Wanni.
this backdrop the region does not require
a strong, permanent military presence to
control it. Such control is not possible.
The cost effective method is to dominate
the region by conducting frequent patrols,
search operations and limited ground
is why the Indian Army never established a
permanent presence. This is why Generals
like Lucky Algama or Janaka Perera also
refrained from doing so while in the east.
Janaka Perera's controversial record in
certain spheres there is no denying that
he was the most intellectual of Sri
Lanka's top soldiers. As for Algama he
proved himself by successfully clearing
the east in the mid- '90s to conduct safe
is in this context that the strategic
importance of the Kudumbimalai/Thoppigala
region is being questioned publicly.
Retired Indian General Ashok Metha did so.
Military Intelligence (retd) Chief Col.
Hariharan has done so. Several UNP leaders
have done so. All of them are being
severely criticised by government circles.
victory in Kudumbimalai/Thoppigala should
not be underestimated. It cannot be
pooh-poohed as insignificant. At the same
time it cannot be disproportionately
overblown as a great victory either. The
strategic importance of the region also
cannot be exaggerated out of proportion
simply to project an impression that a
magnificent victory has been achieved.
plans afoot to have a big tamasha to
celebrate the victory is done with
ulterior political motives. An undisguised
attempt is being made to create a larger
than life, latter day Dutu- gemunu image
for Mahendra Percival Rajapakse. To what
extent these cheap manoeuvres would
succeed remains to be seen since one
effective counter strike by the LTTE could
deflate this 'gas balloon.'
could however be a hidden agenda in the
Rajapakse regime's unseemly interest in
consolidating a greater hold on the
Thoppigala region. If it was merely from a
military angle then a permanent presence
is unnecessary. But there could be other
pecuniary reason could be the vast timber
available. It is very possible to chop
trees and transport timber from the region
using the resources of the security
forces. Even suggesting such a thing would
be akin to blasphemy in the old days. Its
not so nowadays.
a land where top security people are
'suspected' of running an abduction for
ransom racket these things are feasible.
Anything is possible in acountry where
money was allegedly paid to one's chief
enemy to ensure electoral victory.
other motive could be dangerously
counter-productive in political terms. It
has been a fervent dream ofcertain Sinhala
chauvinists tocolonise Tamil and Muslim
areas with Sinhala settlers. This dream is
now becoming a reality under the Rajapakse
regime. Recent events in Trincomalee and
Pottuvil denote this growing trend.
recent history it is quite probable that a
permanent strong military presenceis being
set up to facilitate Sinhala colonisation
of the Kudumbimalai region. The
possibility is not far fetched in view of
what happened more than 20 years ago.
was in 1983 that the Ven. Kithalagama
Seelankara Thero (Dimbulagala Thero)
organised an illegal colonisation attempt
in the region. The controversial bhikku
was implementing a plan devised by people
like Gamini Dissanayake, N.G.P.
Panditharatne and Herman Malinga Gunaratne.
40,000 Sinhala settlers were taken in
Mahaweli Authority vehicles and dropped in
jungles. Finances were provided by the
Mahaweli Development Ministry and Sinhala
security was provided by ex -navy
personnel. Most of them had been fired
from the navy for engaging in communal
violence against innocent Tamils in
Trincomalee during July 1983.
fairness to President J.R. Jayewardene he
was in the dark about this sordid
exercise. When an international outcry led
by India and Canada ensued a beleaguered
Jayewardene was frantic.
the gentle Tamil Minister K.W. Devanayagam
was uncharacteristically tough on this
issue. The lands came under Kalkudah, his
questioned Dissanayake underplayed the
issue saying only around 5,000 settlers
had converged on their own volition.
Jayewardene sent his trusted nephew Ranil
Wickremesinghe by helicopter to ascertain
reported back truthfully that 40,000
persons aided by Mahaweli personnel were
squatting illegally. This led to a major
showdown in cabinet between Wickremesinghe
Panditharatne and Dissanayake declined to
dismantle the project. So President
Jayewardene appointed Kaduwela MP and
lawyer Paul Perera as Polonnaruwa District
minister, and deputed him to handle the
with the assistance of some ex-army
officers adopted unofficial rough tactics
to drive away the illegal squatters. Thus
ended that drama.
planned official exercise
now those plans could be revived. What was
an ad hoc, unofficial attempt then could
become a well-planned official exercise
under the Rajapakse regime.
new Nagenahira Navodhaya scheme for
eastern resurgence could have a few such
projects on the agenda. For successful
settlement a strong military presence is
similar exercise as done in the Manalaaru/Weli
Oya region could be undertaken in the
the battle for Sampur commenced this
columnist warned of plans to set up a High
Security Zone in Sampur and Muttur East. I
predicted that the dispersed people would
not be allowed to go back to their
residences. This has now become harsh
the Rajapakse regime could go ahead with
such plans unless checked now. If no
action is taken by interested parties
despite advanced warnings then a replay of
Sampur is very likely.
that happens the region south of the
Trincomalee District could become a buffer
as in the case of the region north of the
Tamil Manalaaru became Sinhala Weli Oya.
Here Tamil Kudumbimalai could become