World Affairs









Charles was in Colombo - Pottu
Mannar battle lines heat up

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, 
February 2002, flanked by Milinda Moragoda 
and Norwegian Ambassador, Jon Westborg after signing the Ceasefire Agreement 
and (inset) Velupillai Pirapaharan

Three days to day of reckoning

By Amantha Perera

In the early 1990s when the Tamil Tigers were talking peace with the administration of President  Ranasinghe Premadasa, Tiger intelligence head Pottu Amman dispatched a young cadre he had met only recently to Colombo. The cadre may have been young, but the mission he was on was not small.

Based on intelligence that then Minister of State for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne was planning to target Tiger Head Velupillai Pirapaharan in Jaffna, Pottu Amman dispatched young Shanmuganathan Ravishankar to Colombo to thwart the plans.

Wijeratne was assassinated when a powerful bomb ripped through his motorcade on Havelock Road during the morning hours on March 2, 1991. Ravishankar's role in the assassination was only vaguely  hinted at 17 years later, during a funeral oration delivered by his original handler Pottu Amman at Ravishankar's own funeral.

"When our organisation was involved in peace talks during the period of Premadasa, we received credible intelligence reports that Ranjan Wijeratne, the then defence minister and the Sri Lanka military were hatching a plan to assassinate our national leader in Jaffna. With our limited resources available to us at that time, we foiled their plans and forced them to restrict their activities within Colombo."

Nullify the plan

"Col. Charles went to the capital, and with meticulous planning, he was able to thwart the efforts of the enemy and nullify their murderous plan," Pottu Amman said at the funeral held on January 7 in Kilinochchi according to TamilNet.

Ravishankar who was known by his nom de guerre Charles died under similar circumstances as Wijeratne, his van was targeted by a powerful claymore mine in at Palaimadhu, north of Mannar on January 5 evening.

Pottu Amman did not elaborate whether Charles returned to the Wanni or remained in Colombo for a lengthy period of time after the Wijeratne murder. But soon after his death both the government military and Tigers acknowledged his role in handling Tiger hit squads and the Black Tigers in the south and the Wanni. In addition to whatever role he played in the Wijeratne assassination he was the main mover in a string of attacks in Colombo and elsewhere.

Soosai, the Sea Tiger leader said at the funeral that Charles was instrumental in organising the Black Sea Tigers and added that many did not know him.

"Charles was in charge of such a group - the incognito Black Tigers - and faced the pressures of huge responsibilities of coordinating their activities with great courage," Pottu Amman said.

Responsible for attacks

The Defence Ministry and the Media Centre for National Security said that Charles was responsible for a series of attacks in Colombo mostly carried out in the '90s.

Among such attacks "planned and executed by Charles was the bombing of Central Bank, Colombo in 1996. In this attack, 86 civilians were killed and over 1400 others suffered injuries.

"According to defence intelligence sources, terror chief Pirapaharan had presented a 'Pajero' jeep to Charles for his success in the Central Bank bomb attack. Charles was also known to have been involved in terrorist attacks at Kolonnawa fuel storage, Kelanitissa power plant, JOC bomb in Colombo, and assassinations of key political figures and armed forces personnel in the country," the Defence Ministry said.

The MCNS said that he was part of the planning team that carried out the assassination of Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, two months after the Wijeratne killing in May 1991.  The senior Tiger leader was also linked to the attack on the Dalada Maligawa in January 1998.

"He was also responsible for the attack in Rajagiriya in the year 2000. He had planned several attacks using suicide bombers on EPDP Leader, Minister Douglas Devananda. However these attacks on the Minister were all unsuccessful. The other attacks planned by 'Charles' targeted the Ratmalana Air Force Base in 1997 and the attack on the Galadari Hotel in Colombo Fort in 1997," the MCNS said.

The MCNS put his age at 35, meaning if correct if he was a very young operative when the attacks in Colombo were carried out.

Information received from inside

According to the Defence Ministry the attack on Charles was based on information received from inside Tiger held areas. "The attack was carried out with accurate ground information received from LTTE dominated Wanni region," it said.

The Ministry also hinted at misunderstandings between Charles and his mentor Pottu Amman. "Pottu Amman being senior to Charles in the outfit was said to have become jealous of Charles for his ability to win the confidence of the terrorist leader. Just before the 2002 ceasefire, Pirapaharan had to move Charles to Batticaloa due to the rising hostility between his two intelligence leaders. It was only in 2005; Pirapaharan could bring Charles back to Wanni."

At the time of his death Charles was the head of Tiger internal intelligence and was also reportedly involved in plans to eliminate senior intelligence operatives from within government forces and handling informants within forces as well as others in the south.

A small  attack party consisting of a handful of special forces personnel was in place when the white van with Charles and three others approached their hideout during the evening of January 5 in Palaimadhu located about 5km. from where heavy fighting has been raging between government troops and the Tigers.

Deep penetration team

The claymore killed all in the van. While the Tigers had launched an immediate search operation in the area to hunt down the deep penetration team, there was no indication that the party had been detected.

The Charles killing carries multiple threats to the Tigers. It was well known that senior Tiger cadres have been relocated along the Vavuniya-Mannar line of control in the last two months with fighting intensifying and government troops increasing forays into Tiger areas.

Among those in close proximity to the fighting are Bhanu, Jeyam and Vidusha, the head of the female Tigers. The attack on Charles would severely restrict their movements even if it was a chance occurrence as the Tigers say it was. Additionally he became the second top Tiger leader to have fallen in three months following the death of S. P. Tamilselvan during an air raid on November 2 early morning.

Successful military operation

The Tigers have exhibited a penchant for moving senior cadres into the battle front to pump cadre morale. Junior Tigers from the east would show with glee the exact location Karuna led battles on the Elephant Pass Front in 1999, the last successful military operation by the Tigers.

An early indication of the Tiger reaction to the government onslaught into their areas in the east came when most of the senior cadres were pulled back to the Wanni. At one time, seniors like Bahnu, Balraj, Swarnam and Jeyam were all in the east. The current military spokesperson for the Tigers, Rasiah Ilanthirayan alias Marshall also was based in the east.

The Tiger reaction to the murder of Charles was swift; in the morning of January 7, a claymore blast shattered the passenger side of the jeep in which Minister of Nation Building D. M. Dassanayake was travelling to Colombo to attend parliament at Tudella, Jaela.

Dassanayake who was seated in the front passenger seat suffered severe head injuries and died two hours later at the Ragama Hospital.

Reconstruction of east

Dassanayake's direct involvement with anything to do with the war was being in charge of some areas of reconstruction in the east - he had visited Vaharai once or twice. But there are at least two other non-cabinet ministers who serve in the same capacity and there are five non-cabinet ministers of nation building, the portfolio Dassanayake held.

The attack on Dassanayake opens a new dimension in the south, that anybody associated with the government or the military can be a target.

"Defence observers are of the view that LTTE terrorists will continue to carry out this type of cowardly attacks in the south, in order to divert the attention of the security forces from northern battlefronts to the south," the Defence Ministry warned just hours after the assassination.

The Tigers did not or were prevented from carrying out retaliatory attacks after the Tamilselvan murder though there were threats made by the likes of Pottu Amman.

The Charles hit came amidst heavy and continuous fighting in areas north of the former Uylankulam crossover point. Heavy fighting was reported at Parapakandal and Adampan south of Pallaimadu where Charles was killed on January 5 morning.

Confront the Tigers

Government troops in small groups continue to move ahead of positions and confront the Tigers the government said, and that along with Charles and the other three who died in the claymore attack, over 20 Tigers were presumed killed in the confrontations on January 5.

Government troops were attempting to move ahead of the defences through last week, but were faced with stiff resistance. The government advances have been backed by artillery fire and multi-barrel fire.

The Tigers said that three hours of battles were reported in Parapakandal  and Mullikulam areas ahead of the Vavuniya-Mannar line on January 8 and a government advance was fought back. They said that the advancing troops were supported by air force jets that flew sorties over the area.

Early morning on January 11 too Tigers had launched a concerted attack on government troops fortifying positions in the Parapakandal area. Initial reports said that two soldiers and seven Tigers had been killed during the clash. The military had launched a fierce assault on the Tigers in Parapakandal the morning before. Air strikes were  reported over Mulaithivu as well.

Massive offensive

The army however has not launched a massive offensive involving hundreds of troops in the area yet and so far has been intent on carrying out operations using small but mobile formations. Holding land  has also not been the main concern of the army.

The Tigers said that they had killed four soldiers during the January 8 confrontations.

If the army succeeds in denting Tiger control in the area one of the prime locations on the wish list would be Vidattalthivu, the small bay like area just north of the Mannar island.

It is one of the main supply bases used by the Tigers to unload fuel and other small supplies from India. In fact the Tiger flotilla that was encountered by the navy off the southern coast of Delft on December 27  was suspected to have moved to Vidattalthivu after the confrontation. The Navy FAC P413 was sunk in the attack.

Vidattalthivu remains the most important supply base for the Tigers on the Mannar coast.

By January 10, clashes were also reported at Muhamalai south of Jaffna. Government forces had moved ahead of their positions around 5 am and confronted Tigers and said that five Tigers were killed in two separate confrontations.

The Tigers reacted to the abrogation of the ceasefire for the first time last week. They released a statement soon after political head P. Nadesan met with SLMM head Lars Slovberg on January 10.

Norway as facilitator

The Tigers said that they were still agreeable to continue with the 2002 ceasefire and Norway as facilitator. But they also stuck to their previous hard-line stance that all the conditions of the CFA have to be respected to the letter. And one of the main demands has been  the reopening of the A9 road, closed since August 11, 2006.

"With no regard to the CFA, the GoSL began undertaking large scale military offensives creating immense human misery in the Tamil homeland. Despite this, respecting the wishes of Norway and the international community that the CFA must be strengthened and the two sides must take part in direct talks, the LTTE took part in two direct talks in Geneva in 2006.

"Even in these two direct talks in Geneva, the LTTE reiterated over and over again that the CFA must be implemented 100%. The LTTE also expressed its readiness to implement the CFA 100% on its side and requested the GoSL to implement, on a humanitarian basis for the sake of the more than 400,000 people trapped in the open prison that is Jaffna,  just one clause in the CFA about the opening of the A9 highway. The GoSL rejected this humanitarian call and as a result the peace efforts again came to a stand still," the Tigers said.

The government position has been that it was the Tigers who forced the closure of the A9 by attacking government lines at Muhamalai unprovoked.

This kind of rhetoric has been heard for over two years now and the ensuing results are abundantly clear, a ceasefire in shambles and a country on the fringe of unbridled war.  

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