The conflicts within

Published : Apr 09, 2004 00:00 IST

When the confrontation with Colombo eased with the ceasefire, the contradictions within the LTTE came into play.

ONE factor baffling most observers of LTTE affairs is the real cause of the current crisis. The split within the LTTE came to light when its Eastern commander `Col.' Karuna himself informed the Norwegian facilitators of the current peace process about it and asked them to inform the Sri Lankan government of the situation.

Why did Karuna himself publicise the simmering internal conflict? He is too much of a Tiger veteran not to realise the consequences of this action. More importantly, what is the cause of the estrangement between Karuna and the LTTE hierarchy?

Karuna was LTTE leader Prabakaran's blue-eyed boy after his military exploits in the Northern mainland. The LTTE chief elevated Karuna to the position of Special Commander of Batticaloa-Amparai districts and gave him virtual autonomy to run the region's affairs.

Though Karuna was happy initially, the advent of peace brought about a new set of problems. With the cessation of major contradictions between the armed forces and the Tamil people, the contradictions within the Tamil people started emerging.

One of these was the conflict between the central and regional institutions of the LTTE. Another was the northern Tamil-eastern Tamil differences. Yet another area of conflict was the LTTE's new strategy of delinking administration from the control of the military.

After the ceasefire of February 23, 2002, the LTTE's high command began expanding its activities into the regions, notably the East. Earlier, this was not possible owing to the war. In times of conflict, the regional chiefs practically had a free hand in running the affairs of their territories. This was so particularly in the case of Karuna, whose seniority and military ability were appreciated greatly.

However, there was an anomaly. The central divisions were not answerable to the regional command and reported back to their heads, who in turn reported to Prabakaran. Thus several acts were carried out in the East in the name of the LTTE, over which Karuna had no control. In many instances he had no knowledge of them too.

The LTTE's courts, police stations, income tax offices and, more importantly, the dreaded intelligence wing TOSIS (Tiger Organisation Security Intelligence Service), all functioned in the East without being subject to any regional control.

This was particularly galling to a man of Karuna's calibre. He felt that he deserved special treatment because of his seniority and the services rendered by the Eastern cadre. He found the special position to which he had been elevated being undermined systematically. This was nothing but humiliation in front of his cadre. The autonomy Prabakaran had given him with the right hand was being plucked away by the left hand. Karuna's complaints to the LTTE chief about Pottu Amman, Nadesan and Thamilendhi were not heeded.

Complicating matters further was the regional factor. Batticaloa Tamils in general nurse a feeling of being discriminated against or dominated by Jaffna Tamils. This feeling had to be handled with care and sensitivity, which seemed absent in the LTTE.

To make matters worse, power structures at the centre were all led and to a great extent manned by Northern Tamils. Karuna and his loyalists resented this northern hegemony as they perceived it and commenced a campaign of non-cooperation, even resistance. This cold war has been on for quite some time now and has been largely unknown outside the Tiger realm.

Karuna alleges that of the 32 departments within the LTTE, none is headed by an Eastern Tamil. The 15-man central committee has only two Easterners, who are there by virtue of being Trincomalee and Batticaloa-Amparai commanders.

Karuna compares this with the military situation where the Eastern Tigers have made proportionately higher sacrifices. As many as 4,543 Eastern Tigers have lost their lives so far in the struggle. Of these 2,302 died in Northern battles. Operations on Eastern soil took only 2,241 lives. Despite these sacrifices, Eastern Tigers have not received a fair deal after peace, says Karuna.

Aggravating matters further is the long duel between the two "Ammans" (uncles). There has been rivalry between Pottu Amman and Karuna Amman since 1987 when they served together in Batticaloa. In recent times, both have competed to be in Prabakaran's good books and possibly occupy the de facto number two position.

Resenting the activities of Pottu Amman's outfit on his native soil, Karuna started a separate wing known as "Intelligence BA". This agency began monitoring the activities of Pottu Amman's operatives.

Pottu is the most feared man within the LTTE. He has brought down many people, including former deputy leader Mahendrarajah Mahatiya. The clash of the Ammans in the East saw the TOSIS launch an intensive probe into Karuna himself.

Aided by operatives of the Thamilendhi-led finance section and Nadesan-led police divisions, Pottu Amman's men began compiling a dossier against Karuna. When Batticaloa business people were interrogated about Karuna's dealings, an enraged Karuna asked traders not to cooperate with the inquiry.

The charges were misappropriation of funds amounting to Rs.150 million, building a house for himself, encouraging anti-Muslim activities, masterminding the conscription of minors and so on. There was also an accusation about an amorous relationship with a senior leader of the Tiger women's brigade. (Karuna is married with three children.) Prabakaran "asked" Karuna to come to the Wanni and answer the charges. It may be recalled that Mahatiya too was given a charge-sheet to be answered before being taken into custody. He was later tortured and forced to "confess".

Karuna sensed a trap and refused to comply, despite several directives. This led to a straining of relations between him and the Tiger supremo. This also led to Karuna being excluded from a team that recently visited Europe, led by Thamilchelvan. Earlier, both had travelled all over the globe. The LTTE also cancelled a monthly grant of Rs.10 million for the upkeep of Eastern Tigers.

The next twist was when more than a 100 TOSIS operatives were deployed in Batticaloa by Pottu Amman. It was suspected that Pottu was planning to abduct Karuna clandestinely to the Wanni or even to assassinate him. Given Karuna's popularity in Batticaloa, an open confrontation seemed impossible. Karuna feared that Pottu would commence a campaign to discredit him and then strike.

When elections were announced, Karuna reportedly gave the green light to parties such as the United National Party (UNP) and the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) to contest from Batticaloa along with the Tiger-sponsored Tamil National Alliance. But suddenly a UNP candidate was killed and an EPDP activist gunned down. This, according to sources close to Karuna, made him panic. He thought that Pottu was getting ready to strike first in typical Tiger fashion.

What has not come to light in Batticaloa so far is that about 12 senior TOSIS operatives in the region were rounded up and killed by Karuna's loyalists for allegedly plotting to kill Karuna. A further 25 to 30 intelligence-wing cadre were detained but they escaped with the help of people like Ramesh and Ram, who have turned against Karuna. Another 60 to 75 TOSIS operatives led by Keerthi are under house arrest in Kannankudah on the western shore of the lagoon.

It was after this swift strike that Karuna brought the issue out into the open. He is raising regional concerns with remarkable success to strengthen his position. Whatever his motives, the concerns raised are valid and have struck a responsive chord in the East.

LTTE circles close to Jaffna say that Karuna has revolted only to escape punishment under the strict disciplinary codes for his misconduct. It is also said that the demand to sack Pottu, Nadesan and Thamilendhi is made because their departments were instrumental in `exposing' Karuna.

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