The Eastern warlord

Published : Apr 09, 2004 00:00 IST

VINAYAGAMOORTHY MURALEETHARAN alias Karuna Amman a.k.a "Col." Karuna was until his expulsion from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on March 6, the longest-serving regional commander of the Tigers. The Eastern commander has been in charge of Batticaloa and Amparai districts in Sri Lanka's Eastern Province since 1987.

Karuna hails from Kiran in Batticaloa district. His father Vinayagamoorthy is an agriculturist. Kiran comes under the Kalkudah electoral district, represented in Parliament from 1965 to 1989 by former Justice and Home Affairs Minister K.W. Devanayagam of the United National Party (UNP). Vinayagamoorthy was a staunch supporter of Devanayagam and frowned upon Tamil nationalism espoused by the Tamil United Liberation Front. Ironically, his son became an ardent advocate of Tamil nationalism and went on to take up arms in support of it.

Karuna, born in 1966, is the fifth of seven children. He has three elder sisters and two younger sisters, His male sibling is also a member of the LTTE and commands the Vaaharai region, known as "Andaankulam" Kottam, under the nom de guerre Reggie.

Karuna's sisters are schoolteachers or housewives. At least three of his nieces and nephews are also members of the LTTE.

Young Muraleetharan had his primary education at Kinniaddy Maha Vidyalayam and secondary education at Vantharumoolai Madhya Maha Vidyalayam and the Government College in Batticaloa. He was good at mechanical matters. Karuna is said to have repaired or upgraded several LTTE equipment.

He became a Tiger "helper" in 1982 as a GCE advanced-level student. After the July 1983 violence Karuna quit school and joined the LTTE formally.

He was enrolled in the third batch of recruits, and he received training in 1984 at a Tiger camp in Salemunder Ponnammaan and Radha.

Thereafter he functioned as a member of the dreaded LTTE intelligence outfit TOSIS (Tiger Organisation Security Intelligence Service) in Chennai. Karuna was also a bodyguard of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran for some time.

He returned to Sri Lanka in 1985 and began his fighting career under the then Batticaloa commander Basheer Kakka. Karuna continued serving in Batticaloa under Aruna and Kumara. He also worked under Pottu Amman when Pottu the was acting chief of Batticaloa in mid-1987.

All these four men are of Jaffna origin. In 1987, the LTTE began appointing members from a particular district as the respective district leaders.

Since the pioneering LTTE men from the East, Ramalingam Paramadeva alias Rajan and Ranjan Kanagaratnam alias Simon, had been killed earlier at Kaluwanchikudy and Kokkilaai respectively, Karuna was now the "son of the eastern soil" next in seniority. He assumed command of Batticaloa district shortly before the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987. When fighting began against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), former LTTE military leader of Amparai (Digamadulla) district David was taken into custody. Thereafter, Karuna took over the adjacent Amparai district too and has retained control of both districts ever since.

Karuna kept LTTE resistance alive during the days of the IPKF. He and his former deputy Reagan led the counter offensive against the ill-fated Tamil National Army after the withdrawal of the IPKF.

Karuna was instrumental in raising and training the LTTE's second infantry division "Jeyanthan Padaippirivu". This comprised cadre from the East alone as opposed to the North-based Charles Anthony division. Karuna's crowning moment of glory came in the mid-1990s when the government forces, conducting "Operation Jayasikurui" (Certain Victory), were making rapid strides into Tiger-held territory in the Northern mainland of the Wanni.

On Receiving an SOS from the high command, Karuna took his fighters to the North and helped resist the Army. Prabakaran's hideout in Puthukudiyiruppu was on the verge of being encircled at the time.

Karuna also planned and launched the third phase of the LTTE counter offensive. He became the joint commander of all LTTE fighters in the Wanni and executed several successful operations, reversing the military situation.

He was also the field commander-in-chief for the phases of Operation Oyatha Alaigal (Unceasing Waves), during which the LTTE wrested back control of the triangular swathe of territory within Oddusuddan in Mullaitheevu,Vidathaltheevu in Mannar and Omanthai in Vavunia.

Karuna returned home in triumph, having won the confidence and respect of Prabakaran. He was promoted as special commander of both Amparai and Batticaloa districts.

He was given virtual autonomy and allowed to set up parallel structures of power. Karuna set up, in addition to the Jeyanthan brigade, the Visaalagan and Vinothan brigades for men and the Anbarasi and Mathana brigades for women. He also formed the Johnson artillery unit and began the Balendra Officer Training College. He took over the Government agricultural farm and school in Karadiyanaaru and constructed the "Thenagam" base complex.

When Great Heroes day was observed on November 27, Karuna replicated the Wanni ceremony at Tharavai. At the same time that Prabakaran lit the eternal flame in the Wanni, Karuna did the same in Tharavai. He also delivered a Great Heroes day address like Prabakaran. Karuna projected himself as the "Eastern national leader", second only to Prabakaran in the Tiger hierarchy.

Karuna was elevated to negotiator status in September 2002 when the first round of direct talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE began. Karuna's selection was an acknowledgement of the Eastern equation and also the military factor. The rugged Eastern commander had attained this position owing to his prowess and military valour as opposed to some others whose ascendancy was more for other reasons.

Interestingly enough, Karuna's nomination to the negotiating team then was not perceived only as a recognition of his seniority and ability and the regional factor. It was also viewed as a calculated move to neutralise the Eastern factor in a possible scuttling of the peace process. Historically the "East" has been the Achilles heel of previous peace attempts.

While the underlying causes of mutual incompatibility caused tension during peace talks, the flashpoints contributing to the eruption of war occurred in the East where Karuna ruled the roost. Incorporating Karuna into the peace process in a responsible position indicated a deliberate design to prevent another breakdown of negotiations.

In 1987, Karuna protested strongly when Easterners were not included as Tiger nominees in the interim administration. When his former leader Kumarappa was killed, Karuna led an orgy of violence in the East, which ultimately destroyed the prevailing peace. In 1990, war broke out when Eastern Tigers surrounded the police stations in the region. Over 600 surrendered policemen were massacred.

In 1994, Karuna refused to accept a ceasefire unless Eastern cadre were given the right to carry arms in government-controlled areas. Even during the present peace process, Karuna walked out of the subcommittee overseeing the de-escalation of military activity, when he felt it was shamming seriousness. Karuna's human rights record is not good, and he has been implicated in several acts such as massacring Muslims, conscripting minors and gunning down political rivals.

Karuna strove to create a situation where the Eastern region would be considered on a par with the North. He formed several structures similar in nature but of a lesser scale to those in the North. He also insisted that the Norwegian facilitators, monitors, diplomats in Colombo and other dignitaries visit him in Batticaloa too.

Karuna married a woman Tiger Nira from Kallady in Batticaloa. It was an inter-caste marriage: Karuna is a Vellala and Nira is from the Karaiyaar caste. They have three children aged seven, five and three.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment