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Pottu Amman in Jaffna

Print edition : Dec 13, 1997 T+T-

POTTU AMMAN, or Pottamman, the former intelligence wing chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has now been appointed military commander of the Jaffna peninsula by LTTE supremo V. Prabakaran. Pottu Amman, Prabakaran and Akila, LTTE women's wing leader, have been cited as the chief conspirators behind the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

Pottu Amman, whose real name is Sivasankaran, is a native of Ariyalai, a suburb of Jaffna town. There is a story about how he got the nickname. 'Pottu' means 'tilak' or the dot on the forehead. A common feature on Tamil political platforms in Sri Lanka years ago was for youths overcome by emotion to prick their thumbs with a sharp instrument and press the blood on the foreheads of Tamil politicians. This was meant to symbolise their dedication to the Tamil cause. Sivasankaran was a follower of former Jaffna MP V. Yogeswaran in his youth. On one occasion he had in excitement slashed his forearm and daubed Yogeswaran's forehead with blood. The bleeding was excessive and a fainting Sivasankaran was taken to hospital. From then on, the nickname 'Pottu' stuck. Later, seniority brought to the name the suffix 'amman', which means uncle but is used also as a term of respect.

Pottu Amman is one of the few LTTE leaders from the pre-1983 period, when the group had only 32 members. Joining the LTTE in 1982 as a full-timer, Pottu rose from the ranks to become Batticaloa commander, Jaffna commander and intelligence chief. He was in charge of Jaffna for a brief period when the Indian Peace Keeping Force was in Sri Lanka. As intelligence chief, he allegedly masterminded the killing of Rajiv Gandhi, Premadasa, Ranjan Wijeratne, Admiral Clancy Fernando and others. He was also instrumental in uncovering the so-called conspiracy of former deputy leader Mahathiya against Prabakaran.

This close confidant of Prabakaran was later in charge of training the "Chiruththaigal" or Leopards, a commando-type division. One task set for this division was to pursue guerilla activities in the army-controlled Jaffna peninsula. Pottu Amman replaced Tamil Chelvan, whose performance had reportedly disappointed Prabakaran.

Pottu Amman is already in Jaffna and has begun operations in his new role as military commander of the Jaffna peninsula. November saw 18 incidents in the peninsula, resulting in 82 casualties for government troops.

According to the Tamil political grapevine, Prabakaran has entrusted Pottu Amman to accomplish certain tasks within a timeframe. The fall of Jaffna was a tremendous blow to the LTTE psyche. Recently the LTTE conducted a successful fund-raising drive overseas for the specific objective of retaking Jaffna. Many expatriates of Jaffna origin have contributed lavishly to the cause.

Defence analysts feel that there is negligible possibility of the LTTE retaking Jaffna. It is, however, feared that Pottu Amman and his Leopards may escalate the level of conflict in the peninsula and set back the process of rehabilitation under way there.

Interestingly, the new Army chief for Jaffna is Major General Lionel Balagalle, who was earlier Director of Sri Lanka's Military Intelligence. Now that the chief protagonists have a background in intelligence, can the long-suffering residents of Jaffna hope for an intelligent approach to resolve the conflict.