Claims and denials

Print edition : November 13, 1999

DID the Tamil Nadu police arrest Eric Soundranayagam and hand him over to the Sri Lankan police in Chennai or did the Sri Lankan police arrest him in Colombo? There is no definite answer to this question, but one thing is clear: Soundranayagam did come to Chennai a couple of weeks before the assassination of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and stayed in India for nearly three months before he was allegedly taken in by the police in the first week of October.

Dr. Tiruchelvam, Member of Parliament and Vice-President of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), was killed by a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suicide bomber while he was travelling in his car. The assassination of this brilliant self-effacing intellectual and public figure, who tried to find a non-violent solution to the Sri Lankan Tamil problem, drew strong condemnation and once again inflamed public opinion against the LTTE.

Informed sources in a Sri Lankan anti-LTTE Tamil militant group in Chennai asserted that the Q branch of the Tamil Nadu police arrested Soundranayagam in Chennai on October 5, handed him over to the Sri Lankan police in Chennai, and escorted him in a flight from Tiruchi to Colombo. A top Tamil Nadu police officer, however, denied this and said: "He was not arrested in India. He was arrested in Colombo by the Sri Lankan police." The officer added: "We have called for an explanation about how we missed him here." He alleged that stories had been planted in the newspapers about Soundranayagam's arrest in Chennai.

Informed sources said that Soundranayagam had played an important role in the preparations leading to the assassination of Dr. Tiruchelvam. According to them, he was detailed by the LTTE's intelligence wing chief, Pottu Amman, to track the TULF leader's movements. He took up a job in a telephone booth at Wellawatte in Colombo, kept watch on Dr. Tiruchelvam and passed on information to the LTTE squad, which despatched a Black Tiger on a suicide mission.

Coming to Chennai about two weeks before the assassination, Soundranayagam reportedly stayed for about a week with Vimalraj, a Sri Lankan Tamil, at 64 Anna Street in Tiruvanmiyur. Police interrogated Vimalraj, who shifted to another place on October 22. The sources rebutted the version that Soundranayagam was arrested at his sister's wedding in Chennai. They also discounted media reports that he was looking for a job as a newspaper reporter in India.

There are two rows of tenements on door numbers 64 and 65, Anna Street, Tiruvanmiyur, where working class people live. A narrow footpath separates the tenements.

The house-owner, Dakshinamur-thy, himself has now moved into the tenement where Vimalraj lived. According to Dakshinamurthy and others, a fair-complexioned young man in his late twenties stayed with Vimalraj for some time. Vimalraj himself was in his thirties, married to his maternal uncle's daughter, and had two children. He gave music lessons to children, many of whom were Sri Lankan Tamils. He attended church regularly. Dakshinamurthy and his neighbours said that the "CID police" came, questioned Vimalraj and took him to the police station. But the police did not arrest Soundranayagam from Vimalraj's home, they said. Dakshina-murthy explained: "After the police questioned Vimalraj, we asked him to vacate (the tenement), which he did."

A couple of weeks after Dr. Tiruchelvam's assassination, Colombo newspapers reported that Eric Soundranayagam had played an important role in the heinous crime but had escaped to India. A source from a militant group said: "He would not have gone back to Colombo on his own. Without the help of the local police, the Sri Lankan police could not have taken him away." The sources claimed that Sri Lankan and Tamil Nadu police personnel accompanied him to Colombo from Tiruchi and argued that he could have been "technically arrested after he got into the aircraft".

In the assessment of sources in the militant group, Soundranayagam could have been "a double agent but somebody felt that it was time he was compromised. He must have been trained even to intercept conversations by Indian officials." They claimed that Soundranayagam was now "cooperating with the police in Colombo and they have got various details" from him.

A top officer of the Tamil Nadu police said that the State police came to know that Soundranayagam had been taken into custody in Colombo only after Virakesari, a Colombo-based Tamil daily, reported it. The officer said, "His name has never come to our notice. This worries us a little - how he came here and went back. We have called for an explanation about how we missed him."

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