Mystery of an injury

Print edition : January 18, 2008

Wall posters in Colombo announcing the hot news in the English language newspaper The Nation that the LTTE leader was wounded in an air strike.-SANKA VIDANAGAMA/AFP

Reports about LTTE leader V. Prabakaran sustaining injuries in an aerial raid evoke hostile denial from his group.

Wall posters in

THE controversy triggered by what could undoubtedly be the news of 2007 from Sri Lanka, about whether or not Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabakaran sustained injuries in an aerial attack by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) in the last week of November, will never be settled. After all, the incident in question is supposed to have taken place in an area under the command of the Tigers and they can never be expected to concede that such an incident is even possible. Little wonder then that the reaction of the Tigers is rhetorical: Prabakaran is the Sun god and no one can extinguish him!

The news could have been dismissed as no more than propaganda in the ongoing undeclared war between the security forces and the LTTE if it had emanated from government sources. Prabakaran was declared dead by a section of the government media in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami!

The reported incident of Prabakarans injury acquired credibility because it came from a journalistic source, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, considered an authority on the affairs of Sri Lanka.

There is an irony, but it is the simple truth. Although Jeyaraj lives in Canada, he is regarded as one of the best informed persons on the island nation. Jeyaraj, with his vast network of contacts, particularly in the North and the East, and tireless work, is considered to be better informed than those who matter even within Sri Lanka. Therein lies the significance of his newsbreak.

A few aspects relating to the scoop have been overlooked by those who have sought to rubbish it as ridiculous. While the incident is supposed to have taken place on November 28, the report appeared under the byline of Jeyaraj in The Nation, a Sri Lankan Sunday weekly, on December 16. Given the total control the LTTE has over the Wanni jungles and the personality cult and secrecy built around Prabakaran, it is next to impossible for anyone to penetrate into the inner circles of the LTTE.

Jeyarajs report was matter of fact, with all precautions for a margin of error of facts as well as judgment. It read:

Velupillai Prabakaran, the elusive chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has sustained minor injuries in aerial bombardment by the Sri Lanka Air Force in the last week of November. Although the injuries are not of a serious nature, the LTTE supremo was treated at an underground medical facility in a secret location by the Thileepan medical unit, it is learnt.

The LTTE is keeping the entire incident under wraps because of the demoralising effect it may have on cadres and supporters of the movement. Also the Sri Lankan security forces may receive a morale booster by knowledge of the incident.

The LTTE leader has fully recovered from the incident and is now moving about without any problem. On Friday, December 14th, the Tiger supremo paid homage to the memory of Anton Stanislaus Balasingham who passed away on the same date last year.

Further, the report said that the silence maintained by the Sri Lankan authorities over the incident seemed to suggest that they were unaware of the fact that one of the bombs dropped by SLAF had inflicted slight injuries on their most prized enemy target.

Jeyaraj provided elaborate details on the incident. Quoting informed Tamil sources, he said that the bombing incident involving three SLAF planes, believed to be Israeli-built K-fir jet bombers, took place in the suburban areas of Kilinochchi town around noon on Wednesday, November 28.

He wrote: The air attack began around 12-25 p.m. and went on for about 20 minutes during which the aircraft discharged their lethal cargo. The bombs had fallen on some houses in Jeyanthy Nagar and in outlying areas, including groves with lush vegetation. The bombs had also damaged the Uruthirapuran road extensively.

At least one of the bombs had hit the underground bunker in which the LTTE leader was staying on November 28th. A section of the bunker had apparently crumbled and some falling debris had struck the LTTE leader by accident. He received minor injuries.

It is not clear as to where Prabakaran sustained injuries but unconfirmed reports said it was on the back, shoulder and arm. He was promptly taken to an undisclosed location and treated. He was then moved to an underground LTTE clinic run by the Thileepan medical unit at a secret location.

There is no element of drama or sensationalism in the report. The tone and tenor of the dispatch shows more than anything else the vulnerability of the LTTE in the current phase of its war with the government forces. It is acknowledged even by the LTTE that after being chased out of the East, the Tigers are engaged in an intense battle with the security forces in the North. Aerial raids are a regular feature, sometimes with lethal effect as was evident on November 2 when the LTTE political wing chief, S.P. Tamilselvan, was killed.

Northern Sri Lanka, parts of which are under the control of the LTTE, has been the theatre of war for several weeks now. Is it extraordinary in such a situation for Prabakaran to be the target, even if it is by chance, of an aerial attack?

Moreover, the Norwegian-brokered 2002 Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) has collapsed for all practical purposes and the government, at the highest level, has said that the forces are out to get the LTTE leader.

A day after the report of Jeyaraj appeared, Frontline had a detailed interaction with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother and Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa. Both of them more or less confirmed the contents of Jeyarajs report. Queried about the supposed injuries to Prabakaran in the air raid, Rajapaksa said the military was sure that on that particular day the Air Force had definitely hit two important targets of the Tigers in Kilinochchi.

At the moment we are not in a position to comment on the correctness of the report [about whether or not Prabakaran was present at one of the two locations]. However, SLAF is certain that it has hit two specific high-value targets of the LTTE on November 28, the President said. The Defence Secretary said the same thing in a separate conversation.

What prompted them to be cautious? The reason could be the ramifications of such an admission. At least on paper, the government is still committed to the CFA and perhaps did not want to risk incurring the wrath of the international community by conceding such open violation of it. However, less than 48 hours later, the government chose to throw caution to wind and went public with the claim on the aerial raid targeting Prabakaran. The claim, in the form of a statement released around 9 p.m. on December 19, came with a twist. It read:

Acting on reliable intelligence, the Air Force carried out a successful air strike targeting the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabakaran, on 26th November, 2007. Intelligence sources confirmed that Velupillai Prabakaran had sustained injuries in the air strikes carried out by four attack aircraft of the Sri Lanka Air Force on a bunker complex in Jayanthinagar, Kilinochchi, around 5-25 p.m. on 26th November, 2007. Intelligence had confirmed that the bunker complex was frequented by the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabakaran.

Attack aircraft of the Air Force carried out another air strike on the same target on 28th November 2007. The Air Force confirms that the target was successfully destroyed amidst heavy LTTE ground-to-air fire towards the Sri Lanka Air Force aircraft. Subsequent to the attack, the Air Force monitored movements around the target trying to clear the debris.

Though the Air Force believed that Velupillai Prabakaran had been hit in this attack, non-availability of ground information to confirm such at that time prevented the government from releasing this information to the media.

If the government account, although it came 23 days after the reported incident, is to be believed, there were two air raids targeting Prabakaran, and not one. The first raid was supposed to have been conducted on November 26, which coincided with the 53rd birthday of the LTTE leader. The second came two days later. There is no explanation from the military as to what prompted the Air Force to target the same place twice in a span of 48 hours.

The Maaveerar Naal, or Great Heroes Day was on the following day, on November 27. The LTTE leaders annual address was scheduled to go on air in the evening.

The Air Force bombed the Voice of Tigers radio station in Kilinochchi shortly before the speech was to be relayed. Eight persons, including three civilian employees of the station, were killed and 15 persons, including four employees, were injured. Prabakarans speech, perhaps pre-recorded, was broadcast as scheduled through back-up facilities.

As if the confusion created by the government was not enough, the government-owned media confounded it by putting out a report that the condition of an injured Prabakaran had worsened owing to his diabetic condition and that the Tigers were attempting to sneak him out of the country for medical treatment.

The state-owned Lake House media group, in a report, claimed: Earlier, defence sources confirmed that Prabakaran, who has been instrumental in killing over 50,000 people through his acts of terror for nearly three decades, had suffered severe injuries in a SLAF air raid last month. Intelligence reports have confirmed that 116 of the 200 elite guards protecting the LTTE terrorist leader had died in the recent attack by the Sri Lanka Air Force, in which Prabakaran was said to have been injured.

A senior Defence Ministry official said that since intelligence reports have confirmed that Prabakaran, a diabetic patient, sustained injuries on November 26, there could be an attempt by the Tiger leader to go to India for treatment if the medical facilities in Kilinochchi or Mullaithivu were not sufficient to treat him. But India will not provide any facility for Prabakaran and we will not allow him to leave the country and will maintain strict vigilance on LTTE movements, the official said.

The condition of Prabakaran has worsened due to high blood sugar and the LTTE is looking at prospects of taking him out of the country for treatment.

Intelligence reports indicate that the top-most terrorist in Sri Lanka has sustained injuries or fractures in his arm and a leg. Since the Tiger leader is already suffering from diabetes, his condition has got worsened and the LTTE is making attempts to evacuate him to a foreign country for further treatment.

It was an obvious effort at crude propaganda, and trust the government to undermine further its authority with such reckless speculations. The gimmicks of the government will only add to the strains of the likes of Jeyaraj, who are facing tremendous hostility from the LTTE.

Jeyaraj noted in his follow-up report: The recent bombing incident raised several uncomfortable questions for the LTTE. What would have happened if the bombing was fatal? What would happen in a scenario where the LTTE leader is no more? After Praba who?

The stock response of most LTTE supporters is to emulate the ostrich and bury their heads in the sand. They refuse to accept that such a situation is possible. It is a state of denial. When this columnist broke the story about the bombing in The Nation newspaper, the reaction of many LTTE stooges was hostile denial. In a convoluted version of killing the messenger syndrome, this columnist was the target of a vituperative, concerted attack. LTTE elements may feel good after such attacks but the ground reality remains the same. Once again it has been proved that the LTTE leader is physically vulnerable.

The warped timelines of the attacks and statements leave one wondering about their credibility on the one hand and, as usual, waiting for the counter-moves from the Tigers, on the other.

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