A major force within the LTTE

Published : Jun 22, 2002 00:00 IST

HE sat, laughing, next to his leader Velupillai Prabakaran when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader met mediapersons on April 10 in Killinochchi. It was the first time that many people saw the boyish looking but hawkish leader from Batticaloa, referred to as Colonel Karuna by Anton Balasingham. It is not clear how old he is, but it is accepted even by the Sri Lankan military that Karuna leads from the front and that he does not believe in withdrawing even if he is in danger. Karuna is credited with leading several battles to victory. He took part in all phases of Operation 'Unceasing Waves'. He was responsible for the capture of Aiyakachchi. It was, in a way, the beginning of the capture of Elephant Pass. Karuna is also well-guarded like his leader and, moreover, Prabakaran recognises Karuna as a real fighter. One of Sri Lanka's most successful Generals and currently the country's High Commissioner to Australia, Janaka Perera, once described Karuna as one of the LTTE's most successful commanders.

It is believed that Karuna would play an important role in the future struggle of the LTTE. Karuna is developing Batticaloa militarily, even while securing his place and strengthening his forces in the area. Decoded radio intercepts from Karuna made since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) refer ominously to "when hostilities recommence". More cadres have been recruited in the East. The military strength of the LTTE around its headquarters stands at an all-time high of around 7,000. LTTE cadres who fought in the battles in the North and in the Vanni have moved back to Batticaloa. It was Karuna who took them to fight the battles in the North and proved to Prabakaran how effective his forces were.

Most of the cadres in Batticaloa are returning to the East on the pretext of going on leave. One can question the real motive of Karuna at this juncture. What is he doing at a time when he is expected to lay down his arms, building a separate and dreadful force in Batticaloa? Karuna is getting ready to take over the East. He knows that Prabakaran trusts him though there is a difference between the Tamils in Batticaloa and Jaffna. No one knows if Karuna has an ulterior motive, or if he is following the orders of his leader. Karuna, like Prabakaran, is not very comfortable at times of peace. He is a real warlord of the LTTE.

At one time Karuna had no control over the political leader of the LTTE in Batticaloa, Karikalan. Karikalan went on a rampage in the East harassing Muslims and making his own decisions. He also upset S.P. Thamilchelvan, the leader of LTTE's political wing, by taking charge of Batticaloa's political operations and doing things his way. Observers say that his action made Thamilchelvan very insecure at the time. However, the shelling Karikalan got from Prabakaran settled matters for everyone. Karuna, the military man in Batticaloa, has a better control of the situation now. Karuna also has a great understanding with Paduman, a leader in Trincomalee described by Balasingham as Colonel Paduman. Paduman too is a strong military leader of the LTTE and was seated next to Karuna at Prabakaran's press conference.

Although Karuna is not seen in the picture, it is well-known that he has gained total control of Batticaloa and is strengthening Batticaloa and the East through mass mobilisation and collection of arms and ammunition. He has reorganised LTTE cadres into regiments. The "Pongu Tamil" and the anti-Indian "Annai Bupathi" celebrations held in Batticaloa helped Karuna in his mass mobilisation. The Tigers tried through these two events to project the image of the LTTE as the only saviours of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Four LTTE boats intercepted by the Sri Lanka Navy recently carried a large stock of arms and ammunition. The boats also carried hardcore Batticaloa cadres returning from the North. These boats were released without taking any count of arms or other items lying with the LTTE. Karuna and Paduman were also in those boats. There were reports about the presence of LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman. However, informed sources confirm that Pottu Amman was not in any of the boats. He had taken the sea route and landed before the Sri Lankan Navy intercepted the boats. Pottu Amman, along with his leader Velupillai Prabakaran, is wanted in India for the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Prabakaran has also started to recruit more cadres from Jaffna and the opening of the A-9 highway helped him to reach out to more people than ever before. It was never in doubt that Prabakaran has most faith in his people from Jaffna even though it was Karuna's people from the East who fought hard for the LTTE in recent times. Unconfirmed reports say that Balasingham had warned Prabakaran to keep Karuna under control. Some months ago, the pressure brought by the Army's deep penetration team on Karuna and Karikalan was so severe that they could not even attend Prabakaran's Heroes' Day celebrations. Karikalan narrowly escaped death because he was not in his vehicle when the deep penetration team struck. Military analysts believe that the deep penetration team could have neutralised the LTTE leadership in Batticaloa at the time. Karuna is now aware that he has freedom of action since the operations of the deep penetration teams came to a halt with the signing of the MoU.

Batticaloa comes under the charge of Major-General Sunil Tennekoon who has a clear understanding of the situation there. He has sent a report to the higher authorities about the LTTE's enhanced military capabilities and stockpiling of arms, the creation of a fear psychosis among the people living in Batticaloa, the LTTE's intervention in the civil administration, and more. Government Agents in Batticaloa already work under the instructions of the LTTE. It also summoned a meeting of government servants in Kokkadichilai and Karadiyanaru and blamed the Tamils for their inadequate support to propagate the activities of the LTTE. It is well-known that the LTTE is sending cadres to cleared areas disregarding the MoU, and the contractors for international non-governmental organisations operating in Batticaloa, such as the Norwegian Save the Children, and government projects are nominated by the LTTE.

It is reported that the Sri Lankan Army is undergoing combat training and is in readiness, though it is not evident. Most of the checkpoints in the East are neglected and a number of them have been removed. Soldiers are in a relaxed mood. But no one knows what Karuna is up to. It is Karuna that Sri Lanka's Minister of Defence, Thilak Marapona, and even Prabakaran have got to watch closely. Karuna may prove people wrong, people who believe that everything will end the day Prabakaran goes to 'heaven'. In fact Karuna is emerging as a formidable leader of the LTTE though he hails from the East. He could be even more ruthless than Prabakaran. Karuna may even tell Prabakaran one day: "I will look after the East and you look after the North."

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