Colombo | 12th Aug
elvarasa Pathmanathan or "KP" (56) was LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran's oldest and most trusted associate, first coming in contact with him in 1976. In 1982, Prabhakaran sent him to Chennai in India to coordinate funding for the group as well as procurement of weapons, explosives and other materiel needed for LTTE operations in Sri Lanka. Two years after Rajiv Gandhi sent in the IPKF to LTTE-held areas of Sri Lanka in 1987, "KP" shifted to Bangkok, marrying a Thai girl and fathering a daughter. From there as well, he ensured a steady supply of cash, weaponry and provisions for the fighters back home. However, the restrictions on transfer of funds and purchase of weaponry and explosives put in place by the US after 9/11 severely handicapped his functioning, leading to a sharp fall in supplies. As a consequence, Prabhakaran removed him as chief of the International Department of the LTTE in 2002. However, less than four months away from his own demise, the LTTE supremo asked "KP" to once again take charge of international operations from Thailand itself, a request that was immediately accepted. On 18 May, a little after 6 p.m., all contact with Prabhakaran and his associate Soosai ceased. The supremo was dead, as was his organisation. "KP" surrendered to the Sri Lankan authorities and was placed under house arrest, from where on 9 August he talked to Madhav Nalapat:
Q: Why did Prabhakaran order the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi?
A: He was convinced that Rajiv wanted him to be killed. He was worried that the Congress may win the 1991 polls and that Rajiv would once again send in the IPKF, this time to finish him off. So he decided to get him first.
Q: Who gave him that idea?
A: (After a pause) A politician from Tamil Nadu, whom Prabhakaran trusted, told him that his information was that Rajiv was angry about his refusing to give up the Eelam (independent Tamil homeland) demand, and that (the politician had information that) Rajiv wanted to take revenge by killing Prabhakaran. Later, when other politicians in Tamil Nadu told him that the Congress was likely to come back to power, he gave orders to eliminate Rajiv Gandhi. (This was about) five months before the parliamentary elections of 1991.
Q: Who is that politician?
A: I am sorry, I can't give the name. He is still around and very senior. You must remember that even by that time, Prabhakaran was very isolated. Almost all his sources for information about India came from Tamil Nadu. And it turned out that the Congress (and its ally, the AIADMK) did very well in that state. The mistake Prabhakaran's informants made was to believe that all of India would follow the Tamil Nadu pattern and give a majority to Congress.
Q: But Rajiv offered Prabhakaran a good deal in 1988. The Tigers would have got substantial autonomy for the areas they were interested in. Why did Prabhakaran go back on his agreement with Rajiv?
A: You must remember that Prabhakaran was fixed on Eelam. At no stage was he prepared to accept anything less than a wholly independent Tamil state. He said that he was forced to pretend to agree so as to come back and resume the struggle. He had no choice. Besides, he mistrusted Rajiv's newfound closeness with (President) Jayewardene. This was why he believed the Tamil Nadu politician who told him Rajiv wanted him dead.
Q: Why was Prabhakaran so adamant on Eelam?
A: You must understand his psychology. From a young age, he had put aside everything to focus on Eelam. He saw himself as the successor to the Chola kings, and wanted to create a new Tamil kingdom that would rival theirs in greatness
Q: Out of a tiny bit of land in the north of Sri Lanka?
A: To Prabhakaran, winning control over the north and part of the west and east coasts of Sri Lanka would just be the beginning. The intention was to use the territory to "prepare" the Tamil Nadu people to revolt against Delhi the way he had against Colombo. What few know is that some Tamil Nadu politicians encouraged this dream by saying that they too favoured the extension of Eelam to India.
Q: Who were they?
A: I won't reveal their names. All I can say is that Prabhakaran was in regular touch with Karunanidhi, Nedumaran, Vaiko and Ramadoss. All four encouraged him in various ways. One point he made often to me was that Tamil Nadu politicians (who were in touch with him) were supporters of freedom for the Tamils only when they were out of power. Once in office, they became silent about the need for (a greater) Eelam.
Q: What were the LTTE's last days like? You were in touch with Prabhakaran and his associates almost to the end.
A: Many of those with him saw that they were lost when Killinochi fell in January 2008. Some used to confide this to me on satellite telephone. However, none dared tell Prabhakaran that he was defeated. They knew that if he heard something that he disliked, he could strip that person of all his powers or even finish him off. Hence even Pottu Amman gave him an optimistic picture, even though he knew from end-January 2008 that the game was up and that the Sri Lankan Army had won.
Q: What was Prabhakaran hoping for? A miracle?
A: He had a lot of faith in the Europeans, especially (Norwegian Foreign Minister) Eric Solheim. From 2006 onwards, Solheim had been putting pressure on Colombo to concede to LTTE demands. He had a lot of respect for Prabhakaran and saw him not as a terrorist the way some others did, but as a freedom fighter. Solheim thought that Prabhakaran was a great warrior who could always run circles around the Sri Lankan Army. Prabhakaran knew that Norway and other European powers had put pressure on the UN to come up with an agreement that would rescue him and salvage his cause.
Q: What kind of agreement?
A: The Europeans and the UN wanted the Sri Lankan government to agree to a "No Fire Zone", where LTTE cadres could move about in safety. This was agreed to at first, but then the LTTE continued to fire on Sri Lankan soldiers from within the zone, so the agreement broke down. Even during the last days, Norway ensured that the UN work towards bringing Prabhakaran as well as other LTTE leaders and their families to safety in Eritrea. However, in 2008, nothing worked. The Sri Lankan Army continued its offensive until the end.
Q: Did Prabhakaran try to escape during those final days?
A: Yes. On 13 May he decided to escape into a nearby jungle and from there, try and sail away to safety in a small craft. Two days later, he and a few bodyguards and associates tried to escape from their bunker. However, the Sri Lankan Army pickets were too numerous, and they could not break through. From then on, his only hope was that the Europeans and Delhi would force Colombo to agree to a ceasefire. But that never happened.
Q: What was the last day like?
A: I do not know. Each hour I used to get a call from the remaining satellite phone, but the previous day, Pottu Amman had told me that if the interval (between calls) was more than an hour, it would mean that there was nobody left. I got his last call at 6 p.m. on 18 May 2008. After that, silence.
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