|Tigers turn on themselves|
|Monday, 12 January 2009|
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - Even as it is suffering serious blows inflicted by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the ground beneath its feet shrinks by the day, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) appears to be gripped by a serious internal crisis.
If Sri Lankan intelligence is to be believed, all has not been well between the two most powerful men in the LTTE - leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and intelligence chief, Shanmugalingam Sivashankar, better known as Pottu Amman.
According to reports in the Sri Lankan media, Prabhakaran removed Pottu Amman as the chief of the LTTE's intelligence wing a few months ago for his repeated failure to carry out several high-profile assassination missions, including the suicide attacks on Sri Lankan army chief Sarath Fonseka and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in 2007. According to the Daily Mirror, Pottu Amman was sent away to Muhamalai in the Jaffna Peninsula for three months. The Mirror reports that Pottu Amman has been replaced by Rutnam Master, who was previously in charge of Prabhakaran's personal security as well as head of the LTTE's special forces, the Radha Regiment.
Little has gone well for the LTTE in recent years. It has been losing territory to the armed forces since 2006. In 2007 it was evicted from the last of its strongholds in the Eastern Province and in the year since it has lost vast swathes of territory in the Northern Province as well. On January 2, the LTTE's "administrative capital" Kilinochchi fell to the armed forces. And a week later, Elephant Pass, the strategic causeway linking the Sri Lankan mainland with the Jaffna Peninsula, which was in Tiger hands since April 2000, was captured by the armed forces.
The capture of Elephant Pass has enabled the government to take control over the entire A9 highway for the first time in 23 years. The A9 (or Highway of Death as it is sometimes referred to, given the large number of lives that have been lost fighting for control over it) is a 325-kilometer-long road that runs from Kandy in central Sri Lanka to Jaffna in the north of the island. Parts of this highway were under LTTE control for over two decades, compelling the government to send troops and supplies to the peninsula via air and sea. With the entire A9 now under its control, the government can use this supply route to the Jaffna Peninsula, a far cheaper option than the air and sea routes currently in use.
The loss of territory has left the Tigers confined to the Mullaitivu jungles. Analysts are predicting that the once invincible Tigers are now on the brink of defeat. But it is not just the loss of territory and cadres that the LTTE is having to deal with.
"The reversal in the fortunes of the organization over the past two years has triggered a blame-game among its top leaders. And for the first time ever, it is Pottu Amman who appears to have had to take the rap for the military debacles," a Sri Lankan intelligence officer told Asia Times Online.
Pottu Amman is among the few associates of Prabhakaran from the pre-1983 days who remains in the LTTE. A close confidante of Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman is wanted in India (along with Prabhakaran) for masterminding the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide attack in May 1991. Pottu Amman is also believed to be the brain behind the assassinations of Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa, defense minister Ranjan Wijeratne and a host of other Sri Lankan political and military leaders.
It was Pottu Amman who "unearthed" the "conspiracy" hatched by LTTE deputy chief Mahathiya to kill Prabhakaran in the early 1990s. Mahathiya was subsequently tried for treason - he was accused of conspiring with Indian intelligence agents to eliminate Prabhakaran - and executed. It is widely believed that Mahathiya's growing popularity prompted Pottu Amman to hatch the plot to eliminate him.
It is said that the sidelining of several Tigers over the years has been engineered by Pottu Amman to eliminate any threat to his own influence in the organisation. Pottu Amman is believed to have had a hand in the death of Tamilselvan, the former chief of the LTTE's political wing, in aerial bombing by the Sri Lankan Air Force. He is said to have leaked information regarding Tamilselvan's whereabouts to the armed forces, who lost no time in bombing the location and killing him. It was Pottu Amman again who deepened the rift between the LTTE's former eastern commander "Colonel Karuna" and Prabhakaran, which resulted in the organisation’s vertically splitting along regional lines in 2004.
Pottu Amman's strategy to sideline senior Tigers or eliminate them was ostensibly to remove any threat to Prabhakaran or the organisation. It was really to remove any challenge to his own influential position. He saw to it that no other Tiger would emerge as a deputy to Prabhakaran and thus be in a position to succeed him some day.
The only threat to Charles Antony's succession of Prabhakaran comes from Pottu Amman. Did Prabhakaran decide to strip Pottu Amman of his powers as intelligence chief to ease the way for his son to inherit the mantle?
But even before that, Pottu Amman could do deadly damage to the LTTE. No one knows the LTTE better than him. Should he leak information to the security forces, the LTTE would collapse like a house of cards. But LTTE watchers say if he has indeed fallen from grace, the damage he could do might be limited as Prabhakaran divested him of his powers several months ago.
Some media reports have cited intelligence sources as saying that Pottu Amman ha d surrendered to the Sri Lankan armed forces, which has been denied by the latter. Others claim that he is headed for southern Sri Lanka with a team of suicide bombers. Was the dispatching of Pottu Amman to Muhamalai a ruse to cover his travel to the south?
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.
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