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Karuna in Politics: Old War Horse in A New Mantle

    Paper no. 1148      19. 10. 2004

Guest Column-Col R Hariharan (retd.)

“The recent reversal in the liberation struggle has been interpreted in different forms by various groups of people. The fact remains that my intention was to relieve the liberation struggle of the Tamils from the cruel clutches of Prabakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers. What happened all these years could not be termed as the struggle for liberation?” This was how Karuna, who had spent more than two decades as a frontline fighter and leader of LTTE, had branded the struggle of the Tigers in his ‘open letter’ to the Tamil people while announcing the formation a new political party – Tamil Eela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TEMVP – Tamil Eelam Peoples Liberation Tigers) – on October 12, 2004.

Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, alias Col. Karuna, who, as Special Commander, Batticaloa-Amparai, was in over-all charge of the LTTE's military operations in the Eastern Province till he fell out with Prabhakaran’s leadership. He was expelled from LTTE in March 2004.

A veteran of the ‘Operation Unceasing Waves’ Karuna led the LTTE troops to capture Ayakachi, which preceded the success of LTTE in Elephant Pass operations. Ever since he parted company with LTTE, LTTE had been waging a mini war to eliminate him and wrest control of the East. In this bloodletting process a number of key leaders loyal to Prabhakaran as well as Karuna have been killed. These include Karuna’s brother Reggie and LTTE’s senior functionaries Senadhi and Bawa. In this context of armed confrontation, Karuna’s decision to ‘go political’ gives rise to a number of interesting possibilities in the Sri Lanka peace scenario. The ‘open letter’ (full text at enclosure) gives inkling into Karuna’s mindset on his political campaign points.

Why form a political party?

What does Karuna hope to achieve by forming a political party?  Here are some pointers:

·     Change of image: The answer to this question lies in the quest of Karuna for transforming his image as a hardcore militant leader and ruthless killer to a popularly accepted Tamil leader of the East. It is this quest for legitimacy and acceptance in the political mainstream that has made him apologize for the killings during his LTTE days. The revealing statement is: “Believing the word of Prabakaran that all the fraternal outfits as traitors, we have lost great many political leaders like Amirtalingham, leaders of the fraternal outfits, militants, also lost many civilians… We have lost good leaders who could have led the Tamils because of the political killings carried out by Prabakaran with the selfish intention of prevailing over anyone coming forward to challenge his leadership… Up to now, he has not given up slaying the political leaders who refuse to submit themselves to him. All the slaughtering that were committed in the past were done on the orders of Prabakaran and as I have been a member of the outfit for the past 21 years, for whatever that has happened, I tender my humble apologies to the Tamil People.”

·     Challenge Prabakaran: Another intention could be to challenge Prabakaran politically, in addition to resisting him in the killing fields of Batticaloa-Amparai. If anyone is capable of challenging Prabakaran’s leadership to Tamil militancy, it is Karuna. It is Karuna who had built the strength of LTTE in this region, overcoming sizeable strength of non-LTTE Tamil militant outfits, particularly EPRLF. Thus if Karuna can survive to lead the political battle, he can probably muster up support among this non-LTTE segment of militants, who can become his political partners. Another idea could be to take up issues specific to the East, which have a wide popular appeal. This is probably the reason for stressing issues related to discriminatory treatment meted out by LTTE to the East in all aspects including share in leadership, developmental effort and domination of the Northerners in decision making in LTTE. Traditionally, the eastern Tamil had always nursed grievances against the ‘superior’ attitude of Jaffna Tamils. Though this is not a major factor, in the context of the peace scenario when international developmental largesse is expected to flow in, it can perhaps appeal to a larger audience.

·      Cash on the desire for peace: A third reason could be to appeal to the people from all sections of Tamil society, who are tired of war that had dragged on for more than two decades and thirst for peace. The following statement gives a pointer to specifically denigrating Prabhakaran as the main roadblock to peace. “Have any one of us ever thought as to why we did not get our separate state? When we start thinking and analyzing it, then we will come to know that Prabakaran is the number one enemy of the Tamils. By keeping this terrorist with us, our Eelam looms all over, without any direction. Prabakaran cannot return back to peace and he could not get even the liberation. … If country returns to peace then there will emerge a democratic rule. Consequently Prabakaran’s gun totting monopoly would come to a grinding halt. He could not live a single day without the gun. He cannot survive a day without it. He is a mentally deranged person, bent on gun and killings. He could not even dare to think of anything without the gun. If a good and acceptable solution is reached, then he will not be able to stay alive not only in Sri Lanka, but anywhere in the any corner of the world, because he is a dangerous criminal and wanted by the Interpol. Therefore, he is not going to tolerate a peaceful solution in the country.”

·     Acceptance among Muslims: Fourthly, the aim appears to be to gain acceptance, if not support, among the sizeable minority Muslim population in the East. Karuna has a terrible image among Muslims of the East as the organizer of pogroms against Muslims. As Tamils in the East are sure to be divided in their support between LTTE and Karuna, he will have to win over at least part of the Muslim population for reasonable success. As a logical corollary, we can expect Karuna to make overtures individually to Muslim political leaders of the region for their support. As he wields considerable armed clout, some of these leaders may feel it prudent to adopt a benign supportive attitude to such overtures. His statement “It has become an undeclared ordinance of Prabakaran to call those opposed to him and those refused to accept his autocratic policies as ‘traitors of the Tamil nation.’ Not only this applies to individuals, this also applies to the religio-ethnic groupings. This is how he alleged and stripped the resources and the wealth of those Muslims living in Jaffna for so many generations. Until now those displaced Muslim people languish as refugees and face severe hardship and untold miseries. … When he urged me to work against Muslims in the East, I refused to cooperate. I made it a point to inform Prabakaran [that] in case if we try to shatter the lives of Muslims, then our liberation struggle would be weakened. But he refused to accept and hence, he began to harbor hatred in me,” is significant in this context.

·     Appeal to emotions: Lastly, he has gauged the mood of the people who want their sons and daughters ceded to LTTE to come home. Many of them are serving in the North where their loyalties could be questioned. LTTE is ruthless when it comes to suspected loyalties, and such actions are sure to alienate the Eastern Tamil population. This is an issue that touches the hearts of people. So he has tried to strike an emotional cord with the words: “For the past ten years, Tamils youths being separated from their families in the Eastern province, and they were languishing with desperation in the Northern Province…At least they should be given an opportunity to be with their families, at least whilst the ceasefire agreement is in force. This was one of my main requests. This was also the wish of their parents in the Batticaloa - Amparai districts. But Prabakaran refused to accept this. He also commanded me to send 1000 militants to Vanni for his personal protection. When the parents gave their children to me they told me while handing over them that “Our children should be allowed to fight in places close to our proximity.” I could not overrule this request of those parents. Even after trying my best to make this clear to Prabakaran, but he as a leader was not prepared to pay heed and how can I accept him as a leader when he was not prepared to understand our aspirations?” The tragic episode of Thyagu and Julie, the young cadres who fell in love and done to death is also recounted in detail is probably for the same reasons.

While Karuna has taken the first step in politicizing what had been a personality conflict, the question remains of public support. Can he muster support among the Tamil population many of who cherish a larger than life image of Prabhakaran? Prabhakaran is largely a mythical figure who had never visited the East and made personal appeal to the people. So over a period of time, Prabhakaran’s negative image as a distant leader neglecting the East may find some buyers. But much would depend upon who establishes military control at the ground level to dominate the Tamil and Muslim areas. With the LTTE in nebulous control of the populated coastal strip from Verugal to Kalkudah, the game is not over for Karuna. With a section of the cadres still loyal to him in safe hideouts off the coastal strip how long can Karuna fight off LTTE is the key element in this bloody game of hide and seek. Karuna’s political party and image will gather mass only when he is established as an unchallenged Tamil leader in the East.  All other Karuna-related issues like support of Muslims, fall out in Sri Lankan politics and peace talks, election commission’s recognition, affiliation with ENDP etc. are of only academic interest till then. Will LTTE allow him to survive to do that?  Karuna is a great survivor of many a battle in the past; will he weather this battle to carry on the war? “I have seen so many battlefronts and [I] have already died along with those [of] our martyred cadres. There is no need to die one more time,” he says. Only time can tell the truth.

 

(Col R Hariharan is a specialist in counter-insurgency intelligence. He had seen active staff and field service in counter-insurgency operations in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab,Tripura and lastly in Sri Lanka with the IPKF  e-mail:colhari@yahoo.com)

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The full text of the written press statement released by the V. Muralitharan nom de guerre Colonel Karuna

To my beloved Tamils,

Vanakam.

The recent reversal in the liberation struggle has been interpreted in different forms by various groups of people. The fact remains that my intention was to relieve the liberation struggle of the Tamils from the cruel clutches of Prabakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers. What happened all these years cannot be termed as the struggle for liberation.

With a view to lead a luxurious life, Prabakaran in the name of the liberation struggle was involved in genocidal acts. In the so-called liberation struggle that took place so far, more than 18,000 militants and 80,000 and more Tamil Eelam civilians have been killed. If we continue to keep on nodding our heads to the self-centered autocratic decisions of Prabakaran, then there is every chance to loose many more in the near future. He has proclaimed himself as the national leader as well as the only undisputed leader and thus Prabakaran has buried the liberation struggle.

We have never seen in Prabakaran, the forthright and accepted qualities for a good leadership. Today we droop our head in shame for being associated with Prabakaran in the struggle for the last 21 long years. When we recall the past association, our heart palpitates fast with rage and anger - how many ethnic killings, fratricidal killings, killings of academics, and how many killings of the popular and most respected political leaders. The list continues without an end. How can a frenzied man who has undertaken all these genocidal acts could become a national leader? How can he become an undisputed leader? At this juncture, every Tamil with honor and self-respect is hereby left to ponder over it.

As far as Prabakaran was concerned, there are no records in his history, [of] paying heed to any best advices offered to him, not only by me, but also by others. If Prabakaran were a man at least with basic commonsense, he would have come forward to examine those proposals put forward by me. Everything has gone to waste, as a conch blown in the deaf man’s ear. If Prabakaran had treated the people of the Eastern province equally without discrimination, he would have accepted my proposals. If a statistical analysis [is] taken of the battles so far waged, undoubtedly more youths from Batticaloa have martyred in those battlefronts.

For the past ten years, Tamils youths being separated from their families in the Eastern province, and they were languishing with desperation in the Northern Province.

At least they should be given an opportunity to be with their families, at least whilst the ceasefire agreement is in force. This was one of my main requests. This was also the wish of their parents in the Batticaloa - Amparai districts. But Prabakaran refused to accept this. He also commanded me to send 1000 militants to Vanni for his personal protection. When the parents gave their children to me they told me while handing over them that “Our children should be allowed to fight in places close to our proximity.” I could not overrule this request of those parents. Even after trying my best to make this clear to Prabakaran, but he as a leader was not prepared to pay heed and how can I accept him as a leader when he was not prepared to understand our aspirations?

Prabakaran has never met a single parent. When someone was rendered handicapped or killed, it is not Prabakaran, but it is only we who interact with the people and go to face the people and explain to them and hence how can he understand the feelings of the parents? By this type of activities, Prabakaran will not be able to bring about peace to the people. Prabakaran hasn’t got the required knowledge, wisdom and sagacity of the mind. After coming to realise these facts only, I decided to ignore Prabakaran’s leadership and I changed my revolutionary path.

Prabakaran never had a firm political or military strategy to attain the Tamil Eelam goal. He concentrated on war and in assassinating those who opposed him. He did not set up a political leadership within the Tiger outfit and also did not tolerate such things, not only within the Tiger outfit but also the emerging political leadership within the other fraternal outfits. Believing the word of Prabakaran that all the fraternal outfits as traitors, we have lost great many political leaders like Amirtalingham, leaders of the fraternal outfits, militants, also lost many civilians.

We have lost good leaders who could have led the Tamils because of the political killings carried out by Prapakaran with the selfish intention of prevailing over anyone coming forward to challenge his leadership. Due to Prabakaran’s killing’s spree, those academics whose lives were spared, in fear fled to the four corners of the world, where lying low and leading their lives anonymously. Prabakaran the one without any firm policies, who gave up the struggle for Tamil Eelam due to his military campaigns is now is beseeching for the interim administration.

Up to now, he has not given up slaying the political leaders who refuses to submit themselves to him. All those slaughtering that were committed in the past were done on the orders of Prabakaran and as I have been a member of the outfit for the past 21 years, for whatever that has happened, I tender my humble apologies to the Tamil People. Furthermore it is also my duty to tender a first person testimony. It is an internationally known fact that on the orders of Prabakaran, all those murders were committed upon by Pottu within Tamil Eelam and beyond. If questioned about those murders, it will be told that they were done “on the orders of Prabakaran.” If it was told that it was committed on his orders, the unwritten edict within the outfit is not query or question any further. He was never worried by these murders; the Tamils struggle is getting weakened because he never considered Tamils as human beings.

Without consulting with the important leaders of the outfit, even the assassination of India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi took place. Whenever we queried him about this murder, he never gave a straightforward response. Due to this atrocious act, Eelam Tamils lost the support of India. From the very day of the commencement of the struggle within the Tiger outfit, nothing has been achieved other than the killings and nobody came forward to bring it to his notice even when during upsurge the emotional turmoil’s within the outfit. No one has the guts to bring this up. If anyone dared, that one would not have survived.

As there was no basic strong strategy adhered to achieve the Tamil Eelam, similarly there was no concrete proposal even for the peace talks. Whenever the outfit became weakened, he will come forward for ‘Talks’ to hide his wakened position. Prabakaran never had confidence in the peace talks. As there was no hope to have a separate state, he is now emphasizing to give him the interim administration. This interim administration would not be in anyway a solution to the basic rights of the Tamils. Prabakaran only gives priority to sustain his leadership over the liberation of the people.

In fact, Tamil Eelam should have been achieved 15 years ago. Prabakaran is the person responsible for not able to get the Tamil Eelam. Prabakaran is solely responsible for us not getting our separate state. As he was a terrorist, other countries placed roadblocks and denied our reasonable aspiration for liberation. So far our people have failed to comprehend this truth. Have any one of us ever thought as to why we did not get our separate state? When we start thinking and analyzing it, then we will come to know that Prabakaran is the number one enemy of the Tamils. By keeping this terrorist with us, our Eelams looms all over, without any direction. Prabakaran cannot return back to peace and he could not get even the liberation.

If country returns to peace then there will emerge a democratic rule. Consequently Prabakaran’s gun totting monopoly would come to a grinding halt. He could not live a single day without the gun. He cannot survive a day without it. He is a mentally deranged person, bent on gun and killings. He could not even dare to think of anything without the gun. If a good and acceptable solution is reached, then he will not be able to stay alive not only in Sri Lanka, but anywhere in the any corner of the world, because he is a dangerous criminal and wanted by the Interpol. Therefore, he is not going to tolerate a peaceful solution in the country.

It has become an undeclared ordinance of Prabakaran to call those opposed to him and those refused to accept his autocratic policies as “traitors of the Tamil nation.” Not only this applies to individuals, this also applies to the religio-ethnic groupings. This is how he alleged and stripped the resources and the wealth of those Muslims living in Jaffna for so many generations. Until now those displace Muslim people languish as refugees and face severe hardship and untold miseries.

When he urged me to work against Muslims in the East, I refused to cooperate. I made it a point to inform Prabakaran in case if we try to shatter the lives of the Muslims, then our liberation struggle would be weakened. But he refused to accept and hence, he began to harbor hatred in me.

Whenever, positions and authority were delegated, members of the Eastern province were neglected. When I pointed out of this, I was alleged of practicing regionalism.

I cannot simply turn my face away, when injustice is meted out on those who joined the battlefield, solely on the trust they had reposed on me. I have a responsibility to reply to all their reasonable queries.

Therefore, when I pressured him about this, “He summoned me to come over to Vanni”. I know what would happen and when I refused to go to Vanni. Therefore, I refused to go. And after this incident, there were numerous allegations leveled against me and a lot of water has passed through the bridge. To investigate them through Pottu Amman, investigators were sent. As I refused to take cognizance of them, death sentence was imposed on me and even a squad was sent to execute the death penalty.

Through baseless propaganda, Prabakaran tried to isolate me, but it did not successfully reach the people and worked. Instead people came out and rallied in the road and expressed their support to me and they burn his effigy and outpoured their condemnation. In the Eastern province not only the Tamils and Muslim people, but also the Jaffna people too openly supported my request.

When our candidates Rajan Saththiyamoorthy was brutally murdered by Prabakaran, the people rose up against the injustice. Making use of this opportunity, an anonymous notice was published and released and it depicted that we were opposed to the Jaffna people.

Other day when Kittu’s one leg was blown off, nearly 137 Tamil youths belonging to the rival Tamil militant’s organizations were killed by Prabakaran. For the loss of a leg 137 Tamil youths were ruthlessly massacred. When Saththyamoorthy’s life was flicked away, we saw that the Jaffna people did not experience any loss of life. Jaffna people as well as businessmen had helped us a lot.

The drama of chasing out the Jaffna people was enacted and staged managed by Prabakaran. He had tried his best to disgrace me and this was one of a chapter in his endeavor to belittle me.

Hoping that he will safeguard the Tamils from the government’s atrocities and bring about liberation to the Tamils, I accepted the leadership of Prabakaran and I allied myself with Liberation Tigers.

I have fulfilled even the senseless orders made by Prabakaran. When my colleagues argued that his policies were shortsighted not intended for a distant future and left the outfit, I too agreed with Prabakaran who alleged and branded them as traitors. But now I realize the truth in what my colleagues said earlier.

When our brotherly outfits were in Toto branded as traitors and called agents of India and alleged as these outfits stand in the way to achieve the Tamil Eelam and all of them to have to be decimated, I blindly accepted and today I regret very much for it. By these vengeful acts, the struggle for Eelam got diverted and ruined.

He failed to comprehend that Tamil people are retreating from the Eelam struggle by these fratricidal war. This was the chief reason for the ruining of the Tamil Eelam struggle. Even today he refuses to accept this truth and Prabakaran continues with his killing spree.

Those who surrendered to the government to safeguard themselves from the Tigers terror, and those negotiated with the Sri Lanka government to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Sri Lankan problem were alleged by Prabakaran as traitors.

In the past he himself received cash and arms from the Sri Lankan government. When he described this as an act of diplomacy, we believed even that. He said other day that those who were involved in a peace negotiation with the government as traitors, but now he himself is involved in talks with same government. Today he is involved in the killing of many alleging that they are putting roadblocks in his negotiation with the same government.

Since lately only I was able to come to terms with these contradictions and follies. However I decided to defy the leadership of Prabakaran, keeping in mind the future of the Tamils, because if tolerated to continue this aggravated situation, he will dare to dump the entire Tamil people under the world beneath.

He is aware that I am fully aware of his entire selfish activities, therefore he is now beginning to spread canards and unnecessary false propaganda against me, and he also has undertaken steps to kill me. He has accused that I am working against him on the instigation of the Government of Sri Lanka and that of the urging of the Indian Intelligence Agency. But that was not the truth. Only after I became convinced that he is not fit to lead either a liberation organization or the Tamils, I decided to defy him. I am not a fanatic fool who is greedy behind power and authority for to be deviated or to be provoked. If we take it for granted that there is truth in Prabakaran’s allegation, then why I send 5600 military cadres back to their homes? Instead I would have done the same as he has done by receiving weapons and cash from those governments and could done the same as described those acts a diplomatic manipulation. Even today it has not dawned on me that I should prostrate on the feet of anyone to safeguard my leadership.

The Norway delegation which came forward to facilitate and bring peace in the country, functions with a manipulative, underhand and vested design and agenda. To bring about peace and restore democracy in Sri Lanka is a very urgent task. But Norway delegation is functioning with vested interests and do not want their diplomacy defeated and they keep on advocating maintaining the leadership of Prabkaran. With the intention satisfying Prabakarn and to maintain a hold on him, Norway peace delegation imported the wireless radio equipment and weapons. For this purpose Norway Government provided US Dollar 250,000. Is Prabakaran not a traitor, who sold the sovereignty of the people to a foreign country with the view to establish an autocratic rule? Or else, am I traitor who challenges all those traitorous acts in the interest of the Tamils?

I am not coming forward here to express my thorough experiences. I will conclude here by narrating an incident about Prabakaran’s commonsense, loyalty and his truncated conscience.

In 1989, while stationed at Manal Aru, there was a love affair going on between Thiyagu - one of the bodyguards of Prabakaran and one Julie, who was in the women’s camp of the Liberation Tigers. They were in love for a few years. Due to an affair they had, the woman cadre conceived. After four months of pregnancy this affair came to light. Prabakaran summoned and enquired them. He was adamant that they both of them should be shot and killed. Many of us were not in favor of them being killed. However on the next day we heard the reports of gunshots. When we found out what happened, we saw the cruel sight, two lover’s hands were tied behind and must have ordered to kneel down and before they were shot in the nape, bleeding they lay dead. I felt that my heart was blown into pieces. What a cruel punishment? In case, if there is a set of rules and regulations for the outfit, then I agree those who violate them deserved to be shot. But the very person, who violated these rules and regulations in 1984, is sentencing another. Prabakaran did not fall in love and get married. It was not even an arranged marriage by the parents. A hitherto unknown Mathivathani was abducted, brought to Chennai and allowed to stay in the Liberation Tigers’ office. Prabakaran coerced and married her. Four months after she conceived, Prabakaran married her. Which one was wrong – the one that was committed either by Thiyagu or that by Prabakaran? (If anyone disbelief what I say, then they can check the date of the marriage of Prabakaran – Mathivathani, and the date of birth of their first son - then they may find out what I say is correct). In fact Prabakaran who committed a crime has sentenced to die an innocent Thiyagu. From this what is evidenced is that he is a coward who is bereft of humane compassion, conscience and commonsense. This incident was in a way responsible for me to lower the regard I had on Prabakaran. Anyone with human compassion would not have committed such an atrocious act. This could be done only by a beastly person.

Many people are providing different interpretation to my withdrawal from Batticaloa. They are also commending Prabakaran, as it was a victory for his war strategy. I am not the least worried about that. Prabakaran sent our own people to fight us. I had 5,600 cadres with me. If I had declared the war, then on both sides thousands of our own youths would have been slain and perished. Is that for this that I was involved in the revolutionary struggle for the past 21 years? I thought about it. Whether the war if proclaimed kills our own youngsters? In one day, I all alone took this decision without anyone’s intervention that No War and that decision was to send our youngsters back to their homes.

If they are sent back home, I was fully aware that they would be shot and killed by Pottu Amman and Prabakaran, therefore I appealed to may public organizations and requested them to tell Prabakaran not to kill those militants who will remain in their homes.

However today, many of those innocent youngsters who were sent back to their homes are being shot and killed. Unfortunately, many of those youngsters who fought shoulder to shoulder with me in the fight for the country are being shot and killed. If Prabakaran had thought that the liberation struggle is important, then he would not have come forward to shoot and kill any militants. The sacrifices of the militants are considered insignificant by him. I am very determined that our liberation struggle should not go in vain.

Through this statement, what I wish to emphasise to my people is that from the liberation struggle I will never leave. I will continue to fight for our nation, and our people must redeem them from the clutches of the worse autocrat. I have never closeted myself in a safe place and emerged as a leader only by giving commands. I have stayed shoulder to shoulder with our militants in the battlefronts and fought pitched battles to safeguard our people.

I prefer to die in the battlefront I am not afraid to meet the death. I have seen so many battlefronts and have already died along with those our martyred cadres. There is no need to die one more time.

As I am confident that certainly there will be a dawn for people and that is why I am organizing this movement called TamilEela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal - TamilEela Peoples Liberation Tigers I call upon the Tamils to join in large numbers and strengthen this organization and expedite the liberation. Our liberation lies mainly on our own unity.

While requesting those Tamils who resides in the Tamil Eelam, as well as those Tamil Diasporas living in foreign countries, not to become scapegoat to the fallacious and malicious propaganda let loose by Parabakaran. At the same time I appeal to give us all you help and support to make our liberation struggle victorious.

Nanri - Thanks

Sgd. V. Muralitharan (Karuna)
President,
TamilEela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal,
Batticaloa
Tamil Eelam.

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