War on terror revisited: Part 5June 12, 2012, 7:32 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Sivasubramanium Varadanthan aka ‘Colonel’ Paduman (49) is perhaps one of the few senior LTTE commanders to survive the final phase of the conflict in May 2009 on the Vanni east front. The LTTE called the Indian trained combatant ‘Papa November’, a merciless battle-field tactician, who had fought both in Trincomalee and in the North and was responsible for a spate of successful attacks against Sri Lankan and Indian forces.
Paduman surrendered on May 15, 2009, four days before troops killed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. Unfortunately, his senior colleagues spurned the opportunity to save their lives by giving themselves up. Instead, they tried to defend their last stronghold hoping against hope. The LTTE threw all it had to break army frontlines and flee into the jungles when it realised that the army was going ahead with operations in the face of foreign pressure.
Paduman was involved in a series of civilian massacres, including the one at Kithulutuwa, where 127 men, women and children were slaughtered. He also took part in massacres at Morawewa, Gomarankadawela, Kantale, Ganthalawa and Seruwila.
It would be interesting to examine the circumstances under which Paduman had been moved from Trincomalee to Kilinochchi on March 2, 2004, during the CFA. Since then, he had been in the Vanni throughout eelam war IV until his surrender on May 15 and subsequent transfer to Trincomalee prison, after being held at Welikada.
Having received information that the LTTE field commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran alias Karuna Amman or ‘Colonel’ Karuna had decamped, the leadership in Kilinochchi acted swiftly to neutralise the threat. The LTTE wanted to bring both Karuna Amman and his colleague, Paduman in charge of the neighbouring Trincomalee District to Kilinochchi to ensure units deployed in the Eastern Province remained loyal to the organisation. Both Karuna and Paduman had held the rank of ‘Colonel’ at that time, though Karuna was in the limelight due to his involvement in negotiations with theUNF government.
The Kilinochchi command cunningly used the Defence Ministry and SCOPP (Secretariat for Coordinating Peace Process) officials to arrange for an SLAF chopper to fly Karuna Amman, in charge of the Ampara and Batticaloa sectors, along with Paduman to Kilinochchi. SCOPP records prove that on the authorisation of the Defence Ministry, it ordered the SLAF to pick Paduman from Trincomalee and then touch down at a pre-arranged location in the Batticaloa District on March 2, 2004 to take onboard Karuna. Fearing that he would have to face a firing squad in Kilinochchi, Karuna refused to join Paduman. Instead, he set in motion a strategy, which finally debilitated the LTTE’s conventional fighting capability. The Sunday Island revealed the LTTE’s counter move in a front-page story captioned, Prabhakaran plotted Karuna capture on March 28, 2004.
Both Karuna and Paduman have confirmed the LTTE using SCOPP/ SLAF to arrange their transfer from the East to Kilinochchi.
The UNP and the Norwegians never bothered to raise the issue with the LTTE at that time. The Defence Ministry continued to provide chopper rides to the LTTE and did everything possible to appease the outfit even at the expense of national security.
Norwegian peace facilitator and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), too, were aware of the LTTE request for an SLAF chopper ride for top Tigers in the East. Had Karuna got into that chopper and ended up in a secret LTTE detention camp or executed, eelam war IV would have taken a different course.
Paduman joined the LTTE in 1983 at the age of 21. Like his colleague, Karuna, he, too, went through military training in Tamilnadu in 1984. He was among the members of the second batch of cadres that received Indian training.
Indian trainers and Prabhakaran were quite impressed by Paduman’s skills. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to lead LTTE operations in the Trincomalee District, which the LTTE considered one of the most important sectors.
Following a brief stint at the LTTE headquarters in Tamil Nadu, Paduman was deployed in the Trincomalee District, where he served under Pulendran (committed suicide at Palaly air base as he was about to be forcibly taken on onboard a fixed wing aircraft of the SLAF to be brought to Ratmalana in Oct 1987) and Santhosam (killed by the IPKF) until 1988 before being appointed the man in charge of all operations including the group’s intelligence wing.
According to the Directorate of Military Intelligence during the deployment of the IPKF (July 1987 to March 1990), Paduman led a series of attacks on military personnel as well as installations. The Sri Lankan forces, too, suffered heavy losses due to Paduman’s operations. A senior official said; "Paduman was elevated to a sub group leader, group leader and ultimately to the military leader in Trincomalee; he led a gang of ruthless killers, who targeted civilians."
Paduman spearheaded revenge attacks on Sinhala civilians after one-time Trincomalee leader Pulendran committed suicide in military custody.
Paduman commanded troops during the battle for the Elephant Pass base in 1990. Under his command, a large LTTE group fought north-east of Elephant Pass in an operation considered the biggest ever undertaken by the LTTE at that time.
Paduman was promoted as the Military Secretary to Prabhakaran in 1991 and held that post for many years. Appointed the Trincomalee Special leader in 2001, he held that post until he was abducted on March 2, 2004, for his alleged involvement with Karuna.
Paduman is also expected to be given an opportunity to undergo rehabilitation run by the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. The government moved him to Trincomalee prison to allow his wife to meet him regularly.
The LTTE always exploited the system to achieve its targets. The LTTE couldn’t be faulted for taking advantage of those government officials who were unable to comprehend its strategies. For want of cohesive action on the part of the government, the LTTE brazenly abused the CFA to its advantage, thus consolidating its power.
Those who ordered the SLAF to provide hassle free transport to the LTTE couldn’t have been unaware how the organisation brought a team of assassins from Mullaitivu to Colombo, during talks between President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the LTTE. The Premadasa-LTTE talks, which took place between May 1989 and June 1990 ended with the massacre of several hundred policemen in the East. The assassins accompanied LTTE delegates airlifted from Mullaitivu to Colombo by SLAF during the IPKF presence. The use of SLAF choppers wouldn’t have come to light if the assassins had managed to escape after killing TULF leader A. Amirthalingam and politburo member V. Yogeswaran on July 13, 1989 in Colombo. Police constable, Nissanka Thibbotumunuwa, assigned to provide security to Amirthalingam’s residence, shot dead LTTE assassins, subsequently identified as Visu and Aloysius and another terrorist, who stood guard outside. The police quickly identified the bodies as of those LTTE cadres, who had arrived in Colombo during the Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon. Among those the gunmen fired point blank range at the TULF leader’s residence were Yogeswaran’s wife, Sarojini and TULF President, Murugesu Sivasithamparam.
The TULF President who received gunshot injuries, in the run-up to Dec 2001 parliamentary polls, declared the LTTE sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people.
The LTTE had taken umbrage over Amirthalingam’s speech in Parliament in June 1989, pleading for the continuation of IPKF presence in Sri Lanka.
At the end of the conflict, Amrthalingam’s wife, Mangayarkarasi, accompanied by her son visited Colombo. They didn’t fail to visit the policeman, who had killed all three members of the LTTE hit team. Following their meeting with the retired policeman, the press quoted Mrs. Amirthalingam as having said: "Every time these people came and murdered, they managed to escape, but Nissanka killed all of them."
The Amirthalingams live in the UK, where they took up residence after the killings in Colombo. Sarojini was assassinated in Jaffna years later after the liberation of the entire peninsula. (Sarojini’s killing will be dealt with separately).
Paduman should be able to explain the ground situation in the Vanni, especially during the final phase of operations subsequent to the liberation of Kilinochchi in the first week of Januar, 2009.. He would be also able to shed light on internal struggles as the LTTE retreated on multiple fronts, unable to face the troops who forged ahead in spite of fierce attacks.
Unlike many of those forced to fight for the LTTE at gunpoint, Paduman is a pioneer in the LTTE, who moved with the senior leadership.
Austin Fernando’s claim
Reacting to ‘War on terror revisited: The Aturugiriya Affair’ published on June 4, 2012, then Defence Secretary Austin Fernando told The Island that then Navy Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri had never testified before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) or provided written submissions.
The Island reported Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri as having told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), how the then Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, had bypassed them with regard to sensitive military issues. In fact, Sandagiri issued several media statements critical of Fernando after the latter testified before the LLRC.
Fernando authored ‘My Belly is White’, which discussed a range of issues, including exposure of the Millennium City safe house, events leading to the signing of the CFA as well as the conduct of Norwegian peace envoy, Erik Solheim, from his perspective. Although ‘My Belly is White’ describes what was going on at that time, it does not explain the failure on the part of the administration to examine issues from the standpoint of the armed forces and police.
The UNP seemed to be still unaware that inept handling of the Aturugiriya issue, which also contributed to the ultimate downfall of the administration, was a major turning point in the conflict.
Isn’t it ironical that the armed forces chiefs, Lt. Gen. Balagalle and Vice Admiral Sandagiri were given an opportunity to peruse a draft of the CFA at ‘Visumpaya’, the official residence of Minister G. L. Peiris at that time only a few days before the signing?
Lt. Gen. Balagalle told The Island that they had been quite anxious, particularly in view of the crisis caused by the Millennium City raid.
The hastily arranged meeting took place after the UNP, the LTTE and Norway finalised the agreement abroad. The then Defence Secretary said that he had arranged the meeting at ‘Visumpaya’ through Defence Minister, Tilak Marapone subsequent to Lt. Gen. Balagalle and Vice Admiral Sandagiri requesting an audience. Fernando couldn’t remember whether the SLAF Commander at that time had been present, though he acknowledged that Ministers, Peiris and Marapone refused to allow the army and navy chiefs to take copies of the CFA with them. They had emphasised the need to discuss security matters with senior commanders of their respective services, before going ahead with the CFA, though the ministers believed the document shouldn’t be released until the finalisation of the agreement.
The UNF government simply agreed to the Norwegian-LTTE plan placing the armed forces in an extremely difficult position, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula. In fact, the armed forces had absolutely no say as regards security issues, though they were expected to adhere to the CFA blindly. The UNP didn’t even know who had really worked out the CFA. Prime Minister’s Secretary, Bradmon Weerakoon, in an article titled ‘Initiating and Sustaining Peace Process: Origins and Challenges’ years after the collapse of the peace process, said that Solheim had been the brains behind the CFA, while underscoring the need to examine the process, which had led to the agreement. Unfortunately, the LLRC failed to identify those who had prepared that document.
Although the Norwegians and the LTTE refused to accommodate some crucial proposals made by the government, those who negotiated on behalf of Sri Lanka accepted major recommendations, including vacation of public buildings, disarming of Tamil para-military groups and giving access to unarmed LTTE cadres to enter government-held areas.
Austin Fernando, in an article titled ‘The Peace Process and Security Issues’ revealed that the government had planned to reduce the number of military positions from 152 to 88 in the Jaffna peninsula alone. He lamented the failure on the part of the LTTE to facilitate the process and instigating public protests to prevent the re-location of troops.
Both articles by Weerakoon and Fernando were carried in ‘Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons’ edited by Kumar Rupesinghe, one-time darling of the Norwegians. Rupesinghe incurred the wrath of the Norwegians, when he switched his allegiance to President Rajapaksa and went to the extent of trying to strike a deal with heLTTE on behalf of the government in late September, 2006, about a week before the LTTE targeted Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, on Oct 1.