Thamilini’s revelations reverberates
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 125
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Subramanium Sivagami, alias ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s book Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil translated into Sinhala as Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata (In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword), discussed an issue hitherto conveniently ignored by those who had been wanting the government to address the grievances of Tamil speaking people. Senior lecturer, Saminadan Wimal, translated Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil into Sinhala, free of charge.
It would be pertinent to mention that many believed Thamilini had been killed during the last major LTTE offensive action at Anandapuram, Puthukudirippu, in April, 2009. In fact, a section of the Tamil, English and Sinhala media speculated about Thamilini’s fate against the backdrop of four top commanders, of Sothiya and Maalathy fighting formations, being among over 500 dead during three days of fighting. Veteran Canada-based journalist, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, in a special report, titled Top Tiger leaders killed in a major debacle for LTTE, posted on April 6, 2009, referred to an unconfirmed report, regarding Thamilini’s death.
Thamilini dealt with severe difficulties, experienced by those civilians, who had been used by the Intelligence Wing, of the LTTE, to facilitate operations in areas under government control. The LTTEer alleged that those who should have been concerned about persons, and families, involved with the Intelligence Wing, had forgotten them.
Those who had been demanding to know the truth were strangely silent on ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s revelations, though Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil was launched’ in Kilinochchi’ on March 19, 2016. The Sinhala version was launched at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on May 13, 2016.
Prem Dissanayake published the book.
‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s husband, Jeyakumaran Mahadevan, a British national, of Sri Lankan origin earned the wrath of an influential section of Tamil politicians, as well as the Tamil Diaspora for releasing controversial memoirs. Perhaps Mahadevan couldn’t have launched Thamilini’s memoirs if not for the support received from veteran film maker, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, one of the strongest critics of the Sri Lankan military. Dharmasiri Bandaranayake and Mahadevan had first met in London, in 2007, at the height of eelam war IV.
Mahadevan’s father had died, at the hands of the LTTE, in Jaffna, and he fled Sri Lanka, following the July 1983 violence, directed at Tamil civilians by the military as well as state backed mobs, in the wake of the Tinnaveli, Jaffna massacre which claimed the lives of 13 soldiers.
The Island dealt with several aspects of Thamilini’s revelations on May 25, 2016, and June 1, 2016. Having perused the Sinhala version twice, the writer felt the Tamil media, as well as those hell bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before a hybrid court, as agreed in Geneva last Sept/Oct will not under any circumstances accept Thamilini’s version of events. Thamilini had been blunt in her assertions, revelations and claims. She convincingly contradicted others, in respect of the LTTE exploiting the Norway-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), signed in Feb, 2002, to prepare for war, assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, on the night of August 12, 2005, as well as the utilization of civilians in operations carried out by the Intelligence Wing. However, Thamilini didn’t make reference to a single assassination carried out by the LTTE Intelligence Wing.
Thamilini’s admission that civilians, living in areas under government control, had been used by the Intelligence Wing should be examined against the backdrop of high profile assassinations carried out over the years in the South and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the night of May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur, South India. The LTTE hit squad, responsible for Kadirgamar’s assassination, used his neighbour Lakshman Thalaisingham’s residence. Thalaisingham, a former Royal College cricketer, and company executive, claimed that he wasn’t aware of a hit squad using the unoccupied upstair room of his house.
There had been many instances of the LTTE Intelligence Wing utilizing Tamils, living in the south. Thamilini referred to many women being detained for supporting the LTTE. Having met many such detainees, during her detention in Colombo, she shared her experience.
Thamilini succumbed to cancer last October.
The New Indian Express quoted activist Thyagarajah Nirosh as having asserted that Thamilini had played into the hands of the international community which has been saying that both the armed forces and the Tigers committed war crimes.
Nirosh felt that Thamilini might have written the book, under duress, as she was in a Lankan prison and had undergone army-organised "rehabilitation" for four years. The activist wasn’t alone in propagating that the book was written under duress.
Nirosh also suspected that new material might have been inserted to suit the Lankan government’s interest, after her death. The New Indian Express interviewed Nirosh immediately after the launch of ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil,’ in Kilinochchi, with the participation of over 100 rehabilitated LTTE personnel. The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) boycotted the event. However, those casting aspersions on Thamilini had conveniently forgotten that she was dead at the time of the Kilinochchi launch. Even if she had been under pressure of the military and or for some other reason decided to expose the LTTE, she couldn’t have compelled Mahadevan to go ahead with the project. After having played a critical role, in the campaign against what they repeatedly called the Rajapaksas’ dictatorship, leading to the January, 2015 revolution, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake and his friends would never have cooperated with the military. In fact, such an allegation is an affront to Bandaranayake whose scathing attacks on the previous administration facilitated Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at the January, 2015, presidential polls.
Addressing the launch at the SLFI, Bandaranayke referred to various attempts meant to sabotage the project. Bandaranayake recalled, what he called, ‘Mahason Balakaya’ threatening him with death and severe criticism of him for over a month, after a decision was made to launch the Sinhala translation. Bandaranayake emphasized that they courageously campaigned against the war risking their lives. The film maker declared that they used both cinema and drama to campaign against the war. Bandaranayake recalled the circumstances under which they exploited the Norway-arranged CFA to show Trojan Kanthawo at Webmadi, Jaffna, in 2003. Bandaranayake had first met Saminadan Wimal during his visit to Jaffna, in 2003. Thamilini had been among those LTTEers at the showing of Trojan Kanthawo at a school at Wembadi. Subsequently, both Trojan Kanthawo and Maname had been shown in Trincomalee. An irate Bandaranayake said that he was called an LTTEer for many years.
Bandaranayake revealed that he had not been aware of Mahadevan marrying Thamilini until the former sought his support to secure the best possible medical advice for his wife.
Among the audience was Dr Mahendra Perera who caringly treated her. A section of the media, and racists, reacted angrily to Thamilini receiving treatment at the Maharagama cancer hospital. On the day, following her death, a section of the media reported her passing away in a derogatory manner, Bandaranayake complained. Thamilini’s body was taken to Kilinochchi without being embalmed.
Bandaranayake said that he didn’t care about media criticism, including Tamilweb attack, in India. The film maker strongly criticized Divaina for challenging his efforts to reveal the truth. The renowned director said that Thamilini’s memoirs would be the beginning of what he called literature on the eelam war. "Recently, my son, with the intervention of Rupavahini, did a book on a suicide cadre to highlight his experience,"
Bandaranayake denied any government involvement in his project.
Those who had been opposed to Thamilini’s book castigated Bandaranayake but they never bothered to peruse it. Thamilini had done much more than those opposed to the LTTE to counter Tamil Diaspora allegations. Bandaranayake strongly denied accusations by the LTTE rump, and LTTE sympathizes, that they had included information to tarnish the image of the LTTE. Saminadan Wimal and Gamini Viyangoda too addressed the gathering.
Thamilini discussed the life of those women who had been captured by the military during clashes, on ground, as well as sea.
Thamilini’s version of events exposed those who threw their weight behind the LTTE as long they felt the organisation could achieve its military objectives at any cost. They remained committed to the eelam cause until the very end. Obviously, they believed in a successful LTTE counter attack, on the Vanni east front, though the top LTTE leadership by January 2009, knew the imminent collapse of the organization. Thamilini expertly dealt with the rapid collapse of the group’s fighting capability.
Thamilini also exposed the very angry reaction of those who had backed the LTTE and represented its interests after they learnt of her surrender to the Army on May 16, 2009. Thamilini talked bitterly of them accusing her of surrendering to the Army with a large amount of money and then helping the military to identify many members of the organisation at welfare centres in Vavuniya. Thamilini explained how some Tamils hated her for not dying on the Vanni battlefields where many of her senior colleagues perished. Thamilini alleged that it’s those who couldn’t bear the LTTE’s humiliating defeat.
Having joined the LTTE, on July 29, 1991, Thamilini had served both combat and political units until her surrender on May 16, 2009. At the time of her surrender, she functioned as the head of the Women’s Political Wing. Thamilini revealed the circumstances where, under Velupillai Prabhakaran’s personal intervention, those engaged in political work were sent for weapons training. Thamilini had joined the 21 batch of women cadres sent to Sothiya Regiment in April 1992. Thamilini’s memoirs also dealt with her first meeting with Prabhakaran before she received weapons training.
Thamilini talked of the Directorate of the Military Intelligence (DMI) infiltrating the Vanni during CFA. The LTTEer discussed her chance meeting with an army officer whom she previously knew as a journalist from Colombo who had conversed with LTTEers in Tamil. Thamilini also bitterly commented on those Tamils who worked with the Army and especially one who mocked surrendered LTTE cadres by displaying newspapers announcing the death of Prabhakaran. Thamilini expressed shock at the behaviour of those who collaborated with the Army.
Thamilini has given the military an opportunity to examine some critically important events afresh. The arrest and execution of one-time Prabhakaran’s deputy, Mahattaya, on a charge of being an agent of India’s premier intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), should be re-examined against the backdrop of Thamilini’s revelations. Contrary to previous reports which dealt with the arrest of Mahattaya, Thamilini declared the top Tiger was taken in by Soosapillai Joseph Anthonydas, better known as Colonel Sornam. The arrest was made at Mahatatya’s camp, situated at Manipay, in the Jaffna peninsula.
Thamilini explained a series of changes implemented, at the behest of Prabhakaran, immediately after Mahattaya’s arrest. With the removal of Mahattaya, Prabhakahan brought in the then Jaffna District Special Commander, Dinesh (S.P. Thamilchelvam), as Mahattaya’s replacement. Thamilchelvam played a significant role in Prabhakaran’s strategy until the Air Force blasted his hideout, at Kilinochchi, on the morning of Nov 2, 2007. Following his death, the LTTE conferred its highest military rank Brigadier to Thamilchelvan.
Thamilini confirmed that members of the LTTE political wing had been directly engaged, even in high intensity battles. Thamilini herself had been involved in the devastating LTTE offensive directed at the Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai bases, in early Nov. 1993. Her revaluation that LTTE Intelligence Wing leader, Pottu Amman, had been assigned by Prabhakaran to coordinate the operation underscored the significance of the intelligence leader’s capabilities. Thamilini discussed with administration Pottu Amman issuing instructions to those preparing to overrun the Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai bases. Among those 1,000 wounded, during the three-day battle, were Sornam and Political Wing leader Thamilchelvan. Thamilini also revealed those assigned to the Political Wing receiving lectures at the Jaffna University. They had an opportunity to receive lectures on the LTTE’s history, liberation struggles in various parts of the world and various other relevant subjects.
Thamilini also dealt with the contentious issue of rape and sexual harassment by the military. She unreservedly condemned those who had been propagating that almost all women, taken into custody by the military, had been raped or molested. She lashed out at those propagating lies at the expense of female cadres at all levels who risked their lives for the organization. She alleged that bodies of those who had been sexually abused were shown seeking political advantage.
She complained bitterly about the women navy officer responsible for carrying out body checks at Welikada. She described the body check cruel and disrespectful whereas she basically commended the conduct of officers and men responsible for accepting surrendering LTTE cadres.
As pointed out by Gamini Viyangoda, those who fought against the LTTE, too, should have the courage to critically examine the past, accept wrongdoing on the part of the government and explore ways and means of taking remedial measures. Thamilini obviously had the strength to record her experience, during her 18-year long stay with an organization which was at one time considered militarily undefeatable. Mahadevan, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Saminadan Wimal, and all those who contributed to the release of Thamilini’s memoirs, should earn the respect of all for going ahead with the project knowing very well it will weaken war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka. Those who criticize the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government for not safeguarding the interests of the military should be ashamed of themselves for not forcefully taking up Thamilini’s revelations. None of those members of parliament, loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had referred to Thamilini’s revelations so far, much to the disappointment of patriotic people. They had so far ignored some of the most crucial post-war revelations, made by a person who had been on the front throughout the campaign.