Asia Times Online, June 02 2009
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - A little over a week after the Sri Lankan government triumphantly
announced the elimination of the entire top brass of the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE), there is some unease in Colombo over the fate of one of the
most powerful Tigers, the LTTE's intelligence chief Shanmugalingam Sivashankar,
better known as Pottu Amman.
The failure of the government to produce his body has triggered speculation
that Pottu Amman might not be dead after all and could have escaped the final
stages of the military offensive that left some of his comrades, including LTTE
chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, dead.
Some reports claimed that Pottu Amman is alive but in army custody. But had that been true, said Indian intelligence officials, "He would
have been paraded on state television."
After initially naming Pottu Amman among a list of LTTE leaders who were killed
last week, the Sri Lankan army has gone silent on the issue of Pottu Amman's
Hundreds of yet-to-be identified bodies of slain Tigers are said to be in army
custody. It is possible that Pottu Amman's body is lying among them.
"If it is not and the Tiger intelligence chief is alive and out there, then the
Sri Lankan security forces' troubles are far from over, as are those of India,"
an official of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external agency, told
Asia Times Online.
Pottu Amman is also the head of the Black Tigers, the LTTE's suicide squad
unit. As the LTTE's intelligence chief, Pottu Amman was very powerful within
the organization, in a position to make or mar the fate of senior Tigers by
building "evidence" of their treachery to the LTTE and Prabhakaran. He is
wanted in India for his role in the assassination of former prime minister
Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE suicide bomber in May 1991.
A Sri Lankan Defense Ministry official who spoke to Asia Times Online on
condition of anonymity insisted that it would have been impossible for Pottu
Amman to escape the tight army cordon and the final military offensive. He
admitted that if he is indeed alive, "Then there is reason for concern."
Among the bodies that have been identified so far is that of the LTTE chief.
The LTTE's eastern commander, "Colonel Karuna", who broke away from the group
in 2004, identified Prabhakaran's body last week. Last Thursday, military
spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara announced that DNA tests on the body of
the man they believed was Prabhakaran matched that of his slain son Charles
Controversy continues to cloud not only the cir*****stances in which the Tiger
chief was killed but also whether he was in fact killed. Many LTTE supporters
have refused to accept that Prabhakaran is indeed dead. It appears that Tigers
are divided over the fate of Prabhakaran, or rather on the strategy to adopt
following his death.
The LTTE's head of the international relations department, Selvarasa
Pathmanathan, confirmed in a statement that the "incomparable leader, the
supreme commander of the LTTE [Prabhakaran], attained martyrdom" while fighting
the Sri Lankan forces and even declared a week of mourning. But its
intelligence department claimed on the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet that the "LTTE
leadership is safe and will re-emerge when the right time comes".
The contradictory statements are being interpreted by political analysts as
signs of a rift among Tigers operating overseas on how to proceed. It is also
being interpreted as a battle for succession.
Selvarasa Pathmanathan is widely believed to be Kumaran Pathmanathan, or KP,
the man who built the LTTE's formidable international network. KP has been in
charge of raising funds for the LTTE abroad and arms procurement. If
Prabhakaran was the brain behind the LTTE's military strategy, it was KP who
provided the Tigers with arms to implement that strategy.
If the LTTE's international relations chief is indeed KP and if, as claimed by
the Sri Lankan government, Pottu Amman is dead, then Pathmanathan would be the
most senior Tiger alive today and therefore the strongest contender for its
leadership. If Pottu Amman is still alive, that claim would be under challenge.
Prabhakaran was the undisputed leader of the LTTE. Any Tiger who posed even the
slightest of challenge to his authority or even popularity was swiftly deal
Analysts predicted that a battle for succession would break out among senior
Tigers following the death of Prabhakaran.
While the contradictory statements could indicate a rift and a possible
succession battle, the scenario today is not quite what analysts predicted. Few
would have imagined even a year ago that it would be for the leadership of a
militarily vanquished LTTE that the Tigers would fight.
Tamil expatriates say that the LTTE is militarily defeated but financially
still in good health. LTTE fundraising among the Tamil diaspora and investment
in various businesses abroad had made it a cash-rich organization. While Tigers
abroad are likely to find it difficult to raise money from expatriates on the
scale they did when Prabhakaran was alive, radicalization of the diaspora over
the plight of the Tamils back home could allow the LTTE to continue to attract
funds from them.
The rift could be over control of the LTTE's overseas funds as well. KP, who
was a close confidante of Prabhakaran, controlled the funds for decades.
Divisions among overseas Tigers were visible even before Prabhakaran's death,
over the mass protests in Western capitals. Pathmanathan apparently wanted the
Tamil diaspora to focus on humanitarian issues, but a powerful section headed
by the LTTE's overseas administration head "Castro" feared that the Tamil Eelam
cause would slip out of the Tigers' control if Tamil expatriates were allowed
to direct the protests. The latter was keen that LTTE flags be visible in the
There is speculation that Pathmanathan is now seeking a new path for the LTTE.
He told the BBC in a telephone interview that the LTTE had "given up violence"
and would "enter the democratic process" to achieve self-determination for
The Sri Lankan government is expected to hold local council elections in
Vavuniya and Jaffna districts in the Northern Province within the next few
months. Elections for the rest of the councils in the Northern Province, where
most people are displaced, are expected to take place later. Is Pathmanathan
eyeing the electoral path to power?
Indian intelligence officials say that Pathmanathan had the most to gain from
Prabhakaran's death. They are not ruling out the possibility of him having
struck a deal with the government in the final hours of the offensive under
which he would deliver the Tiger chief into a trap in return for his own
However, the government's initial response suggests that it is not in a mood to
play ball with Pathmanathan. Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa dismissed
his statement on the LTTE's intention to take up democratic politics. Daily
Mirror, a Sri Lankan English-language newspaper, reported that the government
had sought Interpol's assistance in arresting Pathmanathan. If Pathmanathan was
hoping for a smooth landing in Sri Lankan politics, he has miscalculated. And
it is not just the government that is likely to make things difficult for him.
There is the Pottu Amman factor to reckon with.
If Pottu Amman has survived he can be expected to revive the LTTE's violent
strategy. While it would be near-impossible for him or any other Tiger to build
the LTTE back to the formidable force it once was, the LTTE could be in a
position to keep the army on its toes.
Pottu Amman's survival would spell bad news for Pathmanathan and others abroad
who are positioning themselves to take over the leadership of the LTTE. They
can expect their ambitions and plans to come under fierce fire from Tigers on
Neither the Sri Lankan government nor aspirants for Prabhakaran's mantle can
sleep easy until Pottu Amman's body is found and identified. The search for the
body will be keenly watched and monitored in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in