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Tigers: Missing Tiger spy chief spells trouble

Contributed by Anonymous on Tuesday, June 02 @ 04:15:59 CDT

International: Politics
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 fate.

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 Antony.

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 with.

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 protests.

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 Tamils.

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 amnesty.

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 the island.

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 Bangalore.



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