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DateLine Sunday, 16 September 2007

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Government Gazette

Prabhakaran plummets from peak to pit - Part I

By H. L. D. Mahindapala Velupillai Prabhakaran had reached the peak of his power by Christmas day of 2004 - a turning point in his political career. He had come a long way from that fateful day in 1975 when he got his first Tamil scalp by killing Alfred Duraiyappah, the mild-mannered Mayor of Jaffna. On the way from 1975 to Christmas Day in 2004 he had climbed over mountains of Tamil corpses to reach that peak. His career in political crimes was rewarded by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who made him the uncrowned king of the north and the east with his Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed on February 22, 2002.

Though President Chandrika Kumaratunga was peeved that she was not consulted about this hand over of the nation's territory to Prabhakaran she did nothing about it later after she dismissed him. Quickly, she changed her tune and became the best guardian and protector of Prabhakaran.

She was even prepared to go beyond CFA and legalize the institutional structure - the P-TOMS - to make him the unchallenged leader empowered to run the north and the east whichever way he wants.

The international community too had consented to go along with Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga and guarantee the territory and the powers donated by an active Prime Minister and a more aggressive President.

But hardly anyone noticed that this was also the period that was sending out early warning signals to Prabhakaran. Bits and pieces of desperate elements were coming together to undermine Prabhakaran's grip on events.

For instance, it would have been most advantageous to Prabhakaran if Kumaratunga's moves to extend her period in office got the nod from the Supreme Court. After she sacked Wickremesinghe she was the last remaining hope of Prabhakaran to get the infrastructure in place for power-sharing, with the north and the east handed over to him exclusively. For Prabhakaran to get that share of power Kumaratunga's period had to be extended. And to extend her power beyond prescribed limit Kumaratunga had cooked up a story that she had not completed her legal term in office. Her story was that she was entitled to an extension because the first public swearing was not valid as she had a second swearing privately.

When this story, believed only by Kumaratunga and her coterie of yes-men, went up to the Supreme Court it came crashing down like lead balloon. Prabhakaran's chances too were blighted with that decision. With her or Wickremesinghe in power the chances were bright for Prabhakaran to be confirmed not only as 'the sole representative' of the Tamils but also of Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga.

Prabhakaran had judged the mood of these two leaders correctly. The submissive role of Wickremesinghe's delegates, cowed down by his instructions not to upset the Anton Balasingham and Erik Solheim - two beans in the same anti-Sri Lankan pod - turned Balasingham into the cock of the walk. Anton Balasingham was dictating where the talks should be held, when it should be held and what kind of delegates should be in the government team etc.

And the openly partisan role of Erik Solheim gave Balasingham and Prabhakaran to be arrogant and intransigent. Prabhakaran was acting as if he alone possessed the power to dictate terms to the Tamils, to the south and to the international community. So he had no reason to compromise.

Imbued with notion that he was invincible he was determined to go down his imaginary road to Eelam. His calculation was that he could get what he wants through the only mechanism that had lifted him from peninsula obscurity to fame and power: the gun.

He can't be blamed for it because he had the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka like puttee in his hands. In his calculations he had only a short distance to go to declare his Eelam. He was preparing for his final assault to consolidate his position by beating the Sri Lankan forces that were written off as no-hopers by President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

After Prabhakaran pushed Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe into a corner, Anton Balasingham, the Chief Negotiator of Tigers, was throwing his weight around in Geneva crowing that they had the military upper-hand to dictate terms to Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga. Earlier in the only public exposure of his leader at the Kilinochchi press conference, Balasingham told the media brazenly: "You have your Prime Minister and we have our own!" That was a direct insult to Wickremesinghe.

It was also the time when Erik Solheim, the so-called peace facilitator, was eating out of Balasingham's hands. He too misread the signs of the times and fell for the line sold by Balasingham about the military balance being in favour of the Tamil Tigers. Of course, this was true at the time because the Prime Minister and the President of the nation were paralysed from head downwards. This led Solheim to operate on the mistaken notion that the Tigers were winning and he had only to win Prabhakaran, through Balasingham to get all the kudos he wants to be the exalted Norwegian peace-maker who did the impossible. The naivety of international interventionists and do-gooders was epitomized in the follies of Erik Solheim, who, incidentally, was exposed by Karuna, the chief lieutenant of Prabhakaran, as being in the pocket of the Tigers.

Overtime

It was a time of despair for the nation. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, was kicking the forces in the butt for daring to go against his wishes and defending the territorial integrity and national sovereignty. He angrily pulled up the Navy Commander of the day for intercepting a Tiger boat smuggling arms. His sole factotum, Badman Weerakoon, was working overtime on the phone, providing all facilities for the Tigers to get parts of their light aircraft and other military hardware through the customs, all in the name of 'confidence building'.

In short, Prabhakaran was dictating terms to Wickremesinghe from Vanni and the Prime Minister was bending over backwards to appease him in the name of (yes, that phrase again!) 'confidence building'. Chandrika Kumaratunga, who dismissed Wickremesinghe from his three key ministries and took over complaining that Wickremesinghe, was all out to beat Wickremesinghe in the game of appeasing Prabhakaran. So she packed off her generals on overseas appointments or sidelined them and teamed up with crafty yes-men to draw up the P-TOMS - the draft of which was written by leading Tiger lawyers based in Singapore and New York. She even imported Ram Manickalingam, a Tiger in white verti, and parked him at the Peace Secretariat headed by Jayantha Dhanapala who jointly proceeded to draft the P-TOMS.

It was the best of times for Prabhakaran. With everything going for him, with his man sitting in the Prime Minister's chair, Prabhakaran was perched on the pinnacle of power. He was poised to launch his final war to declare Eelam.

It was at this point of time that the most unexpected happened. The turning point came from the most unpredictable source - about a thousand odd miles away. On Boxing Day, 2004, at 00:58:53 UTC (07:58:53 time in Sumatra) an undersea earthquake, with its epicenter off the western coast of Sumatra, shook so violently that it triggered the worst tsunami in recent memory. At 9.1 - 9.3 on the Richter scale it was the second largest ever recorded on a seismograph. The force of that earthquake released waves that moved imperceptibly below the surface until they leapt out in mountainous waves and lashed, among the other coastal areas in the Indian Ocean rim, the naval and military bases of Prabhakaran in the eastern coast, mainly Mullaitivu. It is a day that Prabhakaran will never forget.

Prabhakaran was to lament later publicly, in his Heroes' Day speech about the devastation that blasted his hopes of launching his final assault. He said on Sunday, November 27, 2005: 'Faced with the meaningless absurdity of living in the illusion of peace we decided to resume our national liberation struggle. It was at that conjuncture, during the latter part of last year, when we were charting our action plan that the horrendous natural disaster struck.

"Suddenly, unexpectedly the tsunami waves struck at the villages and settlements along the eastern coastal belt of our homeland causing an unprecedented catastrophe. In this cataclysmic disaster unleashed by nature, twenty thousand Tamil and Muslim people perished and about three hundred thousand people lost their homes, properties and were reduced to conditions of refugees. As nature inflicted further calamity on the Tamil nation, which had already suffered monumental destruction by war, our people were burdened with unbearable suffering," said Prabhakaran.

Reading between the lines and, of course, the crocodile tears for the Tamils, it is clear that he was mourning the colossal losses of his bases, cadres and military hardware. Those who believed in divine intervention read it as a sign of divine wrath visiting Prabhakaran, at last. But Prabhakaran, who was made to believe that, as Sun God, he was next to God, knew that not even his God/s could help him to launch the massive offensive he was planning. He knew that it had to be postponed for another day.

But he was putting on a brave front. He said in his Heroes' Day speech: "In these circumstances, our liberation movement was geared to confront the crisis. Our fighting formations, as well as our cadres belonging to various social and administrative services, were immediately engaged in the tasks of relief and rehabilitation."

Diverting his cadres to do social work when they were battle-ready to confront the Sri Lankan forces was the last thing in his plans. But that was his spin to a calamity that had crippled him. He believed that he could ride over this disaster too. What he didn't realize then was that coming events were casting their shadows. It was the beginning of a downward spiral that was going to land him in the place where he is now: looking down at a precipice while hanging from the branch of a tree that is cracking slowly but steadily.

To be precise the branch broke in March 2004 when his most trusted and able commander, Karuna, parted company accusing the Jaffna (northern) Tamils discriminating against the Batticaloa (Eastern) Tamils. When the tsunami hit Prabhakaran on top of Karuna's breakaway it was like the bull butting the man who fell from the tree.

All in all, the year 2004 was not auspicious for Prabhakaran. The real shock to his system came from the epicenter in the western coast of Sumatra on Boxing Day, 2004. The furious waves swept 20 miles deep into Mullaitivu, crashing into the military and naval bases of Prabhakaran. Rumours began to circulate that Prabhakaran was swept into a watery grave. But, as they say, only the good die young. He was alive and kicking, mainly the Tamils into total submission.

Then came the Presidential elections in 2005. The Supreme Court had kicked out Kumaratunga and the race was on between Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa. Those who are intrigued by the details of history taking unpredictable turns and twists will, no doubt, be mystified by the intricacies of this election.

Though Mahinda Rajapaksa had the south in the palm of his hand Wickremesinghe, his rival, had the Bandaranaikes on his side. Kumaratunga was openly undercutting her own nominee. It was against party policy but that didn't bother her, or her brother, Anura.

Secret deal

They had cut a secret deal with Wickremesinghe to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa and stage a comeback through the backdoor. In the field, however, the presidential candidates were fairly balanced though Rajapaksa had a slight edge in the south. The final outcome depended on Prabhakaran who could tip the scales either way - and he did.

His decision was more devastating to him than the Boxing Day tsunami. It changed the political landscape beyond his wildest dreams. His decision to deny the Tamil people their democratic right to vote boomeranged on him with a devastating force. He thought he could twist the election to his advantage by being neutral. But it was Prabhakaran's biggest blunder next to that of killing Rajiv Gandhi. He not only killed Wickremesinghe's chances of ever becoming a President but also his own chances of achieving his Evil-lam.

Master of all

Oblivious of what was coming round the corner to hit him, Prabhakaran was still performing like the master of all he surveyed on Heroes' Day, November 27, 2005. He told the new President that he would give him time to come up with the solution that would satisfy him. But without any compunction he went for the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Once again he missed his target. Then he launched a series of attacks in Colombo. His fireworks were exploding all over.

The backlash came from abroad. Canada, which has the largest contingent of Tamils settlers, (around 200,000 they claim) banned the Tigers in March 2006. This was followed by the ban of the EU in May 2006. This added up to 26 countries freezing the assets of the Tigers. Tiger offices were raided and Tiger agents were arrested. Years of labour put in by the Tamil diaspora were washed away by the tsunami of violence unleashed by Prabhakaran.

Killing, ethnic cleansing, abducting children into his futile war, torturing dissenting Tamils, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity were his standard fare.

The Tamil Diaspora were forking out their hard earned money to finance the killing, the torturing and the persecution of their own people back home. Their hypocrisy was and is unlimited. They pretended that they were contributing to the welfare of their folks oppressed by the Sinhala-Buddhist government when they knew that the money was channelled to oil the killing machine of Prabhakaran. The Tamil doctors, lawyers, academics, churchmen and other professionals and non-professionals were the criminals who were passing the ammunition praising their lord, Prabhakaran.

But the 200 - 300 million dollars sent annually to fill the war chest of Prabhakaran (Jane's Weekly) were not yielding the results they expected. Prabhakaran was lurching from one disaster to another. He had been found guilty by the Scandinavian peace monitors of violating 98% of the terms and conditions of the CFA - an international agreement which had virtually enthroned him in the north and the east. Obsessed with his political delusions, he was misleading the Tamils promising to take them to the next step: his elusive Eelam. The more pragmatic and knowledgeable Tamils knew from day one that it was not attainable because the international community, and India in particular, were not going to grant the Tamil separatists their dreamland.

When Appapillai Amirthalingam, who went round the world with a diplomatic passport as the Leader of the Opposition in the Sinhala-dominated government, he discovered that the world was not going to grant them the separate state. Earlier N. Shanmuganathan, the Tamil Communist leader (Maoist wing) and a pioneering communist of the Stalinist mould, had argued that the Tamils were not a nation, according to Stalin's Marxist-Leninist definition, he said.

But the myths concocted by the Tamil elite in the fifties prevailed. They pretended to be Gandhians - Gandhians who had no qualms about distributing wooden pistols to their satyagrahins, as told by Prof. A. J. Wilson, the son-in-law of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism. Prabhakaran is the political child that came out of the mono-ethnic politics spawned by the vellahla elite who were driven by the insane notion that they were born to rule the Sinhalese, the Muslims and low-caste Tamils.

No other force has destroyed the Tamils, their institutions, their way of life as this ideology of vellahlaism. Ironically, the first to pay for this ideology were the vellahlahs.

When power changed hands the low-caste Tigers got them, one by one. And even after Tamil society has gone to pieces, under the forces violence unleashed by the vellahla ideology - the vellahla regime was always violent, oppressive and consistently persecuting the low caste Tamils from feudal times - the Tamils and their intellectuals have refused to look behind their cadjan curtain introspectively. To cover up their historical sins against their own people, the elitist Tamils of Jaffna, the most privileged community in Sri Lanka, concocted the theory of being victims of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. They reveled in victimology, playing the role of the underdog, and accusing the majority Sinhalese of discrimination and oppression. NGO pundits and the Tamil propagandists blamed the Sinhala-Buddhist even for the brutal violence of Prabhakaran.

This excuse would have had some validity if Prabhakaran's retaliatory violence was directed only at the Sinhalese. But what had the Sinhalese done to Prabhakaran for him to kill the Muslims? Or to ethnically cleanse them from Jaffna, after looting their property and raping their women? Did the Sinhalese ask him to abduct Tamil children from the desperate mothers who have no place to hide their children? Is he running torture camps in the Vanni to punish the Sinhalese? Did he kill Rajiv Gandhi because he wanted to teach the Sinhala-Buddhists a lesson? Etc., etc.

The hard reality is that Prabhakaran has lost the rationale on which he was acclaimed initially as everybody's 'Thambi' and survived later as the sole representative of the Tamils. He has lost his sense of direction, lost the plot and lost the goodwill of the reasonable Tamils yearning for peace which they know will never dawn as long as they continue to manufacture excuse to prop him up.

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