Sri Lanka's Tigers take a big
hit By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - If Tharmalingam Shanmughan
alias Kumaran Pathmanathan was indeed detained in
Bangkok on Monday evening, then the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have reason for
Kumaran Pathmanathan (or "KP" as he
is widely known) has been in charge of the LTTE's
international arms-procurement network and was
allegedly involved in the 1991 assassination of
Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. If he is in
Thai custody as reported in the media and claimed
by Indian and Sri Lankan officials, then the LTTE
has suffered a deadly blow - one from which it
will find it difficult to recover for a long time.
Reports of his arrest were generated by an
allegation on Tuesday on the Sri Lankan Defense
Ministry website (www.defence.lk) that "reliable
sources from Thailand reveal that LTTE's chief for
cross-border terrorist activities, Kumaran
Padmanadan, alias 'KP', has been arrested in
However, Thai officials have
denied arresting KP.
"I've checked with
related police bureaus - the Immigration Police,
the Metropolitan Police and the Special Branch.
There has been no report of a Tiger rebel arrested
in Bangkok," national police spokesman
Lieutenant-General Ronnarong Youngyuen told
Reuters news agency. "If we'd arrested him, we
would have made good publicity out of it."
A Colombo-datelined report in the Indian
daily Hindustan Times cited Indian and Sri Lankan
officials as saying that KP might not have been
arrested, but he could have been detained. It
quotes D R Kaarthikeyan, the head of the special
investigating team that probed Gandhi's
assassination, as saying: "It is certain that a
person answering to the description of Kumaran
Padmanathan has been detained by the Thai
At a press conference in New
Delhi on Wednesday, the director of India's
Central Bureau of Investigation "declined to use
the term 'arrest', which is a legal act, and
preferred to use 'detention' instead".
Even as official confirmation of KP's
arrest or detention was yet to come, government
officials in India and Sri Lanka were dreaming of
KP is the
second-most-wanted person - after LTTE supremo
Velupillai Prabhakaran - in Sri Lanka. He is
wanted in India for his alleged role in Gandhi's
assassination, for which he reportedly provided
the explosive belt used by the suicide bomber and
the gun that Sivarasan, the LTTE operative who
oversaw Gandhi's killing, used to kill himself to
evade capture in Bangalore.
extradition would, of course, enable Sri Lanka and
India to bring him to justice. More important, he
could provide insight into the LTTE's
international network, information that they have
been desperately seeking for more than two
KP, now 52, built the LTTE's
formidable international arms and shipping
network. If Prabhakaran was the brain behind the
organization's military strategy, it is KP who was
responsible for arming it. He equipped the Tigers
with state-of-the-art military hardware and
ensured that it was shipped back to Sri Lanka. The
LTTE's weapons-procurement wing is in fact called
the "KP department".
Unlike other Tamil
militant groups that depended on India for arms in
the mid-1980s, the LTTE - wary of Indian pressure
- developed its own multiple, international
sources for funding and arms right from the start.
"It was KP who made LTTE International Inc
happen," recalled a retired operative of the
Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's external
intelligence agency, which was involved in the
arming and training of Sri Lankan Tamil militants
between 1984 and 1987.
"One of the
earliest arms purchases KP organized was with an
Australian arms dealer in 1984. By 1985-86, he was
negotiating the purchase of ships, which would in
the years to come be used for commercial purposes
as well as gun-running," the ex-RAW official told
Asia Times Online.
Within years of
starting the network, KP had an efficient
international network to provide the Tigers with
the deadliest modern arms.
allegedly based in Thailand and Cambodia, but he
has operated in dozens of countries. A few years
ago, Indian intelligence sources claimed he was
receiving medical treatment in Oslo. They alleged
that KP, who is on Interpol's most-wanted list,
was being given "sanctuary" in Norway, which
brokered a ceasefire in the Sri Lankan conflict.
Norway claimed it was unaware of his whereabouts.
KP's multiple identities, numerous
passports and extensive contacts with people in
positions of power have helped him slip across
borders with ease and evade Interpol's
Close on the heels
of KP's reported arrest or detention in Bangkok
was more good news for Colombo.
Tuesday, the Sri Lanka Navy sank three LTTE
"arms-carrying ships" in the high seas southeast
of Sri Lanka. According to the navy's media
spokesman, Commander D K P Dassanayake, the LTTE
ships were carrying large stocks of military
hardware, a bullet-proof vehicle for the LTTE
chief, spare parts for three light aircraft, one
high-speed boat, fuel and ammunition. Navy
commander Rear Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda told
the media that with the sinking of the war
vessels, nine out of 10 ships believed to be owned
by the LTTE have been destroyed.
If KP was
indeed detained, then the arms consignment the Sri
Lanka Navy sank would have been among the last he
dispatched to Jaffna, and his capture would be
similar in magnitude to the setback the LTTE
suffered in 2004 when its eastern commander,
Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan, alias "Colonel
Karuna", quit the organization and formed a rival
Since his defection, Karuna, who
set up the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal
(Tamileela People's Liberation Tigers), has proved
to be more than a thorn in the LTTE's flesh. By
emerging as the voice of the eastern Tamils, he
has dealt a deadly blow to the LTTE's claims to
being representative of all of Sri Lanka's Tamils.
Karuna is said to be receiving protection from the
Sri Lankan armed forces and is helping them hunt
down and identify LTTE cadres in the Eastern
Province. Karuna's exit from the LTTE has weakened
the organization immensely.
Over the past
year, the LTTE has suffered a series of military
reverses in the Eastern Province. It was driven
out of Sampur and Maavil Aru in Trincomalee
district last September, the first instance of
territory transfer since the signing of the
ceasefire agreement between the government of Sri
Lanka and the LTTE in 2002. Then Vaharai and other
bases such as Thoppigala fell, clearing the way
for the LTTE's eviction from the east this July.
The LTTE's loss of the Eastern Province has been
attributed in part to Karuna's exit.
Karuna's exit resulted in the LTTE suffering
reverses in the Eastern Province, "KP's arrest
could severely undermine the LTTE's arms
procurement, as he is likely to sing under
questioning", the ex-RAW operative said. "He will
reveal at least some of his contacts and the
network that he has built for the LTTE."
KP is a close confidant of the LTTE chief.
He discusses arms deals directly with Prabhakaran.
The arms-procurement process, like much of the
LTTE's other operations, is highly centralized.
Several operatives might be involved in the
purchase and transport of weapons, but it is a
select few who are involved in finalizing the
"The arrest of the procurement
chief in such a centralized operation is an
immeasurable loss to the LTTE," the ex-RAW
Rejecting reports of KP's
arrest, an LTTE sympathizer in Colombo told Asia
Times Online that this is not the first time that
the governments of India and Sri Lanka "were
engaging in such propagation of lies". Several
times over the past two decades, including after
the 2004 tsunami, media reports quoted government
officials who claimed that the LTTE chief was
dead. "The reported arrest of KP is just another
instance of false propaganda. It is mere wishful
thinking," he said.
Sri Lankan and Indian
officials will be hugely embarrassed should it
turn out that KP is still a free man, but until
Thai authorities confirm his status, they will
keep their fingers crossed.
Ramachandran is an independent
journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.