Did Prabhakaran surrender?

Intelligence sources do not rule out the possibility of Prabhakaran being killed on May 13 itself and its announcement delayed to meet Indian interests

Hardnews Bureau

"It would have been nice if the Sri Lankan army had got Pottu Amman alive. Then we would have known exactly what the role of LTTE was in the assassination of late Rajiv Gandhi," sighed an Indian investigator associated with the probe of the late Prime Minister.

However, it seems that Sri Lanka (SL) was not willing to take any prisoners. This was despite the fact that the beleaguered LTTE leadership had made desperate attempts to wriggle out of the vice-like grip of the army. As stated by SL chief of army staff, General Fonseka, that some western powers had tried to rescue Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and his associates by negotiating a surrender. Hardnews learns that some of them actually came out with white flags, but they were not spared. The big question is: Did Prabhakaran, too, try to surrender?

Some intelligence reports claim that Prabhakaran was also one of those who tried to save his life through negotiations, but the Sri Lankans were in no mood to relent. Sources told Hardnews that the Indian government was in the loop in real time, but chose to look the other way. Colombo, however, respected the sensitivities of the Indian government that the end game against LTTE and Prabhakaran should be deferred till the voting of May 13 in Tamil Nadu as it could trigger a firestorm of protest against the SL government and impact the outcome of the elections. Some intelligence sources do not rule out the possibility of Prabhakaran being killed on May 13 itself and its announcement delayed to meet Indian interests.

Immediately after the Sri Lankan army cleaned up the last bit of resistance, Indian Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, and National Security Advisor, MK Narayanan, had flown to Colombo to cajole President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his administration to provide relief and rehabilitation to internally displaced Sri Lankan Tamils. The manner in which the operation was choreographed is an evidence of how the Indian government was tacitly backing the Sri Lankans.

Even DMK government in Chennai did not show great sympathy to a holed-up Prabhakaran or the plight of the Tamils in the no-fire zone in the northern areas. DMK had threatened to resign from the UPA government last year if the military operations against the Tamils in SL did not cease. But, inexplicably Karunanidhi seemed mollified even when there was no perceptible change in the plight of the people. Sources had then told Hardnews that what was pinching the DMK leadership was not what was happening to the Tamils in the teardrop island, but the fear of a CBI probe in the alleged malfeasance in the telecom department that was under one of their ministers. DMK eased the pressure on the government only after promises were made by the Central government that the guilty minister would not be touched.

The Indian government may have given a go-ahead to smoke out the LTTE, but there is no reason why they should not have - within means - demanded restraint to prevent colossal collateral damage. There are reports that the official death figures in the last few weeks of the war is a gross underestimation. Heavy artillery was used in areas where lakhs of Tamils were used as human shields. Sri Lankan army tried to show that this was an exercise to liberate those who had been held captive by the Tigers, but the way they went about it had the makings of genocide. Latest reports suggest that more than 20,000 people may have been killed in the military operation. Satellite images confirm this massacre.

This impression has been aggravated by the refusal of the Sri Lankan government to allow oversight by their own media and the international community. Worse, journalists had been threatened into submission and a dozen odd were murdered. The gruesome killing of the editor of The Island, Lasantha Wickrematunge, remains mired in mystery. Fingers are being pointed at some powerful interest group of the ruling elite who wanted Lasantha to shut up.

Sri Lankan government is making noises that it would hold early elections and rehabilitate the internally displaced at the earliest. But, the manner in which these people are kept in camps are akin to concentration camps. The Indian government, claim Sri Lankan watchers, would have to lean on Colombo to ensure that the circumstances that gave birth to the Tigers do not rise again. President Rajapaksa and his brothers are understandably displaying triumphalism that would not help in unifying the estranged Northern Province.

Indian bureaucrats who visited Colombo seemed confident that they would be able to bring the Sri Lankan government around to their point of view, but sceptics doubt if that would be possible. Colombo has made known to all that the Chinese and Pakistanis provided offensive weapons that India, due to its electoral and domestic compulsions, was reluctant to offer. Radars and other logistical equipment that India gave was ridiculed by the media in Colombo for their manifest failure to detect the suicide attacks of the fledgling Tiger Air force. The majority opinion in SL does not really view India favourably. They believe that the Tamil problem aggravated due to India's domestic politics. Sri Lankan blogs provide evidence of the hate that is spewed against Indians.

It is a difficult challenge for the Indian foreign establishment to balance its own interests with the aspiration of its neighbours. Indian bureaucracy has a habit of treating its neighbours shoddily. They have been overbearing in their attitude and at times the ambassadors have behaved like Imperial Viceroys. Such an attitude has rubbed leaders in Colombo or Nepal on the wrong side.

Nepal Maoist leader, Prachanda, too, had blamed the Indian foreign ministry for the crisis that engulfed Kathmandu recently when New Delhi opposed the move to sack the Nepalese army General. He missed the fact that there was no political leadership in India - as the country was having its elections - that could take a decision on these matters.

This makes it imperative for Indian political parties - not just the Dravidian parties - to engage with the Sri Lankan leadership - after the Tigers have been snuffed out. It is essential to have a national policy on the neighbourhood rather than be guided by regional parties like the DMK, for instance. The need for this is more compelling at this juncture.

According to media reports, Menon and Narayanan, who met the SL leadership, wanted Prabhakaran's death certificate to help the closure of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case against him. However, there is little word on what happens to the investigation that has been going on into the larger conspiracy behind Rajiv's assassination.

The multi-disciplinary monitoring agency (MDMA) that was set up to follow up on the leads provided by the Jain Commission has nothing to do with the death of the Tiger chief.  MDMA was following up on the alleged Indian conspirators and their foreign patrons who may have wanted to get Rajiv bumped off. Despite the fact that the Congress-led UPA has been in power, the probe has not really moved. Some people in the government have hinted at the "hidden hand" that has been stalling this important probe.

Jain Commission had thrown up various leads that cannot be wished away. The manner in which the witnesses committed suicide or disappeared or how DNA samples of human bomb, Dhanu, disappeared after the suitcase carried by an investigating officer was stolen from London is bizarre. There have been scores of questions that remain unanswered. That is the reason why many investigators wanted Pottu Amman and others to be put through a wringer to get the truth on the assassination. Tragically, that opportunity was not made available by the Sri Lankan army.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2009