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KP Speaks out: An interview with former Tiger Chief

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KP Speaks out: An interview with former Tiger Chief
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It was one year ago on August 5, 2009 that Thambiaiya Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias “KP” was taken into custody  in Kuala Lumpur at  First Tune Hotel on 316 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman road.The  former chief arms procurer of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) was  brought to Colombo the following day.

KP’s capture was hailed as a significant breakthrough because the senior  Tiger operative was at that time the nominal chief of the re-structured LTTE. In the aftermath of the Mullivaaikkaal debacle resulting in the demise of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and senior Tiger commanders, KP assumed leadership of the movement abroad. The LTTE was re-structured with KP being appointed “Thalaimai Seyalar” or chief secretary.

With KP’s capture punitive action against him by Colombo was anticipated. However in an unexpected  turn of events there evolved a remarkable relationship between captor and captive where  the Sri Lankan government extended its hand of friendship towards KP in a magnanimous gesture. KP in turn reciprocated pragmatically by responding in a conciliatory and co-operative spirit.

Though under detention, KP has been afforded great autonomy of action by the Government to play a constructive role in uplifting the Tamil people and achieving ethnic reconciliation.. The ex-LTTE chief has set up a new non –governmental organization known as the North – East Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NERDO).

The NERDO is focusing on the release, rehabilitation and re-settlement of ex –LTTE cadres and IDP’s of the North – East. KP himself is concentrating on garnering aid and assistance from sections of the Tamil Diaspora for the NERDO to formulate and implement projects.

The current status and role of KP is now a matter of great controversy. He is viciously attacked by extremist sections of the Diaspora as a traitor who has sold out to the Rajapaksa regime. The Sri Lankan opposition questions the “leniency” shown to the ex-LTTE chief  by the Govt and contrasts it with the treatment meted out to former army chief  General Fonseka.

It is against this backdrop that this writer  had an extended telephone conversation with KP on  Thursday Aug 5th the first anniversary of his capture. In what was a frank and open discussion in Tamil, the ex-Tiger chief disclosed several details about the past,present and future. In the process KP dispelled several rumours circulating about him and set the record straight on a number of issues.

KP  is firmly of the opinion that Tamil Eelam is a lost cause and that the armed struggle is a thing of the past. He feels that the immediate priority of Sri Lankan Tamils is to get out of the tragic situation they are in right now. The future is to live with equal rights and dignity in a united ,pluralistic Sri Lanka.

KP also expressed regret for the violence perpetrated by the LTTE against civilians and hardship caused during the course of the LTTE campaign for Tamil Eelam. A remorseful KP tendered an open apology to all the people of Sri Lanka for the suffering caused in the past.

Q:You were seized in Malaysia last year on August 5th. How will you describe your present situation after  being under detention for one year ?

A: I was shocked  when I was arrested and for about an hour I was dazed. But later I recovered. I was also worried when brought to Sri Lanka. But I believe in an almighty God. Though I feared, the worst would happen I have been fortunate.My being captured in a way has been a benefit to me. I have now got an opportunity to serve the suffering Tamil people. Our struggle has reduced our people in Sri Lanka particularly those in the Wanni to a pathetic situation. Now I have a chance to help them in a small way at least through the work of NERDO .

Q: What are the conditions under which you are being detained?

A: I am being kept in a house. I cannot go outside. But within the house I can move about freely. I am given full freedom to talk to people on the telephone. People are not allowed to meet me here. When I want to meet people  outside I have to get clearance. Some officials accompany me when I have to go out to meet them. I also have unrestricted e-mail access
Q: Were you ill-treated in any way?

A: No. I have been treated with great kindness and courtesy. In the early days there was some sort of  mild tension. But as the days progressed an atmosphere of trust, mutual respect and cordiality prevails.

Q: How did this situation develop? Some people in the Tamil Diaspora allege that you had a “deal” with the govt and that your arrest itself was a  drama? How were you  arrested and brought here?

A:  I know that these types  of accusations are being levelled against me. But you know how I was arrested. You were  the first person to write about my arrest in detail in English. When I got to read it much later I found that most of what you had written was correct except for some minor details. Whatever these people may say the truth is that I was arrested and transported to Sri Lanka

Q: Can you relate how you were caught and brought here?

A: I was sitting in the Hotel room talking to former LTTE political commissar Nadesan’s brother and son who had come down from England to Malaysia.I then got a telephone call from Canada. It was Ragavan from the CMR radio . The  reception was not good. So I excused myself and went out.

I sat outside on a chair in the lobby and kept talking. Suddenly a group of Malaysian officials surrounded me. One of them said “Very sorry Mr.KP” and grasped my phone. It fell to the ground and was picked up by an officer. They asked me to come with them. I had no choice but to go with them
I was taken to the immigration detention centre in KL  and kept there for nearly 36 hours  for about two days and a night. I had to sleep there in the detention centre room. I realised from their conversation that I was going to be officially deported. But I was not sure whether it was going to be Sri Lanka, India ,USA or somewhere else.

Then I was taken to the KL airport where a Sri Lankan airlines plane was waiting. Then I knew I was going to Colombo. I was taken into the plane through the economy class entrance and then moved inside to the business class. There I was formally handed over to some Sri Lankan officials  and brought to Colombo.

Q: You were a Resident in Thailand when you were arrested. Why did you operate out of Kuala Lumpur instead of Bangkok? Was it because you were arrested in Thailand in 2007?

A:  I had been leading a quiet life in Thailand for many years when I was out of the LTTE. It was also known that I was living there. So when I started being active in the LTTE again I did not want to  attract attention to my family in Thailand. That is why I moved to KL. Also it was easy for people from all over to travel to Malaysia and meet me.

Actually I was never arrested in 2007 .What happened was that there was a move to arrest me then and some officials had rounded up my residence early morning. Fortunately I was not there. But the news was leaked in Sri Lanka that I had been arrested. This helped to prevent follow up action to arrest me. But after that I kept a very low profile in Thailand.

Q: What happened when you arrived in Colombo? I’ve heard some stories about how you established rapport with the Defence secretary at your first meeting itself?

A: During the flight to Colombo I had a long chat for about three  hours with a Sri Lankan officer. He was very cordial. The way in which I was treated by the Lankan officers was very decent. That made me relaxed.

But I was still worried in my heart about  what would happen after reaching Sri Lanka. To be honest I was very concerned about the Defence Secretary . The impression I had of him was that he was a tough talking Sinhala hardliner. Therefore, I was really dreading an encounter with him.

But something happened when I was taken to the Defence Secretary’s residence. There was a  Buddha statue there with a light shining at the back. For a few minutes I simply stood and gazed on the Buddha. My nerves got calmed by that.

In Thailand, I have gone to Buddhist temples frequently with my wife. In my house there are pictures of deities from all three religions including the Buddha. So somehow I felt that no great harm will come to me then.

The Defence Secretary was seated with some other officials. He got up as I entered and shook hands with me and said “please sit down”. He introduced the others to me. Mr. Gotabaya was very polite. He told me not to worry about anything. I don’t exactly remember what  I then told him but it was  something like this “ I saw the Buddha statue near the entrance and felt  safe and calm”.

Q: Your reference to the Buddha statue incident will also be twisted by your critics within the Tamil Diaspora to portray you as a traitor praising the Buddha?

A: I know .You are right but I am telling you what really happened. I don’t want to hide anything. I told about the Buddha statue to the nine-member Tamil expatriate delegation that came to Sri Lanka last June also.

Because of my home environment and my wife’s religious belief  I am familiar with Buddhist worship and temples . So seeing the Buddha statue really helped me emotionally. This is the truth. If they want to attack me because of that , then let them do it. I don’t care. I have nothing against the Buddha or Buddhism.

Q:  I understand your feelings. So how did your meeting with the Defence secretary go?

A:Cakes and tea were served. The Defence Secretary said that they had tried to solve the problem peacefully but were compelled to wage full fledged war. He said it was sad that finally all the LTTE leaders including Prabhakaran had to die in the war.

He also had lots of information about the communications within the LTTE during the last days of war. He asked me some questions and I answered truthfully . When I didn’t know something I told him so instead of bluffing. He seemed satisfied with my response. I also told him clearly that the war was over for me a long time ago and that my only goal now was to help my people recover from the war and lead normal lives.I was really amazed by the attitude of the Defence Secretary. At one point I told him that the image I had of him when I saw TV interviews was that he was a tough hardliner and that his soft behaviour  was a pleasant surprise. He laughed and said”I am really like this all the time.Some of these media people irritate me. That is why I get angry like that”.

After a long conversation, he introduced a particular officer and said he was responsible for me. I was told that I could communicate with him on all matters and that I could send word through this officer to him if necessary. He then shook hands again and I was taken to a house in Colombo. So began a new chapter in my life.

Q: What happened thereafter? There are allegations and reports that you have been collaborating with the government and providing information about  Diaspora LTTE activities abroad to the Govt?

A:Let me tell this clearly. When the Sri Lankan intelligence officers began  talking to me  there were two choices for me. One was to confront them and the other was to cooperate. If I confronted I would have had to face long prison term and not be of any use to anyone. But if I cooperated  I could  win their trust and confidence. This may have given me an opportunity to do be of some service to our people.

If the struggle was still continuing and my leader was alive then I would have willingly challenged the govt and not cooperated. I would have faced any consequence. But that was not so. Everything was over. So there was no point in confronting. So I chose to cooperate.

Again another point I must mention is this. I had been out of the movement from 2003 January to 2008 December. I had knowledge only about pre -2003 matters. Much of the structure had changed in these years and personnel involved had been changed by those who came after me. I told this very clearly to the intelligence officials who knew and understood my position.

When we kept on talking a funny thing happened. At one point the officers started laughing at me and said jokingly “You don’t know anything about the LTTE now”. They were right because I was in a way living in the past. I could only tell about things and structures existing years ago. I was not well informed about the post -2002 situation . They realised it and that is why they were laughing at me.

You know what? The Sri Lankan intelligence is not stupid as some of our people think. They are very modernized and sophisticated. Besides there is lots of exchanges with intelligence agencies of other countries. From their conversation I gathered that they were very well informed about the LTTE and its overseas structures.

Q: But the propaganda against you by the pro-Castro group headed by Nediyavan and some media organs allege that you are supplying the govt with information about LTTE activity in the Diaspora?

A: I know that. But the truth is something different. In addition to the information gained by the intelligence people through different sources the y have been presented with lots of information by Castro’s people.