The month of May is very significant in terms of the three decades of the North and East civil war. The Indians will remember their flamboyant Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by an LTTE suicide cadre in Sriperumbudur on 21 May 1991.It was 17 years after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, that LTTE Leader V. Prabhakaran, who had been the mastermind of the assassination, was killed by the Sri Lankan Security Forces at Nanthikadal in the Mullaitivu District on 19 May 2009.
The LTTE and the Security Forces first engaged in a conventional war in 1987, which was popularly known as Operation Liberation or Vadamarachchi Operation. Political analysts named it Eelam War I.
Since the beginning of Eelam War I, the LTTE engaged in four major wars including the battle with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) from 1987 to 2009 until the outfit met its waterloo on 19 May 2009.
The strategies for the final showdown with the LTTE were worked out in a manner without leaving any space for the outfit to escape as it had done in the past when it was cornered during the previous battles.
The final battle between the LTTE and the Security Forces lasted for three years from July 2006 to May 2009 and it had been considered the deadliest of all battles fought in the history of the civil war in the North and East.
Following fall of the LTTE, month of May in recent years has been celebrated with victory parades to celebrate the victory over the LTTE.
However, 30 years ago it was in May 1986 that the people in the North and East for the first time realized that the Eelam war launched by the Tamil militants was not going to take them anywhere and it would only lead towards a ‘dead’ end.
Last week in Jaffna the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) commemorated the 30th death anniversary of its leader Sri Sabaratnam and nearly 600 TELO cadres who were brutally killed in a period of one week from 29 April to 6 May 1986 in the North and East Provinces.
The people in Jaffna still remember how mercilessly the LTTE gunned down the TELO cadres.TELO was one of the pioneer militant organizations to be founded in the late 60s under the leadership of N. Thangathurai and S. Yogachandran alias Kuttimani.
Before forming the LTTE, V. Prabhakaran had close links with the TELO leaders and particularly with Kuttimani. Prabhakaran was a young lad then and Kuttimani used to call him Thambi (brother).
In 1981 when Kuttimani and Thangathurai were arrested over a bank heist in Jaffna and when they were killed later when a prison riot broke out during the Black July communal riot in 1983 along with 54 other Tamil prisoners, Sri Sabaratnam who had been a senior member of the TELO and even considered an outlaw by the Lankan Government became the leader of the organization.
Except the LTTE, the other three Lankan Tamil militant organizations TELO, EPRLF, and PLOTE were trained and armed by India following the communal upheaval in the Island in 1983.
As the North and East Provinces were gradually entering into a gloomy era, the rivalry among the Tamil militant organizations, which were competing with each other in launching attacks against the Security Forces, also increased rapidly in the mid 80s.
TELO was successful in attacking Police Stations in the North and one of its targets had been the Chavakachcheri Police Station. It was for the first time the outfit had even videoed the attack for propaganda purposes.
Thereafter, a Colombo bound train was attacked by TELO near Mankulam, killing a group of soldiers travelling in the train.
So, the LTTE, which was furious over other militant outfits trained by India becoming popular with their successful attacks, embarked first on getting rid of TELO cadres. The manhunt launched by the LTTE for this purpose was terrifying.
Annihilation of TELO
LTTE’s Jaffna Commander Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu was tasked with rooting out of TELO in the North and all area commanders of the LTTE under the directive of Kittu had carried out attacks ruthlessly against TELO.
The attacks against TELO cadres beginning on 29 April continued for a week till 6 May 1986.
The TELO cadres who had surrendered to the LTTE were also shot dead at point blank range. Some of the TELO cadres were even killed in front of their houses. The bodies of the TELO cadres were put on tyres and set on fire.Finally, it was on 6 May that TELO Leader Sri Sabaratnam, who was on the run, was cornered by the LTTE’s Jaffna Leader Kittu at a tobacco plantation in Kondavil, a suburb in Jaffna, late in the evening.
In the night hours Kittu used his pickup truck’s headlamps to spot the TELO leader in the tobacco plantation. After spotting the TELO leader, Kittu first shot his leg and went near him. Sri Sabaratnam pleaded with Kittu to spare his life.But Kittu, instead of listening to the TELO leader, went trigger happy firing at him with his AK-47 rifle.
Formation of ENLF
It was two years before the LTTE took the upper hand in Jaffna that LTTE Leader V. Prabhakaran, TELO Leader Sri Sabaratnam, EPRLF Leader K. Pathmanabha, and EROS Leader V. Balakumar agreed to take a common stance with regard to their militant activities and formed an alliance called Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF) in 1984.
The four leaders also posed for a photo holding hands after the formation of the ENLF. However, the coalition was short-lived with the LTTE first annihilating TELO, and thereafter the EPRLF and its leader K. Pathmanabha.
Since EROS Leader V. Balakumar took a pro-LTTE stance he remained with the LTTE and now it is believed that he would have been killed along with the LTTE leader in May 2009.
The 30th death anniversary of TELO Leader Sri Sabaratnam and the remembrance of 600 cadres of the outfit last week had highlighted the worst part of the rivalry between the Tamil militant outfits.The other Tamil militant organization to face heavy losses at the hands of the LTTE was the EPRLF. Hundreds of cadres of the outfit, along with its Leader Pathmanabha, were killed by the LTTE making a total mockery out of the Tamil liberation struggle.
Hence, May became the bloodiest month in the history of the civil war, long before it came to an end on 19 May 2009.