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Archive for July 7th, 2008

Karuna says prison term cleared his name, insists he never framed Gotabhaya for fake passport

Insisting that he still remained the leader of the TMVP, Karuna Amman yesterday admitted there was an attempt by some top government officials to split the outfit without the knowledge of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Karuna told the Daily Mirror by his release from jail his name had been cleared of human rights allegations and also insisted that he never framed Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or any other government official during court proceedings in London over how he obtained a false passport to enter Britain illegally.

Sounding happy and relaxed Karuna praised the British authorities for the security he was given following his arrest and dismissed reports that he was physically abused in prison.

“When I was arrested the first thing I told the British police was that I am a marked man so they should ensure my security. They made sure most of the details following my arrest was kept private and gave me full protection while I was in jail and while I was taken to court,” he said.

Karuna said he used a false passport to travel to London to meet his wife and kids and that during court proceedings the only thing he admitted to was the use of a false passport and at no point did he say who gave it to him or how he managed to get past the immigration.

“The lawyer appearing on behalf of the British government said in his own words that the passport was obtained with the assistance of the Sri Lankan government. I was not asked how I got it. The only question they asked me was if I was guilty of travelling on a false passport and I said yes. That is all,” Karuna insisted.

Several human rights groups are now virtually calling for his head over human rights abuses committed by him both while in the LTTE and later in the TMVP but Karuna said the fact that he was released from jail had cleared his name off such allegations.

I”n a way my term in prison has had its good side. The British police have said there is no evidence to charge me for any rights abuses. That has cleared my name” he said.

“In response to a freedom of information request by the Guardian newspaper it was reported that the Crown Prosecution Service had said there was no “realistic prospect” of a conviction against Karuna “based on the evidence that has been submitted to the CPS”.

Karuna also said he now hoped to be a “good politician” and intended to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the next few days to discuss his future plans and issues that needed to be ironed out including what he says is an attempt by certain government officials to split the TMVP.

I admit there is an attempt by certain government officials to create a rift in the TMVP. They are worried about how strong we are. But all this is happening without the President’s knowledge. The President needs us. I will take this up with him,” Karuna said.

Karuna said the TMVP will look at contesting polls not just in the East but other provinces as well with the intension of entering parliament and becoming a strong political force in the country.

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Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, better known as Karuna Amman, the dreaded leader of Batticaloa during his days in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), must be a chastened man as he was flown into Colombo escorted by British security men on July 3, 2008. His return to Sri Lanka brings to a close the episode of his ill fated trip to the UK under a false identity that saw him sentenced to imprisonment by a London court in January 2008.

But Karuna appears to have embarked upon another uneasy episode – his future prospects in what is purported to be the ‘liberated’ eastern province, where his former aide S. Chandrakanthan is ruling the roost as the chief minister of the Eastern Provincial Council.

Life had never been smooth for Karuna ever since he broke away from the LTTE in March 2004. Firstly, he had to marshal the LTTE cadres who had followed him to safety and organise them into a political body. At the same time they had to retain their weapons to survive the wrath of LTTE. He formed the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) as a political party of sorts, though he appeared unclear to take it further ahead. At the same time he had to go underground to survive the LTTE supari(contract) on his head. In the course of the survival struggle, the LTTE killed many of close followers including his
brother Reggie.

He had to wage another struggle for survival when both the major parties – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) – wanted to disown him when the LTTE accused them of duplicity for engineering Karuna’s defection. Only the security forces stood by Karuna and he had no choice but to survive at the pleasure of Military Intelligence and the army. Politically, there was a lot of suspicion about his role. Initially he gained some credit by sending back a large number of young cadres recruited by him during the LTTE days from the east to their homes.

Later Karuna and his followers were accused of being involved in kidnappings and killings, and the clamour for disarming his troops became louder. Luckily for him, in 2005 the TMVP became valuable allies when the army launched its operations in the east. At the same time, there was a deliberate attempt to ensure that Karuna does not
become too big for his boots. As the security forces progressively captured more and more territory in the east, the contribution of the TMVP cadres to the military successes was either played down or ignored.

International NGOs had orchestrated a campaign to take Karuna and his cadres to task on charges of kidnappings, recruitment of children and other human rights violations. They accused of the collusion of the government with the TMVP in such acts and this became a major source of embarrassment to the government. When the issue was repeatedly taken up by the EU members, and at the UN, the government probably thought it was time to jettison Karuna to ward off complaints of inaction on humanitarian violations. The decision to promote the TMVP minus Karuna as a political entity and ally of the ruling coalition was probably taken at that point of time.

Karuna’s reluctance to play a major political role probably came in handy to pick up his protégé S. Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan) to stage a palace coup of sorts to take over the TMVP. Apparently Karuna was packed off to the UK under a cover identity on a diplomatic passport to keep the government association with him off the limelight. Though this effort appears to have only succeeded in buying time, it did take the heat off both the government and the TMVP. It enabled the TMVP to gain recognition as a political entity to contest the eastern provincial council elections. The success of the ruling alliance with the TMVP as a major partner in the EPC elections that followed is
history.

In this entire tale of intrigues, killings, violence, backroom deals and politicking, a few things stand out:

• Reluctance of Karuna to play a major role in Tamil politics unlike Chandrakanthan (who has less experience both as a militant and as a leader of the same calibre as Karuna). Karuna’s reluctance might be rooted in his pessimism about the future of both the current Colombo dispensation and the LTTE’s survival as a strong entity. So he might wait and watch for the outcome of the war to make up his mind on his future role.

• His desire to be with his family in London appears to have made his heart overrule the head when he decided to go to the UK incognito. The unhappy experience of his visit probably has burnt the boats for his future visits to the UK (though stranger things have happened in international diplomacy). So this latent desire to be with his family might dictate his future course of action to seek a safe third country refuge.

• Karuna’s utility for the TMVP and its UPFA ally remains only if he keeps a low profile. To this end Karuna’s benign presence as a figurehead of the TMVP could be a possible way out for the time being. Chandrakanthan in his comments after Karuna’s return has indicated that he would not be averse to defer to Karuna’s “continued leadership.” Probably this arrangement would suit Karuna also at present.

• Though sections of Sinhala and Muslim polity (and laughably, even the Tamil National Alliance) would like to get at Karuna for his past involvement in the LTTE massacres of the innocent in the east, it is doubtful whether the state would take any action. Such precipitate action now could send wrong signals to other former LTTE cadres, including Pillaiyan, who are now cooperating with the ruling coalition. So we may expect the government to take no follow up action on the calls from the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch on this count. Such action could also trigger calls for similar action against the security forces personnel involved in humanitarian violations. That could be too embarrassing for the government as it would like to avoid any move to upset the upbeat mood of the armed forces right now.

Way back on November 11, 2004 in an article titled “Karuna in a no win situation” (available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers12%5Cpaper1165.html ), this
author while examining the problems of Karuna’s emergence as a political leader, had said: “It is not easy for militant leaders like Prabhakaran and Karuna to transform themselves into political leaders; this is a major reason why peace is eluding in Sri Lanka. Running a political party needs a political vision just as conducting a military operation requires military strategy and a physical goal. Political leadership needs situational leadership skills such as flexibility in approach, ability to mould themselves to people and places, accepting diversity, and excellent communication skills that appeal to both the common man and the intellectual. So it is not always true that military leaders make good political leaders. Prabhakaran has the frontline support of political leaders like Anton Balasingham and Tamilselvan who can interface with not only other national leaders but also with international personalities.

Karuna has to establish his credibility in this regard if he has to make headway and find acceptance as a political leader, not only with the Tamil people of the East but also with other political leaders of Sri Lanka, particularly in the UNP and SLFP alliance and its partners. As of now he appears to be lacking in this ability.”

Karuna’s subdued political role so far appears to justify the above assessment. Can he break out of this mould? The answer to the question probably lies with Karuna, because he only can decide what he wants to be. At present he does not appear to have made up his mind. A few external change agents could nudge him in this process. These include drastic reduction in the LTTE’s overall military capability (or on the flip side, scaling up of the LTTE activity in the east of which there are some stray indications), and the continued usefulness of the Chandrakanthan-led TMVP to President Rajapaksa’s political scheme of things. Such developments would increase Karuna’s value as a leader in the east. Needless to say, for all this Karuna has to survive the machinations of LTTE’s elephantine memory.

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