The first part of this article published last week narrated certain aspects of the life of Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’ the much-dreaded intelligence chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although my original intention was to write a two-part article, I have been compelled to make it a three-part article in order to do justice to the information that I have been able to gather about Pottu Ammaan.
Sivashankar known as Pottu and Pottu Ammaan joined the LTTE in 1981. He obtained Indian arms training after July 1983 in Uttar Pradesh as part of the first batch of tiger trainees. After getting Indian training, Pottu functioned as one of Prabhakaran’s bodyguards. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served the tiger ‘numero uno’ with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.
After a stint as the boss’s bodyguard, Pottu was sent to be in charge (poruppu) of the “Karai” (shore) operations in Vethaaranyam area on the Tamil Nadu coast. The LTTE had set up camps in this area. Pottu was in overall charge.
Coastal operations were of paramount importance in the eighties of the last century as the LTTE was heavily dependent on Tamil Nadu as a rear base. Arms, medicine, fuel and other vital supplies were sent to northern Sri Lanka via sea from the Tamil Nadu coast. There was also a steady flow of cadres to and from Tamil Nadu by sea.
In charge at Vethaaranyam
Pottu discharged his duties efficiently but ruthlessly. One of his lesser known responsibilities at Vethaaranyam was the liquidation of cadres who fell foul of the leadership or were suspected of being traitors and double agents.
They were clandestinely killed, stomachs slashed and bodies dumped in the sea. Family and friends in Sri Lanka would think the persons concerned were in India while those in India would think they were in Sri Lanka. But the poor victims would be in Davy Jones’s locker.
LTTE old timers remember a particular incident illustrative of Pottu Ammaan’s monstrous cruelty. A cadre from Nelliaddy called “Chandran” was suspected of being a “traitor”. About to be executed, Chandran managed to run away after injuring a few cadres.
Pottu was enraged. The escapee was caught and brought to Pottu who trussed him up in a sack tied to a rope on a tree. The sack was dashed again and again by Pottu himself on the tree trunk. He then battered the sack with an iron rod. Chandran was reduced to pulp.
But Pottu’s stay in Vedaranyam had its pitfalls too. A calamity that befell Pottu in Vethaaaranyam in 1985 had its repercussions in Madras now Chennai.
PLOTE abducts Pottu
What happened then was that Pottu Ammaan, in charge of the LTTE coastal camp in Vethaaranyam had got into a heated argument with People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) operatives in the Tamil Nadu coastal region. In those days, the PLOTE had more cadres than the LTTE. Pottu and his bodyguard were outnumbered by the PLOTE contingent. Suddenly the PLOTE members seized Pottu and bodyguard and whisked him away to a PLOTE camp. Pottu Ammaan had been abducted by the PLOTE.
A furious LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran assigned to his deputies Shankar and Aruna, the task of freeing Pottu Amman. A round of talks between PLOTE military commander Jotheeswaran alias Kannan and Sornalingam alias Shankar took place in the residence of a Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Member of Parliament considered to be close to the PLOTE leadership. The talks however failed.
Shankar then revised his strategy and telephoned Dr. Sivanathan of the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) at Mahalingapuram in Chennai and asked him to arrange a meeting with the PLOTE’s Kannan the military leader. Kannan arrived with his retinue of bodyguards and engaged in discussions with Shankar at the TIC. At one point Shankar whisked out his gun, fired on Kannan’s foot and quickly placed his gun against Kannan’s head.
Shankar pulled out Kannan’s firearm and began firing into the air, while prodding Kannan with his own gun towards a waiting vehicle with Aruna as driver. The PLOTE bodyguards could do nothing as their leader was taken captive. Later, the LTTE negotiated from a position of strength with the PLOTE and exchanged Kannan for Pottu Amman and his bodyguard.
The extraordinary lengths to which the LTTE went to free Pottu Ammaan illustrated the regard with which he was held by the tiger supremo Prabhakaran.
Shankar who later pioneered the LTTE Air wing was killed by the Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) on the Oddusuddan-Puthukkudiyiruppu road on 26 September 2001. Kannan who along with PLOTE leader Umamaheswaran alias Muhunthan engaged in a shoot-out with LTTE leader Prabhakaran alias Karikalan and Sivakumar alias Raghavan at Pondy bazaar, Chennai in 1982 met with an equally tragic end later.
Kannan along with a group of PLOTE members including deputy leader Vasudeva and senior leader Subash were lured for “talks” to Pulipaainthakal near Kiran by the erstwhile eastern tiger commander “Col” Karuna in 1987 during the ceasefire period after the Indo-Lanka accord. It was a trap and they were massacred by Karuna and his cohorts.
Pottu relocated to east
After the humiliating abduction incident, Pottu was relieved of his duties on the Tamil Nadu coast and relocated to the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. He functioned in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts as a key associate to Basheer Kaakaa, Aruna and Kumarappah when they were in charge of the eastern region at different times. Pottu’s stay in the east was very eventful. It was in Batticaloa that Pottu met, loved and got married to his wife Vathsala.
It was also in Batticaloa that a gun-toting Pottu suffered the ignominy of being walloped with a broomstick by a Tamil woman who knocked the pistol out of his hand. The brave lady who is no more was none other than the irrepressible Kala Tambimuttu. Kala was the wife of former Batticaloa district MP Sam Tambimuttu and daughter of ex-senator Manickam. The only son of the Tambimuttus, Arun, is a budding politician in Batticaloa. The above mentioned incident and Pottu’s marriage will be delved into in greater detail at a later stage in this article.
When war erupted with the Indian army in October 1987, Pottu was recalled from Batticaloa and sent to Tamil Nadu again to oversee the smooth flow of supplies from the state. He moved from place to place utilising Indian fishermen to help transport goods often posing as a smuggler dealing in contraband.
On one occasion Pottu along with some Indian fishermen was arrested on charges of smuggling. Fortunately for Pottu the Indian officials thought he was an ordinary smuggler and not a tiger operative. After languishing in jail for a while Pottu bribed his way out to freedom. On another occasion he was involved in a shoot-out where an official vehicle of the Indian Customs was damaged.
Tied “Thaali” in Tamil Nadu temple
Pottu then returned to Jaffna and engaged in guerrilla operations against the Indian army. Pottu sustained injuries in his stomach in a skirmish and recuperated in the Wanni where Prabhakaran himself had relocated to. Thereafter Pottu went to Tamil Nadu clandestinely for further medical treatment. It was indeed an irony that tigers injured in fighting with the Indian army on Sri Lankan soil were able to get clandestine medical treatment in Tamil Nadu. Vathsala too went to Tamil Nadu. Both entered wedlock ceremonially in a Hindu temple where the groom tied a “Thaali” around the bride’s neck. Earlier their marriage had been registered in Batticaloa.
After full recovery Pottu returned to Sri Lanka and was entrusted in mid-1988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. The TOSIS chief Vasanthan had left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.
After taking over, Pottu revamped the intelligence division and remained in charge for the next 21 years. As the years progressed he began acquiring a fearsome reputation. His status in the LTTE grew. Pottu became Pottu Ammaan.
Running the intelligence wing
As stated last week Pottu Ammaan was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. An incident related by a veteran government official is rather revealing. This gentleman had to shuttle between Colombo and Jaffna on account of his duties during the war days. His son had joined the LTTE and was working with explosives.
Pottu Ammaan enlisted or intimidated the officer into carrying things from Jaffna to Colombo and vice versa. The official had to obey Pottu’s diktat. One day Pottu summoned the official and showed him two boys. He was ordered to take them to Colombo and arrange for their stay. The official who had been for long a schoolmaster and had interacted with young boys took a look and expressed misgivings about one. He felt the boy in question was not up to the task.
“I am telling you from experience Ammaan. Not this fellow. He will be caught,” the official demurred. But an adamant Pottu snapped back. “Old man you take both or I will put you in the bunker prison.” The official had no choice other than to take both to Colombo. As he feared one of the boys was caught by the Police. As a result the official himself was arrested and detained for several years until his release after the 2002 ceasefire. This incident was personally related to me by the official concerned.
Another Tamil journalist living in Colombo had a similar experience with Pottu Ammaan. The journalist was in contact with the LTTE and had met some leaders including Pottu. Thereafter Pottu used to telephone him and chat. The journalist was thrilled. But one day two tigers turned up at his residence claiming that Pottu Ammaan had sent them. He was asked to accommodate them. The journalist living in a Sinhala neighbourhood refused and turned them away. Pottu was angry and threatened him. Fearing the worst the journalist soon left the country with his family.
Pottu’s power grows
In the initial stages after the intelligence division was restructured (explained in detail in article last week) most intelligence department heads reported to Prabhakaran as well as Pottu Ammaan. Gradually Pottu Amman became the intermediary through whom everything was reported to the LTTE chief. Pottu would meet the LTTE supremo at least four or five times a week.
There came a time when Prabhakaran was virtually inaccessible to senior LTTE leaders. Only Pottu Ammaan could see the supremo at any given time. Also Pottu Ammaan was the only tiger leader who could meet with Prabhakaran while carrying arms. All others had to hand over their arms before being granted a rare audience.
This state of affairs was caused by a massive threat perception. The Indian espionage agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) as well as the LRRP deep penetration squads of the Sri Lankan Army were greatly feared. The fear of the “enemy within” made a paranoid Prabhakaran become increasingly alienated from tiger leaders and cadres. Pottu Ammaan became all powerful and at one point was “controlling” the day to day activities of the leader.
The suspected RAW operation of staging an “escape” in Tamil Nadu and sending the “escapee” Kirupan to assassinate Prabhakaran was one attempt allegedly foiled by Pottu and Kapil Ammaan.
Kirupan masterminded the massacre of 13 members of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) including its secretary-general Padmanabha, Parliamentarian Yogasangary and North-Eastern provincial minister Kirubaharan. This happened on 19 June 1990. Kiruban was arrested at a security roadblock near Pudukkoattai and held in the Vellore jail.
Kiruban allegedly made his escape when being transported under armed Police escort from Vellore to the Pudukkoattai courts. He reportedly shot dead two Policemen when fleeing to the Rameshwaram coast. He returned to Jaffna and regaled the LTTE supremo and other tiger leaders with tales of his sensational escape. But Kiruban’s “escape” was viewed suspiciously by Pottu and his deputy Kapil Amman.
They suspected that RAW had “turned” or converted Kiruban into a double agent and enacted a staged escape to hoodwink the LTTE leadership. Kiruban had been sent by RAW to assassinate Prabhakaran was the conspiracy theory of Pottu and Kapil. So Kiruban was tortured and executed after he was made to confess.
There is however a school of thought that believes Kiruban was innocent and was not an agent of the RAW. He had displayed much innovative acumen by undertaking such a daring escape to reach home only to be executed as a suspected RAW agent. It was felt that Pottu had acted over zealously or with an ulterior motive in handling Kiruban.
Mahathaya “coup d’etat”
The other and more important counter-intelligence success claimed by Pottu Ammaan was the crushing of the so-called Mahathaya “coup d’etat”. The Kirupan episode too was allegedly connected to the Mahathaya affair in which the LTTE’s deputy leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias “Mahathaya” was executed for conspiring to assassinate Prabhakaran and other top leaders. Again the RAW was blamed for “poisoning” Mahathaya’s mind and for “turning” a tiger cadre called “Engineer” into a double agent.
Pottu first arrested Engineer who returned from India after obtaining a Jaipur foot artificial limb. His leg had been blown away earlier in a landmine explosion. Thereafter it was alleged that the tiger deputy leader was conspiring with the RAW to stage an internal coup and oust Prabhakaran. It was alleged that Mahathaya was planning to execute Prabhakaran, Pottu Ammaan and 10 other senior tiger leaders and seize the LTTE leadership.
Mahathaya was arrested and tortured by Pottu Ammaan and a “confession” extracted before his execution. The videoed “confession” was screened to all cadres in order to justify the execution of the deputy-leader.
Thousands of cadres and leaders were detained and interrogated for suspected complicity. These included senior leaders like Jeyam, Yogi and Thamilselvan’s elder brother Paramu Balasubramaniam alias Moorthy. All three were reinstated later.
Many of the interrogated senior tigers were Pottu’s friends and colleagues. Embarrassed to supervise the interrogation personally, Pottu delegated the task to some juniors. They inflicted much physical harm and torture. The former political commissar Yogi’s hearing was affected as a result of the torture. Jeyam then the Vavuniya district commander had his nails removed.
Hundreds of others suspected of being Mahathaya loyalists were tortured and killed. These included members of the tiger contingent functioning as Mahathaya’s bodyguards.
Gowrikannan alias Susheelan
One of the senior leaders killed was former Kilinochchi district commander Rasanayagam Gowrikannan alias Susheelan. He was arrested months after Mahathaya’s arrest. The circumstances of Susheelan’s arrest and execution shed much light on the cruel and diabolical mindset of Pottu Ammaan.
Susheelan had got married barely a month before his arrest. Three siblings of his wife were LTTE cadres. The chief guest at Susheelan’s wedding was none other than Pottu Amman himself. He participated joyfully cracking many jokes at the bridegroom’s expense. He took his leave after wishing the new couple many years of wedded bliss.
Barely one month later, Pottu’s henchmen arrested Susheelan. He was interrogated and tortured. The Rasanayagam family in Nelliaddy had been supportive of the LTTE and had a cordial relationship with many senior tigers including Pottu Ammaan. They made pathetic entreaties to Pottu Ammaan but nothing could move the intelligence chief.
Susheelan’s mother whose favourite child was her youngest son was heartbroken. She died soon after her son was detained by the LTTE. Despite many appeals Pottu Ammaan refused to let Susheelan attend his mother’s funeral. Susheelan himself “died” in captivity later.
A close friend was to ask Pottu later as to why he encouraged Susheelan’s marriage and attended the wedding ceremony weeks before his arrest. Pottu’s reply in Tamil was characteristic. “If I tried to block his marriage or declined his wedding invitation, Susheelan would have got suspicious and fled from Jaffna. I attended the wedding to lull him into a false sense of security.”
Despite claims of an intelligence triumph by Pottu Ammaan over the Mahathaya affair there are many who doubt whether the ex-deputy leader was indeed guilty. It is said that Prabhakaran was resentful of Mahathaya’s popularity after the formation of the LTTE’s political front the Peoples Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT). The proponents of this theory feel that Pottu was acting at the behest of Prabhakaran to “frame” Mahathaya on a conspiracy charge. This was how the former Soviet Union’s intelligence chief Beria functioned as the “running dog” of ruler Stalin.
“Col” Karuna revolt
Another instance where Pottu Amman scored and increased his clout with Prabhakaran further was the Karuna Ammaan revolt. Pottu apparently was warning Prabhakaran that the LTTE’s former Eastern regional commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna was treacherous and urging pre-emptive action. But Prabhakaran who had a soft corner for Karuna would not listen and restrained Pottu from acting. Karuna himself was not too worried about Prabha but was very fearful that Pottu could fix him.
Matters came to a head when Karuna defied an order from Prabhakaran summoning him to the Wanni and revolted openly. This reinforced Pottu’s position that Karuna was conspiring and was not to be trusted. As events unfolded and Karuna chartered his own course by collaborating with the Sri Lankan state, Pottu’s stance was vindicated in the eyes of Prabhakaran. Regretting his earlier refusal to act against Karuna as urged by Pottu the LTTE leader began relying excessively on Pottu Ammaan thereafter.
Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan
This close affinity and mutual reliance between Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan continued to prevail with Pottu Ammaan remaining faithful to Prabhakaran till the very end. The details of Pottu Ammaan’s demise along with other matters would be related in the third and final part of this article.