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Military Matters


 

‘Peter Ibrahim’ arrest triggers KP controversy

On the eve of the 6th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the LTTE on Monday suffered its biggest material destruction in two decades of war.
Not only were three ships destroyed, but also the arms and ammunition for arguably the biggest battles ahead.
The Navy destroyed three LTTE ships MV Manyoshi, MV Kyoshi and MV Seshin within 24 hours.

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda announced that there was no connection between the alleged arrest of Kumaran Pathmanadhan also known as K.P. and the destruction of the ships coincidentally on the same night.

Granted that it was not based on the information provided by K.P. that the three ships were destroyed by the Navy, which had been having close tabs on the vessels for at least a couple of months. In fact it was the information provided by four LTTE cadres in the custody of the Maldivian authorities that helped destroy these ships.
So KP’s alleged arrest in Thailand had nothing to do with the destruction of the ships.
But, there could be a different connection between the two incidents.

Was it an inspired leak?
The LTTE could have caused an inspired leak that KP was arrested in order to overshadow the Navy’s successful strike.
The leak would have been to minimize the damage to the Tiger image when it was eventually found out that the man responsible for a massive international shipping operation is still at large teasing the world to catch him if it could.

Born on April 6, 1955 at Myliyddy, Kakesanthurai in the Jaffna peninsula, KP is one man who dared those on his trail to arrest him if they could. His outstanding work for two decades has made him one of the most important people in the organization.

Kumaran who traversed the world and South East Asia in particular for two long decades, heads the KP Department that is responsible for international procurement of arms and ammunition.

The inspired leak could have been to cushion whatever damage the destruction could have caused vis-à-vis the Tamil expatriate community that funds (voluntarily or forcibly) the organisation that purchases these ships.

The LTTE’s fleet that rose to 21, has been has been gradually reduced over a period of time, especially during the tenure of this government. The LTTE however has at least a dozen merchant ships that are continuing operations. It is believed that the LTTE has bought a number of second hand trawlers that are used to unload weapons in mid sea.

The first ship MV Ahat was actually destroyed by the Indian Navy on January 16, 1993. After sailing freely for three years, the Sri Lankan Navy destroyed three LTTE ships- MV Horizon, MV Fratzescom and MV Mariamman in 1996, ’97 and ’98 respectively.

The destroying of LTTE ships continued during the UNF peace process. Two ships, suspected of carrying arms and ammunition, were destroyed by the Navy in 2003. The late Anton Balasingham was learnt to have conveyed LTTE leader’s anger over the destruction of the MV Koimer on March 10 to the Sri Lankan peace negotiators just before the March 2003 round of talks. This was the first time the LTTE threatened to pull out of peace talks before it actually did on April 23 on some other grounds.

On June 14, 2003 another ship MV Shoshin carrying weapons was destroyed. The trend continued after the new government came to office. And during the last two years, several Tiger ships were destroyed. (An unidentified ship was sunk on September 17, 2006 and another on February 28, 2007 while two more were destroyed on March 28, 2007).

Destroying three ships within 24 hours was a unique feat. On the part of the LTTE, it would have liked to minimize damages and perhaps take away the attention away from the Navy.

The Navy has decided to feat its men involved in the attack that saw it pursue the LTTE vessels well into international waters. Top Defence officials will be at hand on Monday at a ceremony in Trincomalee to feat the naval personnel involved in the attack.

Parallel: Prabha’s demise
The Boxing Day Asian tsunami too had caused much damage to Sea Tiger resources (personnel and otherwise) in Mullaitivu and other places in the North. The LTTE again had to minimize the negative impact.

So, it deliberately allowed reports that Tiger Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran had died in the tsunami to go unchallenged. In the end, after the hype (luxury coffins and all that), when Prabhakaran resurfaced, the negative impact on the organisation’s actual loss was minimized.

If the arrest of KP was an inspired leak by the Tigers, it then was an exercise in damage control. The entire week was dominated with the news of the arrest of KP and denial of such an arrest by the Thai authorities, not to mention the chief of Thai Interpol, Col. Apichart Suribunya who said: According to immigration records for the past two years, there is no record of him (Pathmanathan) entering the country. He also said there had been no arrests of Sri Lankans in the past three to four days.

Interestingly, officials from the Interpol headquarters in Lyons, France had contacted their local counterparts to inquire about the veracity of the arrest of KP.

Interpol had posted a notice dated November 22, 2004 to the effect that there was a warrant for the arrest of Shanmugam Kumaran Tharmalingam issued in Colombo and Chennai for twin offences - Organised crime and terrorism. This was the name given on the Interpol notice for the LTTE leader KP.

Obviously, KP would not enter a country under any of the known names and certainly would not even resemble the pictures posted on the Interpol notice which themselves look different.

Obviously, he would not be sporting the same mustache and his hair which was wavy would most probably be straightened and eyebrows made to look different. It is possible that he would have undergone plastic surgery to afford him a new look.
Many experts believe that the system is so corrupt in Thailand that KP would have preferred to have made it his base.
They suggest that when he had first entered the country military vehicles had come to the airport to accompany him.
They even say that if some military or police officers were sent to arrest him, Pathmanathan would offer them money to the tune of a million dollars and get away.

They refer to the arrest of Sujith Gunapala, Sasikaran Thevarajah and Satiyapawan Aseerwathan in May 2003. Subsequent to this arrest 14 Thai nationals including eight police and military officers were taken into custody. These experts who feel the Thai military and police could be bribed rule out the possibility of KP being arrested in Thailand. (The three local gun runners Sujith, Sasakaran and Satiyapawan who completed a five year sentence, were recently handed over to a local CID team that visited Bangkok.

This week even before a Sri Lankan team, comprising senior police officers including two senior DIGs and an Additional Foreign Secretary enplaned, the Thai authorities had discouraged the Government from sending a delegation. The team returned on Friday night without much success, after eating humble pie.

Top local defence officials feel the LTTE had cultivated the Thai authorities over a long period of time, while the Sri Lankan Embassy there in the past had not been effective enough.

Western and Indian diplomats, on the other hand, have recognised the importance of Thailand as a trading partner and given the country its due place.

Indian External Affairs Minister and former Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who flew to Bangkok on Thursday night for a three day visit to enhance economic cooperation and trade, was expected to take up the issue of the arrest of KP, a wanted man in India in connection with the assassination of former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi. Previously, the Central Bureau of Investigations had asked their Thai counterparts to hand him over and the Indian Government, too, made a request to extradite him.

Senior officials of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, had told IANS that KP was detained while travelling with an Eritrean passport.

“We know he is a big catch that could cripple the LTTE’s logistics. We are moving carefully on this and are in touch with the Thai authorities to ascertain more details of him. Let us get more details before we decide to send out a team,” a senior intelligence official had reportedly told IANS.

But, Mukherjee was quoted as saying that the Indian Government would have to accept the Thai Government’s position.
A member of the Sri Lankan delegation to Bangkok said yesterday the Thai Government’s position has not changed and the team was forced to return empty handed.

A western diplomat from Bangkok, who was contacted by The Nation, also maintained that the arms procurement chief KP was not arrested according to information by the Thai authorities.

US interest after Thavarajah’s arrest
But, top officers in the Sri Lankan defence establishment are convinced that the Americans who conducted an undercover sting operation had planned to take it to its logical conclusion.
In August 2006, the FBI netted in 11 people, including Sri Lankans and foreigners, involved in procuring weapons. But, they had deliberately kept out Pratheepan Thavarajah’s name in the press release for fear that he would become a fugitive.
When the original 34-page complaint was unsealed on August 21, 2006 in US District Court in Brooklyn, New York, Thavarajah was a wanted man by the FBI, but sleuths deliberately kept his name out.

Information however was passed on to Interpol to seek international assistance to track him down. He was eventually arrested by Indonesian intelligence operatives at the Sukarno-Hatta international airport in Jakarta on January 4 as he was about to board a plane to Kuala Lampur.

The US, which has been working closely with the Indonesian authorities, was able to take over Thavarajah, who was grilled by Indonesian authorities for a week. Some officers feel, a similar pattern would befall Kumaran Pathmanathan as the US authorities would want to get at the bottom of the LTTE network. This would help unravel the network of other terrorist organisations, they believe.

The arrest of one Peter Ibrahim sparked off the information that he was actually Kumaran Pathmanathan. While the name of Peter Ibrahim was not mentioned, the name of Pathmanthan was in the Bangkok Post, the Asian Tribune and the Defence Ministry website.

The news was promptly denied by the Thai authorities but the Indians too believed it to be Pathmanathan.
In the case of the Indian request to extradite him, officials feel, the purpose was to try him in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and possibly send him to gallows. Unlike in Sri Lanka, in India and the US those wanted in connection with a criminal case cannot be tried in absentia.

So the order would be to try and allow the US, which has systematically been netting Tigers involved in weapons purchasing and money laundering, to conduct a comprehensive probe before handing the LTTE kingpin to the Indians.
Grilling Pathmanathan for the whereabouts of the elusive LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran would be futile, as he had made just a solitary visit to Sri Lanka after he left for India in the early eighties.
Establishing whether the person arrested is KP would not be a difficult task as the Indians have fingerprinted him back in 1983 when he was arrested in Bombay for gold smuggling from Singapore.
KP who speaks fluent French was believed to have been arrested after that in Europe with false travel documents. He was deported back to India.

After the Indo Lanka Accord failed and the LTTE’s Indian patronage ended, he is learnt to have moved to Malaysia and taken to an unusual business dealing with various aspects akin to his LTTE nickname donkey and symbolic of his new role where he carried the weight of the organisation.

He also mastered the art of related sports and posing off as a scribe he would move easily from one country to another in the region to carry out his undertakings.

According to unconfirmed reports during his frequent travels to Singapore, KP is also learnt to have got involved with a Singaporean girl who was divorced in 1997. She had a Sri Lankan father and a mother of Chinese decent.
After an initial run in Singapore, using this new connection, he later got married to a Thai girl working for his export company in Thailand. She who was also a professional sportswoman was later to support him in his endeavours. He is learnt to have started a company in Malaysia in 1999 and made his wife a co partner in the business.

He had established a network of weapons purchasing using his connections through marriage, business and his shipping network. Even if he was actually arrested, the operation would continue uninterrupted as the right people have been trained and placed to take over and, in fact, during a long illness, he allowed them to run the show.

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To take a leaf from Karthikeyan’s volume

Former head of the Special Investigation Team of Rajiv Gandhi assassination case D.R. Karthikeyan, in his latest book Triumph of Truth referred to the emergence of the Tiger shipping lines in the following lines.

“Experienced men and those reliable and wedded to the LTTE’s objective were needed to run LTTE ships and to train cadres who would man future shipping lines. There were many merchant navy officers, sailors and engineers from Velvettithurai (Velupillai Prabhakaran’s home town) and other parts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Some of them had done training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Nautical Engineering College in Bombay (now Mumbai). On Prabhakaran’s instructions, his Jaffna Commander Kittu sent an emissary to meet Captain David, a merchant Navy officer who was on holiday at his home in Jaffna in February 1984. Captain David was asked to meet Prabhakaran regarding establishment of an LTTE shipping service. He was introduced to Kumaran Pathmanadan alias ‘KP,’ the LTTE’s Chief procurer of arms, communication equipment and other war items.
“Captain David met Prabhakaran in Chennai in March 1984. Together with ‘KP,’ they chalked out an elaborate strategy to float maritime companies in Southeast Asia, based mainly in Singapore and Malaysia. ‘Arasu Maritime Private Ltd’ was one of their first ventures. The support of Singapore-based Tamils was enlisted for this purpose. An old Chinese vessel, ‘Sun-Hing,’ was registered in Panama in October 1984. The name of the ship was changed to ‘MV Cholan.’ Meanwhile, several firms were floated to make enquiries about military wares. ‘Captain David and Associates’ was one such firm.
“The ship ‘MV Cholan’ started its voyage in 1985 with general cargo from Southeast Asia to Vishakhapatnam in India. It also carried powerful boat engines, communication equipment, machine guns, tinned food, packet food, camouflage uniform items, tents and rain coats.”

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