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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1589

Remembering Sri Sabaratnam, the TELO leader

Colombo, 06 May ( Today is the death anniversary of Sri Sabaratnam – a Tamil militant who fell on his knees and pleaded for his life when he was caught by the LTTE. But Kittu, who believed that he was loyally serving his master, Velupillai Prabhakaran, sprayed bullets into his body and silenced him forever.

This is the recurring story of the northern Tamils. The LTTE has eliminated the entire Tamil leadership with the silent blessings of the Tamils both abroad and at home. This crime against the Tamils has never been committed by any other group of Tamil militants or non-Tamil forces. The latest victim was D. Sivaram, the assassinated Editor of the Tamil Net. After some time, after the heat of the sympathy wave dies down, Sivaram too will fade away like Sri Sabaratnam – one more Tamil placed on top of the pile of the Tamils killed by the Tamils.

Does anybody care anymore for Sabaratnam? Who mourns for Sabaratnam today?

Even the present leader of the TELO Adaikalanathan has already forgotten the slain leader whom he succeeded to carry on the mantle.

Once he was the leader of the TELO, one of the armed groups fighting each other and the Sri Lankan government. Once he was dictating terms from the power of his gun. But as the Chinese say, there can’t be two tigers in the same mountain. So Sabaratnam had to go.

As the leader of the TELO group, one of the most tangled tasks that Sabaratnam had to settle was the in-fighting among his own men. Jaffna was the battleground for TELO leadership.

Das, alias Ratnam, from Udupiddy, was the TELO's leader for the Vadamarachchy region. He was a terror and was feared for planning ruthless executions. Bobby was the military leader of TELO in Jaffna city and was close to Sri Sabaratnam. As the rivalry between the two leaders escalated, a section of the TELO cadres based in Madras requested Sri Sabaratnam to go to Jaffna and bring peace between the two rival leaders. In January 1986, Sri Sabaratnam arrived in Jaffna with dozens of heavily-armed TELO boys providing security.

Sri Sabaratnam visited all the TELO camps in the peninsula, but spent most of his time at the main base at Kalviyankadu, located near the University of Jaffna.

On March 10, Bobby went to Nelliady and met Das. After formal discussions, he requested Das to come to Jaffna Hospital the next day to meet some wounded TELO cadres. When Das arrived the next day with four of his guards, Bobby and his men were waiting with guns, and opened fire. A shot fired by Bruce from Manthikai, Puloly, killed Das, and his four guards were also killed. Later, further shooting inside the hospital killed a primary court judge and three hospital staff members were injured.

The next day, TELO came up with posters blaming Das and his group for several murders and robberies. This created a serious crisis within TELO and several cadres of Das group left TELO. University students marched in protest against the killings, but angry Sri Sabaratnam loyalists led by Thillai, fired at the students, killing two of them and injuring eight.

On April 25, 1986, the Sri Lankan Navy shot and destroyed a LTTE boat and the Tigers announced that the dead included Major Aruna. Earlier, on the previous day, the navy blasted a TELO boat, killing 10 TELO men. Both groups called for strikes to mourn their dead.

The LTTE put up posters all over Jaffna hailing Aruna. At Kalviyankadu, TELO cadres tore up the posters. The LTTE sent two of its members, Bashir Kaka and Murali, to the TELO camp at Kalviyankadu, to protest against the removal of the posters. When the two Tiger cadres arrived they were seized, beaten up and charged that the Tigers were holding four of their cadres.

The LTTE then sent one of its local leaders, Lingham, to the TELO office, where he was shot and killed by TELO men. When the incident was reported to the LTTE leadership in Madras, they stopped attending ENLF meetings. On April 29, hundreds of LTTE cadres moved in to kill TELO cadres in their camps in a surprise move using rocket launchers and heavy armories. The attack was ordered and led by Kittu, the LTTE's Jaffna Commandant.

Sri Sabaratnam fled from Kalviyankadu camp and was on the run. The Tigers warned the PLOTE and the EPRLF not to intervene in the battle they were engaged in with the TELO. Everyone was asked to keep away. LTTE propaganda vans went around Jaffna peninsula announcing that TELO had been disbanded in Sri Lanka and that anyone found sheltering Sri Sabaratnam, the leader of the TELO group and other members, would be inviting death.

The LTTE announced that they had recovered much stolen property, including items from Hindu temples in the Peninsula. These were put on public display for people to recover.

In the Eastern province, the fratricidal war had yet to erupt. The LTTE commander, Kadavul, called a meeting of the major Tamil groups in Batticaloa and said that there would be no fighting anywhere in the East.

Immediately, the LTTE high command sends in Kumarappa as the overall commander of Batticaloa and the Eastern province. Kumarappa overruled Kadavul's decision and he carried out orders with deadly efficiency by annihilating TELO cadres.

Kittu and his men began house-to-house searches for Sri Sabaratnam, the TELO leader. While the searches were on, the Tigers warned over loudspeakers that Sri Sabaratnam should not be sheltered.

Finally, Kittu and his men located Sri Sabaratnam in a tobacco garden, at Kondavil. No sooner he was sighted Kittu shot him on his leg to stop him from running. Shaken, Sri Sabaratnam fell on his knees and begged Kittu to spare his life. He said that he would talk with Prabakaran, but Kittu was in no mood to listen and he sprayed bullets with his AK-47 rifle.

After slaying Sri Sabaratnam ruthlessly , jubilant LTTE members announced all over Jaffna that Sri Sabaratnam had been captured and killed and the war they were waging with TELO had ended.

Sabaratnam's body, with more than 25 bullet wounds, was displayed at the Kondavil bus-stand, and then delivered to his family for cremation.

The war between TELO and the LTTE has ceased. Now it’s the war between Col. Karuna and the Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran, it is clear, has survived by ruthlessly sacrificing other Tamils. His excuse for killing is that he is fighting for the Tamils. But if the rate at which Prabhakaran is killing Tamils is added to the rate that Tamils kill each other how many Tamils will be left over to fight Prabhakaran’s war? How many more Sivarams and Sabaratnams must die to keep “the sole representative of the Tamils” alive?

This explains why Prabhakaran is forced to recruit children forcibly into his depleted cadres. There is a growing opinion among the Tamil expatriates that if the talent of the Tamils is to be preserved then it is very vital that the mediocrities ruling the Vanni should either change or be replaced. But as the chances of this happening are remote right now the Tamils see their future buried in one mass graveyard where more Sivarams and Sabaratnams will be laid to rest prematurely.

- Asian Tribune -

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