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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2783

The Downing Of 'KP', The Short-Lived Tiger Chief

pathma_20090807002By Neville de Silva

Bangkok, 17 August ( Intelligence and regional media circles in Bangkok are looking for answers to at least a couple of questions that intrigue them. How did Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias “KP” fall into the hands of one of the governments that had been after him for years so shortly after picking up the mantle of his fallen leader Prabhakaran?

Did he over-expose himself, egged on by an international media trying to keep the LTTE story alive or was he sold down the river by dissident sections within a movement that had anointed him leader only days before?

Or was it a combination of both where KP’s uncharacteristic public posturing in recent months as he tried to settle into a new role led to him being ‘ósuted’ by enemies within who wanted him removed from the scene?

But there is another question that is on their minds and it concerns Thailand.

Early in September 2007, KP was reportedly arrested somewhere in Thailand. Was this true? And if it was who and in what circumstances was he released?

For two decades or more KP had eluded the most sophisticated intelligence agencies that would have loved to get their hands on him, operating in a shadowy world that seemed to be almost one of make-believe.

Yet within five months or so he was in the very hands of those who he tried to destroy with the weapons he shipped to northern Sri Lanka, bought with the money he collected from legitimate and illegal business.

Here in Bangkok, the man known as KP is no stranger to the regional media or to local and foreign intelligence agencies.

Few of them would have actually recognized him even if they crossed each other in an empty room. He is credited with being a man of many faces, though not even plastic surgery could have given KP as many faces as the names and passports under which he travelled across continents plying his illicit trade.

Pathmanathan became the topic of media and intelligence attention two years ago when he was reportedly arrested in Thailand. According to journalists and security analysts who remember the story, he was said to have been detained by police in eastern Thailand though they do not really know why.

But when news of his arrest broke with somebody prematurely breaking the news, officials reached for panic buttons. The story was denied.

Pathmanathan then dropped out of sight and the news.

But not this time round. If the media and intelligence agencies are eagerly awaiting news of what Pathmanathan, now in the hands of Sri Lankan security might say, there are others who are concerned and probably very worried that their names and organizations would surface in the course of the investigations.

As I try to piece together the story of the downfall of KP with opinions of knowledgeable local and foreign journalists and security analysts who have resurrected their interest in KP since he was made international spokesman seven months ago, an interesting mosaic appears.

But first let’s rewind to Thursday August 6th. It was close to midnight and Bangkok had gone to bed. Well, at least those who go to sleep that early in this capital a thousand restaurants, sidewalk eateries and places of entertainment which never seem to close.

The telephone by the bedside jangled. It was 10 minutes to the witching hours as they used to say. A Sri Lankan official called to say that “KP” had been arrested and had been flown to Colombo.

Just three days earlier two Bangkok-based journalists and I had been talking of the same man.

Nirmal Ghosh, the correspondent of The Straits Times, Singapore had invited me for lunch and along with Will Germund of the Berliner Zeitung, a veteran of the Asian region, conversation inevitably turned to the LTTE under its new leader Selvarasa Pathmanathan and of his whereabouts.

I said he might be in Europe, for a couple of days earlier, I had read a news report of an Indian newspaper that claimed “KP” granted it an interview from an “undisclosed location” in Europe.

The other two did not seem to think so. Everything pointed to his being in Southeast Asia. They named a country.

So when the call came that night with the news of KP’s arrest I immediately started calling my contacts in the local and foreign media.

Most of them seemed to be actually in bed, their phones switched off. Or they were busy working. No contact was possible. So until 2am I sent them emails, providing background where I thought it was necessary, hoping they would contact me first thing with their information.

I could only reach one by phone. “KP” has been arrested, I said.

“No, not again”, he said in a tone that suggested both skepticism and resignation.

But now that the story has turned out to be true the post-mortem has begun.

One reason for his early demise as LTTE leader was the telecasting of an interview KP gave to UK’s Channel 4. By fortuitous circumstances perhaps, it was aired by CNN on July 23rd when the Asean foreign ministers were meeting with their dialogue partners. So was the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in the resort town of Phuket in Southern Thailand where the LTTE had been active in the 1990s and early this century.

That telecast in which KP spoke of still having a fighting force and in which he never renounced violence was seen by delegates from several countries and the international media.

It angered security officials who were there to discuss regional and international security and gave Sri Lanka an opportunity to address the issue at the ARF plenary and in bilateral meetings with several countries.

While the telecast of that interview might have been justified from the network’s standpoint as it was widely viewed, it was ill- timed from KP’s point of view.

It not only became an issue for regional security officials but also appears to have angered his opposition within the LTTE, according to analysts here.

KP adjusting to his new role began giving media interviews and issuing statements trying to strengthen his position with the LTTE to assume its leadership. So wrapped up was he in trying to achieve this that he got careless with his use of his cellular phone, say security analysts, giving intelligence agencies the time and opportunity to carefully calibrate his possible whereabouts and track him down.

One other mistake, they say, was when KP wanted the Tamil diaspora to demonstrate in the western cities and elsewhere.

When Indian and Sri Lanka Tamils along with some Malays launched a protest in Kuala Lumpur which KP had been frequenting, LTTE flags were on display for the first time in the Malaysian.

This worried Malaysian authorities who saw a tie up between the Hindu organisation Hindraf and the LTTE which they considered subversive.

Following the sustained diplomatic effort by Sri Lanka’s Foreign and Defence ministries in alerting Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, to the danger of terrorist activity, some nations decided that enough was enough. That wrote finis to KP’s brief stay at the top.

- Asian Tribune -

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