20 Years since Minister Devananda’s Major Dance in Terrorism

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Twenty years and two months ago, - in May 1984 – there was a daring kidnapping episode in Jaffna involving two Americans. It was the first of its kind in Sri Lankan soil, and fortunately until now, has never recurred. A newly-wed American couple, the Allens from Ohio, were kidnapped from their residence. It created a week-long international stir, and involved diplomatic rope-pulling of three countries – Sri Lanka, India and USA. The four political leaders who were at helm then and caught in the swirl of event – Indira Gandhi (India’s prime minister), M.G.Ramachandran (Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu), J.R.Jayewardene (Sri Lanka’s President) and Ronald Reagan (American President) have departed from the scene. I haven’t heard about the two victims – the Allen couple - since then, and presume that they are still alive. But, one of the perpetrators of the kidnapping terrorism is still in political limelight. He was none other than Minister Douglas Devananda.

Since he escaped from a suicide-bomb attack on July 7th in Colombo, Devananda has received sympathetic coverage in the news media in Colombo and Chennai as well as from the press release of American embassy in Colombo. Quite humanistic indeed. But, one should not forget that the same Devananda played the opposite role of a terrorist in the life of two American citizens, Stanley and Mary Allen. With his then EPRLF buddies – K.Padmanabha and Varadaraja Perumal -, Devananda was in Madras, manipulating the deed through the cadres of his People Liberation Army (PLA). He was the ‘commander’ of this PLA. This sordid and dumb kidnapping episode of two American citizens in Jaffna soil hardly received any mention or analysis in the Broken Palmyra (1990) book, authored by Rajan Hoole and his three colleagues – probably for two reasons; (1) the authors were sympathetic to the Marxist rhetorics pouted by the EPRLF group. (2) it was not committed by the LTTE.

For the record, first I provide the 1984 news reports from the New York Times, USA Today, the Hindu and Economist. Then, I provide excerpts from the then Tamil Nadu police chief K.Mohandas’s 1992 book on MGR [MGR: The Man and the Myth], which exposed Devananda as one of the perpetrators of this kidnapping terrorism to the world.

(1) New York Times [May 12, 1984]

U.S. Couple Kidnapped by Guerrillas in Sri Lanka

"COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, May 11 (AP). Eight armed insurgents kidnapped an American couple in northern Sri Lanka today and reportedly threatened to kill them unless the Government here paid a ransom of $2 million and freed 20 imprisoned rebels. ‘You have only 72 hours to comply with our demands,’ the kidnappers said in a ransom note, according to the National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali. ‘There will be no negotiations.’

The Americans were identified as Stanley Bryson Allen, 36 years old, and his wife, Mary, 29, of Ohio. The Defense Ministry said Mr.Allen was an engineer for the Ruhlin Company of Ohio and was supervising a water project in the northern city of Jaffna sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development.

Mr.Athulathmudali told reporters the ransom note said it was from the People’s Liberation Army, an obscure splinter group of the Eelam Tigers [sic]. This is an underground organization fighting for a separate Tamil nation in northern Sri Lanka that would be called Eelam. The Tamils, most of them Hindus living near Jaffna, 180 miles north of this capital, constitute about 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 15 million people. The majority Sinhalese people are predominantly Buddhist. The National Security Minister said the Sri Lankan Government would respond to the ransom note with ‘a deafening silence’. He said Sri Lanka would never succumb to terrorism.

Foreign Minister A.C.S.Hameed met with the United States Ambassador, John H.Reed, and assured him that the Government would do everything possible to protect the lives of the two Americans. The Government, meanwhile, ordered all foreigners to leave the Jaffna region. Mr.Athulathmudali said the evidence suggested that the American couple had been taken to southern India to the state of Tamil Nadu. He said they were kidnapped from their home, gagged and carried off in a pickup truck, which was later found abandoned 25 miles to the west along Sri Lanka’s coast. The minister said the ransom note, which was delivered to the provincial administrator in Jaffna, demanded that the ransom be paid to the Indian state authorities in Tamil Nadu to be given to the rebels. He said the note accused the Allens of working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

More than 400 Tamils were killed and 150,000 made homeless during an outbreak of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka last July. At least 50 people have been killed in and around Jaffna since late March in more violence.

Couple Married in March [Special to the New York Times]

The Allens were married on March 24 in suburban Cuyahoga Falls, and they left for Sri Lanka three days later. Mr.Allen has worked for the Akron-based Ruhlin Company, a construction firm, since 1967. He became a project manager in 1982 and was heading a $4 million fresh-water distribution system being built in Sri Lanka. A company official said the project was started last October and was to be finished in April 1985. Mrs.Allen was a secretary for Ruhlin in Akron before the couple married."

(2) USA Today [ May 15, 1984, p.3A]

Abducted U.S. pair reported released

"Hoping for ‘the best of news’, the family of an American couple kidnapped in Sri Lanka waited anxiously Monday after receiving news that the pair had been released in a dense jungle. Hundreds of troops and police on the island nation off the southeast coast of India were searching remote jungle roads for Stanley B.Allen, 36, and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, 30, who were kidnapped by Sri Lankan rebels last Thursday.

The Allens were freed in an area inhabited by leopards, elephants and other wild animals, Sri Lankan National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali said. ‘I fear there may be a danger to their safety’, he said. The rebels had demanded a ransom of $20 million in gold and had threatened to kill the couple on Monday – Sri Lanka’s highest religious holiday – if their demands weren’t met. They had accused the Allens of being CIA spies. But they were freed after appeals by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and other religious and political leaders, officials said.

Vice President George Bush has been in India since Saturday on a goodwill tour, but he played no role in the couple’s release. Sri Lankan officials say they did not meet the rebels’ demands. ‘We await with warm hearts for the best of news,’ Pat Daymon, 27 – Mary’s sister – told reporters outside her parents’ home.

Tamil separatists who abducted the Allens are a minority ethnic group of Hindus pushing for independence from Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority. Allen ‘had some concerns about his wife going with him to Sri Lanka,’ said the Rev.David S.Belasic, who performed the ceremony at the couple’s March 24 wedding. ‘They obviously had a great love for each other and wanted to go ahead with a life together. They certainly didn’t plan on being held hostage.’

Mary – nicknamed ‘Sarge’ by her brother Jim when he returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam – met Stanley while both worked for the Ruhlin Co. of Akron. Allen, who went to work for Ruhlin in 1967, was overseeing a $4 million water-purification project in Sri Lanka. In Washington, State Department officials said they were in ‘constant touch’ with the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, but resolving the kidnapping ‘is the job of the host government.’

U.S. policy regarding kidnapping is well known, said Kevin O’Connell of the Office for Combating Terrorism. ‘We will not pay ransom or release prisoners. We make no deals with kidnappers. That way everybody is a little bit safer.’

(3) The Hindu [May 18, 1984]

Aim of exposing CIA achieved – EPRLF

"Madras, May 17: The Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) has said that it pulled off the kidnap stunt on the American couple, Stanley and Mary Allen, to expose the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Jaffna before the projected visit of the Sri Lanka President, Mr.J.R.Jayewardene, to the United States next month.

EPRLF sources in Madras told UNI that it had never been their intention to harm the hostages. They only wanted to draw the world’s attention to the plight of Tamil political prisoners languishing in Sri Lanka jails. ‘We achieved our objective in the world-wide publicity we received from our kidnap drama’, they said. The EPRLF said they readily accepted the Prime Minister, Mrs.Indira Gandhi’s appeal for the release of the hostages ‘as we have full faith and confidence that she will do something to help the harassed Tamils in Sri Lanka.’ The front appealed to Mrs.Gandhi to use her good offices with Mr.Jayewardene to get the 20 political prisoners released.

The sources said they had announced that the kidnapped couple was released at 8.45 pm on Monday at Kilinochi – 24 hours before the actual release – to take the heat off the militants by security forces in Jaffna. Giving their version of the kidnap, the EPRLF said they had been watching the activities of the Allens for the past six months. ‘Although they claimed they were water resources experts, they did little on this project, and along with two other Americans, were taking photographs and making logistic studies of the Jaffna peninsula.’

The EPRLF then decided to kidnap all the four Americans, but before they could execute their plan, two Americans left Jaffna and they learnt that the Allens planned to leave on May 15. On the night of May 10, seven armed militants entered the beach house of the Allens and took them away at gunpoint. The two were blindfolded and taken in a jeep to a residential area 20 km away and lodged in a house. The militants took the jeep to Kangesanthurai port, a northern point of Jaffna peninsula and abandoned it there, to create the impression that the kidnappers and their captives had escaped to South India."

(3) Economist [May 19, 1984, p.39]

The innocents and the terrorists

"Stanley and Mary Allen from Akron, Ohio, a home-spun young couple, just married, went to Tamil country in northern Sri Lanka to work on a scheme to provide drinking water for the local people. On May 10th eight guerrillas broke into their home and marched them off. Six days later the innocents were freed unharmed and unransomed after reproachful comments by other guerrilla groups, by Mrs.Indira Gandhi, by officials of India’s Tamil Nadu state, and by 20 Tamil prisoners whose release had been demanded in a ransom note (along with pound 1.4 million in gold). Even terrorists can get embarrassed.

The kidnappers were from a group that calls itself the Eelamist People’s Revolutionary Front (Eelam is the name given by separatists to their would-be Tamil state). Its secretary-general, Mr.K.Pathmanathan [sic: the correct name is Padmanabha; who was a pal of Dayan Jayatilleka whose father Mervyn de Silva, should have contributed this newsreport, since he was the Sri Lankan correspondent of the Economist] who is believed to have had training in Lebanon, was picked up in Delhi with five colleagues and questioned. Mrs.Gandhi, who has an election coming up, is anxious to woo her Tamil voters, but not to the extent of allowing India to become embroiled in a terrorist war; she has enough problems in Punjab. It was recently reported that three new terrorist groups had been formed in the Indian sanctuary of Tamil Nadu.

The Sri Lankan government’s answer to separatism is not encouraging. Its armed services are not trained to take on terrorists. Its ‘all-party’ conference on the Tamil problem, launched in January by President Junius Jayewardene, was boycotted from the start by the main opposition Freedom Party and is now being snubbed by the Tamil United Liberation Front. The TULF, which, despite its fierce name, is a moderate organisation, is planning a non-violent civil disobedience campaign in the Tamil areas as a protest against civilian deaths caused by ‘army activities’. Not enough, say the Eelamists; terrorism will continue."

Devananda exposed as the culprit – 8 years later by K.Mohandas

K.Mohandas, the then police chief of Tamil Nadu, who was a confidant of MGR, exposed Devananda as the culprit of the 1984 kidnapping drama in his 1992 book. Since, it was Mohandas who resolved the kidnapping drama by his tactical reflex and ‘psychological bluff’ [in Mohandas’s words], I’ll let him describe how he got Devananda. I have highlighted some specific sentences for emphasis. Here are the relevant passages, spread in seven paragraphs:

"Mention must be made of an extraneous episode, when the electioneering was in full swing, which attracted world attention. American nationals, Stanley Allen and his wife Mary Allen, who were working as water-resource experts under the UN Aid programme in Jaffan (Sri Lanka), were kidnapped by unidentified persons who sent a message to President Jayawardene, demanding a ransom of gold worth 50 million dollars and release of 20 of their colleagues who were under detention. The message also served an ultimatum that, if their demands were not met within three days, the couple would be shot dead.

It was the U.S. Consul General in Madras who first broke the news to me at about 11:00pm one night and appealed for my help. When I wondered what I could possibly do about an incident in Sri Lanka, he said that since I had been dealing with the Tamil militants problem, he thought that I could use my expertise. I told him that I would try to do what I could, but, in the meanwhile, the names of detainees (whose release the kidnappers had demanded) could be ascertained and passed on to me so that my officers might be able to identify the militant group involved. Hardly had he rung up, when a call came through from G.Parthasarathy, Chairman of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee in New Delhi, repeating the story and asking me to help. I informed MGR who asked me to go all-out and get the hostages released.

It was a tall order, but, when some of the names of the detainees were furnished by the American Consul-General, my officers quickly ascertained from our files that they belonged to the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) which was the military wing of the EPRLF. A massive search operation was immediately ordered to get at any of the leaders of the PLA or the EPRLF present in Madras. Partly on information furnished by a reliable source and partly by luck, we raided a house in Madras city and – lo and behold! – the catch was beyond our wildest dreams. There were six men and two women found sleeping. Among the men were (1) Varadaraja Perumal, who later became Chief Minister of the North-Eastern Council; (2) Padmanabha, the Chief of EPRLF, who was killed, along with 13 others in Madras city in 1990, and (3) the self-styled ‘General’ Douglas, the ‘Chief of Staff’ of the PLA. The men were picked up for questioning, leaving the women behind.

They were taken to a big hotel and comfortably accomodated. Then the grilling began, with only 10 hourse left for the threatened execution of the Allen couple. They denied any knowledge but, when confronted with the names of the detainees whose release was demanded, they admitted that they belonged to the PLA. But they contended that their followers could have acted on their own.

When the questioning did not yield any information beyond this, I myself went to the hotel and, in typical dramatic style, told them that whatever happened to the Allen couple in Jaffna would happen to them right in the hotel room. ‘If they are shot’, I told them, ‘you will be shot right in this room. If they are released, you will be released.’ With four hours to go for the threatened killing of the Allens, mine was purely a psychological bluff. It worked and ‘General’ Douglas got in touch with his contact in Jaffna right from the hotel room and ordered the Allens’ release in coded words.

Four hours and 68 cigarettes later (as I put it in a recent article), news trickled in through our special channels, that the Allens were left at the Jaffna Bishop’s residence – blindfolded but without any physical harm. My sigh of relief could be heard a mile away. The President of the United States thanked and congratulated the Prime Minister of India and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The latter had a special word of praise for the team which worked round-the-clock and behind the scenes to bring off a well-deserved coup.

MGR presented me with a wrist-watch with an in-built tape recorder. He did not say what was the provocation, ut I surmised that it was for the good work done in the Allens’ rescue – an intelligence operation which could not be officially recognized or rewarded…" [source: MGR – The Man and the Myth, 1992, pp.91-93]

Now, to Devananda’s net-bluff

Has anyone checked the profile of Devananda, which is featured in theEPDP website? [www.epdpnews.com]. It corroborates few of the facts presented in Mohandas’s 1992 recollections. One sentence states, "In the EPRLF, Douglas served as a member of the politbureau and as the commander of its military wing, the People Liberation Army (PLA). Another sentence informs, "In September 1983, he [Douglas, that is] along with all the other Tamil political prisoners escaped from the Batticaloa prison and fled to Tamil Nadu in India." Subsequent two sentences reveal, "From India, in 1984, he was sent by the EPRLF for advanced military training, and to lead a group of other EPRLF members, both men and women, for training with the Democratic Palestine Liberation Front (DPLF). Following the training, he returned to North-East Sri Lanka and resumed charge as the commander of the PLA."

About that world-news making kidnapping terrorism of American couple in Jaffna which happened in May 1984 – which caused ripples in the diplomatic circles in Washington DC, Madras and Colombo, Devananda’s profile in the net is sheepishly mum. To hell with the truth – as any slimy politician would retort. But the young Douglas who wilted against the psychological bluff – for fear of his life - of Mohandas in Madras in 1984 has vanished now. His profile states, "Douglas Devananda is a self-confident idealist, who is unique fighter against fascism. He is kind, humble and simple, and a believer in humanism. He is determined to serve his people, despite the fact that he has been wounded, scarred and blinded in one eye, and compelled to live a life in the shadow of death. [Updated 27th July 2002]." Either you believe him or believe my word, that Devananda has indeed an unparalleled ‘record’. There hasn’t been a professional cross-dresser and a political scoundrel like Douglas Devananda among Eelam Tamils in the past 20 years.

 

 

 

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Posted July 14, 2004