Kousalyan's killing is going to be bad for the peace process, to put it mildly. It is as bad as a senior Sri Lakan government minister getting shot in Batticaloa or Jaffna, close to the LTTE border.
Armchair strategists in Colombo who have little knowledge of the ground situation in the east will certainly celebrate Kousalyan's killing as yet another welcome calamity for the LTTE.
We have to look at his death from the perspective of the uncontestable fact that this country needs a very stable peace to pull itself out of the havoc wreaked by the tsunami.
For the LTTE, Kousalyan's killing is like a dagger plunged into the heart of the peace process.
It has done irreparable damage to the miniscule goodwill that remained between the two sides - a goodwill on which international and local optimists were hoping to rebuild the peace process.
Yesterday, the country went to the brink of war when news reached Kilinochchi that the attackers had damaged Kousalyan's body and face and that the authorities were insisting on taking his body to Colombo for postmortem. An unofficial warning was issued to the Sri Lankan government through a TNA Parliamentarian that the Tigers would resort to 'drastic action' if any attempts were made to further disfigure Kausalyan's body or take it to Colombo.
Based on what 'Vinothan', the only LTTE cadre who escaped the killing, said the Tigers believe the Sri Lankan military had a direct hand in the incident.
They also believe that Kousalyan's body was disfigured to prevent people paying their last respects and to prevent the LTTE from giving him a proper funeral.
Whoever took the decision to kill and planned the ambush on the Polannaruwa-Batticaloa road chose the wrong time and place.
Why the wrong time?
People on the east coast are still mourning the tsunami disaster. This is a time when they expect everyone to shed their political differences and postpone their bloody antagonisms. The memory of the devastation is still fresh in their minds. The people, regardless of their respective political persuasions, want all political parties and groups to bury the hatchet and work for the common good - at leastuntil the tsunami-ravaged society is able to limp back to some semblance of normalcy.
One need not dwell at length on the place where Kousalyan was killed. If he was ambushed in Kiran, then that's a different story. The Welikanda-Punanai area is dominated by the army and quite near the Polonnaruwa border.
How did the gunmen who killed Kousalyan have the information that he was traveling in Ariyanayagam Chandra Nehru's van? The LTTE says that it would not have been possible for the killers to know that he was coming unless they got a tip-off from the military checkpoint at Muhamalai.
And also, the LTTE insists that the Karuna group is operating with the Sri Lanka army; that now it is an inseparable arm of the military. The Karuna Group operates out of a camp in Omadiyamadu, a remote village near the Polonnaruwa border, directly west of Mankerni. A bus that barely escaped the tsunami in Mankerni drove to this village in the hope of reaching Welikanda and thence to Valaichenai. But it was seized by some Karuna Group cadres who checked the passengers for LTTE sympathizers and took away one person. He was shot dead.
Other associates of Karuna, such as Pillaiyan and Iniya Barathy, operate in Batticaloa town. They were allegedly involved in the murder of senior Tamil journalist Nadesan.
Residents of Batticaloa, who know the two, say they are operating from the 'Patpody camp', a military intelligence unit base near the SLAF base on the town's outskirts.
Two LTTE cadres were shot at by gunmen near the busy Arasady roundabout in Batticaloa town in December.
Tigers say that the assailants who took the motorbike that the cadres were riding came from of the Police post at the junction.
Therefore Kousalyan's killing will no doubt be interpreted by the Tigers as an 'extremely' hostile act by the Sri Lankan armed forces.
If "gunmen suspected to be working with the backing of the LTTE" kill a senior government minister in an area dominated by the Tigers, then how would President Kumaratunga construe the killing?
And on the other hand, what has the murder achieved for those who were behind it?
The LTTE's enemies in the east haven't gained an extra inch of land to control. There is no ground swell of public support for the killers. Even those who do not like the Tigers in the east are against such violence at a time when people are still grieving for their kith and kin who were killed by the tsunami. Nor is it going to stop the LTTE from doing what it wants to do in Batticaloa and Ampara. If the killers were looking for political mileage, then they chose the wrong man.
Kousalyan - Ilaiyathamby Lingarajah - joined the LTTE during the war with the Indian army in 1989, when he was seventeen years old. He is from an average farming family from Pandariaaveli in the Kokkaddicholai region. He was in the band of guerrillas led by Karuna that fought the Indian army in the northern parts of Batticaloa at the time. In 1990 when the Tigers consolidated their hold on the east, Kousalyan worked in the LTTE's Military Training School under ManoMaster.
Later, he rose rapidly up the administrative ladder despite being fairly junior in the LTTE's eastern hierarchy. He was one who was always keen to learn.
Recently, during a tour of Europe, he took a crash course about the internet and came back to Batticaloa, armed with a Sony PDA on which he could check his mail and browse the web while on the move. He was married last year.
Kousalyan was in charge of the Tigers' financial division for Batticaloa in 1993-94, which were the most difficult years that the LTTE ever faced in the east.
In 1995, he was called to Jaffna for further training and education in accounts and auditing. He was sent back the next year as the finance division head – a post he held until 2002 when he took over as political head for Batticaloa Ampara from Karikalan.
He was the only person to hold that post under Karuna's administration against whom there were no allegations of financial mismanagement. The renegade commander's financial troubles with the LTTE leadership began after Kousalyan left the post.
Karuna was always a secretive man. He was never comfortable with the public. In fact he had an inveterate dislike for doing political work among the masses. Kousalyan was the opposite. Hence, although in charge of finance, he was very often tasked by Karuna to deal with the public, to iron out frictions or assuage the ire of villagers angered by misdemeanours of armed LTTE cadres.
Kousalyan's popular appeal had another basis too. Unlike Karuna and Karikalan, he came from a social group that constitutes the majority of Batticaloa's population. He belonged to a key clan in the matrilineal 'kudi' system in the eastern district which made almost everyone in the hinterlands of Batticaloa his kinsman or kinswoman. He could also claim kinship with many clans in the Ampara district.
Karuna came from a social group that was not connected beyond a certain circle in Kiran. Hence he had to depend on Kousalyan in his dealings with the public, particularly in the large Paduvankarai and Paddiruppu region.
This is why even after Karuna fled to Colombo, he made many attempts to woo back Kousalyan.
The renegade commander knew that without him he (Karuna) and his men would end up as a band of assassins. Kousalyan told him precisely this when Karuna announced his decision to leave the LTTE.
I met him last month in Pottuvil where he was distributing tsunami aid to Muslim refugees. "Where is Karuna?" I teased him. "Karuna is a ghost now. It is the army that is running the show in his name", he said. And that's what the LTTE believes too.
Posted February 9, 2005