Sri Lanka: The Untold Story, Chapter 56

The execution of Mahattya

by K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002

Mahendrarajah, alias Mahattaya, joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1978. He was born in 1956, but unlike most of the LTTE leaders he was not from Valvetiturai, but from Point Pedro East. He was educated at Chidampara College, Valvetiturai. He joined the LTTE in the same year as Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kittu, and Raghu. Mahattaya was from the Karaiyar caste (fishing community), as was Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE supremo, who personally admitted him into the organization.

Gradually, Mahattaya rose up in the ranks and he was made the regional commander of Vanni, and Kittu was given the command of Jaffna. From the very early days Kittu and Mahattaya were rivals and competed for position and power within the militant organization. Kittu was well placed as the commander of the Jaffna region, a position that went with international publicity, and he was the envy of all. On March 31, 1987, an unidentified man fired at and lobbed a powerful grenade at the Mitsubishi Lancer carrying Kittu on Jaffna’s Second Cross Street. Kittu survived, but his right leg was severed below the knee.

After the incident, Major Aruna, alias Selvaswamy Selvakumar, of the LTTE, went berserk. He fired his M-16 at innocent captives from the rival Tamil militant groups at Kandan Karunai prison, killing scores of them. The LTTE high command did not approve of the carnage and when Aruna died in a battle, they decided not to include his name in the martyrs’ list.

After Kittu became crippled and was forced out of the military arena, Mahattaya became virtually second to Prabhakaran and was delegated with the authority to negotiate with Indian High Commission officials regarding the establishment of the Interim Administration of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Mahattaya signed a 14-point agreement with Puri, the First Secretary (Political), of the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka, on September 28, 1987, in his capacity as the deputy leader of the LTTE. This was the first time that he was officially elevated to the position of deputy.

Prior to signing of this agreement, Mahattaya was dispatched to Batticaloa by Prabhakaran to deal with the leaders of the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). On September 11, Mahattaya went to Batticaloa with his assistant Yogi and met with the region’s LTTE commanders, Reagan and Karuna. It was finalized in a secret confab to assemble 100 Tiger cadres and disperse them in groups in various locations to attack EPRLF, PLOTE and ENDLF members, who were considered rival groups.

On September 13, Mahattaya invited R Vasudeva, the deputy leader of the PLOTE for a peace meeting. The unsuspecting Vasudeva went in a van with his close associates, but on the way, they were attacked by LTTE gunmen. Within two hours, some 70 other members of other organizations were killed by the Tiger cadres led by Mahattaya.

On October 2, 1987, Sri Lankan navy apprehended 17 LTTE men traveling in a boat off the coast of Point Pedro. The navy disarmed them and removed the black threads with a cyanide capsules hung from their necks and they were locked up at the Sri Lankan military complex at Palali. Out of the 17 arrested, two of them were prize catches: Pulenthiran, the regional commander of the LTTE for Trincomalee and Kumarappah, the regional commander for Jaffna.

The Sri Lanka government alleged that these LTTE men had acted in breach of the Indo-Lanka Accord by transporting arms from Tamil Nadu in India and ordered that they be taken to Colombo for inquiry.

Meanwhile, on October 4, Mahattaya and Anton Balasingham were granted permission to meet their arrested colleagues.

On the evening of October 5, when they were about be forced to board a flight to Colombo, all of them swallowed cyanide capsules. which had been given to them by Mahattaya and Anton Balasingham. This had been done on the orders of Prabhakaran.

Subsequently, Mahattaya, on October 6, launched the LTTE-Indian war with a rocket attack on a jeep carrying five India soldiers near the gate of the cement factory at Kankesanthurai. Following the outbreak of the war, the LTTE leadership then began to relocate its headquarters to the Vanni region, a sprawling jungle terrain south of the Jaffna peninsula, in the mainland.

People in Chunnakam reported that they saw Mahattaya visiting a house in Malappe, a small village in Chunnakam, in the vicinity of the railway station. They said that, he had lunch in the house, and many bodyguards were in attendance.

Mahattaya then crossed the Kantherodai-Punnalaikadduwan road and walked through the tobacco gardens towards Jaffna. After the fall of Chunnakam on October 10, within 17 days the entire Jaffna Peninsula had fallen into the hands of the Indian army and the LTTE cadres fell back into jungle hideouts in Vanni. Mahattaya was at Putur-Vannivilankulam and Prabhakaran at Alampil so they were unable to meet in person due to the intensity of the India offensive.

In the meantime, several newspapers reported that Prabhakaran had been killed in a shootout. Obviously he was not dead, and the story is believed to have been planted by Indian intelligence agents to disrupt the Premadasa-LTTE talks that began in April 1989, but the ply did not work. In November 1989 Mahattaya went to Colombo to participate in the talks, and he is said to have established a good rapport with Premadasa.

While in Colombo the LTTE formed a political party, the Peoples’ Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT – in Tamil, Makkal Munnani). Mahattaya was given the role of president and Yogaratnam Yogi was made secretary general. The constitution of the PFLT provided the basis for a genuine democratic party, allowing for the representation and participation of all sorts of people. A copy of the party’s constitution, along with an application for the registration of the party, was handed over to the Commissioner of Election. He, after consulting with President Premadasa, reluctantly registered PFLT as a political party with the Tiger symbol as its emblem.

The inaugural conference of PFLT was held at Vaharai, in the Batticaloa district, from February 24 to March 1, 1990. Mahattaya presided over the conference successfully and organizers from throughout Northeast gathered and formally endorsed PFLT’s constitution and manifesto. Under the chairmanship of Mahattaya the organizers resolved to:

  • Dissolve the undemocratically elected Northeast Provincial Council and urge the government hold fresh elections;
    Urge the government to repeal the sixth amendment to the constitution;
    Urge for the unity of Muslims and Tamils to fight to win their rights and protect their homelands and improve their economic conditions;
    Prevent Sinhala colonization in the North and East;
    Sri Lankan security forces should not be involved in the law and order functions in the North and East;
    Political rights to be granted to Tamils of Indian origin, and
    The lifting of the emergency regulations currently in force in the North and East. It was estimated nearly 15,000 people participated in this conference, after which Mahattaya met Premadasa and demanded:
    All patrolling by the Sri Lankan army in the Eastern Province should cease immediately;
    All army camps situated near schools and places of worships in Tamil areas should be removed and:
  • Security camps in the North and East should not exceed one or two per district. When Mahattaya was in Colombo, he was very popular among government leaders and was contacted by many regarding a number of affairs. During this period, it was said that, Mahattaya and Premadasa had established a good working relationship. Also it was reported that, Mahattaya had established contacts with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of India, the intelligence agency. S Chandrasekeran, alias Chandran, the Additional Secretary of the Cabinet Secretariat and the high-powered officer in charge of RAW operations in Sri Lanka, met Mahattaya secretly in Colombo.Suddenly it became known that on the orders of Mahattaya his right hand confidante, Visu, assassinated A Amirthalingham, the Secretary General of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), and S Yogeswaran, an ex-Member of Parliament from Jaffna.Simultaneously, on the orders of the Tiger supremo, another commando group left Alampil for Colombo with orders to weed out anti-LTTE elements in Colombo. While the negotiations with the government were on, Mahattaya ordered Visu to execute the LTTE- imposed death sentence of February 1987 on Amrithalingham.

    Meanwhile, Mahattaya was sent to the Eastern Province to take charge of the LTTE’s military campaign against the TNA and the Sri Lankan security forces. As usual, he was ruthless and brutal and was involved in attacks on civilians and the massacre of Muslims, which brought the wrath of Muslims nationally and also internationally.

    But after the murder of Amrithalingham, Pottu Amman, alias Shanmugalingham Sivasankaran, smelt foul play and he began to monitor closely the activities of Mahattaya. The intelligence unit, the Aiyyana Group, broke into and monitored the powerful two-way radio communication emerging from Mahattaya’s base.

    Meantime, Prabhakaran summoned a cross section of the citizens of Jaffna who were long time supporters of the LTTE and read out a 10-page charge-sheet against Mahattaya. Prabhakaran said that Mahattaya had been asked to respond to the charge-sheet by July 31. Prior to that, it is learnt that he had requested Mahattaya to meet him, but he refused to do so. After July 31, Mahattaya was approached for his explanation, but his curt rejoinder was, “Let Prabhakaran come to me if he wants my explanation.” As Mahattaya was adamant, it became a prestige issue for the leader to subdue his deputy.

    On the information provided by the intelligence unit, Prabhakaran relieved Mahattaya of the leadership of the Makkal Munnani (PFLT), and from the deputy leadership of the LTTE. Prabhakaran sent him on a special assignment to the Eastern Province. After General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and others died in a land mine blast on August 8, 1992, the military balance began to tilt in the LTTE’s favor, and Prabhakaran recalled Mahattaya and gave him an inactive position, looking after the welfare of refugees and injured LTTE cadres. He was also allowed to retain his 75 personnel bodyguard unit.

    Adele Balasingham, in her The Will to Freedom, writes, “Bala and I were well aware of the background to the story of Mahattaya’s downfall. The primary reason was his utter mismanagement of the party and the effect on the movement’s support base. Mahattaya in his role as the leader of the party and deputy leader of the LTTE, assumed an autocratic style and appointed his henchmen to the seats of power in the political organization in violation of the party constitution. The constitution stipulated an electoral system for the selection of the party officials from village to district levels. Mahattaya’s action undermined the project of democratization of the party organs and failed to reflect the will of the people. Eventually PFLT became a corrupt institution promoting the interests of a few individuals, who were loyal to Mahattaya. The public resentment was so widespread, it compelled the LTTE to dissolve the party organization or risk further alienation. Mahattaya lost his positions as party leader as well as the deputy leader of the LTTE as a result. Though the LTTE Central Committee and the General Council made decision after lengthy discussions, Mahathaya felt the move to oust was an act of personal vendetta by Mr. Pirabakaran and he was determined to challenge the decision.” – Pages 296-297.

    Gradually, events began to work against Mahattaya, and Baby Subramaniam, one of the founding leaders of the LTTE, became the deputy leader.

    Pottu Amman and his group sustained serious injuries but narrowly escaped death when an unidentified assailant lobbed a bomb onto the vehicle in which they were traveling, near Kopay. The situation worsened when the LTTE became more and more suspicious of Mahattaya. They found out that he had betrayed Kittu to the Indians and Sri Lankan intelligence agencies, leading to Kittu’s death by suicide in the Palk straits in January 1993.

    Again Adele Balasingham writes, “It was around 10pm on a hot day on March 1993 when Mr Mahendrarajah [Mahattaya], the deputy head of the LTTE, entered our residence in Kokuvil, Jaffna and announced he was going to observe a fast-unto-death in our house and demanded a room for that purpose.

    “Mahattaya looked nervous and agitated. Dressed casually in a sarong and shirt and carrying a small luggage bag with a few personal items, he claimed that his fast had begun the very moment he entered our house and his four-wheel drive Pajero vehicle was parked near the gate. Taken aback by this sudden development, Bala and I queried as to why he wanted to fast-unto-death and for what reason he had chosen our residence, as the venue to launch his campaign.

    “Mahattaya explained that he was disillusioned with the LTTE leadership, particularly with Mr Pirabakaran, for removing him from the chairmanship of the political party (PFLT) and also from the deputy leadership of the LTTE. He said that the decision was unfair and unacceptable and therefore he wanted to register his protest in the form of fasting. Insofar as his choice of our residence as the venue of fasting was concerned, he explained that it was the place where all leaders and commanders of the LTTE, as well as the local journalists visit, therefore his protest would be known to the entire movement as well as to the public, if it is performed in our house.

    “For several hours through the night, we pleaded with Mahattaya to give up his fast and resolve the matter through discussion with the leadership, rather than undertaking this mode of protest. We also felt unhappy over the choice of our residence as the venue of his fasting. That would implicate us as accessories to Mahattaya’s scheme of things, in our view. Finally, Mahattaya relented when we argued that he had the right to protest, but not in our residence. He decided to give up his fast when Bala promised to hand over his letter of protest to Mr Pirabakaran. Thus, the drama ended in the following morning and Mahattaya left our house with his bodyguards and with an element of satisfaction that, he had registered with the Balasingham by observing a night of fasting. The incident was the tip of the iceberg insofar as Mahattaya’s affair was concerned as we later learned.” – Pages 296-297.

    For the first time, Munchari, a Tamil weekly from Canada, came out with the news of the arrest and incarceration of Mahattaya, on charges of treason by the Tiger Supremo Prabhakaran.

    Subsequently this writer conducted interviews with those LTTE fighters who left the organization and those who left for medical reasons with the approval of the leadership. Fortunately, this writer stumbled on two relatively middle-level senior LTTE leaders, who happened to be members of the team that went to arrest Mahattaya and his group.

    When the LTTE high command learnt that Mahattaya was responsible for the death of Kittu, they acted immediately. They urgently assembled a high-powered hit-squad, including all their leading commanders, namely Sornam, the leader of the elite Tiger commando group, Balraj the deputy commander of the LTTE, Soosai, the commander of the Sea Tigers, and others.

    Pottu Amman, the intelligence chief, led the hit-squad. The special squad launched its operation to arrest Mahattaya on March 31, 1993, before dawn and they managed to overpower his guards, without resistance in a base at Kokuvil.

    When the squad entered the domestic quarters, Mahattaya who was at that time inside the toilet. As he emerged, Sornam told him, “Annan [elder brother] wants you, come with us,” Unsuspecting, Mahathaya, told him, “You better go, I will follow you.” Sornam reiterated, “No, you have to come now, Annan wants you immediately.” Mahattaya, was agitated a little and said, “I told you to go, I will come.” Sensing the mood inside the living room, Pottu Amman, who stood outside the main entrance, entered with the other commanders and said, ” No, you must come at once.” When Mahattaya saw Pottu Amman and others, he sensed the seriousness and told his wife without losing his equanimity, “Do not worry, whatever decision Annan takes, it will always be the right one,” and followed them. They took him to an intelligence unit base at Chavakachceri for interrogation.

    At the time of Mahattaya’s arrest, his trusted lieutenant, K D Suresh, was away at Putur-Vannivilankulam to convey Mahattaya’s orders to their accomplice, planted as one of Prabhakaran’s guards.
    Subsequently, Suresh and other fugitives were arrested and turned over to the intelligence unit. A week before the arrest of Mahattaya, the LTTE’s intelligence unit spotted in Jaffna city, a handicapped ex-LTTE cadre named Engineer, alias Manickavasagam Mahendrajah. One of his legs had been lost during the Jaffna Fort military campaign.

    The LTTE discharged him and he went to Chennai by boat to obtain a prosthesis, a Jaipur foot. Pottu Amman ordered his men to watch Engineer’s activities. They arrested him on the third day, while he was returning from Mahattaya’s base at Koandvil and took him for questioning.

    At the interrogation it became evident that, there was a ploy to destabilize the LTTE. According to Engineer, he was arrested in Madras on suspicion, in connection with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, while he was living in Chennai. RAW agents, who had a full dossier on him, spotted him and initiated confidential discussions. Subsequently, they sent Engineer, via Colombo, with a message to Mahattaya. RAW instructed Mahattaya to dump Prabhakaran and to be ready to assume the leadership of a North-East autonomous region. After the meeting with Engineer, Mahattaya dispatched Suresh with instructions to arrange the assassination of Prabhakaran.

    At the investigation, it became clear that Suresh, who had arrived at Putur-Vannivilakulam, could not establish contact with their hit-man to convey Mahattaya’s urgent order.

    In the meantime, the LTTE cadres, who were in a prison at Vellore, Tamil Nadu, staged a dramatic escape. The LTTE dispatched two speed boats to bring back 14 escapees safely and gave them a rousing heroes’ welcome. Meanwhile, the LTTE office in Jaffna received a letter regarding the phony jail-break staged by RAW.

    On receipt of the letter, the intelligence unit alerted the leadership. Within a few days ,they arrested those 14 masqueraded as heroes. At the inquiry it became clear that, RAW operatives regularly visited them and held lengthy discussions and finally they agreed to work for the RAW.

    According to RAW’s instructions, those 14 escapees were to free Mahattaya and also to arrange the assassination of Prabhakaran. It came to light that one Susilan, a confidante of Mahattaya, was the one planted to assassinate Prabhakaran. Susilan, after his arrest, admitted that he was instructed to shoot down Prabhakaran.

    The media in Sri Lanka were aware that Mahattaya had been arrested and was under investigation, but nobody knew the charges and the plight of Mahattaya. Even in 1998, news items appeared that Mahattaya was still alive and he was shown to LTTE cadres in a jail in Thunukai.

    In 2001, when Adele Balasingham published her book, The Will to Freedom, supposed to be the official version of the LTTE, the world came to know that Mahattaya, had been officially executed on December 28, 1994.

    The LTTE high command had decided against publicizing Mahattaya’s investigation report, thus keeping many intriguing issues in secret.

    Adele Balasingham in her The Will to Freedom writes, “About a month later [From the date Mahattaya wanted to have the fast at the residence of Balasingham] Mahathaya and some of his close associates were arrested by the LTTE’s intelligence wing for conspiring to assassinate Mr Pirabakaran. In a massive cordon and search of his camp in Manipay – supervised by senior commanders of the LTTE – Mahattaya was taken into custody along with his friends. We were shocked and surprised by this sudden turn of events. Mr Pirabakaran, who visited our residence that day, told us briefly of a plot hatched by the Indian external intelligence agency – the RAW – involving Mahattaya as the chief conspirator to assassinate him and to take over the leadership of the LTTE. He also said that further investigations were needed to unravel the full scope of the conspiracy.

    “The investigations took several months to complete. Mahattaya, his close associates involved in the conspiracy and several other cadres, who functioned directly under him, were thoroughly investigated. Finally a complete story of a plot emerged. Confessions by all main actors were tape recorded and video filmed. The leadership also arranged a series of meetings for all the LTTE cadres to explain the aims and objectives behind the plot. Apart from Mahattaya, other senior cadres who were involved in the conspiracy were allowed to make public confessions during those meetings confirming their involvement. It was a complicated and bizarre story of the Indian intelligence agency establishing secret contacts with Mahattaya through his close associates, with the promise of huge funds and political backing from India, if the plot succeeded and the LTTE leadership was eliminated. A former bodyguard of Mr Pirabakaran was secretly released from the Indian jail in Tamil Nadu and trained as the main assassin. He was sent to Jaffna with an intriguing story of a successful jailbreak as cover. His assignment was to plant a time bomb in Pirabakaran’s bedroom as a part of the overall plot planned by Mahattaya. The young man as soon as he landed in Jaffna was once again included amongst Mr Pirabakaran’s bodyguards. Surprisingly, just a few days before his arrest, he visited our residence to tell us fabulous stories about his jail break. The investigation established without any doubt that Mahattaya was the chief conspirator. The plot was to assassinate Mr Pirabakaran and some senior commanders loyal to him and assume the leadership of the organization. On 28 December 1994, Mahattaya and few of his fellow conspirators were executed on charges of conspiracy to eliminate the leadership.” – Page 298.

    “The few of his fellow conspirators were eliminated” were the words used by Adele Balasingham for the execution of nearly 257 cadres who were loayal to Mahattaya. It was told that these cadres were lined up in a coconut estate, located near Chavakachcheri, shot and killed and all the bodies were dumped and a mass cremation was done.

Next: Chapter 57


Posted .

Filed under History.

Comments are disabled on this page.