Kittu: The LTTE legend
The modern history of Sri Lanka is not complete without a chapter on Satahasivam Krishnakumar, who was popularly called “Kittu”. He is considered a hero and more than a legend by Tamils all over the world. He was a rebel, a freedom fighter and he commanded the forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Jaffna, and later became a political activist of the organization. The LTTE and the Tamils consider him as a beloved martyr in the struggle for Tamil Eelam.
Krishnakumar was born on January 2, 1960, the second the son of the Sathasivam-Rajaluxmy couple of Valvetiturai, an historically popular costal town in the Vadamaradchy region. His father had a small printing press, at Nelliady, Karaveddy, doing jobbing works.
But Rajaluxmy, his mother had always been involved in politics. She had been a strong supporter of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (Federal Party) led S J V Chelvanayakam and participated in the Satyagraha of 1961, in Jaffna, when Kittu was a toddler. She is a great women, a matriarchal figure, and even today she can be seen working to uplift downtrodden women in the Jaffna region and those participating in the struggle for a Tamil homeland.
Krishnakumar had his early education at Chithampara College, Valvetiturai, where the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran, as well as Mahendrarajah, alias Mahattaya, also had their education. Kirishnakumar is a close relation of Prabhakaran and also one his good friends, hailing from the same village. In 1978, Krishnakumar was inducted into the LTTE by Prabhakaran and he went with him to Madras, Tamil Nadu, in India.
Once Krishnakumar joined the LTTE, he was christened as – Kittu, a familiar name in the midst of nearly 80 million Tamils, scattered all over the world. On July 20, 1983, the Sri Lankan government issued a ban on press reporting about the LTTE. By that time the LTTE had started functioning on its own. They were upset when they were called an organization of some misguided youths, and a shadow organization of the Tamil United Liberation Front of Tamil Eelam (TULF), led by A Amrithalingham. To prove to the government, as well as to the people that, TULF could no longer control Tamil youths, the LTTE chalked out an elaborate plan. Also, it planned to avenge the of death of Seelan, alias Charles Anthony, at Meesalai on July 15, 1983.
Accordingly, Kittu and Sellakili were involved in the planning of an attack on a military convoy at Tirinnalveli, located close to the University of Jaffna. They chose a narrow road to ambush the army convoy. Prabhakaran, Chellakili, Iyer, Victor, Pulendran, Santos, Appaiah and Kittu participated on the operation, which was successfully completed on the night of July 23, 1983, with the death of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers – the biggest loss for the Sri Lankan army during that time, at the hands of the Tamil militants.
When the bodies of the 13 soldiers were taken to Colombo, rioting erupted on the night of July 24 – which was called the “Holocaust of 1983”. After the riots, India came forward to train the Tamil militants and while this program was on in India, Kittu became the Jaffna regional commander of the LTTE. Unlike other commanders, he personally led attacks against the Sri Lankan armed forces.
Whatever is said and done, due credit should go to Kittu for disciplining the LTTE cadres. It was reported that, he would lose his temper if anyone questioned him. Kittu took stern action against cadres who were reported to have violated the code ethics of the militant movement. Violators were mercilessly punished, and thus the message of discipline was instilled in the minds if each and every cadre. Kittu reportedly used foul language, both in public and even with the cadres. He was said to be a megalomaniac. Even when commanders under him in various towns called for instructions regarding captured civilians who were alleged to have committed simple offences, he would shout at the commanders to dump them. He ran kangaroo courts to instill fear into the minds of the general public of the Jaffna peninsula.
During the fratricidal clashes with the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), Kittu and the LTTE were bent on annihilating the TELO from Sri Lanka. The LTTE announced that TELO had been banned and warned anyone sheltering its leader, Sri Sabaratnam, popularly called Sri, and other members of the organization, as inviting death.
Sri was on the run. He fled from his main camp at Kalviyankadu and hid in Neerveli, later at Kopay and finally at Kondavil, seven kilometers from Jaffna city. The LTTE learned that Sri was hiding in Kondavil, and immediately they cordoned off the area and launched a house-to-house search. Kittu warned people over loudhailers that, the fugitive Sri should not sheltered.
Ultimately, Sri was located behind the tobacco heap and Kittu shot him in the leg. Sri toppled, but managed to get up and begged Kittu to spare him. He told him, “Kittu, let us talk with Prabhakaran, please don’t shoot me.” These were his last words, as Kittu opened up his machine gun. The battered body of Sri with 28 bullet wounds, was displayed at the Kondavil bus stand, before being handed over to his father for cremation.
This incident clearly displayed the brutal and ruthless side of Kittu, but he had another side which showed that he respected his able enemies. Kittu recognized Captain Jayanath Kotelawala of the Sri Lanka army as a brave soldier. In 1986, when Kotelawala sent words to Kittu for a meeting, through Gamini Navaratne, the editor of the “Saturday Review” the English weekly published from Jaffna, he said, “Kotelawala was a brave soldier and a gentleman. I would like to meet him.” Subsequently, the brave Sri Lankan soldier walked out of Jaffna Fort armed with only the LTTE guarantee for his safe return. Following the first meeting, both began to meet regularly and the relationship blossomed so much that, Kittu arranged to send firewood and mangoes to the soldiers in the fort, whenever they made the request.
In October, 1986, Kittu also met in Jaffna Vijaya Kumaratunga, the matinee idol of the Sinhalese in the south of Sri Lanka and the husband of Chandrika Kumaratunga, the present president of the country. On December 27, 1986, Kittu received the first Sri Lankan government delegation for talks in Jaffna. It was the first time such direct talks had been initiated between the Tamil militants and the government. A three-hour meeting in camera was held between the Kittu-led LTTE delegation and government representatives. But subsequently Kittu felt that the talks were a ploy by the government to isolate the LTTE from India so there were no more.
Though Kittu was not politically trained, his exposure to politics molded him into a political wizard. On the night of March 13, 1997, an unidentified man fired at and lobbed a powerful grenade on the Mitsubishi Lancer carrying Kittu on Jaffna’s Second Cross Street, while he was on his way to meet his girlfriend, a medical student at the Jaffna University. Two of his bodyguards died instantly, while another was seriously injured. Kittu’s right leg was virtually severed and he eventually lost it. The injury marked the end of long and colorful military career and Kittu moved to Madras, to take charge of the Tiger’s propaganda office.
During the LTTE-Indian Army’s war, Kittu was in Madras and senior officials of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) held talks with him and the LTTE representatives in an attempt to reach an understanding with the LTTE to take the peace process forward, according to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord entered between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene. At these parleys it was decided by Kittu to send Johny as the LTTE’s emissary to meet Prabhakaran, who was operating from jungle hideouts in the Vanni region. Accordingly, Johnny was brought from Madras on the Indian Air Force aircraft, by the RAW officials and left him in Vavuniya, for him to proceed his journey in the jungles, in search of Prabhakaran, to brief him of the negotiation Kittu had with the senior Raw officials, on behalf of the Indian Government and to bring back Prabhakaran’s instruction to Kittu.
Unfortunately, while Johnny was riding a bicycle along a jungle track, Indian Peacekeeping Forces (IPKF) soldiers lying in ambush, shot and killed him. Johnny’s death put an end to the Indian government for a successful negotiation with the LTTE. As expected, the LTTE-RAW talks collapsed. Ultimately, the Tamil Nadu police sealed the 12 LTTE offices in Tamil Nadu in August 1988 and arrested 154 LTTE activists, including Kittu.
As no charges were filed against the arrested LTTE activists, Kittu and the others threatened to launch an indefinite hunger strike for their unlawful detention. But in October 1988 Kittu was set free and deported to Jaffna, which at that time was under the control of the Indian forces. Kittu subsequently reached Vanni.
When the LTTE started its negotiations with the government led by President R Premadasa after April 1989, Adele Balasingham writes in her book The Will to Freedom that they saw Kittu in the camp at Vanni when they went there after the second round of talks with Premadasa.
She writes, “In early October we made our second visit to the Mullaithievu jungles to meet and consult with Mr. Pirabakaran. During the course of the visit Mr. Pirabakaran conveyed to Bala his wish to send Kittu to London for treatment to his amputated leg. On hearing the decision to send him abroad, Kittu was obviously of two minds. Undeniably he aspired for a suitable prosthesis to be fitted, which would help him with his walking and mobility. But he was a man emotionally attached to his cadres and his homeland and the prospect of separating from them was an obvious source of distress to him. Kittu flourished in the environment where he could teach his cadres and encourage them with their interests and he often initiated new projects for them to engage in. And so as the day for his departure grew nearer he became quieter; as did many of his cadres. And I think that one of the most pitiful sights I can remember seeing is the legendary guerrilla fighter crying on Mr. Pirabakaran’s shoulder, the day we were to take him out of the Alampil jungle. His cadres carried him in a chair on their shoulders – to the waiting helicopter. In a classic Kittu style, he put a brave face for his cadres during the trek out of the jungle, expressing his affection for them in the jokes he was cracking.
“Soon after his arrival in Colombo, we escorted Kittu to the British High Commission. After discussion with the British Ambassador, Kittu’s entry visa to the United Kingdom was authorized. But Kittu had one serious matter to attend before his departure to London. When Kittu went to Mullaithievu jungles after being released from the IPKF custody, he became separated from his medical student girlfriend, Cynthia. Now he was anxious to be reunited with her. On his request, she traveled from Jaffna to Colombo to meet him. Shortly afterwards they decided to marry. Kittu’s mother rushed from Valvetiturai to Colombo to attend the ceremony. Cynthia’s parents were already in Colombo. And so, on October 25, in one of the rooms of the hotel where the LTTE team was accommodated during the talks, the registration of the marriage of Kittu and Cynthia took place. A few days later, Kittu flew to London and Cynthia joined him after travel arrangements were made.” – Pages 250-251.
There are no medical reports of Kittu attending hospitals in London for treatment and it was never made available to the media. Even whether he went to any hospitals for medication is not known. But he was in London and was in charge of the international secretariat of the LTTE, at that time located at 54 Tavistock Place, London WC1.
While in London, he won the enmity of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who had sought asylum in England. It was reported that, he harassed Sri Lankan Tamils and even threatened them and demanded payment of money to the LTTE defense fund. As his harassment became intolerable, the refugees began to send petitions to the immigration and police authorities in London, complaining about Kittu and of his intolerable harassment.
At one stage, it was told that, there were more than 2,000 petitions against Kittu in at the immigration office alone. After a thorough investigation, the immigration authorities sent in notice of deportation to Kittu. On the receipt of this, Kittu left London for Paris and later to Switzerland, where he sought asylum. But according to reports, Kittu left Switzerland and went to Sweden and from there he went to Vienna in Austria. While there, he received instructions from Prabhakaran to return to Vanni, so he flew to Singapore.
There are conflicting reports of what happened after that. According to one report, Kittu traveled from Singapore to Thailand, and from there he boarded a ship named MV Yahata. This account states that the Yahata left the Thai island of Phuket with a huge weapons cargo loaded by the Pakistan navy, under its Inter-Services Intelligence supervision for Karachi in January 1993.
In the Bay of Bengal the boat changed its name to be Ahat by painting over the first and last letters in the original name. On Wednesday, January 13, 1993, when the Indian navy patrolling the sea southeast of Madras, they came across the 400-hundred tonne ship, Yahata alias Ahat, without navigation lights, en route to Madras.
But according to another report, the 280 tonne (there was confusion even on the tonnage of the ship) MV Ahat, owned by the LTTE, was intercepted by Indian naval and coastguard authorities in the Indian Ocean on January 13, 1993. It was alleged by LTTE sources that the vessel was intercepted by the Indian navy when it was 440 miles from the Indian coast.
It seems that an Indian Coast Guard Donier aircraft was on a routine surveillance flight between Point Calimere on the Tamil Nadu coast and Pont Pedro in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka when it first sighted the vessel on January 6, and it was kept under watch from then on. Two days later, an Indian naval aircraft on a reconnaissance flight reportedly noted that the vessel had entered Indian waters and was proceeding towards the coast in a suspicious manner, frequently changing course.
It was at this point 200 kilometers off the coast of Tamil Nadu, on January 12, that Indian naval intelligence reportedly had confirmation that the Ahat indeed belonged to the LTTE and that it passengers included key LTTE figures. Thereafter “Operation Zabardast” was launched by the Indian navy on January 13. On the following day, two coast guard vessels, CGS Vivek and the missile corvette INS Kirpan, approached the LTTE vessel, which was escorted towards the Indian coast and navy commandos made preparations to board to capture the crew and passengers and seize all the arms and ammunition on board.
According to another version, the Yahata left Phuket in January 1993. By then, the Thai port had become a focus of Indian intelligence interest. (One submarine understood to be Indian had been sighted from the air near the harbor, apparently spying on shipping activity.) On board the Yahata – along with a shipment of arms and explosives – was Kittu. In the Bay of Bengal, the Yahata became the Ahat by the simple expedient of painting over the first and last letters in the ship’s name. But on January 13 it was intercepted by the Indian navy and three days later, at a point 700 kilometers southeast of Madras, the final act was played out. Kittu and other Tigers aboard permitted the crew to swim for safety, then they detonated explosives on board and went down with the ship.
It was generally stated that, according to another account which was supportive of the LTTE version, on Wednesday, January 13, 1993, the ship Ahat was unlawfully intercepted by the Indian navy in international waters in the Indian Ocean. The ship was intercepted about 290 miles east of Hambantota in the south of the island of Sri Lanka and about 440 miles southeast of south India (Latitude 6 degrees North, Longitude 85 degrees East).
According to an Indian Defense Ministry statement dated January 16, 1993, Indian Coast Guards and naval vessels were monitoring India’s exclusive economic zone. While on patrol they detected the Ahat on January 6 and were shadowing it as it was acting suspiciously and frequently changing course. Considering the activities of the LTTE and the smuggling of arms and ammunition into India and Sri Lanka, the movement of the ship was monitored. On inquiry by radio contact, it was found that the vessel was carrying arms and ammunition and explosives for the LTTE. Naval reinforcement were rushed immediately.
The Defense Ministry statement added that, the crew set the ship on fire after it had been surrounded by navy boats, when it was about 12 nautical miles off the southern Indian city of Madras. Some individuals were seen throwing articles into the sea and jumping overboard after setting the ship on fire, and nine persons were rescued from the water. According to the Indian version, the crew and the LTTE cadres on board were given every opportunity to surrender. Efforts to put out the fire and save the ship from sinking were hampered by large quantities of high explosive on board the ship and the knowledge that there could still be nine persons on board. The statement also confirmed that Kittu was on board the ill- fated ship and that he had threatened to blow up the ship, if Indian marines tried to board it and take him prisoner.
According to an LTTE radio broadcast on January 16, 1993, Kittu, along with eight other senior military cadres, committed suicide in true Tiger fashion and died a martyr’s death. The voice of the Tigers’ radio identified the victims as:
1.Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Colonel Kittu of Valvetiturai.
2. Sri Ganeshan, alias Lt-Col Kuttisri of Suthumalai North, Manipay
3. Suntheralingham Suntharavel, alias Mlarvannan alias Major Velan of Viyaparimoolai, Point Pedro.
4. Nadarajah, alias Jeyarajah, alias Sea Tiger Captain Jeeva of Pasaiyoor
5. Gunarajah, alias Segaram Michael Jeeva, alias Sea Tiger Captain Gunaseelan, Second Cross Street, Jaffna.
6. Ratnasingham Arunarajah, alias Sea Tiger Captain Roshan of Nallur, Jaffna.
7. Sivalingham Kesavan, alias Sea Tiger captain Nayakan of Polikandy, Valvetiturai.
8. Mahalingham Jayalingham, alias Sea Tiger Lt Nallavan of Maniamthottam, Jaffna.
9. Aloysius Jayanathan, alias Sea Tiger Lt Amuthan of Navanthurai, Jaffna.
The Tiger leadership announced three days of mourning for the martyred heroes of the LTTE, commencing on January 18.
The LTTE accused the Indian government of joining hands with the Sri Lankan government to crush the Tamil people’s struggle for independence, a statement issued by the LTTE in Jaffna stated, “The former Jaffna Commander of the LTTE was on his way to meet the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to brief him on the latest peace proposal arranged with the assistance of certain European countries to find a solution to the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.
“Kittu had explained to the navy officials, who surrounded him, but they had rejected his explanation and had taken the LTTE ship by force to the shores. Following this action by the Indian navy Kittu and eight of his comrades committed suicide to prevent themselves from becoming prisoners of the Indian government. Thileepan, Kumarappah, Pulendran and Johnny were the earlier victims of the treachery of the Indian government and now Kittu has been added to this list.
“India is out to crush the independence struggle of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. It did not want the Western countries showing interest in solving the ethnic question. Weakening the LTTE and strengthening the Sinhala chauvinist government were the major intentions of the government of India.” Meanwhile, it was announced in Madras that, the dead body of a Tiger cadre and two injured cadres from the burnt out ship had been retrieved and taken to Visakapattanam naval base by the Indian naval commandos. The two injured men were being treated aboard a navy hospital ship under strict security. Although the Ahat had been badly burnt and damaged, reports and photographs in the Indian newspapers indicated that the ship as afloat. According to General Officer Commanding the Indian Navy’s Southern Sector, Vice Admiral Kailasha Kumar Kohili, the Indian Navy Frigate Vivek and another vessel had first attempted to bring the fire under control. When difficulties were encountered they had to bring in the better equipped navy frigate, Feroze Gandhi. It not only brought the fire under control, but navy commandos boarded the LTTE ship.
The captain of the ill-fated ship, Jayachandran, and eight other members of the crew who were rescued by the Indian navy were charged on January 18 under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) before the magistrate of Visakapatinam, M Ramakrishnan. Jayachandran was placed in police custody for three days for interrogation and the other eight members were remanded for 14 days and were identified as Satkunalingham, V Krishnamoorthy, K Nayakam, S Sivarasa, S Indralingham, S Balakrishnan and T Mohan.
The International Secretariat of the Liberation Tigers presented, on Friday, February 5, 1993, a petition to the United Nations calling for the formation of a special committee to hear and investigate alleged violations committed by India, which caused the death of its Central Committee member, Sathasivam Krishnakumar and eight other LTTE members in the Indian Ocean, in January 1993. The petition pointed out that the General Assembly is empowered to act under Chapter IV, Article 22 of the United Nations Charter to establish an ad hoc special committee to function as a tribunal to investigate and report on the gross violations of international law, committed by the Indian government and its agents and servants against the people of Tamil Eelam and its leaders, as set out in the petition. The petition declared that under the Law of the Sea Convention, which constitutes customary international law and to which India is a party, therefore India has no right to exercise a police jurisdiction on the high seas.
No action was taken by the United Nations on the petition submitted by the Liberation Tigers on behalf of the people of Tamil Eelam as claimed by the Tamil Tigers. However, nine survivors from the MV Ahat were arrested by the Indian navy and lodged in solitary cells in a special wing of Vishakapatnam jail with maximum security. They were charged with criminal conspiracy, shipment of explosives and threatening navy officials.
The case was heard for 37 days, and dragged on for three years. Thirty-four witnesses for the prosecution, mostly navy personnel, were interrogated. On the court’s directive, the navy salvaged the remains of the ship and claimed to have retrieved rocket-propelling guns and other arms, but the navy did not submit the gunnery records or communication tapes of the ship to the court, even during in camera sessions.
Fearing that the case against the accused was not proceeding in favor of the prosecution, the Additional Solicitor General of India, T S Tulsi, was specially requisitioned to marshal additional points in “defense” of the prosecution in the case. The Indian government, having itself instituted proceedings under the TADA and invoked the jurisdiction of the court, now contended that the court had no jurisdiction to inquire into what happened on the high seas.
UNI reported on June 20, 1996 as follows: “Additional Solicitor General of India, T S Tulsi told the designated court here today that the trial court had no jurisdiction to go into what happened on the high seas off Madras coast, where the LTTE vessel MV Ahat alleged to be carrying arms and ammunition was intercepted and nine militants were captured.
“Tulsi … contended before the designated Judge P Lakshmana Reddy, that as per the 1952 convention with regard to the laws of the seas, whatever happened on the high seas was a matter between two independent states. The two states in this case were India, whose navy captured the vessel and Honduras to which the vessel was said to belong to. Hence the matter could be tried only in the international court of justice, if Honduras raised any objection. But Honduras had not made any complaint so far and had even disowned any control or supervision over the crew that operated the LTTE vessel, which was originally registered in that country, he submitted.
“He contended that the designated court had jurisdiction to try the arrested men for offences committed on the territorial waters of India. Quoting relevant provisions from the Territorial waters, continental shelf act 1976, Tulsi said the territorial waters of India extended up to a distance of 12 nautical miles from the coast, the contiguous zone to 24 nautical miles and the continental shelf and the economic zone to 200 nautical miles.
“Tulsi argued that under the provisions of TADA to prove the theory of conspiracy each of the accused need not be involved or in the know of the real purpose for which the arms and ammunition they had carried in the vessel would be used. It was sufficient if they had lent substantial assistance in the illegal act of transporting explosives, arms and petrochemicals which were carried clandestinely, he said and asserted that there was no legitimate use for which these were carried. They were deemed to have shared the intention to carry out terrorist acts, he said.
“Tulsi submitted that though the vessel was registered under the name MV Yahata, it was changed in the high seas, because the vessel was engaged in clandestine activities. He contended that the moment the vessel changed its name, it had lost its nationality. Also the crew, did not hoist the flag of its nationality and did not have necessary papers. When the Indian navy wanted to know its call-sign, the crew gave a wrong call-signal and it was clear that the vessel was stateless, he said. Such a vessel had no right under the international law he contended.
“Quoting international law on piracy, Tulsi said the master of the vessel was not in control of the vessel, but it was Krishnakumar [alias Kittu] and he was communicating with the other vessels in the vicinity. A pirate ship could be seized and we had the right to seize this vessel, and contended that, if hostile boarding was resisted, the Indian navy had the right to capture the vessel. But the Indian navy personnel did not board the vessel, because of humanitarian considerations and they feared that the men on board might consume cyanide capsules. But later, we had no alternative but to resort to hostile boarding as a logical conclusion, he submitted.
“Quoting from a Privy Council decision, Tulsi contended that since the vessel lost its nationality, the Indian Navy had the right to board the vessel and bring it to the territorial waters of India. Once the vessel entered the territorial waters, it committed an offence and was liable to be punished. However, the TADA court judge, P Lakshman Reddy, rejected the submissions of the Prosecution as well as the charge of carrying explosives against the crew, and held that the Navy and the investigating agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Special Investigating Team, had failed to prove their charges against the crew of the MV Ahat.”
The Hindu International News reported on June 29, 1996 from Visakhapatinam: “All the nine Sri Lankan Tamil, suspected to be members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), were acquitted by the Designated Court by P. Lakshmana Reddy, Designated Judge and District and Sessions Judge, here on Friday. He directed the Commissioner of Police of Visakhapatnam to hand them over to the Government of Honduras immediately, since MV Ahat, the vessel they were sailing in, was registered in Honduras.
“The prosecution’s case was that the nine accused along with Kittu, a top-ranking LTTE leader, and nine militants were sailing on MV Ahat carrying arms, ammunition and petrochemicals. The vessel was intercepted by an Indian Coast Guard ship, 440 nautical miles off the Indian coast on Jan. 13, 1993, when it was observed that it was not flying a flag and those aboard the vessel also threatened to blow up the vessel, if it was approached.”
“The naval ships which joined the Coast Guard ship, later persuaded MV Ahat to come near to Madras. When it was near the shores of Madras, it had allegedly fired at the naval ships on Jan. 16 and later the cargo aboard the ship was set ablaze. While Kittu and nine others committed suicide, the nine accused in the case jumped into the sea and were picked up by the naval ships.”
“The Judge said there was no case under the TADA Act against the accused, as they were brought forcibly into the Indian waters and also there was no evidence of any offence. He agreed with the defence argument that the Coast Guard ship was not justified in intercepting MV Ahat, when it was in the international waters and when the accused had revealed that the ship belonged to Honduras. Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Trial Court, the Prosecution appealed to the Indian Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court upheld the Trial Court’s finding and ordered the release of the accused.”
Reuters reported on 18 March 1997: “India’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of nine Sri Lankan Tamil guerrillas, four years after they were arrested from an explosives-laden ship off India’s southern coast, court officials said on Tuesday. The officials said the Monday verdict upheld a lower court’s ruling that had criticized the Indian navy for intercepting the ship. … The rebels, who were not identified, were arrested under India’s tough Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA), after they were accused of opening fire on Indian security forces. The prosecution has failed to establish any offence punishable under the TADA act or the rules framed there under, the court order said. …. ‘none of the accused can be said to have committed any offence under the Indian Explosive Substances Act and the Indian Arms Act’, it said.
“If the nine LTTE men are freed, India will not want to keep them here as free citizens of the world,” one Western diplomat said. “Would they extradite them? That’s another very sensitive prospect.” The Indian authorities, faced with the decision of the Indian Supreme Court, adopted a more interesting approach. They re-arrested all the freed accused on charges of entering India without valid travel documents.
Agencies France Presse reported on March 28, 1997 from New Delhi: “Eight Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger guerrillas were freed by an Indian court after spending four years in jail only to be immediately re-arrested on fresh charges, United News of India (UNI) reported Friday. A court in the southern town of Visakhapatnam released the eight late Thursday. They had been arrested off the Indian coast in 1993 for allegedly trying to smuggle plastic explosives and weapons into India. But police re-arrested them for entering India without valid travel documents. UNI said they would be produced before a court later Friday.”
The facts as found by the Indian courts establish that the MV Ahat was intercepted in the high seas and forced (persuaded) to travel into Indian territorial waters by the Indian navy. It was a proven act of piracy and Sathasivam Krishnakumar and eight others lost their lives. Today, eight other Tamils languish in India’s jails on trumped up charges of having entered India without valid travel documents.