Death in the Jungle: Quixotic Saga of Theiveegan, Appan and Gobi -By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The traditional April new year named “Jaya” or Victory dawned on a positive note this year for Sri Lanka. A massive security operation launched by the Sri Lankan armed forces had resulted in the deaths of three persons in the Jungles of Vedivaithakallu-Oothukkulam-Bogaswewa in the North. Paradoxical as it may appear the “bad” news of deaths was in another sense “good” news for the Country at large and the Tamil people in particular.
Theiveegan, Appan and Gobi
The news was perceived in a positive light because the dead trio -aided by tiger elements in the Diaspora-had been engaged in the task of reviving the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) within the borders of Sri Lanka. Given the prevailing politico-military situation in the country, an attempted LTTE resurgence was doomed to fail in the long run.
Nevertheless any irresponsible, unrealistic bid to revive the LTTE would have definitely invited a harsh counter campaign from the Sri Lankan state to crush it. This would have brought much hardship to the people caught in the middle.
The Tamil people of Sri Lanka who underwent terrible suffering during the long war are now enjoying a period of peace and progress since 2009. A potential LTTE revival would have seriously harmed the Tamil people and made their lives miserable.
It is in this context that news of the LTTE revivalists being killed and the potential tiger renaissance being crushed was received positively by the Sri Lankan people in the Island and abroad. The Tamil people of the North who found normalcy disrupted for many weeks due to the intensive security efforts made to meet the fresh challenge were able to usher in the “Sithiraip Puthaandu” (April New Year)on a joyful note.
Many Tamils in the north had cooperated with the armed forces in the campaign against an LTTE revival as the ordinary Tamil civilian knew the horrible consequences for the community had the LTTE emerged again in Sri Lanka.
Despite tiger and pro-tiger elements abroad and their fellow travellers in Sri Lanka trying to convey an impression to the contrary, most right-thinking Tamils in Sri Lanka realise that a return of the LTTE means disaster and doom for the hapless community trying to resurrect itself from the pathetic plight in which it is now.
This does not mean that all the people are happy with the Rajapksa regime or supportive of it. It only means that the people have learnt bitter lessons from the past and are averse to a LTTE renaissance in any form in Sri Lanka.
The attempted revival of the LTTE in Sri Lanka is an issue to which this writer has devoted his columns in the recent past. It is an issue about which I feel strongly as the consequences of such LTTE resurgence would be catastrophic for the Country and its people notably the Tamils.
It is indeed troubling to see the cunning efforts by vested interests to dismiss the affair as a “drama”. As I have stated before earlier in these columns, there are many who have not realised what may have happened if the attempt to revive the LTTE had succeeded in a big way.
The past week has been quite hectic for me as I was in contact with diverse sources in different countries with the intention of gathering information about this entire exercise. The sources were security related circles, informed Tamil activists, ex-militants, residents of the Wanni, family members of ex-LTTE cadres and analysts from global institutions monitoring terrorism etc.
Although the information is by no means complete or compact, I have been able to piece together to some extent an outline of the course of events in this matter. It is against this backdrop that I now write about the anatomy of the Abortive Attempt to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka
The past five weeks from March 6th to April 11th saw a concerted drive by the Police and security forces to combat the resurgence of the LTTE in Sri Lanka.Many cordon and search operations were conducted. A large number of people were rounded up, questioned and released. 65 persons were detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for intensive interrogation(19 of them are released now). As the anti-terrorism sleuths pursued investigations there emerged clear evidence that the unholy trinity spearheading a coordinated campaign to revive the LTTE comprised Gobi, Appan and Theiveegan/Deiveegan.
All three were members of the LTTE who had not undergone rehabilitation after the fall of the LTTE in May 2009 at Mullivaaikkaal. The highly motivated trio had the single minded objective of reviving the LTTE again in Sri Lanka.All three had been in foreign countries after May 2009 and had the option of leading a comparatively safe and comfortable life abroad.
Yet they had voluntarily returned to Lanka with the blinkered vision of reviving the LTTE and pursued their goal with missionary zeal.
Theiveegan whose name is also spelled as Deiveegan was born on May 23rd 1979. He is from Manthuvil in the Thenmaratchy division of Jaffna district. He joined the LTTE voluntarily in 1995.Theiveegan’s real name is Suntharalingam Gajatheeban.
Among his many nom de guerres and nom de plumes are Theiveegan,Thevian, Navaneethan, Vallan and Devan.He served for a long time as a bodyguard of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and wife Mathivathani.
He has also obtained a piloting license and participated in air strikes by the LTTE air wing “Vaanpuligal” (air Tigers) Theiveegan has reportedly been involved in the aerial attacks on Kerawalapitiya and Anuradhapura during the war.
Theiveegan is also a suicide cadre who took the Black tiger oath.He has served in both the LTTE intelligence division, the military intelligence division and the elite Radha regiment.He had been a trainer also. In 2009 February, Theiveegan was asked to relocate from the beleaguered Karaithuraipatru maritime zone in Mullaitheevu district by Radha regiment chief Ratnam Master and was sent to the Nedunkerni jungles on a top secret assignment with the consent of LTTE leader Prabhakaran.
After the war ended in May 2009, Theiveegan went clandestinely to India. He established contact with Nediyavan in Norway and moved to South East Asia. Thereafter he went to Europe and shuttled between different countries.
He then returned to India and was placed in charge of operations in India and Sri Lanka by the Nediyavan group. However Theiveegan enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Vinayagam group also. Theiveegan is believed to have been moving back and forth between India and Sri Lanka on a false passport or by using clandestine “country” boats.
Gobi whose real name is Ponniah Selvavanayagam Kajeepan is around 31 years of age. His other alias is Kaseeyan. Gobi hailing from Iyakkachchi in the Pachilaippalli division of Kilinochchi district also joined the LTTE voluntarily while in his early teens and served in the Kittu Artillery unit of the LTTE. Later he functioned in the LTTE intelligence wing commanded by Pottu Ammaan.
Gobi worked as an intelligence operative in the LTTE under Perinbam master. He was stationed in Colombo for a long time and was engaged mainly in reconnaissance and logistical transport.He reportedly spoke Sinhala fluently.
Gobi was married to Sharmila Balamurugan from Paalaiootru in Trincomalee. Both were in the Wanni when the war ended. Gobi with his then pregnant wife posed off as a civilian and was housed at the Ananda Coomaraswamy internally displaced persons camp in Chettikulam, They were allowed to relocate to Sharmila’s father’s house in Paalaiootru when the baby was born in the camp. Gobi who had a heavy vehicle driving license went abroad from Trinco to Saudi Arabia as a driver.
After his Saudi contract was over Gobi went to Europe and travelled to different countries there. He reportedly met with Irumporai the de facto leader of the Nediyavan LTTE faction. Gobi then made contact with Theiveegan and returned to Sri Lanka. He cut off links with his mother and wife . Gobi bought a lorry and rented it out for transport as an owner/driver. He used this as a cover and moved around the North and travelled to and from Colombo, recruiting people and setting up clandestine cells.
Appan whose real name is Navaratnam Navaneethan was born on 22nd December 1978.He is from Oorani in the Jaffna district. Navaneethan alias Appan joined the LTTE voluntarily in 1996. Among his other names are Abishan and Thiru. Appan worked under LTTE leader Gandhi who was supervising the LTTE prisons and detention camps for many years. Later he was moved to the intelligence wing under Pottu Ammaan.
In 2006 , Appan was sent to Colombo and worked under an LTTE operative known as Kaanthan. Appan like Gobi was used for reconnaissance and transport. Appan was in Colombo when the war ended. He then moved to Qatar and worked as a driver. Appan also was in contact with Gobi while in the middle-east. He too returned to Sri Lanka like Gobi and set about the task of trying to revive the LTTE. Appan also cut off contact with his family.
Appan, Gobi and Theiveegan though having the opportunity of residing outside Sri Lanka made the choice of returning to the Island and reviving the LTTE.
Fortunately for the country and all its peace loving people, the LTTE renaissance project that was planned, coordinated and executed by the three was detected in its formative stages and nullified beforehand through adroit action. Although it was thought initially that Gobi was the livewire behind the enterprise ,fresh information gained subsequently indicated that Theiveegan/Deiveegan was the brainy dynamo who was primarily responsible for this attempted resurgence.
Apparently the three revivalists were in charge of three broad wings. Gobi was in charge of intelligence, while Appan was responsible for propaganda. Theiveegan was responsible for operations or military strikes and was the overall chief of the new entity.
The “nouveau”LTTE that they envisaged had short ,mid and long term goals.They went about recruiting people and setting up safe houses. They targeted mainly LTTE cadres who had not surrendered to the armed forces and undergone rehabilitation for recruitment. Next of kin to dead LTTE cadres or family members of those who had “disappeared”were also recruited. In some instances they also enlisted the services of some people who were actually innocent of the sinister design but had got involved without realising the diabolical machinations at play.
What is frightening about the LTTE revival project is that it had ample support from tiger elements cutting across intra-LTTE divisions. Members from the LTTE branches as well as front organizations had been backing the Theiveegan-Gobi-Appan triumvirate. Even the “International” LTTE under Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan and the “Headquarters” LTTE led by Sekarampillai Vinayagamoorthy alias “Vinaayagam” who are at loggerheads with each other seem to have sunk their differences on this account and provided funds jointly.
The funding for LTTE revival attempts seem to have been channeled through money transfer agents as well as reputed banks. The five key figures who have been funding LTTE resurgent activities in Sri Lanka from abroad are Yathavan alias Santhosham master in Switzerland,Veeramani alias Regan in France, Shanthi in Germany, Deva in Canada and Soori in Britain.
Of these, Santhosham master is a former member of the LTTE whose real name is Paramanathan Yathavan. His nom de guerre in the LTTE was Santhosham and became known as Santhosham master because he was a trainer of fresh recruits or conscripts.Born on January 10th 1979 , Yathavan or Santhosham master joined the LTTE in 1995 at the age of sixteen. He surrendered to the army in 2009 and was released from detention in 2010 after undergoing rehabilitation. He left the same year for Switzerland and obtained refugee status there.
Veeramani alias Regan is also a former member of the LTTE. He was trusted greatly by LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and served for a long time as the tiger chief’s driver. Shanthi in Germany is a woman who frequently sends money to Sri Lanka for ex –LTTE cadres needing livelihood assistance. There is very little information at present about Soori in Britain and Deva in Canada.
The money sent from abroad has been used by the Theiveegan-Gobi-Appan trio to help finance the LTTE revival attempt in Lanka. Lands and houses were acquired and also vehicles had been purchased. Equipment like computers and cameras had been bought. Leaflets and posters had been printed. More importantly money had been liberally used as an incentive to recruit people. The abject poverty of many former LTTE cadres and families of ex-LTTE operative had been exploited. Some had been co-opted through lure of financial rewards and remuneration.
The entire network was broken up into three or four cells and linked to each other via the net.Overseas contact was maintained through internet and telephone. Most of the people functioned compartmentally on a need to know only basis. The lynchpins however were Theiveegan, Gobi and Appan. Of these three persons, Theiveegan adopted a relatively low profile. Much of the spadework in widening contacts and setting up cells was done by Gobi and to a lesser extent by Appan. While Gobi posed as the owner –driver of a lorry, Appan had his own three-wheeler. Both vehicles had been purchased through a reputed firm in Sri Lanka.
State Intelligence, Military intelligence as well as the Terrorism Investigations division of the Police worked together on the matter. Traditional inter-departmental rivalry was shelved and the different arms cooperated wholeheartedly with the common objective of preventing a tiger renaissance. As investigations progressed and more suspects were detained and interrogated , it became glaringly obvious that the three persons evading arrest were the most important figures in the LTTE revival exercise.
The investigation itself had been a constantly evolving one with many an unexpected twist and turn. In the preliminary stages when the name of Gobi cropped up the Police had published wanted posters with Gobi’s name only. Later when Appan was also implicated ,his name too was added. Posters and leaflets saying both Gobi and Appan were wanted were distributed and rewards for information offered. Subsequently when the name of Theiveegan emerged another notice was issued separately for him.
Now when it was clearly obvious that the three were the kingpins of the LTTE revival attempt another type of posters and leaflets were issued. The names, images and descriptions of all three were published in one notice. A reward of one million rupees leading to their capture was offered. Telephone numbers were publicised where members of the public could ring and supply information. Official sources said 42,000 such leaflets were distributed as well as pasted in public places throughout the North. This made a terrific impact on the people and evoked a positive response at many levels.
Several tip –offs and leads were received about movements of suspicious individuals. Many of these were followed up and found to be erroneous or false alarms. Finally a positive lead was received from the Vedivaithakallu area in the Vavuniya north division. It was reported that People engaged in wood cutting had seen suspicious movements in the dense forest. One informant was positive that it was Gobi who was moving around there.
The Vavuniya north division also called Nedunkerni division is a sprawling region in the Wanni. The sparsely populated Southern areas of the region are infested with thick jungles. Vedivaithakallu was about 8 miles to the south of Nedunkerni.It could be reached by road from Nedunkerni through a circuitous route. One has to go to a junction near Periyakulam from where two roads branch off to the south.
One went to the Weli-Oya/Manalaaru region. The other went along places like Katkulam. Maruthodai, Oonjalkattimarippu and reached Vedivaithakallu from where it went through to Kovilputhiyakulam. Vedivaithakallu had paddy fields, coconut groves and pastures for grazing livestock. A huge tract of Jungle extended from Vedivaithakallu through Oothukkulam to Bogaswewa.
One end of the Jungle was in the Vedivaithakallu area of Vavuniya district while the other end was in the Padaviya area of Anuradhapura district. It was in this jungle of about 12-15 sq kilometres that the wanted tiger trio had been sighted.
Acting on the information received a contingent of troops were stationed in the area on the outskirts of the jungle. Small teams of military trained in jungle warfare were deployed to penetrate the jungle interior and scout around. It was around noon at about 1 pm on Thursday April 10th when a deep penetration patrol stumbled upon a secluded spot under a canopy of trees where a makeshift hearth and army mess tins were discovered. The burning embers suggested that the fugitives had heard sounds of the soldiers approaching and had run away quickly.A rapid search in the surrounding bushes resulted in four military backpacks being recovered.
Three of the backpacks had jungle survival items like medicinal capsules, ointments, spirits, insect repellants, bandages, knives, flashlights, small mirrors, batteries, handy instruments, lighters, matches, tinderboxes, cords, candles, light apparel etc. The fourth backpack was stocked with dry rations and eatables like noodle packets, canned beef and fish tins, soup cans, tinned milk, biscuits, chocolates, nutrition bars and chewing gum packets. A thorough examination of the contents suggested that the trio could have survived on the food items for about 7-8 days in the jungle.
Once these backpacks were detected the security apparatus went to work expeditiously. Additional military personnel were hastily deployed. 3000 soldiers from Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitheevu districts were detailed for jungle combing operations. They were under the overall command of Wanni security forces commander Major-General Boniface Perera.
The soldiers were put through training drills and exercises that would have been helpful in the jungle terrain search operations .The exercises were conducted in batches at points far away from the target zone so as to prevent the fugitive trio from being alerted. Once the training exercise was over each batch was transported quietly up to a point from where they proceeded on foot to the target area.The training exercises went on throughout the night.
It was then that an unexpected tragedy struck. An instance of misfiring resulted in a soldier getting shot accidentally by a fellow soldier and sustaining serious injuries.The incident occurred after midnight at about 1 am. The soldier was rushed to Padaviya hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
The soldier whose name was Selvarajah Kamalarajah known as SK Rajah was attached to the 4th battalion of the Sri Lankan Army’s Military intelligence corps stationed at Kokkaavil. Kamalarajah was from a very poor Tamil family in Kurunegala. He was promoted posthumously as Lance –Corporal. Several top brass of the army attended the funeral. Army commander Lt. Gen Daya Ratnayake has instructed the army to construct a brick house for the dead soldier’s family.
Meanwhile the military operation went ahead as planned. Under cover of darkness the soldiers were positioned around the jungle area with about one soldier for every five metres at most places. By first light at the crack of dawn , deployed military personnel had surrounded the tract of jungle in which the fugitive tiger trio was hiding in. Silently the soldiers waited for their quarry to emerge from the jungle and walk into the military cordon.
It was about 6.45 am on Friday April 11th when the trio came out to the edge of the jungle slowly. Apparently the tigers did not expect the soldiers to be lying in wait for them. Since the area was of a secondary forest type with dense shrubs and thick underbrush, visibility was somewhat obscured. Theiveegan and Appan were in front with Gobi following behind.
Suddenly Theiveegan spied the soldiers through the bushes at a distance less than ten metres. He whipped out a pistol. The soldiers also opened fire. There was a sharp exchange of gunfire. Both Theiveegan and Appan were hit. Theiveegan fell down on the spot while Appan ran back and fell. Gobi ran back as the firing started and took cover in a clump of bushes. Then he tried to drag the fallen Appan back into the bushes. The soldiers opened fire when they thought Gobi was trying to throw a grenade. He too was killed. The skirmish ended with the three tigers being killed and two soldiers getting slightly injured. Apparently the military gave no quarter and had taken no prisoners.
A total of six telephones including two satellite phones and a Global Positioning System was recovered from the fallen tigers. A quantity of cash in Sri Lankan, Indian and US currency was also retrieved. So too was a notebook with addresses and telephone numbers.
Contrary to expectations the three tigers were not heavily armed. There was only a 9mm pistol used by Theiveegan and some ammunition rounds plus four hand grenades. When Theiveegan’s gun was examined it was found that 14 of the 16 shots in the magazine had been fired though it is not clear as to whether all the shots were fired in this particular confrontation.
The Kebbithigollewa Magistrate visited the spot and held an inquiry. Thereafter the three bodies were first taken to the Padaviya hospital and from there to Anuradhapura where the Judicial medical officer conducted a post –mortem examination.
The bodies were identified by family members. The father ,sister and brother in law of Theiveegan identified Suntharalingam Gajatheeban. The mother, wife and father in law of Gobi identified Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepan. There was however a hitch in the case of Appan whose old mother was unable to identify her son as she had not seen him for ten years. This caused a delay. Finally Appan’s two brothers came and identified Navaratnam Navaneethan
All three bodies were buried according to a court order at the Vijayapura burial grounds in Anuradhapura. The last rites were conducted by a Hindu priest from the Kathiresan temple in Anuradhapura. Only family members of Theiveegan, Gobi and Appan were allowed for the funeral. The press and public were forbidden to attend.
Thus ended the saga of the tiger trio, Theiveegan, Gobi and Appan who embarked upon the quixotic mission of reviving the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org