Navy sailors were unaware that Pottu Amman was in their hands
S. Asia’s second most-wanted man slips past Navy

by Our Defence Correspondent
South Asia’s second most wanted man, the LTTE’s Intelligence Wing Leader Pottu Amman, was definitely on board one of the LTTE craft that were surrounded by warships of the Sri Lanka Navy off Trincomalee on the 24th of April, and then allowed to proceed, according to intelligence sources and sources in the North and East.

Pottu Amman is wanted by both the Indian and Sri Lankan judicial systems, for a variety of major crimes. They include the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the assassination of President R. Premadasa in May 1993, the bomb attack on the Central Bank in Colombo in January 1996 which killed 90 people and wounded 1,400, and the blowing up of a rush-hour commuter train in Dehiwala in July 1996 where 70 people were killed.

LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is South Asia’s most wanted man, having also been indicted for ordering all of these crimes. Pottu Amman is alleged to have been the mastermind behind the planning and execution of the attack.

In addition, Pottu Amman is known to have planned almost every other Black Tiger attack in Colombo, including last July’s assault on the Katunayake air force base and Bandaranaike International Airport, which led directly a collapse in the country’s economy and forced the government to plead for peace with the Tigers on the current terms, which are very unfavourable to the country.

The incident off Trincomalee took place due to a blunder by the Norwegian-Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which failed to inform the government that LTTE craft would be proceeding from the Mullaitivu area to the Batticaloa coast, although the LTTE had informed the Norwegians. The LTTE did not mention that Pottu Amman, Batticaloa military wing leader Karuna and Trincomalee area leader Paduman, were on board.

Navy sailors boarded the vessels, but did not carry out any checks to ascertain who the passengers were. After frenzied discussions between other LTTE officials on board, the navy and the Norwegians, the order was given to release the craft and their passengers, by Defence Ministry officials, who were being continuously briefed by Navy Headquarters which in turn was being briefed by the Navy’s Eastern Headquarters in Trincomalee, which was in direct radio contact with the gunboats.

The incident led to the Defence Ministry trying to cover up the embarrassing situation by issuing a press release stating that Pottu Amman was not on board. However, this was a ludicrous statement since the navy never investigated who was on board at the time of the incident. If it did, then the government should have released a list of names of all those who were on board, which is something it doesn’t have since the sailors didn’t check.

Pertinent questions

This incident raises some very pertinent questions which the government is trying its best to ignore. Pottu Amman is wanted for the deliberate murder of 70 people for the Dehiwala train bombing, a criminal act of heinous proportions. Is it the government’s policy to allow such criminals to go free, just because they are members of the LTTE? At best, the Dehiwala train blast comes under the category of "War Crimes" which are recognized the world over. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is even now being tried by a United Nations Tribunal of War Crimes in The Hague, for just such acts. How can the government and the navy allow him to slip past?

The memorandum of understanding signed between the government and the LTTE says nothing about an amnesty for criminals or war criminals. In any case, Pottu Amman is wanted not for being a member of the LTTE, but for bombing a train. The MoU is between the government and the LTTE; not between individual members of the LTTE and the government.

No instructions

In any case, as far as we know, the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence or the Secretary of Defence, have not issued any instructions to the forces and police not to arrest wanted persons. In fact, the navy officers in question could have been guilty of aiding and abetting a wanted man to escape, had they known that Pottu Amman was on board, which apparently they did not. The only excuse is that they didn’t know.

It is also pertinent that the MoU does not apply to the sea. It is only written for land.

If one takes the Trincomalee incident as a yardstick, then Velupillai Prabhakaran could travel to Colombo at any time, perhaps for his wife to go shopping in Pettah, and go back home to the Wanni, since the forces and the government will not do anything to stop him.

This is a ludicrous situation. It is time the government spelled out its policy with regard to such situations.

Pottu Amman is also wanted by India. At the moment, the New Delhi government is turning a blind eye to the embarrassing situation it is in, in relation to Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman’s wanted status, and is not pressing the issue. This is not an accident, but clever diplomacy on the part of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who has been careful to maintain the best of relations with New Delhi since he came to office.

Related to this incident is another one, in which Anton Balasingham’s seaplane pilot decided to take a very long route from Iranamadu to the Maldives, and nearly got shot down by the forces over Trincomalee. There are national and international laws and regulations which cover both domestic and foreign air travel, which clearly specify that all pilots should file flight plans, so that air traffic controllers know which plane is in which location at all times, and can make sure that two planes don’t collide. Just imagine if Balasingham’s little seaplane got in the path of a jumbo jet carrying 350 people! Who would have been responsible for the disaster? The government of course. After all, the LTTE is a banned organization. One can imagine a spate of lawsuits from relatives of passengers, suing the government for the misdeeds of the LTTE and the seaplane pilot.

Ceasefires and peace talks are welcome, always. But it is clear that many details have not been worked out. Accidents are waiting to happen. The LTTE must be told that the ceasefire does not mean that LTTE leaders who are wanted for war crimes can waltz around the country. Pottu Amman should stay in the LTTE controlled area, and not be going on sea cruises off Trincomalee. That would be the easiest way to avoid the messy situation which occurred on April 24, and may occur again.