Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was with 18 of his most loyal bodyguards when he was trapped and killed by the Sri Lankan military, one of his former rebel associates said on Wednesday.
Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, whose 2004 revolt played a vital role in the weakening of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also said the Tigers would never rise again.
Among the handful of people who identified the body of Prabhakaran was Karuna, a long-time confidant of the LTTE chief who sensationally revolted with thousands in March 2004 seriously weakening the group.
According to Karuna, now the minister for national integration and reconciliation in President Mahinda Rajapaksa's cabinet, it did not take him any time to confirm that the man lying dead on a stretcher was none other than Prabhakaran, once his mentor and leader.
“He had thinned somewhat (from when I saw him last),” Karuna said over telephone to IANS, speaking in Tamil. “Otherwise he was much the same. The face, the eyes… it was Prabhakaran.”
Karuna said the soldiers who killed Prabhakaran were surprised after sighting him because some of them had thought the man had killed himself earlier. “They did not expect to see him at all.”
The fighting with Prabhakaran and his men erupted at 4 a.m. Monday and was over within 90 minutes, leaving the man who had terrorized the country for over a quarter century dead near a lagoon in Mullaitivu district.
Karuna, who is also an MP and vice president of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), confirmed that the upper portion of Prabhakaran's head was blown off.
By then, the military had already killed his son Charles Anthony as well as all his top associates.
A politician today, Karuna dismissed speculation that sections of the surrendered LTTE cadres or its supporters abroad would be able to revive another group a la the Tigers.
“It is not possible,” Karuna said with an air of authority. “There are no circumstances, no conditions for such a thing to happen. People are fed up with all this violence. There are absolutely no chances of another LTTE coming up.”
Karuna, a native of Batticaloa, joined the LTTE in 1983 and went on to become the commander of the entire eastern province. For years he was seen as a Prabhakaran loyalist. He was a member of the LTTE delegation that held talks with the Sri Lankan government between 2002-03 and was on the side of Prabhakaran when he addressed the media in April 2002.
Karuna blamed Prabhakaran for his death, saying if he had been a better strategist he should have dispersed his forces and senior leaders once the Sri Lankan military went on the offensive from late last year.
“But he did not do that. It shows he was foolish. He must have perhaps thought that somehow the international community would be able to enforce a ceasefire due to the plight of civilians and he would survive…
“Indeed, if he had been a good leader, he would not have insisted on an independent state for so long. He should have known it would never happen. If only he had transformed his military victories into political victories, the Tamils would be holding their heads high today. That did not happen.”
Karuna said he had advised both Prabhakaran and the then LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilchelvam, who was killed in 2007, to understand the global changes and reform the LTTE. But they did not pay heed.
“The problem is some of those close to Prabhakaran had boosted his ego. They made him think he was infallible, that he could never be defeated. He was misled,” Karuna said, recalling the times when he was in the LTTE.
The way forward for the Tamils, Karuna said, was democracy.
“That's the only way. Imagine if we had a good parliamentary bloc, we could have done wonders for the Tamils, even in this dark hour. The TNA is useless,” he said, referring to the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance, the largest Tamil grouping in the 225-seat Sri Lankan parliament.
Karuna said the Tamil community was at a crossroad after the deaths of around 90,000 people since 1983 in the Tamil Eelam struggle. This included some 24,000 LTTE guerrillas.
What did the Tamils gain after all this bloodshed, he was asked. Karuna replied: “Nothing.”