Prabhakaran in November 2006
|Native name||வேலுப்பிள்ளை பிரபாகரன்|
November 26, 1954|
Valvettithurai, Dominion of Ceylon
|Died||May 19, 2009
Nanthikadal lagoon, Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka
Cause of death
|Killed in a decisive operation by SASF on 18 May 2009 |
|Occupation||Founder & Leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) movement in Sri Lanka.|
|Spouse(s)||Mathivathani Erambu (1984–2009) †|
|Children||Charles Anthony (1989–2009) †
Duvaraga (1986–2009) †
Balachandran (1997–2009) †
|Part of a series on|
|Sri Lankan Tamils|
Thiruvenkadam Velupillai Prabhakaran ( listen (Tamil: வேலுப்பிள்ளை பிரபாகரன்; November 26, 1954 – May 18, 2009) was the founder and leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers), a militant organization that sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka. For over 25 years, the LTTE waged a violent secessionist campaign in Sri Lanka that led to it being designated a terrorist organization by 32 countries. Founded in 1976, the LTTE rocketed to prominence in 1983 after they ambushed a patrol of the Sri Lanka Army outside Jaffna, resulting in the deaths of 13 soldiers. This ambush, along with the subsequent rioting which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Tamil civilians, is generally considered the start of the Sri Lankan Civil War. After years of fighting, including the unsuccessful intervention of the Indian Army, the conflict was halted after international mediation in 2001. By then, the Tamil Tigers controlled large swathes of land in the north and east of the country, running virtually a mini-state with Prabhakaran serving as its unquestioned leader. Peace talks eventually broke down, and the Sri Lanka Army launched a military campaign to defeat the Tamil Tigers in 2006. Prabhakaran was killed in fighting with the Army on May 18, 2009. It was alleged that his 12-year old son was executed a short time later. His death brought an immediate end to the Civil War.
Velupillai Prabhakaran was born in the northern coastal town of Valvettithurai on November 26, 1954, as the youngest of four children  to Thiruvenkadam Velupillai and his wife Vallipuram Parvathy. Thiruvenkadam Velupillai was the District land Officer in the Ceylon Government Angered by what he saw as discrimination against Tamil people by successive Sri Lankan governments, he joined the student group TIP during the standardization debates. In 1972 Prabhakaran founded the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) which was a successor to many earlier organizations that protested against the post-colonial political direction of the country, in which the minority Sri Lankan Tamils were pitted against the majority Sinhalese people.
In 1975, after becoming heavily involved in the Tamil movement, he carried out the first major political murder by a Tamil group, assassinating the mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah, by shooting him at point-blank range when he was about to enter the Hindu temple at Ponnaalai. The assassination was in response to the 1974 Tamil conference incident, for which the Tamil radicals had blamed Duraiappah, because he backed the then ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
Founding of the LTTE
In the early 1970s, United Front government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike introduced the Policy of standardization to rectify the low numbers of Sinhalese being accepted into university in Sri Lanka. A student named Satiyaseelan formed Tamil Manavar Peravai (Tamil Students League) to counter this biased move. This group comprised Tamil youth who advocated the rights of students to have fair enrollment. Inspired by the failed 1971 insurrection of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, it was the first Tamil insurgent group of its kind. It consisted of around 40 Tamil youth, including Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran (later, the leader of the Sivakumaran group), K. Pathmanaba (one of the founder members of EROS) and Velupillai Prabhakaran, an 19 years old youth from single caste oriented Valvettithurai (VVT). In 1972, Prabhakaran teamed up with Chetti Thanabalasingam, Jaffna to form the Tamil New Tigers (TNT), with Thanabalasingham as its leader. After he was killed, Prabhakaran took over. At the same time, Nadarajah Thangathurai and Selvarajah Yogachandran (better known by his nom de guerre Kuttimani) were also involved in discussions about an insurgency. They would later (in 1979) create a separate organization named Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) to campaign for the establishment of an independent Tamil Eelam. These groups, along with another prominent figure of the armed struggle, Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran, were involved in several hit-and-run operations against pro-government Tamil politicians, Sri Lanka Police and civil administration during the early 1970s. These attacks included throwing bombs at the residence and the car of SLFP Jaffna Mayor, Alfred Duraiyappah, placing a bomb at a carnival held in the stadium of Jaffna city (now "Duraiyappah stadium") and Neervely bank robbery. 1974 Tamil conference incident also sparked the anger of these militant groups. Both Sivakumaran and Prabhakaran attempted to assassinate Duraiyappah in revenge for the incident. Sivakumaran committed suicide on 5 June 1974 to evade capture by Police. But on 27 July 1975, Prabhakaran was able to assassinate Duraiyappah, who was branded as a "traitor" by TULF and the insurgents alike. Prabhakaran himself shot and killed the Mayor when he was visiting the Krishnan temple at Ponnalai
Religion was not a major factor in his philosophy or ideology, indeed the ideology of the Tamil Tigers emerged from Marxist-Leninist thought, and was explicitly secular. Its leadership professed opposition to religion. Their focus was on a single-minded approach toward the attainment of an independent Tamil Eelam.
Prabhakaran's first and only major press conference was held in Killinochchi on April 10, 2002. It was reported that more than 200 journalists from the local and foreign media attended this event and they had to go through a 10-hour security screening before the event in which Anton Balasingham introduced the LTTE leader as the "President and Prime minister of Tamil Eelam."
A number of questions were asked about LTTE's commitment towards the erstwhile peace process and Prabhakaran and Dr. Anton Balasingham jointly answered the questions.
Repeated questions of his involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination were only answered in a sober note by both Balasingham and Prabhakaran. They called it a "tragic incident" ("Thunbiyal Chambavam", as quoted in Tamil) they requested the press "not to dig into an incident that happened 10 years ago."
During the interview he stated that the right condition has not risen to give up the demand of Tamil Eelam. He further mentioned that "There are three fundamentals. That is Tamil homeland, Tamil nationality and Tamil right to self-determination. These are the fundamental demands of the Tamil people. Once these demands are accepted or a political solution is put forward by recognising these three fundamentals and our people are satisfied with the solutions we will consider giving up the demand for Eelam." He further added that Tamil Eelam was not only the demand of the LTTE but also the demand of the Tamil people.
Prabhakaran also answered a number of questions in which he reaffirmed their commitment towards peace process, quoted "We are sincerely committed to the peace process. It is because we are sincerely committed to peace that we continued a four month cessation of hostilities" was also firm in de-proscription of the LTTE by Sri Lanka and India, "We want the government of India to lift the ban on the LTTE. We will raise the issue at the appropriate time."
Prabhakaran also insisted firmly that only de-proscription would bring forth an amenable solution to the ongoing peace process mediated by Norway: "We have informed the government, we have told the Norwegians that de-proscription is a necessary condition for the commencements of talks."
Philosophy and ideology
Prabhakaran was fascinated by Napoleon and Alexander the Great. He was also highly influenced by prominent Indian nationalists Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh who fought the British Empire. Prabhakaran never developed a systematic philosophy, but did declare that his goal was 'Revolutionary socialism and the creation of an egalitarian society'. He joined the Tamil nationalist movement in his youth and quickly established himself as a strong-willed militant leader by founding the LTTE. His rare interviews, his annual Tamil Eelam Heroes Day speeches and the policies and actions of the LTTE can be taken as indicators of Prabhakaran’s philosophy and ideology. The following are important areas when considering the philosophy and ideology of Prabhakaran.
Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism
Prabhakaran’s source of inspiration and direction was Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. His stated and ultimate ideal was to get Tamil Eelam recognised as a nation as per the U.N. Charter that guarantees the right of a people to political independence. The LTTE also proposed the formation of an Interim Self Governing Authority during Peace Negotiations in 2003. Former Tamil guerrilla and politician Dharmalingam Sithadthan has remarked that Prabhakaran's "dedication to the cause of the Tamil Eelam was unquestionable, he was the only man in Sri Lanka who could decide if there should be war or peace." Prabhakaran was also called "Karikalan" for his bravery and his administration (in reference to Karikala Chola, a famous Chola king who ruled in Sangam Age.)
Militarism of the LTTE
Prabhakaran explicitly stated that an armed struggle is the only way to resist asymmetric warfare, in which one side, that of the Sri Lankan government, is armed and the other comparatively unarmed. He argued that he chose military means only after observing that non–violent means have been ineffectual and obsolete, especially after the Thileepan incident. Thileepan, a colonel rank officer adopted Gandhian means to protest against the IPKF killings by staging a fast unto death from September 15, 1987, and by abstaining from food or water till 26 September, when he died in front of thousands of Tamils who had come there to fast along with him. This further strengthened Prabhakaran's resolve that peaceful protests would either be ignored or crushed but never heard.
Tactically, Prabhakaran perfected the recruitment and use of suicide bomber units. His fighters usually took no prisoners and were notorious for assaults that often left every single enemy soldier dead. Interpol described him as someone who was "very alert, known to use disguise and capable of handling sophisticated weaponry and explosives."
When the Sri Lankan military rapidly advanced into the last LTTE held territory in the final days of 2008–2009 SLA Northern offensive, Prabhakaran and his top leadership retreated into Vellamullivaikkal, Mullaitivu. Fierce fighting occurred between LTTE and Sri Lanka Army during these last few days. At around 3:00 a.m. on 18 May 2009, Prabhakaran's son Charles Anthony tried to break the defenses of the Army, but was unsuccessful. He died along with around 100 other LTTE cadres. Troops found 12 million rupees in his possession. By the noon of that day, reports emerged that Prabhakaran was killed by a rocket attack while trying to flee the conflict zone in a captured ambulance and his body was badly burned. But this rumor was proven false in a short while. Skirmishes occurred also in the evening of 18 May around eastern bank of Nandikadal lagoon. A team of LTTE cadres consisting of 30 most loyal bodyguards of Prabhakaran and Prabhakaran himself tried to sneak through the mangrove islands of Nandikadal to its west bank. It has been alleged that one bodyguard had a can of gasoline with him to burn the Tiger leader’s body if ever he was killed or committed suicide. This was to prevent the enemy seizing his body. Clearing and mopping-up operations were carried out by troops under Colonel G. V. Ravipriya from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm that evening. But they did not encounter this last group of LTTE fighters that day. At 7:30 am next morning, mopping-up operations started again. This time, they were confronted by the fighters, led by Prabhakaran himself. Fighting went on till 9.30 am May 19, 2009. The firing stopped as all LTTE fighters died in the battle. Troops started collecting bodies again. This time, Sergeant Muthu Banda, attached to Sri Lanka Army Task Force VIII, reported to its commander, Colonel G. V. Ravipriya, that a body similar to Velupillai Prabhakaran had been found. After the body, which was floating among the mangroves, was brought ashore, Colonel Ravipriya positively identified it as that of the leader of the LTTE. A dog tag marked 001, two pistols, a T56 rifle with telescopic sight, a satellite phone, and a canister filled with diabetic medicine were found along with the body.
At 12:15 pm army commander Sarath Fonseka officially announced Prabhakaran's death on TV. At around 1:00 pm his body was shown in Swarnavahini for the first time. Prabakaran's identity was confirmed by Karuna Amman, his former confidant, and through DNA testing against genetic material from his son, who had been killed earlier by the Sri Lankan military. Circumstantial evidence suggested that his death was caused by massive head trauma, perhaps due to a shot at close range. There are also allegations that he was executed, a claim vehemently denied by Sri Lankan authorities. A week later, the new Tamil Tiger leader, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, admitted that Prabhakaran was dead.
Velupillai Prabhakaran has been wanted by Interpol and many other organizations since 1991 for terrorism, murder, organized crime and terrorism conspiracy. He has been issued an arrest warrant by the Madras High Court in India for plotting the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May, 1991 and in 2002 Judge Ambepitiya issued an open warrant to arrest him in connection with the 1996 Central Bank Bombing.[original research?] The judge found him guilty on 51 counts and sentenced him to years in prison.
The Asian Tribune has reported that Prabhakaran was married to Mathivathani Erambu on October 1, 1984. and she, along with their mother, their daughter (Duvaraga) and two sons, Charles Anthony and Balachandran were not in Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka military sources stated that they had recovered the corpse of Charles Anthony.[not in citation given] A senior Sri Lankan minister later informed that the Sri Lanka Army had also found the bodies of Prabhakaran's younger son Balachandran, wife Mathivathani, and his daughter Duvaraga.[not in citation given] However, the military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara later stated that there was no information about the whereabouts of the remaining members of the Prabhakaran's family. “We have not found their bodies and have no information about them,” he said. However, it is thought that the entire Prabhakaran family has been wiped out; the bodies of Madhivadhany, Duvaraga and Balachandran reportedly were found in a bushy patch about 600 meters away from where Prabhakaran’s body was found. It is now believed that his 12 year old son was executed.
Velupillai Prabhakaran's parents, Thiruvenkadam Velupillai and Parvathi, both in their 70s, were found in the Menik Farm camp for displaced people near the town of Vavuniya. The Sri Lankan military and the government gave public assurances that they would not be interrogated, harmed or ill treated. Prabhakaran has a sister named Vinodini Rajendaran.
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- United States Pacific Command Assessment of Prabhakaran
- BBC Profile – The enigma of Prabhakaran
- BBC News Report – Reclusive Tamil rebel leader faces public (2002)
- The Pirabaharan Phenomenon
- Final Showdown for Tamil Tiger Chief Prabhakaran The Times of India, April 23, 2009
- Claims of Massacre as Tamil Tiger Leaders Die by Robert Bosleigh, The Times, May 19, 2009
Interviews and speeches
- Veluppillai Prabhakaran's interviews at the Wayback Machine (archived October 24, 2007)
- A short assorted list of his interviews at the Wayback Machine (archived August 22, 2008)
- Prabakaran in First Person – T.S. Subramanian – April 2002 – Press Meet