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The Mystery Of Prabhakaran’s Death

A large part of the blame for the cloud of uncertainty over the LTTE supremo’s death lies at the door of a furtive, double-talking Sri Lankan government

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An unmistakable sense of cosmic irony and retribution tinged this year’s protocol arrangements for Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary. Almost to the day, 18 years after the former Indian Prime Minister was blown asunder by an LTTE suicide bomber, came the news — albeit unconfirmed — of the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran who, as chief of the Tamil Tigers, had ordered Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991. Prabhakaran was apparently miffed at Gandhi’s decision to send a “peace-keeping” force into Sri Lanka to enforce an accord India had earlier brokered between Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government.

On the face of it, there should be no quibbling over Prabhakaran’s death. Why should the news seem all that incredulous? The man lived by the sword — rather, by the AK-47 gun — all his adult life; had no compunctions ordering summary executions of people — innocent or otherwise — whom he disliked; was “wanted” on every international criminal-list; and in recent months faced an unusually high-intensity attack from a Sri Lankan Army hell bent on eliminating the entire LTTE cadre, especially its top brass. His sheer bad karma, detractors believe, had long overrun any mortal danger he faced from worldly enemies.

Photo released by the Sri Lankan Army purportedly shows the body of Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. 
Let’s, for a moment, discount any delay in the official announcement of Prabhakaran’s demise. That’s an expected part of how a celebrity death tends to be handled. Whether it’s the passing away of a head-of-state (remember what happened routinely in the erstwhile Soviet Union, and even with Indira Gandhi?) or the death of an industry bigwig (Reliance’s Dhirubhai Ambani) — the official word is notoriously cautious and deliberate, and often equivocal. The cause of death, its combustible repercussions, the succession intrigues are acceptable speed-breakers discouraging forthright off-the-cuff pronouncements.

Let’s also discount the denials of their leader’s death from LTTE voices across the world. The terror-group, or whatever may be left of it, has a high stake in fudging such reports. It needs to sustain the battle morale of surviving members. If the LTTE has indeed come unravelled as an organization, the denials should buy time to dispose of the millions of dollars known to be anted up in its coffers. At the very least, the controversy over Prabhakaran’s death helps his sympathizers and their considerable propaganda machine to further the myth and legend surrounding modern Sri Lankan history’s most colorful brigand-cum-revolutionary.

What remains, in the final analysis, is undeniable and mystifying: The Sri Lankan government has contributed generously to the latest smokescreen of rumors. While his army officers gloated that they had shot and killed Prabhakaran, President Mahinda Rajapakse made a victory speech in parliament without ever mentioning the LTTE or its top boss.

Worse, the army accounts never matched. One said the LTTE honchos — including Prabhakaran — tried to escape the army cordon in a vehicular convoy which was shelled to charred smithereens. This implies burnt remains. But another version had the army stumbling upon his “bullet-ridden” body in the marshy vicinity of the Nanthikadal Lagoon, and proceeded to exhibit to media cameras a bloated, partially discolored corpse with the back of the skull apparently blown off, but otherwise uncharred and without bullet injuries. It was attired in fatigues and carried an LTTE ID-card. Would an escaping war commander carry his ID? The Army is never in a mood for questions.

However, the corpse’s facial features had a marked resemblance to the corpulent Prabhakaran who is the de facto face of the Tamil liberation movement. But the very next day saw the release of another set of video clips, the body this time mud-spattered and naked but for a loin cloth, and the face not particularly recognizable. Sri Lankan efforts to have the “corpse” identified by Prabhakaran’s LTTE comrades came to a credibility naught when it was revealed that they were men who had surrendered to the army (with one of them now holding a ministerial position), and were therefore apt to eagerly endorse the government’s claims. The DNA test results too lacked reliability because, with a reference sample of Prabhakaran’s DNA unavailable, they had to rely on a secondary sample from another corpse suspected to be that of his son.

All of which — without any independent confirmation — has made media giants like the BBC wonder if the showcased corpses were those of look-alike body doubles (Prabhakaran was rumored to have three of them), and prompted the Indian Government to rush two senior envoys to Colombo to procure Prabhakaran’s authentic “death certificate” from the Sri Lankan government so the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case could achieve a closure of sorts in Indian courts.

Makes you wonder, as well. Could a sovereign nation-state with a long-standing membership of the United Nations fumble so badly with such dubious conflicting claims? Or is the Sri Lankan government, coached by top-notch PR firms in Washington DC, up to something more sinister? Is it keeping the international community in a state of confusing disbelief so it can continue its “ethnic cleansing” of thousands of Tamil citizens in the name of a Bush-like War on Terror? After all, providing incontrovertible proof of Prabhakaran’s death would attract the onus of terminating such a “war” and of caring for its innocent victims.


Subscribe to comments feed Comments (2 posted)

sande June 16, 2009 at 7:49 PM
your commentary is pretty good but, please mister understand; did u not listen to the proclamation by the Army Commander that Prabhakaran\'s body was found?
if you read the proclamations of SL government you will see that ever since the end of the war, they have been saying that displaced Tamils need assistance of donors? Ofcourse there are certain problems there, but government never has and never will do ethnic cleansing! The war is over! now is the time to rebuild!!
(and mind you there is nothing ethnic about this at all. Even Sinhalese have mixed blood, due to the geographic position of the country. This was totally political issue and it is being resolved)
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Arunan June 16, 2009 at 12:44 PM
DNA tests with the body of Charles Anthony confirmed it was Prabhakaran. Please keep up with Sri Lanka\'s ministry of Defence website.
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Commentary | Magazine | June 2009

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