Pirapāharan the Megalomaniac: Stephen Champion’s Reading from 2007

A Composite Collection

Michael Roberts: An Introductory Note, 30 April 2020

In early April this year 2020 I came across new data – or rather, information which had bypassed me earlier – garnered by DBS Jeyaraj via his exchanges with KP Pathmanāthan[1] in KP’s capacity as the head of the international arm of the LTTE from 31 December 2008.[2] This data confirmed and elaborated on the processes of Western imperialistic intervention in Sri Lanka in 2009 as the LTTE slid to defeat.

This set of events had been outlined previously in numerous studies, including several essays by myself. It was known that

A: from mid-2008 the LTTE and its widespread propaganda arms had begun to build up an alarming picture of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe;”[3] and …..

B: towards this end cajoled and pressed its civilian population to retreat from west to east within the Vanni arena which was Thamililam – the logic here being pithily and callously summed up in political commissar Pulidevan’s comment that “just as in Kosovo if enough people die the world would be forced to step in.”[4]

1a-3-82-united-nations-sri-lanka-facebook

KP after his rendition to Sri Lanka & Pulidevan

C:  ….. and that KP had assembled the Norwegian ambassador in Lanka, Torre Hattrem, two senior Norwegian diplomats and two Tamil Tiger leaders on the world stage at Kuala Lumpur in February 2009 in order to plot an intervention that would (1) enable them to whisk the LTTE leaders to Eritrea, East Timor or South Africa;[5] and (2) “rescue” the civilians.[6] We can safely speculate that Erik Solheim had a hand in these measures and may even have been the mastermind — though Hattrem was clearly forceful in his advocacy at Kuala Lumpur.

  Torre Hattrem Solheim with Prabha & Thamil Chelvam several years prior to 2009

D: ….  and that a recce group from the American Pacific Air Command was inserted into the island at the same time in order to assess the military paths towards such imperious interventions. Information on this event has been extraordinarily difficult to obtain, but Commodore Kishan Yahampath indicated that an US Air Force plane did land at Katunayake (date ???) and a Skype chat with retired AP journalist Bryson Hull yielded critical information: he was summoned th the US Embassy as soon as he received a whisper about this event and discovered that the recce team was cautioned by the shambolic USA’s Black Hawk intervention in Somalia and reached the conclusion that the circumstances in Sri Lanka amounted to “a non-permissible operation” (or words to that effect).

The ‘new’ information from KP has now revealed to us all that Hattrem (and thus the West tout court) had a clear perception of the unfolding battlefield situation: the Sri Lankan forces were on top and LTTE‘s defeat was inevitable. However, Pirapäharan’s megalomania and determination did not enable him to accept the Western plan.[7] Then, somewhat later, as the LTTE’s counter attack programme was comprehensively swamped by the Sri Lankan forces,[8] KP had drawn up another ingenious plan involving “a lock-out” of Tiger weaponry in conjunction with a “a sea-directed civilian rescue mission”[9] – deploying terminology in step with the thinking of the “Co-Chairs” within Sri Lanka who were overseeing the humanitarian relief supplies that were being sent to the Tamil people in their trapped situation in conjunction with the Sri Lankan government.[10]

But …. ah, true to character …. Pirapāharan rejected the idea. The talaivar, el Supremo Pirapāharan, would not countenance defeat. He would fight on.

These then were the revealing embellishments that I presented in my two articles in April 2020 – consolidating stacks of data presented previously in numerous articles (mine and others).

Lo and behold! Out of the blue, I received two email communications from Stephen Champion which strongly endorsed the thrusts within my articles. Since I have one of Champion’s photographic books on the horrific killings of the 1980s, I had some inkling of his background, Moreover, when I presented a seminar at the ICES in Kandy in August last year,[11] Champion was in the audience and raised a question. I had secured his email address afterwards, but we did not chat at length. I also assumed that the email lines he had sent me now in April were despatched from England.

Two snaps taken by Champion when in Thamililam in 2007  

Be that as it may, his endorsement of my contentions was manna from heaven – in part because he was a foreigner and thus less likely to be blind Sri Lankan patriot and in part because the contents of his email notes revealed that he had visited Pirapāharan country in 2007 and discerned sotto voice threads of concern within the Tamil citizens of Thamililam about Pirapāharan’s megalomania.

To underline by repetition: the talaivar’s megalomania.

Wow! That line of ethnographic data from Champion’s experiences is of vital import. It is presented here in my exchanges with Stephen. But let me also note that it has been the emails sent by Champion that set me off seeking more information on the bloke…. and, thus, to present one find, the BBC report in July 2008 on his photographic exhibition with the auspices of Amnesty International.[12] This item, as some of you know, has spawned other lively exchanges.[13]

Since then I have discovered that Champion is marooned in a house at Nittawella in Kandy, while his wife, a lady from Kurunegala, is facing covid and its lockdown in London with the help of the Champion family in UK. So, I can now promise more information from Stephen Champion because we are in speaking distance and in regular touch.

Stephen Champion to Michael Roberts, Email ONE, 8 April 2020

Thank you, Michael, … good account. Prabhakaran, according to those addressing the media in Kilinochchi as early as 2006, i.e. Daya Master and the like, he was already seen to be absolutely uncompromising

He had all but lost his rationale and was the bund of countless sarcastic innuendos and jokes as he propelled his ‘Supreme Leader’ authority. I think this is the way it might be remembered; the leader was pretty much insane way back then, but around him people were quietly cursing him, even if it was dangerous then to do so. They saw the tragedy unfolding, but he was a relentless ego maniac and well defended by his inner core of equally compromised killers. 

Well done DBS Jeyaraj for the story. And well done in your relentless search for truth and your understanding of this long tragedy.

Best Wishes. Stephen.

Michael Roberts-to-Champion, 9 April 2020

Thanks Stephen. knowing your independent perspectives this NOTE is highly valued.

Query: this assessment of VP …. were you at Kili in April 2002 and what are your sources for the overview?

PS: Coming from you the praise is deeply meaningful …. and elevating.

First though – it will be useful if you can pen a short Memo of your ethnographic exchanges with Daya Master and others – displaying the underside within the Tiger circle …. [and] … ending with your assessment of the SUPREMO.

Michael

Stephen Champion to Michael Roberts, Email TWO, 9 April 2020

Dear Michael,

See https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/anton-balasingham-predicted-a-bloody-end-for-the-ltte/

I think this assessment by Mr Shanmugathas is pretty much the way I came to understand the unfolding end. I met Mr Balasingham a year or so before his death for the first time. He was very unwell. His eyes were full of regret, he was sad and he knew he had lost control of Prabhakaran. He knew that if decisions were left solely to the ’Supreme Warlord’, there would be no political agreement and the war would end militarily. He knew he had no longer reasonable health and was powerless. This feeling too was reflected by quite a number of Tamil people and some LTTE in the North and there was a helplessness. 

It is worth noting that those who had been forcefully recruited by the LTTE were more likely to hold tight their reservations of the leader’s actions, while those who had been ‘brainwashed’ would support the leader until death. And when I mean ‘brainwashed’ that is how some of them appeared; like they were using a very potent chemical drug, there was a madness within.

There were other young cadres who were there, just frightened kids really, caught between a rock and a hard place, they were simply following orders and careful not to show any dissent, lest they be executed.

Whenever I visited the North, right up to my last visit in 2007, these were the fears that I heard. 

Jaffna folk and LTTE spokespeople alike often quietly spoke of the realities, so convinced they were that all would end in a pool of blood. 

Prabhakaran was the problem, yet if I think of other scenarios, for instance had Prabhakaran been assassinated in those early days for instance … I’m left with the feeling that some other equally brutal underling would have carried on the violent struggle. And what if Prabhakaran and others had survived or fled the island, would the war still be here today?

I’m of the opinion that had they not been militarily defeated then quite possibly we may still have had terrorist attacks today. The biggest bomb generally wins the war.

I have always been fiercely independent and meagrely self-funded, but even with that my work has at times been used outside of my control. But that is imagery and technology for you. And I have only ever been analogue/film! These days of course i’m pretty much retired, no longer able to carry the cost of film photography, with Osteoporosis that has set in which makes me much less mobile and yet…

a book is in the making. It is titled: Champion Lane’, and it documents the changing landscape and people of SL over the last 35 years. It’s both my favourite work and a collection that has barely been seen. I have included the cover picture at the end of this, its off the KKS road!

For several decades I have ended on one note, “There is no such thing as a ‘War Crime’. War is the crime.”

I have repeated that many, many times. I have rebuffed imperialist influence in the memories of colonialism, which was most foul, the British in India and Ceylon and many other places, the nuclear bombing of Japan, Winston Churchill’s ‘bomb flattening’ of Dresden and other parts of Germany after the surrender…Iraq. Libya, Syria and so on throughout history. To me the International community had no right to try and control Sri Lanka’s path, given their awful track records and to call in ‘accountability’ was very hypocritical. At the same time organisations like AI and several others had become so ‘corporate’ and awash with huge salaries and donations (tax deductible) that it became a circus.

I know this as I had known Amnesty since it’s early days in a tiny little office in Islington, just a few volunteers and then led by Martin Ennals, for whom i had a good deal of respect. He resigned in 1991 and died shortly after.

The organisation was founded in the 1960’s and had 7 staff members and a budget of £17000. By the time he resigned there were 150 staff members and a £2 million budget. Goodness knows what the budget is now but it perhaps got way to big as did the six figure salaries. Professionally they were doing most research and assignments ‘in house’ which i thought was unprofessional and through the 1990’s and 2000’s those feelings were only compounded by other professionals who had felt undermined.

All best, ……………. Stephen

Roberts to Champion, 9 April 2020 

Can I push you to rework your thoughts into an account with some dates and some indications of the TYPE OF persons you met [age sex, etc] in Thamililam ……VERY valuable readings, YOURS.

PS: I visited JP and then Kili during maaveerar week in Nov 2004 …. A very important experience.

***** *****

BIBLIOGRAPHY

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009 “The Battle for the Vanni Pocket,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, Vol. 35/2, pp. 17-19 — http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/aulimp/citations/gsa/2009_157395/ 156554.html

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead. Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War, London: Portobello Books.

Francis Harrison on air

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009a “Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior,” 4 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/5381

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009b “Anatomy of the LTTE Military Debacle at Aananthapuram,” Sunday Leader, 8 April 2012, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/08/anatomy-of-the-ltte-military-debacle-at-aananthapuram/

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2011 “KP’ Speaks Out. An Interview with Former Tiger Chief, Vavuniya: Nerdo.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S 2012 “An Interview with Ex-LTTE Chief “KP” – Part 2,” http://www.dailymirror.lk/23730/tech

Jeyaraj, D. B. S 2020 “Rescuing the Tigers in 2009: KP, Norway, and the West,” 8 April 2020, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/rescuing-the-tigers-in-2009-kp-norway-and-the-west/#more-41599 …. Originally presented in 2012(?).

Peiris, Gerald 2020 “On Stephen Champion’s collCboration with Amnesty International in 2008,” 28 April 2020, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2020/04/28/on-stephen-champions-collaboration-with-amnesty-international-in-2008/#more-42029

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014,  http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 6 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Roberts, Michael 2017 “The LTTE Debacle at Aanandapuram, April 2009,” 5 November 2017,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/the-ltte-debacle-at-aanandapuram-april-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2018 “Where USA sought to arm-wrestle Sri Lanka in March-April-May 2009,” 11 May 2018,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/05/11/where-usa-sought-to-arm-wrestle-sri-lanka-in-march-april-may-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2020 “Reading Stephen Champion’s Photo-event …. Today 2020,” 28 April 2020, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2020/04/28/reading-stephen-champions-photo-event-in-2008-today-2020/#more-42012

Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War. Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, London: Hurst & Company.

END NOTES

[1] KP Pathmanāthan is a Karaiyar from VVT in Jaffna like Pirapāharan and was the latter’s best man at his marriage ceremony in Tamilnadu in the 1980s, He was placed in charge of the international operations of the LTTE from about then. Thailand seems to have been KP’s base of operations. The displacement of KP from this role in 2001 may have contributed to the outfit’s decline.

[2] After the strategic town of Paranthan was captured by the SL Army in late December 2008 the Tiger command knew it had to abandon Kilinochchi and it was at this late stage that the Supremo contacted KP and asked him to help save the LTTE’s thosai.

[3] See Roberts, “Generating Calamity …,” 2014.

[4] This line was conveyed on the phone to a friend in Europe in early 2009 and has been (foolishly) revealed to the world by a voice that was wholly supportive of the LTTE in 2009 as well as subsequently: namely, Harrison 2012: 63.

frances-h-plus

[5] In speculation I have little doubt that Eritrea was the Tiger and KP’s preference. Eritrea had been one of the sources of arms in the 1980s when the LTTE wished to break free of dependence on India and its RAW agency; while its ingenious development of an air force wing was also aided by Eritrean help.

[6] This event is related at different sites: see Roberts, 2020; Salter 2015: 123 & 348-49, 354; Roberts 2014. I still have no date for the meeting at Kuala Lumpur and Salter’s dissimulation is patent. The US recce team may have visited Sri Lanka before this event. The two Global Tamil Forum representatives were Rudrakumaran from USA and Jay Maheswaran from Sydney.

[7] The LTTE seems to have adhered to the principle that attack was the best means of defence. This policy had reaped rich dividends during Eelam War III when the GoSL forces were led by incompetent generals. A remarkable counterattack in early February 2009 generated good results (see De Silva-Ranasinghe 2009), but the SL Army of 2008/09 was of different mettle and had greater numbers, so the eventual outcome of the war was starkly evident.

[8] The reference here is to what Jeyaraj has called the “Battle of Aanandapuram” – occurring in early April 2009 — when Tiger forces assembling for attack were swamped by superior SL Army forces and heavy bombardment [in an area without civilian encampments]. See Jeyaraj 2009a and 2009b.

[9] Salter 2015: 348=49, 354 and Roberts 2018. Also see Gamage 2014.

[10] I am not sure how many observers abroad are aware that throughout Eelam War IV the GoSL paid the salaries of Tamil government servants within Thamililam, while also sending stocks of essential supplies via UN vehicles — with this work being organised at regular meetings of the “Co-Chairs” with Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.

[11] The seminar was held on the 8th August 2019 and entitled “Learning about the Tigers ….. from the Tigers, 2009-2004”.

[12] See Pathirana 2020.

[13] Peiris 2020; Richardson 2020 and Roberts 2020.

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Filed under accountability, american imperialism, anton balasingham, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, conspiracies, disparagement, Eelam, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, photography, politIcal discourse, power sharing, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, trauma, unusual people, vengeance, war reportage, world events & processes

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