|Did Karuna Personally kill "Taraki" Sivaram?
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The brazen abduction and brutal assassination of the well - known journalist Dharmeratnam
Puvirajakeerthi Sivaram who wrote in English and Tamil under the nom de plume " Taraki "
and as DP Sivaram is the latest tragedy in an endless cycle of violence affecting the Tamils of
Sri Lanka. The right to life is the most important of all human rights. Without life no other
rights can be had. This fundamental basis of all other rights has been cruelly denied to many
Tamils in the past years. There seems to be no end in sight to this evil spectre that goes on
devouring the children of the great "Thamil Thai" (Tamil Mother).
Sivaram known to his friends by various names such as "SR", "Siva" and "Ram" had been
enjoying a good drink in amiable company. His companions at the Bambalapitiya restaurant
on that fateful night of April 28th were freelance journalist cum political activist Kusal Perera,
Health Sector trade unionist Ravi Kumudesh and an NGO coordinator Prasanna Ratnayake.It
was 10. 25 pm when the quartet came out of the Bamba waterhole.
Ravi and Prasanna bade good - bye and walked towards the Kollupitiya side saying they
wanted to take a three - wheeler to Borella. Kusal and Siva walked towards the Wellawatte
side talking to each other. The idea was to finish their private discussion and then board a
bus to go home.
Perera and Sivaram were at a bus stand near De Vos avenue when the latter received a
call on his mobile phone. Speaking in Tamil the 46 year old bi - lingual journalist walked a little
ahead while Kusal stayed behind looking out in the opposite direction for a bus. At one point
he saw a Pettah - Panadura bus coming and turned to Sivaram and alert him about the bus.
What he saw unnerved Kusal. A silver - grey Pajeiro inter - cooler was parked on the road
near Sivaram. It was a Toyota SUV with the number plate WPG 11. Kusal could not see the
other digits properly. Two men were trying to push Sivaram into the vehicle. A third man was
standing near the open door. The motor was running with a fourth man at the wheel.
Suddenly they gripped Sivaram from behind and began forcing him to get into the vehicle.
Sivaram was grappling with his abductors. Though they were in civils they exuded an aura of
Kusal Perera says that he saw this scuffle and tried to go near them shouting "Siva" and
"Sivaram". The abductors succeeded in pushing Sivaram into the vehicle. Two men gestured
menacingly at Kusal and got in themselves. Kusal says that he panicked as the vehicle sped
off. The entire abduction occurred right opposite the Bambalapitiya Police station. He then
went home and alerted a number of people about the incident.
Subsequently it was revealed through eyewitnesses that four men had been loitering outside
the restaurant from about 8. 30 onwards. Two men were speaking in Tamil to each other while
the other two spoke in Sinhala. According to an eyewitness one of the men had called
someone in Tamil on his mobile and wanted the " Vaahanam" (vehicle) to be sent. With the
wisdom of hindsight it was realised that the vehicle called for was the one in which Sivaram
was abducted. Since it arrived very quickly it must have been ready and waiting close by.
Upon learning of the abduction Sivaram's wife Yogaranjini also called Bhavani contacted her
brother living in Mattakkuliya and went with him to the Bambalapitiya Police station to lodge a
complaint. Sivarams colleague and friend Rajpal Abeynayake also informed a number of
officials including Army Commander Maj - Gen Shantha Kottegoda who promised to issue an
alert to all military checkpoints.
It was about an hour past midnight when the Talangama Police station received an
anonymous telephone call informing the cops that a body was lying on the bank of Diyawanna
- Oya alongside the Sri Lanka - Japan Friendship Bridge. When the Police went to the spot
near Kimbula - ela junction about 500 metres behind the Sri Jayewardenepura Parliament
they found a dead body lying amidst the shrubs. It was identified later by friends and family to
be that of Sivaram's.
Sivaram was gagged with a dotted serviette and had his hands tied behind his back. He had
been hit with a blunt instrument on the back of his head. This seems to have been done to
prevent his struggling. The brave fighter that he was Sivaram would have obviously resisted
his abductors valiantly and therefore was made unconscious.
Sivaram seems to have been shot at point blank range with a 9 mm browning. One shot had
cleanly entered his neck and chest. The second had penetrated his hand and entered the
body. Contrary to reports in the tiger media there were no signs of torture. Two 9 mm empties
were found near his body. There was very little blood at the scene.
The body was then taken to the Colombo JMO office for a post - mortem. Dr.Jeanne Perera
head of forensic medicine at the Colombo medical faculty conducted it. When the media
contacted her afterwards she declared " there was no torture or assault. I say that
Continuing Dr. Perera said " He (Sivaram) had been given one blow on the back of his head
and then shot twice on his shoulder blade and neck while he lay on the ground. The killing
occurred where the body was found. The swelling on one of his eyes was not the result of a
blow but due to the vibration when the bullets pierced the body".
She also placed the time of death at about 12.30 to 1. 00 pm.
The assassination of "Taraki" Sivaram resulted in severe worldwide condemnation of the
cowardly murder. Among those who issued statements were Prime Minister Mahinda
Rajapakse and Media minister Mangala Samaraweera. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was
conspicuously silent on the killing. The JVP particularly its articulate senior leader Wimal
Weerawansa had launched vicious personal attacks on Sivaram in the recent past. He was
referred to as a tiger terrorist.
One top diplomat who issued a statement of condemnation over the killing was the Japanese
Ambassador Akio Suda. One reason for this was that the Tokyo envoy had been interacting
closely with Sivaram who was scheduled to visit Japan shortly. He was involved in a project
concerning the influence of japan in South Asia with special emphasis on Sri Lanka. By a
coincidence (or deliberate?) his body was dumped near the Lanka - Japan friendship bridge.
Four special teams of Police sleuths are conducting investigations into the killing under the
direction of Senior Superintendent Sarath Lugoda. Over 75 people have been questioned
and have had statements recorded. Media reports state that no "breakthrough" has been
achieved. Given the fact that he was abducted opposite the Bambalapitiya Police station in a
vehicle parked in the vicinity and that his body was discovered in the high security area
surrounding Parliament few people expect the Police to be successful in their mission.
It is widely believed that the last call Sivaram received on his cellular phone was from the
abductors or someone linked to them. It must have been done to distract Sivarams attention
and also to clearly identify him. Besides Sivaram had received four calls and made two calls
while at the restaurant. The mobile can provide a number of clues about possible abductors.
That phone is yet missing.
I have been calling the number 777 - 311 - 380 daily from April 29th onwards. It was off and
silent on 29th and 30th. It was on ringing on May 1st. It was off again on May 2nd and 3rd. It
was on again on May 4th and 5th. The ringtone on the mobile plays lines from a hit song in
Rajnikanth's latest movie " Chandramuhi". It was indeed sad to hear Asha Bhosle sing the
lines "Konja neram, konja neram konjip pesa vendamo" (Can we not kiss and talk for a little
more time). in a melody set by Vidyasagar in Sri Ranjani raga.
The tiger website "Nitharsanam" known for its scurrilous attacks on perceived opponents
came out with a startiling disclosure. It reported that Iniyabharathy a senior deputy of Former
LTTE eastern Commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias "Col" Karuna was one of
the abductors. Within 24 hours Iniyabharathy and a Muslim companion MM Fowzer were
arrested "accidentally" at a check post in Amparai. A random check had found a 9mm
browning and 16 ammunition rounds in the vehicle. They were produced in courts and
remanded till the 14th. Since they belonged to the Karuna faction they are detained for
reasons of safety at the Moneragala prison.
If the sleuths are to make any effective breakthrough it is imperative that they interrogate this
Iniyabharathy intensively. His name has already transpired in many violent incidents in the
Batticaloa - Polonnaruwa district border areas. If the Kumaratunga regime is indeed serious
about finding Sivaram's killers and also about the intra - Tamil violence in the East then this
well - known lieutnenant of Karuna has to be questioned further. If conducted genuinely such
an investigation would be more productive than a Commission of inquiry.
The three companions at Sivaram's last drink also need to be questioned more intensively
along with other patrons and employees at the restaurant at the time. It is obvious that the
abductors knew Sivaram was at the restaurant and were waiting outside for nearly two hours.
They need not have waited that long if their quarry had come out early. Apparently Siva and
the rest had called for their first bill at about 9 pm. But as is customary on these occasions a
decision was taken to prolong the session. If they had come out after the first bill was settled
the abduction need not have been delayed. Now did the abductors have prior knowledge that
the tipplers were going to wind up around 9 pm? is a question needing answers. Another
puzzle is why Kusal Perera did not go to the Police station right opposite immediately and
complain about the incident?
What is disturbing about the incident is the deliberate efforts of the killers to convey a strong
signal. The Tamil media has highlighted two facts. One is that the abduction took place
opposite the Bambalapitiya cop shop and that the abductors had been hanging around the
vicinity without any problem for hours. The second is that the body was dumped in the high
security area around the Kotte Parliament where even a chief and supreme person could not
enjoy a romantic tryst without being noticed. These facts are cited as proof of alleged state
complicity and responsibility.
The point missed however is that these facts were not unintended mistakes but deliberately
designed clues. It was an unstated message delivered to those Tamils supportive of the LTTE
in general and Tamil media circles in particular. The manner in which the exercise was done
creates an impression that agents of the state were responsible. This exactly is the objective
of the perpetrators who want to drive home a point to the Country at large and the Tamil
people in particular. The symbolism of Parliament the seat of power in this supposedly
"Sinhala - Buddhist" state is unmistakable.
A perplexing point is about Sivaram being abducted and killed within two hours. There were
no signs of intensive questioning or torture. If the intention was merely to kill Sivaram quickly
then why take the trouble to abduct him? The killers could have simply shot him dead at
Instead he was taken somewhere and shot. He was then dumped elsewhere. There was very
little blood at the spot where he was found. This could mean that he was shot elsewhere and
brought here in a dying state. Though he died by the banks of Diyawanna - Oya the fatal
wounds that oozed the life out of him could have been fired elsewhere. The 9mm empties
could have been dropped near the body to show that he was killed here. The technical
expertise available to forensics in Sri Lanka may not be state of the art. If that was available a
scientific probe may have established that no shots were fired at the spot.
This then raises the question again - Where was Sivaram taken to be killed? The simple
answer is to the place where his killer was waiting. Who then was the killer? The answer is
someone who could not take the risk of a field trip to kill and had to get his target delivered
safely to his fortress or hideyhole. The Eastern Tamil grapevine is buzzing with the rumour
that Sivaram was killed personally by none other than Karuna himself. The essence of this
version is something like this.
Karuna was angry with Siva for what he termed as "betrayal" by a Batticaloa Tamil. There was
a time when Sivaram was very close to Karuna and encouraged him to establish greater
autonomy for Batticaloa - Amparai within an overall LTTE structure. Sivaram however did not
want the LTTE to split in any way as he felt that would only weaken Tamil nationalism. When
Karuna revolted and insisted on going his separate way Sivaram opposed the move. He threw
in his lot with the mainstream LTTE.
At a time when most Eastern Tamils were tacitly sympathetic to Karuna it was Sivaram who
courageously defied Karuna. This counterpoint to regionalism coming from an authentic
Batticaloa Tamil whose territorial credentials were exemplary came as a boon to the
beleaguered LTTE. Sivaram systematically exposed, criticised, ridiculed and challenged
Karuna. It was Sivaram who revealed the fact that Karuna had floated a company in his wifes
and father in laws name with a capital of 25 million rupees on March 8th exactly five days after
his "open" rebellion. Karuna was exposed clearly as a charlatan.
When Karuna withdrew from Batticaloa Sivaram mocked him comparing him to Ravana
retreating from the battle - field. Sivaram also stated publicly that he was roaming about
Batticaloa without fear from Valaichenai to Thuraineelavanai . He said that people were
warning him about Karuna but that he was unafraid. Siva said proudly that he was not going
to be chased by anyone from his native land and practically dared Karuna to come and get
him. Sivarams involvement in "Tamilnet" which reported the Kottawa massacre even before
the Police knew about it was also a controversial point.
According to knowledgeable Eastern Tamil sources Karuna had made a vow that Sivaram was
his mortal enemy and that he himself will kill him personally. Karuna apparently asked his
minions in Batticaloa not to harm Sivaram as Taraki had to die "endai Kaiyaale" (by my
hand). Karuna had returned to Sri Lanka after leaving his family abroad safely. He remained
protected in the South and directed operations in the East. Despite denials it is known that he
was being "looked after" by a special wing of the Sri Lankan intelligence establishment.
Karuna's handlers had denied permission for the killing of Sivaram in Colombo for a long time.
Had it been done earlier the task would have been easy as Sivaram travelled about openly in
buses. In a sense he was unafraid of death being ready to face Yaman at any time. Karunas
opportunity came when Police Intelligence specialist Inspector Jeyaratnam went "missing". It
was suspected that the tigers were responsible. There was much resentment within the rank
and file leading to a situation where a demonstration was held in Colombo.
The powers that be decided that some "symbolic" action had to be taken to contain this
simmering discontent. Sivaram already maligned by the likes of Wimal Weerawansa as a
"tiger in Colombo" became the selected target. There was a willing catspaw - Karuna. It was
decided that the killing should be done by Karuna and co with logistical support by the
"intelligence". Karuna's only condition could have been that he be allowed to kill Sivaram
personally and fulfil his vow. This could have been adhered to and Sivaram instead of being
killed at Bambalapitiya was abducted and brought to Karuna to be killed.
It appears that the LTTE is to some extent aware of this. The tigers have accused the state
intelligence and some Tamil groups of having collaborated in the assassination. If the Police
sleuths are serious then this is the line of inquiry they should follow. Realistically that does not
seem possible and it is only a matter of time before this murder too is added to the ever
increasing list of unsolved murders.
As far as the Tamil people are concerned the story of Karuna killing Sivaram personally will
become an "open secret". The LTTE will not say so publicly for fear of demoralising the Tamil
media and giving Karuna negative credit. Karuna and company will not claim it openly as it
would cause revulsion among supporters .
The greater danger is whether Sivaram's murder is actually a strong , single signal or a
forerunner of more killings to come. The rumour that a powerful minister in Kumaratunga's
cabinet and an influential Parliamentarian in Government ranks are "connected" to this
special intelligence unit and gave the green light for Taraki's murder is frightening. The
"unofficial" sanctioning of "official" state terror is a development that needs to be deplored
strongly. Only International pressure can help to prevent state terror being unleashed again.