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Col Charles’s Death: Media Coverage & Strategic Implications

by Kasun Ubayasiri

(January 22, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)
On January 6, 2008 Tamilnet reported the death of LTTE's "Head of Military Intelligence" Col Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias Charles (43) in what was described as a "random Claymore attack by Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Unit in Pa'l'lamadu in Mannaar". The report said lieutenants Sivapalan Sreetharan alias Sukanthan from Jeyapuram; Pararajasingham Suthan alias Veeramaravan from Mallaavi; and Sinnaththamby Kangatharan alias Kalaa from Vaddakkachchi were also killed in the blast.

The report said Col. Charles was in charge of internal intelligence within the LTTE and led an external operations corps as well as a regular combat force that has been deployed in Mannaar district. He "was on a mission inspecting his regular forces in Mannaar" at the time of his death, the report said.

It is believed Charles joined the LTTE in December 1985, and participated in number of offensives against the IPKF in Jaffna, initially under Captain Morris’s command in Pt Pedro and later as a military leader in Vadamaraadchii; and for a short period in Ma'nalaa'ru in the Wanni. Later Charles joined LTTE Intelligence and focuses on Tiger attacks on southern targets. According to the LTTE’s own admission he is believed to have played a central role in the Tiger attacks on the Joint Operations Command on June 22, 1991and the Katunayake International Air Port on July 24, 2001. Delivering Charles’s eulogy Sea Tiger Chief Soosai is reported to have said Col Shanmuganathan Ravishankar had been instrumental in developing black sea tiger units capable of attacking southern targets, which were deployed in the LTTE’s attack on SLNS Dahkshina – the southern naval command in Galle on October 18, 2006 .

It is worth noting that Soosai eulogy, reproduced on Tamilnet links Charles to three major ‘offensives’ in the south, two of which are military targets – the JOC and the SLNS Dhakshina. Similerly the Katunayake airport attack also focused more on the neighbouring Air Force base as opposed to the Katunayake International Air Port per-see. In his eulogy Soosaid claims "during 2001 Katunayake Airport attack…was flawlessly executed making sure none of the civilian passengers including foreigners were not [sic] hurt,… the attack proved to the world how effectively he (had) trained the Black Tigers under the guidance of Poddamman (Pottu Amman)"

It is perhaps interesting that neither the Sea Tiger leader’s speech nor Tamilnet’s report made any suggestion of Charles’s involvement in other significant attacks in the south including the Central Bank bomb on January 31, 1996 which killed more than 86 civilians and the Kandy Dalada Maligawa attack on January 25, 1998 which led to the LTTE’s proscription in Sri Lanka. Charles’s connection in these attacks, hinted by Sri Lankan intelligence and various Tamil media sources such as the web-based Asian Tribune and the London based Tamil Broadcasting Corporation, can not be ignored considering his high level involvement in LTTE intelligence between 1991-2004 and his specific involvement in three major attacks in the South between 1991-2006 – a period which includes a number of other LTTE attacks on civilian targets such as the Central Bank and the Dalada Maligawa.

Tamilnet report suggested the killing was the result of a "random Claymore attack by Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Units", the suggested randomness of the attack downplaying the government’s success, the government’s own Daily News was triumphant. Following the Rajapakse government’s official withdrawal from the peace process the Daily News report published on January 7, 2008 openly admitted Col Charles was killed in a Security Forces’ ambush. The Daily News wrote: "The attack is believed to have reverberated into the Wanni heartland causing fear and anxiety among the senior LTTE cadres, at a time where the Security Forces are knocking on the doors to Kilinochchi, defence sources said". Similarly the Hindu reported that the Defence Ministry had confirmed the ambush had been based on "accurate ground information" form the Wanni (The Hindu, January 6, 2008).

Meanwhile the Island newspaper said "although some have identified Charles as Pottu Amman’s deputy, well informed sources said that wasn’t the case." However the Ministry of Defence website – defence.lk, reported he was indeed the Tiger Intelligence chief’s deputy. While the LTTE hierarchy remains somewhat complicated and ambiguous, it can be argued that while Charles may not have been a deputy to the Tiger intelligence Chief in the traditional sense, he as the head of LTTE’s newly formed Military Intelligence wing would have come under the border jurisdictional purview of the LTTE’s Intelligence Chief – Pottu Amman. Perhaps the rank given to Charles at the time of the death is also an indication of this command structure, where Shanmuganathan Ravishankar would have been promoted posthumously to the rank of Colonel from Lieutenant Colonel – the traditional rank of regional commander. Where as Pottu Amman would already hold the rank of Colonel and would be promoted to Brigadier if he was to be killed in combat as was the case with the LTTE’s late political wing leader Suppayya Paramu Tamilchelvan alias Dinesh.

While it would be naïve to assume the LTTE would be crippled by their Military Intelligence leader's death it would be equally ill informed to assume the LTTE would not strategically suffer from his death. Similarly it should be noted that the LTTE would feel Charles's death at this particular juncture more than ever. With the government’s formal withdrawal from the peace talks and continued bombardment of the LTTE controlled parts of the island it can be argued that the LTTE may once again place greater strategic importance on 'terrorist' attack in the south, where Charles’ would have been an invaluable asset with strategic knowledge of government’s defences. The death of a senior LTTE cadre, immediately after the Rajapakse government's official withdrawal from the peace process would bolster the government's credibility in the south and silence the government’s critics, at least in the short term. As for the LTTE it come as another blow to its troop moral just weeks after the death of Tamilchelvan - its highest military casualty in the three decade long war.

(The writer is a PhD researcher in Media and political violence in Queensland University of Technology, Australia.)

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