By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
When a newspaper reported erroneously that Mark Twain had passed away the famous American humourist responded by writing that “reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated”.
[Mark Twain - November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910]
If the one – four base of Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabakharan possessed the ability to respond to recent media reports about its anticipated demise, it is very likely that the “1 – 4 “ too would have echoed Twain , saying the reports were “greatly exaggerated”.
The recent past has seen much media attention being focused on the purported Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) base located in the dense jungles of Mullaitheevu district codenamed “one – four base”.
Multiple media reports have been bombarding us with various details about this infamous base.
We have been told that the 1 – 4 base is where LTTE chief Prabakharan is currently holed up; it is a stationary base constructed during the Indian peace keeping Force period;1 – 4 base got its name because it comprises 14 military camps.
This information is partly correct and partly incorrect thus presenting a garbled, confused picture.
In the frenzied glee surrounding Prabakharan’s imminent capture or downfall a salient factor has been lost sight of.
Will any wanted person supposedly staying at a particular place continue to remain at the same venue after it has been publicly identified and a proclamation to the effect that “ we are coming to get you” has been made?
It need not be the LTTE leader but even a notorious denizen of the underworld.
Will such a person remain in his hiding place after it has been explicitly identified and intention declared that he would be apprehended soon ?.
If anyone imagines that Velupillai Prabakharan will stay put where ever he is for the security forces to come and nab him that can only be dubbed as wishful thinking.
That apart , there seems to be a misconception about the 0ne – four base and its origins. It is misconstrued that it was set ip as a static, permanent one.
This simply is not true.
Historically the one – four base is the one where Prabakharan was.Whichever “base” Prabakharan resided , albeit temporarily , was called the one – four.
The Indian epic “Ramayana” chronicles an incident where Sita Devi the consort of Lord Rama entreats her husband that she too be allowed to accompany him into the wilderness as decreed by his father Dasaratha.
When she is asked to stay in the capital city Ayodhya , Sita Devi replies that to her Ayodhya is where Rama is.
This saying has gone down famously and is often quoted.
Likewise in the annals of the LTTE the one – four base has been the one where “Thalaiver” Praba was.
If Ayodhya is where Rama was then One – four is where Prabha was.
A brief glimpse into LTTE history is necessary to understand how the one – four base concept evolved.
The LTTE is basically a guerrilla movement. It may have acquired certain characteristics of a conventional militia but it is in essence a guerrilla movement.
Among the hallmarks of a guerrilla movement are mobility and evasiveness.
In the early days of the LTTE when it did not control much territory the tigers did not confine themselves to a specific place for long.
They shifted venue frequently.
Thus their locations were not identified geographically.
Instead the camps had codenames and code signs and were known by those.
Thus a camp could move from place to place but be known by the same codename.
Such code names and code signs were essential for wireless communication.
Of all the Tamil militant movements the LTTE was the one which developed wireless communication to a very high level.
This “communication” advantage was used effectively not only to combat the Sri Lankan security forces but also in fratricidal warfare with other Tamil groups like the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). LTTE leader Prabakharan was living in Tamil Nadu in the mid – eighties of the 20th century.. His deputies like Pandithar, Rajesh, Mahathaya, Santhosham, Kittu etc were based in North – Eastern Sri Lanka , carrying out his orders.
Once again communication was of paramount importance in the interaction between the leader in India and his regional commanders in Sri Lanka.
In the early stages each regional and sub – regional base was identified by the nom de guerre of the chief wireless operator.
As time went on this procedure was changed and the main regional bases and sub – regional satellite bases were given specific codenames.
In the LTTE scheme of things Jaffna was given pride of place. Jaffna was numero uno. So it got to be codenamed one.
Wanni took second place and was Two. Other regions followed in similar fashion.
After the death of Pandithar in Jan 1985 , Kitu took over as Jaffna regional commander.
Kittu demarcated Jaffna nto three sectors and appointed sub – regional commanders.
The three sectors were Valigamam, Vadamaratchy and Thenmaratchy respectively.
The Valigamam sector headquarters under Johnny was One – one base; the Vadamaratchy sector headquarters under Soosai was One – two base; the Thenmaratchy sector headquarters under Curdles was One – three base.
Jan 5th 1987 marked a turning point in LTTE history as Velupillai Prabakharan gave Indian authorities the slip and returned clandestinely to Sri Lanka. Since Jaffna was in a semi – liberated state then the LTTE leader stayed in the peninsula moving from place to place frequently.
The communication code assigned to the LTTE leader was one – four because “one – one”, “one – two”, and “one – three” were assigned to the three sectors.
Whichever place the LTTE leader stayed was called one – four base. It was not a static base but something akin to a “floating “ one.
Whether Prabakharan stayed in Ariyalai, Madduvil, Udupiddy or Kokuvil , his specific location in that place was referred to as “one – four” as long as he stayed there.
Ayodhya to Sita was where Rama was. Likewise one – four to the LTTE was where Prabakharan was.
Security wise this arrangement was excellent because the specific locality of where ever the LTTE leader was currently staying was known only to a trusted few. Security personnel intercepting wireless communications would also not know where the One – four base was situated geographically.
This was how the “one – four” originated and became identified with LTTE leader Prabakharan.
The advent of the Indian army in 1987 and subsequent fighting made all plans and procedures of the LTTE go awry.
The LTTE leader and many of his followers re- located to the Northern mainland known as the Wanni.
[Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya, with the IPKF]
With the 132,000 Indian troops entrenching themselves in all areas of the North – East the LTTE in the Wanni was compelled to take cover in the thick jungles or the sparsely populated hamlets adjacent to forests.
After moving from place to place the LTTE leader obtained safety and sanctuary in the Mullaitheevu district jungles bordering those of the Manal aaru/Weli – Oya region.
The earlier code sign for Prabakharan ‘s base was retained in the Wanni too. Wherever he set up base that location was called One – four.
[Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu]
Prabakharan’s personal code sign for wireless communication was Hotel Alpha. Mahathaya’s was Mike Alpha. Kittu’s was Kilo Delta.
The Wanni then was a stronghold of LTTE deputy – leader and Wanni region commander Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya.
It was due to Mahathaya’s aid and assistance that Prabakharan was able to procure refuge and secure safety in the Wanni.
The ingenuity and industry of the LTTE was powerfully demonstrated when tiger cadres constructed a network of tunnels and underground bunkers in the jungles of Nithihaikulam
It is this place that Adele Balasingham describes vividly in her book” The Will to Freedom”.
The base complex in Nithihaikulam was called One – four because Velupillai Prabakharan was resident there at that point of time.
In 1988 the Indian army in a jungle - sweeping operation raided Nithihaikulam and overran the base – complex there.
Prabakharan and cadre had fled the place earlier. It is said that Prabakharan had a narrow escape then as he was forced to take cover for some time in a clump of bushes barely 150 yards away from Indian troops.
In any event the Indian army would not have been able to capture Prabakharan alive as he had given precise instructions to his cadres then about what to do in such an eventuality.
The LTTE leader had a team of 40 bodyguards accompanying him everywhere during that turbulent period of time.
If Prabakharan was injured seriously his bodyguards were instructed to kill him to avoid getting captured alive.
If he was surrounded and capture was imminent then the LTTE leader would have consumed cyanide.
Prabakharan had also given clear instructions about what was to be done after his death.
One of the bodyguards was carrying a can of kerosene with him.
His instructions were to pour the kerosene on Prabakharan’s corpse and set it aflame. Prabakharan was determined to prevent his body being paraded around as a trophy by the Indian army. When the base at Nithihaikulam was raided the Indian media naturally made much of the incident. Pictures of the base with its labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers were widely distributed.
This writer was then shown some pictures by Dr.Subramaniam Jaishankar ,former political counsellor at the Indian High Commission and recalls those impressive images.
Since the Nithihaikulam base was referred to as One – four at the time it was overrun by the Indian army that specific location became identified as 1 – 4.
The full glare of publicity that the incident received had an erroneous yet indelible impact on popular psyche.
Thereafter it became “gospel truth” that the one – four base was permanently situated in Nithihailulam. That impression lingers on still.
Meanwhile Prabakharan survived the IPKF ordeal and the Indian army returned to India and a few months later war erupted between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the tigers.
The LTTE was now in control of the greater part of the Northern Province.
Prabakharan himself moved back to the peninsula from the mainland.
It is learnt that Prabakharan stayed in a number of places in Jaffna during the 1990 – 1995 period. It is said that he shifted frequently to a number of safe houses in the Chundikuli- Eechamoddai- Ariyalai – Colombothurai area then
Wherever he was staying that place was called one – four base.
“Operation Riviresa” in 1995 – 96 saw the LTTE withdrawing from the Peninsula into the Wanni again.
Prabakharan too relocated to the mainland with his family.
When the LTTE relocated to the Wanni during the Indian army period the tigers had to seek safety and security in the jungle areas as the IPKF was stationed in most towns and key junctions and roads.
But this was not the case in the nineties of the previous century as the LTTE was in control of most villages and towns in the Wanni then. Thus there was no need to locate themselves in the jungle areas as in the past.
This did not mean that that the LTTE did not construct military installations in the jungle areas. But the tigers were not confined to jungle bases in large numbers.
The tiger leader Prabakharan did not return to the jungles of Nithihaikulam and set up the One – four base there.
Instead he was living in different places in and around Kilinochchi , Mallavi,Thunukkai, Viswamadhu, Katsilaimadhu , Oddusuddan and Puthukudiyiruppu.
According to informed Tamil sources the “One – four” code sign was used by Prabakharan till about mid – 1999. Thereafter it was changed to something else almost on the eve of “Oyatha Alaigal” series of operations.
Subsequently massive changes were made in many spheres after the “Col” Karuna revolt in 2004.
Almost every code sign, codenames and the communication codes themselves were changed as it was assumed that Karuna would leak information to Colombo.
But Prabakharan had earlier reduced his wireless communication drastically during the Operation Jayasikurui period.
With the security forces monitoring and intercepting LTTE communications through superior technical equipment Prabakharan was not taking any chances.
Almost all communication between Prabakharan and his field commanders during the Jaya sikuri fighting was by word of mouth.
In most instances it was former political commissar Brig. Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan who functioned as “courier” between the frontlines and the generalissimo.
After President Mahinda Rajapakse’s ascension the fighting has intensified and escalated.
Once again Prabakharan has changed all codes, code signs and codenames for security reasons. Even modes of communication have been altered. The LTTE leader faces two dangers from the security forces in his citadel. One is an assassination attempt by special forces termed as deep penetration units by the LTTE. The death of military intelligence chief “Col” Charles is an indicator of this type of danger.
The other risk is de – capitation through aerial bombardment. The death of political commissar Thamilselvan is the best example of this potential danger.
Prabakharan himself has had two narrow escapes from aerial bombardment.
The first was on November 28th 2007 when the place he was staying at Jeyanthi Nagar in Kilinochchi was bombed.
A section of the bunker caved in and Prabakharan sustained minor injuries on his shoulder and back.
This was exclusively reported in the December 16th 2007 issue of our sister paper “The Nation”.
The second narrow shave was on January 23rd 2008. The air force bombed the LTTE underground hospital known as “X – Ray base” in Ambagamam near Iranaimadhu.
An intelligence report had been received that the LTTE leader was there. But the elusive Prabakharan had moved out barely an hour before the attack.
Though Prabakharan escaped both the aerial bombardments the LTTE was rattled because both incidents were near misses.
The LTTE suspected information was being conveyed to Colombo by fifth columnists.
Many tiger cadres were suspected and intensive probes were conducted.
A large number of LTTE men were detained and interrogated by Pottu Amman’s operatives.
Chief among them was Pulithevan the head of the LTTE’s peace secretariat.
It was suspected that Pulithevan had been “turned” by Sri Lankan intelligence when he made several trips to Colombo during the peace process discussions.
Subsequently Pulithevan was exonerated of all charges and has been restored to grace.
Pulithevan made a public appearance on July 14th in Kilinochchi when he participated at a LTTE function to honour field photographers videoing the fighting in Mannar.
Pulithevan lit the lamp and garlanded a picture of former Jaffna commander “Col” Kittu. It was Kittu who pioneered the practice of videoing combat at the frontlines. Taking no chances about security the LTTE radically transformed its behavioural pattern of senior leaders. This was particularly so in the cases of Prabakharan and intelligence chief Pottu Amman.
[Prabakharan and Pottu Amman, on July 5, 2008: pic: puthinam.com]
The past months have seen both adopting a low – key profile avoiding travel or public appearances as far as possible.
Fearing electronic surveliiance through sophisticated equipment there is minimal communication to and from the safehouses lodging Prabakharan.
In keeping with his earlier practice the LTTE supremo moves from place to place each day and avoids sleeping at the same place on successive nights.
The old reference to One – four base has gone out of vogue. The new codes, code signs and codenames are zealously guarded secrets.
It is against this backdrop that a publicity blitz is now on about the One – four base and probable capture of Prabakharan.
The Mullaitheevu district areas of Nithihaikulam, Aandankulam, Semmalai, Alampil, Kumulamunai etc which border the Manal Aaru/Weli Oya region are all of strategis importance to the tigers.
There is no doubt that a number of key LTTE military installations are prevalent there.
If and when the security forces advance deep into tiger territory in Mullaitheevu they will certainly come across these camps and bases.
Some of them will no doubt be of immense military value.
A pointer to the future in this regard was the capture of Michael Base located to the north of Aandaankulam.
It was a two – tiered underground base with well – furnished rooms, water supply and toilet /drainage etc.
Many similar LTTE camps may fall in the days to come.
It would however be a grave blunder to assume that all these camps form part of the old One – four base complex.
Some may be constructed or re-constructed on sites where bases existed earlier. This does not mean they are part of the non – existent One – four base complex.
These are installations to be treated on their own , individual merits rather than being labelled 1 – 4.
The claim that One – four base derived its name due to the existence of 14 related camps is a figment of fertile imagination.
Moreover it would be a monumental mistake to presume that Velupillai Prabakharan would be awaiting advancing soldiers at Nithihaikulam where he stayed in the eighties of the last century when his abode was codenamed “one – Four”
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org