5. The Sooriyamoorthy Assassination
The LTTE takes great pains to paint all its victims as paramilitaries of some sort. Take the case of Mr.P. Sooriyamoorthy, the highly respected former mayor of Trincomalee and father of five children, who contested the parliamentary elections in Jaffna in April 2004 on Mr. Anandasangary’s party list. As mayor, the Government gave into Sinhalese extremist sentiment in preventing him from opening the new market he built for Trincomalee. He also earned the appreciation of Tamil passengers who had to travel by ship to Jaffna in the latter 1990s by arranging rest facilities for them.
Until he died Sooriyamoorthy was a frequent caller at Mr. Anandasangary’s home in Colombo where he used to help with office work. Though warned by friends, he did not take the LTTE threat seriously enough as it had no pretext for branding him a traitor. The controversy over the overnight erection of a new Buddha statue led to tension and a shutdown of Trincomalee on Tuesday 17th May. In the evening of the very next day, Sooriyamoorthy was shot at his home and injured. He was airlifted to Colombo for emergency surgery and died a week later as the shooting had damaged his liver.
On the very day Sooriyamoorthy was shot, “Nitharsanam” with close links to LTTE intelligence announced that he had been attacked by government, majoritarian Buddhist fanatics. This was initially believed even by persons close to Sooriyamoorthy. But there were witnesses who could testify to the contrary – relatives and neighbors who saw and heard the assault. It soon got out that
four young men on motor cycles had arrived at his house on the night of the attack, and asked him to come with them to discuss a business deal. Sooriyamoorthy was reportedly suspicious and refused. When his assailants tried to physically force him outside, there was a struggle.. The killers panicked, shot him in the abdomen and thigh and ran away, leaving him injured. The hero supposedly killed by Sinhalese fanatics became an embarrassment to the LTTE. When he died there were tell-tale virtual admissions by the killers. The Tamil Sakthy TV where his daughter Sooriyaprabha worked failed to announce his death. The London-based LTTE-run IBC Radio described Sooriyamoorthy as a man castaway (thrown) and rejected by the people, in reference to the elections mercilessly rigged by the LTTE.
The climax came in a statement claiming responsibility for Sooriyamoorthy’s murder, dated 27th May, printed in the Uthayan and other LTTE-controlled media and supposedly faxed to them, claiming to have come from a Seralathan, writing as spokesman for the Tamil National Army associated with Karuna. The statement claimed that Sooriyamoorthy was killed because he was a spy for the LTTE Vanni group. The allegedly Karuna statement was publicised exclusively in the media of his enemy. Even more curiously, the statement gave its address as Pandivirichchan, Vavuniya, a solidly LTTE-controlled area in the Vanni! That is also a statement of affairs within the LTTE.
It is dishonest to pretend that these are killings between the LTTE and paramilitaries that one can do nothing about. Every murder gives out its secrets under scrutiny. Even Sooriyamoorthy had been reduced in death to a paramilitary, this time a paramilitary of the LTTE, as if that made his murder less of an issue. It was a calculated and resounding attack on democracy, aided by the hullabaloo created over the statue by friends in need - Buddhist extremists.
Iqbal Athas reported (Sunday Times 10 Jul.05): “Rear Admiral Weerasekera, according to a report from a state intelligence agency, had addressed a gathering of three wheeler scooter taxi drivers who are known to be responsible for placing the statue.” The Rear Admiral who was moved out of Trincomalee by the President later denied the charge, but the intense security in the eastern town would not have permitted the erection of the statue without the connivance of the security forces. In Trincomalee, the minorities have felt the heavy hand of discrimination enforced by local security commanders in favour of the Sinhalese. In January 1997 Brigadier P.S.B. Kulatunge prevented Mayor Sooriyamoorthy from opening the new market he had built, as the city father, obscurely citing “the deterioriating situation in the area, and the general interest of the public in Trincomalee” (Special Report No.8). Now it would appear that another security top brass erected a Buddha statue thus creating a ‘deteriorating security situation’ to give the Tigers the cover to kill the former city father. The Buddha statue that signalled his death promises to remain the monument to the city father’s memory, rather than the new market he built and was not allowed to open.