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Slain Tiger chief’s phone led Sri Lanka to successor

[Reuters, Friday, 7 August 2009 14:04 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s successful manhunt for the new head of the Tamil Tigers began with the phone of the dead man he succeeded, Tiger founder Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

Sri Lankan intelligence officers used the satellite phone, found on the corpse of Prabhakaran after his death in a final battle on May 18, to pick up the trail of a man who dodged authorities for nearly three decades.

The capture of Selvarajah Pathmanathan, the new head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is the latest prize for President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his campaign to wipe out the separatist Tigers and their remnants.

A military spokesman said Pathmanathan was being interrogated in Colombo.

Known as KP during his decades running the Tigers’ multi-million dollar arms, smuggling and fundraising operations, Pathmanathan took over as the LTTE’s public leader after Sri Lanka announced victory in a 25-year war on May 18.

Three senior military sources, all speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that three teams were deployed to Malayasia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia to hunt down and kill Pathmanathan, not capture him.

"We didn’t want him to be brought down here. But the circumstances didn’t allow us to do that," one military intelligence officer told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The presence of local intelligence and security officers acting as liasons made that plan impracticable, they said.

Sri Lankan authorities, after initially reporting the arrest of their most-wanted in Thailand on Thuesday, have since declined to say in which country he was captured. Thai and Malaysian authorities have both denied he was arrested in their countries.

The military officers said Pathmanathan constantly changed his location and mobile phone numbers, prompting them to keep vigilance over Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Pathmanathan was in constant phone contact with Prabhakaran as the military closed in on a tiny spit of northeastern coast with the goal of wiping out the Tigers and decapitating its leadership — which it achieved.

"We are still hunting down other LTTE leaders like Castro and other main people in other countries," the officer said. Castro is the nom de guerre of a senior overseas Tiger operative who had worked in weapons procurement and intelligence gathering.

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