The thick mangrove swamp in which Vellupillai Prabhakaran and his entourage of heavily armed bodyguards took refuge in. Photo Ministry of Defence - Sri Lanka.
There has been plenty of speculation over Vellupillai Prabhakaran's death. The leader of the Tamil Tigers was thought to be alive and well when conflicting reports of his death began to surface.
Tamil news papers in Tamil Nadu, India even published photographs claiming to be that of Prabhakaran alive, and watching a news story reporting his own death. State run media and other Indian journalist had reported previously that Prabhakaran was gunned down attempting to flee in an ambulance. Today the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence has published it's account of the events that led to the death of Prabhakaran. Only through accounts by Army infantrymen and ground commanders could the puzzle be pieced together.
Warning: Video below contains graphic images.
The video above is said to have been filmed by one of the first teams to identify Prabhakaran's body. In Sinhalese one soldier asks another, "Who hit him in the head?"
A response from the background quips, "It was us. He was shouting at his guards. He was asking them why if they are men, are they running away."
It appears even when the international media claimed that Prabhakaran was dead on the 18th of May. He was still alive.
According to the Ministry of Defence, Prabhakaran was alive and hiding in the thick mangrove swamp south of the causeway at Karayamullavaikkal on the 19th of May.
The commandos already cleared a large part of the mangroves on the previous day evening. Knowing the possibility that LTTE leader had betrayed majority of his followers in a deceptive attack to save his life, the second clearing operation was launched in the remaining part of the mangroves by both commandos and 4 VIR troops around 8.30 AM on the 19th morning (see map).No mention has been made on the fate of Prabhakaran's wife and his children. It could well be that they were not on the island, and for obvious reasons the diaspora is sheltering them and keeping their whereabouts hidden.
Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage, and Lieutenant Colonel Rohitha Aluwihare, Commanding Officer of the 4 VIR were on the frontline expecting for a good news. Two eight man teams and one 4 man team of 4 VIR Bravo company were in the mangroves.
The first team into the mangroves, lead by Sergeant SP Wijesinghe, encountered heavy small arms fire as they stepped few metres in the growth. The soldiers had to wade through thorny bushes with water up to their chest.
Sergeant Wijesinghe was quick to feel the presence of a high profile LTTE leader in the area from the resistance he had got. The team charged mangroves despite all difficulties and managed to collect five bodies carrying pistols and small arms that were usually carried by VIP escorts.
The Brigade Commander and the Commanding Officer were soon informed. One of the bodies was identified as of Vinodan, one of the most senior bodyguards of the inner protection team of the LTTE leader. “With in seconds we knew the importance of the finding”, Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage said.
“The matter was informed to the GOC and under his guidance, the first team was ordered to hold the line and sent another eight man team and a four man from the flank to support them”. The second team was lead by Sergeant TM Muthubanda.
After an hour of heavy fire fight in the mangroves the guns were suddenly fell silent. A message came from the team leaders that there was body bearing similar appearance to Prabhakaran found among 18 other dead LTTE cadres. Both Lieutenant Colonel Gamage and Lieutenant Colonel Aluwihare rushed into the mangroves and found that the villain who haunted the nation for 30 years was no more.
On the 15th of May, Friday, Mahinda Rajapakse went on record saying that the war would be over within 48 hours. President Rajapakse was confident that it was all over for the Tamil Tigers. As the Ministry of Defence has outlined in it's recount of the events, Prabhakaran was surrounded and the Sri Lankan military knew that his only escape would be an attempt made via the lagoon bank on the west. The only reason he was still alive was because of the thousands of civilians he held as a human shield.
The military concentrated it's efforts on clearing a route so the trapped civilians could flee. Once that was accomplished Prabhakaran and his senior leaders were exposed.
According to the ground commanders, the aim of the terrorists in the initial attack was to establish a foothold on the eastern bank of the lagoon and then to open up an escape route to the Muthiyankaddu jungle. One senior officer called the attack a desperate attempt made using an obsolete strategy.Prabhakaran was not left with many options. He had no option but to fall right into the waiting trap. Charles Anthony was not part of the group which fled with Prabhakaran. Perhaps in an attempt to ensure one of the two Prabhakarans escaped, they attempted to flee in two groups.
“We knew that the terrorists would try this option first. They tried to breach the line at the link as they always did, but only to meet the most prepared adversary. They wrongly analysed the planning capability of the army and swallowed the bait”, he said.
“If they managed to establish the foothold there, they would certainly evacuate the leadership and the others across the lagoon and disappear into the huge Muthiyankaddu jungle. The victory over terrorist would have long delayed if they achieved this,” he further said.
Both groups were armed with newer more sophisticated weaponry, only carried by Prabhakaran's senior cadres and bodyguards, and they had in their possession well over $100,000 USD. An evident sign that they had not 'silenced their guns' as Pathmanathan had claimed.