Death of Balraj and its implications
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Wednsday, May 25, 2008

The media have branded the death of the LTTE's senior commander, Balasegaram Kandiah alias Balraj, a blow to the LTTE, while Sri Lankan military and government officials applaud the death as a victory for Sri Lanka's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Tamils, meanwhile, have been in a state of mourning for three days, since Wednesday, May 21. Despite the Sri Lankan air force's continued efforts to disturb the gatherings by civilians and LTTE cadres, Tamils continue to throng to pay their last respects to their ceaseless and brave military commander, who remained a committed fighter until his demise at 2:00 p.m. on May 20. He will remain a fearless and courageous commander in the hearts and minds of Tamils.

Brigadier Balraj was born on November 27, 1965, to a middle class family in Kokkuththoduvai in the district of Mullaitheevu in northern Sri Lanka, and joined the LTTE in 1983. He was a great disciple of LTTE principles, and taught these principles to his followers. During military training sessions the cadres took his words to heart, and implemented them. Balraj led many successful missions, including the capture of the Vanni region and the Elephant Pass military base in 2000.

One most memorable battle happened in 1993 when the Sri Lankan army launched a major offensive against the LTTE in the north code named, Yarl Devi, under the command of present Lt. General and overall commander of the army, Col. Sarath Fonseka. Brig. Balraj served as the LTTE's commander while Deputy Commander Col. Theepan led the counter-offensive against the advancing Sri Lankan armed forces. The LTTE launched a surprise attack on government forces in Puloappalai, inflicting heavy casualties and destroying tanks and armoured vehicles, staking claim to the area within six days. Both Col. Fonseka and Brig. Balraj were wounded, Balraj in his right leg. Despite ongoing difficulty with his right leg as a result of this injury, he continued to lead many battles.

Balraj led the LTTE into conventional military force
During the early 1990s, the LTTE leadership realized they needed a conventional regiment to fight Sri Lanka's conventional armed forces and to show the world that the Tamils had the capability of defending themselves through conventional means, justifying their demand for an independent State of Tamil Eelam. Although an expert on psychological and guerrilla warfare, LTTE leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan, assigned Balraj as the first commander of the first conventional LTTE regiment formed on April 10, 1991 - the Charles Anthony Brigade, named after the LTTE's senior leader and the leader's close friend, Charles Anthony of Trincomalee who was killed on July 15, 1983, in Meesalai in northern Sri Lanka.

Although the brigade was formed just a few months before the LTTE's failed attempt to capture Elephant Pass military base in 1991, it did not take part directly. The Charles Anthony Brigade was crucial in the capture of Elephant Pass base in 2000, however.

Balraj led the brigade from 1991 to 1993 and from 1995 to 1997, playing a crucial role in conventional war training for LTTE soldiers.

Roles of Balraj in Unceasing Waves (Oyatha Alaigal)
The brigade - whose motto was 'Do or Die' - was involved in 80 battles against the Sri Lankan army, all under Balraj's military leadership. After sweeping victories in evicting the Sri Lankan army from Vanni in November 1999 during the first two phases of Ceaseless Waves, the LTTE set the stage to isolate Elephant Pass in December. During phase three, launched on December 11, 1999, they established a beach-head at Vettilaikerny and simultaneously seized control of Paranthan, the southernmost part of Elephant Pass, forcing troops to fall back to the rear of their defence lines.

Even though Balraj had taken part in most of the operations in the north since early 1990s, his leadership in the capture of Elephant Pass in 2000, involving amphibious assaults that took the lives of hundreds of Sri Lankan soldiers, and driving over 10,000 Sri Lankan army soldiers into abandoning the base originally built by the Portuguese in 1760 and re-established by the Sri Lankan army in 1952, was considered brilliant.

On the fourth and final leg launched in September 2000 - Ceaseless Waves 4 - the LTTE pushed deeper into the southernmost Jaffna peninsula and overran many Sri Lankan military camps and defence bunkers in just a few days. The LTTE's mission ended with the successful capture of army-controlled areas. In response, the Sri Lankan army launched Operation Agni Khiela (Rod of Fire) in April 2001 in an effort to take the region back, but sustained heavy losses. The LTTE continued to press towards Jaffna, and many feared it would fall to the LTTE, but the military fended off the LTTE offensives and maintained control.

Under diplomatic pressure from the international community, the LTTE had no choice but to declare a unilateral ceasefire at the end of December 2001, which then led to the ceasefire agreement between the GoSL and the LTTE in 2002.

Balraj's significant contribution to the LTTE's great victories and his leadership of the Charles Anthony Brigade will not be forgotten by Tamil people, LTTE supporters and warriors.

Balraj leaves the LTTE behind
The LTTE leadership sent Balraj to Singapore for heart surgery in 2003. Although his health improved initially following the surgery, his condition steadily declined in later years. In between his surgery and death, he accepted assignments in the East to keep Karuna and his group in check. Balraj played a vital role during his stay in Batticaloa and, while there, managed to escape the 2004 tsunami.

After returning to Vanni from the East, Balraj was assigned as a special commander to the LTTE fighters in the war fronts in Mannar and Manalaru, aka Weli Oya, in Sinhala. Most recently, when the Sri Lankan army vigorously fought to capture LTTE-held areas, LTTE fighters under the Balraj's command stood day and night fighting until Balraj died of sudden heart attack. It is a testament to his dedication to safeguarding his homeland that he continued to fight despite his worsening health. Not only did he lead his soldiers into battle, he also took charge of weeding out all suspected informants and collaborators who would clandestinely plant landmines, targeting LTTE senior men and supporters. Balraj also escaped several attempts made by the Sri Lankan army's deep penetration into LTTE-held territory.

LTTE leader, V. Pirapaharan, in his message of condolence said: "Our movement, in its long journey towards freedom, has made many admirable sacrifices; its history is filled with so many celebrated brave deeds; it has reached numerous achievements; and it has won great military victories. The man, who was at the center of many of our Himalayan victories, the heroic military leader, who trained, guided and fought with our fighting formations and conventional brigades, is with us no more. Our nation is in profound grief at his loss...His ability to move the fighting units, his focused actions, and his martial characteristics struck fear in the hearts of the enemy. These same characteristics strengthened the conviction and morale of our fighters. They brought us victories...Brigadier Balraj has not left us. As the energy that seeks our nation's freedom, as the fiery force that moves us on, he will always be within us."

In his commemorative speech, LTTE senior leader, Yogaratnam alias Yogi, affirmed Brig. Balraj as a present-day war hero who had achieved enormous victories, and that it was he who identified Balraj during the Indian army's presence in Manalaru and groomed him as a ferocious fighter and senior commander.

The LTTE's former head of political wing of Trincomalee district, S. Elilan, praised him saying that when the LTTE planned to withdraw from Jaffna, they needed a stable ground. Brig. Balraj's role in the capture of Mullaitheevu and Mankulam army camps helped the LTTE recapture many towns and villages in Vanni within a short period.

The LTTE's Northern Front Commander, Col. Theepan, said that the death of Brig. Balraj should intensify the courage and determination of the LTTE cadres. He said, "This is what Brig. Balraj aspired to when he was in the war fronts… Upon hearing the presence of Brig. Balraj, the enemy would automatically scare to fight the LTTE fighters because enemy knew that they could not win a war when Brig. Balraj was present in the war front."

The Diaspora Tamils are also commemorating Balraj's death in their home countries. Tamil organizations have issued flyers and placards to the general public in Europe, Australia and North America stating that Brig. Balraj turned the LTTE leader's perspective into action on the war front.

The LTTE leader along with senior LTTE officials, including Political Wing Leader, Nadesan; Intelligence Wing Leader, S. Pottu Amman; Internal Intelligence Wing Leader, Kapilan; Military Intelligence Wing Leader, Rathnam; Special Commander of Sea Tigers, Col. Soosai; and, Senior Commanders such as Col. Banu, Col. Jeyam, Col. Ramesh, Col. Sornam, Col. Theepan, Col. Thurga and Col. Yalini paid floral tributes.

The media's exaggerations and the Sri Lankan military and government leaders' cheering of the death of Balraj is just calculated propaganda to demoralize the LTTE and Tamils. The government leaders and the army in northern war fronts believe that Balraj's death will provide them opportunity to wipe out the LTTE.

The LTTE commander's demise is no doubt a blow to the morale of the LTTE leader, having already lost two other senior political leaders, S. P. Thamilselvan and Anton Balasingham, within the last two years, as well as some leading military and intelligence cadres. The death of the Balraj, however, will not affect the success of the LTTE's future military strategies.

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Courtesy: The Sunday Times (