Douglas Devananda – a pivotal figure in the conflict

Devananda has been clashing with the Tigers since he and Kittu were the military chiefs of the EPRLF and LTTE respectively, in Jaffna in the mid-1980s. The US State Department’s latest Report on Patterns of Global Terrorism, an authoritative source, mentions Devananda as having survived “at least eleven” attempts on his life by the LTTE. From a machine gun attack on his office in Colombo, through a spike in his skull in the Kalutara prison, to several suicide bombers, mostly women.[/color][/b][/size]

Kathiravelu Nithyananda Douglas Devananda, Leader of the  EPDP, was born in Jaffna on 10th November 1957, as the second of the four sons and one daughter of Subramaniam Kathiravelu. His mother Maheswary died when he was only six years old. His father Kathiravelu was an active member of the Sri Lanka Communist Party.

Devananda had his primary and secondary education at the Jaffna Central College, where his mother was a teacher, till her death. While being a teenage student in Jaffna, he was exposed to, and influenced by his father’s political work and that of his uncle K.C. Nithyananda, who was a leading trade unionist of his day.

From Jaffna, in 1974, Devananda was sent to Colombo for further studies under K.C. Nithyananda’s tutelage. Nithyananda assumed the role of Devananda’s parent and mentor. In Colombo, however, it was not studies that interested Devananda, the teenager, but politics. He joined the Eelam Liberation Organisation (ELO). In 1975, he became a founder member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organizers (EROS). He organised the General Union of Eelam Students (GUES) in Colombo, and coordinated its activities in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Being one of the pioneers of the armed struggle, it was then that he assumed the pseudonym of Douglas.

When President Jayewardene appointed Nithyananda as the Chairman of the newly formed Palmyrah Development Board, Devananda functioned as his personal assistant. In 1978, Devananda alias Douglas and two other EROS members left for military training with Al Fatah of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Palaly, Jaffna. He successfully completed the training and returned to Sri Lanka.

Trouble was brewing in the hierarchy of the EROS. The organization, with its leadership based mainly in London, broke up into two. A section, including Padmanabha and Devananda left EROS and formed the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). The student body GUES of the EROS, attached itself with the EPRLF. In the EPRLF, Douglas Devananda served as a member of the politbureau of the Central Committee and as the commander of its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

In 1980, the Sri Lanka government arrested Douglas Devananda twice under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. When the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots broke out, Douglas Devananda was an inmate of Welikada prison. He was one of the few prisoners who escaped death at the hands of the Sinhala criminals who were let loose by the authorities on July 25th and 27th to kill the Tamil political prisoners. After the two massacres in the Welikada prison, which resulted in the death of 53 inmates, Douglas Devananda along with 27 other survivors was transferred to the Batticaloa prison. In September 1983, he along with all the other Tamil political prisoners escaped from the Batticaloa prison and fled to Tamil Nadu in India.

From India, in 1984, he went for advanced military training, and led a group of other EPRLF members, both men and women, for training with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP). Following the training, he returned to North-East Sri Lanka and resumed charge as the commander of PLA of the EPRLF. Based in Jaffna, he was also in charge of all political and military activities of the EPRLF in the North and East of Sri Lanka. On May 5th of 1985, Devananda lost his teenage sister, Shobha alias Mathivathani in the Karainagar Naval Base attack. The searchlights of the navy gunboats caught up with her and she was shredded in a hail of heavy machine gun bullets.

In May 1986, serious internal contradictions relating to the strategy and tactics of the struggle and the internal structure of the organization cropped up within the EPRLF. As most of its politbureau members were based in Tamil Nadu, Douglas Devananda undertook a sea voyage to Tamil Nadu to sort out the problems. His sea voyage on July 7th of 1986 ended up in a tragedy, which resulted in the death of seven of the nineteen-member entourage of Douglas Devananda. He swam back from Tamil Nadu waters to Jaffna in the Palk Straits when the boat capsized. He was fortunate to survive with the support of another EPRLF cadre who was right behind Devananda to see that he was not giving up his swimming. Both were later rescued by a fishing vessel which was in the vicinity. Two days later, covering his body that had scars of fish bites with a shawl, Devananda carried out the last rites of his fellow cadres who perished in the mishap at a cemetery in Jaffna. He lost his loyal comrades Imama, Ashok, Edward, Chenpagam, Sukirthan, Gnanam and Nagarajah to the Indian Ocean. Though Douglas Devananda arrived safely in India after a second sea voyage, the internal contradictions could not be resolved. Consequently, Douglas Devananda and his loyalists parted company from the others, and laid claim as the real EPRLF. The two factions were however dubbed as the EPRLF (D – Douglas Devananda) and the EPRLF (R- Ranjan alias Naba).

In October 1986, EPRLF (R) conspired and framed charges against Devananda for an incident in Choolaimedu in Chennai and had him arrested. He was however released on bail. Following this incident, cleavage between the two factions of the EPRLF became permanent. In May 1987, EPRLF (D) under the leadership of Douglas Devananda, together with Paranthan Rajan who led a breakaway group of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) formed the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) in Tamil Nadu. However, this arrangement did not last long. Thereafter, EPRLF (D) transformed itself into the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

Following the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987, the EPDP also decided to give up the armed struggle and join the democratic political mainstream in Sri Lanka. Douglas Devananda decided to enter the democratic mainstream as Kathiravelu Nithyananda Douglas Devananda.

The LTTE started wiping out the other movements in the latter part of 1985. They first eliminated TELO and PLOTE by killing many of its cadres and capturing some. Finally in the latter part of 1986, the LTTE started attacking the EPRLF cadres. While Devananda was in India the EPRLF members were captured, tortured and killed by the LTTE. By December 1986 EPRLF was also banned by the LTTE. EROS and its leader Balakumar of course gave into to the LTTE threats and agreed to dissolve their group and surrendered to the LTTE.

In September 1987 Devananda’s brother Premananda and some leading members of the EPDP returned from India. Premananada, Sivakaran alias Ibrahim, Ragavan, Sritharan and George, all, members of the EPDP, were also abducted by the LTTE in Jaffna and tortured. The Tigers pulled his ailing brother out of an ambulance, together with Ibrahim, and murdered them both.

Devananda was arrested for the 2nd time in India and later released on bail. He however managed to arrive in Colombo by the end of May 1990. When Padmanabha was assassinated by the LTTE in Chennai on June 19th in 1990, these very same forces were disappointed to discover that Devananda was in Sri Lanka, weeks before the incident.

Having entered the democratic mainstream, Douglas Devananda and nine members of the EPDP were elected to Parliament from the Jaffna District, in August 1994.  Douglas Devananda was re-elected to Parliament in October 2000, in December 2001 and again in April 2004, and is continuously in Parliament since August 1994.

Premadasa and Ranjan Wijeratne were very fond of this spirited young man, trusted him instinctively, spotted his potential, inducted him into the mainstream and built him up politically.

In October 2000, Douglas Devananda was appointed as the Minister of Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the North, and Tamil Affairs, North and East, in the People’s Alliance Government headed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Douglas Devananda has worked with and within the state system for twenty years, with three Sri Lankan Presidents from the Sinhala community: Ranasinghe Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapakse. It was Premadasa who first called him “thamby” (little brother), as does President Rajapakse today. Except for a brief intermission he has been a Cabinet Minister from the 1990s.

The US State Department’s latest Report on Patterns of Global Terrorism, an authoritative source, mentions Devananda as having survived “at least eleven” attempts on his life by the LTTE. From a machine gun attack on his office in Colombo, through a spike in his skull in the Kalutara prison, to several suicide bombers, mostly women.


On October 9th of 1995, Douglas Devananda’s residence in Colombo was attacked by the LTTE. This was the first commando style attack of the LTTE in the South. He survived this attack due to the valiant efforts of his party cadres and bodyguards, four of whom paid the supreme sacrifice in the incident. Once again on June 30th in 1998, Douglas Devananda was brutally attacked by the LTTE mafia detained at the Kalutara Prison, when he visited the detainees who were on a hunger strike to air their grievances.

On July 7th, 2004, another attempt was made on his life by a LTTE female suicide bomber while the Minister was seeing the public on a Public Day at his Ministry. The woman suicide bomber, identified as Thiyagaraja Jeyarani, was reportedly on a mission to assassinate Douglas Devananda. She had gone with an accomplice to his Ministry in Kolpity and insisted on seeing the Minister without undergoing a body check. When the security staff of the Minister became suspicious, they informed the Minister. At the instructions of the Minister, his security staff took her to the Kolpity Police Station to investigate, at which time she detonated the explosives strapped around her body killing herself, four police personnel and injuring eleven persons.

Recently, on November 28th, 2007 the LTTE once again sent its woman suicide cadre to take his life. A young woman had gone to his Ministry at Isipathana Road and requested to see the Minister. The woman realized that she would not be able to reach the Minister, became agitated and detonated the bomb strapped to her breast killing herself and another EPDP member.

Velupillai Prabhakaran has tried so persistently to kill Devananda, and by his ability to survive, Douglas Devananda has demonstrated that despite the fact that he has been wounded, scarred and blinded in one eye, and compelled to live a life in the shadow of death, that he is not an easy target! [/size][/quote]


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