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The Failed Coup

 

In 1988 an ethnic Tamil militant group from Sri Lanka attempted to overthrow the Maldives government, but nobody knows why. N Asokan recounts the story
N ASOKAN | Issue Dated: February 26, 2012, New Delhi
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On November 3, 1988 a splinter group of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) known as the   People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) travelled 400 miles from Sri Lanka to Maldives to overthrow the then president of Maldives, Dr Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in a coup supposedly engineered by influential Maldivians.


The coup was led by the founder member of PLOTE, Uma Maheswaran alias Mukundan. In the 1970s Mukundan was the chairman of the LTTE (1977-1980) and worked closely with V Prabhakaran. Mukundan split with LTTE after a bitter rivalry with Prabhakaran in 1980, and formed PLOTE.


Twenty-three years later it is still not clear why the coup was planned in the first place. It is not certain whether money was the only incentive for PLOTE. At the time of the coup, experts estimated that Mukundan must have been offered anything between $1-10 million to overthrow Gayoom. There have also been allegations that PLOTE may have wanted to secure a small Maldivian island, as some sort of a guerrilla logistical base, possibly for arm shipments. Or that it was planned operation to eliminate PLOTE as a militant group.


In the special interview to the TSI, T Vetriselvan, former Delhi representative of PLOTE, seems to suggest that the latter may well have been true (See box).


Interestingly, PLOTE was among the first ethnic Tamil militant groups to lay down arms when India  interjected in Sri Lankan affairs in 1987. After the surrender, PLOTE became pro-government helping the Sri Lankan army target LTTE members in the subsequent war. According to Indian intelligence, by 1980s the group was involved in smuggling and international narcotics dealing. This was when the coup took place.


In its initial years, PLOTE under Mukundan established links with several international leftist political organisations such as the Tunisian Communist Party, the African National Congress and the Communist Party of Algeria. Mukundan, himself, had been trained in Palestine and Syria during his LTTE days.


The Maldives coup was foiled by the Indian government, and 70 members of PLOTE were arrested. Viduthalai Rajendran, a political activist from Chennai, has written a book in Tamil in which he claims that the entire operation was hatched by India's Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) which was known to have close links with PLOTE.

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Issue Dated: Apr 27, 2014