27 November 1965 - 20 May 2008
"A Commander who rose through the ranks on the
strength of his notable courage and shrewdness on the battlefield "
|In a famous picture, Brigadier Balraj is seen
leading Tamil Tiger fighters in one the most daring missions the
LTTE launched. Balraj’s strike force is deep inside Sri Lanka
Army-controlled territory, on its way to capture and hold a section
of the Jaffna-Elephant Pass highway. With only the weapons they
carried with them when the infiltrated the Jaffna peninsula by sea,
the 1,500 Tiger fighters held their ‘cut-out’ or ‘box’ for several
weeks against repeated attempts by thousands of Sri Lankan troops
supported by tanks and artillery to open the highway. Starved of
supplies from Jaffna, the SLA base complex at Elephant Pass
collapsed before an LTTE offensive in April 2000.
from Tamil Guardian, 21 May 2008... [also
in PDF] Brigadier Balraj,
one of the top commanders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
passed away on Tuesday 20 May 2009 of a heart attack. The LTTE has announced
three days of national mourning for 21-23 May. In over two decades of
service with the LTTE, Brig. Balraj, 43, rose rapidly through the ranks on
the strength of his notable courage and shrewdness on the battlefield,
fighters who served with him said.
He had been ailing for some time and
had been hospitalised for three months earlier this year, reports said. He had
undergone a heart-related operation in 2003, during the Norwegian peace process.
The operation was conducted in a Singapore hospital and he had spent several
months recuperating in Vanni thereafter.
Throughout his career, Brig. Balraj,
one the most feared LTTE commanders, preferred to lead from the front and had
been seriously wounded many times. His healing was often made more difficult by
LTTE soldiers who served with Brig. Balraj say preferred to
direct battles from amid the exploding shells and flying bullets of the
frontline - a few hundred meters from the enemy positions - rather than the
confines of a command-centre.
He had twice commanded the LTTE's crack Charles
Anthony Regiment. He was its first commander for two years from when it was
established in 1991 and commanded it again for two years from 1995.
Balraj came to particular public prominence for his command of a daring LTTE
operation in 2000: he led 1,500 Tigers deep into the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) - held
Jaffna peninsula to capture and hold a section of the key A9 highway linking the
SLA base complex at Elephant Pass with the Jaffna rearbase areas.
strike force slipped into the heavily fortified peninsula by sea and trekked
inland from Thalaiyadi to the Puthukkaattu Junction on the A9. With complex
defences manned by thousands of Sri Lankan troops, such a move had hitherto been
considered an impossibility.
It was also considered impossible for a lightly
armed strike force, surrounded by thousands of Sri Lankan troops supported by
artillery, tanks and airpower to seriously disrupt the key highway. Brig.
Balraj's raid gave the lie to the assumption that no rear depth of defence of a
state's conventional army can be seriously threatened by anyone except an armed
force with strategic air power
Holding what became called the 'Vaththirayan
Box', a perimeter of a few kilometres deep inside the Jaffna High Security Zone,
with no hope of resupply, Brig. Balraj and his troops battled the SLA for 34
days with only the light weapons they had carried in or those arms captured from
When the LTTE assault on the Elephant Pass base complex began, the
garrison there was unable to receive supplies from Jaffna.
The SLA launched
repeated ferocious onslaughts against Brig. Balraj's position. As the situation
in Elephant Pass became critical, top Sri Lankan commanders converged in Jaffna
to mobilise the relief effort, but to no avail: the 'Vaththirayan box' held
until the Elephant Pass garrison collapsed before the LTTE offensive.
Balraj (Balasegaram Kandiah) was born on 27 November, 1965. He hails from
Kokkuththoduvaay in Mullaiththeevu district. He joined the LTTE in 1983 as a
part time member and became a full time member in 1984. In 1985 he departed
for India from Vanni for military training. His batch, traveilling under the
supervision of a senior LTE cadre Kandeepan, was confronted by the SLA.
Kandeepan and some of the other recruits were killed.Balraj was wounded.
Fellow fighters remark that he had been wounded in combat even before he
received his military training: he was in the 9th batch of the LTTE training
camp in Tamil Nadu.
When Balraj came back to Vanni, he served with Major
Pasilan in 1986.
Colonel Theepan, Northern Forces Commander of the LTTE,
recalled that in one heavy battle at Munthirikaikkulam Balraj took part in an
LTTE ambush in which fourteen SLA soldiers were killed and several weapons were
seized by the Tigers
Balraj took part in several ambushes on SLA forces in
Vanni during that year, demonstrating considerable courage and battlefield
acumen, Col. Theepan said.
However, Balraj's defining moment as a field commander came later during
the India - LTTE war. In Jaffna, he fought side by side with Major Pasilan
and Major Maran, when the conflict erupted between the LTTE and the Indian
Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987. Armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and a
Rocket-Propelled- Grenade Launcher, Balraj fought Indian forces at Kopaay,
destroying battle tanks of the Indian army.
Later, as the LTTE moved from urban- to jungle- warfare and shifted its base
to Vanni, he moved into the deep jungles of Ma'nalaa'ru, which is near
his native place of Kokkuththoduvaay. Balraj was wounded three times during
direct confrontations with the Indian Army.
The Indian military launched
its Operation Checkmate in several phases and in one phase deployed the elite
Gurkha commandos. At one critical battlefront, Balraj launched a surprise
frontal assault on the Gurkhas located in open terrain. The ferocity of the LTTE
attack forced the elite commandos to scatter into deep into booby-trapped jungle
where they suffered heavy casualties. Adele Balasingham, wife of the LTTE's late
theoretician, Anton Balasingham, recalls Brig.Balraj in her book 'Will to
Freedom' based on her experiences of living several years with the LTTE.
"Incredible as it may seem, this fighting hero is a reserved man," she writes.
"Balraj is known, loved and respected not only for his legendary military
successes and undisputed and abounding courage, but also for his utter
commitment and devotion to the cadres under his command. Sensitive and
respectful of the sacrifice and tribulations they have endured, Balraj opts to
spend as much time as possible in the camps with them."
"A measure of Balraj's
courage revealed itself to us when shrapnel smashed his right leg in the Yarl
Devi battle of 1993. A decision not to amputate the limb was made and Balraj
suffered excruciating pain of limb repair. Compounding his healing problems was
unstable diabetes. After many months in bed and a great deal of pain, Balraj
eventually walked again on his leg, but the injury left him with a permanent
limp and a recurrent wound infection." "Nevertheless, he viewed his injury a
insignificant compared with the suffering and sacrifices of his cades and
continued to function as a field commander in the warzone."
Reports say that
even as he was forced to rest in hospital by bouts of illness this year, Brig.
Balraj had engaged himself in Mannaar and Manalaaru war fronts where LTTE
fighters are putting up stiff resistance against the SLA.
Speaking in May
2006, soon after the Sri Lankan government had launched its opening offensive
against the LTTE in Sampur, Brig (then Colonel) Balraj observed: "The Fourth
Eelam War will be the final war, and a terrible war that will bring the long
awaited liberation to our people and our homeland. We are certainly positioned
to be victorious. The people are with us and our leader will lead us to