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IS LTTE BREATHING ITS LAST?

[Zee News, Monday, 26 January 2009 09:41 No Comment]

A brutal civil war that has gripped Sri Lanka for the last 30 years and has claimed over 65,000 lives is now drawing to a close. Is this statement realistic? Well, the future will unravel the answer. But the current scenario indicates that Sri Lankan forces will, this time, weed out the Tigers from the jungles of the country’s north.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, is a separatist group in Sri Lanka. Since 1970s, the LTTE has been demanding a homeland for ethnic Tamils, who claim maltreatment by Sinhalese, the country’s ethnic majority.

On January 02, 2009, the Sri Lankan armed forces recaptured Kilinochchi, the supposed LTTE capital, and delivered a major blow to the Tigers. For Sri Lankan forces, capturing Kilinochchi after a decade of its loss to the Tigers is like a dream come true. Hours after taking over the area, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa termed the forces’ operation as an "unparalleled victory".

Rajapaksa’s statement was backed by Lankan troops as well when they captured the den of the LTTE, Mullaithivu forests, once considered to be Tamil rebels’ eventual hide out whenever their territory was captured by Army. The penetration of Army this time around has forced even LTTE chief Prabhakaran to flee from his bunker which was busted recently giving rise to the speculations that he might have escaped from the island.

Formation of LTTE

A over five-decade old dispute over ethnicity between Tamils, the largest minority in Sri Lanka, and Sinhalese triggered this clash. But that alone was not the reason behind the formation of the LTTE. It was finally the grudge of the Tamils against the discriminatory treatment at the hands of the government and the iron-hand of the Army, which led them to demand a separate state for themselves.
The Sri Lankan government aggravated the situation, when they made amendments in the Constitution giving advantage to the Sinhala people over Tamils in higher education and jobs.

By depriving Tamils of their fundamental rights and treating them as secondary citizens, Sri Lankan authorities sowed seeds of hatred. With as much as 18 percent share in the population, Tamils wanted a say in the government and wanted to be treated at par with the Sinhala community, which never happened. So from an ethnical issue, it became a political matter with each group having its own agenda and demands.

Tamils and Sinhalese have been at loggerheads for over five decades now, but this issue was never addressed by the authorities, instead they spurred the Tamil movement.

Looking at the history of the Tamil movement, it is clear that they did not take up violence as a first measure. The Tamils initially supported the Federal Party, which opposed tooth and nail the anti-Tamil Constitutional amendments. But instead of addressing these issues, their movement was crushed. Anti-Tamil riots further alienated Tamil youth and forced them to take up arms. Deprived of higher education and without employment, the Tamils resorted to violence and the LTTE was formed.
Like all rebels, who are far fewer in number, and are taking on the whole of the Army and government, LTTE cadre also adopted Guerrilla tactics. But the most striking feature about their force was their financial strength, most of which was attributed to their offices in Tamil Nadu, Tamils working abroad, smuggling of arms, drugs, etc. Despite having their hideouts in wild, the Tigers were professional and technologically advanced.

Trained abroad for military battle and equipped with Czech planes, LTTE were one step ahead of the Lankan Army. They trained Black Tigers, who were supposed to carry out suicide attacks. The Tigers, if caught by the police, used to bite into cyanide vials rather than give out secrets.

The very fact that the Tigers managed to hold on to North and Eastern provinces of the country for so long and set up schools, hospitals, courts, tax offices and issued postage stamps with the maps of the Tamil state, goes on to show their power, administrative abilities and foresightedness. Tamil civilians also supported the movement and provided not only the manpower and financial aid, but also shared the dream of having a separate Tamil nation.

The movement gained impetus in the 80s, as the LTTE began to undertake major assassination attempts. The trend setter was V Prabhakaran, who killed the Mayor of Jaffna in broad daylight. Later, Prabhakaran who founded LTTE in 1972 climbed the ranks and till date remains the face of their movement.

Later, LTTE also made assassination attempts on the top Lankan leaders and unlike their bids earlier, these were more fatal and successful. Their ruthlessness and precision can be gauged by the assassination of Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premdasa in 1993, and the attempt made on Chandrika Kumartunga’s life. The emboldened Tiger rebels, equipped with air power, launched strikes on the Colombo international airport.

 

Prabhakaran is the same person, who is the prime accused in assassination of former Indian Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi, and whose extradition our authorities are seeking. It is such a pity that the same Prabhakaran was caught in India way back in 1982 and was later released.

India’s role in Sri Lanka

But that’s not where the Indian link to this conflict in the neighbouring island ends. The geographical and political interests have also forced India to intervene in the issue, as the violence and instability in Sri Lanka impacted politics in Tamil Nadu. The people of the state share the same ethnicity as the Tamils in Lanka. This is because the ancestors of Tamils in Sri Lanka were first brought on the island as plantation workers from India by the British.

Ever since its formation, LTTE’s offices were situated in Tamil Nadu and Indian authorities often drew flak for supporting the Tamil struggle. But the support extended to LTTE by Indian Prime Minster Indira Gandhi, who also assisted in arming the Tamil Tigers, really increased the potency of the rebels.

A change in the leadership in India also meant a change in policies. After Indira Gandhi it was her son Rajiv Gandhi, who took over as the Prime Minister. Rajiv intervened in the LTTE conflict sending Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka after signing an accord in 1987 with the then President JR Jayawardene for devolution of power in the island as well as disarming the Tigers. This move angered the LTTE, because firstly they didn’t agree to the accord and secondly, it was Rajiv’s mother who trained and provided arsenal to the Tigers.

But soon after, a change in Sri Lankan government meant a doom for the accord, and the new government in turn asked for the withdrawal of the IPKF from their land. Gandhi, who didn’t approve of this idea, then made a big diplomatic mistake. Instead of withdrawing the force, he asked IPKF to launch an attack on the Tigers. The IPKF then tried to take control of Jaffna from the LTTE, which they later managed with the help of the Indian Army in Operation Pawan.

Later, a former Indian Army officer who was apart of Indian Peace Keeping Force claimed that the then Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka JN Dixit had asked him to kill LTTE chief V Prabhakaran during their flag meet but he refused to carry out the order.

It proved fatal for both the IPKF and Rajiv Gandhi. IPKF sustained severe causalities from Tigers in the forests before returning to India in 1990; angered the LTTE cadres then assassinated Gandhi during his public rally in Tamil Nadu in 1991.

Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was said to be Prabhakaran’s biggest mistake, as he earned the ire of many Tamil supporters in India.

Though the plotters of Gandhi’s assassination were nabbed and brought to justice it was the prime accused Prabhakaran, who dodged Indian authorities. With Lankan Army claiming major portions of LTTE’s territory the Indian government has asked for his extradition which Lankan President has been considering.

On the other hand, the Tamil leaders in the state of Tamil Nadu have asked Prime Minster Manmohan Singh to intervene in the conflict. The Tamil leaders are objecting to the Lankan Army’s attack on the Tamil areas accusing them of killing the civilians. Though Dr Singh has assured that he would address the issue, it is left to be seen whether diplomacy works this time around.

Fall of LTTE

Despite having started with genuine grievances, LTTE is no longer without a blemish. Nor can it be said that the Sri Lankan government did nothing to right some of the past wrongs. In year 2002, a former LTTE top leader Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan was appointed as the Chief Minister of autonomous East, Sivanesathurai. There have been pro-LTTE parties too which managed to grab the majority of seats in the Tamil populated provinces. But that did not mostly change the situation of Tamils, or perhaps it was simply a case of too little too late.

Another reality is that in recent years, LTTE has lost SP Thamilselvan, their No. 2 leader who died in the air strikes, and Balasegaram Kandials alias Brigadier Balraj, who died of cardiac arrest. Even Prabhakaran has been battling with poor health and injuries and the future of LTTE leadership lied uncertain.

Prabhakaran is also accused of rejecting an offer of giving autonomy to Tamils in North and East provinces during one of the peace talks in 2002.

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