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Q+A-Is it all over for the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka?

[Reuters, Monday, 6 April 2009 13:10 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s military says it has the Tamil Tigers trapped inside in a no-fire zone that is expected to be the site of the last act in a 25-year war, waged by one of the modern era’s most resilient rebel groups. Here are questions and answers about what’s next for them:

 

ARE THE TIGERS DEFEATED AS A CONVENTIONAL FORCE?

 

Any day from now, yes. It is difficult to say how many Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters remain — estimates range as high as 2,000 — but soldiers have them surrounded, outgunned and outmanned. Over the last few weeks, intelligence has confirmed the deaths of several top-tier commanders and others have surrendered, the military says. Although both sides have repeatedly inflated enemy casualty figures for propaganda value, few doubt the Tigers are getting thrashed. It is worth noting that the army commander, Lt-Gen. Sarath Fonseka, throughout the campaign has made a high enemy kill rate a priority over capturing territory, figuring that the former begets the latter.

 

DOES THAT MEAN THE LTTE IS FINISHED?

 

No. The Tigers still have widespread support from the world Tamil diaspora, and have established an international smuggling and support network that helped them stay alive. Although terrorism financing laws and joint efforts to shut down LTTE fronts have succeeded in cutting off a lot of support, not all links are severed. The LTTE is on U.S., EU, Indian and Canadian terrorist lists. Interestingly, the man in charge of their weapons procurement for years, S. Pathmanathan, has now been made their international diplomatic point man. Diplomats, including those close to the LTTE, have questioned the move since he is wanted by Interpol.

 

WHAT ABOUT LEADER VELLUPILLAI PRABHAKARAN?

 

The military believes he is hiding inside less than 17 sq km (7 miles) which has been set up as a no-fire zone, where there are tens of thousands of civilians. The LTTE recently said he is with the people, and troops found his birth certificate and photo albums over the weekend, the military said.

 

WHAT CAN THE LTTE DO NOW?

 

Eastern Sri Lanka, captured from the LTTE in 2007, provides a good idea of what can be expected. There, small groups of LTTE hide in the bush and attack police, soldiers and civilians sporadically. However, the military and the elite Special Task Force police commandoes have begun hunting them down. Rumours also abound that some hardcore Tigers will hide in the nearby south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, looking for a chance to regroup.

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