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Q+A: What does arrest of new Tamil Tiger chief mean?

[Reuters, Friday, 7 August 2009 13:29 No Comment]

Sri Lankan authorities finally got new Tamil Tiger leader Selvarajah Pathmanathan, the one man they wanted more than any other since destroying the separatists and killing founder Vellupillai Prabhakaran on May 18.

Here are some questions and answers about what the new Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief’s arrest means:

WHY DOES HIS ARREST MATTER SINCE THE WAR IS OVER?

The arrest of Pathmanathan, better known for most of his career as KP, will give Sri Lanka’s intelligence apparatus a huge window into the LTTE’s overseas operations. KP built the LTTE’s formidable external support network from the ground up, turning it into a multi-million dollar global enterprise.

So while Sri Lanka’s military wiped out the LTTE’s armed forces on the battlefield, a lot of its support network remained in place. That means money, manpower and propaganda apparatus that could be used to reignite another militant force. And as long as that potential is still out there, investors may remain wary about Sri Lanka as a safe destination to do business.

IS HE THE ONLY TOP TIGER LEFT?

No. There are still other international operatives like KP out there, and in fact KP feuded with a rival LTTE faction that felt he was wrong to admit Prabhakaran was dead and pledge to give up the armed struggle for a separate nation for Sri Lanka’s Tamils. That said, part of the fight between KP and a faction led by his onetime protege, nicknamed Castro, was for control of the hundreds of millions in assets the Tigers still have stashed.

IS SRI LANKA GOING AFTER OTHERS LIKE KP?

Absolutely. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has vowed no quarter against the remaining LTTE operatives. Though the military campaign he designed won more notice for its relentless application of firepower, the battlefield success has been fuelled by an equally dogged intelligence operation. In fact, several former army brigadiers have been posted overseas as deputy ambassadors since the end of the war, with a mandate to root out LTTE support and push host nations to act against Tiger backers on their soil.

DOES THIS REALLY MEAN THE END OF THE TIGERS?

No, simply because the death of Prabhakaran and his closest lieutenants in the military offensive had already spelled the end of the LTTE as a cohesive fighting force. But there are plenty of expatriate Tamils who are angry at how the war ended, and the continued detention of 250,000 Tamils in refugee camps. There is an entire generation of Tamils which grew up fed by the LTTE’s prolific propaganda machinery.

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