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 Post subject: Ready to Kill, Willing to Die
 Post Posted: Thu Jun 15, 2006 1:28 am 
Ready to Kill, Willing to Die

The rebel Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka use suicide bombers and go into battle with cyanide capsules around their necks. The EU has labeled them terrorists, but they say it’s the Tamil people who are being terrorized.

By Kevin Sites, Wed Jun 14,
Copyright © 2006 Yahoo

KILINOCHCHI, LTTE-controlled Sri Lanka — Formed in Sri Lanka in 1976 amid growing ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, are known as one of the most disciplined, organized and ruthless rebel forces in the world.

They are led by a shadowy figure named Velupillai Prabhakaran who is rarely seen, except in photographs and posters throughout Tiger-controlled territory, which starts below the Jaffna Peninsula running south to the town of Vavuniya.


Watch excerpts of Kevin Sites' interview with the Tigers» View

They have an estimated 10,000 fighters, including their own navy. The Tigers have a history of using suicide attacks, including two recent incidents: one in the capital of Colombo that wounded the Sri Lankan army chief, and another in which a Tiger suicide boat killed 17 Sri Lankan sailors.

The Tigers are legendary for wearing cyanide capsules around their necks when they go into battle and vowing never to be taken alive. But their use of suicide bombers got them labeled as a terrorist organization by the European Union.

I sat down with four Tiger cadres, all dressed in the distinctive tiger-stripe camouflage, at the Tamil Tiger media office in the rebel-controlled town of Kilinochchi. I asked the cadres, two male and two female, why they joined the rebel army and why they say they're willing to both kill and die for the creation of an independent Tamil nation.

The Tigers, uncomfortable with the use of our Sinhalese translator, provided their own.

KEVIN SITES: What incident or turning point prompted you join the LTTE?

KUMARAN SIPATHASUNDARAM (male, 28, Tiger for eight years): In the late '90s when I was in school, the Sri Lanka military bombed my village. An elderly woman lost both legs, one person died and two students were injured. I was angry with the [military] and joined the Tigers one year later.

AGANALAGAN VELUPPILLAI (male, 34, Tiger for four years): The Army shelled the village Nedunkerni, which was next to mine. My family fled our village but we had to travel through Nedunkerni. And when we did, I saw the dead bodies scattered all over the ground. I was 17. I remember seeing four bodies, but they were too mutilated to tell whether they were men or women.

VIKNESWARAN MALATHI (female, 28, Tiger for 11 years): I was nine and the Indian peacekeeping forces came to my village and started to round people up. Then they brought out a masked man who started identifying certain people who were removed from the others.

Shortly after we heard gunshots and crying. Among those taken away were my aunt, who was nine months pregnant. Seventeen were killed altogether that night; 14 were related to me. The bodies were in the morgue the next day. It was said on the news that these people that had been killed were terrorists, so they were even denied a decent burial. We don't even know what happened to those bodies. I know they weren't terrorists.

Life as a Tamil Tiger»View

SELLATHURAI ISAICHELVI (female, 28, Tiger for seven years):
The army bombarded Jaffna where I lived in 1995. Our house was destroyed and my family had to leave our home. I wasn't even able to finish school.

SITES: Have you experienced combat against the Sri Lankan military?

KUMARAN SIPATHASUNDARAM: In late 1999, the Tigers launched an offensive to retake part of Jaffna Peninsula. I was mostly dealing with logistics. The bombardment was very heavy. We had to move food and ammo to the front lines. We had to carry most of it by hand. It was hard, but we thought about our country and so we carried.

VIKNESWARAN MALATHI [Note: the Tamil Tigers have a history of recruiting and using women in combat; however, men and women usually form separate units and are commanded by officers of the same sex.]: In 1995 I was a section leader with 15 soldiers during an offensive by the Sri Lankan Army to retake the Jaffna Peninsula. After landing on shore in an amphibious mission, we fought an advance for three days up to Palai. On the third day we had stiff resistance and there was artillery fire. An artillery shell landed behind me, it wounded two of my soldiers and knocked me down.

I tried to get up but I couldn't stand. I called for support and medics came and carried me back to a field hospital. My right leg, which had been wounded three times earlier, had been hit again with shell fragments. This time it had to be amputated after three days in the hospital.

SITES: The Tigers are legendary for vowing to never be taken alive. You're reputed to all be issued a cyanide capsule when you join the LTTE and that you wear that around your neck during battle, with the intent of killing yourself before being captured. First, is that true, and second, if so, why take your own life?

KUMARAN SIPATHASUNDARAM: That's what it's for. Not to be captured alive is a tradition of our movement. It's also a necessity at this period of time in our nation. Why? First, because information can't be given to the enemy. Second, we must not be humiliated in front of the enemy. Third, we don't want to be tortured. The past has taught us that. Everything we do is dedicated to the nation.

VIKNESWARAN MALATHI: In earlier fighting experiences we see our cadres' bodies; they are almost always mutilated. I've seen it with my own eyes. It's far better to die than be taken alive.

SITES: The Tigers are also known for their use of suicide bombers called "Black Tigers." Would all of you accept a Black Tiger mission if asked?

AGANALAGAN VELUPPILLAI: It's not a tradition to be asked to be a Black Tiger; you have to volunteer.

SITES: Well, would you volunteer for a Black Tiger mission?

VIKNESWARAN MALATHI: The future will tell us if this is necessary.

SITES: Let me pose a very important question on that point, though. While the use of suicide bombers may bring about some kind of tactical advantage for you, aren't you concerned that it's actually backfiring in the court of world opinion?

Tamil Tiger cadres
For example, the European Union recently labeled the LTTE a terrorist organization, in part, because of your use of suicide bombers. So now instead of a rebel army, perhaps with legitimate concerns, you've been lumped in with the likes of al Qaida. Doesn't that hurt your cause?

VIKNESWARAN MALATHI: We have nothing to worry about with that title, because it's not in our hands. Our leader knows what to do and what not to do. Everything said in the media is not the truth about the Tigers.

KUMARAN SIPATHASUNDARAM: Yes, it hurts, but branding us terrorists is not justified. It hurts but we're very firm about our targets.

It's the responsibility of the people to determine whether someone is [a] terrorist or a freedom fighter. Every Black Tiger attack was aimed at military targets to help maintain a balance of power. It's part of military action, not against civilians. It's part of military action so it's not terrorism.

SITES: What about the current situation? There's been renewed violence and concerns that the 2002 ceasefire may collapse completely. What's your feeling on this?

VIKNESWARAN MALATHI: We feel the international community has been silent.

SITES: How have they been silent? A consortium of Scandinavian nations finally got both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to come to Oslo this week for peace talks. And at the last meeting the Tiger leadership balked, saying it would not be a part of face-to-face talks with the Sri Lankan government. How does that help the pursuit of peace?

KUMARAN SIPATHASUNDARAM: Our leadership has invited the international community to be a part of this procedure in the hope of having a just solution and giving a greater responsibility to the international community. But they are ignoring the facts that the Sri Lankan Army is responsible for the violence.

The international community wants to sit again and again and talk, but nothing happens. So I think its time to speak to the international community directly rather than to the Sri Lankans face to face.

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