29 July 2005
''Sri Lanka: Taking Stock of L.T.T.E.''
By R. Hariharan
@The Power and Interest News Report (PINR)
"According to the S.L.M.M., L.T.T.E. has committed over 2900 ceasefire violations since the ceasefire came into force. In addition to this, L.T.T.E. has been accused of killing nearly 200 people, most of them opposed to L.T.T.E. including Sri Lankan security forces' intelligence operatives. L.T.T.E. has also recruited over 1200 child soldiers, which created a worldwide outcry from non-governmental organizations. The Norwegian mediators have drawn flak for not being able to prevent L.T.T.E. from these acts."
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.), popularly called the Tigers, is perhaps the world's best-organized, if not largest, insurgent force. L.T.T.E. insurgents have been fighting in Sri Lanka for an independent Tamil Eelam (literally Tamil Homeland) for three decades. By their attacks and use of terror tactics, the Tigers found a place in the U.S. list of global terrorist organizations from 1997 onwards. L.T.T.E. has refined the use of suicide bombs to carry out 230 attacks to date. Victims of such suicide attacks include former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and a few other key personalities in Sri Lanka.
Background of L.T.T.E.
Sinhalese, who are mostly Buddhist, dominate Sri Lanka. This ethnic group forms approximately 74 percent of the population; Tamils, who are mostly Hindu and Christian, comprise about 18 percent. After Sri Lanka attained independence in 1948, Sinhalese nationalism became progressively strident. The Tamil struggle for equal rights came to the fore when Sinhalese, the language of the majority, was declared the sole official language in 1956. Demanding a federal status for the Tamil-dominant northern and eastern parts of the country, Tamils carried on the struggle politically through the Federal Party in parliament. However, the government failed to keep up its promises to give them a fair share of autonomy.
The frustrated Tamil politicians formed the Tamil United Liberation Front (T.U.L.F.) as a unified political party demanding an independent Tamil Eelam. In the elections in 1977, T.U.L.F. won all the seats on their political manifesto of secession. However, when T.U.L.F. could not progress the issue further, Tamil militant groups slowly gained the upper hand.
In 1983, when 13 soldiers were killed in an ambush by the L.T.T.E. in the north, riots broke out in Colombo. Unprecedented violence was unleashed by rampaging Sinhalese mobs, which looted and destroyed Tamil property and businesses. Tamils in the hundreds were killed. Thousands of Tamil refugees fled to Tamil Nadu in India. From that point on, the Tamil insurgency became a full-blown war to gain a free homeland for Tamils with L.T.T.E. in the forefront of the struggle.
L.T.T.E. Joins Ceasefire with Government
Prompted by the global "war on terrorism" that was spearheaded by the U.S. after the September 11 attacks, L.T.T.E. entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Sri Lankan government in February 2002. Norwegian mediators brought this about after a series of meetings with both sides from 2000 onwards.
L.T.T.E. entered the peace process in 2002 in a position of strength after registering resounding victories in conventional operations in April 2000 where they captured Elephant Pass, a vital point astride the narrow link between the Jaffna Peninsula and the mainland. This was followed in July 2000 by an equally successful suicide attack on Katunayake international airport in Colombo killing 14 people and damaging a score of civilian aircraft. A key feature of the peace process this time was L.T.T.E.'s readiness to examine a solution within a federal set up in Sri Lanka as against its basic quest for an independent Tamil Eelam.
L.T.T.E. has had difficulty enduring the peace agreement because they had diluted their stated goal of independence to negotiate for a federal solution. The problems they face are two fold: effective handling of peace negotiations to achieve a face saving result and sustaining operational readiness and motivation of cadres for forcing a solution in case the talks fail.
Handling of Peace Negotiations
L.T.T.E. is not new to handling mediation or peace talks. In the past, two internal efforts (President Premadasa-L.T.T.E. in 1989-90 and President Chandrika Kumaratunga-L.T.T.E. in 1994-95) at peacemaking had failed. There were two other third party mediation initiatives; India's efforts from 1983 to 1987 and after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord from 1987-90 also did not bring peace. There was also an abortive British effort by conservative politician Liam Fox in 1996-97 that did not take off.
However, this time L.T.T.E. appeared to have become wiser in handling negotiations. The Norwegian mediators had set for themselves a limited task of initiating a dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and L.T.T.E. aimed at resolving the ethnic problem. The Norwegians established the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (S.L.M.M.) comprising of observers from five Nordic countries to oversee the maintenance of the ceasefire. Their aim was only to monitor and not ensure a ceasefire, a task left to the two opponents.
There were six rounds of talks between L.T.T.E. and the Sri Lankan government. These talks were mainly concerned with procedural aspects of the talks and confidence building measures. No progress was made on the question of devolution of powers to the Tamils, the core issue. The war for Tamil Eelam has already claimed over 60,000 lives. According to L.T.T.E., it has lost 14,355 cadres as of December 2000. Having sacrificed so many lives, L.T.T.E. in this round of peace negotiations has to find a face saving solution that will gain a status just short of outright independence. Otherwise its credibility with Tamils would be lost.
Perhaps with this at the back of its mind, L.T.T.E. submitted a proposal for establishing a L.T.T.E.-dominated Interim Self Governing Authority (I.S.G.A.), which suggested handing over the administration of the entire northeast province to the I.S.G.A. until a final solution emerges through the peace negotiations. As acceptance of I.S.G.A. would result in the loss of sovereign control of the entire northeast province, the Sri Lankan government could not readily accept the proposal. Though it was ready to discuss the proposal with L.T.T.E., the insurgents called off further participation in the talks unless the government accepted the I.S.G.A. proposal first.
The I.S.G.A. proposal has split the Sri Lankan polity vertically, causing further delay in resuming the negotiations. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (J.V.P.), partner of the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance coalition and vehemently opposed to both a federal form of government as well as the I.S.G.A., has broken away from the coalition. On the same count, right-wing Buddhist elements have taken their opposition to the streets. Thus, by this single act, L.T.T.E. has split the Sinhalese from coming together on the negotiating table.
L.T.T.E. had to bear the brunt of the Boxer Day tsunami that struck the island's eastern seaboard. Its limited sources could not cope with the gigantic task of relief as it was the Tamil and Muslim populations in the east that suffered from the brunt of the tsunami. International pressure was brought upon the government to evolve a working structure to funnel relief resources through L.T.T.E. The Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure, with a strong say for L.T.T.E., has now come into force six months after the tsunami struck. This can be considered a success for L.T.T.E. which can showcase its ability to administer in peace times not only to the people of Sri Lanka, but also worldwide.
Overall L.T.T.E. appears to have come out in a better position, retaining the initiative to resume the talks in their hands with a proactive strategy.
Since the ceasefire came into force in 2002, L.T.T.E. has used the limited mandate of the Norwegians to gain political and military advantages. These advantages are as follows:
1. To gain a status for L.T.T.E. as an equal party as the sole representative of Tamils and the northeast in the peace parleys. This was done adroitly after getting the existing ban on the organization lifted in Sri Lanka. All the Tamil political parties were corralled and coerced to join the Tamil National Alliance -- an L.T.T.E. sponsored coalition in parliament.
2. To build the military infrastructure and gain freedom of movement for L.T.T.E. forces outside the areas under their control in the northeast. Three to four battalions have been added through recruitment -- many of them child soldiers. New weapons have been imported and introduced. Radio communication capability has been improved. The right to move their small naval force -- the Sea Tigers -- in Sri Lankan waters has been asserted, in addition to their case in building up their nascent air capability despite objections from the mediators.
3. To build up a direct relationship with some of the E.U. countries that could help in shaping the course of the peace process to L.T.T.E.'s advantage. To a certain extent they have succeeded in being able to directly brief governments in some European countries on important issues affecting L.T.T.E. This has also helped L.T.T.E. reshape its public image as a tough group of negotiators supported by a powerful and strong monolithic organization rather than as an arms-bristling terrorist organization.
According to the S.L.M.M., L.T.T.E. has committed over 2900 ceasefire violations since the ceasefire came into force. In addition to this, L.T.T.E. has been accused of killing nearly 200 people, most of them opposed to L.T.T.E. including Sri Lankan security forces' intelligence operatives. L.T.T.E. has also recruited over 1200 child soldiers, which created a worldwide outcry from non-governmental organizations. The Norwegian mediators have drawn flak for not being able to prevent L.T.T.E. from these acts.
The Sri Lankan government also has its record of ceasefire violations. They mostly pertain to harassment of the Tamil civilian population by troops, extortion, restriction on movement and fishing, and a few abductions. But more serious on its part is its failure to vacate the High Security Zones -- civilian Tamil areas occupied by Sri Lankan troops in the forward lines of the ceasefire -- as agreed in the ceasefire agreement.
Sri Lankan military intelligence is believed to be behind the retaliatory killings of some of the key L.T.T.E. leaders in the east. It is also accused of being involved in killing some of the prominent pro-L.T.T.E. Tamil personalities like D.P. Sivaram, the well-known columnist and editor of the pro-L.T.T.E. website TamilNet.
Sustaining Operational Motivation of Cadres
Perhaps this is one area where L.T.T.E. has not been able to score fully. Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias Colonel Karuna, who was in charge of L.T.T.E.'s military operations in the Eastern Province, fell out with the leadership of Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. He was expelled from L.T.T.E. in March 2004. This was a major blow to the L.T.T.E. Karuna raised the issue of discriminatory treatment meted out in L.T.T.E. to the eastern Tamils, a traditional grievance of Tamils there, as the reason for quitting L.T.T.E. He took a large number of cadres from the east, depleting L.T.T.E.'s strength in that region. He also has eluded repeated L.T.T.E. attempts to kill him and his followers.
Though Karuna has lost support from some key leaders, he and his group have made it untenable for L.T.T.E. to move around freely in the east, let alone dominate their strongholds there. The situation created by the "war of the Tamils" has made it difficult for L.T.T.E. to assert its military influence in the east; this will affect its negotiating position when the talks resume. Thus, L.T.T.E. will probably like to regain control of the east before resuming peace talks.
A second aspect is the peacetime administration of the areas under L.T.T.E. control. Currently, L.T.T.E. has employed civilian cadres of administrators who are gaining importance through their interaction with the people. L.T.T.E. is a secretive organization and its fighting elements do not mix with people except on controlled situations. So the "peace pause" leaves the armed cadres with nothing much to do, not even the glory of fighting for their Eelam. The longer the talks remain suspended, the more frustrated the rank and file of L.T.T.E. will become. The terrorist killings and assassinations are perhaps one way to remind them that the war has not been won yet. Introduction of new weapons, and training the cadres to attain proficiency in them, are some of the other methods adopted to sustain motivation.
L.T.T.E. has a worldwide network for arms procurement and its own fleet of 11 freighters to supply the organization. Therefore, it has retained its ability to support military operations. However, its financial support that comes from the Tamil diaspora is under pressure due to the banning of open L.T.T.E.-support activities in many countries. In some states like Australia, Canada, and Norway, citizens of Eelam Tamil origin have managed to influence the local politicians to support the L.T.T.E. cause.
Over the years, L.T.T.E. appears to have gained an edge on the Sri Lankan government. Though it has deferred its long cherished goal of an independent Tamil homeland for a solution within a federal Sri Lanka, it has retained the negotiating initiative in its hands.
L.T.T.E. has taken full advantage of the absence of a force to ensure the ceasefire terms are not violated by carrying out selective assassinations that could affect the Sri Lankan Security Force's capability to wage war effectively. It has also increased its strength and wartime capability by strengthening its sea and air capabilities. Thus, it has emerged as the world's first (and probably only) insurgent force with capability to fight on land, sea and air.
However, the organization is yet to overcome the damage created by the defection of the powerful eastern commander Karuna from its ranks. This will weaken its negotiating strength as the sole representative of Tamil people in the northeast. It will also affect its military capability adversely in the east if and when it has to resort to the military option. Therefore, it will have to overcome Karuna and his followers before it can resume negotiations from a position of strength.
Report Drafted By:
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