The LTTE: Waiting to Strike?

04 Nov, 1999    ·   282

Sabil Francis reckons that the Tigers have not changed stripes even though they have not launched any military offensive this year

Since November 1998, except for occassional incidents, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been strangely silent. This is all the more worrying as the Sri Lankan Tamil militant organization has a way of striking just when it is written off. With the LTTE isolated internationally, and the Sri Lankan army having retaken more than 1000 square kilometers of Tiger territory amid proposals of the Sri Lankan President to implement the devolution package bypassing the Tigers, there is every chance of making the mistake of writing off the LTTE once again. In fact, with Sri Lankan national elections due, it is highly likely that the LTTE will strike again. 



Since November 26, 1998, when the LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirabhakaran called for peace in his Great Heroes Day speech, the LTTE has launched no major military offensive against the Sri Lankan forces. But the past has shown that the LTTE is unlikely to compromise on its basic goal of an independent Tamil Eelam, and lull in the fighting has only been a time to recoup. Already there are indications that it is preparing for a major battle ahead. Arms are reportedly being piled up, the cadre trained, and all able-bodied youths of the Wanni area are being forced into military training by the Tigers. At the same time, the LTTE has been trying to win back support in India , by making it clear that it poses no threat to Sonia Gandhi and by promising not to act in “any way that is prejudicial to Indian interests.” 



All this is in tune with earlier actions of the LTTE. Repeatedly , the LTTE has shown the ability to bounce back after apparent reverses. For example, despite the raids by Indian security forces after the May 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the subsequent deprivation of local networks and international support, it carried out spectacular attacks like the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa in May 1995 or the car bombing of Colombo on January 31, 1996.



In 1987, the LTTE had been pushed to the wall by the Sri Lankan army when India stepped in with the Indo-Sri Lankan accord forcing the Sri Lankan army to withdraw to its pre-accord positions. That did not prevent the LTTE attacking the IPKF when they thought that they had recouped. 



The instances are many, but the key point is this: the LTTE has never been sincere in its calls for peace and is relentless in its pursuit for a Tamil Eelam. Anyone who is against this basic goal -- from a moderate Tamil politician to the most hardline Sinhalese -- is to be eliminated. That's why the LTTE is killing Tamil leaders such as Neelan Tiruchelvam. In fact, Amnesty International has appealed to the LTTE to spare the lives of moderate Tamil leaders such as N. Raviraj of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the acting mayor of Jaffna and R. Sambandan, the TULF MP from Trincomalee. However, as the real aim of the LTTE is to emerge as the sole spokesman of the Sri Lankan Tamils, it is unlikely that the LTTE will spare them. 



The LTTE’s inimical hostility to the Sinhalese people and its disregard for diversity in the Tamil struggle has together entrapped it in an intolerant dynamic that it struggles to get off from. The organization suffers from what can be termed the “prison of sacrifice”. The LTTE has lost more than 50,000 of its fighters in the battle for Eelam, and an entire gamut of mythology has been built around these martyrs, with “Heroes Days” being observed, usually with spectacular attacks on Sinhalese targets. Today, the organization cannot just give up the fight for Eelam and hence is caught in a Catch-22 situation. It cannot give up the fight since too many have already died for Eelam, and at the same time, since it is unable to wrest Eelam by force just yet. 



Such an understanding of the LTTE clearly explicates its strategy. President Chandrika Kumaratunga failed in her efforts to bring peace, and will presumably fail again, precisely because of this. For the LTTE has barely given any indication that it feels differently now about Eelam as opposed to 1979 when it wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa saying that “no force on earth, however repressive it may be, can stop us from the revolutionary struggle that we are committed to.” In 20 years, little has changed.