The LTTE Network

16 Nov, 2000    ·   432

Sabil Francis brings out various support networks of the LTTE in the post-1991 scenario

In mid-1991 an LTTE hit squad assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. The Indian security forces, who had supplied arms and ammunition to the LTTE, and trained its cadres in Tamil Nadu, struck back, smashing the LTTE network in the state. The LTTE’s struggle for Eelam in Sri Lanka lost the sympathy of the Tamilians in Tamil Nadu. That support had been the bedrock on which the LTTE had been built. In fact, in 1987, when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent the Indian Air Force to airdrop food to the beleaguered Tamils in Jaffna , it was pressure from Tamil politicians that forced his hand. The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M.G. Ramachandran, was a good friend of LTTE leader Prabhakaran, and had openly come out in support of the Eelam struggle. 



Interdicting the supply lines of a guerrilla army, as the British successfully did to stamp out the Malaya Chinese Communist revolution in the mid-1950s, and the Americans unsuccessfully tried to do in Vietnam , is the first step towards defeating a guerrilla army. But, strangely, even after it lost its supply base in Tamil Nadu, the LTTE was able to rise like a Phoneix, and capture the Jaffna Peninsula in 1992. This encouraged the theory that a foreign power paid off the LTTE with enormous quantities of arms for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. 



A more plausible explanation is that, by 1991, the LTTE network was so strong and widespread, that it no longer depended on Indian arms and support. From the early 1980s, and especially after it fought the IPKF, the LTTE set about creating a complex, shadowy network that reflects the quasi-government structure that the LTTE has built in Jaffna. The LTTE network deals with publicity and propaganda, arms procurement, and fundraising in separate departments that are extremely secretively. This system links commercial companies and small businesses, and informal banking channels. The LTTE navy has freighters under Panamanian, Honduran or Liberian flags and is owned by various front companies, political offices, aid and human rights organizations, arms dealers and foreign mercenaries. It is estimated that the LTTE collects about $4 million every month from the expatriate Tamil community, and depends upon their loyalty and resources to keep the battle going. 



The Tamil community abroad has played a key role in supporting the LTTE. Willing support has come, for example, from the 6,00,000 strong ‘Tamil’ or ‘Dravidian’ community in South Africa which has felt deprived and is receptive to the extreme Tamil nationalism promoted by the LTTE. The LTTE also forces the diaspora in countries like Australia and Canada to part with a “contribution”, lest harm befall their families and relatives in the Jaffna peninsula. However, most contributions are voluntary. 



Another lucrative source of arms and support for the LTTE is its links with other international militant organizations like the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and the international drug trade. For example, the current head of the LTTE International Secretariat in London is V. Manoharan, who spent two years in a French jail and was fined 120,000 francs, after the French authorities broke a LTTE-led heroin ring in Paris . Another key man is Selvarajah Padmanathan, better known as KP, is the head of the international arms buying team. They buy arms in the international market, and then send to Jaffna , through Southeast Asia by ship. The key exchange points are Singapore , Thailand , and Burma



Not all LTTE support is forced. There are those who truly believe that the LTTE is waging a genuine struggle for liberation, as, for example, Rev SJ Emmanuel, the Catholic priest who served as the vicar-general of the diocese of Jaffna . Emmanuel is a classic example of the radical Catholic priests of the northern peninsula, who have supported the Tamil Eelam struggle, justifying it in the name of  “liberation theology” that was espoused by priests who broke away from the official Catholic Church in the feudalistic societies of Latin America



Priests like Emmanuel play a key role in the LTTE’s strategy of winning over foreign governments and church organizations to be sympathetic to the LTTE cause. Emmanuel is reported to have met Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa in 1997 to convince the South African government to allow the LTTE to operate out of South Africa . The LTTE also has a host of organizations that collect funds for it like the UK-based United Tamil Organization (UTO), Tamil Eelam Economic Development Organization (TEEDOR), the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations and the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils 



Over the years, this network is bound to become more complex. In one way, the LTTE has made the first step towards eventual nationhood, for it is no longer dependent on any one nation for its support.