By Asutosha Acharya
Amid media reports indicating that Tamil organizations made up of diaspora in different countries are still making desperate attempts to keep alive the concept of "Tamil Eelam", suspected pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) elements, for the first time since the military defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka in May 2009, allegedly executed a terrorist attack in neighboring India.
On the morning of June 12, suspected LTTE cadres blasted railway tracks at the Perani railway station in Villupuram district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Passengers of the approaching Tiruchirapalli-Chennai Rockfort express escaped unhurt because the driver applied the emergency brakes in time on hearing a loud explosion. Leaflets condemning the visit of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to India (June 8-11) were found at the incident site, police said.
On June 8, hundreds of pro-LTTE activists, led by MarumalarchiDravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader V Gopalswamy, alias Vaiko, waving pictures of slain LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, held protests in Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, against Rajapakse's visit.
Despite the LTTE's comprehensive defeat in its own homeland, diaspora elements and Tamil sympathizers continue to garner support abroad, including in India's Tamil Nadu state, raising vital questions on the future of Tamil radicalism in Sri Lanka.
Notably, addressing the Emergency Regulation debate in parliament, Sri Lankan Prime Minister D M Jayaratne on June 8 stated that the LTTE was attempting to re-establish itself in the country once again, with the backing of its international network. He stressed the necessity of the Emergency Regulation to thwart these efforts and check on the funding of the LTTE's revival by the diaspora networks. The prime minister further stated:
There are LTTE operatives who are still mingling amongst civilians. During the last month we have arrested 77 die-hard LTTE cadres who are believed to have been directly involved in terror activities in the country. Intelligence agencies reported that Tigers who escaped the military campaign last year were collecting weapons they had stashed away to resume their struggle. LTTE support base internationally remains strong despite them being militarily defeated. LTTE fundraising network is attempting to build apartments and residential complexes in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo and its suburbs for LTTE supporters.
Significantly, the state of emergency was extended by another month. The island nation has been in a state of emergency since the assassination of then foreign affairs minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005.
On January 15, 2010, Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka still faced a severe threat from separatists, though the LTTE had been militarily crushed. The president mentioned threats posed by the LTTE operatives in the Jaffna Peninsula, claiming that the area had not been cleared fully and that LTTE cadres could account for as many as 10% of the total population in the district. The president added that LTTE and its agents would do anything to advance their cause.
That the government is still worried about the security scenario in the country is reflected in the allocation of 201 billion rupees (US$1.8 billion) for defense in 2010, down only marginally from an estimated 210 billion rupees in 2009 and 204 billion rupees in 2008, at the height of the fighting with the LTTE.
Remnants of the LTTE remain active in countries outside Sri Lanka, with regular reports of arrests on charges of terrorist activities. The most prominent of recent incidents include:
April 27, 2010: Seven suspected LTTE cadres were arrested in the Netherlands along with computers, paperwork, phones, documents, photos, DVDs and 40,000 euros (US$48,800) . "Among the suspects are the leaders of various organizations of Tamils in the Netherlands, which probably play a role in the international network of the LTTE," the Netherlands Justice Ministry stated.
March 3, 2010: The German Police arrested six LTTE cadres, including three German nationals and three Sri Lankan nationals, suspected of raising funds for the outfit. The suspects were arrested during raids on eight premises including the Tamil Coordination Committee, a front organization of the LTTE, in Oberhausen in Essen.
December 11, 2009: Authorities in Thailand arrested five people, including an LTTE cadre, for producing and smuggling more than 300 fake European Union passports and other official European documents, officials said.
Further, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry quoted the ambassador of Sri Lanka to Brazil, A M J Sadiq, as stating that a number of vessels belonging to the LTTE's shipping fleet, which had hitherto been involved in drug trafficking and gun running, had shifted to the lucrative business of human trafficking.
Moreover, according to the Malaysian National News Agency Bernama Today, Malaysian police had arrested a number of key LTTE leaders, among other foreign nationals, between August 2009 and March 2010. According to the report, Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein stated that the Malaysian authorities had recently conveyed information on the arrest of the LTTE leaders to Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse.
Meanwhile, various LTTE leaders residing in the US and European countries have clustered into rival factions, with each attempting to project itself as the "sole representative" of the Tamil diaspora around the world, and to secure access to the vast funds created by the LTTE.
Soon after the defeat of the LTTE and the death of its chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the then international head of the LTTE, Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias KP, along with the New York-based Lawyer and International legal adviser of the LTTE, Viswanathan Rudrakumaran, formulated the Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) proposal. On June 22, 2009, just a month after the collapse of the LTTE, Rudrakumaran issued a media release announcing the concept of the TGTE in New York:
We, the people of Tamil Eelam and its diaspora ... firmly believe that the formation of a Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam is imperative. It is a well accepted proposition in international law that the legal claim to establish a government in exile arises the more readily when the exclusion of its political leaders is achieved through acts contrary to principles of jus cogens, such as the unlawful use of force, abductions with a view to torture, genocide, war crimes, detention in internment camps or "open prisons", the rape of women and the kidnapping of children. In this connection, we, the people of Tamil Eelam and its diaspora, propose to put together a committee for the Formation of a Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.
The release claimed, however, "Our program and efforts in this regard are fundamentally democratic."
After Pathmanathan's arrest on August 5, 2009 in Malaysia and his subsequent transportation to Sri Lanka, Rudrakumaran alone has shouldered the task of taking the TGTE effort forward. On May 17, 2010, Rudrakumaran disclosed, in a press statement, that the TGTE would hold its inaugural sessions in the city of Philadelphia in the United States (US) for three days between May 17 and 19, to coincide with the first year remembrance of the military suppression of the LTTE. The communiqu้ stated that TGTE "will continue its struggle until conditions are created which will enable the Tamils to realize their right to self determination and exercise their sovereignty".
Rudrakumaran, who was the coordinator of the TGTE formation committee, was elected as its interim chief executive at the meeting, and a seven member Interim Executive Committee (IEC) was also formed. The IEC members included Mahinthan Sivasubramanium, Sam Sangarasivam, Gerard Francis, Selva Selvanathan, Vithya Jeyashanker, Sasithar Maheswaran and Janarthanan Pulendran.
The TGTE meeting at Philadelphia was the result of a year-long effort by influential pro-LTTE elements of the global Tamil diaspora to create an organization representing more than a million Tamils of Sri Lankan origin dispersed in different parts of the world. The TGTE, in a sense, is a rebranded manifestation of the LTTE overseas structure. Like LTTE, its ultimate goal is the creation of "Tamil Eelam". Although it does not unambiguously endorse the LTTE, the TGTE's commitment towards the LTTE was established clearly at the Philadelphia summit, where LTTE flags waved in profusion, despite the fact that the LTTE is a banned foreign terrorist organization in the US.
The establishment of the TGTE, however, has done little to stem the internecine conflicts within LTTE diaspora elements. The struggle to establish control has resulted in a rise of extremist rhetoric and postures, with the TGTE itself becoming more and more hawkish.
Although Rudrakumaran is frequently referred to as the new leader of the LTTE in sections of the media, the reality has been somewhat ambiguous. The overseas LTTE structure has been deeply divided since Prabhakaran's death. Political commentator D B S Jeyaraj divided the successor organizations of the LTTE into three factions, the TGTE, Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and Tamil Eelam People's Assembly, also known, respectively, as the KP or Rudra faction, the GTF or Father S J Emmanuel faction and the Makkal Peravai or Nediyavan faction.
Sri Lanka's Deputy Minister of Resettlement Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias Karuna Amman, a former top LTTE commander, has also underscored the fact that the Tamil diaspora was divided and had conflicting views on the so-called TGTE. Muralitharan argues that the Tamil diaspora would fail to make a significant impact internationally because of internal dissensions. He identified three principal diaspora factions - the US-based Rudrakumaran group, the Norway-based Nediyavan faction and the London-based British Tamil Forum.
Significantly, Thambiah Ganesh and Kuppilan Ravi, believed to be members of the Nediyavan group, were arrested in Paris on June 4, following the death of Ramesh Sivarupan, believed to be a member of the Rudrakumaran faction. Sources indicate that Sivarupan was abducted and taken in a van from his residence in Paris and was later found near his house with injuries, to which he succumbed at a hospital in Paris on June 3. Earlier in the week, the Nediyavan faction had burnt thousands of copies of Thainilam, a newspaper in Paris printed by the Rudrakumaran faction.
Besides internal differences, there is widespread skepticism about the TGTE exercise. To be in any measure relevant to the Tamils, the TGTE would have to have a public presence in Sri Lanka, but has no foothold there, and it is extremely doubtful that it will be able to establish any such presence. As Muralitharan notes, "How can they set up a separate state without the support of the Tamils living in Sri Lanka? ... They [the Tamils in Sri Lanka] detest the LTTE for having destroyed them. No pro-LTTE element will get the support of the Tamils to set up a separate state in Sri Lanka now."
Meanwhile, there appears to be some urgency in the government's efforts to develop the war-ravaged areas of North and East provinces. Economic activity in the north has picked up, though in the long term development alone will not satisfy Sri Lanka's Tamils.
Basic aspirations for equity and for a restoration of trust and security would have to be met before the country's "Tamil problem" can be thought of as having been resolved. Colombo has to work out a reasonable political package that will satisfy Sri Lanka's minorities, something that Rajapakse has repeatedly promised. The government would also need to take stock of its role in past conflicts, in particular, its record of manipulating ethnic tensions for electoral gain. It is significant that the militant Tamil diaspora was created by the policies and actions of successive administrations in Colombo.
The LTTE is still banned in 32 countries across the world, and its diaspora organizations are yet to secure significant traction abroad, or consolidate linkages with LTTE survivor groupings in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the aspirations for an independent Tamil Eelam are being kept alive, and extremist activity, while marginal, persists.
These impulses will continue to seek opportunities for a future crystallization, and both Colombo and governments abroad - particularly including India - will have to exercise the utmost vigilance to ensure that a terrorist movement is not able to take root again, even while fullest freedom for democratic engagement is permitted to peaceful Tamil groupings.
(Asutosha Acharya is a research assistant, Institute for Conflict Management. This article appears in South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal )