Prabhakaran, LTTE & Ethnic Tamils; A retrospection

Written by: Nishitha Mohandas
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Here is a retrospection on Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who have spend past 26 years engaged in a bitter battle for a homeland.

Colombo: It was in 1972, that 18-year-old Velupillai Prabhakaran, angered by the discrimination faced by the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, set out to with just a revolver in hand to form a group to fight for Tamil cause. This group eventually morphed into Tamil Tigers or LTTE who was since then fighting for an independent Tamil land in the Sinhalese nation. More than 70,000 had lost their life in this battle for survival.

In its course of struggle LTTE bagged a new title of being a 'terrorist organisation' from 32 nations including India. It was the first group which used women in suicide attacks. Federal Bureau of Investigation claims that it was the Tamil Tigers who invented the suicide belt.

LTTE is the only terrorist outfit which has the infamous credit of assassinating two world leaders.

On Friday, May 15 the Tigers offered to 'silence' their guns after claiming that they were for peace and are stopping war at the cause of innocent trapped civilians. However the Sri Lankan army continued their mopping operation and later on Monday, May 18 claimed that Prabhakaran, the LTTE supremo and his son Charles Anthony and other key leaders of the rebel group are dead. A formal announcement is yet to come from the President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Will this mark the end of Tamil struggle in island nation? Only time will say!

Who are Ethnic Tamils?

The ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka constitute about 12 pc of the population (ie of about 12 million) and are mostly concentrated in the northern and eastern party of Lanka. Most of them follow Hinduism and speak Tamil. This separates them from the Sri Lanka's majority group, the Sinhalese, who make up 74 pc of the population. They speak Sinhala and follow Buddhism.

The internal fight between the Ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese date back to the time of colonization by the British. At the time, the country was known as Ceylon. Many Sri Lankans regarded the Tamils as British collaborators and resented the preferential treatment they received.

But when Lanka won Independence in 1948 the Sinhalese majority dominated the government. It was the Tamils then who claimed they were being discriminated against in politics, employment and education. Tamil politicians began to demand separate state for Tamils called 'Tamil Eelam' since 1970. It was this period which witnessed the rise of Velupillai Prabhakaran. He soon emerged as the leader of Tamil cause.

More on Vellupillai Prabhakaran?

Operating secretly from the north-eastern part of the Island nation, Prabhakaran, remained elusive figure for years, even to many Tigers. The LTTE chief was known for wearing a cyanide capsule around his neck, 'to swallow rather than risl capture.' Same was followed by his troops. As a result, few Tigers have been captured alive.

Though Sri Lankan government describes Prabhakaran as a war criminal with disregard for civilian casualities, he is a hero for his supporters. He is wanted by Interpol on charges including terrorism and organized crime.

In 1975, three years after forming his group, Prabhakaran was accused of fatally shooting the mayor of Jaffna, his birthplace.

Prabhakaran is also accused of masterminding the killing of then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 in the Tamil-dominated Indian state of Tami Nadu. Sri Lankan authorities allege that Prabhakaran was avenging Gandhi's decision to send Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka.

Two years later, a Tigers' suicide bomber, allegedly acting under Prabhakaran's orders, detonated explosives that killed Sri Lanka's then-president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, during a rally.

Who are Tamil Tigers?

Unemployed youth in Tamil-dominated areas are recruited to the Tiger cadre. Tigers officially began their armed struggle in July 1983 when they killed 13 Sinhalese soldiers. So far hundreds of Tamils were killed and thousands left homeless and more that 1,00,000 fled to South India, in the fierce battle between Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tigers.

The Tigers are infamous for suicide bombings, with men and women strapping on suicide vests for more than 200 attacks against Sri Lankan citizens and dozens of high-profile political leaders.

Peace Deal:

Occasionally the fighting was stopped as a result of peace accords. In 2002 the Tigers dropped their demands for a separate homeland in exchange for a power-sharing deal with the government. Norway and some other nations agreed to be the negotiators of peace deal.

However in Jan 2008, the Sri Lankan announced it was annulling the nearly six-year-old truce with the rebels, declaring that it would crush the rebels. The fighting intensified with security forces driving the rebels from their strongholds in the east and north of the country.

Rebels vowed to fight even after government ordering them to lay down arms. Thousands of civilians became homeless and were killed after being trapped in the war zone. International aid groups expressed concern that both the government and the rebels disregarded civilian safety even in no-fire zones and hospitals. Both sides blamed the other for civilian casualties and exaggerated accounts of their victories. With journalists not allowed into the battle zones, their claims could not be independently confirmed.

On Sunday, May 17 the Tamil tiger posted an 'urgent statement' on a pro-rebel website saying that the battle had reached its 'bitter end'. "We have decided to silence our guns," the statement said.

The army continued its mopping operation even after LTTE declaring 'silence'. On Monday, May 18 Sri Lanka confirmed the death of LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran. With this three decade old war came to an end in Sri Lanka

In the past, the Tigers have emerged from near-defeat. But if Prabhakaran's death is confirmed, what will be the fate of LTTE? Will the cause of Tamils be ever addressed? Or will more militant group rise from the ashes of LTTE to fight the sufferings of Tamils in Island nation or will it provide a peaceful life to the Ethnic tamils?

We must wait and watch!

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