LIBERATION TIGERS OF TAMIL EELAM (LTTE): THE TAMIL TIGERS
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were a pro-Tamil, anti-Sinhalese separatist movement in Sri Lanka that has waged a war in fits and starts from 1983 to 2009 against the Sri Lankan government in an effort to create an independent homeland for the Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Eelam is the original Tamil name for Sri Lanka. The LTTE’s goal was to set up a homeland to be called Eelam.
In the early 1970s, the LTTE was comprised of 26 fighters. It was one of several anti-government groups in Sri Lanka. They gained their position as the main insurgency group in Sri Lanka by allying themselves with other radicals, recruiting young peasants, brutalizing those who went against them and running a campaign of terror and assassination. After a massacre in 1983, thousands of new recruits joined the LTTE.
Velupillai Prabhakaran was the LTTE’s undisputed military and political leader. He and A.S. Balasingham, the group’s ideological spokesman, were the LTTE's most important figures. * The Tamil militants' choice of the tiger as their symbol reflected not only the ferocity of that animal but a deliberate contrast with the lion (singha), which traditionally has been a symbol of the Sinhalese people and is depicted in the Sri Lankan flag. Ideologically, LTTE theoreticians at times resorted to Marxist rhetoric to characterize their struggle. Overall, the creation of an independent Tamil state, irrespective of ideology, remained the movement's only goal. In pursuit of this objective, the LTTE seemed more wedded to direct and violent action than formulation of principles on which the independent state would operate. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]
In the 1990s and early 2000s the Tamil Tigers were regarded as one of the most tenacious, patient and stubborn insurgent movements in the world. Despite suffering huge losses, they remained strong, with high morale. The group held its own against the Sri Lankan army, even though it was vastly outnumbered.
History of the Tamil Tigers
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged in 1972 when Tamil youth espousing an independent Tamil state established a group called the Tamil New Tigers. At that time, the idea of secession was still considered radical by most Tamil leaders, though the TULF embraced it four years later. An incident of apparently unprovoked police brutality in 1974 started the LTTE on its career of insurgency. In January of that year, the World Tamil Research Conference, bringing delegates from many different countries, was held in Jaffna. Police seeing large crowds milling around the meeting hall attacked them ferociously. Nine persons were killed and many more injured. The incident was viewed by youthful militants not only as a provocative act of violence but as a deliberate insult to Tamil culture. It was, according to one Tamil spokesman, "a direct challenge to their manhood." [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]
The Tigers' first act as an insurgent movement was to assassinate the progovernment mayor of Jaffna in 1975. Subsequently they went underground. The Tamil New Tigers changed its name to the LTTE in 1976 as it accelerated its violent campaign for Tamil independence. As extremist movements in other countries have done, the LTTE apparently established contacts with similar groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, trained with Palestinians in Libya and Lebanon, and ran its own secret training camps in India's Tamil Nadu State.
In the early and mid 1980s, the Tamil Tigers were armed and trained by India. In the early 1980s they competed with Marxist Tamil groups, also trained in India, for dominance. The Tigers emerged as the dominant group in the late 1980s when the Marxist groups lost credibility for supporting the presence of Indian security forces in northen Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990.
LTTE leader Prabhakaran maintained friendly, though watchful, relations with the chief minister of India's Tamil Nadu State, M.G. Ramachandran, until the latter's death in 1987. Until India's intervention in 1987, he could count upon at least the moral support of Ramachandran's political party, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Some of the LTTE's militant rivals maintained ties with the Tamil Nadu opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which was headed by Ramachandran's bitter rival, M. Karunaidhi.*
Activities of Tamil New Tigers
M.R.Nayaran Swamy wrote in “Tigers of Lanka": “In 1974, Jaffna engulfed in protests when Bandaranike visited the town to open a university campus. The Mayor, Duraiyappah did his best to bring crowds to her meeting. The visit was preceded be several acts of violence which the police blamed on the newly-formed Tamil New Tigers (TNT) of Prabhakaran. Bombs were thrown at a police jeep in Kankesanthurai, a port town. Another bomb went off at the residence of a communist leader who was to be the premier's interpreter and some more incidents. [Source: “Tigers of Lanka" by M.R.Nayaran Swamy]
The first successful robbery blamed on Tamil militants took place in 1974 when 91,000 rupees was taken away from the Multipurpose Cooperative Society to Tellipallai. Tamil source said Chetti and one of his cousins were among the responsible for the robbery, while one published account attributed the raid to Prabhakaran. Around the same time Chetti slipped to Tamil Nadu and teamed up with a crowd from Valvettithurai that was camping in Salem.
By the start of 1975, general strikes and other forms of protests were the order of the day in Jaffna. Time and again police cracked down on suspected militants whose number was slowly on the upswing. The popular perception among the ordinary Tamils was that the "boys", as the young guerrillas were called with adoration, were acting under the orders, if not the control, of the TUF and that they could and would be caged if need be.
On March 5, 1976 Prabhakaran led a raid on the state run People's Bank at Puttur and escaped with a half a million rupees in cash and jewellery worth of 200,000 rupees after holding the employees at gun point. It was the first successful bank robbery in Jaffna.
Founding and Early Activities of the LTTE
Prabhakaran founded the LTTE on May 5, 1976. M.R.Nayaran Swamy wrote in “Tigers of Lanka": After the 1975 assassination of the mayor of Jaffna, “Prabhakaran made new contacts, many of which proved long-lasting. He however declined to go to India to escape the police dragnet. Tamil politics was slowly but inevitably moving towards a confrontation with Colombo. In 1976, S. Subramaniam, who then headed a small militant group of his own, teamed up with Prabhakaran. In subsequent years, Prabhakaran would get many more associates, but Subramaniam alias Baby, would remain an invaluable asset and loyal friend.
The money from March 5th bank robbery went into building the LTTE, which was founded on May 5th and for its secret training camps in the forest of Killinochi and Vavuniya. Prabhakaran was at Vaddukoddai where the TUF transformed itself as the TULF and declared its intention to fight for a sovereign state of Eelam, electrifying Tamil politics. Amirthalingam was the hero of that convention and was referred to as the "Thalapathy" (general) of the Tamil struggle. Prabhakaran knew him and respected him. After the July 77 elections, which the TULF swept in the Tamil areas, their relationship blossomed. Although his interest in political work was minimal, Prabhakaran used to quietly meet Amir and other TULF leaders at their homes. Prabhakaran was slowly coming out of the shell he had confined himself to all these years.
“The LTTE opened 1977 by gunning down a police constable on February 14 at Maviddapuram in Jaffna. On May 18, two more policemen were shot near Inuvil, about 4 miles from Jaffna. LTTE activists approached them on bicycles, opened fire and went away pedalling- a method that was to slowly become a LTTE trademark in Jaffna. Simultaneously Prabhakaran began building the LTTE by recruiting and training trusted young men at an out-of the way place called Poonthottam, some two miles from Vavuniya town. Around the same time, Thangathurai opened another training camp in Mullaitivu district.
Prabhakaran had already prepared a logo for the LTTE with the help of an artist in Madurai during one of his clandestine visits to Tamil Nadu. It showed the head of a roaring tiger, paws outstretched, with two rifles and 33 bullets set against a circle ringing the tiger's head. The Tiger was the insignia of the ancient Tamil Chola kingdom, and Prabhakaran was visibly enthusiastic when the logo was first shown to him. He went on to form a five member central committee of the LTTE, putting himself as a member of the leadership council. He charted a constitution which all members were expected to sign and accept. It called for the establishment of a casteless Tamil society by armed struggle, warned members against tainting their loyalty to the LTTE with family ties or love affairs.
“Training would take place either in the farm at Poonthottam , with a huge cardboard cut-out of a man, or in forest areas where a tree with some natural clearing would serve as the target... the Tiger supremo was not only a good shooter; he was also a meticulous planner. If a bank was to raided, he would put the place under watch for weeks, if necessary for months. The planning for the operation would be done in a systematic way. He would take the lead role in the discussions, but share operational secrets only on a need-to-know basis. Before a major operation got under way, Prabhakaran would tense up, walking up and down with his hands clasped behind. He did not like to or accept defeat.... His philosophy was: Never say die.”
“In 1977, a soft spoken land surveyor, Kadirgamapillai Nallainathan, better known as Uma Maheswaran, joined the LTTE. He was made the chairman of the central committee. Prabhakaran, younger to Uma by some 10 years, continued to be the group's military commander but remained largely in the background. The English speaking and suave Uma was referred to in the LTTE as Mukundan.” With Maheswaran “suddenly the world began to open up for the Tigers. Until then almost all entrants to the LTTE were obscure young men. Uma was different. He was not only older to Prabhakaran, he was also secretary of the TULF's Colombo chapter and a known orator. In London, EROS had already sent two batches to Lebanon for learning military warfare from the PLO. The bitter internal rivalries that were to mark the Tamil struggle in later years were absent then.
LTTE Becomes More Violence
M.R.Nayaran Swamy wrote in “Tigers of Lanka": In January 1978, Uma and Prabha made their way to Colombo, where the former had headed the TULF's city unit. In fact, few knew that he had quietly joined the LTTE. On the eve of the 27th, the two shot M. Canagaratnam, a Tamil MP who had won on a TULF ticket but switched allegiance to the UNP. He was shot and wounded in the chest, neck and ribs. But died a few months later. In March 1978, Thangathurai, who the previous year had escaped a police trap after an attempted bank robbery, decided to kill a suspected police informer called Thadi (beard) Thangarajah. He and Jegan went to Thadi's house at Kokuvil and shot the man. [Source: South Asian Free Media Association]
On April 7, Bastiampillai, the Tamil CID officer, two of his colleagues and their Sinhalese driver reached a desolate spot at Murunkan, in the northwest district of Mannar, only to stumble upon a group of Tamil youths. It was a secret training camp of the Tigers, but it was never found out if Bastiampillai staggered there by accident or was tipped off. Among those present at the camp were Uma and Nagarajah, both were well known to the police. Fortunately for them, they were on a makeshift platform on a tree and remained there, frozen by Bastiampillai's unexpected arrival. The others on the ground, in shorts and lunges were not known to the CID officer.
Bastiampillai wanted to know the identity of the men, who replied nonchalantly that they were farm employees. One of the Tigers, in a bid to distract attention, said loudly in Tamil: Give some water to these gentlemen. The ruse succeeded. It was just the way a labourer would treat visitors, particularly men in uniform. Bastiampillai fell for the trick. He kept his Sub-Machine Gun (SMG) by a well and bent down for the water that was offered.
Chellakili (who led the attack in 83 in Jaffna that killed 13 soldiers which triggered the 83 riots), a Prabhakaran's confidant who was present there, moved like a lightning. In one swoop, he pounded on the SMG and hit Bastiampillai on his head and simultaneously opened fire, killing him and a sergeant before they could realize what was happening. A Tamil inspector Perampalam, however put up a fight, but crashed down the well where he was shot. The driver started running, but was chased and moved down. When it was all over, Uma and Nagarajah came down from the tree. The tigers quickly shifted to another hideout. Bastiampillai's Peugeot 404 was taken away.
“The killings sent shock waves in Sri Lanka. Bastiampillai was considered an authority on the Tamil rebel groups and was in-charge of the CID's TULF desk. In fact, the murder came to be known only after a wood cutter informed the police about some decaying bodies. These were identified after Perampalam's was hauled up from the well and his ID card was recovered. The Tamils had committed their first murder with a SMG.
“On April 25, the LTTE came out in open for the first time. accepting responsibility for the murders of Mayor Duraiyappah, an alleged police agent N. Nadarajah and nine policemen including Bastiampillai. The claim was made in a LTTE letterhead marked " To whom it may concern", inscribed with the now famous insignia of the roaring Tiger. The claim, posted in Colombo newspapers and published 3 days later by the Tamil language Veerakesari made a special mention of Bastiampillai killing a carried a crudely worded warning: "No other groups, Organisations, or Individuals claim this death ( these deaths). Serious action will be taken against those who claim the above other than Tigers in Ceylon or Abroad."
In May, Kuttimani (who had been released in 1977) and Jegan gunned down a retired police inspector at the Valvettithurai junction. In June Kuttimani shot and killed another police officer who had allegedly tortured a woman suspect following in a bank robbery. By April, the militants have accumulated about 5 million rupees by robbing banks and cooperative stores.
On September 7, when parliament introduced a new constitution, an AVRO 748 of Air Ceylon was blasted by a time bomb after it landed at Ratmalana airport, on the outskirts of Colombo, with 35 passengers from Jaffna. The device was apparently timed to go off when the AVRO would be in the air for Male, but a catering delay had put off the takeoff. The culprits were 2 passengers, and one of them was S. Subramaniam alias Baby, who would emerge as one of the most loyal confidants of Prabhakaran. After the AVRO blast Subramaniam came to be called "Avro Baby".
Crackdown on the LTTE
M.R.Nayaran Swamy wrote in “Tigers of Lanka": “In 1979, after the Thangathurai group shot dead 3 more policemen in Jaffna, JR replaced the Proscription of LTTE act with a more draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), clamped a state of emergency through-out Jaffna peninsula and sent more troops to the region. He also hand-picked Brigadier T.I. Weeratunge, chief of the army, to stamp out "the menace of terrorism in all its forms from the island" by December31. [Source: South Asian Free Media Association]
The crackdown, for the first time, seriously disrupted the militant network. The mutilated bodies of 6 youths picked up from their homes on July 14 were found under a bridge. Because of this disruption, Thangathurai, Kuttimani and Prabhakaran fled to Tamil Nadu.
Tamil militancy died down almost totally in 1980, but picked up again from early next year. Police repression was not the only cause for the fall in militant sponsored violence. There were growing differences within the militant ranks, particularly the LTTE which resulted in its split and the subsequent formation of PLOTE by Uma.
On March 25, the TELO pulled off a sensational robbery. A People's bank van was returned to Jaffna with the day's collection when it was ambushed on a lonely stretch of road at Neervely, 12 miles from Point Pedro. Kuttimani who led the operation gave rapid fire orders in Sinhala when the van came to a halt. The loot was put by a bank official at a staggering 7.8 million rupees.
On April 5, he, Thangathurai and Thevan were arrested at Mannalkadal, near Point Pedro, while tried to escape in a boat to India. Sri Sabaratnam had dropped them in a car, but left before they prepared to sail away. Kuttimani had some gold on him, tried to shoot himself but was overpowered. It was the end of journey both for Kuttimani and Thangathurai, two of the original pillars of Tamil militancy. They were brutally beaten to death in Colombo's Welikade jail during the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots.
Tamil Insurgent Groups
The LTTE was the largest and most influential Tamil insurgent group but there were others. The insurgency expanded grew in the late 1970s as the Sri Lanka government took actions viewed as anti-Tamil. As the movement grew there was an increasing fragmentation as personal, caste, and tactical differences divided the original movement. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]
Observers in the late 1980s counted at least thirty separate guerrilla groups of which five, including the LTTE, were the most important. The other four major groups were: 1) the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), led by K. Padmanabha; 2) the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), led by Sri Sabaratnam until he was killed by the LTTE assassins in May 1986; 3) the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), led by V. Balakumar; and 4) the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), headed by Uma Maheswaran. Like the LTTE, most of these organizations espoused a Marxist ideology that appeared prominently in their publications but seemed to play only a minor role in their activities and indoctrination.
Known collectively as "Tigers" or simply "the boys," these groups operated in changing patterns of competition and cooperation, forming a variety of coalitions (such as the Eelam National Liberation Front and the Three Stars). These groups differed significantly in terms of strategies and ideologies. EROS was said to prefer acts of economic sabotage. In March 1985, the LTTE, EPRLF, TELO, and EROS formed a united front organization, the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF). PLOTE, probably the most genuinely Marxist-Leninist of the five major guerrilla groups, remained outside the coalition. By mid-1986, ENLF had become largely inoperative after the LTTE quit, although the other groups sought to form a front without its participation.
The Liberation Tigers proceeded to devour their rivals during 1986 and 1987. TELO was decimated in 1986 by repeated LTTE armed attacks. By late 1986, LTTE had established itself as the dominant, if not the sole, spokesman of the Tamil insurgency. During 1987 the Tigers battled not only Indian troops but members of PLOTE and the EPRLF. PLOTE (or PLOT) was one of the earliest groups to break away from the LTTE. The group was formed in 1981 by Uma Maheswaran, a disgruntled LTTE member who had major disagreements with LTTE leader Prabhakaran. The new group claimed to represent a purer form of Marxist orthodoxy. Although ideological disputes may have been involved in the split, caste also seems to have played an important role; LTTE members were largely from Karaiya and low-caste urban backgrounds, whereas PLOT contained mostly Vellala, a high-caste rural group. *
Financial and technical support for the Tamil movement came from a variety of domestic and foreign sources. Internally, the Tigers relied on "taxes" either willingly donated or extorted from the local populace which were supplemented by a number of bank robberies. External support came from Tamils overseas, most notably in southern India, North America, and Western Europe. Many of the insurgent groups maintained headquarters and training facilities in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the state government and a predominantly Tamil population were sympathetic to their insurgent brethren in Sri Lanka. Official Indian support was curtailed sharply, however, following the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord in July 1987. There were also unconfirmed reports that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had provided training at its installations in the Middle East.*
Tamil Fighters and Their Rules and Code of Conduct
At the height of the movement there were an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Tamil Tiger fighters. Around that many Tamil Tiger fighters are believed to have died in battle. The fighters were trained and lived in a society that resembled a modern-day Sparta. In battles that they won, the Tigers took no prisoners. They killed every soldier they captured or confronted.
Tamil Tiger fighters wore a two-inch-long plastic vial of cyanide like a pendant around their neck and were instructed to put the vial and their mouth and bite down if captured or shot. It is estimated that hundreds of fighters committed suicide rather being taken prisoner by the government.
Officially no Tamil Tiger fighter worked or fought for pay. In the early- and mid-1980s many Tamil Tigers received training in India. The Indian government for a long time failed to clamp down on the training camps out of fear of alienating Tamil voters in southern India. Some Tigers received training by veterans of Yassar Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
Tamil Tiger fighters followed a strict code of conduct that put a high premium on obedience and loyalty. Commanders that ventured too far from the party line sometimes were shot and killed. Tamil Tiger fighters were prohibited from having sex, drinking alcohol, smoking and gambling. They were also required to change their name when they joined the group. Many were recruited from Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, where nearly every family contributed to the war effort.
Tamil Tiger fighters were originally not allowed to marry. But that rule was changed in 1985 after Prabhakaran fell in love with a young women who went on a hunger strike against the Sri Lankan government. The two were later married and after that fighters were allowed to marry when they retired after five years of combat.
The Truth Tigers were camera men and women that accompanied the soldiers on the front lines, capturing Tiger in the midst of fighting. The video images were very crude. The Truth Tigers suffered heavy casualties and were often the first to die in battles.
Tamil Tiger Women Soldiers
Women made up about a third of the Tiger fighting force. Tiger propaganda claimed the high number of women fighters indicated the LTTE’s commitment to equal rights. Skeptics disagreed. They pointed out the first woman fighter died in 1987, four years after the conflict began, and they didn't become a major presence until after thousands of men had died in battle, implying that women were sought as fighters primarily because so many male fighters died. [Source: Dexter Filkins, New York Times, March 6, 2000]
Women Tiger fighters attacked government police stations and bunkers, hacked men, women and children to death with knives and swords in villages raids and strapped explosives to their bodies in suicide bombing raids. About 40 percent of the Black Tiger suicide bombers, including the one who killed Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, were women.
Mia Bloom wrote in the Washington Post: The organization trained the women in karate, hand-to-hand combat, in the use of automatic weapons and specifically for suicide bombing, including how to walk and sit as though they were pregnant. Explosives were usually placed around a woman's midsection to give the appearance of late-term pregnancy. The LTTE held the trained female operatives in reserve, to release whenever the organization wanted to show the government that it could penetrate the most difficult-to-reach targets all over the capital, Colombo. [Source: Mia Bloom, Washington Post, May 24, 2009, Bloom, a professor at Penn State University, is the author of "Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror" and "Bombshell: Women and Terror"]
There were Tamil Tiger units made up completely of women. One attack by such a unit in 2001 — a raid on a government camp — killed 16 policemen. One woman Tiger fighter told the Los Angeles Times, she joined the Tigers after her brother was taken into custody by government soldiers and never seen again. "My brother was an innocent," she said. "I am fighting to avenge his death." She headed a unit of 1,500 women fighters. "It's difficult to say how many people I've killed. Sometimes after a battle there might be 50 or 70 bodies lying around. It's hard to say how many are mine.”
Child Soldiers with the Tamil Tigers
The Tamil Tigers were widely condemned for using child soldiers. Children as young as ten fought for the Tigers. After they had been recruited the new soldiers were taken to training camps and given new names and told the life they left behind had no relevance any more. Some never saw their parents again. If a child escaped. Sometimes a family member was held hostage until he or she returned.
During one attack, government soldiers realized that 14 of the 18 people they killed were teenage girls. One officer told Time, "The LTTE attacked one of our outposts, and soldiers could hear a young girl in the darkness, wounded. She was in great pain and crying for her mother. Finally, the soldiers couldn't stand it any longer, so they crawled out and fetched her. The girl had lost a leg. She was 12, maybe." The young girl apparently didn't bite into her cyanide capsule. "One moment, they are Tigers, fighting bravely. The next moment they are children again, calling for their mothers in the night," the officer said.
By one count 21,500 girls are involved in armed conflict in Sri Lanka. Children are easier to mold into ruthless fighters. Bill Keller wrote in the New York Times, "Children, it turns out make good killers. They learn fast, they work cheap, and their sense of right and wrong has outgrown their yearning to be accepted by whatever liberation group or guerilla army has become their surrogate family."
According to Human Rights Watch: “The LTTE has long abducted children into its forces, and used them as infantry soldiers, intelligence officers, medics, and even suicide bombers. Human Rights Watch documented the practice in a 2004 report, “Living in Fear: Child Soldiers and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.”“
Recruiting Tiger Child Soldiers
The Tamil Tigers were also condemned for the way they recruiting child soldiers. In some cases they held street dramas in poor Tamil neighborhoods or showed movies at their headquarters to attract young people. Some of the children joined willingly, in part attracted by free meals and protection from harassment by the Tamil Tigers. Others were orphans brought up in Tamil Tiger orphanages.
In other cases, children were snatched in vehicles as they walked along roads to school, grabbed from their homes, abducted after showing up at Tamil Tiger events and forced to join after their parents were threatened. The parents were told their children or even nephews and nieces would be killed if they didn’t hand them over. In some cases parents gave up the children of other families to save their own children. Sometimes as many 60 children were taken from a single village.
One 16-year-old girl told the New York Times that she and two friends were abducted as they walked through their village to an English class and was told she would be killed if she tried to escape. She did escaped by hiking five days to a military post but said she could not return to her village. An 18-year-old boy told the New York Times he showed up at Tigers office after he was told he could watch films there. Instead of being shown films, he and some others were thrown into a van and taken to camp two hours away. His mother was able to track him down and secure his release.
A large number of children were recruited in the Batticaloa area. There was a policy among Tamils there that very every family that had three or more children had to supply one child to the Tamil Tiger movement.
Tamil Tiger Child Soldiers Training
A girl recruited at age thirteen described her training experience: At the camp we did exercise. We got the metal parts for the weapons, and learned how to dismantle and put them back together again. We did target shooting. If we didn’t shoot at the correct target, then we were punished. We were hit. We had to do sit-ups. One punishment was to crawl on our elbows and knees. This happened to me. We also had to dig bunkers in the ground. We had training on war tactics: if there is an army camp, how to approach, kill, plan the attack. [Source: Human Rights Watch]
Trainees said they typically rose at 4 a.m. to begin training. One girl, recruited in 2002 at age fifteen, said: The training was very difficult. They don’t care if it’s a rainy or sunny day. If you get too tired and can’t continue, they will beat you. Once when I first joined, I was dizzy. I couldn’t continue and asked for a rest. They said, “This is the LTTE. You have to face problems. You can’t take a rest.” They hit me four or five times with their hands.
Another former child soldier trained in late 2002 said, “The hardest thing was crawling to enter enemy camps. We learned to use weapons but not real bullets. I was very unhappy, but we couldn’t express our feelings.” The youngest cadres being trained were often twelve or thirteen. One girl told us that at age twelve, she was the youngest in her training group, but that there were about ten other girls her age. Another, recruited at age fifteen, reported that in her group, “The youngest was eleven. There were about nine that age. The youngest ones are given the same training [as older trainees]. Even if they can’t do it, they have to do it.” Another witness, recruited at age fifteen, said that in her unit of about thirty-five girls at least twelve were “very young, very underage.” One girl trained in 2002 at age thirteen said that, “I was unhappy and ill. Some of the training was easy to follow; some of it was very difficult. The hardest part was having to roll on the floor and jump over fences.”
After basic training, which typically lasts four to seven months, LTTE soldiers are assigned to units for further, specialized training, depending on what their superior officers have decided to be their particular strengths. Further training can include combat operations, use of specific weapons systems (including landmines, bombs, or heavy weapons), security (including providing personal security for senior cadres such as Karuna), intelligence, or non-military skills, including first aid or administration. Children with little education are frequently assigned to combat units, while children with more years of schooling may be more likely to be trained in medicine, intelligence, or administration.
Vimala, recruited in 2003 at age seventeen, said: After four months I was sent to a landmines unit. I learned to handle landmines, to place them. I did this for four months. I couldn’t concentrate. Sometime a landmine would explode and children would be injured. Their fingers, hands, face. One time we were working in a line, and the last girl made a mistake when removing a landmine. It exploded and she lost a finger. She was seventeen. I was scared to handle them.
Nirmala, recruited at age fourteen, said: I was in a combat unit. I had nine children and was responsible for their training. Some were twelve or thirteen. The most difficult part was heavy weapons training, and using the RPG [rocket-propelled grenade launcher]. We also used bombs and landmines. We practiced placing [fake] landmines. If the opposing forces come and the landmines didn’t go off, you were supposed to sleep on the mines for punishment. In another drill, we were sent to find hidden Claymore [remote activated] mines. If we didn’t find them, we were forced to run for one to one and a half hours.
Punishment and Discipline of Tamil Tiger Child Soldiers
Discipline in the LTTE is strict, and punishment for mistakes can be harsh. Manchula said, “After the first training I had special training on carrying heavy weapons. We carried them around the playground. One day I had cramps and fever and said I couldn’t come. They poured hot water on my body and back as punishment. This left a burn mark.” The LTTE practices collective punishment, often punishing an entire group for the mistakes of one member. Ammani, who trained at age thirteen, said, “If you make a mistake or don’t follow orders, you are assigned difficult physical training. This happened to me once. One girl in my group made a mistake, so we were all punished.” [Source: Human Tights Watch]
Vanmathi said that because she was an orphan, the LTTE “treated me very well.” But she was still held responsible for mistakes in her training group. “I had ten other cadres to train. If any of them made a mistake or tried to escape, I had to face punishment. Punishment could be being sent into the forest with two seniors for a beating.”
Punishment is particularly harsh for those who try to escape. Children who are caught are typically beaten in front of their training unit, in part as a warning to others. Nirmala said: Lots of people tried to escape. But if you get caught, they take you back and beat you. Some children die. If you do it twice, they shoot you. In my wing, if someone escaped, the whole group was lined up to watch them get beaten. I saw it happen, and know of cases from other groups. If the person dies, they don’t tell you, but we know it happens.
Several children said that they considered trying to run away but abandoned their plans when they saw the beatings others received. Selvamani said, “Some others tried to escape, and ran to their homes, so the LTTE was able to recapture them. They were tied and beaten. I thought about trying to escape, but saw others being beaten, so changed my mind.”
Tamil Tiger Child Soldiers in Combat
One young woman, who was twenty-one when we interviewed her, was recruited in the late 1990s at age sixteen and trained as a medic. She said she was exposed to combat many times: I participated in many battles. There are incidents I can never forget. I fought my first battle in 1998 in a Sinhala border area. When the soldiers got wounded, they would be left there screaming and I was supposed to treat them. There were times when I was about to get caught by the army, but I escaped. At that time, you always remember your home. I carried one grenade and one cyanide capsule. We were medical personnel; this was for our protection. When the army comes we were supposed to throw the grenade at them or blow ourselves up. There are plenty of times when this happened. [Source: Human Tights Watch]
Another woman, who was forcibly recruited at the age of fifteen, told us she fought her first battle at the age of sixteen armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and no helmet. She was shot in the head during that battle.72 Another woman experienced her first battle in 1997, at the age of sixteen, four months after she had been recruited. Although she was badly injured, she was sent to another frontline position after she had recovered. She contracted a serious illness after this second battle, and was in an LTTE hospital for an entire year, recovering. She said she was sent to the frontline two more times after this.
Vanji, who joined voluntarily at the age of sixteen, was severely disabled during combat on the frontlines. She is now very bitter about her experience: They took away my younger brother the other day. He was coming home from the market and he was taken away. I went and begged them, saying I gave you years of my life and I gave you my health. Please let me have my brother back — he is the only one I have who takes care of me, helps me to go to the toilet, helps me get into bed. They didn’t release him, and they threatened to shoot me if I reported his abduction to any NGOs. They also told me at the same time that I had to re-join. Is this how they thank me for all the time I gave them? Why are they doing this to me? All the children interviewed who had experienced combat described themselves as having been very scared.
Tamil Views of the Tigers: They Are Our Children
Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “Among many Tamils, as well as Sinhalese, the Tigers were despised for violently upsetting Sri Lanka’s delicate status quo. Middle-class and upper-class Tamils were targeted for extortion; those who opposed the Tigers’ separatist campaign risked assassination. But in the backlands of the north and east the Tigers, despite their brutality, were the only government that most Tamils knew, and were more representative of their community than the postwar Sinhalese administration. Siva said, “After all, who were the L.T.T.E.? They were our children! O.K., maybe even they were terrorists, but people here, because they were their children, had feelings for them.” [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]
“At one point during our trip, two women approached Siva. The older one, in her forties, with a long ponytail and a red bindi dot on her forehead, carried a photograph of a slim youth standing in front of a shrine. She identified him as her son, and explained that he had been forcibly conscripted by the Tigers in 2002. In the areas they controlled, the Tigers had demanded that each Tamil family contribute at least one member to the cause; children as young as fifteen, girls as well as boys, were often conscripted. If they weren’t produced voluntarily, they were taken by force.
“The other woman had lost her daughter in 2006. The girl, twenty-four at the time, had gone out to attend a birthday party and hadn’t returned. She, too, had ended up in the Tigers. Neither woman had heard anything of her child since the end of the war. They told Siva of going to the detention camps and getting the runaround from authorities. They had come to him because they had heard rumors of a secret detention camp and hoped he’d know where it was.
“The younger woman had last heard news of her daughter from another female fighter who had survived the siege at Mullaittivu. “That girl told me that they had been together, that my daughter had a chest injury, and that in the fighting she had lost sight of her. She said that just behind her the Sri Lankan Army was coming, so it’s possible they caught and saved her.” The mother added, hopefully, “She was in Intelligence. She had finished high school, and she spoke some English.”
“The older woman said that other detainees had told her that her son was captured alive, and he had been collaborating with the Army by leading it to the Tigers’ hidden weapons caches. If the reports were true, she said, sobbing, it meant that her son had been tortured. I asked Siva what the chances were that either of the women’s children were alive. “Very little,” he said. Of the woman’s daughter, he told me, in English, “Most likely they killed her on the spot.”“
Tamil Tiger Training
Shyam Tekwani wrote in the Sri Lanka Guardian: “Visiting the group’s training camps in the peninsula after Rajiv Gandhi’s murder, the first thing I noticed were the baby-faced boys, some not even in their teens. Their field training began with an oath on their leader: “To achieve Tamil Eelam, my life and soul, all this, I sacrifice. We’ll be very faithful and trustworthy to our elder brother, Mr Prabakaran, the leader of our revolutionary organisation. I now begin my training. The thirst of Tigers is Tamil Eelam.” This was also repeated at the end of the day when their flag was lowered down the mast. [Source: Shyam Tekwani, Sri Lanka Guardian, May 16, 2009]
“Their history lessons were an endless litany of hatred against the enemy — only comprising rapists, butchers and racists — and the glories of ancient Tamil kingdoms and kings. Classic indoctrination. The classroom instructions centred around battlefield strategies (on a blackboard with a piece of chalk and some war movies), case studies (reconstructed with videos and photographs) from their previous battles and assassinations and finally a film from an extraordinary video collection of B-grade Hollywood action movies. Rambo was the popular choice.
“In the prevailing environment of anxiety and hopelessness, Prabakaran was crafty enough to whip up hatred and give a machine gun to his potential recruits among the boys and girls. The romance of the gun, for a teenager fed on a limitless diet of action movies, hatred for the identified enemy, a sense of purpose and an assurance of immortality, is an aphrodisiac far more potent than the promise of seventy-two virgins in paradise.
“The thrill of adventure for a 12-year old Rambo-in-the-making is a mesmerising experience. It invests in him power he could never dream of. The only occasion when I accepted their offer of testing a Kalashnikov was instructive. I fired into the horizon across the sea. As we sauntered away feeling like real men after a few rounds, I suddenly froze in horror. I became aware of my posture and swagger, feeling invincible and indestructible — and realized that, despite the stiffness in my shoulder caused by the weapon’s recoil — my arms and legs moved exactly like Rambo, like in the movie I had watched with them in their classroom. If I, a 30-something man of the world, could feel this magical glow of indestructibility shield me from death, it was not difficult to imagine the effect on a 12-year old who knows no other life than the one under Prabakaran’s incantations. The added incentive was that as a cadre, bed and board were provided for on a priority basis in any hamlet that one walked into, brandishing the gun. If this was not motivation enough, there was then the promise of immortality. Poems and shrines were built in the memory of those who submitted their lives for the cause.
“The Freedom Birds — as the girls were now called — were the ace up Prabakaran’s sleeve. With the IPKF steadily depleting his manpower among the rank and file, Prabakaran had to turn even more to the girls and children to replenish his forces. The task of inducting the girls was assigned to “Auntie” Adele Balasingham. Girls, at this point, were banded together as the Students Organisation of Liberation Tigers (SOLT) and were used in peripheral roles as befitted their status in Jaffna society – in servitude, ushering in crowds at an event, distributing pamphlets, reciting poems extolling the greatness of their National Leader or singing paeans in honour of a recent suicide bomber. Adele’s task was made easy by the prevailing oppressive caste and class system and the alleged atrocities of the IPKF. She offered the guarantee of emancipating the girls from the traditional role of Tamil women by fighting shoulder to shoulder with the boys in pursuit of their freedom. A few months after the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, during a conversation in Jaffna, she would proudly claim: “The most historic development for the Jaffna woman in recent years is her confidence.”“
Tamil Tigers in Battle
Shyam Tekwani wrote in the Sri Lanka Guardian: “One of the essential experiences of embedding yourself with the LTTE was the interaction with the wild-looking boys, bare-footed and ragged. They were your mates, guides and guardians during the tour of the frontlines and combat zones. When you lived alongside them, shared food and experiences under fire, you tended to bond with them. Survival often depended upon this sense of comradeship. Camaraderie, which relaxed their adherence to the strict code of discipline they were sworn to as they pulled out a deck of cards to kill time between attacks, could lead to bias — however much one guarded oneself against it – especially when in skirmishes in the jungle your camera kit and their Kalashnikovs got entangled. [Source: Shyam Tekwani, Sri Lanka Guardian, May 16, 2009]
“But you never met the same lot ever again. They were either killed before your next trip or rotated to another location. It was rare to learn anything about them through querying the new batch — since each of them operated under a nom de guerre. One looked for a familiar face on the sea of posters and cutouts of martyrs scattered across the peninsula. Likewise, the innumerable shrines that kept multiplying between visits — shrines in honour of the valorous and where people went to pray with their incense sticks and flowers. There would be an odd sighting or two or a rare letter from some family member sharing their grief of their dead son.
“From the very beginning it was apparent that he would make ‘people’ his buzz word. First, declare he was on the path he had chosen for their sake, to liberate them. Second, attack the enemy over the shoulders of civilians to provoke an enraged counterattack that would kill innocents and garner him publicity at low cost. Finally, shield himself from attacks by closing all their exits at the point of his guns.
“The bulk of LTTE’s attacks against the IPKF were initiated around the core strategy of using civilians as shields. The IPKF helicopter gunship attack in Chavakachcheri was one such classic example. The LTTE positioned its gunmen in the most crowded part of the town — the market — to fire provocatively in the directions of the choppers that were flying at a safe distance from ground fire. At the Chavakachcheri morgue where families of victims were hurling anti-Indian abuses at me, a middle-aged woman took me aside. Apologising for the hostility of the mourners, she muttered, “Hitler killed not his own people, but Jews. But Prabakaran is killing Tamil people.” Civilians as human shields clearly appears to be a central part of Prabakaran’s strategy to escape from his present entrapment.
Peter Chalk wrote: “The Tamil Tigers are organized along a two-tier structure: a military wing that is reminiscent of many professional armies; and a subordinate political wing. Overseeing both is a Central Governing Committee. Headed by the LTTE supreme leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, this body has the responsibility for directing and controlling several specific subdivisions, including: 1) An amphibious group (the Sea Tigers, headed by Soosai); 2) an airborne group (known as the Air Tigers, headed by Shankar); 3) An elite fighting wing (known as the Charles Anthony Regiment, headed by Balraj); 4) a suicide commando unit (the Black Tigers, headed by Pottu Amman); and 5) A highly secretive intelligence group. [Source: Peter Chalk, Winter 1999, Peter Chalk is a professor at Queensland University in Australia. He worked for the RAND Corporation in Washington]
A political office headed by Thamil Chevlam (political leader) and Anton Balasingham (political advisor and ideologue). Also included in the Central Governing Committee is an International Secretariat. Headed by V. Manoharan, it is this body that essentially has the responsibility for ensuring the smooth running of the LTTE global network, although different sections of the structure are run by specific leaders expert in that particular field.
Broadly speaking, LTTE external activities can be subdivided into three main areas: publicity and propaganda; fundraising; arms procurement and shipping. While the activities of these various operations invariably overlap, for the most part each section acts autonomously. Publicity and Propaganda
The publicity and propaganda activities of the LTTE are run by V. Manoharan. Operating from a small office located abroad, his main aim is to increase international political support for the Tamil cause by preaching a tireless threefold message: 1) Tamils are the innocent victims of a government dominated by Sinhalese; 2) Sri Lankan Tamils, constituting 12.5 percent of the population, are subjected to constant discrimination and military oppression; 3) The Tamils can never peacefully coexist with the Sinhalese in a single state; and 4) There can be no peace in Sri Lanka until the Tamils, led by the LTTE, are granted their own homeland.
LTTE leaders found among the dead, along with Prabhakaran, and the LTTE last stand (May 18, 2009) were: Pottu Amman- LTTE's Intelligence Wing Leader; Bhanu - LTTE military leader; Jeyam- LTTE military leader; B.Nadesan- LTTE political head; S.Pulidevan- Head of LTTE's Peace Secretariat; Ramesh- LTTE special military leader; Ilango- LTTE police chief; Charles Anthony- the eldest son of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran; Sudharman - aide to LTTE leader's son; Thomas- senior intelligence leader an; Luxman - LTTE military leader; Sri Ram- senior sea tiger cadre; Iseiaravi - LTTE female military leader; Kapil Amman - LTTE deputy intelligence leader; Ajanthi- female LTTE training in charge; Wardha - LTTE mortar in charge; Pudiyawan- Secretary to LTTE leader; Jenarthan - Special military leader.
From Top-Level Commander to Dead Rival
Shyam Tekwani wrote in the Sri Lanka Guardian: “Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja, better known by his nom de guerre Mahathaya, Prabakaran’s extremely popular deputy, could have easily been mistaken for Prabakaran by anyone whose only awareness of the LTTE leaders was based on a perfunctory glance at media photographs. They were built alike and sprouted thick moustaches. In Prabakaran’s presence, Mahathaya was almost hunched in servility, respectful and barely uttering a word until spoken to. His transformation on the battlefield, however, was amazing.” [Source: Shyam Tekwani, Sri Lanka Guardian, May 16, 2009]
Dilip ‘Yogi’ Yogaratnam was the general secretary of the LTTE’s political wing. “Mahathaya’s silence was compensated by Yogi‘s loud voice. It was with Yogi that Prabakaran seemed to share an easy relationship. Laughing and joking over a Chinese lunch, the two seemed to be best buddies. Yogi strutted with his convent-educated English — much in the manner of a subordinate who wants to appear as an equal in the presence of people he seeks to impress; Mahathaya was diffident and respectful in the presence of authority, his leader. On the battlefield, as I joined the motley bunch Mahathaya led against the advancing army, I could barely associate him with the deputy who almost scraped in servility in the presence of his boss. Yogi was the well-scrubbed, smooth and oily politician, Mahathaya the dutiful and popular army commander.
A year later, in a move that stunned his followers, Prabakaran struck against Mahathaya who he had anointed as his deputy during the war against the IPKF in 1987. Accusing him of treachery and collaborating with the Indians against him, Prabakaran placed Mahathaya in custody, liquidated most of Mahathaya’s troops and decisively crushed a potential rival to his supremacy as leader. Mahathaya was executed after a prolonged period of torture in December 1994.
Tamil Tiger Weapons
The Tamil Tigers were armed to the teeth with a deadly arsenal of sophisticated weapons purchased from all over the worlds: surface-to-air missiles from Cambodian generals and the Khmer Rouge; assault rifles from Afghanistan; mortars from the former Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe; and 60 tons of from explosives from the Ukraine (50 tons of TNT and 10 tons of Semtex-like plastic explosives), not to mentions artillery pieces and other weapons captured from the Sri Lankan army. [Source: Raymond Bonner, New York Times]
The Tamil Tigers used mortars very effectively. Their aim was very good. They knocked out tanks and shot down helicopters and planes (some planes were so poorly maintained they crashed on their own). The Tigers reportedly hijacked a ship carrying 70,000 mortars purchased from Zimbabwe by the Sri Lankan government. The Tamil Tigers also possessed long-range artillery, grenade launchers and antitank weapons. There rumors that the Tigers posses American-made surface-to-air Stinger missiles. The Tigers shot down an M-24 helicopter in a battle at Trincmalee port. It is believed the rebels may have used radar-guided antiaircraft guns to shoot down the helicopter.
Many of the weapons were smuggled into northern Sri Lanka on Tamil ships escorted by suicide bombers. In many cases it is believed that the ships with smuggled weapons approached Sri Lanka near Mullaitivu, the base of the Sea Tigers, where the weapons were loaded onto smaller speedboats which transported the materials to isolated coves near Mullaitivu.
The money for the weapons is believed to have come mostly from wealthy Tamil supporters who live overseas, primarily in Canada, Britain, Australia and Switzerland. Some of them donated around $1 million a month to the Tamil Tiger cause. The Tigers also operated gas stations, restaurants and small stores around the world. The Sri Lankan government accused them of selling drugs but there is no concrete evidence of this.
The money was funneled the into bank accounts, including a Citibank account in Singapore and a Dresden Bank account in Frankfurt, that were then accessed by Tiger weapons buyers working with arms dealers from Hong Kong, Singapore, Lebanon and Cyprus. The LTTE also bought weapons from corrupt military officers in Burma and Thailand and directly from the governments of the Ukraine, Bulgaria and North Korea.
Peter Chalk wrote: “Alongside propaganda, the LTTE run a sophisticated international fundraising campaign. The majority of financial support comes from six main areas, all of which contain large Tamil diasporas: Switzerland, Canada, Australia, the UK, the US, and the Scandinavian countries. [Source: Peter Chalk, Winter 1999, Peter Chalk is a professor at Queensland University in Australia. He worked for the RAND Corporation in Washington]
Motivations for contributing to the LTTE cause vary. Many of the older, more established members of expatriate communities fully believe in the LTTE struggle and its quest for a separate Tamil state, seeing this as the only long-term solution to the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.(20) Some, often illegal migrants or asylum seekers living on the fringes of an alien community, rely on the LTTE to facilitate their integration into society, paying the organization to help them find jobs, acquire forged identity papers and access housing.
In the US, funds essentially come from contributions given by wealthy individuals, a number of whom have pledged huge sums of money to the Tamil cause. It is believed that one such person, a prominent medical practitioner living in the USA, would give as much as US$100,000 at any given time, depending on the person who visited him and the intended purpose of the money. On a global scale, this individual remains the LTTE’s most important contributor, with some estimates of the total amount of money he has pledged over the last decade totalling as much as US$4 million. As one former LTTE US representative remarked: “We ask and he gives. He is our God.”
Funds are not always procured directly from the Tamil diaspora. Often the LTTE will siphon off donations that are given to non-profit cultural bodies to finance Tamil social service, medical and rehabilitation programs in Sri Lanka. The great advantage of this form of financial procurement is that it is often extremely difficult to prove that funds raised for humanitarian purposes are being diverted to propagate terrorism or other forms of illegal activity elsewhere.(22) This is particularly true in states such as Norway, where there is not even a legal requirement for individuals to register as an organization before engaging in fundraising.(23)
There also have been suggestions that the LTTE raised money through drug running, particularly heroin from Southeast and Southwest Asia. According to a 1995 report by the Mackenzie Institute, a non-profit research group based in Toronto, the most profitable LTTE activities have been in the form of heroin trafficking. Sri Lankan officials concur, with one senior diplomat asserting that “collection of money from Tamil expatriate sources is insignificant compared to money from narcotics.”
Money collected by LTTE international fundraising efforts forms an integral component of the organization’s so-called National Defense Fund. Indeed since losing effective control of the Jaffna peninsula in late 1995/early 1996, it is estimated that as much as eighty to ninety percent of the group’s war chest comes from overseas.(28) Presently, the LTTE is believed to be “petitioning” the overseas Tamil diaspora in the UK, Canada and Australia to contribute up to US$1000 per family in support of the group’s military campaign to win control of the crucial northern reaches of Highway A9.(29)
It is also through these global financial operations that the LTTE manage to acquire most of their weaponry and munitions. Sri Lankan agencies are aware, for instance, that one LTTE member, Dharmakulaseelan, played a key role in a multinational operation that was active in the early 1990s, where money raised in North America was forwarded to the Philippines and used to purchase weapons from Southeast Asian arms dealers.
Extortion of Overseas Tamils by the LTTE
Colin Freeze wrote in the Globe and Mail: “Tamil families in Toronto are faced with extortion from Tamil Tigers of up to $10,000 apiece, and Tamil entrepreneurs up to $100,000 each, according to a new report released by Human Rights Watch. The New-York-based group says that Tamil Tiger fundraisers are increasingly strong-arming the Toronto Tamil community — the largest diaspora outside war-torn Sri Lanka — as their island nation once again girds for civil war. Canadian Tamils who don't give money to the separatist cause, according to the group, face the prospect of being beaten or having family members abused abroad. [Source: Colin Freeze, Globe and Mail, March 15, 2006]
“Some Toronto detectives have long suggested the Tamil Tigers have "tithed" members of Toronto's 200,000-strong community, though few community members have spoken out about this practice. Human Rights Watch says the fundraising is real, widespread, and has lately kicked into overdrive, as the Tamil Tigers prepare to wage a "final" war meant to win Sri Lankan Tamils' independence. Some Tamil leaders in the Toronto community deny widespread extortion exists, charging instead that Human Rights Watch is bent on smearing Tamils. "This report makes me sick," Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman David Poopalapillai said in a statement yesterday. He said that Human Rights Watch "has its facts wrong."
Human Rights Watch says that as the drums of war began beating more loudly in Sri Lanka, the knuckles of Tamil Tiger henchmen began to rap more frequently on the doors of Tamils in Toronto. "In Canada, families were typically pressed for between $2,500 and $5,000," the report says, "while some businesses were asked for up to $100,000." Fundraisers are said to be candid as to why they need money now. " 'This is your duty. You have to help your community from here. This is Mr. Prabhakaran's request. You need to help start the war,' " is what one Toronto businessman recalls LTTE men saying when they asked him for $20,000. He told Human Rights Watch he is too afraid to go to police. "The people are living in fear in Toronto for two reasons. One is the fear of the LTTE, even in Toronto, the other is the fear of what will happen to relatives back home," said Namu Ponnambalam, a 40-year-old man who is one of the few Toronto Tamils who allowed his name to be published in the report. In an interview, Mr. Ponnambalam said he had been asked to pay $2,500 to the cause but refused. He said he was threatened and told police, but was informed the force lacked the manpower to investigate.”
Military and Military-Related Procurement
Peter Chalk wrote: The third component of the LTTE procurement network revolves around weapons and munitions acquisition. This is perhaps the most secretive of the group’s international operations and the one that best demonstrates the organization’s global reach. Prior to 1987, the LTTE procured most of its weaponry from four main sources: 1) Afghanistan, via the Indo-Pakistani border; 2) Directly from Indian external sources; 3) Indigenous production; 4) Munitions captured from the Sri Lankan military. [Source: Peter Chalk, Winter 1999, Peter Chalk is a professor at Queensland University in Australia. He worked for the RAND Corporation in Washington]
Following the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Accord of 1987, however, the LTTE lost the benefit of external Indian support. In response, the organization started carrying out increasingly daring strikes against Sri Lankan military camps and weapons depots, acquiring most of its long-range artillery directly from Colombo’s armed forces. In addition, the LTTE stepped up their indigenous weapons production program, developing a sophisticated short-range missile capability by 1990. Most importantly, at least from the perspective of this paper, the organization expanded its international arms procurement network beyond the limited focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The LTTE arms network is headed by Tharmalingam Shanmugham, alias Kumaran Pathmanathan and colloquially known simply as “KP.” Second to Prabhakaran and with a US$500,000 bounty on his head, Pathmanathan is currently the second most wanted man in Sri Lanka. With more than twenty passports to his name, and possessing the ability to pass himself off as any middle-class Tamil, Kumaran travels widely. However, Sri Lankan intelligence sources believe his main bases to have been Singapore, Rangoon, Bangkok and, more recently, Johannesburg; he is alleged to have held various bank accounts in London, Frankfurt, Denmark, Athens, and Australia.
Most members of the LTTE global weapons procurement team, known as the “KP Department,” have received no formal military training, including Kumaran himself. While not specifically trained in military skills, however, those inducted into the KP Department receive intensive instruction in a number of other areas including document forgery, gun running, communication, international freight shipping and investing.
At the heart of the KP Department’s operations is a highly secretive shipping network. The LTTE started building their maritime network with the help of a Bombay shipping magnate in the mid 1980s. Today the fleet numbers at least ten freighters, all of which are equipped with sophisticated radar and Inmarsat communication technology. The vessels mostly travel under Panamanian, Honduran or Liberian flags (colloquially known as “Pan-Ho-Lib,” these maritime states are all characterized by notoriously lax registration requirements), tend to be crewed by Tamils originating from the Jaffna seaport of Velvettiturai and are typically owned by various front companies located in Asia. The ships frequently visit Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, Burma, Turkey, France, Italy and Ukraine. Some are also heavily armed and have challenged both the Indian and the Sri Lankan navy when confronted. Ninety five percent of the time the vessels transport legitimate commercial goods such as hardwood, tea, rice paddy, cement and fertilizer. However, for the remaining five percent they play a vital role in supplying explosives, arms, ammunitions and other war-related material to the LTTE theatre of war.
Tamil Controlled Territory
The Tamil Tigers controlled much of northern Sri Lanka. Tamils make up the vast majority of the population in placed they controlled. They also controlled much of eastern Sri Lanka despite there being more Sinhalese and large number of Muslims there. The primary refuge of the Tamil Tigers was an area of swamps and jungle in northern part of the main island called the Vanni.
When last India Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) contingents left Sri Lanka in March 1990 moved in without a fight to take more-or-less full control of the North and the East. From 1990-1995 the Tigers controlled Jaffna,
Kalmunai, about 50 kilometers south Batticaloa, was the center of a coastal enclave controlled by the Tamil Tigers on the east coast of Sri Lanka. During the main period of fighting around 20 to 25 people died in this area each month. Most of the killings were attributed to the Tigers. Many victims were Muslims, regarded as sympathetic to the government side.
The nearby northern town of Killnochichi served as an administrative center for the Tigers. In the 1990s and 2000s, it was a functioning town with concrete bunkers near the offices. Mullaitvu, one of the worst hit towns by the December 2004 tsunami, served as a naval base for the naval force known as the Sea Tigers.
The LTTE effectively governed the places it controlled. It collected taxes and provided police protection. LTTE-controlled territory was delineated from the territory held by the government. There was a defined border and checkpoints for those who crossed between the two territories. The Tamil Tigers used Stalinist and Mafia methods in the areas they controlled. They extorted money, food and recruits with threats of violence. Their informers were everywhere. People were afraid to speak out even anonymously because they were not sure who was and who wasn’t an informer.
Prabhakaran constructing a state within a state. Shyam Tekwani wrote in the Sri Lanka Guardian: He reintroduced taxation on his population, decreed the LTTE flag as the Tamil national flag, set up courts, police stations and ‘ministries’ that oversaw agriculture, education, rehabilitation and economic development. But his main preoccupation was in developing a conventional armed force. Military traditions — a formal ranking system, uniforms, gun salutes, parades, ceremonial funerals of flagdraped cadres killed in action — became the norm. Sarongs and flip-flops gave way to smartly pressed uniforms and spit-and-polish boots. Twenty years before he acquired the half-a-dozen ZLIN-143 aircraft to boast of being the only terrorist group in the world to possess an air wing, I was led to the LTTE’s “ordnance factory” in Manipay in 1985 to witness and photograph the aircraft his “aeronautical engineers” were assembling. The fact that it had a 200cc motorcycle engine to power it did not mask his intent to attempt building a conventional Armed Force, with its land, air and sea wings. “Geographically”, he stressed at the very beginning, “the security of Tamil Eelam is interlinked with that of its seas." [Source: Shyam Tekwani, Sri Lanka Guardian, May 16, 2009]
Support for the Tamil Tigers
The Tigers were supported financially to a large degree by Tamils living abroad. As time went on these overseas Tamils became more and more appalled by the Tamil Tiger’s methods and tactics and began choking off funds. Some have argued that the drying up of funds was one of the main reasons the Tiger agreed to cease fires and peace talks. Especially is the wake of September 11th it became very unpopular to supported groups labeled as terrorists.
The Tamil Tigers reportedly earned money by running guns and weapons between terrorist groups in the Middle East and Asia. The Tigers reportedly used a fleet of 16 boats based in Thailand and Cambodia for the operation. Tamil Tigers vessels were reportedly used to transport weapons from Al-Qaida to the Abu Sayaf group in the Philippines, and to Turkey. They are said to have aided separatists in Chechnya. The Tigers were also reportedly involved in trafficking narcotics. Videos were disseminated to Tamils abroad to enlist their support and solicit money for their military campaign.
It is not clear how well the Tamil Tigers would do in a democracy. "If there were a free election, 90 percent of the people of would vote against them," a school principal told John Ward Anderson of the Washington Post. "We want freedom, but the ends do not justify the means that are used here."
British Tamils were intimidated into giving money to the Tigers. Tom Whipple wrote in The Times of London: “Sri Lankan Tamils living in Britain say that they are being intimidated into handing over “donations” of up to £50,000 to support rebel operations in their homeland. Tamil immigrants in London told The Times that they had been approached by representatives of the” LTTE “and asked for funds. Some of those who refused were harassed and warned about the safety of relatives in Sri Lanka. In Britain the Tigers are proscribed as a terrorist organisation, blamed for prolonging Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war. They are banned from raising funds or holding meetings. The Sri Lankan High Commission has raised the matter with the Home Office and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.” [Source: Tom Whipple, The Times of London, February 5, 2007]
Resentment of the Tamil Tigers
Tamils had a love-hate relationship with the LTTE. They respect them for their achievements and military skill but and feared them for their brutal tactics and criticized them for their unwillingness to compromise. One woman told National Geographic, "I think people are fed up with the Tigers. They have destroyed all their opponents, so they emerge as the only expression of the Tamils. Tamils have no alternatives, and they are frustrated.”
Few Tamils reported crimes committed by the LTTE. Anyone who criticized the Tigers ran the risk of being killed. One man told the New York Times, “If I stick my neck out, they’ll chop it off.” Many educated Tamils kept their government and business jobs through the conflict.
Tamils also complain about "revolutionary taxes" and public execution against Tamils that opposed them. One Tamil man told the Washington Post, "The Tigers come and extort money, and if you refuse, you are in trouble." The Tamils, he said are caught in the middle. "They are detained, tortured, killed by both sides because each thinks they support each other."
Tamil Tiger Communications and Propaganda
Shyam Tekwani wrote in the Sri Lanka Guardian: In 1987, “I walked into a scoop in the Jaffna peninsula. IPKF Mi-24 helicopter gunships were on the attack in Chavakachcheri, an LTTE stronghold. People around me were killed, most of them civilians. And my cameras were the only media instruments witnessing the deaths. A week later, when I surfaced in Colombo and rushed to the phone in my hotel room to break the exclusive story, I was dismayed to find that the attack was already the big story in the media. Prabakaran had already beaten me to it — even though there was no electricity to light up his bases in the jungles. Even as the body count in the damaged market area was in progress, his ‘boys’ had radioed their souped-up version of the ‘bombing’ from their jungle hideouts to their ‘media’ headquarters in London from where a telex was sent out to every major international publication. Photographs of death and destruction from an assault during Operation Liberation (or Vadamarachchi Operation) by Sri Lankan gunships six months earlier were circulated as evidence of the Chavakachcheri attack. [Source: Shyam Tekwani, Sri Lanka Guardian, May 16, 2009]
“The LTTE’s powerful communications network transmitted daily situation reports (sitreps) from Jaffna to its media headquarters in a Western capital where the sitreps were distributed as press releases though telex machines (later with the introduction of fax machines and the internet, it was able to readjust its media budget) to media and governments in Western capitals. Printed material was was a prime means of LTTE propaganda till the early 1990s, when the group went to great expense to publish multilingual and expensively produced four-colour booklets and pamphlets with profuse illustrations. These publications were distributed to the local and international media and select government organisations... Prabakaran quickly developed a media unit – photographers and videographers – which documented every battle and assassination that the group conducted. This served two purposes — as a teaching aid, it came closest to the real thing next to classroom simulations.
“The LTTE’s high degree of familiarity with modern telecommunications enabled it to occupy a very definitive niche in the international public eye, in spite of the fact that it is party to a conflict in a small south Asian nation, largely ignored by the West, and the fact that its acts of violence have impacted only Sri Lanka and occasionally India.” From Hinduism, he borrowed the practice of deifying his martyrs and erecting shrines where people were expected to make offerings and pray on a day designated as holy. Western military traditions provided him a model to build his army while Hollywood, apart from inspiring movies of bravery and heroism, taught him to produce slickly produced audio-visual presentations for profit and for goodwill.
“Acutely conscious of the power of propaganda and his image as the most lethal weapon in his arsenal, Prabakaran ensured that everybody in his group understood how to use it. Cadres were not to interact with anyone outside the fold. His photograph — and only his — would be the single image that hung on the walls of all denizens in his territory. Every street corner would have his speeches or Eelam national songs playing from the loudspeakers at all hours every day. Every offer of a ride in the Balasingham’s air-conditioned SUV, with Adele at the wheel, in the Jaffna peninsula perforce meant listening to Prabakaran blaring from the only cassette she would insert into the music player.
“Calendars, posters, CDs, DVDs, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV stations — he had them all out years before the world had heard of the al Qaeda propaganda machinery. And while the word ‘web’, at any rate for most of us in south Asia in 1993, triggered images of the common house spider, the LTTE had its first website running on the server of a university in the United States. This conveniently coincided with an increasingly unfriendly media following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. A computer academy funded and run by professionals from among the diaspora in the Vanni region ensured that the ‘brains trust’ of the LTTE kept abreast with the latest know-how.
“A wing of the group (Internet Black Tigers) is credited with the first ever cyber attack (1997) known to the world when it downed the networks of Sri Lankan embassies across the world for a fortnight. In the same year, it was able to hack into a university in the United Kingdom, steal legitimate email IDs and solicit funds for a fictitious hospital in Colombo. And as recently as last week, a group calling itself Kalai Amman Electronic Warfare Unit hacked into the Sri Lanka Army website and defaced its home page. Social network sites were quickly adopted and a search on YouTube yields several hundred videos of the group.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022