PEACE EFFORTS WITH THE TAMIL TIGERS
The Tamil Tigers had traditionally been steadfast in their position that the want an independent homeland for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. The Tigers position was that they wanted an independent state and after they achieve that then they would discuss forming confederation with Sri Lanka.
A peace settlement was difficult to work out. It had satisfy the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan government, moderate Tamil leaders, the Sinhalese right wing and the powerful Buddhist clergy. Muslims and Marxist opposed a deal with the Tamil Tigers. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was the Tamil Tiger leader: Velupillai Prabhakaran. One government official told the New York Times, "You can't talk to Prabhakaran, you can't defeat him, you can't concede to him, you can only go on fighting him and suffer more and more disasters.”
As of the late 1990s the conflict was eating up 27 percent of Sri Lanka's government expenditures and costing Sri Lanka $77.5 million a day. The treasury was empty; foreign aid had dried up and military spending — with 40,000 troops stationed in Jaffna in the Tamil north — was so high the national dept was deemed unsustainable. The economy shrunk in 2001. The defense budget had reached $1 billion a year. So much money was spent on the war effort that there was little money left over for other things such as infrastructure projects.
At the same the conflict had become woven into the economy of Sri Lanka and there were no large demonstrations against it on the south. A Western diplomat told the New York Times in 2001, “The war has become an institution. Rich people are making money on commissions, kickbacks, selling supplies to the army. The soldiers are fairly well-paid too. It’s a highly democratic system.” Promises to help the Tamils were delayed, slap dash and didn’t occur at all.
Kumaratunga's Peace Efforts
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was elected president in 1994 on promises to end human rights abuses and negotiate a peace settlement with the Tigers. Kumaratunga said that the Tamils had "legitimate grievances." But talks with them went nowhere. In March 1995, Kumaratunga unveiled a plan in which Sri Lanka would be divided into several regions in which the Tamils would be granted virtual autonomy in the north. Kumaratunga had offered to let the regions have power over taxation and education and even create their own police forces. To sweeten the deal Kumaratunga promised $800 million in economic aid to the war-ravaged north.
Tamils were generally receptive to the plan but the Tigers rejected it on the grounds that the government was just using the proposal as a ploy to divide the Tamils and Tigers even though the plan promised to give the Tigers most of the demands that they had been fighting for. Peace efforts ended in 1995 when a 100-day cease-fire ended with a Tamil Tigers attack on the Sri Lankan Navy that sank two government ships while peace talks were going on. She then unleashed her “war for peace” offensive.
Kumaratunga was both praised for reaching out to the Tamil Tigers and criticized for taking a hard line with them. In 1996, she said, "The war was not waged against the Tamil people but against the LTTE, which...must understand that force can not be a means to settle grievances." Kumaratunga had admitted her government "meandered and faltered" in dealing with Tigers. "We have failed at the essential task of nation building," she said. After losing her eye in a Tiger attack 1999, Kumaratunga urged the Tigers to enter peace talks
Kumaratunga proposed reforming the constitution by introduce power sharing and grant the Tamils more self rule. In August 2000, after years of procrastination, Parliament proposed a new Constitution that would give the Tamil more autonomy. Kumaratunga tried to push a Pro-Tamil constitution in parliament. She was unable to get the necessary two thirds vote. It was defeated by political parties supported by Sinhalese nationalist and the powerful Buddhist clergy. Kumaratunga initially refused to lift a ban on the Tamil Tigers by later lifted the ban.
Peace Efforts in the Early 2000s
In the early 2000s a Norwegian team of peace brokers led by Erik Solheim began having some success in facilitating talks between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government. In October, 2000 the Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran spent two hours talking with Solheim’s team. It was the first time Prabhakaran talked with a peace negotiator since an India-sponsored peace accord in 1987 failed.
The September 11th 2001 terrorism attacks in the U.S. made the Tamil Tigers even more unpopular with the international community because of the group’s association with terrorism. Even if the group won the war they would not be recognized by international community. At the same time the government seemed to realize that it would never gain control of the north using military force and they could not wipe out the Tigers or dent their ability to carry out attacks anywhere in Sri Lanka at will.
At that time the Tamil Tigers had became more interested in how they were perceived abroad. They sent a delegation to Europe to argue their case. They began trying to improve their image, They denied using child soldiers and released 162 children soldiers.
Cease Fire in 2002
The Tamil Tigers signed a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire with the Sri Lankan government in February 2002. Both sides were hurting after years of war and both seemed to have come to the conclusion that a military victory was not possible.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is credited with being the architect of the peace plan. He visited the northen Sri Lankan, Tamil-dominated town of Jaffna and was mobbed by Tamils when he visited a Hindu temple there. It was the first visit by a Sri Lankan leader in 20 years to a major Tamil town. Kumaratunga criticized him for making to many concessions to the Tigers.
After the cease fire was signed, Prabhakaran held a press conference at one of his jungle hideouts and answered questions from reporters for 2½ hours. He scoffed at accusations that he was a ruthless dictator and cast himself as benevolent leader working hard for the welfare of his people.
Fighting involving the Tigers pretty much stopped after the February 2002 cease-fire, ushering in the longest period of relative calm since the conflict began in 1983. The truce was administered by the 57-member Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. It was comprised of 18 observers from Norway. 12 each from Sweden and Denmark, 11 from Finland and 3 from Iceland. One of their primary jobs was checking Tamil ships for smuggled weapons.
In June 2003, the international community made pledges of $4.5 billion in aid to Sri Lanka, with the most money coming from Japan, the United States the Asian Development Bank and the European Union. Much of the money was held up pending on the outcome of peace talks between the government and the Tamil Tigers.
Some felt the cease for served main as an opportunity for the Tamil Tigers to regroup. During the cease-fire the Tamil Tigers maintained a fighting force of as many as 25,000 fighters. There were reports of children being abducted from school and turned into fighters. In many ways their procurement of weapons continued just as it had before the cease-fire.
Peace Talks in 2002 and 2003
Peace talks held in places like Bangkok, Berlin, Japan and Oslo followed February 2002 cease-fire. Initially surprising progress was made. The Tigers said they would agree to regional autonomy within Sri Lanka rather than demanding full independence. In September 2002, the Sri Lankan government lifted a ban on the Tamil Tigers.
Mistrust between the Tamils and Sinhalese remained high. Difficulties included the return of hundreds of thousands of displaced people (including Sinhalese and Muslims that lived in Tamil area), the withdrawal of the Sri Lankan military from the north, the role that the Tigers would have in administering the north, and reviving the economy in the northeast. Major sticking points included government demands for the Tamil to turn in their weapons and Tiger demands for the Sri Lankan military to withdraw from its zones on the north
On April 2003, the Tamil Tigers suspended peace talks because they said the government failed to fully comply with the terms of the truce. At that time the rebels said they were temporarily abandoning the talks but would honor the cease-fire and not take up arms. The Tamil Tigers threatened on several occasions to resume violence. There were also large protest by Sinhalese opposed to the government sharing power with the Tigers.
Issue of a Separate Tamil State
The Tamil Tigers have effectively carved out a state within a state in northern and northeastern Sri Lanka. When the Tamil Tigers held Jaffna from 1990 to 1995 they established their headquarters there and created their own mini-state, with its own banks, schools, hospitals, police and civil service. In 1995, the Tigers were driven out of Jaffna by Sri Lanka government forces. In 1997, the Tamil Tigers captured Kilinonchchi, where they later set up an administrative center. S.P. Thamilselvan served as head of the political wing for the Tamil Tigers.
In December 2002, the government issued a broadcasting license to Voice of Tigers, the former underground radio station operated by the Tamil Tigers as a way to show that government was sincere in its effort to make peace.
In July 2003, the government presented its proposal for provisional administration in Tiger-controlled areas. Their proposal gave the Tamil Tigers control over development-related issues such as reconstruction and resettlement of refugees but not over land, police, revenues and justice and called “weighted representation” for the Sinhalese and Muslim communities
In November 2003, the Tamil Tigers issued a counter-proposal for more autonomy, calling for the establishment of an interim administration that would have wide powers to raise revenues, control land, administer justice, control the police, regulate access to the region by sea and control aid money. It said theat the Sinhalese and Muslim communities would be given representation but did not spell out how much.
One Western diplomat told the New York Times he saw the arrangement as a “sloppy solution.” “There will be a period when the Tigers run things in a dictatorial way. There may be, side by side in one country, a democratic Sri Lanka, and a dictatorial Sri Lanka.” Some thought a a lasting peace settlement depended on money. Key to this was how much foreign aid money would go directly to the Tamil Tigers.
Peace Talks and Feuding in the Sri Lankan Government
Feuding between President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe disrupted the peace talks. The two politicians disagreed on conessions that should be made to the Tamil Tigers. Kumaratunga pushed for a hardline. Wickremesinghe was willing to make more concessions. It wasn’t clear who was speaking for the government.
In November 2003, the peace talk were seriously thrown off course when Kumaratunga fired three top ministers. The move came after the Tamil Tigers issued the counter-proposal described above. Kumaratunga was worried that Wickremesinghe might give in to the counter-proposal demands, Norway pulled out as a mediator, saying it would not return until Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe resolved their differences. Norway had been accused by Kumaratunga of overstepping its bounds.
The Tamil National Alliance, which had been endorsed by the Tamil Tigers, took 22 seats in the April 2004 parliamentary elections. Many heralded as the first time that the Tamil Tigers had engaged in the democratic process. Kumaratunga’s party won the elections. Afterwards she promised to restart peace talks with the Tamil Tigers. Not long after that the National Congress Party in India came to power in India. It was headed by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister who was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 1991. At the time it is not clear what impact that would have on the peace process.
Violence After the Cease Fire in 2002
In June 2003, the Tamil Tigers blew up one of their own ships, fearing that monitors would find weapons on board. The ship had been cornered by Sri Lankan navy ships near Trincomalee on the northeast part of the island. Crews on the ships jumped off the boats moments before the explosion. Two Europeans escaped getting hurt by jumping to the sea. Around the same time a top Tamil politician that opposed the Tamil Tigers was assassinated.
During the summer of 2004 there was a spate of violence attributed to the Tamil Tigers. Several people were killed in various shootings. In July. a suicide bomber, believed to be a Tiger, blew herself up at a police station near the prime minister’s residence and near the U.S. embassy, killing herself and four policemen and injuring seven others. It was the first suicide bombing since the cease-fire started in February 2002. In August, a grenade was thrown into an office of a Tamil political party opposed to the Tigers.
In October 2004, the Tamil Tigers were accused of killing a 61-year-old Swiss man. It was the first death of a foreigner since the 2002 cease-fire.
Tamil Tigers and the December 2004 Tsunami
Many of the victims of the December 2004 Tsunami, which killed 35,000 people and left 900,000 homeless in Sri Lanka, were Tamils. Several thousand Tamils died in territory controlled by the Tamil Tigers on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Around 3,000 people were killed around Mullaittavu in northeast Sri Lanka and the fishing villages around it. Entire extended families were wiped out. People were pushed hundreds of meters inland and then pulled out to sea. The beach road and many of the houses that were on it vanished.
The area around Kalmunai, on the east coast of Sri Lanka about 50 kilometers south of Batticaloa, was the worst hit areas in Sri Lanka. Around 10,000 people were killed along a single 6.4 kilometer section of beach, with entire villages disappearing with hardly a trace left behind. One local official interviewed by the New York Times said he lost 27 relatives, counted 374 dead around his home, and oversaw the burial of 2,250 people. Most of the victims were Tamils and Muslims crushed and washed away by a huge wave that sounded like a bomb exploding when it struck.
According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Tamil Tigers suffered extensive damage to their infrastructure. The publication cited numerous deaths among Tiger forces as well as “extensive damage at Chailai, the main base of its naval arm, together with smaller Tiger units along the northeast coast. This includes a number of boats sunk.”
After the disaster Prabhakaran expressed sympathy for Muslims and Sinhalese. “My condolence...go out to our Muslim and [Sinhalese] brethren in the southern coastal areas, who have lost their kith and kin.” Another Tiger leader said that the group would accept from the Sri Lankan government.
In June 2005, the GSL and LTTE reached an agreement to share $3 billion in international tsunami aid. However, the agreement was challenged in court and was never implemented.
Tamil Tigers After the December 2004 Tsunami
As of January 2005, weeks after the tsunami, peace talks had not been resumed. Representatives of the Tamil Tigers said the government had spoiled a chance for peace after the tsunami by diverting most of the aid money to Sinhalese-dominated areas rather than Tamil-dominated areas even though many of worst hit areas were in Tamil regions.
A controversy erupted over a visit by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who visited only Sinhalese-controlled area not Tamil-controlled areas in the north and east. The government said he didn’t visit those areas because the government could not guarantee his safety. The Tamil Tigers said it was further example of discrimination against the Tamils.
Before the tsunami there had been increasing signs of cooperation. The government allowed the movement of goods in and out of Tamil Tiger controlled areas. Schoolteachers in Tiger-controlled areas were paid by the government. But at the same time Prabhakaran was expressing impatience and threatening to resume the war. The government still controlled access to the Tiger-controlled areas.
In June 2005, the Sri Lankan government signed a controversial tsunami aid sharing deal with Tamil Tiger rebels despite opposition from the island's main Marxist party. AFP reported: Details of the proposed Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) were unveiled in Parliament today for the first time after months of secret talks with the help of peace broker Norway. It will have an international lender as the custodian of foreign aid. [Source: AFP, June 24 2005]
The Marxist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, disrupted parliamentary debate on the controversial issue when the document was released ahead of debate in the Assembly, and the sitting ended in chaos when JVP MPs prevented ministers from speaking on the deal. The JVP quit the ruling coalition last week protesting the deal to handle tsunami aid and vowed to launch nationwide protests from Friday. The deal is seen as a prelude to saving Sri Lanka's Norwegian-led peace bid.
Suffering and Violence for Tamils in Tsunami-Hit Areas
In 2004-2005, a suspected Tiger assassin killed the Sri Lankan government foreign minister and anti-Tiger hard-liner Mahinda Rajapaksa became president.
Reporting from Jaffna, Somini Sengupta and Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “Charity came pouring in from far and wide for this island nation devastated by the tsunami. But on its fragile northern peninsula, Udayarani Sebastian Pillai today lives on the cliff edge of uncertainty. The government has barred her from rebuilding on the seafront where she had lived, and there is no promise of a permanent home. Home is a transit camp sandwiched between army and rebel lines. From beyond the camp comes news of a possible renewal of civil war. Her mind remains ravaged by the destruction of a year ago: The tsunami killed three of her seven children. [Source: Somini Sengupta and Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 25, 2005]
“A year ago, the tsunami dangled the hope of reconciliation here. It struck lands held by the government and those held by Tamil rebels. It even brought the two sides together to heal and divide up aid. Today, squabbles over aid combined with the legacy of recrimination between government and rebels have so exacerbated the conflict that Sri Lanka seems closer to war than ever since the peace process began nearly four years ago. Clashes between government troops and suspected Tamil separatist rebels have become routine. Cars are set alight in protest on the streets of Jaffna Peninsula. Soldiers are everywhere, with their heavy guns and wary eyes.
“This was not what most people here had anticipated a year ago. But it is only one of a wide range of contrasting and often paradoxical effects now being felt a full year after the tsunami ate coastlines of a dozen countries and killed 181,000 people. The looming threat of war in Pillai's country, in fact, stands in stark contrast to the extraordinary shift some 1,500 kilometers across the Indian Ocean, nearly 1,000 miles, in the Indonesian province of Aceh. There...separatist guerrillas are turning in their weapons and seeking to forge a political party. In Aceh, the tsunami and aid have greatly helped quiet a 30-year-old civil war.”
Violence After the December 2004 Tsunami
In February 2005, five Tamil Tigers were killed in an ambush near Batticaloa. Among the dead was the Tiger’s eastern political head, E, Kousalyan, the most senior rebel leader killed since the February 2002 cease fire. Each body had been hit by more than two dozen bullets fired at point blank range. The Tigers blamed Sri Lankan military intelligence for aiding paramilitaries that carried out the attack. A few weeks later two more Tamils were killed. According to TamilNet, the Tiger’s web site, the victims were “paramilitary cadres.”
In August 2006, fifteen local aid staff working on tsunami reconstruction on Sri Lanka's north-eastern coast were executed after six days of heavy fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels. The Consortium for Humanitarian Agencies said that a relief team had discovered the corpses in an aid agency office in Muttur, on the edge of rebel territory. "They were lying face down - executed," said CHA chief, Jeevan Thiagarajah. It was not clear who had killed them. [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, August 7, 2008]
Randeep Ramesh of The Guardian wrote: “Muttur, across a bay from the deep water port of Trincomalee, has been shattered by the fighting with homes reduced to rubble. The government claims 11,000 people had fled the town over the past few days. The military said that it had lost 17 personnel, while the Tigers put their figure at 32. More than 30 civilians have been reported killed. Some had been sheltering in schools. "We are searching for 100 missing civilians which eyewitnesses say were taken by the Tigers as they left the town," a Sri Lankan army spokesman told the Guardian. There was no word from the Tigers on the dead aid workers last night.
“The past week has seen some of the heaviest fighting since the two sides signed a Norwegian-brokered truce in 2002. The clashes were triggered by the closure of a sluice gate in a nearby reservoir that sits in rebel-held territory. This cut off water supplies to 15,000 families, most of whom are of the Sinhalese majority. Rebels say it is a protest by ethnic Tamil civilians angry that promised water tanks never arrived. Last week Sri Lankan military air strikes and ground assaults plunged the island back into conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam took up weapons more than two decades ago, claiming ethnic discrimination by the Sinhalese against Sri Lanka's 3.2m minority Tamils.
Tamilnet, a website which reports extensively on the Tigers, said that the offer by rebels early yesterday to lift the sluice gates was met by a barrage of Sri Lankan artillery fire. Reuters reported that the head of the unarmed Nordic-staffed ceasefire monitoring mission, retired Swedish Major General Ulf Henricsson, was caught up in the gunfire as he headed towards the sluice, south of Trincomalee. "(The government) have the information that the LTTE has made this offer," said Tommy Lekenmyr, chief of staff for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). "It is quite obvious they are not interested in water. They are interested in something else. We will blame this on the government."
Split in the Tamil Tigers
There was a major split in the Tamil Tigers ranks in 2004. The breakaway faction was headed by a powerful rebel commander, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, known as Karuna Amman. Karuna had been kicked out of the Tamil Tigers in a dispute over regional authority and political strategy but refused to leave and started his own faction. The breakaway group, calling itself the Eastern Tigers, was and made up of 6,000 fighters while the main Tamil Tiger force had 9,000 fighters. The Eastern Tigers received some assistance from Sri Lankan government forces.
Karuna was 40 years old in 2004 and when he was widely respected and feared guerrilla fighter and the Tigers' military commander. Randeep Ramesh wrote in The Guardian: “Hailing from a small village near Batticaloa, Karuna broke away from the Tigers, saying that the eastern Tamils were laying down their lives in disproportionate numbers for the northern leadership. [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 7, 2006]
In April 2004, the Eastern Tigers fought with the main Tigers group along the Vergual River and seized a major chunk of Tiger territory. There were reports that three dozen fighters were killed. The Tamil Tigers were eventually able to reclaim the lost territory. The Eastern Tigers retreated to their main base at Thoppigala, 35 kilometers northwest of Batticaloa. The fighting was the worst since the cease fire was declared in February 2002.
In August 2004, eight people believed to be supporters of Karuna were gunned down as they slept in a suburb outside Colombo. In September 2004, three people were killed when a Tamil Tiger camp in the village of Pillumalai, 220 kilometers east of Colombo, was overrun by a breakaway faction of the group.
Fresh fighting broke out yesterday between rival factions of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels, monitors overseeing the island's two-year truce said, renewing fears about the peace bid to end 20 years of civil war.
Fighting Between the Tamil Tigers and the Eastern Tamil Tigers in 2004
On fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the Eastern Tamil Tigers, 16 kilometers north of Valaichchenai, a town in the eastern district of Batticaloa, about 220 kilometers east of Colombo. the Gulf News reported: “Fighting began again a short while ago. North of Valaichchenai is also the same area where about 3,000 civilians who fled fighting on were taking refuge. [Source: Gulf News, Reuters, Associated Press, April 11, 2004]
“Renegade Tamil rebel Karuna has pulled thousands of fighters back to defend his fortified base in eastern Sri Lanka after the main rebel faction advanced against him with heavy mortar and gun fire, a military official and witnesses said. The dissident faction vowed to "stand firm," regroup and resume its defence. Fighting between the Tamil Tiger rebel factions, which killed at least 10 rebels and wounded 20, was the worst since a 2002 truce halted the country's 19-year civil war, and has threatened the nation's fragile peace.
“The Ministry of Defence said yesterday that the offensive by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a violation of the ceasefire agreement. Breakaway commander Karuna recalled 2,000 of his about 6,000 fighters to his Thoppigala base to set up defences, a military official said on condition of anonymity. Thoppigala is a jungle area in Batticaloa. To reach Thoppigala, the main faction would have to cross through fortified government-held areas, thereby endangering the ceasefire, the official said.
“Karuna's spokesman, Varathan said at least 300 of their fighters had been "taken prisoner" by the main rebel faction. LTTE spokesman Daya Master said he could not comment on the fighting or the number of casualties suffered by his guerrillas. The military warned that both sides had planted remotely detonated Claymore mines on trees, bushes and bridges. After hours of mortar and machine-gun fire, about 500 fighters from the breakaway group – including women and teenagers – withdrew from the area, claiming they were repositioning, not retreating, to prevent civilian casualties. "We will decide on our future military action shortly," Varathan said.
Fighting Between the Tamil Tigers and the Eastern Tamil Tigers in 2006
On fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the Eastern Tamil Tigers near Batticaloa, with input from the Sri Lankan army, Randeep Ramesh wrote in The Guardian: “When fisherman Kandasamy Rajan was jolted from his sleep in the middle of a hot night by the sound of gunfire last month, his family's nightmare had just begun. Lying dead in a street in Batticaloa, a town on Sri Lanka's eastern coast that straddles a blue lagoon, was his 18-year-old son Rajnith. A few hours later the body of Vijneswaran, his teenage nephew, was dumped in an emerald-green paddy field. Both were riddled with bullets. [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 7, 2006]
They were victims of a bloody, sectarian war fought in the streets of this town between government-backed Tamil fighters, led by a breakaway Tiger commander called Karuna, and battle-hardened guerrillas from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In Batticaloa the two groups vie for control, using abductions and political assassinations to enforce their rule. Although these rivals were once on the same side, fighting the Sri Lankan army for 20 years in a conflict that has claimed 65,000 lives, they are now sworn enemies. Little quarter is asked for or given.
“When pro-Karuna gunmen dragged Rajnith and Vijneswaran out of a neighbour's wake three weeks ago, both were accused of putting up posters supporting the Tigers. Before they could answer, they were shot dead. Pro-Tigers pamphlets were scattered on their bodies. 'These boys were not political. They had hot tempers, but they were innocents,' says Kandasamy, 39, his eyes brimming with tears. He says that the rift between the two Tamil factions means 'we are finding dead bodies on the streets. It is impossible to trust anyone. We just do not know who belongs to whom'.
“Batticaloa is being slowly stripped of life by the violence. On the day last week that The Observer arrived in town, 18 pro-Karuna fighters were killed in a gun battle outside the town. This act was followed by the Sri Lankan army spraying Batticaloa with bullets as they pursued Tiger guerrillas. On walls and lampposts large, red-painted letters proclaim that Batticaloa is under the control of the TMVP, initials in Tamil that stand for Karuna's Tamil People's Liberation Party. Under the watchful gaze of machine-gun-carrying Sri Lankan soldiers is the TMVP's huge, newly opened office. A red pennant carrying a yellow tiger flutters above the 20ft walls of the compound.
“It is an open secret that Karuna, and his crack troops, are now sheltered by his former enemy, the Sri Lankan army. Most analysts agree that Karuna is being funded and armed by the Sri Lankan army. 'The government is unwilling to disarm the Karuna group because it is a strategic asset that can harass and attack the LTTE,' says Saravanamuth Paikiasothy, director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. 'Neither side believes hostilities are about to end. The LTTE are choreographing a return to war and the government is sustaining that.' On Karuna's fighters, the LTTE said, 'The government is not keeping its promises to disarm these paramilitaries. They are killing Tamil people and abducting them,. Our message is that, if you do not disarm these paramilitaries, we will take steps to do so ourselves.'
Karuna Group Abducts Children for Combat
In January 2007, Human Rights Watch reported: “With the complicity or willful blindness of the Sri Lankan government, the Karuna group has abducted and forcibly recruited hundreds of children in eastern Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. In the new 100-page report, “Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group,” Human Rights Watch documents a pattern of abductions and forced recruitment by the Karuna group over the past year. With case studies, maps and photographs, it shows how Karuna cadres operate with impunity in government-controlled areas, abducting boys and young men, training them in camps, and deploying them for combat. [Source: Human Rights Watch, January 24, 2007]
““The Karuna group is abducting children in broad daylight in areas firmly under government control,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government is fully aware of the abductions but allows them to happen because it’s eager for an ally against the Tamil Tigers.” Based on research in Sri Lanka, including areas where the Karuna group operates, the report features testimony from two dozen family members of boys and young men abducted by the Karuna group. They described armed Karuna members forcibly taking their brothers, nephews and sons from their homes, workplaces, temples, playgrounds, public roads, and even a wedding. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has documented more than 200 cases of child recruitment by the Karuna group in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts, where the group is active. But the real number is certainly much higher due to underreporting.
“Children are not the only targets. Human Rights Watch found that the Karuna group has abducted and forcibly recruited hundreds of young men between ages 18 and 30. Human Rights Watch knows of only two cases in which the Karuna group abducted girls. It generally targets poor families, and often those who have already had a child recruited by the Tamil Tigers. At least since June 2006, and probably before, the Sri Lankan government has known about the Karuna abductions. The districts of the east where they have taken place are firmly under government control, with myriad military and police checkpoints and security force camps. “After years of condemning child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers, the government is now complicit in the same crimes,” said Jo Becker, child rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, who has written extensively about the Tamil Tigers. “The government’s collusion on child abductions by the Karuna group highlights its hypocrisy.”
In one incident in June 2006, the Karuna group abducted 13 boys and young men, holding some of them for a while in a shop across the street from an army post. Some of the parents pleaded with the soldiers to intervene. Two soldiers spoke with the Karuna group members, parents told Human Rights Watch, but the soldiers did not stop the abduction. On the same day in another village, soldiers from the Sri Lankan army gathered seven boys and young men in a field, checked their IDs, and took their photographs. Members of the Karuna group arrived that night and abducted four of the seven, although it remains unclear in this instance whether the army forces were deliberately acting in collusion with the Karuna group.
“After abducting boys and young men, the Karuna group often holds them temporarily in the nearest office of its political party, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), which are routinely guarded by the Sri Lankan military or police. Parents told Human Rights Watch that they either saw their abducted sons in these offices or TMVP officials confirmed to families that they had been there.
After a few days, the Karuna group usually transfers abductees to one of its camps in the jungle about 10 kilometers northwest of Welikanda town in the Polonnaruwa district, about 50 kilometers northwest of Batticaloa town. Welikanda is where the Sri Lankan Army’s 23rd division has its base. The area is firmly under government control, as is the main A11 road from the eastern districts to the Welikanda area. Travel through the area necessitates passing through numerous army and police checkpoints, and transporting abducted youth to the camps would have been impossible without the complicity of government security forces. The Karuna camp at Mutugalla village is near a Sri Lankan army post. “Not only do government forces fail to stop the abductions, but they allow the Karuna group to transport kidnapped children through checkpoints on the way to their camps,” Becker said.
Karuna Group Ambushes and Kills Fleeing Tamil Tigers
In 2007, the Asian Tribune.com reported: “Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (Karuna Group) claimed that they ambushed a group of 50 Tamil Tigers cadres fleeing from Vaharai to their hideouts in Thoppigala jungle and attacked them, killing 13, injuring two and arresting three. According to Azad Moulana spokesman for the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, TMVP cadres led by its commander Riyaseelan chased the fleeing Tigers and attacked them in a very brief confrontation. He said that this incident took place at 5.30am at Kirimichchamkulam. [Source: Asiantribune.com, January 22, 2007]
“He further said that they have captured assault rifles, anti-aircraft guns, RPGs and rocket launchers. He revealed that two TMVP teams are waiting in ambush to attack those fleeing LTTE cadres from Vaharai towards the Tiger jungle base in Thoppigala. Azad Moulana also told the Asian Tribune that TMVP leader has received intelligence reports indicating that the Tiger leader, Col. Sornam, alias Soosaipillai Joseph Anthony Das, fled to Vanni three weeks ago. TMVP intelligence reported that Sornam was last seen three weeks ago with a group of LTTE cadres near Kurankupaanchan Palam.
“Col. Sornam was on top earlier when he chased Karuna Group out of the Verugal river. On 10 April, 2004. during the good Friday attack after a major fight with the Karuna faction in Mavadichenai, north of Verugal, the Northern Tiger platoon led by Swarnam was able to chase the Karuna faction out of the area and take control of the entire stretch from Sampur to Mankerni. In the attack 142 cadres of Karuna group were killed. In the latest roonds of fighting between Tigers and the Government forces senior Tiger commanders — Colonel Bravo Bahnu, Colonel Ram, S. Elilan, Trincomalee district political leader — have fled to Vanni for their own safety leaving the low level Tigercadres to bear brunt of the Sri Lankam military fire power.
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