|Tamil rebels in a pickup truck in Killinochchi|
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil: , Tamiḻīḻa viṭutalaip pulikaḷ; commonly known as the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers) was a separatist militant organization that was based in northern Sri Lanka. Founded in May 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran, it waged a violent secessionist and nationalist campaign to create an independent state in the north and east of Sri Lanka for Tamil people. This campaign evolved into the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ran from 1983 until 2009, when the LTTE was defeated by the Sri Lankan Military.
At the height of its power, the LTTE possessed a well-developed militia and carried out many high-profile attacks, including the assassinations of several high-ranking Sri Lankan and Indian politicians. The LTTE was the only separatist militant organization to assassinate two world leaders: Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993 and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Civilian massacres, suicide bombings and acts of ethnic cleansing were integral parts of its pursuit to create a monoethnic Tamil Eelam in response to the nation-wide atrocities against the Tamil population. The LTTE pioneered the use of suicide belts, and used light aircraft in some of its attacks. As a result of its tactics, it is currently proscribed as a terrorist organization by 32 countries, but has extensive support amongst the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Europe and North America, and amongst some Tamils in India. However, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) alleges that the LTTE has killed at least 8000 fellow Tamils considered to be traitors to its cause. LTTE founder Velupillai Prabhakaran headed the organization from its inception until his death in 2009.
Over the course of the conflict, the Tamil Tigers frequently exchanged control of territory in north-east Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan military, with the two sides engaging in fierce military confrontations. It was involved in four unsuccessful rounds of peace talks with the Sri Lankan government over the course of the conflict. The LTTE was in control of 76% of the landmass in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka at its peak in 2000. At the start of the final round of peace talks in 2002, the Tamil Tigers, with control of 15,000 km2 area, ran a virtual mini-state. After the breakdown of the peace process in 2006, the Sri Lankan military launched a major offensive against the Tigers, defeating the LTTE militarily and bringing the entire country under its control. Victory over the Tigers was declared by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 16 May 2009, and the LTTE admitted defeat on 17 May 2009. Prabhakaran was killed by government forces on 19 May 2009. Selvarasa Pathmanathan succeeded Prabhakaran as leader of the LTTE, but he was arrested in Malaysia and handed over to the Sri Lankan government in August 2009. Significant number of LTTE survivors are currently provided asylum by the government of Norway.
In the early 1970s, United Front government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike introduced the Policy of standardization to rectify the low numbers of Sinhalese being accepted into university in Sri Lanka. A student named Satiyaseelan formed Tamil Manavar Peravai (Tamil Students League) to counter this biased move. This group comprised Tamil youth who advocated the rights of students to have fair enrollment. Inspired by the failed 1971 insurrection of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, it was the first Tamil insurgent group of its kind. It consisted of around 40 Tamil youth, including Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran (later, the leader of the Sivakumaran group), K. Pathmanaba (one of the founder members of EROS) and Velupillai Prabhakaran, an 18 years old youth from single caste oriented Valvettithurai (VVT). In 1972, Prabhakaran teamed up with Chetti Thanabalasingam, Jaffna to form the Tamil New Tigers (TNT), with Thanabalasingham as its leader.
After he was killed, Prabhakaran took over. At the same time, Nadarajah Thangathurai and Selvarajah Yogachandran (better known by his nom de guerre Kuttimani) were also involved in discussions about an insurgency. They would later (in 1979) create a separate organization named Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) to campaign for the establishment of an independent Tamil Eelam. These groups, along with another prominent figure of the armed struggle, Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran, were involved in several hit-and-run operations against pro-government Tamil politicians, Sri Lanka Police and civil administration during early 1970s.
These attacks included throwing bombs at the residence and the car of SLFP Jaffna Mayor, Alfred Duraiyappah, placing a bomb at a carnival held in the stadium of Jaffna city (now “Duraiyappah stadium”) and Neervely bank robbery. 1974 Tamil conference incident also sparked the anger of these militant groups. Both Sivakumaran and Prabhakaran attempted to assassinate Duraiyappah in revenge for the incident. Sivakumaran committed suicide on 5 June 1974 to evade capture by Police. But on 27 July 1975, Prabhakaran was able to assassinate Duraiyappah, who was branded as a “traitor” by TULF and the insurgents alike. Prabhakaran himself shot and killed the Mayor when he was visiting the Krishnan temple at Ponnalai.
Founding and rise to power
The LTTE was founded on 5 May 1976 as the successor to the Tamil New Tigers. Uma Maheswaran became its leader, and Prabhakaran, its military commander. A 5-member committee was also appointed. Prabhakaran sought to “refashion the old TNT/new LTTE into an elite, ruthlessly efficient, and highly professional fighting force”, notes the terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna. Prabhakaran kept the numbers of the group small, and maintained a high standard of training. The LTTE carried out low-key attacks against various government targets, including policemen and local politicians. The ideology of the Tamil Tigers emerged from Marxist-Leninist thought, and was secular. Its leadership was atheist.
TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, who was in 1977 elected as the Opposition leader of Sri Lanka Parliament clandestinely supported the LTTE. Amirthalingam believed that if he could exercise control over the Tamil insurgent groups, it would enhance his political position and pressurize government to agree to his demand, which was to grant political autonomy to Tamils. Thus, he even provided letters of reference to the LTTE and to other Tamil insurgent groups to raise funds. Both Uma Maheswaran (an ex-surveyor) and Urmila Kandiah, first female member of the LTTE were prominent members of the TULF youth wing. Maheswaran was the secretary of TULF Tamil Youth Forum, Colombo brach. Amirthalingam introduced Prabhakaran to N.S. Krishnan, who later became the first international representative of LTTE. It was Krishnan, who introduced Prabhakaran to Anton Balasingham, who later became the chief political strategist and chief negotiator of LTTE. LTTE was split for the first time in 1979. Uma Maheswaran was found out having a love affair with Urmila Kandiah. It was against the code of conduct of LTTE. Prabhakaran ordered him to leave the organization. Uma Maheswaran left LTTE and formed People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) in 1980.
Meanwhile in 1980, J. R. Jayawardene government agreed to devolve power by the means of District Development Councils upon the request of TULF. But by this time, LTTE and other insurgent groups were not ready to accept any solution less than a separate state. LTTE had no faith in any sort of political solution. Thus the TULF and other Tamil political parties were steadily marginalised and insurgent groups emerged as the major force in North. During this period of time several other insurgent groups came into the arena, such as EROS (1975), TELO (1979), PLOTE (1980), EPRLF (1980) and TELA (1982). LTTE ordered civilians to boycott the local government elections of 1983 in which even TULF contested. Voter turnout became as low as 10%. Thereafter, Tamil political parties had very little room to represent Tamil people as insurgent groups took over their position.
Attacks on civilians
The LTTE has launched attacks on civilian targets several times. Notable attacks include the Aranthalawa Massacre, Anuradhapura massacre, Kattankudy mosque massacre, the Kebithigollewa massacre, and the Dehiwala train bombing. Civilians have also been killed in attacks on economic targets, such as the Central Bank bombing.
LTTE women’s involvement in the leadership and fighting forces of the group has given rise to fierce debates about whether the visibility of females in the LTTE fighting forces represented the ‘true’ liberation of the Tamil women and whether women in the general public would enjoy equal rights during the post-conflict period. Actually, the Tamil Eelam is the overarching goal of the LTTE, and the emancipation of women has always been a secondary issue dependent on the liberation struggle. All the existing literature illustrates that the LTTE has been unsuccessful in creating the gender equality within the movement, and suggests that women have the right to achieve their emancipation and empowerment without linking to interests of the nationalist and ethnic struggles.
The LTTE has been accused of recruiting and using child soldiers to fight against Sri Lankan government forces. The LTTE was accused of having up to 5,794 child soldiers in its ranks since 2001. Amid international pressure, the LTTE announced in July 2003 that it would stop conscripting child soldiers, but both UNICEF and Human Rights Watch have accused it of reneging on its promises, and of conscripting Tamil children orphaned by the tsunami. On 18 June 2007, the LTTE released 135 children under 18. UNICEF, along with the United States, states that there has been a significant drop in LTTE recruitment of children, but claimed in 2007 that 506 child recruits remain under the LTTE. A report released by the LTTE’s Child Protection Authority (CPA) in 2008 stated that less than 40 soldiers under age 18 remained in its forces. In 2009 a Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations said the Tamil Tigers “continue to recruit children to fight on the frontlines”, and “use force to keep many civilians, including children, in harms way”.
The LTTE argues that instances of child recruitment occurred mostly in the east, under the purview of former LTTE regional commander Colonel Karuna. After leaving the LTTE and forming the TMVP, it is alleged that Karuna continued to forcibly kidnap and induct child soldiers.
The LTTE is responsible for forcibly removing, or ethnic cleansing, of Sinhalese and Muslim inhabitants from areas under its control, and using violence against those who refuse to leave. The eviction of Muslim residents happened in the north in 1990, and the east in 1992. The main reason behind the expulsion of Muslims was the fact that local Muslim community did not support the Tamil Eelam struggle of LTTE.
However Muslims in the North of Sri Lanka contributed to the Tamil movement on several occasions. Muslim ironmongers in Mannar fashioned weapons for the LTTE. In its 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution, LTTE condemned the Sri Lankan government for “unleashing successive bouts of communal violence on both the Tamils and Muslims.” But later, LTTE undertook its anti-Muslim campaigns as it began to view Muslims as outsiders, rather than a part of the Tamil nation. Local Tamil leaders were disturbed by the LTTE’s call for the eviction of Muslims in 1970. In 2005, the “International Federation of Tamils” claimed that the Sri Lankan military purposefully stoked tensions between Tamils and Muslims, in an attempt to undermine Tamil security. As Tamils turned to the LTTE for support, the Muslims were left with the Sri Lankan state as their sole defender, and so in the eyes of the LTTE, the Muslims had legitimized the role of the state, and were thus viewed as Sri Lankans.
Beginning in 1985, the LTTE forcibly occupied 35,000 acres (140 km2) of Muslim-owned farmland in the north of Sri Lanka, before systematically evicting the Muslims from areas under LTTE control. Although anti-Muslim pogroms had occurred in the north and east of Sri Lanka since 1985, the LTTE embarked on a campaign to expel Muslims from the North in 1989. The first eviction notice was sent to the Muslims of Chavakacheri on 15 October 1989, after the LTTE entered the local mosque and threatened Muslims a few weeks earlier. Afterward, the houses of evicted Muslims were ransacked and looted. On 28 October 1989, the Muslims of Mannar were ordered to leave, by the LTTE. Before leaving, they had to seek permission and clearance at the LTTE office. LTTE was to decide their exit route.”
The deadline was extended by four days after pleas from local Tamil Catholics, who were left to look after many Muslims’ property in anticipation of looting by the Sri Lankan army. The Catholics themselves were later robbed by the LTTE of both their own, and the Muslims’ property. On the 28th, while Muslims were preparing to leave, the LTTE barred Hindus from entering Muslim villages and dealing with them. The areas were reopened on 3 November, after Muslims had been packed onto the boats of Muslim fishermen and sent southwards along the coast. After a lull in ethnic cleansing, the LTTE on 3 August 1990, sealed off a Shiite mosque in Kattankady, the Meera Jumma and Husseinia, and opened fire through the mosque’s windows, leaving 147 Muslim worshipers dead, out of 300 gathered for Friday prayers. Fifteen days later, LTTE gunmen shot dead between 122 and 173 Muslim civilians in the town of Eravur.
Ethnic cleansing culminated on 30 October 1990 when the LTTE forcibly expelled the entire Muslim population of Jaffna. LTTE commanders from the east announced at 7:30 am that all Muslims in Jaffna were to report to Osmania stadium, where they were to be addressed by two LTTE leaders, Karikalana and Anjaneyar. After listening to the leaders denigrate Muslims for allegedly attacking Tamils in the east, the leaders explained to the community that they had two hours to evacuate the city. The community was released from the stadium at 10 am, and by noon, and were only allowed to carry 500 rupees, while the rest of their possessions were seized by the LTTE after they were forced to report to LTTE checkpoints upon exiting Jaffna. In total, over 14,400 Muslim families, roughly 72,000 people, were forcibly evicted from LTTE-controlled areas of the Northern Province. This includes 38,000 people from Mannar, 20,000 from Jaffna and Kilinochchi, 9,000 from Vavuniya and 5,000 from Mullaitivu.
In 1992 the LTTE embarked on a campaign to create a contiguous Tamil homeland that stretched from the North of Sri Lanka and downwards along the Eastern Coast. A large Muslim population inhabited a narrow strip of land between the two entities, and so a pattern of ethnic cleansing emerged in Eastern Sri Lanka. “The LTTE unleashed violence against the Muslims of Alinchipothanai and killed 69 Muslim villagers. This led to a retaliatory violence against the Tamils in Muthugala, where 49 Tamils were killed allegedly by the Muslim Home guards.” Later in the year, the LTTE attacked four Muslim villages (Palliyagodalla, Akbarpuram, Ahmedpuram, and Pangurana) and killed 187 Muslims. The Australian Muslim Times commented on 30 October 1992: The massacres, eviction and the atrocities by the Tamil Tigers are carried out in order to derive the Muslim Community from their traditional land in the Eastern province as they have done it in the northern province and then set up a separate state only for Tamils.
In 2002 LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran formally apologized for the expulsion of Muslims from the north and asked the Muslims to return. Some families returned and re-opened the Osmania College and two mosques in 2003. Since the apology, TamilNet, which is widely seen as an LTTE mouthpiece, has featured numerous stories of Muslim civilians coming under attack from Sinhalese forces. During the summer of 1990, the LTTE killed over 370 Muslims in the North and East of Sri Lanka in 11 mass killings The LTTE is accused of organizing massacres of Sinhala villagers who settled in the Northeast under the dry lands policy. Expulsion of civilians did not confine to Muslim community. Sri Lanka population census of 1981 recorded 19,334 Sinhala civilians in Jaffna District. But with the end of the war in 2009, hardly any Sinhala civilian remained in their places of origin in Jaffna.
Execution of prisoners of war
LTTE had executed prisoners of war on a number of occasions, in spite of the declaration in 1988, that it would abide by the Geneva Conventions. One such incident was the mass murder of unarmed 600 Sri Lankan Police officers in 1990, in Eastern Province, after they surrendered to the LTTE upon the request of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Police officers were promised safe conduct and subsequent release. But they were taken to the jungles, blindfolded, with hands tied behind, made to lie down on the ground and shot. In 1993, LTTE executed 200 Sri Lanka Army soldiers, captured in the naval base at Pooneryn, during the Battle of Pooneryn.
There are allegations that war crimes were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the Sri Lankan Civil War, particularly during the final months of the conflict in 2009. The alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings by both sides; executions of combatants and prisoners by both sides; enforced disappearances by the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them; acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone; and child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers.
A panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the civil war found “credible allegations” which, if proven, indicated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers. The panel has called on the UNSG to conduct an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law.