LTTE now the 'sole representative'

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The MoU between the government and the LTTE gave the group recognition as the only party authorised to carry arms in the North-East. Under the MoU even government forces are not permitted to enter areas under LTTE control in the North-East.

The LTTE secured the recognition it demanded (always) while the TELO, the PLOTE, the EPRLF, and the EPDP which co-operated with successive governments were unceremoniously asked to hand over their arms. The four groups were told to return arms issued to them over the years. They were given a deadline.

They were first issued arms in the middle of 1990 by President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government in return for their support to security forces.

Last week, cadres of these groups handed over their T-56 assault rifles, pistols, hand grenades, ammunition of various categories, communication sets, a few rocket propelled grenades and a few mortar tubes. The mortars and the rocket propelled grenades were the ‘heaviest’ in their arsenal.

It was not clear whether the government intended to deploy troops at Delft where there were no security forces present. The EPDP was in charge of the island for a long time. The LTTE targeted their units in Delft several times over the years although no attempts were made in the recent past.

The four groups were denied their small arms while the Tigers responsible for the deaths of several thousands of rivals retain their full fire power.

Apparently no one wants to talk about their armaments that include multi barrel rocket launchers, shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, underwater equipment used in attacks on ships, artillery and boats mounted with guns.

Elephant Pass

It was no secret that the previous government acquired mobile multi-barrel rocket launchers only after the LTTE deployed multi-barrel rocket launchers (smaller type) that helped them to rout the army at Elephant Pass in April two years ago. They bolstered their arsenal by bringing in at least five fresh consignments of armaments between their unilateral cease-fire that came into operation on December 25 last year and February 22, the day Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the MoU on behalf of the government of Sri Lanka. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was reported to have signed the document a day or two earlier.

Disarming rival groups under the MoU has been a significant victory for the LTTE. As a matter of fact, disarming rival groups was not the main issue. The LTTE could have decimated them easily. They had the firepower and the capability to wipe out rivals.

The LTTE needed recognition as the only Tamil group authorised to carry arms in the North-East. The MoU gave them more. Under the MoU, disarming would be followed by an offer by the government to cadres of these groups to join the security forces. But under one condition, that they be deployed outside the North-East region. Why?

It was obvious the LTTE wanted to keep them out of units deployed in the North-East particularly because some members of rival groups had pivotal roles in some covert operations initiated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in the Ampara-Batticaloa theatre. The LTTE knew of the danger posed by them and some ex-members of the organisation who worked with the security forces. The LTTE was concerned over their activities to such an extent that the organisation called for a halt to operations by DMI’s deep penetration units as part of the MoU under which the two sides entered into an indefinite cease-fire.

A good move

Over the past few years, cadres of some Tamil groups joined the army. Major General [retired] Janaka Perera played a pivotal role in recruiting them when he was in charge of the troops deployed in four sectors including Batticaloa several years ago. That was a good move. They worked with the DMI. Some joined the Sri Lanka National Guard(SLNG) deployed in the eastern theatre.

However, some decided to work as mercenaries. They were responsible for some important ‘hits’ in the east. The MoU has put an end to their activities. Even if they join the security forces they could not be deployed in the North-East. Their deployment would be a violation of the MoU.

The MoU has given the opportunity to the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to dictate terms to government forces with regard to their deployment in the North-East. Security forces officers privately express concern over the way the LTTE has effectively delivered a ‘bloody’ blow without firing a shot. ‘Idiotic,’ one source said when asked to comment on the decision that Tamil recruits could not be deployed alongside other troops in the North-East.

Even if the government agrees to disarm cadres of rival groups and recruit them the UNP-led administration should not have agreed to withdraw Tamil troops from the North-East. Was there any point in deploying additional troops outside the North-East?

Deployment of troops in the North-East or the south should be done according to security requirements, not on ethnicity.

Tamil groups back the forces because they know what the LTTE did. The LTTE killed hundreds of rival cadres in the North-East. Key leaders were executed. In a series of ruthlessly executed operations in the Jaffna peninsula the LTTE killed over 350 TELO cadres and key leaders. The Jaffna killings were followed by regular operations aimed at crippling rival organisations. In late 1989, the LTTE took advantage of the cease-fire it had with President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government to wipe out the EPRLF-led Tamil National Army [TNA] set up by India before it withdrew from the North-East. The EPRLF lost at least 1500 cadres to the LTTE. They suffered the biggest losses

However, sections of the TELO and the EPRLF (Suresh Premachandran faction) which suffered huge losses in the hands of the LTTE, have joined the TULF-led Tamil National Alliance [TNA] to promote the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people. Although the LTTE did not target ordinary TULF supporters, dozens of party seniors including A. Amirthalingam were killed in the North-East and Colombo.

Taking advantage of the MoU

With the LTTE succeeding in crippling rival organisations (militarily), the possibilities of the organisation seeking to end whatever political power they have in the North-East is real. The LTTE has taken advantage of the MoU to ensure that the government would not have any use for other groups. They have been made useless both militarily and politically by the MoU under which the government and the LTTE have decided that other groups no longer have a role to play in the North-East.

The Tigers remain in command in the North-East with some of their opponents crippled while others (TULF-led politicians) are directed to promote the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamil-speaking people. The TULF on Tuesday went one step further. Senior TULF politician Murugesu Sivasithamparam, addressing parliament on Tuesday said that the party wants the government to give control of the North-East interim administration council to the LTTE. He explained the need to give the power to the LTTE. It was obvious the TULF does not see any place for other groups in the proposed North-East administration council.