Originally Published 2004-06-30 04:20:54 Published on Jun 30, 2004
The situation in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka is getting messier by the moment with twists and turns in the script has made it that much more difficult for all the actors in the ¿peace process¿.
The Eastern Situation in Sri Lanka
The situation in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka is getting messier by the moment with twists and turns in the script has made it that much more difficult for all the actors in the 'peace process'.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), hardly four months into a major split in their terrorist organisation's history, has suffered a spate of attacks on the Eastern front in the districts of Batticalao and Amparai. 

Elements owing loyalty to LTTE rebel leader Karuna are said to be behind the attacks on LTTE cadre in Batticaloa and Amparai. There are also reports of clashes in the dense jungles of Thoppigala in the East to which some cadres of Karuna's group reportedly retreated after being disbanded following the April 9 battle between the two LTTE factions.

The LTTE has alleged that the acts of violence in Batticaloa are the handiwork of a paramilitary group backed by the Sri Lankan Army.

Media reports of the reported clashes in Thoppigala and Thalavkulam in the East have been vague and inaccurate about the extent of casualties. Figures of casualties appearing in various media reports from Sri Lanka have ranged between two to 150. 

However, it has been established beyond doubt that there was a clash between the Karuna and Prabhakaran factions of the LTTE in the East though not to the extent of a full-fledged confrontation as reported in some sections of the media.

The Colombo based newspaper Sunday Times in a column by its defence analyst quoting authoritative sources, said that it was elements loyal to Karuna who had started the clashes by attacking LTTE intelligence bases. These attacks had triggered the media reports about heavy fighting between the two LTTE factions.

The reports, especially those in the State media, have led to the LTTE clamouring that the UPFA government is behind the latest round of disturbances.

Fallout of Karuna's flight from Batticaloa

The LTTE has used recent revelations arising out of the 'Karuna episode' to accuse the erstwhile UNF government of Ranil Wickremasinghe of back-stabbing it. The revelations relate to a Muslim MP from United National Party (UNP), Ali Zahir Moulana reportedly escorting Karuna personally from Batticaloa to Colombo after the latter disbanded his forces following the April 9 confrontation with the main LTTE group.

Karuna's flight from Batticaloa claimed its first political victim in the form of the Moulana who tendered his resignation in the wake of these reports.

According to the reports, the Moulana, a (National List) MP and hailing from Batticaloa has acknowledged that he had arranged safe passage for Karuna. The acknowledgement followed accusations by Nilavini, former woman commander of the LTTE in the East (Batticalao-Amparai) who fled with Karuna to Colombo and has now returned back to the main LTTE group.

Ali Zahir Moulana, has disassociated his party and leadership from his action, which he said was done on humanitarian grounds. He has in fact named Thangathurai Ramesh, who was named successor to Karuna by the Wanni leadership of the LTTE after the rebellion as having played a part in his action.

In a media release following his resignation the former MP said, "My action (bringing Karuna to Colombo) was on the request of the LTTE area leader Ramesh and I advised Karuna that he should give way as a direct confrontation would endanger life and property of the civilians who have still to recover from the ravages of war."

He goes on to say in his statement that he had built a working rapport with Karikalan, Kausalyan, Karuna and Ramesh after the Cease Fire Accord was signed in 2002. However, after the March 3 rebellion by Karuna, he says Ramesh who succeeded Karuna, asked him to prevail upon Karuna to leave the country.

The LTTE is using this revelation to band both the mainstream national parties, namely the SLFP and UNP as anti-peace, anti-Tamil and anti-LTTE. They have used these revelations to place the threat of war as a choice for the Sri Lankan government. It is a familiar pressure tactic of the LTTE where they force the Government to get provoked and thereby shift the blame for the failure of peace talks if it did not proceed according to their script. 

LTTE chief Prabhakaran will not negotiate from a position of weakness but only from a position of superiority. The peace talks will progress only when the LTTE is sure of its military superiority and hold over areas in its control especially the East.

The LTTE has also left things unsaid in all their threats of war. Ramesh who is the LTTE commander of Batticalao-Amparai appearing before the media following speculation that he had been killed in clashes between the main LTTE faction and Karuna faction, was quoted saying, "… if the Sri Lanka Government tries to wage war against us making use of Karuna, there will be serious repercussions and we will not hesitate to take appropriate action."

The implication is that the LTTE has acknowledged indirectly that it cannot do much about the Sri Lankan Army giving protection to Karuna. However, the 'serious repercussions' and 'appropriate action' mentioned would be resorted to only if the Government were to use Karuna to wage war against the LTTE. 

The LTTE has also not called back the pistol gangs hunting for Karuna in Colombo. Meanwhile, a news agency report has also speculated about the possibility of the LTTE seeking the assistance of the Sri Lankan Army even as it tries to hunt down Karuna on its own. The reports, which are unconfirmed come in the background of accusations by the LTTE that the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) was giving assistance and shelter to Karuna. S P Tamilchelvan, Leader, Political Wing of the LTTE has told the Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that the LTTE had sufficient evidence that the SLA was giving protection to Karuna and termed it a 'black mark' on the Cease-fire Accord (CFA).

Karuna taking to politics

Reports have emerged that Karuna is planning entry into politics, and has contacted Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) leader Douglas Devananda seeking his advice. Karuna and Devananda reportedly spoke over the phone, according to media reports. 

EPDP spokesman Nelson Edirisinghe said on June 22 that Devananda had spoken to Karuna in his capacity as EPDP leader and, not on behalf of the Government. It is significant that the EPDP leader who was elected from Jaffna is a minister in the UPFA government.

The new political party of Karuna is likely to be called as LTTE (Karuna Wing). According to reports it is soon to be registered with the Election Commissioner. Office bearers for the party were also chosen after discussions according to a news report.

Karuna's plans to enter politics is seen by analysts as an attempt to gain legitimacy, which would make it difficult for the LTTE to eliminate him and also get him some international spotlight. This would make Karuna enjoy both political presence and the option of retaining a covert military presence in Batticaloa and Amparai.

The LTTE is trying to counter this attempt by threatening to go to war if the southern political forces were to try and take advantage of the situation and side with Karuna. 

Sampur as LTTE power base in Trincomalee

The focus in the East, however, should not be just on the two trouble-prone districts of Batticalao and Amparai. The Tigers have been reportedly strengthening themselves in Trincomalee. 

It has been reported that Sampur, which is a village on the Trincomalee's southern bay is becoming a LTTE power-base in the East. Sampur's significance is its proximity to the Sri Lanka Navy base in Trincomalee. 

It could be recalled that the LTTE in the past year has used the tactic of sandwiching Muslim-dominated pockets between LTTE camps and other Tamil-dominated areas to intimidate them and encroach upon their arable land. Sampur is located north-east of Muslim-dominated Muttur. Muttur was the scene of communal disturbances between the Tamils and Muslim even last year.

The LTTE has reportedly established a 'Sea Tiger' Base, political secretariat, its court and police station in Sampur. The expansion of the LTTE police network is part of an LTTE strategy to expand its presence and intelligence-capacity in areas under its control. The LTTE 'Police' chief, Nadesan has spoken about setting up around 20 new LTTE police stations in the coming months.

Leading up to the April 9 Good Friday confrontation between Karuna's faction of the LTTE and Prabhakaran's, Sampur was used for landing cadres both 'Sea Tigers' and ground units from the North. Sampur served as the transit-point between Mullaitivu and Verugal, where Karuna's forces had taken positions.

Sampur is said to LTTE chief's personal choice to be developed as a 'Sea Tiger' base in the East while Karuna preferred Vakarai when Karuna was still in the LTTE. The choice certainly paid dividends in the final confrontation, to end the Karuna rebellion, according to analysts.

It is against this background that there are reports of the LTTE using 'cultural tactics' after the 'Pongu Tamil' events. The events, which were also held in Trincomalee were meant to extend and strengthen LTTE's support base. The 'Pongu Tamil' events served as an instrument to showcase the LTTE's organisational capability and also the supposed ground level support it enjoyed among the people. The events, which were termed as cultural in nature were celebrated not only in Sri Lanka but also in various Western countries with a strong presence of Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

The pro-LTTE website, TamilNet, has reported, 'Puthuvai' Ratnathurai, Head of the Arts and Cultural Association of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), saying that the LTTE leadership was prepared to open a Fine Arts Academy in Trincomalee district to develop arts and literary activities. 

The LTTE's latest moves are part of its strategy to maintain a strategic presence in the Trincomalee area not just in military aspects but also on ground level. 

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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