Originally Published 2004-02-16 09:31:59 Published on Feb 16, 2004
The various incidents involving the LTTE during 2003, its continued confrontationist attitude and the demand for the recognition of its ¿Sea Tigers¿ wing as a de facto navy showed that the LTTE continued to attach importance to maintaining its military capability unimpaired and was unwilling to renounce its military option while continuing to adhere to the cease-fire.
The LTTE in 2003 - Aspects of Concern to India
The various incidents involving the LTTE during 2003, its continued confrontationist attitude and the demand for the recognition of its 'Sea Tigers' wing as a de facto navy showed that the LTTE continued to attach importance to maintaining its military capability unimpaired and was unwilling to renounce its military option while continuing to adhere to the cease-fire.

It did nothing to erase its past record of using the duration of peace talks to enhance its fighting capability, by building up both its arsenal and its cadre-strength. The inflammatory speeches and statements from several middle-rung and senior political and military functionaries of the LTTE created doubts about its claims that it remained committed to the peace process.

The LTTE, it is said, speaks in two voices, one in English for the international community and its supporters abroad and the other in Tamil for its domestic hard-core. It is in Tamil that the LTTE's true voice and what it really wants to say are heard. The LTTE's Tamil speak is its true 'militant voice' and 2003 saw more of it, even as the 'English voice' adopted a much mellowed tone and projected itself as peace-loving.

Adequate attention has not been paid in India to the security implications of the LTTE's attempts to have its Sea Tigers' wing recognised as a 'de facto' navy and its capability maintained, if not further strengthened. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission's (SLMM's) proposal that the Sea Tigers be recognised as a 'de facto' naval unit on par with the Sri Lankan Navy reflected the LTTE's intentions and its determination that any peace settlement should provide for two armies and two navies in a single state.

The proposal envisages the demarcation of a line of control, extending to 200 nautical miles along the North - East coast from the Jaffna peninsula to Trincomalee, for purposes of navigation, training and live-firing exercises. Lines of control have already been recognized on land, under the ceasefire accord. They have not been recognised on the sea however. The LTTE was apparently keen to extend its territorial dominance to the sea as well. Soosai, the Sea Tiger chief, was said to be behind this proposal, which seems to be meant to counter the reports of increasing cooperation on the naval front, between Sri Lanka on the one side and the US and India on the other.

There were reports of an increasing level of intelligence sharing between the Indian and Sri Lankan Navies resulting in a better patrolling off the coast of Sri Lanka, and better intelligence inputs for the Sri Lankan Navy to act on. This created difficulties in the smuggling of arms by the LTTE into its territory by using the sea route. Its apparent calculation is that the recognition of the Sea Tigers as a 'de facto' navy on par with the Sri Lankan Navy could help it to overcome its operational and logistical difficulties. The proposal would be detrimental to India's security interests and an open and firm articulation of the Indian opposition to it is, therefore, called for.

A connected problem calling for attention from India is the difficulties faced by Indian fishermen fishing in the Palk Straits. Previously, Indian fishermen who strayed into Sri Lankan waters were fired on and captured by the Sri Lankan Navy. There were also occasions when Sri Lankan fishermen captured Indian fishermen and handed them over to the Sri Lankan Navy. Media reports towards the end of 2003 spoke of Indian fishermen captured by their Sri Lankan counterparts being handed over to the LTTE. The Norwegian-led SLMM, which monitors the implementation of the Cease-Fire Accord, reportedly had to step in to secure the release of the fishermen.

India needs to look not just at the humanitarian aspects of the situation, but also at the security implications of a hostile sea-based force policing its adjoining sea territory. The humanitarian, economic and security aspects of the problem need to be clearly identified and a mutually satisfactory and sustainable solution has to be worked out with the co-operation of the Sri Lankan Government. The LTTE has no role and should have no role in this matter. Any attempt by it to have itself projected as a concerned party, which has to be involved in the efforts to find a solution, has to be rejected.

Child Conscription

8.The conscription of children by the LTTE to strengthen its ranks has remained a constant source of complaint from international observers. In October alone, the SLMM reportedly received over 80 complaints of children being abducted. It is estimated that more than 300 children may have been abducted during 2003. Some of them have reportedly been sent back to their homes after training so that they can be recalled in case the need arises. The transit centre for former LTTE child recruits run by the Tigers and the UNICEF is yet to rehabilitate any large number of children.

Reports during 2003 spoke of some attrition in the middle and senior levels of the LTTE cadre. There were reports of senior LTTE cadres being linked with criminal car jacking gangs, which allegedly stole expensive vehicles. These were then brought by senior LTTE functionaries who use them in the rebel held territory. The Sri Lankan police busted several such car-jacking gangs and exposed their links to the LTTE. The LTTE leadership was apparently concerned over these reports of the involvement of its functionaries in such criminal activities, which could dilute their motivation for the cause of the organisation and project them in a bad light before the public. The stepped-up child conscription was also partly meant to create a new reservoir of freshly motivated young cadres who could eventually replace these elements, which have become an embarrassment to the organisation.

LTTE and The Muslum Question

There was some evidence of the LTTE focussing more on the East in the wake of indications of continuing opposition to it from the Muslim youth and the disinclination of the Muslim political leadership to give in to the LTTE's expectation of political and administrative primacy in the Muslim-dominated areas in the Eastern Province. Instead of trying to calm the anxieties of Muslim public opinion and placating the Muslim political leadership, the LTTE adopted a defiant stand, which was reflected in the reported declaration of the LTTE political head S P Tamilselvan that the earlier Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) chief, Rauf Hakeem and the LTTE chief, Prabhakaran was no longer valid.

There were reports of violent incidents involving disgruntled Muslim youth in the Eastern Province. Muttur town was in the limelight with reports, citing police sources, talking of the presence of at least three "armed Muslim groups". These groups, reportedly comprising around 40 members, are said to have only a handful of AK-47 rifles, a few pistols and hand grenades for the present. The emergence of armed Muslim groups, if ultimately confirmed, does not bode well for future communal peace and stability in this province. Any radicalisation of the Muslim youth driving them to armed militancy should be of concern to Sri Lanka as well as to India. It is important for the Sri Lankan Government to reassure the Muslim public opinion that its grievances and concerns would not be overlooked during the peace negotiations with the LTTE, as and when they are resumed.

One should also remember that the North and the East have two distinct cultural identities. A merger of the two will not be an easy marriage. The LTTE is interested in the East to maintain its dominance on the Sri Lankan coastline.

LTTE Enhancing its Military Strength

There were reports of the LTTE doubling its cadre strength, which before the cease-fire, was estimated at around 7,000. The LTTE's practice of recruiting young children, training them and sending them back to their families to be recalled when needed serves three purposes: one it does not give a clear picture of the Tigers' true strength; second, it strengthens the LTTE's intelligence apparatus as the young LTTE members sent back to their families after proper motivation and training serve as the eyes and ears of the LTTE in their respective areas; and, third, momentarily it also helps deflect at least some of the international pressure due to its human rights violations and child abuse.

While the LTTE continues to retain its clandestine capability for the procurement of arms and ammunition abroad under the stewardship of Tharmalingam Shanmugham or KP alias Kumaran Pathmanathan, despite the action reportedly taken by the Thai authorities against gun-running by it from their territory, it seemingly faced difficulties in smuggling them into the territory controlled by it due to effective patrolling by the Sri Lankan and Indian Navies. The LTTE's funding mechanism does not seem to have been hit so far by the bans in the UK and the US.

In a crackdown on the LTTE's gun running cells in Thailand, it was named as one of possibly two militant groups by the Thai Navy, which were attempting to smuggle by sea a shipment of weapons from an island resort in the southern Trang province. Three suspected Tamil Tigers were arrested with weapons in their possession and were sentenced to five years in jail each.

However, what could hurt the LTTE even more was the call issued by the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) organisation, held in Bangkok in October, 2003, to its member-countries to take action to "regulate the production, transfer and brokering" of MANPADs (Man Portable Air Defence Systems). This could hurt the LTTE's efforts to procure them from countries such as Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Eliminating Political Opponents to Ensure an Opposition Free "Democracy"

The LTTE has not allowed the cease-fire accord to come in the way of the elimination of senior and middle level leaders of Tamil organisations opposed to its political hegemony. The reluctance of the international community, including India, to take a strong stand against these attempts to eliminate rivals is shortsighted and would not be in the long-term interests of promoting genuine democracy and political pluralism in the areas controlled by the LTTE.

The Trincomalee Question

The concerns expressed during the year by President Chandrika Kumaratunge and her principal adviser, Laxman Kadirgamar, over the reported extension or expansion of the LTTE's presence in the Trincomalee area should not be misread as a mere fall-out of the political rivalry between her and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Developments in the Eastern Province, more than in the North, whether they relate to a possible radicalisation of the Muslim youth or weakening or countering Indian interests in the area by expanding the LTTE's presence by taking advantage of the cease-fire, would have implications for India's coastal security and economic interests in the region. India has to closely monitor the developments in this regard and keep urging whichever Government comes to power after the forthcoming elections to pay more attention to the developments in the Eastern Province.

India's low-profile stance on the LTTE's intentions with regard to the future set-up in the Tamil areas and the strengthening and sustaining of its military and naval capability is understandable, but it is important that this low-profile by India and the absence of a clear and firm articulation of its interests and concerns are not misread by the LTTE as a lack of determination to protect Indian interests. The reports of growing military co-operation between the Governments of India and Sri Lanka in fields such as training, arms supplies etc are welcome in this regard, but there is also a need for a more open debate in India on the issues involved which could be detrimental to India's national security and economic interests. (12-2-04)

(The writer is a member of the Research staff at the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and focuses on studying developments in Sri Lanka. E-mail address: [email protected])

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