5, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 22
Sri Lankan Tamils enter a camp in India, joining thousands who in
recent years have fled the violence of the LTTE.
Speaks for Peace?
the brutal leader of the Tigers silences all critics, Sri Lanka's moderate
Tamils find they have no voice
By MICHAEL FATHERS Colombo
Sporting an honorific normally accorded to parliamentarians and judges,
"The Hon." Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the world's most successful
terrorist group, has emerged from the seclusion of the Sri Lankan jungle
and onto the Internet. As his Tamil Tiger insurgents tighten their grip
around Jaffna town, Prabhakaran, supreme leader of the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is taking his struggle online. His e-propaganda
gives no hint as to whether he will do business with the Norwegian "facilitators"
who traveled to Colombo and New Delhi last week to explore prospects for
a settlement to Sri Lanka's civil war. But his mission seems frighteningly
clear. In homilies about death and martyrdom, Prabhakaran billboards the
violent vision that has driven his 6,000 armed followers to fight to the
death for a Tamil homeland. "I understand the dignity of life," he says,
"but our right is much more dignified than life."
ALSO IN TIME
what about those Sri Lankan Tamils at home and in exile who aren't convinced
that a Tiger victory would usher in a new era of racial harmony, democracy
and freedom? Prabhakaran, 46, will stop at nothing to further his cause.
He has ruthlessly ordered the death of anyone who has opposed him or his
view of an independent Eelam: a homeland for Sri Lanka's estimated 2.4
million Tamils. By eliminating all opposition, Prabhakaran has become
the sole remaining symbol of Tamil pride, and his Tigers the only protector
of Tamil rights. Today it is nearly impossible to separate the Tamil cause
from the LTTE. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) once represented
a moderate alternative, but its most prominent representative, Neelan
Tiruchelvam, was killed by a suicide bomber last year. His crime: he helped
draw up Colombo's devolution package for the Tamils, which the Tigers
nixed. "No one can say the Tigers have mass support," says Varatharaja
Perumal, former head of the provincial government for the Tamil-dominated
north and east of the country that was set up in 1988 as part of an Indian-brokered
peace deal and abandoned when the Indian army pulled out. "They have established
themselves by terror, physically and psychologically."
edition's table of contents
Perumal himself is a marked man. He and a group of former Tamil guerrilla
leaders decided to support Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga's
bid for a negotiated settlement based on limited regional autonomy for
Tamils. They now live and travel under armed guard in Colombo, fearful
of assassination. Many Tamils say they feel trapped between an uncompromising
guerrilla leadership and a suspicious Sri Lankan army. Above all, they
fear an army defeat, remembering the pogrom in 1983 that left more than
1,000 Tamils dead, hunted down by axe-wielding Sinhalese mobs. The slaughter
followed the Tigers' most daring assault an ambush of a two-vehicle
army patrol near Jaffna town in which 13 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed.
The attack and backlash marked the start of a full-scale insurgency. It
also enraged public opinion in India, especially among India's 52 million
Tamils. India covertly helped to train and arm the many Tamil guerrilla
groups that emerged; that training, however, has stopped.
India today has outlawed the ltte, and its navy waits off Jaffna ready
to help evacuate the Sri Lankan army if necessary. A trickle of refugees
has made the dangerous, six-hour boat journey to India's Tamil Nadu state
across the Palk Strait separating the two countries. But so far most Tamil
civilians have stayed. As the Tigers fight their way toward Jaffna from
the east, more than half of the town's 110,000 inhabitants have moved
westward to temporary shelters in schools and other buildings or to live
The story of Sri Lanka's Tamils has long been one of nervous waiting.
There are an estimated 145,000 Tamil refugees in southern India. More
than 6,000 live in crowded conditions in Mandapam camp on the outskirts
of the temple town of Rameswaram. Some have been waiting as long as 10
years for the fighting to end so that they can return home. Ariyadas Kumar,
a 27-year-old fisherman, was among the 54,000 refugees who returned to
Sri Lanka when the Tigers last controlled Jaffna and the northeast, between
1990-'95. But Kumar and his family fled to India again in 1996 to escape
the crossfire. This time they are waiting for genuine peace before returning
across the strait. The constant threat of violence has turned Sri Lanka's
Tamils into an unsettled people and driven many permanently abroad. But
for The Hon. Velupillai Prabhakaran, violence is control and death a worthy
sacrifice. "A liberation warrior's death is not a normal death occurrence,"
he says on his website. "This death is a historical incident. It is a
miracle of high ideal becoming a reality." With this affected religiosity,
the world is witnessing nothing less than the apotheosis of a suicide
With reporting by R. Bhagwan Singh/Rameswaram and Meenakshi Ganguly/New
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