Wednesday, September 22, 2004
A new outfit calling itself the 'Thamilar National Brigade' and claiming to be headed by former LTTE renegade leader Karuna has called upon the youths and girls to join its cadres to fight against the Wanni leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran.
In leaflets distributed in the east, the new brigade has asked the people whether they want to simply be onlookers to the injustices being perpetrated by the Wanni leadership or they sought liberation by joining the brigade. "Our struggle will not cease till the people in our district are liberated. We are confident that the Wanni Tigers could be driven away if you join the brigade," the leaflet said.
Reports from Toronto say that Canadian public are also becoming increasingly annoyed by the display of these posters and banners. However, it is not clear who spray painted the posters in several Toronto suburbs. Several store-owners removed the damaged posters in the morning fearing reprisals by the LTTE operatives.
The Tamil radio and TV channels operated by LTTE-fronts in Toronto, are asking all Tamils living in the city to participate in the Pongu Thamil rally on Saturday.
Last week the Sri Lankan police said they had raided a house near a military airbase close to the capital, Colombo and seized equipment intended for use by suicide bombers. The police claim to have subsequently apprehended 5 bombers but warn that several others are at large.
The police say they have seized jackets used for carrying bombs, rocket launchers and an automatic rifle, and claim that the bombers were planning to hit the Ratmalana air force base.
In January 1996, three men drove a truck packed with explosive into the Central bank building, devastating Colombo's financial district. There have been no suicide bomb attacks since then, though a parcel bomb exploded on a train in July 1996.
However the Sri Lankan government regularly issues warnings of imminent suicide bomb attacks by Tamil 'infiltrators' who are said to be present in the capital.
Arrests are also regularly announced, though in most cases, no charges have been brought against the alleged bombers, and only one man has been tried (allegedly for involvement in a bomb attack in 1995).
The discovery of arms caches within the city are also frequently reported. Roadblocks and check points have long been a regular feature in the city.
The regular police announcements fuel the apprehensions of the city's occupants. This fear has mobilised the Sinhala public's support for the government's costly war in the Tamil homelands, the logic being that if the government destroys the LTTE, the threat of bombs would recede.
The security forces go to considerable lengths to reinforce the climate of fear. Massive search operations are mounted every so often, involving hundreds of policemen for several hours, ostensibly 'looking for suicide bombers'.
Some Sri Lankan military officials are openly contemptuous of such operations. After a six hour search caused massive traffic jams around the President's residence, one official observed that "If indeed there was a suicide bomber, the huge traffic outside the president's house would have been an ideal to set off an explosion and cause maximum destruction"
Tamil residents and neighborhoods are particularly targeted in these operations. Mass arrests of Tamils are routine. Even long-established residents are picked up outside their homes or places of work.
The Sri Lankan police often say they are seeking the public's cooperation for information about 'suspicious' people in their neighborhoods. As a result, the Tamil residents of the city are as a whole viewed with suspicion by the Sinhalese.
When visitors (particularly youths) go to Tamil homes, a police patrol will often arrive shortly afterwards: a watchful neighbor would have alerted them of possible 'bombers'. Arrests at night are common place, as are random searches of vehicles during the day.
The recent discovery of suicide bombers near Colombo comes at a time when the Sri Lankan government needs to mobilise public support for its controversial 'devolution proposals' which it claims will end the war. In this light, a revival of the public's fear of bombings in the capital may not be unhelpful. Some of the Sri Lankan government's announcements
14 June 96 Police claim to have arrested 5 suicide bombers.
28 June 96 Defence sources inform media that 17 suicide bombers are in Colombo.
08 July 96 Government announces immediate training for security forces to face suicide bombers.
16 August 96 Colombo police claim to have arrested 4 female suicide bombers.
27 August 96 Defence sources tell Colombo media that 12 female suicide bombers are in Colombo.
19 September 96 Police claim suicide bombers planning to hit high ranking police officers.
06 October 96 Colombo police chief says 25 female suicide bombers are in Colombo.
08 October 96 After massive search operation, police arrest 30 people alleged to have supported suicide bombers in Colombo .
09 October 96 Police arrest 20 alleged suicide bombers after high profile search.
29 October 96 Defence sources claim to have disrupted plans to send 35 suicide bombers to Colombo.
21 November 96 Defence sources claim to have uncovered a plan to kill Education minister with suicide bombers.
28 November 96 Colombo police claim 4 female suicide bombers are in Colombo to attack politicians.
03 December 96 Police claim to have arrested 17 suicide bombers, including 5 women.
06 December 96 Defence ministry claims 50 suicide bombers are arrested in Vavuniya detention camps, enroute to Colombo.
31 January 97 Police claim 5 suicide bombers arrive in Colombo.
03 February 97 Police claim to have arrested a female suicide bomber.
12 March 97 Police claim to have arrested 5 suicide bombers.
19 March 97 Police claim 4 suicide bombers arrive in Colombo.
30 March 97 Police claim to have arrested a senior suicide bomber.
08 May 97 Police claim suicide bombers are in Colombo disguised as soldiers.
22 May 97 Police chief claims at least 12 suicide bombers arrive in Colombo.
28 May 97 Police warn public to be alert for suicide bombers.
Prabhakaran moves to consolidate East before talks
In the prolonged absence of faith and will, the two vital elements necessary for any paradigm shift in the thinking of the government and the LTTE to break the deadlock, the subject of peace is now been relegated to one used by the protagonists to sling mud at each other.
In place of trust building last week we witnessed how both President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the LTTE stooped down to the lowest levels of political posturing since the ceasefire, taking on each other in a bid to show who made a bigger contribution to peace - the government or the LTTE.
President Kumaratunga accused the LTTE of being ; 'inflexible,' and 'indecisive' and that it used dilatory tactics to delay the resumption of peace talks while the LTTE retaliated by charging that the President has done nothing so far other than 'mouthing her intentions to restart the peace process".
And this at a time when the constituency and the international community were eagerly awaiting confidence building by both parties to break the stalemate and return to the negotiating table.
With this kind of talking to the gallery heightening the degree of acrimony between the two parties, one wonders where the peace process is heading, leave aside the resumption of peace talks.
Amidst these charges and counter charges the LTTE also moved to make a strategic change in the Eastern command- replacing Ramesh who is an Easterner with war veteran Bhanu from the North.
Immediately after Bhanu (a northerner) was appointed a series of rumours came from the East indicating that there was a major revolt by the ordinary Tamils against his appointment as the new Eastern Commander of the LTTE.
While the appointment is very likely to have earned the apprehension of the Tamils in the East and proven the point that Karuna wanted to make, that the Easterners are not getting their due place in the Tigers hierarchy, it was later proven that most of these reports on anti-Bhanu demonstrations were simply speculative.
And that includes the reports on a protest in the LTTE-controlled Kokkadicholai, against the appointment of the new Eastern commander.
However, the absence of strong moves to oppose Bhanu does not at all mean that everything is rosy in the East.
The relative silence is largely attributed to the degree of liberty enjoyed by the civilians in the LTTE-controlled areas.
Since the revolt of Karuna the easterners have witnessed the kind of punishment available for those who side with the former eastern commander, or those who raise their voices against the Tigers. And having witnessed how throes of fellow civilians faced the guillotine at the hands of Tigers for their allegiance to Karuna and his men, the civilians even those in the government-controlled areas do not want to take chances by going against the LTTE decree.
The appointment of Bhanu made despite the disappointment of the civilians, is a well calculated move by the LTTE, and its advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
Tigers are well aware of the disadvantages of going for talks as long as the issue of regionalism promoted by Karuna is not resolved to their advantage.
It knows for sure that though not immediately, even at a later stage, the division between the northern and eastern Tamils would be used by the government to break the Tiger arguments.
Consolidating its power in the East is the number one item on the Tiger agenda and hence the decision to send a seasoned war veteran, in place of a weak regional leader, to wipe out the rivals and take full control of the East.
This means major onslaughts on anti-Tiger groups in the days to come, after the relative peace in the East in the last few days.
On the other hand, the rumours on Ramesh's loyalty coupled with so many attacks on Tiger cadres during the past few months, may have disturbed the LTTE seniors, prompting his replacement. But, even Bhanu will not be able to provide that blanket security for all the Tiger cadres.
The way power was transferred and the mysterious exit of Ramesh to Wanni over the weekened after his arrival in the East following the demotion, suggests that all was not well within the LTTE as regard the Eastern command.
And the Tiger hierarchy will make sure that no LTTE strongman from the East would hereafter play regional politics and attempt to carve out a distinct identity for himself as well as the region detached from the North, which is very likely to be exploited by southern leaders.
This is the message conveyed to the Easterners by the appointment of Bhanu, a total northerner born and bred in Jaffna.
Born in Ariyalai in Jaffna, Bhanu who joined the LTTE in 1980 is one of the few remaining LTTE seniors who were trained in India.
He belonged to the third batch of Tiger cadres trained in south India - Indian 3- and had received special training in explosives.
Bhanu's first stint in the East started in 1990 when he got a demotion from Jaffna to Batticaloa after failing to carry out orders from LTTE Jaffna seniors Imran and Pandiyan.
However being a tough fighter, his services were sought after by the northern cadres at various instances, even while he was in the East.
In 1992 Bhanu was promoted as a special operations commander in the East and the following year as a special commander.
However what finally consolidated his position as one of the most reliable military operations commanders was the LTTE attack in Mullaitivu which came on July 16, 1996.
Bhanu was one of the forefront military leaders in the attack during which the Tigers overran the Mullaitivu camp causing a humiliating defeat to the army.
In addition to this he had taken part in many others including the 1994 attack on the Jaffna fort.
By the time he was made the Eastern commander last week, Bhanu was commanding both the mortar regiment as well as LTTE's elite infantry regiment 'Jeyanthan'.
Therefore he is militarily far superior to Ramesh, his predecessor who was appointed immediately after Karuna's defection and who was removed last week over possible issues over loyalty and command.
Born in Kalawanchikudi on September 18, 1964 Ramesh joined the LTTE in 1985, five years after Bhanu's enlistment.
Ramesh belonged to the 3rd batch of Tigers trained under the Batticaloa regiment and was recruited to the Kumarappan group of the 49 base in Karadiyanaru.
He initially came under regiment leaders Aruna and Nizam and was sent to Wanni in 1990 for special training in advanced infantry and was also in sea operations.
Unlike Bhanu who took part in major operations, Ramesh was better known for his ambush attacks.
However both are known for their excesses and atrocities against civilians.
On October 15, 1991 Ramesh led a group of LTTE cadres to a Muslim majority area in Palliyagodella, in the Polonnaruwa - Trincomalee border and killed 142 Muslim civilians after gunning down 12 army personnel manning the village checkpoint.
During his first stint in the Eastern province Bhanu too had engaged in the massacres in the Sinhala villages in Ampara and Polonnaruwa.
Irrespective of the strategic importance of having a leader of the calibre of Bhanu at the helm of affairs in the East, the appointment makes a mockery of the LTTE's popular slogan that land should belong to the sons of the soil in as much as the North and East should belong to the Tamil speaking people.
The disappointment over the appointment of a northerner, is very likely to have far reaching negative consequences despite Bhanu's talents as a seasoned military man.
He may consolidate the LTTE command in the East and to a certain extent prevent Tiger cadres from becoming the targets of other groups. But, in the process renegade Eastern commander Karuna will receive greater credence given his prophetic call for regionalism.
As for the peace process, what the President and the government should understand is that puerile attempts to sell peace through banner headlines in state newspapers will only reduce them to a bunch of clowns unless those slogans are backed by suitable pro-peace moves.
Otherwise they will only further substantiate the Tiger position that the President is only 'mouthing her intentions to restart the peace process'.
On the other hand the Tigers will learn the lesson of their life and the strength of people's power, if they continue to use military power to crush pluralism in Tamil polity and go for talks portraying a distorted version of the reality in the East.
After all, the day that LTTE loses public support, that will also mark the end of its clout in any part of the country - North or East.