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Home > Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom > Tamil Armed Resistance & the Law > Reports on Armed Conflict in Tamil Eelam > Crouching Tiger & the Fall of Killinochchi
REPORTS ON ARMED CONFLICT IN TAMIL EELAM
The dream of an independent homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka, or Eelam, still burns bright in Tamil Nadu, despite the fall of Kilinochchi, the de-facto capital of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) controlled territory in north Sri Lanka. In Tamil Nadu, a state where the LTTE continues to enjoy some political support despite it being a banned outfit in India, the LTTE's retreat from Kilinochchi is seen as a tactical move. On 2 January, 2009, Sri Lanka's hard-line President Mahinda Rajapakse announced the capture of Kilinochchi from the Tamil rebels, triggering celebrations in Colombo. Kilinochchi has come under government control after a gap of about 10 years.
Breaking the news on national television, Rajapakse, who has vowed to wipe out the LTTE and capture its chief, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, warned, "I am telling the LTTE for the last time to lay down their arms and surrender." Three days later, LTTE's political head B Nadesan, remained defiant. In an interview to the pro-LTTE website, Tamilnet, he pointed out that Kilinochchi had been captured more than once by the Lankan army earlier. "Similarly, we have also recaptured the town on earlier occasions. It is in Kilinochchi that the Sri Lankan forces have suffered historical debacles."
Pro-LTTE parties in Tamil Nadu, familiar with this history, are not perturbed at Kilinochchi's loss and regard the news of extermination of the LTTE as mere propaganda. They warn of a bloodbath for the Lankan forces, which are now spread out thinly across previously held LTTE territories. After being evicted from the Eastern Province, the Tigers also lost several strategic locations in Mannar district, west of Kilinochchi, before losing their capital.
Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P Nedumaran recalls the LTTE operation in the late 1990s to retrieve lost territories, including Kilinochchi. Codenamed Oyatha Alaigal (Unceasing Waves), the LTTE apparently conducted the operation in three phases from 1996. In the battle to retrieve Kilinochchi about 2,000 Lankan soldiers were killed in 1998. The operations began after the Tigers were dislodged from the Jaffna peninsula in 1996. At that time, the loss of Jaffna was considered a major blow to the LTTE and it was felt the Tigers would be decimated soon. History proved otherwise.
"The Tigers have shown repeatedly in the past that they can retrieve, in a matter of days, the territories that the Lankan army took months to capture," says Viduthalai Rajendran, general secretary of the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam. This is the overall sentiment shared among pro-LTTE parties. Asked about recent setbacks for the LTTE, they say that the LTTE is preserving its men and arms to fight another day.
In the recent battle, the LTTE has kept its losses to a minimum. The Sri Lankan Defence Ministry said the army had lost 33 soldiers in the battle, among the highest it has admitted losing in the fight with the LTTE. The LTTE has been periodically releasing the photos of dead Lankan soldiers along with their names and identity cards and arms seized from the Lankan forces.
Kilinochchi is cited as a classic example of the LTTE strategy. After putting up days of stiff resistance at Paranthan, a small town located a few miles from Kilinochchi, the army virtually walked into a deserted Kilinochchi town. Mysteriously, there was barely any one around of the one lakh population. Tigers claim they had withdrawn deeper into the eastern Mullaithivu district. "It calls for supreme organising skills to pull off such a Herculean task of evacuating a whole town in a matter of days," says Agni Subramaniam, a human rights activist and an Eelam ana
An estimated 30,000 Lankan soldiers are protecting Kilinochchi, which the media has labelled a 'ghost town.' Journalists who visited the town have reported that there is no trace of life barring stray dogs and cows. A report in the local media said, "The city's 40-feetlong main water supply tank was reduced to pieces with powerful explosives. The electricity cables had been slashed across the city, and through the 8 km length of the town not many electric poles were seen." Rajendran, who had stayed in Kilinochchi as a 'state guest' of the Tigers in 2006 for about a month, says the town used to bustle with life. "They had built star hotels and restaurants. They had their own courts, and were running hospitals, and schools," he recalls.
However, even as the pro- LTTE parties are hopeful of an LTTE comeback, Indian security analysts like B Raman, a former RAW official, and Colonel R Hariharan, a former Military Intelligence official, feel that the possibilty of an LTTE recovery is remote. "The LTTE has bounced back in the past. But this time it may be difficult because the circumstances in the world are not what they used to be," says Hariharan. He points out that the LTTE, which has a modern weapons system, procures its arms from countries like Ukraine, Cambodia and North Korea. "The marine sea routes through which their arms are smuggled in are no longer porous. It will be difficult for the LTTE to ensure a steady supply of arms to continue its fight," he says.
Supplies from the Tamil Nadu coast have virtually stopped. The DMK Government, which is constantly under pressure from the Centre to monitor the coast so as to prevent the infiltration of LTTE cadres, has strengthen coastal security. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard have also increased patrolling in the previously porous region.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi in his message at the Chief Ministers' Conference in New Delhi on 6 January, urged the Prime Minister to "treat the lengthy, porous border of Tamil Nadu along the east coast on par with the international borders in the north, east and west, and increase the presence of central forces, the Coast Guard and the Navy."
The Q Branch, a special wing of the State Police which deals with militant groups, is closely monitoring the LTTE. A senior official told TEHELKA that the LTTE no longer uses the Indian coast to smuggle arms. However, he reveals that there have been seizures of satellite phones, iron balls, and computer spare parts meant for Sri Lanka. "We have arrested about 279 people in the last three years in connection with these seizures," he said. Ten of them were allegedly LTTE men, most were smugglers and had no ideological links with any of the Tamil groups or the LTTE, the official said. The LTTE has started using the Mullaithivu coast on its eastern borders for landing arms, most of which arrive via the South East Asian sea route.
For Prabhakaran, the year ahead will be crucial. The LTTE is banking on a US regime under Barack Obama, who is taking office as US president on January 20, to rein in or prevent Rajapakse from exterminating the Tamils in Sri Lanka on the pretext of a war. It remains to be seen whether Obama's description of the Eelam conflict as a 'vicious civil war' and his designate secretary of state Hillary Clinton's perceived softness towards the Tamil minorities will herald a softening in US policy towards the besieged Tigers.