Tamil Eelam - a De
Welcome to LTTE’s ‘de facto state’
Barry Parker reporting from Omanthai
Dawn Group, 26 January 2006
OMANTHAI (Sri Lanka): The guards at the checkpoint into Tamil
rebel-held territory in northern Sri Lanka do not ask to see your
passport, but they might just as well. It is here that Tamil Eelam,
the homeland that rebels have fought for decades and so bloodily, is
The situation on the ground that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) say they want to discuss with Norwegian peace broker
Erik Solheim on Wednesday are here for all to see.
The sprawling zone already has all the trappings of an international
border where papers are shown, identities checked, luggage searched
and goods transhipped. A military policewoman smiles knowingly when
asked if she would like to see passports. The very idea of a border
separating part of the island from another is anathema to Sinhalese
among Sri Lanka’s majority community who see Omanthai as a betrayal
of sovereignty and violation of national security.
With real efforts under way to launch fresh peace negotiations, the
thorny border issue is one of a series of major obstacles in the way
of a final peace agreement. The crossing point — the frontline after
years of heavy fighting — first came out of the 2002 ceasefire
negotiated by a previous government. It lists details such as a
500-metre (yard) divide, an open road and a no man’s land. “Some
2,000 vehicles and 3,000 passengers pass through Omanthai daily,” a
Sri Lankan military police officer says, asking not to be named.
VIPs, diplomats and employees of non-governmental organisations
enjoy a fast track through the maze of tin shacks and some more
permanent structures which are sprouting. Ordinary citizens languish
for hours under the sun. The International Committee of the Red
Cross has a manned station on both sides of the divide to deal with
human rights cases.
A few hundred yards down the rough tarmac track and you are in what
appears to be another country and the clock goes back half an hour.
The arrival process also follows the departure formalities. “We call
it Tamil Land,” says official translator Thayarajah Singham.
“Welcome”. Registration with the LTTE authorities takes you back and
forth among lines of neat and tidy thatched roof huts. Everyone is
pleasant and eager to know when peace is finally coming.
Signs of statehood are everywhere, as are photographs of the
renowned LTTE supremeo Velupillai Prabhakaran.
But no passports, please. At least some of the niceties of diplomacy
are being observed — the LTTE has not declared its own state and the
new Colombo government, with little choice, accepts the situation.
As you wave goodbye to the “immigration” officials, LTTE police in
full local uniform appear on the road guiding crowds across the
road. At Kilinochichi, the first big Tamil town on the road north,
Tamil Eelam offices are everywhere, run by the LTTE as if in its
Nonetheless, the Sri Lankan government still supplies all the
infrastructure, such as it is, in Tamil Land. From water to roads,
electricity to education, Colombo provides and pays the local
salaries. “We have a de facto state,” LTTE media coordinator Daya
Master tells AFP at his well-equipped offices. “Seventy per cent of
the north-east area is LTTE-administered. We have our police,
judiciary and finance sectors.—AFP