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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Eelam National Liberation Front
TAMIL EELAM STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM
Eelam National Liberation Front
Tamil militant groups come together,
Hindu, 12 April 1985
MADRAS, April 11 The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Mr. V. Prabhakaran and the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF) have entered into a working alliance to achieve Eelam.
The ENLF, formed in April 1984, comprises the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) led by Mr. Sri Sabaratnam, the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) whose secrtary-general is Mr. K. Pathmanaba, and the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation (EROS) led by Mr. Balakumar.
A press release issued by all four says the "unity move was prompted by the escalation of State violence and genocide" against Tamils in Sri Lanka and "the necessity to chart a joint politico-military strategy" to attain Eelam. The LTTE and the ENLF had agreed to coordinate on a basic working programme and would discuss and decide on all important political issues.
This is a significant development in the Sri Lanka Tamils' issue. Efforts are being made to bring the other major group, the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOT), led by Mr. Uma Maheswaran, also into the working alliance
Tamil Militants Unite - Anita Pratap, Madras in the Far Eastern Economic Review, 28 April 1985
One of the most significant developments in the history of Sri Lanka's Tamils was the closing of ranks between the militant Tamil groups. One of the weakest points in the Tamils' struggle for liberation was the internecine war between the various revolutionary groups committed to an armed struggle as a means to achieving their goal of Eelam, a separate state.
In fact these militant groups had frittered away their time and energy, liquidating one another and scoring points over one another instead of getting together to fight the "common enemy"-the Sinhala armed forces. The rivalries of the Eelam groups did not stem from ideological differences but from personal disputes and prejudices. Though everybody realises the need for unity, ego problems prevented them from coming together, thus playing into the hands of President Jayewardene.
On 10 April 1985, the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTTE) headed by V. Pirabhakaran, considered to be the most powerful and professional militant organisation joined the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF) that had been set up a year ago. The LTTE's decision came as a great boost to the cause of Eelam because more than any other group it was the LTTE that had always been arrogantly keeping away from the unity moves.
Though in his one and only interview to date, published in SUNDAY a year ago, Pirabhakaran had stated that he welcomed unity and was open to it, in reality the LTTE always gave the impression that as they were the best there -was nothing much they could gain by uniting with the other less powerful groups. In the circumstances, the LTTE joining the ENLF heralded a new and significant chapter in the history of the Eelam struggle. The position of the Sri Lanka Tamils has undoubtedly grown stronger.
The ENLF was formed in April 1984 after three important Eelam revolutionary groups-the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation (EROS) and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) got together.
Though there had been talks about the need for unity for the last five years, the initiative gathered momentum only after the July holocaust of 1983. After nearly six months of dialogue the leaders of the three groups joined hands to form the ENLF.
Recounting the formation of the ENLF, V. Balakumaran, senior executive member of EROS told SUNDAY, "When it came to unity among the Tamil militants, we found so much of interference by politicians from both sides of the Palk Straits. We were determined to keep them out because we knew they only wanted the credit announcing how they had been instrumental in bringing about unity among the militants so as to reap political gains for themselves."
Soon after the ENLF was formed there were attempts by the members to rope in the PLOT (the People's Liberation Organisation for Tamil Eelam, headed by Uma Maheswaran) and the LTTE, the two main militant groups.
According to Balakumar, initially it was easier to approach the PLOT than the LTTE because the latter gave the impression that they could continue their battle on their own. Moreover,there was a lot of rivalry between the TELO and the LTTE because the TELO is also quite active in the guerilla front. Talks were started with the LTTE primarily because the EROS and the EPRLF have reasonably cordial relations with the former.
The Front has evolved a common working programme based on three principles to which the four signatories are committed: first, to pursue the strategy of an armed struggle to achieve liberation, second, to work for the goal of Eelam which would be an independent sovereign state and third, Eelam, as and when it is established, would be a socialist state. Already one notices a semblance of unity among the disparate Tamil groups since the LTTE joined the ENLF.
Earlier each group would make its own demands lending to a great deal of confusion and obfuscation of the common goals. As A. S. Balasingham, the official spokesman of the LTTE, told this correspondent in the course of his interview, one of the most important requirements as far as the Sri Lanka Tamils are concerned is the crystallisation of a consensus on a few basic issues. The Front hopes to embody the consensus of the Tamils of the island, it hopes to represent the united aspirations of the Tamils as a whole and it hopes to be recognised as the official body of the Tamils by both Colombo and Delhi.
Top on the list of the Front's priorities is raising the issue of the Tamils' right to self-determination. The Tamils seek to gain political independence on the basis of this right which has been recognised by international bodies like the United. Nations. This point has to be cogently got across to the world so that people do not equate the Eelam struggle with separatist, secessionist movement.
The second objective of the Front is to evolve a plan for common military action, to mobilise manpower and material power and direct it against the enemy forces. The Front feels that agreements can come from the Sinhala side only if military points are scored against them. Initially the groups would continue with their independent guerilla operations, though they would pool their resources if required.
Ultimately they will undertake joint operations. SUNDAY learns that one of the military strategies worked out by the groups is undertaking of simultaneous operations in different parts of the traditional Tamil homelands. At the moment the entire Sri Lankan armed forces are concentrated in Jaffna because that is the nerve-centre of guerilla activity. The militants feel that one way of overpowering the Sinhala armed forces is to attack them in different places at the same time. To tackle this problem the armed forces would have to be dispersed, making it easier for the militants to wreak greater damage on them. Obviously such a situation would only provoke the Sri Lanka government to get help from outside.
Asked what the militants would do if Sri Lanka succeeded in getting help from outside, Balakumar said, "Then it would give India a locus standi to intervene."
The third objective of the Front is to break the back of Sri Lanka's economy. This would be a two-pronged approach: one to affect tourism and the other to cripple the plantation industry. Tourism would be affected by guerilla activities in Colombo.Ever since July 1983, there has been a drastic fall in the flow of tourists to Sri Lanka. The EROS had already done a lot of damage to Sri Lanka's tourism with its activities in Colombo, one of the most sensational being the bomb blast in hotel Lanka Oberoi.
The plantation industry will be crippled by
engineering strikes. Sri Lanka's economy rests on its
export of tea. An overwhelming majority of the workers in
the tea estates are Tamils of Indian origin who live in
appalling conditions. The leader of the Ceylon Workers
Congress, Mr Thondaman has been given a ministerial berth
in Mr Jayewardene's cabinet just to appease him and the
workers whom he represents. The Tamil militants will
chalk out a way to unionise the workers and polarise them
into a rival union and then provoke a strike. A
month-long strike in the plantations can Humble the
Jayewardene government, feels Balakumar. He added; "Any
solution we seek must include the plantation Tamils -
otherwise there will be no lasting peace."
Why did the LTTE, which had maintained a distance from the other groups suddenly join the Front? In an interview to SUNDAY Mr Balasingham, the official spokesman of LTTE explained,
The other members of the Front, when asked why they felt the LTTE had decided to join them, told SUNDAY that they believed it was primarily due to the three reasons: the realisation in the LTTE that they cannot take on the Sri Lankan security forces on their own. The mounting pressure from expatriates who are their main source of funds, the expatriates felt time 'was running out and that the process of liberation should be hastened.
The groups joined hands due to internal pressures too. Apparently there was a growing rift in the LTTE between two sections-the "progressives" and the "hardliners." The hardliners believed that they should stick to their guerilla operations and have no truck with anyone. The progressives, who were beginning to get more support within the organisation, believed that while not diluting the identity of the LTTE, the organisation should be a little more broad-based to incorporate a full-fledged political wing. Also they felt that unity should be forged to hasten the process of liberation. The progressives won.
Like its guerilla operations, the LTTE's decision to join the Front was sudden and well-timed. Characteristically, the LTTE moved silently, with no fanfare. In fact,no one knew what was brewing till the decision was announced. In joining the Front, the LTTE pulled off yet another well-timed coup, directed against its arch-rival, the PLOT.
The PLOT had moved quite close to the TULF, and Amirthalingam in particular, urged the PLOT to join the ENLF. Sensing that the crystallisation of the nexus between the PLOT and TULF and an imminent unity between this new axis and the Front would totally isolate the LTTE, the latter to preempt such an eventuality ultimately joined the Front.
It was a shrewd tactical move. In fact, about six months ago, talks between the ENLF and PLOT had been progressing on very promising lines and an alliance seemed imminent.
The talks, however, broke down because PLOT refused to shrug off its back, the TELA (the Tamil Eelam Liberation Army). The Front did not want to include the TELA because it was considered to be an unprofessional group and in any case on the verge of disintegration due to the internecine quarrels between two members, Rajan and Senthil, both of whom claim to be the real leader of TELA. The internal scrabble for leadership broke out when its leader, Castro, was killed by the Sinhalese army recently. Due to the split in the TELA, the Front wished to have no truck with them. But Uma Maheshwaran was not agreeable. He insisted on including TELA headed by Senthil. The Front members believed that he was keen to have Senthil with him to make his position stronger in the Front. The PLOT faded out and the LTTE moved in.
Asked why PLOT was left out. Balasingham explained,
Sri Sabaratnam, leaderof the TELO told SUNDAY that one of the immediate priorities of the Front would be to rope in the PLOT. Balakumar said PLOT was likely to join in the end because they could not but respond to the people's popular demand. But any other group that wishes to join the Front would have to dissolve its identity and join one of the five (if PLOT is included) organisations of the Front, said Balakumar.
The members of the Front are ambivalent about including the TULF. There is a feeling among them that the TULF is obsolete in the struggle for Eelam. The militants are contemptuous and resentful of the TULF: contempt because the TULF members live in the safety of Madras abandoning the Tamils to their fate while the militants are in the battlefield sacrificing their lives, and resentment because the TULF is still recognised as the official representative- of the oppressed Tamils by India and the world at large. The militants suspect that the TULF has been softening towards them and making overtures only because Delhi and Colombo have demanded that they must have the support of the people and the militants. Said Balakumar, "Amirthalingam is an opportunist. We have no faith in him."
The ENLF was formed a year ago. Has the formation of the Front really helped its three original members. "Definitely," says Balakumar, "one year of the Front has helped us enormously. We have a committee where our people thrash out problems. When people see this kind of unity they are more forthcoming in their support. More and more people are joining us. Secondly, we no longer waste time and effort liquidating each other. A very healthy situation has been promoted by our unity. Third, we have formed a base for the future. Fourth, we have formed a military command to undertake joint military operations as each group conducts its operations independently. But wherever possible we help our comrades. When an operation is to be undertaken we issue warnings to our supporters so ,that they are nowhere near the scene-this is to prevent their capture by the security forces."
The newfound camaraderie has undoubtedly strengthened the position of the suffering Tamils. Achieving unity was difficult; maintaining it will be even more so. A possible repercussion to this unity, which would be disastrous, is the formation of a rival front by the PLOT, the TULF and. a few other smaller groups. In such an eventuality the militants would be back to square one-or probably even worse. However, the ENLF appears to be confident of inducting the PLOT soon.
The Front is also grappling with the problem of how to seek official recognition from India and other countries as being the true representatives of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. In the final analysis the LTTE joining the Front has not only caught the Sri Lankan government unawares but seems to have distressed it considerably. The threat of the combined might of the militants has touched a raw nerve.
Reaction was swift and intense with Mr Jayewardene hinting to the British Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher just a day later at a public function to either station British troops or at least loan them to fight against terrorism and preserve democracy. Despite their internecine rivalries, the Tamil militants have in the past been able to trouble the Sri Lankan armed forces. Now the unity will force the Sri Lanka government to go abegging to the west for arms ammunition and troops.
Sri Sabaratnam, leader of the Tamil
Eelam Liberation Organisation, on why the ENLF was
Q. Last year, were you allegedly arrested in Belgium for possessing false travel documents?
A That was just false propaganda unleashed by the Sri Lanka government to misguide the Tamils. I guess it was their (Sri Lanka government's) intention to give the impression that I am vulnerable.I was nowhere near Belgium.
Q: The TELO is known to be inimical to the LTTE. The rivalry between, you and Pirabhakaran (leader of the LTTE) is almost as bad as between Pirabhakaran and Maheshwaran (leader of the PLOT). How did this unity between you, and the LTTE come about?
A: What has motivated both the. LTTE, and the TELO to bury the hatchet is the desire of the majority of the Tamils from all over the world. The Tamils want nothing more than unity among the boys (militants). This unity can be achieved particularly in military operations. So by uniting we are all responding to the Tamil people's need TELO is the first Eelam revolutionary organisation. We started in 1970 Pirabhakaran was with us and then he left us to form his own movement. And now we are all coming together in deference to the wishes of the oppressed Tamils-after, all we are fighting for our people's deliverance.
Q: I am not talking about your past differences. As recently as last year, the LTTE and TELO were bitter foes.The LTTE was even trying to kill you.
A: Yes, it is true that in 1984, the LTTE made two attempts on my life. I don't want to talk about all that now because it will only generate hard feelings all over again. But inspite of our "rivalry" as you put it we have come together. That is proof of the fact that we are willing to ignore all our past problems and make a fresh start. We are in a position to do this only because we realise that in the interest of the Tamil public we cannot stand on our, pride and prejudices.
Q: How is your relationship with Pirabhakaran now?
A: I and my party have forgiven and forgotten the past. I hope it is the same way with Pirabhakaran.
Q: Why did talks with the PLOT break-down?
A:. Well, we have not given up. Experience has taught us that we cannot, bring all the groups together at the same time. We three (TELO,, EPRLF, EROS) came together. Now the LTTE has joined us. We hope PLOT will also unite with us.
Q:But then precisely because the LTTE is in, the PLOT may choose to keep out.
A: It's not necessary. After all the TELO and the LTTE were able to come together despite serious differences. So, why not the LTTE and the PLOT?
Q: Why is it that the Tamils are now impressing upon the militants to close ranks?
A: Ever since the July holocaust, it is obvious to the Tamils that the Sri Lanka government is going from bad to worse and that they are. determined to butcher us.
Q: Why do the Tamils want them boys to unite: is it to safeguard their lives and property is it to drive away the Sinhala armed forces or is it to achieve Eelam?
A. To do all three. The ultimate goal of every Tamil in Ceylon is to achieve Eelam.
Amirthalingam on the ENLF
"The Unity of the Militants is the Only Answer to the Threat the Tamils Face"
Q: What is your reaction to the LTTE joining the Eelam National Liberation Front?
A: We have always wanted the militants to close ranks. Any step in this direction is welcome. But it is not enough if the major groups get together. It is equally important to bring the smaller groups in this Front. Only then can it be really effective against state terrorism. The Tamils of Sri Lanka are being attacked not merely by the armed forces but even by Sinhalese civilians who are being armed by the Sri Lanka government. Sophisticated weapons are given to Sinhalese anti-social elements and criminals who are then planted in the midst of Tamil civilians. They have been going on a spree of arson, looting, rape and other atrocities against the Tamils. This menace has to be met and the union of the militants is the only answer to the threat that the Tamils face.
Q: There is a general feeling that the struggle for Eelam has passed into hands of the militants.
A: The struggle for Eelam is in the hands of the people. It is a mass struggle and they will also determine the leadership.
Q: The feeling is that the armed struggle espoused by the militants is the only solution as opposed to the path of parliamentary negotiation pursued by the TULF.
A: A liberation struggle has several facets and armed struggle is one of the facets. We try to build up international support, give the cause of Eelam acceptability and credibility. This is equally important. It is myopic to see the wielding of firearms as the only modus operandi of a liberation struggle.
Q: Is the TULF inclined to join the ENLF to promote the Front's political objectives?
A: There has to be an understanding between the militant and the political groups. We all have to work together. I would certainly want to establish close relationship with the Front, to carry on the liberation struggle and stop the genocide.
Q: Why do you think it took so long for the LTTE to take part in unity moves?
A: It was primarily due to personal differences. Individuals and groups who were pulling wires behind the scene have been standing in the way. There were personal misunderstandings which had to be cleared. There was also a feeling in the bigger group that they could deliver the goods themselves. They have realised that without unity they cannot achieve the goal of liberation.
Q: Would you say that the LTTE joining the Front has brought the goal of Eelam closer to the Tamils?
A: One of the pre-requisites for the achievement of liberation is unity. A step forward in unity is a step forward in achieving our goal. To that extent it has brought the realisation of Eelam closer.