Profiles of LTTE and IPKF in modern Sri Lanka

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by Dr.Rajkumar Singh 11 August 2019

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was a separatist organisation, which from the beginning, waged a violent secessionist campaign and sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka. For its avowed purpose the LTTE had carried out civilian massacres, suicide bombings and various other high profile attacks, including the assassinations of several high ranking Sri Lankan and Indian politicians. They invented the suicide belt and pioneered the use of suicide bombing as a tactic. The world leader in suicide terrorism was the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka–they were a Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group. The Tamil Tigers have committed more suicide terrorist attacks than Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Instead, what more than 95 per cent of all suicide terrorist attacks since 1980 have in common is not religion, but a specific goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory the terrorists view as their homeland, From Lebanon to Chechnya to Kashmir to Sri Lanka to the West Bank, every suicide terrorist campaign since 1980s has had as its main objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory that the terrorists prize.

Birth and growth of LTTE

          In Sri Lanka, soon after its formation, the LTTE emerged as perhaps the most lethal, well organised and disciplined terrorist force in the world. Its operation area in Sri Lanka can be divided into three regions: i. In the northern threatre included Jaffna, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu districts and there the LTTE employed high and mid–intensity warfare. Since the mid–1990s, semi–conventional and unconventional insurgent and terrorist methods are also being used, With the loss of the peninsula in 1996 the LTTE had reverted to unconventional warfare, mostly sparrow tactics–hit and run methods. In the mainland, mostly in Wanni, the LTTE engaged the Sri Lankan troops semi–conventionally. This has become possible after the LTTE acquired artillery and heavy mortars. ii. In the eastern threatre falls Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Amparai districts where the LTTE stationed high, mid and low intensity warfare. Dependent on the LTTE force level, it will engage the troops semi–conventionally or unconventionally. However, insurgent and terrorist tactics predominate. Iii. In southern threatre, LTTE’s operations have been largely focussed on the Colombo, the capital. By targeting financial nerve centres and political leaders this divisionary tactic of the LTTE had been highly effective. After steadily shifting the threatre of terror into the seat of the country’s administration, LTTE’s elimination of political and military leaders has adversely affected the morale of the security forces.

                Since its formation the LTTE had continued to pursue its objectives of a separate, independent Tamil Eelam through its policy of indiscriminate killing of all those the LTTE considered stood in its way, be they Sinhala of Tamil. Soon after the formation LTTE had grown out to be massive army with the whole hearted support of the Tamil people and some years later it maintained thousand of brave soldiers, with a naval wing that had become a formidable on in the subcontinent. In that kind of situation the LTTE had become the army that the Tamil people could look up to in order to put an end to all the troubles and win back the Tamil’s homeland, Tamil Eelam. Barring a few terrorist attacks earlier, the LTTE carried out their first major attack on 23 July 1983 when they ambushed a Sri Lanka army troop transport outside Jaffna in which 13 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed. The incident led to the Black July riots against the Tamil community of Sri Lanka. Large scale anti Tamil violence in the form of riots erupted in July–August 1983 in which at least several hundred people, almost all of whom were Tamils, were killed. It led many Tamils to spontaneously support all Tamil militant groups that came up in its wake. In post–1983 period the subsequent anger amongst the Tamil community resulted in numberous Tamil youths joining Tamil militant groups to fight the Sri Lankan government, in what is considered start of the insurgency in Sri Lanka.

                From here onwards the LTTE had begun its armed conflict with Sri Lankan government and relied on guerilla strategy that included the use of terrorist tactics. The Tiger had integrated a battlefield insurgent strategy with a terrorist programme that targeted not only key personnel in the countryside but also senior Sri Lankan political and military leaders in Colombo and other urban centres. After it the LTTE had made its organisational structure wide and placed immense emphasis on the cult of martyrdom. It maintained a fleet known as Sea Tigers and carried out air raids using Czechoslovak–built propeller–engined trainers. Since the late 1980s the LTTE had conducted approximately two hundred suicide attacks. Targets have included transit hubs, Buddhist shrines, and office buildings. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the LTTE invented the suicide belt and pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks. In later years the LTTE had strengthened itself significantly in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Indo-Sri Lanka treaty of 1987

                Viewing the gravity of ethnic situation in the country J.R. Jayawardene, the president of Sri Lanka, on 19 July 1987 proposed the creation of an autonomous unit comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces and other related provisions were also made in the scheme. In post–1983 period India tried out all possibilities supporting the Tamil cause and militancy, helping the Sri Lanka government and the Tamils to resolve their differences across the table, working with Sri Lanka to help evolve a consensus on devolution of Tamils and lastly, underwriting an acceptable minimum package for Tamils in Sri Lanka through the accord.On 29 July 1987an Accord was signed between India and Sri Lanka under which New Delhi committed to uphold Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the condition that Colombo would grant a reasonable amount of autonomy to Tamils to their satisfaction. Following the provisions of the accord India sent a peace–keeping force to ensure that peace returned to strife–torn Tamil areas. In operational terms this meant the disarming of the LTTE cadres. Before India intervened in 1987, more than 37 Tamil militant groups came into being. All these groups except the LTTE surrendered arms after signing the accord in 1987.

Consequences of the treaty

                The refusal of the LTTE made the accord irrelevant in context of establishing ethnic peace in the country. But processes–surrender of arms as well as cessation of hostilities were repudiated by the LTTE leadership on 7 October 1987 when they retaliated against the capture at sea by Sri Lankan forces of thirteen of their senior cadres. The Indian Peace–keeping Force (IPKF) which came to the island nation as part of the Accord had to face a rough weather in the trouble- plagued Sri Lanka. The 1987 Accord ran into trouble within months after the LTTE took up arms against the IPKF. In response IPKF inaugurated their own military campaign against the Tigers on 10 October 1987 which lasted for about two years. Now the IPKF got bogged down in a guerilla war against the Tamil Tigers which made essential a progressive increase in its numbers as well as in the number and range of its weaponry. The operation which started off as a conventional one in 1987 quickly changed into a full–fledged country insurgency campaign. However, on this count the LTTE proved itself.

                As a result of IPKF campaign against the LTTE, the latter confined to the Wangi jungles and within a year it became a spent force in Sri Lanka. Within a year of the IPKF completing Operation Checkmate–1, normal life was restored in the northeast. The direct fight of LTTE cadres against the Indian Peace–keeping Force caused the death of 1,255 Indian soldiers on Sri Lankan soil during their two years’ stayal in the island nation. But it was not so good for the health of LTTE because its strength as the most powerful of the Tamil guerilla groups in the island had depended to a large extent on the moral and material support that it derived from Tamil Nadu state, at times both from the government and opposition ranks in the state, generally from the Tamil public and on occasion even from central government agencies such as Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). On the other the ruthlessness of Operation Pawan, launched to win control of the Jaffna from the LTTE, this campaign and the Indian army’s subsequent anti–LTTE operations made the IPKF extremely unpopular among many Tamils in Sri Lanka.