Archive for November 21st, 2007

“On November 2, Raghu made a desperate phone call to the solider friend to tell him that he needed the shirt urgently. The original owner of the shirt wanted it back for emotional reasons after hearing about the death of LTTE’s political wing chief S P Thamilselvan. The shirt was a gift from Thamilselvan.”

One morning, when Raghu wanted a fresh shirt for work, he asked his friend, with whom he had spent the night, to spare one. After rummaging through his wardrobe, the friend found only one clean shirt but was reluctant to part with it since it was a gift. Assuring him that he will return it, Raghu took it but subsequently gave it away to another friend in the armed services when he had come down to Chennai.

On November 2, Raghu made a desperate phone call to the solider friend to tell him that he needed the shirt urgently. The original owner of the shirt wanted it back for emotional reasons after hearing about the death of LTTE’s political wing chief S P Thamilselvan. The shirt was a gift from Thamilselvan.

He had bumped into Thamilselvan in Kilinochi four times when the film crew from Chennai, in which he was a part, had been shooting a Tamil film Aaniver in Sri Lanka in 2006. It was during the third meeting that Thamilselvan gave him the shirt.

In the first meeting when he shook hands with the former guerilla fighter, he wondered if the bespectacled man had really been a ruthless militant, who had played a leading role in the overrunning of the Elephant Pass army base in northern Sri Lanka in 1991, besides leading several military operations. For it was a gentle handshake. The palm was too soft for someone who had handled lethal armoury, he recalls.

Thamilselvan, in his view, came across as an affable, soft-spoken man always smiling. In the first meeting with the crew, he had taken trouble to get to know each member and remembered every thing about them in the subsequent meetings. When someone mentioned Madurai as his hometown, Thamilselvan had recounted his visits to the Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai for treatment when he was living in India.

Thamilselvan had his arms training in Indian soil. He was the de facto bodyguard of LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran during their stay in Chennai during the 1980s. Since then he had enjoyed the confidence of Prabakaran — he survived an internal purge in the LTTE in 1993 that saw the extermination of many leaders on suspicion of spying for India — and it was the close association that catapulted him to the top rung of the political wing.

Perhaps it was his pleasing personality and suave manners that made him the new mascot of the LTTE, which was then looking for an image makeover given the fact that the international community was growing tired of its assassination sprees and reckless violence. Perhaps the leadership found in him the best candidate to stick to it its ideals at the negotiating table, to which the Scandinavians were trying to bring the LTTE. Perhaps the leadership felt that he could not contribute much in the battlefield in view of his leg injury, suffered in 1993 while fighting the Lankan army near Pooneryn.

But even after he had swapped the jungle fatigues for sophisticated suits, he remained within Tiger territory in Kilinochi, making rare forays outside of it. Whenever he had to fly abroad, he used to arrive at the Colombo airport in a helicopter and then board the aircraft from there, says K Venkataramanan, an Indian journalist who was reporting for a news agency from Colombo in 2001 and 2002.

Venkataramanan recalls his meetings with Thamilselvan at the LTTE headquarters in Kilinochi, not far from the building that was targeted for bombing by Lankan airforce jets at the dawn of November 2. Journalists wishing to meet him were made to wait at the headquarters, where he would land at the appointed hour in a 4×4 Pajero with his interpreter, George, in tow. George, a retired postmaster, was a fixture in all Thamilselvan’s engagements with the international media. For Thamilselvan, who hails from a humble background — he was being trained to be a barber — was not proficient in English.

Even in the meetings with Tamil speaking journalists like Venkataramanan, George would be around to repeat the leader’s words in English. On his part Thamilselvan was known for his bombastic language, reeling out convoluted answers harping on the Eelam cause even for simple answers — a trait that mirrored his deep commitment to the struggle.

Born on August 29, 1967, Suppiah Parmu Thamilselvan plunged himself into the insurgency at the young age of 16 after the riots of 1983. When the Indian Peace Keeping Force was in Sri Lanka to enforce a peace accord with the island government in 1987, Thamiselvan led the attacks on Indian troops as the Jaffna zonal commander of the LTTE.

In 1995, he, along with his men, fled Jaffna and relocated himself in the Vanni area. But by 1994 he had started welcoming the peace delegations to Jaffna as the chief of the political wing. He had attended peace talks in Thailand, Norway, Germany, Japan and Switzerland. After the 2004 tsunami, he was in the vanguard of the struggle to get foreign aid for rehabilitating those affected in the LTTE-controlled coastal regions.

After the talks held at Geneva in 2006 which ended up in the Norwegian-brokered peace process falling apart, he is said to have been directing LTTE troops in the frontlines, though the walking stick that he carried had become his trademark, exemplifying him as a dove — and not a gun-totting hawk — in the eyes of the international community. Yes, he died a full-blooded guerilla. The posthumous conferment of ‘Brigadier’ is perhaps LTTE’s way of acknowledging that.


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A prominent international news agency places the following statement at the end of each of its press releases on the war between the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE.

The Tigers have fought the government since 1983 to create a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the island country’s north and east after a history of discrimination by successive governments controlled by the majority ethnic Sinhalese.

The above quote refers to the proclaimed grievance in the Tamil community that legitimizes the use of violence against the state. The use of violence by the LTTE extended beyond the state and its armed elements from 1976 onwards to include Tamil moderates and, in the 1980s, to Sinhalese and Muslim civilians. This resulted in the creation of a Big Lie to continue justifying violence. Certain sections of the Mass Media from the West, either willingly or unwillingly, have and are still assisting this ’cause’ of the LTTE. The end result is parasitic elements in the doorsteps of the Western States. These elements are then removed, by the western states themselves, through laborious investigations on charges of ‘fundraising for terrorists’ or other such claims in the post 9/11 world. Despite serious changes in the way minorities have been treated in Sri Lanka, with many minorities becoming ‘King-Makers’ for example, the ’cause’ of both the LTTE and the Western Media has remained the same. Statements such as the above is actually a clever manipulation of the International Media by the LTTE.

A cause can be justified, whether it is the truth or a fabrication, through the media. The United States Office of Strategic Services, in an analysis of Adolf Hitler’s use of the media claimed that “people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently people will sooner or later believe it.” Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister for the Nazi Third Reich stated regularly that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This is not to say that there are absolutely no Tamil grievances. Whatever grievances that remain are exacerbated through the search for the cause itself or may even be exaggerated. For example, the freedom for a Tamil to move about freely in Sri Lanka maybe hampered by roadblocks to detect LTTE movements.

The Mass Media of today is a Commercial Mass Media whose news value system has changed drastically over the years. The famous adage “Bad news is good news, good news is bad news, and no news is bad news” compels those who require publicity to commit crime and thereby obtain publicity for themselves and their cause.

Terrorist violence and propaganda have much in common. Terrorist violence aims at behaviour modification by coercion. Propaganda aims at the same by persuasion. Terrorism can be seen as a combination of the two. Terrorism, by using violence against one victim, seeks to coerce and persuade others. The immediate victim is merely instrumental.

The terrorist demonstrates to the citizens that the state is incapable of protecting them all the time. Acting from a clandestine underground at a moment of his own choosing, the terrorist manages to establish, for a few minutes – superiority over the mighty state. This temporary presence of the terrorist then perpetuates itself through media coverage, rumours and speculation and thereby gains a longevity it could not generate by itself.

Terrorists may thus attempt to manipulate the target audiences at the emotional level. Walter Laqueur says that “The success of a terrorist operation depends almost entirely on the amount of publicity it receives”. If audiences are the target, the terrorists are the star performers. The media and the terrorists interact in a peculiar way. As Alex Schmid put it:

“While it is true that everybody tries to use the media, the terrorists do so by spilling other people’s blood, including the blood of innocents. The purposeful creation of bad events by means of terroristic violence can assure them free access to the news system. Expressed somewhat cynically: Some people have to perish at the hands of terrorists so that editors will publicise the existence, demands, and goals of terrorists. Editors can become accessories to murder. The division of labour between the terrorist as fear generator and the unwitting editor as fear amplifier and transmitter has not been fully perceived and absorbed by all those responsible for the media”.

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The Black Tigers

The reason for the LTTE attitude was that one of the aircraft destroyed, the Beechcraft 200 HISAR, was largely responsible for destroying most of the LTTE “navy” of small gunboats and transports that kept the LTTE force in Sri Lanka going, by smuggling in weapons and munitions. The Sri Lankan air force got the Beechcraft 200 HISAR five years ago, and since then the LTTE has been having a much more difficult time moving supplies in by sea.

Unique in the field of special operations are the “Black Tigers” of the separatist LTTE rebels in Sri Lanka. A force of about two dozen of these commandos raided the heavily guarded Anuradhapura air base, 170 kilometers north of the capital, on October 22nd, killing 14 air force personnel, and destroying eight aircraft (two MI-24 helicopter gunships, one Beechcraft 200 HISAR naval reconnaissance aircraft, three PT-6 trainers, one K-8 trainer and one Mi-17 transport helicopter). Eight other aircraft were damaged, but repairable. Nearly all (21) of the Black Tigers were killed in what the LTTE declared a successful operation.

The reason for the LTTE attitude was that one of the aircraft destroyed, the Beechcraft 200 HISAR, was largely responsible for destroying most of the LTTE “navy” of small gunboats and transports that kept the LTTE force in Sri Lanka going, by smuggling in weapons and munitions. The Sri Lankan air force got the Beechcraft 200 HISAR five years ago, and since then the LTTE has been having a much more difficult time moving supplies in by sea. The Beechcraft 200 HISAR can also be used to search for LTTE camps on land, and this has kept the dozen or so bombers of the air force busy. Thus this one raid has greatly reduced the reconnaissance capabilities of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Before the raid, the situation looked very bleak for the LTTE, but now the LTTE has a chance to rebuild, unless the government quickly replaces the recon aircraft.

The Black Tigers have been an elite force of suicide bombers for over twenty years. In that time, they have lost about 350 men and women while carrying out suicide attacks. There have been about fifty such attacks in the last year. There are only a few hundred people in the Black Tiger organization. The Black Tiger suicide bombers are carefully selected, highly motivated and well trained, enabling them to get to heavily guarded targets. The preparations for each attack are extensive. The LTTE will sometimes even conduct research to see what types of bombs work best. In one case, a live dog and goat were strapped into the front seat of a car, and then exposed to a bomb blast in the car to see if the bomb had enough force to kill. The bombers themselves undergo months of training and dry runs before they are turned loose with a live bomb.

The two dozen Black Tigers that attacked the heavily guarded Anuradhapura air base (north of the capital, far from the LTTE base areas) apparently planned their attack carefully, and carried it out successfully, despite the knowledge that few, if any, of them would come back. People around the air base remembered seeing some the Black Tigers before the attack. And the raid was coordinated with an aerial attack by two of the single engine commercial aircraft the LTTE uses as improvised bombers. The pre-dawn raid took the air force guards by surprise, and was over quickly, mainly because the raiders went straight for their objectives (the aircraft, especially the Beechcraft radar plane), regardless of losses. The air force security personnel had to kill all the raiders to halt the destruction of aircraft. In response, the Sri Lankan military are again revising their security measures, sure that they will have to deal with the Black Tigers again.


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The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers deployed in the Vavuniya-Mannar region have made inroads into LTTE’s stronghold in Wanni with a series of successful group based attacks. LTTE has been forced into a defensive stance in these areas as the armed forced increased the number of ‘hit and run’ style attacks guerilla frontline positions.

During the past week, fighting was reported mainly in the areas of Thampanai, Periya Thampanai, Mullikulam and Vilaththikulam. More than 20 LTTE cadres have been killed in these fights and a number of their frontline bunkers were overrun and destroyed. Army casualties stand at 2 soldiers killed and 9 more wounded. Although the LTTE FDL was breached at several locations in these areas, the army did not gain any new territory. The objective of the group based attacks is not to capture territory but to destroy as many enemy assets as possible.

Another factor that is helping the army’s advances is the inexperience of LTTE cadres deployed in the frontline near Vavuniya and Mannar. These young fighters are facing the army’s crack formations such as the Special Forces and 57th division. However LTTE is yet to deploy its ‘elite’ formations such as the Charles Anthony brigade and Imran-Pandiyan regiment in a bid to halt the army advance. It is assumed that they will use these units when/if  the army launched a mass troop movement into Wanni heartland.


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