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Terror Interrupted

| by Ajit Kumar Singh

( May 5, 2014, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Apprehensions of an attempted revival by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) were proven true when, in the early hours of April 11, 2014, a Security Forces (SFs) team launched a cordon and search operation in the forest area off Padaviya in Anuradhapura District, and was fired upon by militants hiding in the forest. The SFs killed three armed local LTTE leaders, reportedly in retaliatory fire. The dead were identified as Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias Gobi, Sundaralingam Kajeepan alias Thevihan and Navaratnam Navaneethan alias Appan.

Earlier, on April 10, 2014, troops had recovered four back-packs containing rations, medicine, clothes, etc., believed to be have been used by the slain cadres, near the encounter site. The SFs had intensified their operations in the Northern Region following a shootout in the Dharmapuram area of Kilinochchi District on March 13, 2014, when Gobi, who had returned to the country after fleeing overseas at the end of the war, had escaped after injuring a Police officer. On March 22, 2014, Police announced a reward of LKR One million for any information leading to Gobi's whereabouts.

Crucially, reports suggest that the neutralized local group was functioning under the instructions of LTTE leaders, Norway-based Perimbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyawan and France-based Vinayagamoorthi Sekarapillai alias Kadiragamaseram Vinayagamoorthi alias Kamanan Vinayagam Sekarapillai alias Vinayagamoorthy Arivazhaghan alias Arivalahan alias Kathirgamathamby Iyyana alias Vinayagam. According to a Press Release issued by the Media Centre of the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. 

They were preparing the ground for another armed struggle. Immediate objectives of the local group included the recovery of war like material dumped by the LTTE during retreat, re-establishment of LTTE intelligence network, regrouping of the potential cadre including those rehabilitated, collecting information on potential targets, including in other provinces… Investigations revealed that the funds for these activities that came from Europe were being transferred using Hawala system. It was also revealed that many safe houses, vehicles and other resources required for resurgence of the LTTE had been procured by them using this money.

The SF Commander in Kilinochchi, Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe, in his meeting with rehabilitated former combatants of the LTTE in Kilinochchi District on March 26, 2014, alerted them to external threats that would be directed at them by parties interested securing their return to violence. Significantly, out of 11,800 ex-LTTE cadres who surrendered to the SFs after the end of war in May 2009, only 232 have been left in camps, while the rest have been rehabilitated.

Indeed, investigators trailing Gobi's team had already reportedly arrested at least 67 suspects, including some top LTTE leaders, in separate incidents since March 5, 2014, of whom 23 were subsequently released. A huge cache of arms, ammunition, explosives and other material that were in their possession was also recovered. On March 6, 2014, for instance, Subramaniam Kapilan alias Nanda Gopan, the head of LTTE’s international media network, was arrested after his arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, following his deportation from Malaysia. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 376 former LTTE cadres/sympathizers have been arrested (from within and outside the Country) after the end of war in 2009.

Significantly, on September 17, 2013, Adjutant General, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, asserted that there was a possibility of about 4,000 former LTTE combatants, who were still at large, regrouping.

The October 2, 2009, incident in which an unidentified gunman killed two Army soldiers and injured another at Paranthakadathan in Mannar District was the last terrorism-related fatality till the April 11, 2014, incident. However, several violent incidents related to former LTTE cadres and sympathizers have been recorded in the intervening period, including one prominent incident in India: on March 18, 2013, Tamil activists in Tamil Nadu, India, assaulted a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, identified as Bandara, at the Central Railway Station in Chennai, in support of the LTTE. On May 23, 2012, Police arrested five persons for the murder of Andrew Mahendrarajah Anthonipillai, a Canadian Tamil of Sri Lankan origin, who was killed at Kaagncheepuram lane near the Paranthan Junction in Kilinochchi District on May 3, 2012. One of alleged killers, identified as A. Akilan, was a former LTTE militant. Investigations are still on in the case.

Former cadres/sympathizers of the LTTE have also clashed with SFs on several occasions, while attempting to commemorate the death of their comrades during the Eelam Wars. In the worst such incident since the end of war in 2009, some students at Jaffna University, sympathetic to the LTTE, commemorated Maaveerar Day (Martyrs’ Day, which commemorates dead LTTE fighters) on November 27, 2012. The following day, a tense situation developed at the campus, resulting in a violent clash between students and SFs. Later, on December 5, 2012, 10 students were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Police claimed all of them had been involved in "terrorist activities" with the LTTE before 2009 and none of them had completed a Government rehabilitation course for LTTE suspects.

In addition, the LTTE is believed to have assisted several of its cadres to escape from prisons. In the latest of such incidents, four LTTE cadres were helped to escape from the Trincomalee Jail in the early hours of November 12, 2013. Earlier, on April 17, 2013, an LTTE cadre, identified as Mahendra Rajah Shashidharan alias Cristy, who was arrested in November 2011 and imprisoned after being found guilty of killing 10 persons, escaped from the Pottuvil Court premises at Pottuvil town of Ampara District. In a more violent incident inside prison, on June 28, 2012, a group of LTTE cadres at the Vavuniya Prison, reportedly led by former Sea Tiger (Sea Wing of the LTTE) leader Shashi Kumar, took three jailers hostage, demanding that authorities recall LTTE suspects who had been transferred to the Boossa Detention Camp in Galle. On June 29, 2012, SFs launched an operation and rescued the jailors. Several prisoners sustained injuries, and two LTTE cadres died later. On July 3, 2012, Prisons and Rehabilitation Minister, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, observed that the unrest in the Vavuniya Prison was a well-planned conspiracy of the LTTE international network, as the LTTE suspects at the prison were found to have satellite mobile phones and other communication equipment in their possession. Crucially, there are 810 former LTTE cadres in remand custody, dispersed across several prisons and, Gajadeera noted further, “they are not political prisoners but hardcore LTTE cadres who ordered killings and other heinous terrorist activities.”

There is, however, little evidence of the Sri Lankan Government lowering its guard. Indeed, Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne told Parliament that provisions of the PTA were required to take action against LTTE suspects who had not surrendered after the war ended. Recently, the Sri Lankan Government in a gazette dated March 21, 2014, proscribed the main LTTE and another 15 alleged front organizations of the outfit, prominently including the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC). According to sources these organizations fall under four broad categories under the overall control of four key individuals: Nediyawan, Fr. Sleemanpillai Joseph Emmanuel alias S.J. Emmanuel, Rudrakumaran Vishvanathan alias Kumaran Visuvanathan alias Rudra, and Vinayagam. Some 422 individuals, including 32 people presently residing in India, were named in the gazette. Further, the Sri Lankan Police has obtained Interpol "red notices" flagging foreign operatives of the LTTE. "In addition to the 40 Red Notices by Interpol another 56 non-LTTE operatives have also been flagged," Police spokesman Ajith Rohana disclosed on April 17, 2014. These Red Notices include Vinayagam and Nediyawan, who are suspected of financing and re-organizing the LTTE.

Regrettably, the international community, which appears to have failed to come to terms with the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, continues to create hurdles for Colombo’s attempts to wipe out lingering irritants. On, March 27, 2014, a resolution was passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) allowing for a UN probe into allegations of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Government during the terminal seven years of the conflict. UN investigations are expected to begin in their work in May 2014. The Sri Lankan Government, meanwhile, has vehemently rejected the resolution and pledged to prevent UN investigators from entering the country.

Expressing deep concern over the international moves, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on April 16, 2014, observed: “Though there was no more terrorism in Sri Lanka, the LTTE’s global network continued to function largely unhindered. The network continues to sustain an international propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka through front organizations that have now put on a democratic face. Some nations seem to have chosen to turn a blind eye to these front organizations and their activities because they claim to support political activism or humanitarian relief.”

On the domestic front, the democratically elected Tamil National Alliance (TNA)-led Northern Provincial Council (NPC) Government has also sought to obstruct efforts to contain terrorism, insisting on the removal of the Army from the North and East, despite visible residual threats. Significantly, military personnel had been reduced from 26,400 in December 2009, to approximately 13,152 presently. Any further cuts will certainly jeopardize the authority of the state and peace in the region.

It is difficult for the LTTE to regain its influence at the present juncture, as Colombo has succeeded in detecting and neutralizing each conspiracy in its early stages. Nevertheless, the sustained efforts of the radicalized Tamil Diaspora, and a substantial force of LTTE cadres who have refused to surrender offer evidence of continuing efforts to revive the terror, leaving no room for complacency. Given the unrelenting hostility of a dominant segment of the international community to the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, Colombo will continue to have to fight on three fronts, against the orchestrated international campaign against Sri Lanka; against incipient efforts to resuscitate LTTE terrorism; and to secure an enduring resolution to the unsettling ethnic polarization in the country.

( The writer is a Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management )