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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2527

Is the LTTE Weak?

By - R Gunaratna

"Is the LTTE weak?" This is the question very often raised by those who are interested in the Sri Lankan conflict. The answer could be both “Yes” and “No.”

Many people in Sri Lanka are of the view that the LTTE is on the run. Many are eagerly looking forward for capturing of the leader of the LTTE to be tried and hung for the heinous crimes he has committed. They expect it to happen very soon since the media reports emanating from the Sri Lankan press have suggested that the ultimate defeat of the LTTE is eminent. In this context, no one can save the LTTE from the present predicament.

Are all these propositions are true? Yes, the LTTE is in crisis and it is on the verge of collapse. No, it is still strong and it has not lost its military capabilities.

In considering the complexity and ambiguity of these hypothesizes, this document will offer insights into some of the determinants that are useful to evaluate the strength of the LTTE.

It is important to note that no one can simply measure the failure of the LTTE by looking at the media reports alone. There are several key factors that should be examined before coming into any conclusion.

Following are the key factors that would help measure the strength of the LTTE:

1. International support

2. Military capabilities

3. Domestic support

Broadly speaking, the above are the three most important pillars that would determine the success or failure of the LTTE. In this context, aim of this document is to examine how these pillars would help the LTTE to keep its status quo and whether still these three pillars are supporting the LTTE to stay alive.

International Support

1983 ethnic riots allowed India to 'knock at the front door' of the politics of Sri Lanka. The riots opened the doors of the western countries for the Tamil migrants. Tamil politicians, more precisely the LTTE, were able to win the sympathy of foreign countries. These countries allowed them to open offices to collect funds for the war as well as to thwart the attempts made by the Sri Lanka Government to secure arms and support for the war. Thus July riots helped the LTTE to lay its international foundation and launch a global campaign against the Government of Sri Lanka under the banner of racial discrimination. Together with this they launched an effective international fundraising campaign. Furthermore, LTTE's legitimate and illegitimate businesses ventures strengthen its coffers too.

More importantly, during this period, some countries and organizations viewed the struggle of the LTTE as a legitimate one and the Government of Sri Lanka had been unlashing terror on the Tamils who have been fighting for their freedom. Due to strategic point of view and political reasons successive Indian Governments supported the LTTE. However once it's international position was consolidated the LTTE turned its back to its mother, India who nurtured and feed by killing Premier Rajiv Gandhi.

However, post 9/11 world situation and unveiling of the true face of the LTTE, prompted the international community to take drastic measures to contain the activities of the organization. The climax of this process was marked with the banning of the LTTE by the EU last year. This timely and unprecedented move shattered the dreams of the LTTE and its collaborators. Recently, Australian Government arrested key LTTE supporters and started a process aiming at banning of the LTTE in its soil. Many countries have indicated their willingness to initiate action against the LTTE.

There are several factors behind taking of action against the LTTE by the international community. It was proved that it has forged alliance with the west's arch enemy, the Al-Qaeda. Aligning with the Al-Qaeda is the worst tactical error ever committed by the LTTE. This also proved that the overriding aim of the LTTE is not fighting whole heartedly for the so called freedom of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The message captured by the world community was that the LTTE is another ruthless terrorist organization, which is posing a threat to the peace and stability of the world.

In this context, banning the LTTE helps stop fund raising activities as well as LTTE's support to the other organizations to carry out terrorist acts. The ban paved a way to crack down the front organizations of the LTTE too. As a result, today, the LTTE has been unable to carry out their usual activities freely and it has lost much of its support base. The LTTE ban has also demoralized and delegitimized the LTTE in the international arena.

Evidently, today the LTTE is gradually loosing the support base of Tamil Diaspora. This happens due to two reasons. Firstly, they no longer trust the LTTE and do not want to be a part of this sinister campaign. Secondly, as most of the countries have banned the LTTE, and tougher anti-terrorism laws were introduced, they do not want to be noted themselves as supporters of terrorism. Additionally, the third generation of Tamil Diaspora, who has become citizens of other countries, does not have first hand knowledge about the conflict in Sri Lanka. Therefore, they do not wish to be a party to the war, which is alien to them. Clearly, there are visible cracks in the international pillar of the LTTE.

Military capabilities

The next pillar that could help the LTTE to flex its muscles and pose a formidable threat to the Sri Lankan security forces is its military capabilities. Its military capabilities depend on three aspects viz. fund raising, procurements, and shipping. Without replenishing the losses and the wastage, the LTTE cannot maintain its current momentum. Only by receiving supplies from overseas, the LTTE is able to fight back. In the recent past almost all the attempts made by the LTTE to bring weapons into the country were thwarted by the security forces. Many of its vessels with weapons and other military hardware had been destroyed. Assistance of friendly countries and cooperation among the intelligence communities helped Sri Lanka government to take precise action.

In addition, continued bombing and limited military operations in the north and east caused irreparable damages to the military hardware of the LTTE. As a result its ability to wage a prolonged war is now doubtful. According to the reports from the war torn area, the LTTE is desperately in need of military hardware and people to recover from losses.

More importantly, break away of Karuna the former LTTE commander served a severe blow to its military might. Since his defection, he has been fighting an effective battle against the LTTE. This has added a new dimension to the conflict. It appears that the LTTE has so far failed put to an end to the hostilities of the Karuna faction. Despite the wonton acts of violence of the LTTE against collaborators of Karuna, the recruitment base of the Karuna faction has not been drained at all. Karuna has been able to recruit alienated Tamil youth in order to mount covert and massed attacks on the LTTE.

Karuna's knowledge about the entire outfit of the LTTE made the organization vulnerable militarily more than ever. Evidently, it is not easy to change the overall operational and combat strategies of the LTTE within a short period. Therefore, Karuna has been able to inflict more damages in this strategic catastrophe of the LTTE.

These factors have contributed immensely to thinning of the military capabilities of the LTTE. In particular, the LTTE could not mount any successful attack on the security forces in the recent past. This, itself, is a testimony to the deteriorating sate of its military muscles.

Domestic Support

Three decades ago the LTTE was able to convince the Tamil community that they were the guardian angles of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. At that time most of the Tamil youth supported the LTTE aiming at better prospects. With the time, these trends have gradually been diminishing and many are of the view that the LTTE is not capable of delivering what they have promised. They have realized that the LTTE could imprint only terror and misery in the social fabric of the Tamil community.

Today, the taxes imposed by the LTTE in the areas under its control are exorbitant. Their legal system is harsh and brutal. They do not allow people to have access to information. Government Radio services and television channels are banned. There is no development in these areas and educational standard is lower than the rest of the country. There are no job opportunities. As a result, parents encourage their children to migrate to other parts of Sri Lanka or other countries. Interestingly, as did in the past, the LTTE is incapable of organizing people against the Government. They can no longer enforce curfew and force the closure of shops, school and Government offices as they wish.

In deed, under this background the LTTE is aware that the general public can no longer be controlled at gunpoint. People have realized that very soon the LTTE would be only a "paper tiger" before the eyes of the world. Today, people have begun to question openly the real motives of the LTTE. Some civil groups the challenge the legitimacy of the LTTE.

At this precise moment the Government has sounded the exact beat of the peace drum. It has openly stated whether the LTTE agrees or not it would present its proposal towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict shortly. This position of the Government was well received by everyone. However, draining of people's will to support the LTTE has always been crucial in the Governments efforts in finding a political solution. What is clear at the outset is that the moderate Tamils always support the Government's initiatives despite multifaceted threats from the LTTE.

It is a fact that inflicting fear the LTTE has been able to win only the minds of the Tamil community but not the hearts. The Government has already won the hearts and minds of the moderate Tamils. Knowing this reality inside out, the LTTE would definitely attempt to change their tactics to prevent washing away of its footprint from their heartland and to be in the scene as a major player. The question remains is how long?

In conclusion, if the Government could make use of this opportune moment, the LTTE would only be a name in the history book without any title. Over all, this analysis attempts to highlight the facts surrounding the central question "Is the LTTE weak?"

Although, the press and certain politicians in Sri Lanka have painted some what gloomy picture about the future of the LTTE it may be appropriate to weigh the pros and cons of the matter.

- Asian Tribune -

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