Keeping the Cause Alive: The Post-LTTE Tamil Eelam Support Network

Gloria Spittel

Courtesy of Counter Terrorism Trends and Analysis, Vol. 2/11, November 2010

After the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), there are still a number of groups which have emerged and claim to continue the struggle for the independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. These groups draw most of their support from the Diaspora communities and some of them do not necessarily espouse violence as a means to achieve their goals. However there is a question on whether such groups pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s national security.

 Pic from Asian Tribune

 The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) was militarily defeated in May 2009. But their raison d’être was not truly vanquished. In the months after the defeat, a number of organizations, groups and forums – some newly emerged – continue the “struggle” for Tamil Eelam or the inde-pendent Tamil homeland.

There are two significant differences between the LTTE and the groups which are now pursuing the Tamil Eelam ideal. First, the latter cannot be easily clas-sified as terrorist organizations. In fact, these organizations espouse the use of non-violent means to achieve their goals. Second, unlike the LTTE, these organiza-tions do not enjoy the support of the local Tamils residing in Sri Lanka, especially those based in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Though these areas have been designated as part of Tamil Eelam, it is unclear if the people therein are aware of the existence of these organizations.

Nevertheless, there are concerns about whether these organizations pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s national security and if they actually represent the milieu that could help the defeated and depleted Tamil Tigers to stage a comeback or similar elements to emerge.

TGTE and Associates- -V. Rudrakumaran and his Band of Brothers

The group that is in the forefront is the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), also known as the Provi-sional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TNGTE/PTGTE). TGTE actively liaises with other groups in one form or another to propagate strategies towards the achievement of Tamil Eelam. The TGTE was formed in 2009 soon after the defeat of the LTTE. The group propagates the use of democratic and diplomatic means to achieve the LTTE’s Tamil Eelam goal. The TGTE uses its branch in Phila-delphia in the United States as its headquarters. Its cur-rent leader and recently appointed “Prime Minister” is Visvanthan Rudrakumaran who was the international legal adviser for the LTTE and a member of the LTTE delegation at the 2002 peace negotiations brokered by Norway. He is currently a lawyer in New York. Initially, Selvarasa/Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), the head of the LTTE’s international relations department/network, was to head the TGTE while Rudrakumaran was to han-dle the US branch. But after KP’s arrest on 05 August 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and his subsequent liaison with the Sri Lankan government, Rudrakumaran was installed as the head of the TGTE.

True to its name, the TGTE has “national” branches in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Ger-many, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzer-land and the United Kingdom. Oddly, the TGTE does not have an “official” representative in India. The Sri Lankan Diaspora, the TGTE’s main base, voted for their “national representatives” in the Transnational Constitu-ent Elections held in May 2010. The elections resulted in a Transnational Constituent Assembly (TCA) with 135 members, 115 of which were elected from some of the nations mentioned above. Twenty “seats” were reserved for delegates appointed by the TCA from areas where elections were deemed not feasible. These include In-dia, Malaysia and Singapore which have five, three, and two members respectively. In early October 2010, the TGTE appointed their Prime Minister, three deputy Prime Ministers, a Speaker, as well as a Senate. The organization also ratified its constitution even though the polity they claim to represent did not participate in the voting.

The TGTE has sought to extend its influence by extensive propaganda campaigns carried out by affili-ated groups and organizations. Such campaigns are aimed at Sri Lanka’s economy such as the “Boycott Sri Lanka” and “Say No to Sri Lanka.” These campaigns target industries which are the traditional mainstays of Sri Lanka’s economy such as tourism, tea, and gar-ments. The TGTE’s strategy could be to strangle the economy to undermine the Sri Lankan government which in turn would get them the support of the Tamils. But such a strategy could be counterproductive as it would affect the livelihood of the Tamils in these indus-tries as well. For example, a majority of those who work on tea estates are Tamils, albeit of Indian origin. Other organizations affiliated with the TGTE contribute to the multi-faceted propaganda campaign by highlighting po-litical and social issues such as the “Tamils Against Genocide” (TAG) and Mathangi Arulparagasam or M.I.A., a British pop artist of Sri Lankan Tamil origin.

Another important organization in the struggle for Tamil Eelam is the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) headed by Prof. Dr. S. J. Emmanuel. The GTF considers itself an umbrella organization that brings together the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora and ensures the effective communication of their strategies amongst them. Both the TGTE and GTF appear quite determined in their efforts. Collectively, they have an organized structure, great PR and an even better public engagement i.e. Di-aspora engagement, foreign political engagement and international media coverage through events such as the GTF’s inaugural address. The TGTE and its associ-ates are formidable foes to the Sri Lankan government, considering their ability to involve and include prominent Western politicians in their activities. For instance at the GTF inaugural meeting held in London on 24 February 2010, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and UK Foreign Secretary David Milband graced the event with the latter delivering a speech.

The TGTE and GTF are involved in robust fund-raising, especially through the Internet. This activity is suspect even though these organizations are engaged in costly initiatives such as the hosting of forums and meetings in cosmopolitan cities, production of PR vid-eos, campaigns and other protests. However, given the fact that, neither the TGTE nor the GTF are involved in projects that benefit the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the purpose of such fundraising has become questionable.

Much like the LTTE, the TGTE and the GTF have largely used the dire economic, social and political situation of the Sri Lankan Tamils only for propaganda and publicity for their goals but they have not ventured to help these people in any realistic manner. Instead it is left to the Sri Lankan government – the so-called “enemy”- to fend for the people that the TGTE and its associates claim they represent. In essence, these groups appear to be in world of “make-believe” – one in which they have established a transnational government claiming to govern a group of people, who may not even be aware of the existence of such a government.

While the TGTE and GTF are political fronts, the threat of the use of violence for the struggle of the Tamil Eelam comes from the LTTE faction led by Perin-panayagam Sivapalan alias Nediyawan, the former head of the Tamil Coordinating Committee based in Norway. This faction controls all LTTE branches and continues to advocate Prabhakaran’s image, the Tiger flag, and armed struggle- all of which indicates a return to violence.

The Threat to Sri Lanka’s National Security

To the extent that these organizations advocate Tamil Elam, they pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity. The threat these groups pose is heightened by their ability to communicate better, faster and through newer, provocative mediums utilizing videos, photo-graphs and audio platforms. The supporters and sympa-thizers of the Tamil Eelam are those who have grown into a world where only one side of the issue is being relentlessly propagated by groups such as the TGTE and GTF. In addition to this, the lack of serious engagement from the Sri Lankan government has helped intensify the movement spearheaded by these groups. The TGTE propaganda also has the potential to undermine Sri Lanka’s international standing especially in countries where the Tamil Diaspora has significant clout.

The Sri Lankan government may not find it prudent to directly engage these groups in discussions or negotiations. Doing so would be akin to recognizing these groups as the legitimate representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamils which is not the case. However, the government needs to counter the propaganda of these groups.

For the time being, the TGTE and its associates may have been successful in creating public opinion against the Sri Lankan state. However, their potential to wage a military campaign is almost non-existent. The TGTE’s pledge of non-violence could be a reflection of its own realization that a violent struggle which would emulate the LTTE would be difficult, if not impossible. It does not have the physical means – sanctuary and re-cruitment – to create an armed organization reminiscent of the LTTE. More importantly, it does not have the sup-port of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

The unprecedented economic development in the Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces, the re-habilitation of detainees, and the resettlement of inter-nally displaced persons (IDP), have contributed towards building bridges of peace between all communities in the country. However, the activities of TGTE, GTF and Nediyawan faction could derail all the efforts to restore normalcy. Given Nediyawan faction’s proclivity for vio-lence, it is incumbent on Norway to help dismantle this group. At the same time, other nations need to dissuade the activities of all the groups in their respective territo-ries that threaten peace and stability of Sri Lanka.

Leave a comment

Filed under military strategy, Sinhala-Tamil Relations

Leave a Reply