The following story was related to us by a young man who was until recently a member of the LTTE and served in all capacities including as a member of the intelligence unit. Apart from the earnest indignation he feels for his past, his accounts appear to be truthful and are consistent with everything else he says, together with what we have documented over the years.
Among those who had frequent access to the LTTE leader are members of the intelligence and finance units. Addressing a meeting where members from both units were present, the leader told them in words to the effect: "You are the most important section of this movement. Those who are fighting will die some time. We need not be too concerned about them. You are the ones that will be left to run Tamil Eelam. Therefore it is among you that we want greater discipline and loyalty." The leader then went on to give his vision of the state of Tamil Eelam: "Eventually the whole movement must become an intelligence unit. Indeed the whole nation will become an intelligence unit"
This is not as fantastic as it sounds. The leader has been disarmingly frank on earlier occasions. Everything that has been said by LTTE leaders and its actions over the years add up to this. Yogi said more than five years ago that what was of importance was to safeguard the soil (mun) of Tamil Eelam. To this end the loss of the overwhelming majority of lives was to be of little account. Then there was Mahattaya's attempts to organise the families of `martyrs' into a network of informers over the national heroes week of 1990. [Report No.6]. Further, financial operations, both locally and internationally have been meticulously organised and run for years by close personal associates of the leader and accountable only to him. Many of these operations do not come into the main organisational structure - the military one. The spartan restrictions which ordinary cadre are supposed to observe, do not apply to these operators. Any vice is overlooked provided they enjoy the leader's confidence in matters of importance to him. Moreover nearly all of them are connected to the leader by ties of kin or clan. Notable in this whole phenomenon is the symbolic importance of land and gold as opposed to life and a wholesome enjoyment of it.
What comes through is some of the worst traditions and methods of Jaffna society.
Again the insignificance of the fighting cadre whose sacrifices were regularly lauded from platforms for public consumption has been known for a long time. Despite the titles, glories and adoration heaped on them by the leader and the organisation, the cadre often came to realise that they counted for little. Their minds and bodies were needed only to destroy and kill. It was well known by 1987 that the Kittus, and perhaps even the Mahattayas, had no real power in the organisation, as much as they could kill ordinary civilians with impunity. Real power, apart from the leader, lay in the hands of selected individuals in the five continents building up the LTTE's financial empire, besides their own. [Top]
As we had mentioned before many mature cadre who sensed their real position of powerlessness started leaving the organisation as painful developments from the mid 8Os unfolded what the future held. The emphasis on recruitment then shifted to children. The organisation evolved to adapt itself playing on the sensibilites and fears of the young. There was no longer any need for theoreticians to package the LTTE's programme in the language and jargon of liberation movements. The political wing all but vanished. With the ensuing disruption to education, the middle classes and those with contacts outside responded by increasingly sending their children away. The result was that new recruits were both very young and from the poorer sections. Thus the composition of cadre from Jaffna shifted sharply towards the oppressed castes.
The importance given to the use of terror and the intelligence unit had its own momentum. In jockeying for influence, every section of an institution has a natural tendency to multiply its scale of operations and demonstrate such a necessity. Nothing serves this purpose so much as a massive operation involving the holding of prisoners. Mere killing is too ephemeral and simplistic an activity. Nothing strikes terror so much as torture chambers and long time inhuman confinement. It is not for nothing that the Gestapo and KGB embarked on massive prisoner operations costly as they were, and so with the LTTE. This has also given the LTTE a capacity for massive civil engineering enterprises using labour intensive technology.[Top]
We have pointed to the numerical shift towards oppressed castes among the fighting cadre. The instrumental importance attached to such persons may in certain areas give the impression that caste as an institution is being challenged. But this is deceptive as the foregoing would suggest.
The story of Senkathir gives an illustration
of how caste operates. When the old Left groups raised the caste issue, they
worked among ordinary oppressed caste peasants, raised their level of intellect
and discipline, and made of them responsible persons compelling respect. This
is very different from taking a person, whether low caste or high caste, and
using his worst instincts. Senkathir was a person so used of low caste origin
from the Karaveddy area. Though an unruly person, he being Mahattayas's protege,
wielded considerable influence. It was widely believed in Karaveddy, that one
of Senkathir's briefs was to watch over, and report on the local leader Gamini.
Gamini was of high caste from the same area. Gamini was later transferred and
lost a leg in a futile attempt on Jaffna Fort in July/August 1990. The local
people viewed both Gamini and Senkathir through the spectacles of caste. While
Senkathir's star was ascendent, it appeared to give the low castes the edge
in local influence. The high castes viewed Senkathir with a detestation not
improved by his reported obsession with high caste mistresses. During the Autumn
of 1990 Mahattaya's men were removed from key positions. About this time Senkathir
went missing, reported by the LTTE as killed in action in the Wanni jungles.
The story was not believed by his community which became bitter and suspicious.
This individual instance tells us one thing. An organisation which debases humanity
and views people as mere instruments, can have no lasting reforming impact on
A dominant characteristic of this class is a materialistic value system overlaid by the presumptions of Tamil nationalism. One could be surprised by the lack of anger or indignation one finds among uncles, aunts and cousins of someone very unjustly killed by the LTTE, as opposed to the Sri Lankan forces. The LTTE wearing the mantle of Tamil nationalism has used it to deflect accountability. We recently had an instance of how nationalism is used as an opium to deflect real issues. A deservedly well respected TULF MP of the Batticaloa District was speaking at a school function. He expressed his joy at the song about the ancient Tamil King Cheran Senguttuvan who reportedly ruled the Himalayas. Then he said how proud he was about the Tamil youth taking up arms to fight for the people's rights - a remarkable speech that could have been transposed from a TULF platform to an LTTE platform and vice versa. The real problem and an urgent one is systematically skipped. This was that the boys supposedly fighting for rights were massacring Muslims turning the East into a powder keg.
Terror and the allure of nationalism have imposed on the people the habit of silence. Wherever Sri Lankan forces are in control, people are subject to a good deal of unpredictability and humiliation. But in Jaffna people have come to believe that by not questioning the politics or raising questions about political prisoners and the arming of children, life becomes relatively predictable. The ugly things are kept out of sight and people can move about safely in the nights. Conditioning their minds to use this atomised existence as a starting point, they try to work out the means to send their children out. In the short term this works well for the LTTE. [Top]
The only institutions in Jaffna with fairly
large bases are the university and the churches. One would have normally expected
from these institutions some resistance to the unhealthy and dangerous developments.
If it is felt that in the interests of the future, these institutions must be
kept alive through a phase of terror, they could at least avoid lending legitimacy
to these developments. We have dealt with the University of Jaffna in earlier
reports. We have also noted in earlier reports how several members of the elite
perform services glorifying this brutal political phenomenon. Such legitimisation
is in turn used to entice more children to carry arms. These elites and their
children are in turn exempt from the rigours to which other hapless people are
We shall now take some instances of how some churches and church men have become catalysts in this downward spiral.
To start with, few churches as institutions in the recent past were seen to be excelling in character and improving the tone of life in Jaffna. Then by identifying with the nationalist cause and by their ability to articulate the cause abroad, their authority increased tremendously. Further, the churches became recipients of large funds for rehabilitation.
Then came the July 1983 anti-Tamil violence. The response of the churches in the South was seen as either communal, inadequate or nominal by their partners abroad. Over the years a strong feeling of guilt overlaid key sections of the Southern church to a point where it became fashionable to be uncritically `pro-Tamil' particularly with statements made for largely foreign consumption.
In the meantime most Tamil churchmen got into another fashionable rut. Whenever they came down from Jaffna they rightly talked about the sufferings of the people resulting from bombing, shelling and other restrictions placed by the government. But as for harsh restrictions placed by the LTTE, arming of children and political prisoners, they are absolutely silent - few might whisper these to close friends. In turn the more discerning and truly concerned Southern churchmen are afraid to raise these unspoken issues for the fear of being branded anti-Tamil. It appears to become disturbingly fashionable among Southern churchmen not to want to grapple with details and understand the Tamil question in depth. It is becoming all to easy to blindly concur with colleagues from the North in matters such as what is really going in Jaffna, who represents the Tamil people and what the normal run of people really want. If for example those from the North say `ceasefire', then all agree it shall be ceasefire with no clear idea of what it demands from the church.Attempts by the church to represent reality have conspicuously played down the issue of political prisoners in the North and the Muslim question, thus displaying a dangerous slant in legitimising something totally unchristian.
With the national church so uncritical and having no definite perspective the same attitude was passed onto important sections of the World Council of Churches. To some individuals in the WCC it became enough to be pro-Tamil, which meant to back the LTTE as the sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people. The game for them was to humour some Tamil prelates rather than understand the problem. Those who did understand found it diplomatic not to go too far with their reservations. Ultimately it is the interests of the Tamils that suffered through legitimising unhealthy impositions.
Let us take how this worked in a particular instance. In addition to being bombed and shelled, Tamils travelling between Colombo and Jaffna have to undertake an unwanted and risky journey by sea bypassing Elephant Pass. Apart from rough sea, they need to risk being attacked by the forces. The army has ordered civilians not to take that route and to use Elephant Pass instead. But the LTTE has forbidden the use of Elephant Pass and forces people to use the sea route. Both sides have given military reasons for their positions. The LTTE claims that if civilians use Elephant Pass, the army could use it as an advance route. The army claims that if civilians use the sea route, the LTTE would use civilian cover to transport men and munitions. We will not examine the virtues of the military claims.
Where the people are concerned they are clear that travelling by sea is a needless imposition and that once the route through Elephant Pass is open, even the food supply to Jaffna will be eased. They feel helpless and want someone to represent their interests. The churches are best placed to do this. Criticising the forces for attacking helpless civilians travelling by sea with a view to preventing it is legitimate. But doing only that is questionable. What is also involved is the perception that it is less risky to travel by sea against the army's wishes than to travel through Elephant Pass against the LTTE's wishes. By the churches and other organaizations mounting a campaign exclusively against the army while not challenging the LTTE, they were not representing the people's interests. This was another aspect of a society where institutions which are meant to be closest to the people are being mobilised to their discomfiture.
How some church leaders more or less willingly got into this position is another story. Strangely, of all organisations, it was left to the BBC correspondent to take on the LTTE concerning the safety of travellers. If this is how the churches have handled a more or less straight- forward issue which still lies unresolved, how will they handle the complex questions of a sustained ceasefire? [Top]
Home | History
| Briefings | Statements
| Bulletins | Reports
| Special Reports | Publications
Copyright © UTHR 2001