Writing on the repeated fear-mongering over a revival of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), J.S Tissainayagam notes how the spectre of the LTTE has been used as a “foil to win elections and justify lapses in good governance”; as well as, a means of justifying the “justify continued coercion of the Tamils”; and, to attract “foreign military assistance for counterterrorism”.
Regrouping the LTTE
Commenting on the current elections, Tissainayagam highlights four separate moves the Sri Lankan President has made to raise concerns over the LTTE regrouping. He notes that these stories are of little substance as “the story of an LTTE revival dies as soon as its purpose is fulfilled”.
However such stories, he notes, has “inevitable casualties”.
One of such casualties is Balendran Jeyakumari, a human rights activist who was separated from her only surviving daughter under unfounded suspicions that she was an LTTE sympathiser. To this day she remains on bail despite no evidence of wrongdoing. Her freedom was unjustly restricted and her work, advocating against disappearances, was severely hampered.
In June, Tissainayagam notes, that over twenty Tamils, including a minor, were arrested in the northern Kilinochchi District, under accusations that they were “attempting to revive” the LTTE. These arrests were conducted under the notorious, and internationally criticised, Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) that facilitates torture in custody and prolonged detention without trial.
Whilst their families have been permitted to visit them, there is still no word on whether they have had access to a lawyer or even if they have been formally charged.
Another case drawn upon is that of a former member of the Northern Provincial Council, M. K. Sivajlingam, who was barred from holding a 25th anniversary commemorating a church bombing in which 147 civilians died.
According to Tissainayagam:
“Sivajiligam was summoned by the local magistrate’s court for organising a protest violating restrictions on mass gatherings due to the coronavirus and for ‘attempting to reconstitute the LTTE terrorist organisation’ and ordered to desist”.
He also highlights the suspicious explosion on 4 July at the home of Thangarasa Thevarasa. Thevarasa, an LTTE cadre captured by the government in 2007 and “rehabilitated” under a government programme, died due to injuries in the explosion but claims that he was financed by “LTTE supporting groups abroad”. Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Division further asserted that the explosion was intended to mark Black Tiger Day.
One of the chief reasons he indicates for this narrative to enable for even “more draconian measures” to be “imposed on the Tamil population that is already terrorised by unrelenting surveillance and intimidation”. The aim of which will be to “stifle protests on political prisoners, disappearances, and land grabbing”.
Tissainayagam reminds us that these incidents must be seen within a context of deep militarisation and attempts to pacify the Tamil community.
“The pacification process subjects civilians to constant surveillance and uses re-arrest and detention to intimidate the public and deploy the security forces for executing tasks that are routinely done by civilian institutions and agencies. And all this done in a highly militarised environment”, he notes.
The second reason he indicates is that it mobilises Sinhala nationalism by pointing to the “other”. He notes a deep history of this narrative, especially because of the popular misconception among Sinhalese, that “Tamils were evil foreign invaders”.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his presidency following the Easter Sunday bombings, which claimed the lives of over 250 people and was claimed by a group of a group of Islamic extremists linked to the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ).
Rajapaksa’s election campaign was premised on protecting Sinhala constituents from Muslim extremists as well as Tamil terrorism, claims Tissainayagam.
Rajapaksa’s party had linked “the discovery of claymore mines in Jaffna and arrests of two lawmakers in Malaysia to a revival of the LTTE”. However, these arrests were simply an internal dispute and the claymore mines in the North is, as described by Tissainayagam, as “routine as the chatter of an LTTE revival”.
Whilst there may not be credible evidence of a serious revival of the rebel organisation, this narrative serves its purpose of mobilising Sinhala nationalists.
Economics and poor governance
One reason is to distract from economic catastrophe Sri Lanka finds itself in. He asks;
“How many Sri Lankans know that the country sought a billion-dollar repurchase agreement (repo) from the New York Federal Reserve?”
Tissainayagam notes this arises when a country’s liquidity dries up drastically. The dependency on currency swaps from India and loans from China further highlights the dire straits Sri Lanka’s economy is in.
In May 2018, he notes that Sirisena had invoked the LTTE as his government had performed poorly in February’s local elections. As a distraction he pointed abroad at the Tamil diaspora, claiming; “They are very active abroad. They protested when I went to London last month.”
Foreign military assistance
The final reason he gives is to bolster support for overseas military assistance.
He notes that whilst the US has placed travel restrictions on suspected war criminal Shavendra Silva and his family, and the UK has created a human rights sanction regime, the UK and US have not stopped security assistance to Colombo.
“Neither the U.S. nor the UK are known to have stopped security assistance to Colombo, but there is nothing like the story of a possible terrorist threat for military aid to keep coming”, he adds.
Economic chaos and political dictatorship
Tissainayagam concludes his piece warning that unless the international community acts quickly, the country will fall into “economic chaos” and a “political dictatorship”.
“Gotabaya Rajapaksa knows only too well that the bogey of an LTTE revival has compelling logic to activate various sources of power he has at his disposal to strengthen coercive control over the population. Unless Sri Lankans – especially the Sinhalese who have generally supported him to date – and the international community resist his moves fast, the country will descend to economic chaos and political dictatorship”.
Read J.S. Tissainayagam full piece here.