Tamil diaspora keeps 'Eelam' dreams alive
By Asutosha Acharya
Amid media reports indicating that Tamil organizations made up of diaspora in
different countries are still making desperate attempts to keep alive the
concept of "Tamil Eelam", suspected pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
elements, for the first time since the military defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka
in May 2009, allegedly executed a terrorist attack in neighboring India.
On the morning of June 12, suspected LTTE cadres blasted railway tracks at the
Perani railway station in Villupuram district in the southern Indian state of
Tamil Nadu. Passengers of the approaching Tiruchirapalli-Chennai Rockfort
express escaped unhurt because the driver applied the emergency brakes in time
on hearing a loud explosion. Leaflets condemning the visit of Sri Lankan
President Mahinda Rajapakse to India (June 8-11) were found at the incident
site, police said.
On June 8, hundreds of pro-LTTE activists, led by Marumalarchi
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader V Gopalswamy, alias Vaiko, waving
pictures of slain LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, held protests in Chennai,
the capital city of Tamil Nadu, against Rajapakse's visit.
Despite the LTTE's comprehensive defeat in its own homeland, diaspora elements
and Tamil sympathizers continue to garner support abroad, including in India's
Tamil Nadu state, raising vital questions on the future of Tamil radicalism in
Notably, addressing the Emergency Regulation debate in parliament, Sri Lankan
Prime Minister D M Jayaratne on June 8 stated that the LTTE was attempting to
re-establish itself in the country once again, with the backing of its
international network. He stressed the necessity of the Emergency Regulation to
thwart these efforts and check on the funding of the LTTE's revival by the
diaspora networks. The prime minister further stated:
There are LTTE
operatives who are still mingling amongst civilians. During the last month we
have arrested 77 die-hard LTTE cadres who are believed to have been directly
involved in terror activities in the country. Intelligence agencies reported
that Tigers who escaped the military campaign last year were collecting weapons
they had stashed away to resume their struggle. LTTE support base
internationally remains strong despite them being militarily defeated. LTTE
fundraising network is attempting to build apartments and residential complexes
in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo and its suburbs for LTTE supporters.
Significantly, the state of emergency was extended by another month. The island
nation has been in a state of emergency since the assassination of then foreign
affairs minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005.
On January 15, 2010, Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka still faced a severe threat
from separatists, though the LTTE had been militarily crushed. The president
mentioned threats posed by the LTTE operatives in the Jaffna Peninsula,
claiming that the area had not been cleared fully and that LTTE cadres could
account for as many as 10% of the total population in the district. The
president added that LTTE and its agents would do anything to advance their
That the government is still worried about the security scenario in the country
is reflected in the allocation of 201 billion rupees (US$1.8 billion) for
defense in 2010, down only marginally from an estimated 210 billion rupees in
2009 and 204 billion rupees in 2008, at the height of the fighting with the
Remnants of the LTTE remain active in countries outside Sri Lanka, with regular
reports of arrests on charges of terrorist activities. The most prominent of
recent incidents include:
April 27, 2010: Seven suspected LTTE cadres were arrested in the Netherlands
along with computers, paperwork, phones, documents, photos, DVDs and 40,000
euros (US$48,800) . "Among the suspects are the leaders of various
organizations of Tamils in the Netherlands, which probably play a role in the
international network of the LTTE," the Netherlands Justice Ministry stated.
March 3, 2010: The German Police arrested six LTTE cadres, including three
German nationals and three Sri Lankan nationals, suspected of raising funds for
the outfit. The suspects were arrested during raids on eight premises including
the Tamil Coordination Committee, a front organization of the LTTE, in
Oberhausen in Essen.
December 11, 2009: Authorities in Thailand arrested five people, including an
LTTE cadre, for producing and smuggling more than 300 fake European Union
passports and other official European documents, officials said.
Further, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry quoted the ambassador of Sri Lanka to
Brazil, A M J Sadiq, as stating that a number of vessels belonging to the
LTTE's shipping fleet, which had hitherto been involved in drug trafficking and
gun running, had shifted to the lucrative business of human trafficking.
Moreover, according to the Malaysian National News Agency Bernama Today,
Malaysian police had arrested a number of key LTTE leaders, among other foreign
nationals, between August 2009 and March 2010. According to the report,
Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein stated that the
Malaysian authorities had recently conveyed information on the arrest of the
LTTE leaders to Sri Lanka's Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse.
Meanwhile, various LTTE leaders residing in the US and European countries have
clustered into rival factions, with each attempting to project itself as the
"sole representative" of the Tamil diaspora around the world, and to secure
access to the vast funds created by the LTTE.
Soon after the defeat of the LTTE and the death of its chief, Velupillai
Prabhakaran, the then international head of the LTTE, Kumaran Pathmanathan,
alias KP, along with the New York-based Lawyer and International legal adviser
of the LTTE, Viswanathan Rudrakumaran, formulated the Transitional Government
of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) proposal. On June 22, 2009, just a month after the
collapse of the LTTE, Rudrakumaran issued a media release announcing the
concept of the TGTE in New York:
We, the people of Tamil Eelam and its
diaspora ... firmly believe that the formation of a Provisional Transnational
Government of Tamil Eelam is imperative. It is a well accepted proposition in
international law that the legal claim to establish a government in exile
arises the more readily when the exclusion of its political leaders is achieved
through acts contrary to principles of jus cogens, such as the unlawful
use of force, abductions with a view to torture, genocide, war crimes,
detention in internment camps or "open prisons", the rape of women and the
kidnapping of children. In this connection, we, the people of Tamil Eelam and
its diaspora, propose to put together a committee for the Formation of a
Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.
release claimed, however, "Our program and efforts in this regard are
After Pathmanathan's arrest on August 5, 2009 in Malaysia and his subsequent
transportation to Sri Lanka, Rudrakumaran alone has shouldered the task of
taking the TGTE effort forward. On May 17, 2010, Rudrakumaran disclosed, in a
press statement, that the TGTE would hold its inaugural sessions in the city of
Philadelphia in the United States (US) for three days between May 17 and 19, to
coincide with the first year remembrance of the military suppression of the
LTTE. The communiqu้ stated that TGTE "will continue its struggle until
conditions are created which will enable the Tamils to realize their right to
self determination and exercise their sovereignty".
Rudrakumaran, who was the coordinator of the TGTE formation committee, was
elected as its interim chief executive at the meeting, and a seven member
Interim Executive Committee (IEC) was also formed. The IEC members included
Mahinthan Sivasubramanium, Sam Sangarasivam, Gerard Francis, Selva Selvanathan,
Vithya Jeyashanker, Sasithar Maheswaran and Janarthanan Pulendran.
The TGTE meeting at Philadelphia was the result of a year-long effort by
influential pro-LTTE elements of the global Tamil diaspora to create an
organization representing more than a million Tamils of Sri Lankan origin
dispersed in different parts of the world. The TGTE, in a sense, is a rebranded
manifestation of the LTTE overseas structure. Like LTTE, its ultimate goal is
the creation of "Tamil Eelam". Although it does not unambiguously endorse the
LTTE, the TGTE's commitment towards the LTTE was established clearly at the
Philadelphia summit, where LTTE flags waved in profusion, despite the fact that
the LTTE is a banned foreign terrorist organization in the US.
The establishment of the TGTE, however, has done little to stem the internecine
conflicts within LTTE diaspora elements. The struggle to establish control has
resulted in a rise of extremist rhetoric and postures, with the TGTE itself
becoming more and more hawkish.
Although Rudrakumaran is frequently referred to as the new leader of the LTTE
in sections of the media, the reality has been somewhat ambiguous. The overseas
LTTE structure has been deeply divided since Prabhakaran's death. Political
commentator D B S Jeyaraj divided the successor organizations of the LTTE into
three factions, the TGTE, Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and Tamil Eelam People's
Assembly, also known, respectively, as the KP or Rudra faction, the GTF or
Father S J Emmanuel faction and the Makkal Peravai or Nediyavan faction.
Sri Lanka's Deputy Minister of Resettlement Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias
Karuna Amman, a former top LTTE commander, has also underscored the fact that
the Tamil diaspora was divided and had conflicting views on the so-called TGTE.
Muralitharan argues that the Tamil diaspora would fail to make a significant
impact internationally because of internal dissensions. He identified three
principal diaspora factions - the US-based Rudrakumaran group, the Norway-based
Nediyavan faction and the London-based British Tamil Forum.
Significantly, Thambiah Ganesh and Kuppilan Ravi, believed to be members of the
Nediyavan group, were arrested in Paris on June 4, following the death of
Ramesh Sivarupan, believed to be a member of the Rudrakumaran faction. Sources
indicate that Sivarupan was abducted and taken in a van from his residence in
Paris and was later found near his house with injuries, to which he succumbed
at a hospital in Paris on June 3. Earlier in the week, the Nediyavan faction
had burnt thousands of copies of Thainilam, a newspaper in Paris printed by the
Besides internal differences, there is widespread skepticism about the TGTE
exercise. To be in any measure relevant to the Tamils, the TGTE would have to
have a public presence in Sri Lanka, but has no foothold there, and it is
extremely doubtful that it will be able to establish any such presence. As
Muralitharan notes, "How can they set up a separate state without the support
of the Tamils living in Sri Lanka? ... They [the Tamils in Sri Lanka] detest
the LTTE for having destroyed them. No pro-LTTE element will get the support of
the Tamils to set up a separate state in Sri Lanka now."
Meanwhile, there appears to be some urgency in the government's efforts to
develop the war-ravaged areas of North and East provinces. Economic activity in
the north has picked up, though in the long term development alone will not
satisfy Sri Lanka's Tamils.
Basic aspirations for equity and for a restoration of trust and security would
have to be met before the country's "Tamil problem" can be thought of as having
been resolved. Colombo has to work out a reasonable political package that will
satisfy Sri Lanka's minorities, something that Rajapakse has repeatedly
promised. The government would also need to take stock of its role in past
conflicts, in particular, its record of manipulating ethnic tensions for
electoral gain. It is significant that the militant Tamil diaspora was created
by the policies and actions of successive administrations in Colombo.
The LTTE is still banned in 32 countries across the world, and its diaspora
organizations are yet to secure significant traction abroad, or consolidate
linkages with LTTE survivor groupings in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the
aspirations for an independent Tamil Eelam are being kept alive, and extremist
activity, while marginal, persists.
These impulses will continue to seek opportunities for a future
crystallization, and both Colombo and governments abroad - particularly
including India - will have to exercise the utmost vigilance to ensure that a
terrorist movement is not able to take root again, even while fullest freedom
for democratic engagement is permitted to peaceful Tamil groupings.
Asutosha Acharya is a research assistant, Institute for Conflict