By Rajan Hoole –
It is difficult for outsiders to understand the intractable nature of the LTTE however much one highlights its killings of its own people. Some basic calculations performed by dissidents after dividing those killed into categories such as persons killed for spontaneous village-level dissent, for inadvertent opposition to the LTTE and for active or suspected political opposition, places the figure at 8,000-10,000. If one also includes those who suffered directly from conditions deliberately imposed by the LTTE such as mental trauma, illness and those killed by drowning while fleeing LTTE control, the number becomes astronomically high for a small population.
Such figures as 8000 detainees killed by the LTTE may sound high to the outsider. However, take a few concrete facts. During 1990 the LTTE was continually arresting civilians and sending them to large centres. The LTTE acknowledged 2500 detainees at an information centre in Jaffna in June 1990, all of whom were non-political. From information received from a number of sources, we deduced that the total number was easily 5000. On 15th September 1990, the LTTE read out 500 names of persons executed to angry relatives.
We also have testimony from ex-detainees that nearly 1300 persons were held at the paddy stores in Thunukkai until about June 1990. Periodically, LTTE men heartily called out expectant prisoners by their numbers. They were told that they were being taken for release. The departing prisoners left with tears of joy, saying their good-byes to those left behind. Finally, about 400 detainees remained who were released. It was then that they discovered that the 900 removed earlier were not among the living. During mid-1992, prisoners in the Tango 5-detention centre at Koilakandy heard very disturbing confessions from certain LTTE guards. These guards told them that from the prison camps around Thunukkai during 1990, prisoners were taken into deep jungle by the lorry-loads. They carried out under orders the very tiring and monotonous job executing them, and they simply lost count. As the Indian Army pulled out from late 1989, well over 1000 Tamil National Army youths (mostly conscripts) and other civilians fleeing to India by sea were killed by the LTTE with help from the Sri Lankan Forces. Such killings were an ongoing process that peaked in 1990. These concrete facts would make 8000 killed a conservative figure (see our Reports 4-6 and 8-10).
Dissidents in the North-East point out that account should also be taken of the large numbers in villages who have been spirited away and killed for spontaneous dissent and of whom there is no record. These dissidents place the total number of Tamils killed by the LTTE at around 20 000. One must further add the 20,000 or so killed or maimed so far as young militants and the rising toll of several thousands of civilians affected by anti-personnel mines. This is a price paid not for liberation but for what, if it succeeds, would be a dreary fascist state.
Yet all this would not shock Westerners for whom killing in distant places that passes for national interest is, one way or the other, made acceptable. Such was the mass murder of several lakhs or over a million in the 1960s to suppress the Communist Party of Indonesia, which in turn installed the Western-backed regime of President Suharto. Suharto was deposed in 1998 not because of his human rights record, but because his economic abuses had destabilised global financial markets.
Though a mass-killer, Suharto was a common killer like soldiers in an undisciplined army. Far from being intractable, what he wanted was easily defined and, for more than 30 years, he was content being a model anti- Communist ruler, most obliging to Western interests.
Outsiders looking at the LTTE are therefore tempted to conclude that they have seen it all before. From the 1980s, conventional wisdom has advocated a peace combining regional autonomy with generous funds for development that would also ensure the good life for the LTTE hierarchy. Even as hopes were high from time to time, it did not work.
The LTTE is distinctive in having about it a peculiar excess that is not quite reflected in its killings. We mean by excess actions that go far beyond serving the pursuit of wealth and power, and are dangerously counter-productive. True, LTTE have acted as common killers when attacking Sinhalese and Muslim villages, and likewise with Tamil dissidents in some instances. This excess is rather reflected in the manner of killing and the choice of targets rather than in the numbers.
The excess is also reflected in the Leader’s conduct, and in particular his paranoia about security. In the Vanni, the leader maintains a system of concrete underground bunkers in areas from which civilians are excluded, keeping a 200 strong security cover around him. A transfer from one bunker to another involves an elaborate ritual with several moves to mislead. His food is first tasted by another. Those seeing him are ushered in after their personal weapon is removed by his security. This is not the style of a leader sharing a relationship of trust and affection with his people.
Equally remarkable is his disdain for the security of others, that is sustained by an exalted self-confidence and sense of destiny in achieving Tamil Eelam. Just before the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, the Leader struck a hard bargain with India seeking assurances for his own security, that of his organisation as well as for regular financial payments. Two months later he ordered the suicide of 12 of his senior leaders detained by the Sri Lankan Navy over a matter that could easily have been resolved through India as well as by popular protest. Then by systematically provoking Indian Army and withdrawing into the Vanni jungles, he caused the death of hundreds of civilians. That was how he cared for their security.
Another of his excesses places him apart from the common killer who kills in pursuit of power and wealth. This was his murder of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. Gandhi was moreover not necessarily hostile to the LTTE. It placed the LTTE’s cause beyond the pale of tangible aspirations. The bunker mentality is intertwined with such actions.
This revealing incident was related by a disgruntled insider and published independently in Liberation Tigers. The Leader hosted the final farewell for a Black Tiger on a suicide mission. Noticing the boy’s artificial leg, the leader exclaimed with acute emotion, “Ende Rasa (My dear child)… is this the leg splintered by shrapnel?” Ironically, this was the boy’s ceremonial preparation to blast himself to shreds! He sank the naval ship Sagarawardene on 19.9.94 after the Leader had set the date for peace talks with the new PA government!
The LTTE is thus the kind of movement far removed from human aspirations. To survive, it needs systematically to target dissent, especially within, and rely on a network of spy upon spy. A particular root of its intractably violent nature is the fiction of purity.
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here