Permitting the commemoration of Prabhakaran, Zahran or any other terrorist leader will lead to politicisation, radicalisation and mobilisation of another wave of terror.

While it is important for loved ones to remember their dead privately in their homes, governments should not permit public commemoration of terrorists.

Public commemoration of terrorists especially suicide terrorists is tantamount to glorification of terrorism and violence.

By permitting the display of cutouts of terrorist leaders and suicide bombers and erecting of monuments for terrorists, ideological extremism will manifest in the form of violence.

Glorification of terrorists is the first step to radicalisation and revival of another phase of terror and suffering.

Like the display of Nazi symbolism and memorabilia is banned, to protect the next generation, the Sri Lankan State should enact a law to criminalise memorialisation of the LTTE, Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist entities.

After terrorist movements in Afghanistan and Iraq were dismantled by the US-led western coalitions, they re-emerged.

In Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) wrecked havoc and in Afghanistan, the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance returned to power with a vengeance. 

In the face of threat, terrorist groups operate in the shadows. Like an infection, when defeated, the terrorist groups go into remission.

When governments neglect the threat or play politics, they resurface. The Sri Lankan story is no different.

Sri Lanka was the first country in the early 21st century to defeat an insurgent and a terrorist organisation.

The threat was contained by the presence of a robust security and intelligence platform, rehabilitation of the insurgent and terrorist rank and file, and rapid socio-economic development.

After the LTTE was dismantled in Sri Lanka in May 2009, its activities shifted overseas. A decade after, through its fronts, the LTTE is reviving in two directions.

First, the remnants of the LTTE international network is creating a new set of front organisations overseas to champion separatism.

Second, the LTTE political affiliates in Sri Lanka tempted by some funds from the LTTE fronts overseas seek to commemorate the LTTE dead in Sri Lanka’s north and east.

Sri Lanka defeated one of the most brutal terrorist and insurgent groups in the early 21st century.  Before the advent of Al Qaeda, Taliban, Islamic State and now Hamas, the LTTE was the most lethal threat entity globally.

Notorious for its suicide attacks, the FBI identified the Tamil Tigers as the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups. The LTTE engaged in ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese and Muslims in the north and east – its aim to create a mono ethnic Tamil state remains.

To build lasting stability, a far-reaching leadership devoid of racial politics, needs to be nurtured, groomed and empowered.

A costly fight, Sri Lanka today needs to get its national security and foreign policy piece right. It must never forget that the Central Government of India sponsored six groups including the LTTE after Sri Lanka stepped out of the non-aligned orbit.

At a time of transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world, relations with all the key players should be managed. The Government of Sri Lanka should not compromise Indian security interests.

The genesis of Separatism

The right national security and foreign policy decision making will enable Sri Lanka to move from stability to prosperity. To do so, it should reflect on both the genesis of separatism.

The Sinhala Only Act by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike created the political and security environment that gave birth to the LTTE.  In return, Tamil political parties advocated separatism.

The LTTE ambushed and killed thirteen army personnel in Jaffna on July 23, 1983 leading to Sinhala mobs attacking innocent Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The riots mobilised a segment of the Tamil citizens to develop support for the LTTE project of separatism. After Sri Lanka turned to the West at a time when India was under the Soviet sphere of influence, Indo-Sri Lanka relations suffered.

In response to western build up in its southern doorstep, India covertly sponsored six threat groups including the LTTE.

A political blunder led to a thirty-year tragic war that ruined Sri Lanka’s social harmony, political stability and economic prosperity.

After the failure of several rounds of peace talks, the government turned to the Sri Lankan security forces to restore stability. 

The protracted conflict ended when the government identified and empowered its best military commanders to lead the fight on land, sea and air.

With the political, diplomatic, financial and administrative support the services received from the government, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatillake ended the fight.

Until then, the government was appointing to key positions, personnel based on seniority and political affiliation.

As the secretary of defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa appointed based men and women to pivotal positions based on merit, ability and performance.

In addition to the commanders, the intelligence community and the police investigators played a vital role – among the most committed were Major General Kapila Hendawitharana, SDIG Chandra Wakishta, late Col Nizam Muthalif and Major General Suresh Salley.

LTTE proxies and their strategy

The LTTE and its political proxies are entering phase II of its strategy in 2024. What the LTTE could not achieve militarily, the LTTE proxies are attempting to achieve politically.

After falsely claiming that there was a “genocide” in Sri Lanka, the LTTE fronts overseas are working with a dozen fronts including NGOs in Sri Lanka to radicalise the Tamils in the north and east.

The LTTE overseas network engage separatist politicians in Sri Lanka. The LTTE international network is mounting pressure on the TNA led by Sivagnanam Shritharan and Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) led by Gajendrakumar Gangaser Ponnambalam to commemorate LTTE events in the north and east in May 2024.

Since the defeat of the LTTE, both the separatists and religious radicals have exploited the weakness of the Sri Lankan political establishment.

Working with the separatist elements of the Tamil National Alliance, the LTTE shadow leadership persuaded the Sri Lankan government to remove the ban on the fronts overseas, notably the Canadian Tamil Congress, British Tamil Forum, Global Tamil Forum and Australian Tamil Congress.

In addition to disrupting the rehabilitation program, the radical Muslim leaders manipulated the government to successfully delist the Salafi Wahhabi entities that created the foundation for the birth of a new wave of terror.

The invaluable intelligence and timely US assistance to Sri Lanka capacitated the Sri Lanka Navy to sink the LTTE fleet of ships.

The ships were supplying arms, ammunition and explosives from North Korea. After the logistical pipeline was disrupted, the LTTE could not replenish its wastage essential to sustain the fight. Defeat of the LTTE was inevitable.

The LTTE propaganda, fundraising, procurement and shipping network was dismantled in the lead up to May 2009.

This included the US providing the intelligence to sink the LTTE ships (floating warehouses) transporting weapons from North Korea to Sri Lanka.

The LTTE transformed from its pre-2019 approach of propaganda, fund raising, procurement and shipping to lobbying, litigation and law making.

The LTTE strategy today is to (1) radicalise the Tamil community in the north and east by glorifying the LTTE dead, (2) get Sri Lankan government to permit erecting memorials for the terrorists including suicide bombers, and, (3) call for a referendum in the north and east to breakup Sri Lanka.

The LTTE US fronts World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC), Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) and Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America (FeTNA) were monitored by the U.S. authorities. Some of the entities were raided and dismantled by the FBI.

To revive, the LTTE is exploring the freedom of expression, association, protests and demonstrations in the west.  North America, Europe and Australasia have become key arenas for its activities.

Although its fronts successfully infiltrated the political establishment, western security and intelligence services cracked down on the LTTE.

The US played a key role in monitoring V. Rudrakumaran, LTTE advisor, that led to the arrest in Malaysia of Kumaran Pathmanathan, the LTTE international chief and successor to Prabhakaran.

The US played a decisive role that led the Government of Sri Lanka to dismantle the LTTE in May 2009. After the then Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated by the LTTE on August 12, 2005, during the peace process, the FBI working with the wider US security and intelligence community targeted the LTTE global network.

The US arrested on Long Island, New York, on August 19, 2006, LTTE operators from Canada acting at the behest of Pottu Amman, the LTTE intelligence chief assisting in a procurement initiative.

The US department of Justice reported, “The parties also discussed a total price of between $900,000 and $937,500 for the equipment and the training.

SATHA, SAHIL, and THANI then examined an SA-18 missile, which was brought into the room in a long wooden crate, as well as the missile’s firing tube and trigger mechanism, and two AK-47 assault weapons.”

Sahil Sabaratnam was a former Director of Communications of Canadian Tamil Congress. Sahil operated together with his brother-in-law Thani Thanigasalam who headed the cell and Satha Sarachandran, also member of the Canadian Tamil Congress.

Three of the LTTE operators traveled to New York from Canada to purchase Russian-made SA18 surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers, AK-47s, and other weapons to be used by the LTTE in its rapidly escalating conflict against the Sri Lankan military.

Thereafter, the FBI systematically targeted the LTTE US and the global network.

India and the LTTE

The Central government of India is of the opinion that the “LTTE continues to pose a threat to and is detrimental to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India as also to the public order” and due to its strong “anti-India posture” it is necessary to declare the group as an unlawful association with immediate effect. The separatist fronts in the US according to the Sri Lankan government are:

(1) Tamil Americans United Political Action Committee (Tamil PAC)

(2) People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL)

(3) Federation of Global Tamil Organizations.

After India took a tough stand, the centre of gravity of LTTE activities shifted to the US, Canada and Europe, notably to the UK. According to the Sri Lankan authorities, its remnants in the U.S. has established three fronts to lobby members of the U.S. congress.

In the past, LTTE used its funds and votes to persuade US congressmen to support its campaign for a separate state. The LTTE campaign to revive is funded by its criminal activities including drug trafficking according to the Government of India.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs of India reproduced by the Hindu newspaper “the LTTE and its remnant cadres, followers and supporters are involved in various criminal activities, including smuggling of illegal drugs, arms for furtherance of the objective of the LTTE.”

Due to geopolitical rivalry, India armed, trained and financed six terrorist groups.

The Indian authorities lost control of the LTTE, it planned to use for its own purposes. After Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE, India realised the threat to its own citizenry in Tamil Nadu.

India has taken the lead to dismantle the LTTE cells engaged in crime and maintain its proscription on the LTTE.

Like some western countries have become today, India was a sanctuary for the LTTE from 1983-1991. After the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi on Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on 21 May 1991, the LTTE lost its safe haven in India.

When terrorist groups are not monitored with an unblinking eye, they compromise public, national and international security. The Sri Lankan experience is no different.

In the lead up to the formation of the LTTE, at the behest of the separatist politicians Prabhakaran personally assassinated the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappah on July 27, 1975.

After the LTTE domestic organisation was dismantled in Sri Lanka in May 2009, it has revived overseas. Governments need to protect their own citizens from being radicalised by LTTE fronts masquerading as human rights, humanitarian, social, welfare, political, media, and charity organisations.

In response, to the surge of propaganda by the LTTE fronts, the Government of India has extended the ban on the LTTE by five more years.

The approach adopted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) of India is in response to LTTE fronts that “continues to foster a separatist tendency amongst the masses” and as its affiliates “enhance the support base for the LTTE in India, and particularly in Tamil Nadu,” which will impact the territorial integrity of the country.

The Ministry said “LTTE sympathisers living abroad continue to spread anti-India propaganda among Tamils, holding the Government of India responsible for the defeat of the LTTE, which, if not checked, is likely to develop a sense of hate among Tamil populace towards the Central government and the Indian Constitution.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs of India said that even after its military defeat in May 2009 in Sri Lanka, the LTTE has not abandoned the concept of ‘Eelam’ and has been clandestinely working towards the ‘Eelam’ cause by undertaking fund-raising and propaganda activities and the remnant LTTE leaders or cadres had also initiated efforts to regroup the scattered activists and resurrect the outfit locally and internationally.

“Despite the ban in force, the activities of pro-LTTE organisations and individuals have come to notice and, attempts have been made by these forces to extend their support to the LTTE; the LTTE leaders, operatives and supporters have been inimically opposed to India’s policy on their organisation and action of the state machinery in curbing their activities,” the Ministry of Home Affairs of India notification said.

Prof. Rohan Gunaratna is the author of more than thirty books, including “Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday Massacre- Lessons for the International Community” published by Penguin.

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