On Tiger turf

Published : Dec 05, 2003 00:00 IST

The LTTE boasts of a well-oiled administrative machinery in the areas it controls, but critics opine that the development it seeks to highlight is lopsided and merely incidental to its larger goal of Eelam.

recently in Kilinochchi

The Tamil proposal takes into consideration the needs of the Tamil people in the northeast as well as the legitimate interests of the Government of Sri Lanka.

- S.P. Tamilchelvan, political wing leader, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), after releasing the proposals for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) for the northeast, on November 1, 2003.

ON October 31, in its 30th year of existence, the LTTE spelt out, for the first time, what it expected from the Sri Lankan government as an alternative to its demand for a separate state - self-rule for the northeast, with weak links with the Central government - as a "rational, reasonable and practical" interim measure.

If the year 1976 marked a crucial point in the chronology of Sri Lanka's separatist conflict, October 31, 2003 signified another point in the evolution of the course that the island's Tamil polity has taken since then, through the Thimphu principles and last year's Oslo Declaration.

In Vaddukottai, the broad concept of a separate state was laid down; in Thimphu, the principles of homeland, recognition of Tamils as a nation and the right to self-determination were put down. In Oslo, the Tigers and the government agreed to explore federal models to find a solution within a united Sri Lanka. Subsequent parleys in Paris and Dublin by the LTTE led to the Kilinochchi Proposals for an ISGA for the northeast, which were handed over to the Sri Lankan government through the Norwegian facilitators.

Through the decades of fighting, the LTTE placed the onus of putting forward a proposal on the Sri Lankan government, rejected its offers, and at the same time declined to spell out what it wanted. To that extent, the proposals made now by the Tigers serve as broad indications of what they would want to see in a final settlement to the conflict.

The ISGA will have links with the government only on a few issues - representation for Colombo in an LTTE-dominated administration, drawal of resources from the Consolidated Fund, and the grey area of civilian control over the military, which has been postponed until a final settlement is reached. This faint influence of the Oslo agreement apart, on all other counts the Kilinochchi Proposals reflect a continuation of a build-up on the Thimphu Principles. A day before the proposals were made public, Tamilchelvan told Frontline that it would be "a historic document", which would serve as a foundation for taking forward the political process to a "peaceful resolution of the conflict''.

That the Tigers were willing to negotiate on it, a shift from their earlier position that talks would resume only if Colombo accepted their proposals, was also evident when Tamilchelvan said that these were negotiable: "We will talk based on our proposals". The proposals, he said, were: "an attempt to gain temporary relief for the sufferings and distress faced by our people".

Insisting that Colombo should accept the proposals, he said, "Only then will the Tamil people get a temporary respite. Only then can we rebuild the living conditions of our people".

EVEN 17 months ago, Kilinochchi was merely a name on the map. For all practical purposes, it was out of bounds for those living in southern Sri Lanka. During the thick of the armed conflict - between 1998 and 2000 - the distant, deathly roar of mortar, heard in Vavuniya, was the only reminder of the war for many of the town's residents.

In April 2002, when the first high-profile motorcade rolled into Kilinochchi, it was a stretch of barren land. At a fledgling checkpoint, LTTE cadre used to note down names and other details of persons crossing over.

In April this year, when the national and foreign media were invited to cover the anniversary of the capture of the Elephant Pass military complex by the LTTE, it had grown; LTTE cadre now handed out forms to be filled before entering rebel territory. All details, down to the number of persons in a vehicle, would be registered, and a slip of paper given to be returned on the way out. "Please bring your car here," a cadre told this correspondent, indicating a makeshift shed. After inspecting the vehicle, and ensuring that all was well, it was allowed to go through.

Six months later, the place had transformed yet again. Computers had been installed for logging in the movement of vehicles, and rows of neatly put up `inspection sheds functioned under the alert eyes of uniformed young men and women. The message was clear - the LTTE meant business.

An LTTE cadre called out: "Hello, you are back again?" at which, a veteran checkpoint cadre emerged, waved to the officious cadre handing out forms, saying, "Media, political wing, press conference".

Once the forms were filled, the van in which this correspondent and other mediapersons were travelling to Kilinochchi were once again checked and given a printed form. "See you on the way out," the cadre chirped, before moving on to the next batch of journalists. Until 2000, the stretch of road called A9, as per Sri Lanka's highway numbering system, was bitterly fought over. In 1998, Kilinochchi fell to the Tigers, and that changed the very course of the armed conflict. Today, a full-fledged "customs point", complete with uniformed personnel and several counters, takes down the details of goods passing through. It is managed by the `revenue wing' of the LTTE. The LTTE's `tax structure', however, is said to be a major source of its `revenue'.

Work was going on on the once-shell-battered road. Smooth in patches, bumpy in stretches, the A9 connecting Jaffna to Kandy winds its way through rebel-held territory. A neatly maintained `police station' in Mankulam announced: "Tamil Eelam Police". Blue-uniformed `policemen' were busy at work.

Further down, toddlers sat inside a lime and brick structure that could be identified as a school merely because a scarred board said so. In a flash, the contrasts came to fore - the contrast between rebel-held areas and the rest of Sri Lanka.

Along the two sides of the road were lands that had gone to seed. "These were all agricultural land,'' said the driver of the van, a veteran in the profession. "I have travelled through this stretch during better times,'' he recalled.

MURUNKAN, a wayside halt, is now a vibrant hamlet. The nucleus of its growth is a temple where believers stop on their way down the highway. With just a few tea shops a year ago, the hamlet has grown: it has hotels, groceries and other facilities that make a convenient halt.

Driving into Kilinochchi, the contrast becomes even more evident. Swank restaurants and comfortable lodges have sprung up in what was described a year ago as a town bombed to the dark ages. With Kilinochchi becoming the political headquarters of the LTTE, it is the venue for many high-profile visitors. Just about anyone who has to deal with the LTTE heads to Kilinochchi to meet the rebel leadership.

The most visible `instruments of state' of the LTTE in Kilinochchi are the buildings that house the headquarters of the `Tamil Eelam Judiciary' and the `Tamil Eelam Police'.

OPPOSITE the Kilinochchi playground, which is now known more as a helipad for high-profile visitors from Colombo, is the headquarters of the `Tamil Eelam Police'. B. Nadesan, the `head of the Tamil Eelam Police', describes the evolution of the force. Started more than a decade ago, today the `police force' has several wings: traffic, crime prevention, crime detection, information bureau, administration, and a special force.

Nadesan's modest bookshelf has books on Indian law. "There are cultural similarities," he says, recalling his early days spent across the Palk Strait.

Direct recruitment is done at two levels - the constabulary and the officer grade. To join as an officer, the candidate should have completed his Advanced level (equivalent to Plus Two in India) or an Ordinary level with five credits. The blue uniforms and a distinct salute are clear differences from Sri Lanka's official police. "There is a saying in Tamil that one should never wake up to the colour of khaki," he said, referring to the colours of the island's official police force. Nadesan, whose wife is Sinhalese, was himself a member of the Sri Lanka police before he joined the LTTE.

The strength of the `Tamil Eelam police force' is not disclosed. "They are paid well, and meals are free, unlike in the Sri Lanka police,'' he said. In an impoverished swath of land, where jobs are hard to come by, a police constable "earns Rs.4,200 plus meals''. Training is given in Mankulam, inside rebel territory.

The `Eelam police force', he says, does not go by recommendations or intervention, "not even by LTTE functionaries''. Action, he says, has also been taken against LTTE cadres. "If there is a complaint against an LTTE cadre, the political headquarters is informed and action is taken subsequently. Some have even been removed from the organisation.

The rebel police, he says, also has a public complaints system where anyone can send in a complaint to the `Officer-in-Charge' of a police station or an `ASP'. "You know the South Asian tendency. They mark copies to superiors and I get to know about such complaints,'' he said.

Punishment, he says, is not handed down as transfers or interdiction. "They will go and do the same mistake again. We send them for re-training, so that that they do not repeat it,'' he claims.

"After the ceasefire agreement, there has been an increased need for personnel, so we increased the numbers. There is more traffic on the A9 now'. On the road, the LTTE's "traffic police'' stand armed with improvised speed indicators, waving down vehicles that cross the 30 kmph limit set in the town and charge spot fines on them.

On important occasions, Nadesan is present to oversee the deployment of his forces. But, he says, most of his time is spent on instilling a sense of responsibility.

The LTTE has sought control over law and order in the northeast in its ISGA proposals. Asked how the sensitive east, which has a mix of Sinhalese and Muslims, would be managed, Nadesan said: "We can understand their feelings. There will be equal rights for all.''

AMONG the several factors that led to the Sri Lankan crisis, those in the area of education acted as the most emotive rallying points. For instance, the standardisation policy of the 1970s, which meant that Tamil students would have to secure more marks than their Sinhalese counterparts for parity.

The `Education Council of Tamil Eelam' in Kilinochchi is headed by one of the group's senior leaders, V. Ilankumaran, better known as `Baby' Subramanian.

Critical of the government's handling of education for Tamils, Ilankumaran said: "There has been a change in the approach, but not in the goal." Charging the government with "all round discrimination", he said that it was apparent in areas such as the appointment of educational officers, the supply of textbooks and in the provision of teacher training facilities. For instance, he said, there was a severe shortage of teachers in the north and the east. "There is a surplus of nearly 14,000 Sinhalese teachers and a deficit of around 10,000 Tamil teachers", he alleged.

Comparing the present with the earlier standardisation system, he quipped: "That was only at the university level, now it has come down to the primary education level.'' Even Cabinet approvals that had been given in Colombo, he said, had not been acted upon.

Asked if there were enough personnel to take up such positions, Ilankumaran was emphatic that "there are so many with ability, but no opportunity''.

In addition, he says, "there are no textbooks in Tamil for Advanced level students in subjects such as physics, chemistry and mathematics. The students depend on the notes given by teachers.'' The availability of educational aids such as videocassettes was also lopsided and books for optional subjects were not available in Tamil, he said.

From a room filled with textbooks and supportive documents, Ilankumaran picked up an old copy of a history book by Nilakanta Shastri. "These are prescribed, but we don't have them in Tamil,'' he said, reading out from a Sinhalese translation of the book.

Against this backdrop, the LTTE's `education wing', he said, had adopted a five-point approach - preparing notes for teachers; distributing the old, rare stock of books among schools; buying textbooks from publishing houses; translating select books; and appointing teachers with salaries.

On the school infrastructure, affected by the restrictions that existed earlier on the supply of cement and building materials, Ilankumaran said: "We are 10 years behind on all these things." He added: "Although there is no ban now, there is no financial allocation either." On the training front, he charged the government with "neglect''.

The consistently better performance by pupils in the north is "because of the higher involvement of students", he explained. The LTTE frowns on private tuition. "We don't encourage tuitions. School education should be enough, there is no need for extra classes.'' Ilankumaran said.

The `education wing' was set up in 1991 "to prevent the slide in education due to war. We have achieved that,'' he claimed.

Critics of the LTTE are sceptical. Admitting that there is much more to be done by the government to improve education standards in the north and the east, they feel that the LTTE uses the schools for propaganda. A former militant said: "Their thinking is, let us get Eelam first, then we can study'' (Eelathai pidippom, piragu padippom).

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment