FOURTEEN months after the declaration of ceasefire in Sri Lanka, the Tigers' impatient growls are getting louder. On April 28, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) displayed, for the second time since peace talks started last September, its military face by marking the third anniversary of its capture of the Elephant Pass military complex, Sri Lanka's most fortified garrison until 2000, which tilted the military balance on the ground in its favour.
It was a day of celebrations in Tiger territory. The festivities assumed a fiery tone with the LTTE sending a message - yet again - that it essentially is a military organisation, and that force, or the threat to use it, will remain its single largest bargaining chip. The day ended with a call to youngsters to join the rebel fighting ranks.
It was also meant as a propaganda event. The Sri Lankan government, a key Minister in the government, and the state's armed forces came under verbal assault. Soosai, the head of the Sea Tigers, in his second public appearance as the main speaker in an LTTE military event, made it amply clear that the Tigers' patience was running out. Regarding the latest impasse in the peace process, he asked the Tamil people "to decide'' if the ongoing negotiations would provide them the right solutions. Lamenting that the last 14 months of ceasefire had "not reduced civilian hardship'', Soosai said: "It is your responsibility to decide if we should find a solution through talks." Although he did not openly call for an abandonment of talks, the message was clear enough when he asked the audience to ponder "if the problems will be solved through negotiations."
Soosai's impatience with the negotiations was evident when he said: "You have taken up the issues through your Ministers and elected representatives. We have emphasised them to the government several times, but there has been no action.'' Neither had the government taken up the issues, nor was it in a position to take them up, he said, and added that "under these circumstances you will have to decide if we have to find a solution through these talks'' or through what other means.
The celebration was held in a sprawling ground in Pallai, some 360 km from Colombo. The village, a few kilometres from Elephant Pass, was an artillery base of the Sri Lanka Army until it fell to the rebels immediately after the April 2000 conflict.
On show at the function were samples of the LTTE's weapons - ranging from a Luger pistol to a 152-mm artillery piece with a range of 17 km. The event also saw parades by its fighting units and emotional calls to join the organisation. The Tigers recalled their battlefield victories over the past 13 years. Soosai's speech was typical of speeches made by senior LTTE leaders, and it finished with the endnote: "The thirst of the Tigers is a Tamil Eelam motherland."
He charged Sri Lankan Minister for Economic Reforms Milinda Moragoda with making fresh acquisitions for the Navy.
Also evident was Soosai's disappointment that the Sea Tigers were not recognised by the government as a "de facto naval unit''.
Soosai asserted that the Sea Tigers formed the "backbone of the LTTE's liberation struggle'' and said that they would remain "the naval force of the Tamils until a permanent solution is reached''. He called upon "youngsters to join them and make them re-emerge as a powerful force and face the Sri Lankan armed forces."