The hero of Tamilians in Sri Lanka is no more. Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s elimination may seem like a defeat of terror for some, but for many others it is the end of the force that had stood up for the rights of the ethnic Tamils in the island nation. While the road ahead looks good for Sri Lanka as a nation; the fate of the Tamilians may take a turn for the worse.
In recent years, the LTTE lost most of its top brass. SP Thamilselvan, their number 2 leader, died in Lankan air strikes, and Balasegaram Kandials alias Brigadier Balraj, died of cardiac arrest.
The end of LTTE looked inevitable as it lost ground and its strongholds fell to the Lankan Army. In April this year the Sri Lankan Army took over Tigers de facto capital Killinochchi and proceeded to take over Mullaittivu district the last town held by the Tigers, killing all its main leaders one by one.
LTTE has not only lost its chief, but also his son Charles Anthony, two of his top commanders, Soosai and Pottu Amman, Tigers’ political wing head, Balasingham Nadesan, the head of rebels’ peace secretariat Seevaratnam Puleedevan and a military leader known as Ramesh.
A two-hour gun battle and a rocket fired at his van is all it took to bring an end to the man who had become a synonymous with terror in the country, but was a hero to many others.
So while the death of Prabhakaran is the last nail in the coffin for the LTTE, the question remains as to who remains to struggle for the Tamil cause.
The LTTE might have been defeated, but the ideology and the dissatisfaction which gave it birth continue to exist. What is left to be seen is that whether Tamils in the nation would get back their rights and whether the atrocities on this community would now stop.
Even during the war between the LTTE and the Lankan Army, it were the civilians who had suffered the most harm. The attacks by the Army on hospitals run by the LTTE were a serious human right offence, but the issue seems to have died down and now with the LTTE virtually exterminated the issue may not even come up again.
The violation of human rights in the region was never addressed and obdurate Sri Lankan government refused to allow the United Nations representatives into the war zone.
Prabhakaran formed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in1976 and was seen as the saviour of the Tamils in the nation while the world considered him a terrorist.
His ability to use technology effectively made his organisation even more potent. LTTE became an organisation capable of carrying out sophisticated plane attacks and suicide bombings. Trained abroad for military battle and equipped with Czech planes, LTTE were one step ahead of the Lankan Army. They trained Black Tigers, who were supposed to carry out suicide attacks. The Tigers, if caught by the security forces, used to bite into cyanide vials rather than give out secrets.
The world community considered LTTE as a terror organisation and its chief as a terrorist but Prabhakaran remained unaffected by all this and remained determined to get rid of anyone who was an obstacle in his demand for a separate land for the Tamils.
He was not even deterred from assassinating influential political leaders. He set the trend by killing the Mayor of Jaffna in broad daylight.
Later, LTTE also made assassination attempts on the top Lankan leaders and unlike their bids earlier; these were more fatal and successful. Their ruthlessness and precision can be gauged by the assassination of Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premdasa in 1993, and the attempt made on Chandrika Kumartunga’s life.
Prabhakaran also got former Indian Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi assassinated, which turned out to be his biggest political blunder and he had to bear the ire of many people in India as well as Sri Lanka.
Prabhakaran made another political mistake when he rejected an offer of giving autonomy to Tamils in the North and East provinces during peace talks in 2002.
He followed up with several other mistakes, rejecting every olive branch that was extended by the government. He also forced the Tamil population to pay taxes to the LTTE else he simply killed them. Somewhere down the line, all this not only denied him vital opportunities, but he also lost the world’s sympathy.
While the Indian govt, would be relieved at Prabhakaran’s death, as this would bring to a closure the chapter of Rajiv’s assassination, there are thousands of sympathisers for the cause of Tamils in Lanka.
The Tamil conflict in the neighbouring country has always been a poll plank in Tamil Nadu and this year’s General Elections was no exception.
India’s geographical and political interests have forced it to intervene in the issue, as violence and instability in Sri Lanka impacts politics in Tamil Nadu. The people of the state share the same ethnicity as the Tamils in Lanka. This is because it was their ancestors who were first taken to the island as plantation workers by the British and later settled down there.
Ever since its formation, LTTE set up offices in Tamil Nadu and Indian authorities often drew flak for supporting the Tamil struggle. The support extended to the LTTE by Prime Minster Indira Gandhi, who also assisted in arming the Tamil Tigers, increased the potency of the rebels.
The future of the Tamils in Lanka depends heavily upon the role that India plays in future. Being a responsible nation of the world community India is a stabilising factor in the disturbed South Asian region. Be it despatching of the peace keeping force to the Island or applying diplomatic pressure on the Lankan government to reinstate peace in the nation, India has always played a proactive role.
With LTTE finished, Tamil civilians must be given a fair chance to join the mainstream and India can play a key role in ensuring them equal rights.
While Sri Lankan Army can consider it a victory, they must be aware that a bigger challenge lies ahead for them.
Not only must they wean away popular discontentment amongst Tamils, they need to start the healing process. Rehabilitating the thousands stranded in refugee camps in squalid condition, ensuring for them basic amenities, equal opportunities at education and in jobs and more than anything else to inculcate a feeling of national belonging. If one were to take all these factors into account, in one way, the task for Sri Lank has just begun.
1954 (Nov 26): Born in Jaffna in a Hindu middle class family, the youngest of two sons and two daughters.
1960-70s: Takes to militancy, indulges in minor acts of violence.
1972: Forms Tamil New Tigers (TNT), flees home for good.
1975: Assassinates Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duriappah at Hindu temple.
1976: TNT becomes Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
1978: LTTE issues first press statement.
1982: Arrested in Madras (now Chennai) after a shootout with a rival Tamil militant. Jailed, bailed, escapes to Sri Lanka.
1983: Ambushes army patrol in Jaffna, killing 13 soldiers. Anti-Tamil riots sweep Colombo, leaving hundreds dead and igniting Tamil insurgency.
1983 (September): Moves to Tamil Nadu, sets up home in Chennai. LTTE training camps come up in Tamil Nadu.
1984: Meets Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran and seeks support. Marries Jaffna university student. They go on to have two sons and daughter.
1985 (May): Orders massacre of Buddhists in the holy town of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
1986 (April-May): Orders slaughter of Tamil militants from rival group TELO.
1987 (January): Quits India for good, saying there is an attempt to kill him.
1987 (July): Meets Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi and says he accepts India-Sri Lanka accord meant to end Tamil separatism.
1987 (August): Gives speech in Jaffna, saying "We love India", but tells aides he will teach India a lesson for betraying Tamil Eelam cause.
1987 (October): Launches war against Indian troops deployed in Sri Lanka`s northeast.
1989 (April-June): Goes into peace talks with Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who asks Indian troops to go home.
1989 (July): LTTE kills well known Tamil politicians A. Amirthalingam and V. Yogeswaran in Colombo.
1990 (April): Takes control of Jaffna, addresses the media.
1990 (June): Resumes war against Sri Lanka for Tamil Eelam, orders 100,000 Muslims living in Jaffna to quit. Rival militant K. Pathmanabha and aides killed in Chennai, India.
1991 (March): Sri Lankan Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne killed by car bomb.
1991 (May): LTTE woman suicide bomber assassinates former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at election rally near Chennai.
1992 (August): Sri Lanka`s northern army command wiped out.
1992 (November): LTTE suicide bomber riding motorcycle kills Sri Lanka Navy chief Clancey Fernando.
1993: Sri Lankan President Premadasa killed at May Day rally.
1993 (August): Arrests LTTE number two Mahattaya on charges of being Indian spy, executes him in December 1994.
1994: Agrees to talk to President Chandria Kumaratunga. Fighting halts.
1995: Sri Lankan presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake assassinated. Resumes war against for Tamil Eelam.
1995 (December): Loses Jaffna to Sri Lankan troops.
1996 (July): LTTE slaughters 1,200 soldiers and policemen in military complex in just 72 hours.
1997-99: Takes control of large parts of north and east in Sri Lanka.
1999 (December): President Kumaratunga escapes assassination attempt, is blinded in one eye.
2000-01: Sri Lanka approaches Norway to facilitate peace talks with LTTE.
2001 (July): LTTE suicide cadres overrun Sri Lanka`s only international airport, destroys 13 aircraft.
2002 (February): Signs Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement with Sri Lanka.
2002 (April): Addresses Sri Lankan, international media in Kilinochchi, says he will never give up Tamil Eelam cause.
2003 (April): Walks out of Norway-backed peace process.
2004 (March): Faces revolt by LTTE eastern regional commander Karuna and hundreds of cadres in eastern province.
2005 (August): Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar shot dead by LTTE sniper.
2006 (April): Army General Sarath Fonseka badly hurt in attack by woman suicide bomber.
2006 (December): Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, survives assassination attempt
2007: Launches air strike near Colombo. LTTE loses eastern province to Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran vows to fight back.
2008 (January): Sri Lanka spikes ceasefire agreement. LTTE begins to lose territory in north.
2008 (November): Mocks President Rajapaksa, says LTTE territory can never be seized.
2009 (January): Loses Kilinochchi, hub of de facto Tamil Eelam state; retreats into Mullaitivu district.
2009 (May 17): Decides to "silence" guns and end armed struggle.
2009 (May 18): Prabhakaran killed while trying to escape from war zone in Mullaitivu district. Heir apparent son and all key aides also killed.