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Can the LTTE revive again?

Shortly before the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009, Robert Templer of the International Crisis Group think tank had written: “The dream of an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka resonates powerfully across the diaspora and will certainly live on even after the defeat of the LTTE as a conventional military force. The deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians — while their family members watch from afar — is a recipe for another, possibly more explosive, generation of terrorism.” [1]

The 26-year-long war saw more than 80,000 people being killed, including a UN estimate of 40,000 Tamil civilians in the last few months of fighting alone [2]. Whether an organization such as the LTTE will resurface, can be evaluated by answering these questions: (a) Do secessionists have enough will power and resources left to take up an armed movement again in the near future, even as they try to rebuild Tamil lives? After witnessing death and destruction for so long, do they want to run the risk of facing something similar again so soon? (b) Is the Sri Lankan government doing enough to give Tamils the autonomy and equality that they desire, so as to make them stop wanting a separate state? Or, is the government’s response to Tamil demands apathetic enough to build resentment once again?

Demoralized secessionists

Sri Lanka has nearly three million Tamils living in the north and the east. By 2009, the LTTE’s military resources and funding had suffered a huge setback. Rehabilitation, resettlement and nation-building were primary concerns. Even the Tamil National Alliance, which was closest to LTTE, dropped the demands for a separate state and talked of a federal solution. [3] The impact of the war showed in the changed priorities of secessionists after the fall of Prabhakaran.

Even former rebels could be seen to be low on confidence in the movement for a separate state. A former rebel, Sivanathan Navindra, who contested elections in August 2015, said: “After the end of the war in 2009, there were losses among our people due to the armed struggle. So in order to find appropriate solutions for them, our group has decided to seek democratic recourse.” [4]

This shift from militant activities towards wanting a political solution appears to be driven largely by a lack of motivation to take up arms once again. Tamil rehabilitation is going to be a long process, and fighting again would work more against the Tamils than in favour of them.

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Government promises

After the war ended, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appealed that the “legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Tamil people and other minorities must be fully addressed”. [5] Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, who visited Sri Lanka soon after the war, noted: “A military solution without addressing the underlying political roots of the war is a potential recipe for future conflict.” [6]

However, the government support for the Tamil demands has been limited according to critics and human rights groups. The recommendations of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission have largely not been implemented. Rebels, who were rehabilitated, had a strong resentment against the way the Rajapaksa government handled the Tamil war victims.

The World Human Rights Report on Sri Lanka for 2015 acknowledged that “the government is continuing its rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the war-affected northern areas”, but it also states that the “government pledges to address the rights concerns of the ethnic Tamil population remain largely unfulfilled”. [7]

The US in November 2015 praised the new government, for speeding up reconciliation. [8] If this continues and the Tamils in Sri Lanka feel a sense of equality with the Sinhalese, with power sharing systems in place, an armed movement is not needed in the near future.

The world is concerned about the fate of Sri Lanka, after a long conflict. International pressure on Sri Lanka is huge, with the UN’s interest in resolutions against the government for committing human rights abuses. In this scenario, it appears difficult that the situation will go so much out of hand that an armed movement such as the LTTE surfaces again.


[1] “Taming of Tamil Tigers threatens to breed fiercer creatures”, The Guardian, May 17, 2009

[2] “Sri Lanka starts count of civil war dead”, Al Jazeera, November 28, 2013

[3] “Sri Lanka Tamil party drops statehood demand”, BBC News, March 13, 2010

[4] Former Tamil Tigers set to contest upcoming Sri Lankan election, Channel NewsAsia, August 14, 2015

[5] “U.N. chief to visit Sri Lanka for first-hand look”, Reuters, May 19, 2009

[6] “Politically Speaking” (Bulletin of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs), Winter 2009-2010

[7] Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka 2015

[8] “U.S. lauds Sri Lanka government on post-war Tamil reconciliation”, Reuters, November 24, 2015

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