The Sunday TimesPlus

19th January 1997



LTTE: the Indian connection

Following is an excerpt from researcher Rohan Gunaratne's latest book "Sri Lanka Tamil Insurgency". This chapter is published to coincide with Indian External Affairs Minister I. K. Gujral's visittoSri Lanka beginning today as a grim reminder of Indo-Lanka relations of yesteryear

From the late 1970s, the LTTE developed links with a number of Tamil Nadu political groups-they were comparatively small in organization and membership.

The most significant of them were Dravida Kazhagam headed by Veramani, the Kamraj Congress headed by Nedumaran and the Pure Tamil Movement headed by Perinchintanarayanan. To date, the leaders as well as cadres remain strong supporters of the LTTE. Veeramani called a meeting of all his key party organizers throughout Tamil Nadu and asked them to support the LTTE. Nedumaran wrote a biography of Prabhakaran. Perinchintanarayanan gave his property for the use of the LTTE. Thereafter, the LTTE developed excellent relations with M.G. Ramachandran and M. Karunanidhi, who succeeded each other as chief ministers

The LTTE training camp in Kulathur, Salem district, India, where the 16th batch was trained in 1985/6. The photographs were taken by Wasanthan, an Indian national employed by the press section of the LTTE.

Although Tamil insurgents had established a few training camps in Tamil Nadu in 1982, there was no official assistance from the Central Government of India prior to August 1983 In the eyes of many Indian hard- liners, Sri Lanka since 1977 had stepped out of the non-aligned orbit and had become an ally of the West. There were Israeli intelligence operatives, British counter insurgency experts, South African mercenaries and rumours about offering Trincomalee one of the finest deep water harbours to the US navy. Sri Lanka had good relations with Pakistan and China, two countries that had fought border wars with India and they were in the process of stepping up military assistance to Colombo. Further, President J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka did not enjoy with Premier Indira Gandhi the same warm relationship he had with her father, Premier Jawaharlal Nehru. After Premier Indira Gandhi, also the leader of the powerful Congress (I) Party, took a policy decision to support Sri Lankan northern insurgency from August 1983. The need to have leverage over Colombo was adequately demonstrated by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the agency also responsible for advancing India's secret foreign policy goals. Within her inner circle, the decision was justified. Geopolitics and domestic compulsions validate the rationale.

The Third Agency of RAW a supra intelligence outfit, was entrusted with the task. Within a year, the number of Sri Lanka Tamil training camps in Tamil Nadu mushroomed to 32. By mid 1987, over 20,000 Sri Lankan Tamil insurgents had been provided sanctuary, finance, training and weapons either by the central government, state government of Tamil Nadu or by the insurgent groups themselves. While most of the initial training was confined to Indian military and paramilitary camps in Uttara Pradesh, specialized training was imparted by the Indian instructors attached to RAW to Sri Lankan insurgents in New Delhi, Bombay and Vishakhapatnam. The most secretive training was conducted in Chakrata, north of Dehra Dun, India's premier military academy for training service personnel, where RAW had also imparted training to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tibetan dissidents.

With the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, RAW assistance culminated. Rajiv Gandhi ordered the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to fight the LTTE, when it went back on its pledge to surrender its weapons. The LTTE-IPKF war, apparently deprived the LTTE of its invaluable base, India. But, Tamil Nadu assistance to the LTTE continued even after M.G. Ramachandran's death in December 1987. Tamil Nadu State assistance under the Karunanidhi Administration despite the presence of the IPKF, continued for the LTTE. Although the LTTE was at war with India, Tamil Nadu still remained LTTEÕs main source of supplies.

The Indian Net

LTTE leaders (RŠL), Sirumalai camp, 1984 - Chief of Intelligence Pottu Amman (M 16), Mannar commander Victor (M203), Trincomalee commander Pulendran (AK47), chairman Prabhakaran (pistol). Batticaloa commander Aruna (Berreta SMG), and Prabhakaran's bodyguard Lingam (Hungarian AK).

Throughout the IPKF episode and until Rajiv GandhiÕs assassination in 1991, the LTTE continued to maintain a substantial presence in India. When the law enforcement agencies stepped up surveillance, the LTTE moved a bulk of its cadres from Tamil Nadu to other towns such as Mysore, Bangalore and Bombay. Even at the height of the IPKF-LTTE confrontation, the LTTE had twelve sections in India to manage:

(1) Intelligence
(2) Communications
(3) Arms Production
(4) Procurement of explosives
(5) Propaganda
(6) Political work
(7) Food and essential supplies
(8) Medicines
(9) Fuel supplies
(10) Clothing
( 11 ) Transport
(12) Finance and currency conversion

The LTTE had also converted Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu, and nine other Tamil Nadu districts, into centres for war supplies to the LTTE. Each centre was linked by a sophisticated wireless network. Individual units carried Sanyo walkie talkie sets. The centres of war supplies and other activities were:

( I ) Dharmapuri: Procurement of explosives
(2) Coimbatore: Arms and ammunition manufacturing
(3) Salem: Explosives manufacturing and military clothing manufacturing
(4) Periya (Erode) Military clothing manufacturing
(5) Vedaraniyam: Coastal area from where supplies were dispatched for the LTTE
(6) Madurai: Transit area
(7) Thanjavur: Communications centre
(8) Nagapattnam: Landing area for supplies from LTTE deep sea going vessels.
(9) Rameswaram: Refugee arriving area and recruitment
(10) Tiruchi: Treatment of wounded LTTE cadres
(11) Tuticorin: LTTE trade in gold, silver, narcotics and other merchandise goods
(12) Madras: Liaison with Tamil Nadu political leaders.

Implications for India

The LTTE-lndia nexus did not secure the geopolitical security New Delhi needed from Sri Lanka. It weakened Indian as well as Sri Lankan domestic security. In many ways, the presence of a foreign military strengthened the fighting spirit of LTTE and weakened the anti-terrorist capability of the Sri Lankan forces, then engaged in an anti-subversive campaign in the South The organization gained mastery of guerrilla warfare by fighting the fourth largest military in the world. The LTTE suffered heavy causalities but replenished their ranks and gained a confidence paralleled by the Viet Cong and the Afghan Mujahidin. LTTE also innovated new weapons, mostly projectiles and mines. Johnny mine, the anti personnel mine invented by Prabhakaran, has at least claimed 5,300 Indian and Sri Lankan war causalities. Many Tamil Nadu political leaders from Nedumaran to Gopalasamy and Ramakrishnan visited the LTTE jungle base - known as the one four base complex over the years - and expressed solidarity with Prabhakararn.

The role of the IPKF in Sri Lanka became a politically sensitive issue. When the IPKF returned to India, under the National Front government of V.P. Singh, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi did not visit the port of Madras to welcome the Indian soldiers. Even after the IPKF departed the LTTE continued to maintain excellent relations with Tamil Nadu politicians. The LTTE had managed to preserve Tamil Nadu as a critical base by retaining the goodwill of the Tamil Nadu leaders.

In fact, when the LTTE hit teams under the one eyed Jack Sivarasan assassinated the anti-LTTE EPRLF leader Padmanabha and his colleagues in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister Karunanidhi asked the Tamil Nadu police and the state agencies to turn a blind eye. A few months later, the LTTE used the very same infra- structure of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu to kill Rajiv Gandhi. The LTTE penetration of the Tamil Nadu polity was so good that a decision reached at a high level meeting comprising intelligence agencies in New Delhi about anti-LTTE operations was conveyed to the LTTE within 24 hours. Investigations revealed that the culprit was the then Tamil Nadu Home Secretary and at the instruction of Karunanidhi. The dismissal of Karunanidhi did not prevent the LTTE from continuing to operate in Tamil Nadu. The LTTE made a statement during the subsequent Jayalalitha administration, "If the Tamil Nadu leadership cannot support the LTTE, at least we expect them to be neutral to the LTTE." This meant that LTTE operations should continue unhindered in the state of Tamil Nadu.

In retrospect, the LTTE-India relationship has been one of love and hate. It is a relationship that will have its ups and downs but a relationship that will nevertheless continue. Despite the fact that the LTTE eliminated Rajiv Gandhi, the last of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, there will always be a segment of the Tamil. Nadu leaders and people that will support the LTTE. The contradiction stems, from India's own structure the diversity within India, particularly, the disparity in culture between the Indian Tamils and the rest of India's polity. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was imperative for the LTTE. If the LTTE did not, the IPKF that withdrew would have returned heralding another period of bloody fighting. Prabhakaran's calculus was right As a leader, he had done his duty by his rank and file. By assassinating Rajiv Gandhi, he prevented the reintroduction of the IPKF to Sri Lanka. Even for Prabhakaran, it would have been a painful decision. Antagonizing India at the southernmost point of peninsular India meant the permanent closure of the door for creating Tamil Eelam and Prabhakaran becoming its ruler.

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