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LTTE may be defeated, but India must be careful

By B Raman
May 18, 2009 16:09 IST
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According to reports from the Sri Lankan Army, it has completed the liberation of all the territory under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and decimated its entire leadership including its chief V Prabakaran, his intelligence chief Pottu Amman, Soosai, the chief of the Sea Tigers, and others. No leader based in the Northern Province appears to have succeeded in escaping.

It is likely that at least some of its trained cadres remain to be accounted for. It is going to be difficult for the Sri Lankan Army to trace all of them and arrest them. This will be a long-drawn-out exercise. The surviving cadres would not remain in groups. They would have dispersed individually and merge with the civilian population since it would be difficult for them to escape abroad.

Will the surviving cadres have the capability to indulge in sporadic acts of terrorism in other parts of Sri Lanka? A significant aspect of the confrontation between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE for over eight weeks now was the total absence of any diversionary attack by the LTTE in other parts of Sri Lanka. The last successful diversionary attack was on a Muslim procession in Matara in the southern province on March 10. One would have expected that facing severe pressure from the army, the LTTE would have tried to organise more diversionary attacks outside the Tamil areas.

The fact that it was not able to do so indicated that it had no human and material resources left to organise diversionary attacks. The loss of its capabilities in the Tamil and non-Tamil areas was immense. Despite this, the SL army cannot afford to be complacent that there could be no more major acts of terrorism by the LTTE.

The danger in the coming months will be from angry individual Tamil elements indulging in acts of reprisal terrorism directed against Sri Lankan leaders, officers of the security forces and even civilians. Organised, centrally-commanded and politically-motivated terrorism can give way to sporadic individual acts of reprisal terrorism against Sri Lankan targets -- Sinhalese as well as Tamils -- in Sri Lanka itself as well as abroad.

Indian intelligence and security forces should also take precautions against possible acts of reprisal terrorism against Indian targets in Indian territory by sympathisers of the LTTE.

The fact that the Sri Lankan Tamil issue failed to make much of an impact during the just-concluded elections to the Lok Sabha should not give rise to a complacent feeling that there cannot be any major act of violence in Indian territory. There are elements in Tamil Nadu who could get emotional over the death of Prabakaran and self-motivate themselves to give vent to their anger through terrorism. There is a need for a heightened alert for at least some months.

The end of the LTTE is not the end of the humanitarian problem. It will be the beginning of a new phase of it. The state of the Sri Lankan economy may not enable the Sri Lankan government to deal with it adequately. Till now, mainly India and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been allowed by the Sri Lankan government to undertake humanitarian relief work.

It is necessary for the India to expand the magnitude of its humanitarian relief work immediately in co-ordination with the Sri Lankan authorities. The immediate priorities would be food, water, medicines and other kinds of medicare. Post-conflict rehabilitation of the Tamil civilians displaced would essentially be the responsibility of Colombo, but India should monitor the situation closely to see that this is not neglected or affected by any spirit of vengeance.

Tamil anger in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora abroad would pose new threats to security in the months to come. Addressing and mitigating this anger should be given top priority. One should remember what happened in India due to the Sikh anger after Operation Blue Star in June 1984 and what has been happening in Pakistan due to the Pashtun anger after the commando raid on the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July, 2007. Organised terrorism gave way to individual self-motivated terrorism.

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B Raman