Vowing to pursue its campaign for 'Tamil Eelam', the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has named alleged arms smuggler Selvarasa Pathmathan as its new chief to succeed Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was slain along with the entire rebel leadership in Sri Lanka two months ago.
The Tamil separatist outfit, which was virtually annihilated by Sri Lankan troops in May, said it will 'modify' the strategies of its struggle but will continue to work for a 'free Tamil Eelam'.
Prabhakaran will 'forever remain the leader of Tamil Nationhood,' it said. The announcement comes amid reports that differences have cropped up among the few remaining LTTE leaders who are based abroad. It was also not clear whether the huge Tamil Diaspora will back 54-year-old Pathmanathan.
"The LTTE executive committee wishes to officially let our beloved Tamil people and the international community know that Selvarasa Pathmanathan, who had been appointed as head of international relations by our national leader, will lead us into the next steps of our freedom struggle according to the vision of our esteemed leader," said an LTTE statement.
The statement, issued from an undisclosed location, said, "Like all liberation struggles, we will modify the form and strategies of our struggle according to times and demands. Yet, our ultimate goal of a free Tamil Eelam does not ever change".
Pathmanathan, also known as Kumaran Pathmanathan or KP, was the LTTE's chief arms procurer and was named as its head of international relations by Prabhakaran some months before he was killed by the Sri Lankan army in May.
He allegedly ran an international weapons smuggling ring and the Sri Lankan government has appealed to foreign governments to find and arrest him. KP was the first top LTTE leader to acknowledge Prabhakaran's death in an army operation in Sri Lanka's north and had announced a 'provisional transnational government of Tamil Eelam' nearly a month after Sri Lanka officially declared victory over the rebels.
"The provisional transnational government of Tamil Eelam will represent the political aspirations and will be the voice and conscience of the people of Tamil Eelam in the international arena," Pathmanathan is reported to have said.
"The Eelam Tamil people are in the midst of a critical and sorrowful period in the history of the struggle for freedom of our nation, the Tamil Eelam. No one can deny the fact that we have experienced massive and irreplaceable losses, losses we would not accept even in our worst dreams," the executive committee said.
"Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka's boastful propaganda that the LTTE has been annihilated and destroyed, it is our historic duty to rise up and fight for our legitimate rights," it added.
The statement said it is "a duty that has been left in our hands by our peerless leader (Prabhakaran) and those martyred heroes and civilians who have given their lives in defending our soil."
"We, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, wish to join hands with our people in order to take forward our freedom struggle to its next phase...Honourable Mr Veluppillai Pirabakaran was then, now, and shall remain forever, the leader of Tamil Nationhood," the statement said.
Following the death of Prabakaran, there were reports that many Tamils were angry with Pathmanathan for quickly acknowledging Prabhakaran's death. The TamilNet website, seen as a mouthpiece for the LTTE rebels, had refused to carry statements from Pathmanathan.
Some media reports have cited intelligence sources as saying that it appears that a group within the LTTE was seeking to take control of the enormous monetary and other resources amassed by the Tigers over the years and mobilise the goodwill of Sri Lankan Tamils living overseas.