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The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: Essential Points

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The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: Essential Points
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Arising in the mid-1970s, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have become one of the world's leading terrorist groups. Following the classic model of a 'National Liberation' movement of those years, they escalated their activities in the early 1980s to create a guerrilla force, and the resulting civil war has continued ever since.

The LTTE remain noteworthy for several reasons. These include:

   1. A history of innovative tactics and techniques. The LTTE were (until surpassed by various Palestinian groups during the 2000-04 Second Intifada) the most prolific users of suicide bombing tactics, pioneered the use of the suicide belt-bomb, and introduced many new tactics including the use of hang-gliders and ultra-light aircraft, frogmen, improvised submarines and much else.

   2. A unique use of Émigré communities to support their cause. While the use of emigrated nationals to support various homeland conflicts is an old story; the Tigers were unique in facilitating the Diaspora of Sri Lankan Tamils into Western democratic states. As hundreds of thousands of Tamils made the transition from poor refugees and newly landed immigrants to prosperous citizens, they were controlled to a degree never seen before and systemically milked for contributions to support the LTTE's war effort. Diaspora organizations that opposed Tiger perspectives were simply not allowed to exist.
   3. An immediate resort to sophisticated organized crime. There is a very long history of various insurgent movements turning to organized crime to meet their expenses and payroll; this is usually a gradual process. As the Tigers helped establish the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, they also used it as a foundation to help spread an international network of smugglers and narcotics traffickers. The vast majority of Tamil émigrés are law-abiding with little tolerance for the criminals in their own community: Yet the speed with which Tamil organized crime networks became established in the 1980s and early '90s was remarkable.
   4. Close harmonization of all aspects of the movement. Few terrorist groups act in isolation. Most have some manner of political front, arrangements for logistics, and mechanisms to raise money through legitimate and criminal means. For the LTTE ever since the early 1980s, a variety of political fronts, fundraising organizations, arms and equipment purchasing, and various criminal enterprises have always worked closely together.

On the War in Sri Lanka

Few conflicts have simple causes, and the human appetite for easily understood narratives inevitably casts the players in a conflict into roles as 'good guys' and 'bad guys', with helpless victims on the side. The reality is always different.

Sri Lanka is a complex society with complex problems. The insurgency that the Tamil Tigers began in the mid-1970s arose for a number of reasons. Some of the validations for the conflict and the Tigers' behaviour are true, as many are false. Some of the conditions that generated the conflict have changed, some never will.

As of 2001, the Sinhalese constitute 74% of Sri Lanka's population, Tamils are 18%, Muslims 7% and Burghers comprise most of the rest of the country's people.

Sri Lanka underwent major population growth after independence in 1948. The new country invested heavily in education (and many Tamils were predisposed to embrace the opportunities this presented). By the 1960s there were greater expectations among young Sinhalese and Tamils than the island could provide. In such circumstances many under-employed youth will be attracted to extremist ideologies. This included Maoism and a 1971 revolt by the Maoist young Sinhalese of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was quashed -- leaving an estimated 15,000 dead.

Frequent episodes of Sinhalese nationalism during this time also limited the ability of many Tamils to find education or employment according to their expectations and the international climate of revolutionary politics and national liberation movements had its attractions. The successful independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan (accomplished after severe repression and a major Indo-Pakistani war) was also an inspiration. In the early 1970s, some 30 Tamil independence groups had formed and five armed factions made their appearance:


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