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US arrests show LTTE's desperation

By B Raman
August 22, 2006 21:09 IST
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The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which figures on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) of the US State Department since October, 1997, has landed itself into further difficulties in the US.

This follows allegations by US law enforcement officials that persons said to be belonging to the LTTE had tried to bribe US officials in an attempt to have its name removed from the list, and to buy surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) from agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who posed as arms sellers and trapped them.

The announcement of the arrests is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it shows the desperation of the LTTE in trying to protect itself from the air strikes of the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). The use of the SLAF against the LTTE by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapakse started after the abortive attempt of the LTTE to kill Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the chief of the Sri Lankan Army, towards the end of April, 2006.

Initially, the air strikes were confined to the Eastern Province, but, since the last week of July, 2006, the SLAF planes have been repeatedly venturing out into the skies over the Northern Province too.

In the beginning, the air strikes targeted a suspected airfield of the LTTE. SLAF aircraft also provided air cover to the ships of the Sri Lankan Navy during their confrontations with the ships of the LTTE's Navy. Since the last week of July, the SLAF has been using its air strikes to provide air cover to troops of the Sri Lankan army engaged in confrontations with the LTTE in the Eastern Province and in the Jaffna area of the Northern Province.

The LTTE's anti-air capability stands considerably depleted since 2000 and its efforts to procure replenishments have not succeeded so far. It is now keeping its much reduced capability reserved for the personal protection of Prabhakaran. Unless and until it manages to procure replenishments, it would continue to lose heavily due to the increasingly successful air strikes by the SLAF.

As the SLAF gains in self-confidence in its air strikes, there is a real danger of a successful decapitation strike against Prabhakaran himself.

The only counter which the LTTE has presently is the destruction of the SLAF aircraft on the ground in the airfields from which they are operating. Through effective physical security, the SLAF has been able to prevent this so far.

The arrest of the supporters of the LTTE by the US authorities would add to the revulsion of the international community over its continuing resort to terrorism. There will be a further dilution of whatever public support it has enjoyed abroad so far.

The developments in the US would come as a shot in the arm for the Sri Lankan authorities in their counter-insurgency operations. While there is still considerable support abroad for the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils, the law of diminishing returns is likely to set in so far as the LTTE is concerned.

The LTTE is unlikely to retrieve its image so long as Prabhakaran and his close associates involved in terrorism continue to lead the organisation.

Prabhakaran has become a liability for the Tamil cause. It is high time the moderate elements in the LTTE remove Prabhakaran and his close associates and take in their hands the responsibility for the future direction of the Tamil movement.

The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora should also exercise pressure for the removal of Prabhakaran and his terrorist associates.

More news from Sri Lanka | The war in Lanka

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B Raman