The Birth of the Tiger Movement Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Tamileelam National Flag
Anton S. Balasingham
The revolutionary ardour of the Tamil youth, which manifested in the form of indiscriminate outbursts of political violence in the early seventies, sought concrete political expression in an organisational structure built on a revolutionary political theory and practice. Neither the Tamil United Front nor the Left movement offered any concrete political venue to the revolutionary potential of the rebellious youth.
The political structure of the Tamil United Front. founded on a conservative bourgeois ideology could not provide the basis for the articulation of revolutionary politics. It became very clear to the Tamil masses and particularly to the revolutionary youth that the Tamil nationalist leaders, though they fiercely championed the cause of the Tamils, have failed to formulate any concrete practical programme of political action to liberate the oppressed Tamil nation. Having exhausted all forms of popular struggle for the last three decades, having been alienated from the power structure of the Sinhala State, the Tamil politicians still clung onto Parliament to air their disgruntlement which went unheard, unheeded like vain cries in the wilderness.
The strategy of the traditional Left parties was to collaborate with the Sinhala capitalist class and therefore their theoretical perspective was subsumed by the hegemonic ideology of that dominant class; which was none other than chauvinism. This suicidal class collaboration made the Left leaders to turn a blind eye to the stark realities of national oppression; it made them to ignore the revolutionary conditions generated by the Tamil national struggle; it made them incapable of mobilising the revolutionary aspirations of the Tamil militants.
Confronted with this political vacuum and caught up in a revolutionary situation created by the concrete conditions of intolerable national oppression the Tamil revolutionary youth sought desperately to create a revolutionary political organisation to advance the task of national liberation. It was in this specific political conjuncture the Tiger Movement took its historical birth in 1972.
The movement was formed by its present leader and military commander Velupillai Pirabaharan. At the time of its inauguration the movement called itself The Tamil New Tigers and later on 5th May 1976 the organisation renamed .itself as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. From its iinception the Tiger movement took into its ranks the most resolute, the most dedicated most zealous young Revolutionaries.
Structured as an urban guerilla force, discipilined with an iron will to fight for the cause of national freedom, the Tigers emerged as the armed resistance movement of the oppressed Tamil masses. As a revolutionary liberation movement it provided a concrete organisational base to the insurrectionary spirit of the rebellious youth and soon established itself as the armed vanguard of the national struggle. The Tiger’s commitment to armed struggle as the form of popular mass struggle was undertaken after a careful and cautious, appraisal of the objective conditions of the national struggle, with the fullest comprehension of the concrete situation in which the masses of people were presented with no other alternative other than to resort to revolutionary resistance to advance their national cause.
Prabakaran, the leader of the Tiger Movement, is an ardent young revolutionary, born on the 26th November 1951, in the coastal town of Valvettiturai, a place famous for its militancy against Sinhala State repression. Ho was drawn into revolutionary politics when he was sixteen, and earned the name ‘Thamby’ amongst the co-revolutionaries as he was very young. Pirabaharan represented the aspirations of the rebellious Tamil youth who, having become disenchanted with the failures of non-violent political campaigns, resolved to fight back the barbarous form of state violence perpetrated on their people. Pirabaharan soon organised a politico-military structure which found an organisational expression to the revolutionary ardour of these militant youth. Showing an extra-ordinary talent in planning military strategy and tactics and executing them to the amazement of the enemy. Pirabaharan soon became a symbol of Tamil resistance and the Tiger Movement he founded became the revolutionary movement to spearhead the Tamil national liberation struggle.
Ideologically bound to the revolutionary theory and practice of Marxism and Leninism, our movement firmly believes that its commitment to armed struggle is not an alternative to mass movement. The revolutionary armed resistance must be sustained and supported by the mobilised masses. The invincible power of the organised masses, we believe, must be activated as the force of popular resistance. Adopting Lenin’s teaching that armed struggle ‘must he ennobled by the enlightening and organising influence of socialism’, our movement has chartered its political programme integrating the national struggle with class struggle defining our ultimate objective as national liberation and socialist revolution. With the conviction that armed struggle is the highest expression of political practice and must be channeled into a process of socialist revolution, the Tiger movement, from its earliest stages, engaged in developing and building political and military bases among the popular masses.
A Mandate for Secession
The emergence of the Tiger Movement marked a new historical epoch in the nature and structure of the Tamil national struggle extending the dimension of the agitation to popular armed resistance. While our Movement was engaged in organising and developing its politico-military structure, great events of extra-ordinary political significance began to unfold in the Tamill political domain. It was the time when national oppression assumed such severity and harshness that made joint existence between the two nations intolerable and impossible.
It was at the peak of this national oppression, when secession became the inevitable political destiny of the Tamil nation, the Tamil United Front called for a national convention in May 1976 at Vaddukoddai where a historical resolution was unanimously adopted calling for complete political independence of the Tamil nation. It was at this conference that Tamil United Front changed it name to Tamil United Liberation Front. The convention outrightly condemned the Republican Constitution of 1972, which “has made the Tamils a slave nation ruled by the new colonial masters the Sinhalese who are using the power they usurped to deprive the Tamil nation of its territory, language citizenship, economic life, opportunities of employment and education thereby destroying all the attributes of nationhood of the Tamil people”. The convention resolved that “restoration and reconstitution of the tree, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right to self determination inherent o every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation in this country”.
The General Elections of July 1977 became a crucial testing ground for the secessionist cause of the Tamil United Liberation Front. The T.IJ.L.F. asked for a clear mandate from the people to wage a national struggle for secession and accordingly the Front explicitly stated in the Manifesto:
.Hence the Tamil United Liberation Front seeks in the general election the mandate of the Tamil Nation to establish an independent sovereign’ secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam that includes all the geographically contiguous areas that have been the traditional homelands of the Tamil speaking people in this country”.
The Manifesto further stated:
“The Tamil Nation must take the decision to establish its sovereignty in its homeland art the basis of its right to self -determination. The only way to announce this decision to the Sinhalese Government and to the world is to vote for the Tamil United Liberation Front”.
The Manifesto finally pledged
“The Tamil speaking representatives who get elected through these votes, while being members of the National State Assembly of Ceylon, will also form themselves into the ‘NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF TAMIL EELAM which will draft a constitution for the State of Tamil Eelam and to establish the independence of Tamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle”.
In reference to the Tamil question the verdict at the elections was very crucial. It was fought precisely on a decision to secede. In a political sense, it assumed the character of a plebiscite, a public expression of a nation’s will. The Tamil speaking people voted overwhelmingly in favour of secession, or rather, the people of Tamil Eelam exercised through a democratic political practice, their right to self -determination, their right to secede and form an independent State of their own. Thus, the Tamil question assumed a new dimension. Its no longer a question to be resolved by District Councils or by Federal system, nor by negotiations and pacts. It is no longer a question to bargain for concessions. It has become a question of national self-determination, a question of an inalienable right of a nation of people to decide their own political destiny. The Tamil nation did proclaim its determination to he an independent sovereign State, and this national will was articulated through a popular democratic practice. This was the specific mandate given to the T.U.L.F. leadership, an authentic irreversible mandate stamped with the popular will, a mandate to establish an independent sovereign socialist State of Tamil Eeelam.
The Repression and Resistance
The General Elections of 1977 resulted in a massive victory for the extreme right-wing United National Party (U.N.P,) with nearly 85 of the seats in Parliament. The traditional Left Parties were completely wiped out without a single seat, and the Tamil United Liberation Front, for the first time in Ceylon’s political history, became the leading opposition Party in Parliament. The stage was set for a confrontation; the Tamils demanding secession and separate existence as a sovereign State and the Sinhala racist ruling Party seeking absolute State power to dominate arid subjugate the will of the Tamil nation to live free. The intensity of this contradiction took its manifest form soon after the elections into a racial holocaust unprecedented in its violence towards the Tamils.
In this island wide racial conflagration hundreds of Tamils were mercilessly massacred and millions worth of Tamil property was destroyed and thousands of them made refugees. The State police and the armed forces openIy colluded with the hooligans in their gruesome acts of arson, looting, rape and mass murder. Instead of containing the racist violence that was ravaging the whole island, the Government leaders made inflammatory statements with racist connotations that added fuel to the fire. It was the Tamil plantation workers who bore the brunt of this racial onslaught. 17,000 of them became refugees and sought asylum in the Tamil areas of the North and Fast.
The racial horror had a profound impact on Tamil political thinking. While it hardened the militancy of the revolutionary youth, it exposed the political impotency of the Tamil bourgeois leadership, who, having failed to fulfill its pledges to the people. sought a collaborationist strategy to placate the Sinhala leaders. Jayawardane in his Machiavellian shrewdness soon realised that T.U.L.F. leaders were not serious in their secessionist demand but sought alternative to deceive the Tamil masses.
The real threat of secession, the Government thought, arose from the militant Tamil youths who are unappeasable, irreconcilable and committed to the core to the goal of an independent socialist Tamil Eelam. The new regime, therefore, utilised all means to crush the revolutionary youth, the very ground from where the cry for political freedom emanated. The Government thus embarked on a ruthless policy of repression, delegating extra-powers to the police and military to clamp down on the Tamil youth. Caught up in a revolutionary situation and constantly victimised by the Police the young Tamil revolutionaries were forced to resist the State repression. The dialectic of repression and resistance began to unfold into a deadly national struggle ushering the armed people’s war that opened a new dimension in the freedom movement of the Eelam Tamils.
Tiger Movement comes to limelight
On the 7th April 1978, a police raiding party headed by the notorious torturer Inspector Bastiampillai suddenly surrounded a Tiger training camp deep into the northern jungle and held the guerrillas at gun point. One of our commando leaders. Lieutenant Che!vanayagam (alias Aman) tactfully swooped on a police officer, snatched his 5MG and gunned down the police party. Inspector Bastiampillai (do), Sub-Inspector Perambalam, Police Constable Balasingham and Police driver Siriwardana were all killed. Our geurrilla Unit sustained no casualities. The incidents alarmed the Government but created euphoria among the Tamils since it signified the first major incident of armed resistance against the repressive state apparatus.
On the 25th April 1978, the Tiger movement for the first time officially claimed responisibitity for the annihilation of the raiding party and the earlier killings of Police officers and Tamil traitors. Thus, the Tiger Movement came to limelight announcing itself to the world as the revolutionary resistant movement of the Tamils committed to the goal of national liberation of Tamil Eelam through armed struggle. The Sinhala Government reacted swiftly by enacting a law proscribing the Tiger movement. The Government also poured into Tamil areas large contingents of armed units for the ‘Tiger hunt’ and brought the Tamil nation under total military occupation.
Having intensified the military repression in Tamil Eelam, Jayawardane introduced a new constitution on the 7th September 1978, which bestowed upon him absolute dictatorial executive powers and gave Sinhala language and Buddhist religion extra-ordinary status, and relegated a second-class status to the Tamil language. While the Tamil Parliamentary Party failed in its duty to register any mass protest, the Tiger movement brought the matter to the attention of the international community by blowing up an AVRO aircraft, the only passenger plane owned by the national airline (Air Ceylon). The incident was a humiliation to the Government but boosted the moral of the Tamil freedom movement.
The Tigers stepped up the campaign by raiding a Government bank (Tinnevely People’s Bank) on the 5th December 1978 appropriating 1.68 million rupees of state money. In this daring daylight raid two police officers were shot dead and another seriously wounded Our guerrilla fighters escaped without any casualty, taking away the weapons from the enemy.
To stamp out the growing armed resistance the Government took draconian measures. On the 20th July 1979 Jayawardane’s racist regime enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which contained the most infamous provisions that contravened the very principles of the Rule of Law and violated the norms of human justice. This notorious law denied trial by jury, enabled the detention of people for a period of eighteen months and allowed confessions extracted under torture as admissable in evidence.
Having enacted the law the Government declared a State of Emergency in Jaffna the northern Tamil capital and dispatched more military units to Tamil areas under the command of Brigadier Weeratunga with special instructions to wipe out ‘terrorism’ within six months. Empowered by law and encouraged by the State, the fascist Brigadier unleashed military terror unprecedented in its violence. Hundreds of innocent youths were arrested arid subjected to barbarous torture and several of them were shot dead and their dead bodies were dumped on the road side. Their oppressive measures caused massive outcry all over the world and the Terrorism Act brought universal condemnation by the world human rights movements particularly by the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International.
Tigers step up guerrilla campaign
The political events that unfolded since 1981 involved massive genocidal onslaughts on the life and property of the Tamil community and increased guerrilla campaigns of our liberation movement.
On the midnight of 31st May 198!, the Sinhala police went on a wild rampage burning down the city of Jaffna This state terrorism exploded into a mad frenzy of arson. looting and murder. Hundreds of shops were burnt to ashes, the Jaffna market square was set on flames. A Tamil newspaper office and Jaffna M.P.’s house were gutted. The most abominable act of cultural genocide was the burning down of the famous Jaffna public library destroying more than 90,000 volumes of invaluable literary and historical works an act that outraged the conscience of the world Tamils. The whole episode was master minded by two Cabinet Ministers (Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake) of Jayawardane’s regime who were in Jaffna during the riots and were supervising the orgy of police violence.
An island wide racial conflagration flared up again just three months after the burning of Jaffna, a racial onslaught on the Tamils organised by leading members of the Government, assisted by the armed forces, and executed by gangs of Sinhala thugs and hooligans. And again our people became the cruel victims of Sinhala racist barbarity; victims of insane sadistic orgy, victims of arson, looting, rape and murder. Hundreds of our people, including women and children were slaughtered, thousands of them made homeless and millions worth of Tamil property destroyed.
The repetitive pattern of this organised violence that brought colossal damage in terms of life and property to our people signified the genocidal intent underlying this horrid phenomenon. The objective of the chauvinistic ruling class is nothing other than to inflict maximum injury to the Tamils to terrorise, subjugate and destroy the aspirations of our people for political independence. Yet more and more the oppression intensified the determination of our people became more and more hardened with an iron will to resist the forces of repression. As the consequence of heightened repression the resistance of the freedom fighters increased with such a vehemence that it caused the destabilisation of the Sinhala state and disrupted the civil administrative system in Tamil Eelam.
On the 2nd July 1982 the Tiger guerrillas launched a lightening attack on a police patrolling party at Nelliady, Jaffna, killing four police officers on the spot. Three police personnel were seriously injured.
Another major incident of guerrilla attack that shook the Sinhaha police system was the successful raid on the well-guarded Chavakachcheri Police station. On the early morning of 27th October 1982 a Tiger guerrilla unit commanded by Lieutenant Lucas Charles Antony (alias Aseer) launched a well planned sudden attack on the Police station, killing three police officers and injuring several others. The rest of the police personnel fled in terror. From the Police armoury we raided thirty-three pieces of weaponary – nineteen repeater guns, nine 303 rifles, two sub-machine guns, two shot guns and one revolver. Two of our guerrilla members sustained minor injuries. This successful guerrilla raid forced the Government to close down almost all the Police stations in the North and the Police administrative system became paralysed.
On the 18th February 1983 our freedom fighters shot and killed Police Inspector Wijewardane and his jeep driver Rajapaksa of Point Pedro Police station. Inspector Wijewardane is notorious for Police repression in that area.
On the 4th March 1983 at Umaiyalpuram, Paranthan, our guerrilla fighters ambushed an army convoy and in the gun battle that ensued several army personnel were seriously injured and the rest fled in fear. In that ambush two armoured cars were damaged.
On the 2nd April 1983 the Tigers blasted the Jaffna Secretariat building by bombs. Just a few hours before a Government organised ‘security conference’ to discuss ways and means to crush the Tiger movement. The blast caused extensive damage to the building and destroyed all State documents. Several Government jeeps were set on fire.
On the 29th April 1983, the Liberation Tigers assassinated three prominent supporters of the ruling United National Party on the same day, as a warning to all Tamil traitors who supported the racist Government. Two of them were U.N.P. candidates for the local elections (F. V. Ratnasingham of Point Pedro and S. S. Muthiah of Chavakachcheri) and the other, S. S. Rajaratnam, a long time U.N.P. supporter, and the body-guard of lJ.N.P’s Jafina organiser K. Ganeshalingam As a direct consequence of this action all the Tamil U.N.P. candidates withdrew from the elections and several Tamils resigned from the ruling party.
Tiger’s Political Campaign Succeeds
Responding to a mass campaign launched by our movement the majority of the Tamil people hymn predominately in the northern province staged a mass boycott of local elections on the 18th May 1983.
Such a mass boycott of elections, unprecedented in the political history of the Tamils, constitutes a great political and propaganda victory for the Tiger Movement. The T.U.L.F. which defied the Tiger appeal, suffered an insulting humiliation and irreparably damaged its political image, when 90% of the voters in the North rejected the Party’s appeal to vote. The boycott was called by the Tigers, who, for the first time, launched an effective popular campaign appealing to the people to shun the local government elections as a mark of disapproval and rejection of the racist State system that has imposed a reign of terror and repression against the Tamils.
V. Pirabaharan chairman and the military commander of the Tiger Movement in a statement widely circulated among the people called upon the Tamils to ‘reject the civil administrative machinery of the Sri Lankan state terrorists and join the popular armed struggle directed towards national emancipation’. He also accused the reactionary bourgeois political Party, the Tamils United Liberation Front. as functioning as agents of the Sinhala racist regime and utilise the slogan of ‘freedom’ to win the elections.
On the day of elections (18th May ’83) just before the voting started, time bombs planted by our movement exploded at five polling booths in the Tamil city of Jaffna causing panic and havoc among the armed forces. On the same day, an hour before the polling ended Liberation Tiger guerrillas opened fire with machine guns on the army arid police units guarding a polling booth at NaIlur, Jaffna, killing an army corporal and seriously wounding a soldier and two policemen. As a consequence of guerrilla attacks, the Government imposed a state of national emergency.
Reasons for the Recent Holocaust
The causality that underlies the recent holocaust is manifold. It is absurd to assume that our guerrilla ambush on the midnight of 23rd July 1983 that killed fourteen Sinhala soldiers and seriously wounded several others precipitated the calamity. Riots had already exploded at Trincomalee weeks before the guerrilla ambush. Aided by the military, masses of Sinhala hooligans went on a wild rampage at Trincomalee massacring innocent Tamil people and burning down their houses. Under the cover of Emergency and Curfew the military openly colluded with the Sinhala vandals in an orgy of arson, looting and murders.
An all out genocidal assault on the Tamils living in Colombo has been pro-planned by Sinhala fascist groups led by leading members of the ruling party. The recent outburst, unprecedented in its destructive horror, is therefore certainly an open manifestation of a genocidal programme hatched by the fascist leadership as the Hitlerian ‘final solution’ to the Tamil national question.
There are two basic reasons for the ruling Sinhala bourgeoisie to let loose a genocidal repression on Tamils. Firstly, to divert the mass attention from a deepening economic crisis brought about by a dependent neo-colonial economy which has reduced the Sri Lankan Government as a perpetual beggar to western imperialist aid-giving agencies. The popular resentment that has been accumulating from massive inflation and mass unemployment as a consequence of a disastrous economic policy has been constantly diverted and channelled as anti-Tamil hysteria. Secondly, the massacre of Tamils on a genocidal scale the Sinhala fascist ruling class always conceived as the only solution to the national question. Mass killings and massive destruction of property, these fascists wrongly assumed, may humble the Tamils and wipe out the Tamil national freedom struggle.
LTTE & Terrorism
“A situation of armed violence may be either armed conflict or terrorism but legally cannot be both. Armed conflict automatically invokes the Geneva Conventions. Terrorism invokes criminal law. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are an actual combat group, fully uniformed, occupying territory, engaging in sustained and concerted military operations with an identifiable chain of command and using the methods and materiel of armed conflict. Whether the war is viewed as one in the defense of the right to self-determination (I think it is) or a civil war, the minimum test for a war is clearly met… Using the “terrorism” label against the LTTE.. creates a huge problem if one wishes to “negotiate…””