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Interview with Black Tigers : Obsession with death

by Frances Bulathsinghala reporting from Vanni 

The mother of the first LTTE suicide cadre Wasanthan

He is thirty-three years old and death lurks in a capsule round his neck. Worn on a cord, he fingers the cyanide capsule with reverence. To someone not familiar with the psychology of the Black Tigers, the suicide force of the LTTE, this adornment worn in a purportedly peaceful atmosphere seems incongruous. However to D. P. Lawrence, bearing the rank of Captain and attired in the black LTTE outfit complete with the black cap that bears the Tiger emblem, the cyanide is a talisman that has to be attached to him during both war and peace.

It is my honour to have to consume it. I wait for the signal from my leader. If he bids that I die, I die.

His words are the answers one might get in a press interview conducted in the height of war, (in a war carried out in LTTE guerrilla style). It is decidedly difficult to convince Lawrence that it is PEACE and that there is no NEED to die. I try.

There is no need for you to die. Your leader in his statements last year before media persons around the globe stated that he was happy that the ushering in of peace spared the lives of both the Tamils and the Sinhalese youth. Could you speak of what the Black Tigers role would be in a set up where the LTTE hopes to take on administrative powers in the future establishment of an Interim Council.

D. P. Lawrence who bears the LTTE Black Tiger rank of ‘Captain’

Our role is to sacrifice our lives. It is still not peace. We have to be convinced,says Lawrence who halts the interview for two reasons; one - he has decided to call his superiors to verify either of his answers; two - he has to officiate the opening ceremony held last Sunday morning at the Nelliady College, Jaffna premises to commemorate the Black Tigers' day celebrating the first LTTE suicide attack carried out at the location in 1987 by the 20-year-old Wasanthan (Miller, according to the LTTE identification).

Lawrence, along with another Black Tiger member, Amithab, ushers in around fifty male suicide cadres in civil attire, female cadres in their semi civil uniform and another host of higher grade students, both male and female, in coloured dress. A child of two years toddles along with a bunch of flowers and scatters it around the gold hued statue of Wasanthan while Lawrence with all the dignity he can muster as Captain of his cyanide ornamented team, stands in front of the flagstaff.

A recorded trumpet sound is played and Lawrence begins to hoist the Tiger flag with its red background with the emblem of the Tiger with fangs bared in the centre. While the Tiger flag flutters against the sky, all the LTTE members present take their oaths with a salute that resembles the Facist Nazi salute.

'Our vigour cannot be suppressed. We will not let our martyrs down by cowardice, thunders Amithab addressing those present while a civil-clad University Student Union member extols the virtues of the Black Tigers.

Once the ceremonies are over, Lawrence resumes the interview, pointing out that he was in his teens when he decided to Join the LTTE. Lawrence is four years younger than Wasanthan (Miller) would have been today if he lived.

Peace. PEACE. The word has to be stressed to Lawrence to get him to comment on the difference it is to be a Black Tiger in peace where one lives (he corrects me by replacing the word exists).

There is no difference. We the Black Tigers will continue to maintain our integrity as a group which lays down our lives for a cause.'

Decidedly, Lawrence has an obsession with death.

So far two hundred and forty Black Tigers have sacrificed their lives. It is death we welcome. It is our greatest honour. Before a completion of a cause we are given the blessing of our leader and we know that we have done our duty.

I decide to be rather verbose in getting him to talk of LIFE.

Q. You speak of your mission in an arena or war. Could you specify how you look at the future in a country of peace where young people of both divides would not have to die but could live in harmony for the benefit of this country.

A. We die for our land. Tamil Eelam

Q. Your leader and your theoretician have publicly, both within and outside the country, stated that the demand for Eelam was a last resort, if the Government does not provide an alternative. With the discussions for a Federal structure, would you not like to live and be productive to both your organization and the land (he interrupts with the phrase the Northern land of Tamils) by being alive?

A. We will do as the situation arises.

Q. Do you not think that the situation now has called for the nurturing of life rather than death?

A member of the Black Tigers renews his oath at the Black Tiger’s Day last Sunday.

A. Life and death are the same to the Black tigers. This is our oath. My brother too is in the LTTE. It is when Major General Kobbekaduwa began the Operation Liberation that the LTTE planned the strategy for the suicide attack by Miller.

Q. Have you ever felt a spark of sympathy for those of the other side, the young people whom you were pledged to kill during the war?

A. They are the Sinhala Army. They shelled us. We did our duty. We always do our duty.

He is vague when asked about his family details. Finally he answers that his family are the members of the Black Tigers, but also adds that all LTTE members are Black Tigers. The only detail he gives of his parents is to say they were displaced from Jaffna in 1995.

All of us who join the LTTE make the pledge to lay our lives for the cause of our organization. Here, I interrupt him again and ask the question about the recent killings of anti-LTTE Tamil persons.

The answer is that the military and the government should apprehend the perpetrators and provide proof that it is the LTTE who are the murderers.

Once again struck by the intricate ability inherent in most of the LTTE members in avoiding a direct answer, I give up cross questioning him and ask instead what his professional ambitions would have been if there was no war, and perhaps no LTTE, half expecting to be told that he would have had a penchant for the legal profession. His answer is that he was born to a Tiger. And what would his born to be a Tiger instincts lead him in a day of complete peace? Then I would do what my leader would want me to do, when the day arises. His reply is prompt and Vellupillai Prabhakaran could be happy that at least in the eyes of his Black Tigers he is a liberator.

The mother of the first LTTE suicide member (martyr is the name preferred by the Tigers) shares opinions which strike one as being different to that thundered out by the LTTE during the celebrations of Black Tigers' day last Sunday.

'We do not want young people to die. Whether it is Sinhalese or Tamils. We are mothers. We do not want any shelling any more. We want the right to live with our rights. Kamala Devi, the sixty-three-year old mother of Wasanthan in an exclusive interview with the writer said.

Her answers were very different to her public comments at the celebrations of the commemoration, July 05 evening in Jaffna where the region took on the signs of a carnival with Tamil liberation songs being blared by loud speakers in all areas of the North East. The picture of Kamala Devi's son hangs on the wall in her house in Nelliady where he grew up. The picture of Wasanthan is the first photograph we see of the young LTTE hero. Every roadside poster and banner commemorating Wasanthan's act of driving a lorry load of explosives into the Nelliady College military camp during the height of the twenty-year-old war, killing over thirty military personnel, depicts a sketched face which act as the Black Tiger logo.

He was a good driver. That is how he first came to join the LTTE. He volunteered as a driver for the LTTE while studying for his Advance Level examination at the Hartly College, Jaffna, specializing in Mathematics. He was a brave boy even in his babyhood.

His late father initially wanted him to take after him by joining the bank, she adds, speaking of the aspirations of Wasanthan's father, Thambu, who was in the late 80s, the Bank of Ceylon Manager of the Point Pedro branch in Jaffna.

'I would have liked a better future for him but it was his duty,' adds a non-teary Kamala Devi, in what seems as a last resort to speak like the mother of a Black Tiger.

She adds that she had sent her second son who was also a LTTE helper abroad for studies in the engineering stream soon after the death of Wasanthan. However, her manner changes to that of a resolute mother of a martyr at the entrance of her well-maintained house when two LTTE female suicide cadres visit her to speak of the arrangements later that evening to commemorate her son's death anniversary.

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