LTTE remains a threat to Sri Lanka- Prof. Rohan Gunaratna | Sunday Observer

LTTE remains a threat to Sri Lanka- Prof. Rohan Gunaratna

In an alleged statement, issued last week, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has claimed that they had ‘no link’ in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.

The letter signed by an alleged LTTE Political Wing representative Kurburan Guruswami and Legal Wing representative Lathan Chandralingam, was given wide coverage in the Indian media.

Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, a world authority on terrorism and insurgency is not convinced that the letter had originated from the LTTE. In an interview with the Sunday Observer he explains why, while cautioning India and Sri Lanka, that the LTTE is still a threat to their national security.

Prof.Gunaratna has authored several books on the Sri Lankan conflict including Indian intervention in Sri Lanka - the Role of India’s Intelligence Agencies. He had interviewed the ‘LTTE Leadership’ including V.Prabhakaran.

Q: LTTE Theoretician, the late Anton Balasingham at one point apologised for the assassination of former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi describing the suicide mission as a grave mistake on the part of the outfit. Given the background do you have any doubts about the authenticity of this letter allegedly attributed to the LTTE?

A: India lost three of its iconic leaders to terrorism: Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. These political assassinations shocked the nation and the international community. Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a LTTE suicide bomber Thenmuli Rajaratnam alias Dhanu, an LTTE female terrorist trained on Indian soil. India’s most respected investigators were assigned to probe these assassinations. Special Investigation Team led by D. R. Kaarthikeyan of the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) concluded that the LTTE was responsible for assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. Over the years, I have personally spoken to both Kaarthikeyan, a brilliant investigator and his able deputy the late Raju Pachauri who examined the findings that have since been made known to the public through their writings and speeches. No one of standing has disputed the findings of the investigation that was thorough and supported by credible evidence.

Q: So then, what could be the intention making the declaration that they had no hand in killing Rajiv Gandhi, a fact that was proven in a court of law years ago?

A: LTTE leaders and members arrested or surrendered both in India and Sri Lanka have provided testimony that confirm beyond reasonable doubt that Rajiv Gandhi was killed in an operation planned by the LTTE. Based on evidence, the leadership, notably Veluppillai Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief Pottu Amman were responsible for this killing. The findings were presented before a court of law and the court judgement was that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE. Prabhakaran’s closest and longest serving advisor Anton Balasingham had said, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by the LTTE. The international security and intelligence community has verified and validated the role of the LTTE in assassinating Rajiv Gandhi.

Q: Who are Kurubaran Guruswami and Lathan Chandralingam and what is their connection to the LTTE?

A: No one by the names of Kurubaran Guruswami and Lathan Chandralingam are known to have served the LTTE during its life cycle. Neither Prabhakaran nor his successor Kumaran Pathmanathan appointed Kurubaran Guruswami or Lathan Chandralingam to positions of authority in the LTTE.

Q: As an authority on counter terrorism who dedicated a good part of your time to study the LTTE, how do you view this development?

A: The LTTE remains a threat to Sri Lanka. The LTTE organisation in Sri Lanka was effectively dismantled by the Rajapaksa administration in May 2009. LTTE networks overseas in Western countries that had supported terrorism and violence in Sri Lanka remained intact until they were designated under UNSCR 1373.

With the aim of engaging the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Yahapalana Government delisted the LTTE entities on November 20, 2015.

The then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera delisted 16 organisations and 424 individuals listed by the Rajapaksa administration on March 21, 2014. The terrorist entities delisted by the then government were Global Tamil Forum (GTF), British Tamil Forum (BTF), National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), Tamil Youth Organisation (TYO), World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC), Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), and Tamil National Council (TNC).

Some of these entities revived and reignited the separatist spirit in Sri Lanka by supporting LTTE activities. They included, openly celebrating the dead terrorists, including suicide bombers, on November 26 (Mahavira day) to supporting activities to radicalize the Tamil community.

Q: How should this development be viewed by the Sri Lankan and Indian governments?

A:The LTTE presents a common threat to India and Sri Lanka. Indian and Sri Lankan Governments should work together to dismantle the LTTE infrastructure wherever it exists. The unrepentant LTTE activists overseas continue to support political violence on their soil or in Sri Lanka.

Q: Could you comment on the following reference in the letter,”the pre-planned murder of Rajiv Gandhi is the result of a conspiracy motivated by the purpose of dismantling the strong relationship between the Indian Government and the LTTE.”

A: Due to geopolitical compulsions, India maintained a strong relationship with the LTTE very briefly from mid 1983 to mid 1987. During that period India armed, trained, financed, directed and provided sanctuary to over 20,000 terrorists and insurgents.

Even during that period, there were many disagreements between New Delhi and the Sri Lankan Tamil threat groups. It is a mischaracterisation to say that the relationship between the LTTE and India was strong because the Indian objective was to advance its foreign policy objectives through these groups.

Q: Two policemen were brutally murdered in Batticaloa recently. The deaths have been blamed on the LTTE, though investigations are ongoing. What is the likelihood of a revival of LTTE violence in the North and East? Could the outfit pose a threat to SL’s security?

A: Investigations are ongoing on the killing of the two policemen in Batticaloa. Although it is too early to conclude if the killing was conducted by non-rehabilitated LTTE terrorists, there are two matters the Government should seriously consider. First, there are several hundred unrehabilitated terrorists who should be immediately rehabilitated.

They pose an imminent threat because the LTTE front, cover and sympathetic groupsoverseas delisted by the former Yahapalana administration is influencing some of them by funding them.

A segment of these groups is vulnerable to perpetrating violence either for ideological or financial reasons or both. Second, the security environment in the North and the East is lax.

The security and intelligence platform created during the Rajapaksa administration by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to prevent a revival of the LTTE was dismantled by their successors and the delisiting of fronts have enabled their activities once again. Irrespective of who is in power or who wants to return to power, whether for personal (power) or political reasons (votes), they must not play with the security of a nation. The security and intelligence platform should be restored, and delisted entities relisted based on their continuing activities to support separatism.

Q: Should the Government take these deaths seriously or can it be a prank by some criminal group not linked to the LTTE?

A: The Sri Lankan Government and the people of Sri Lanka should take the brutal killing of the two policemen very seriously. The Government needs to get its intelligence agencies (State Intelligence Service, Military Intelligence, Special Branch) to get a correct assessment of the incident and identify suspects, links and motives as a matter of priority. Law enforcement agencies need to investigate the incident and arrest the suspects, while closely liaising with intelligence agencies before another incident occurs, and prevent the fleeing of suspects.

The intelligence and law enforcing agencies also need to ensure the security of all such isolated security posts and police patrols in the North and the East in particular, as there are many lapses and lack of security concerns among the security and police personnel deployed in these areas. Such incidents also lead to jeopardizing the goodwill and harmony of communities.

The Government should stop media releases and leaking of any information regarding the investigation until the police get at the suspects. This incident could be exploited by interested parties to advance their aims, posing a serious threat to national security.

Q: Can we draw parallels of them to the actions of post 1980 LTTE, where they later grew into a ruthless terrorist outfit?

A: The political environment and security situation in Sri Lanka’s North and East is becoming similar to the early 1980s. If there is no change, in the immediate term (1-2 years) the security situation in the North and East will deteriorate and in the mid term (5 years), Sri Lanka will suffer a return to hit and run attacks. The security forces of Sri Lanka, should continue to help the Tamil community to rebuild the North and the East. They must interact, engage and empower the public rather than remain in camps and stations.

The security and intelligence services, law enforcement authorities and military forces should formally and informally educate political leaders, both of the Government and Opposition.

Equally important is to brief bureaucrats so that they would brief the politicians. Otherwise, politicians will continue to compromise national security. One must never forget that terrorism and insurgency returned in Iraq and Afghanistan after the US and coalition forces declared victory in those theatres. Sri Lanka ended one of the most brutal terrorist and insurgent campaigns in the world at great costs to the nation. Sri Lankans should not allow politicians to once again play with security.

Q: After the death of Prabhakran, and their military defeat in 2009 the LTTE split into several factions. What is the organisation’s current state of affairs?

A: The LTTE international network went into disarray after its front, cover and sympathetic organisations were designated as terrorist entities on March 21, 2014.

It was done on the basis of documents recovered from their own bases in the North and the East. But when they were delisted by the Yahapalana Government, these entities revived, and started supporting LTTE activities.

V. Rudrakumaran who worked for the premier LTTE Front in the US is one of the prominent LTTE leaders. Rudrakumaran is still the leader of TGTE (Tansnational Government of Tamil Eelam), one of these fronts are active in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.