- Intelligence officials say that the bombs were to be transported to Mullaitivu to stage an attack to mark the Black Tiger day on July 5
- Australian Tamil Congress was previously listed as a banned LTTE entity by the Sri Lankan government under UN Security Council resolution 1373
- Sri Lanka can look into measures adopted by countries such as Singapore against polarizing ethnic discourse
On July 3, a minor explosion ripped through a white-walled house in Iyakachchi, about 25km from Kilinochchi. It was the residence of Thangarajah Thevathasan, also known as Menon, an ex-member of the LTTE’s intelligence wing, and his school teacher wife. Menon, who was also a bomb expert in his days with the Tigers, had been testing an improvised explosive device in a sardine tin when it accidentally went off. Seriously injured, he was rushed to Kilinochchi hospital and was later transferred to the Anuradhapura hospital. He succumbed to injuries on July 8. The bomb disposal units later recovered three locally made bombs and a banner commemorating the Black Tigers. His wife and two others were arrested by the TID and currently held under the detention orders.
Intelligence officials say that the bombs were to be transported to Mullaitivu to stage an attack to mark the Black Tiger day on July 5. The accidental explosion foiled the plot. The ex-Tiger was acting on the behest of an LTTE member domiciled in France.
On July 5, an emerging Tamil fringe, led by MK Sivajilingam, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Sivagnanam Shritharan commemorated the Black Tiger day in Nelliady Madhya Maha Vidyalayam. The very location, where the first Black Tiger, Vallipuram Vasanthan, known in his nom de guerre, Captain Miller drove an explosive-laden truck 33 years ago, killing 40 soldiers. Another night vigil was held at Jaffna University. In Sydney, Australian MP Huge McDermott attended a Black Tiger commemoration event organized by the Australian Tamil Congress. The event was presided over by ex-LTTE cadres, Salkillai and ex-Sea Tigers’ training teacher, Vetharasa Dinesh, both lit up the memorial flame. Garlanded photos of 346 slain suicide cadres were in display.
The Australian Tamil Congress was previously listed as a banned LTTE entity by the Sri Lankan government under UN Security Council resolution 1373. It was later de-listed in 2015. Elsewhere in Europe, ceremonies were held in Bobigny in France, Bern in Switzerland, Essen in Germany and Denmark.
The Black Tigers, the suicide wing of the LTTE, were the ultimate force multipliers of the LTTE’s deadly arsenal. Black sea tigers sank one-third of Navy fleet during the war. Suicide cadres targeted both military and non-military targets, bombing the economic nerve centres, and election rallies, killing a former Indian PM, a Sri Lankan President, wiped out the entire frontline leadership of the UNP. Embryonic Air Black Tigers flew night-time raids in Colombo. In July 2008, the LTTE declared that 356 Black Tigers had been killed in suicide missions, 254 of them in sea operations. Scores perished in the final year, trying to push back the Sri Lankan government military offensive.
Black Tigers are suicide terrorists. It would have caused outrage had the Islamists commemorated the 19 hijackers of 9/11 attacks and politicians placating to ethnic vote graced the event. The members of the current government and their fellow travellers cried blue murder when the Tamils were allowed to remember their war dead in Mullivaikkal. However, mourning the dead loved ones is different from celebrating suicide terrorism. Especially when the LTTE cultivated a cult hysteria of martyrdom through elaborate rituals venerating the fallen cadre, which effectively was the prime driver for the membership of its suicide wing.
The government should draw a line between that poisonous ideology and the legitimate right to remembrance. That cannot be achieved by naïve liberal democratic defence of dissent (even if it is about celebrating dead suicide terrorists) or full- blooded Sinhala nationalist hysteria. It is a delicate choice. However, Sri Lanka can look into measures adopted by countries such as Singapore against polarizing ethnic discourse - thought the same yardstick may not serve in the other aspects of democratic dissent and civic participation.
The government is also considering to re-list a number of diaspora groups as banned LTTE front groups under the UN Security Council Resolution 1373. In March 2014, the then government of Mahinda Rajapaksa listed the LTTE and 15 organisation and 400 individuals as ‘banned LTTE foreign terrorist front organizations’ and ‘LTTE terrorists’. The List included Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, Tamil Coordination Committee, British Tamil Forum, World Tamil Movement, Canadian Tamil Congress, Australian Tamil Congress, Global Tamil Forum, National Council of Australian Tamils, Tamil National Council, Tamil Youth Organization, World Tamil Coordinating Committee, Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, Tamil Eelam People’s Assembly, World Tamil Relief Fund, Headquarters Group, and individuals such as Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan, Fr. S.J. Emmanuel, V. Rudrakumar and Sekarampillai Vinayakamoorthy alias Vinayagam.
In November, following year, the newly elected Yahapalana government de-listed eight groups: Global Tamil Forum, British Tamil Forum, National Council of Canadian Tamils,Tamil Youth Organization, World Tamil Coordinating Committee, Canadian Tamil Congress, Australian Tamil Congress and Tamil National Council.
The government is reportedly considering the relisting of these groups. The idea of de-listing these groups by the Yahapalanaya was that it would facilitate the reconciliation process. Some of the members sought to cooperate with the government. Yet, the essential anti-Sri Lankan narrative of these groups remained intact. The new administration seems to believe a better way to deal with these groups is taking the high road. However, it would still help if it does not push diaspora members who desire genuine reconciliation to the shadows.
The premature explosion in Iyakachchi, however, is a concern. It echoes another overlooked early warning sign: The discovery of bomb-making materials in Wanathawillu leading up to the Easter Sunday attack in January 2019. This government is better equipped in personalities and outlook to safeguard national security. However, the Black Tiger day bomb plot was laid bare only by an accident, and not by an active intelligence operation. That may also reveal a lacuna in security measures. This does not mean to call for ultra-intrusive intelligence and military activities, which could backfire.
However, each collective tragedy of the independent history was in the making for long enough time. The aborted blast in Iyakachchi should not be a precursor of another one in the making.
Follow @RangaJayasuriya on twitter