Sri Lanka Tamil Tigers say struggle for separate state will continue from exile

June 17, 2009

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

Almost a month after their devastating defeat by the Sri Lankan Army, the Tamil Tigers’ last few surviving leaders have announced that the rebel group will be reborn as a separatist movement in exile.

In an e-mailed audio file that has flown around the Tamil diaspora, the rebels’ head of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said that the group was reorganising to pursue its goal of a separate Tamil state from outside Sri Lanka. “The struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam has reached a new stage,” he said. “It is time now for us to move forward with our political vision towards our freedom.”

Mr Pathmanathan gave no indication that the group would renounce violence but announced the establishment of a “provisional transnational government of Tamil Eelam”, which would decide on a course of action “within democratic principles”. Tamil Eelam is the name given by the Tigers to the north and eastern areas of Sri Lanka to which they lay claim.

Mr Pathmanathan, who is wanted by Interpol in connection with his role as the Tigers’ main arms smuggler, is one of a handful of senior cadres who escaped annihilation last month because he is based overseas.

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The Tamil diaspora, a community of millions from Canada to Australia, has been crucial in financing the rebel movement, donating millions of dollars, much of it for weapons. Some Tamils in Sri Lanka have condemned the diaspora for its support of an undemocratic regime which its members did not have to live under.

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tiger leader killed during the offensive in May, resisted democratic reform of his movement, posing a key obstacle to the peace process which was finally abandoned in 2006, heralding the return to war.

After the Tigers’ military defeat some supporters overseas said that they were waiting for word of what would happen to the movement in order to decide how to channel their money.

The Tigers are a banned terrorist group in most Western countries. Last week the founder of the British Tamil Association was sentenced to two years in jail for illegally procuring electrical components for the group.

Almost 300,000 Tamil civilians who had been trapped in the war zone are now interned in military-run camps in northern Sri Lanka. The Government says they must stay there until they can be “screened” for links to the Tigers — although Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary has suggested that all Tamils could be considered as being “with” the Tigers “at least mentally”.

The United Nations has called on the Sri Lankan Government to allow full humanitarian access to the camps.International human rights groups have called for an independent inquiry into war crimes allegedly committed by both sides during the final assault in May. A Times investigation last month found that more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed, most of them during government shelling.

Yesterday government officials revealed that the only human rights investigation into the war had been disbanded with more than half of its cases unresolved. The inquiry was established two years ago under international pressure and was assigned 16 cases of alleged abuses by both sides, including the execution-style killings of 17 aid workers from the French group Action Contre la Faim.

In March last year a team of international observers on the commission resigned saying the Government lacked the will to investigate the abuse claims.

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