Tiger civil service
There is many a paradox in the 19-year-long separatist war between
Government troops and guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
want it to help people, says Thamilchelvan
Why the LTTE was demanding an Interim Administration and was
collecting taxes in the Wanni and the East was spelt out by
its Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilchelvan, in an interview
with The Sunday Times.
to questions he gave on a variety of issues appeared last
week. Here are his comments on the need for an Interim Administration
and collecting taxes:
INTERIM ADMINISTRATION: This is the process of a de
facto administration becoming a real one. Even during the
hectic days of war, when there was devastation, an economic
embargo was in full force, when the people lost their livelihood,
their bread winners and all that, it is our organization that
took care of them. Our organisation set up various mechanisms,
despite limited resources, to have some form of administration
that would emancipate the people. We had to solve the problems
of the people since it is for them that the freedom war is
becomes meaningless if the people are allowed to perish under
an economic embargo. Therefore, it became necessary for us
to place mechanisms that would provide a semblance of normalcy
in their day-to-day lives. It was necessary for us to do it.
Administration, if ever that comes, is a process of elaborating
or extending the present structure, the infrastructure, introducing
advanced and new methods to solve people's problems. As I
said, the mechanism is already in place though resources are
limited. An Interim Administration, with a fiscal side, will
make it very much easier for us to go ahead. Already (the
de facto) process has been going on during more than one and
half decades of devastation caused by war and the economic
reality is part of a solution to the problem. When one shies
away from reality, the ground reality, we are only trying
to cover up things under the carpet and not solve the problem.
If one sees the problem per se and then try to find a solution,
we have gone half way in solving it.
OF TAXES: It is true there are legalistic arguments
about the fiscal policies. In reality, the fact is that the
Liberation Tigers remain the ad hoc legislators and rulers
of 60 per cent of the land mass and the people living there
in the North and East. In other words, a de facto administration
is in place.
were to go through the Wanni and the Jaffna peninsula, they
would have seen and satisfied themselves that there remains
an administration in place, a mechanism to provide the people
what they need. The Government has denied this to our people.
Though lawful citizens of the country, they have been subject
to an economic embargo.
Tigers had to take into account these problems and tackle
them. Therefore a system of taxation, whatever term one would
like to label it, is an essential ingredient in the running
of this administration.
One that is
more glaring, than others, was in the mid eighties. For over seven
long years, barring an interlude when the Indian Peace Keeping Force
(IPKF) was holding sway in the North and East, the LTTE ran a virtual
parallel civil administration in the Jaffna peninsula.
Funds for its
working, to run public utilities like health, education, agriculture,
food and many other sectors came from Government institutions in
Colombo. In addition, the LTTE levied taxes on commodities. A "Police
Force" took over the "maintenance of law and order."
Their own "courts of law," or Kangaroo Courts as it was
known in the South, began to "dispense justice."
A United National
Party Government had to maintain that its writ prevailed in the
North. It found itself helpless for the LTTE denied it control.
But in the East, the writ prevailed. A change in Government led
to a change of scenario in 1994.The
People's Alliance, after their euphoric victory, plunged into a
round of peace talks with the LTTE. When that failed, in April 1995,
"Eelam War Three" broke out. The PA vowed to crush the
LTTE. Millions of dollars, or billions of rupees, were poured into
acquire military hardware. In October 1995, troops launched "Operation
Riviresa." When a series of these military offensives ended,
came the crowning glory on December 5 of the same year. It was the
re-capture of the Jaffna peninsula by Security Forces. The event
was celebrated in the northern capital with military pomp and pageantry.
Then followed elaborate nationally telecast ceremonies in Colombo.
With that over, military Generals, war strategists and tacticians
in the People's Alliance delivered verdict in unison - the LTTE
was down. However, though very badly weakened, they said the guerrillas
were not out until they were swept off from the Wanni to the Indian
aside reasoning they had fled to fight another day. Among the many
reasons given: the LTTE by losing the Jaffna peninsula had lost
its civilian base and control of population, lost its ground for
recruitment with its cadres already depleted, was unable to manufacture
improvised explosive devices, was unable to raise taxes or levies
and lost their proximity to Palk Straits, and, thus access to the
Southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. It was from here that some
of the major means of sustenance like fuel and food were smuggled.
occupied the Jaffna peninsula, the guerrillas returned to the Wanni
jungles. Barely ten months after, they launched a devastating attack
on the Security Forces complex in Mullaitivu killing over 1200 troops.
More than Rs 250 million worth of weaponry was lost. Far from being
weakened as a guerrilla organisation, the LTTE delivered another
message - its capability to assume the role of a conventional force
Until the cessation
of hostilities last December, the guerrillas have carried out several
attacks and fought bitter battles with Government troops. They have
either caused human and material damage or suffered it themselves.
preparations for these attacks - recruitment, training, regular
drills, practising on sand models and rehearsals - were all on Wanni
soil. It was also from here (and Batticaloa) that assassinations
and attacks on targets in the City and other areas outside the battle
zones were carried out. So were the campaigns that were to lead
to a sweeping fear psychosis in the South. Much of the tighter security
measures like checkpoints, house-to-house searches and other curbs,
which hassled the public, were the result of these actions.
If those were
the military aspects, what of the civilians? After running a parallel
civil administration in the Jaffna peninsula until its withdrawal,
offering resistance and suffering heavy casualties, how has the
LTTE interacted with civilians in Wanni in the past six years? Have
the Tigers put in place another parallel administration and, if
so, is it more broad-based than the one they ran in the Jaffna peninsula?
Answers to these
questions and many others are now unfolding. The signing of the
Ceasefire Agreement between the Government and the LTTE, and the
resultant opening of Alpha Nine (A-9)highway, are the main reasons.
During a five-day
visit to Wanni, accompanied by Cameraman Alfred Silva, we learnt
of how the guerrillas have developed a new "civil administrative
infrastructure" in the Wanni during the past six years. LTTE
leaders say it has been extended to areas dominated by them in the
East. They insist this system will have to be incorporated into
the Interim Administration for the North and East they demand from
is already in place. When there is an Interim Administration, it
will be very much easier for us to go ahead with the process we
set in motion, despite an economic embargo and the devastation caused
by war," says S. P. Thamilchelvan, head of the LTTE's Political
Wing. (See box story on this page for his comments.)
When they withdrew to Wanni, though their guerrilla capability was
not dented, the LTTE was still short of cadres. To offset this,
in 1999, they co-opted civilians, both men and women, into militias.
At the beginning there were the Eelapadai (Eela Force), Grama Padai
(Rural Force) and Thunai Padai (Support Force). The groups were
also dubbed as Special Task Force.
Based on their
age groups, they were put through military training, physical training,
and casualty evacuation techniques among others. When guerrillas
over ran the Elephant Pass military complex in early 2000, civilian
militia was deployed to collect weapons left behind by troops and
to evacuate their own injured cadres. The able bodied were deployed
in guerrilla defences after military training.
emerged as a formidable group. Its strength today is estimated to
be over 5,000 men and women. It is integrated with the LTTE, both
militarily and otherwise. Members of this force receive a monthly
salary of Rs 2,500. They are also enlisted to run or operate various
LTTE-owned commercial ventures.
roots in Wanni, like funding their military machine, the need to
fund their own "civil administrative infrastructure" has
become an equal priority for the LTTE. The pivot of all this activity
is the Tamil Eelam Economic Development Organisation (TEEDOR), which
is headquartered in Kilinochchi. V. Balakumar, a one-time senior
member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS),
heads it. It oversees the working of all development activity. A
few examples - education, transport, administrative service, health
service, banking, forest conservation, fisheries, industries, revenue
collection, taxation, public utilities, agriculture, irrigation,
environment, road development and construction.
the external arm of TEEDOR is the TRO, or Tamil Refugees Organisation,
a body that has been channelling funds to the Wanni. Though it is
banned and its bank accounts frozen in one of its main centres of
operation, London, authoritative sources say flow of funds to TEEDOR
continues. A Bank of Tamil Eelam in Kilinochchi is also a good source
of revenue. Civilians can encash foreign currency over the counter
without resorting to form filling like at the Bank of Ceylon or
People's Bank branches in Kilinochchi. This Bank functioned in a
small way when LTTE dominated the Jaffna peninsula but its operations
have since expanded manifold in the Wanni. During visits to various
parts of Wanni, we saw the offices of many organizations. Pictures
of the name boards of a few we saw appear on this page.
In the schools we visited, the influence of the LTTE is strongly
felt. In the principal's office or classrooms, maps of "Tamil
Eelam" and portraits of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran,
hang prominently. Framed photographs of LTTE "martyrs"
hang in rows. Students begin studies every morning after paying
"homage" to "martyrs."
One of the main
sources of revenue the LTTE generates now is by imposing taxes on
goods that enter Wanni. Those travelling past the Army checkpoint
at Omanthai have their credentials verified at an LTTE checkpoint
only 400 metres away. Here, they are given a written note to enter
Wanni. That note is the "passport" until they leave the
LTTE held area. It has to be produced if asked for by LTTE cadres
or "Tamil Eelam Police."
all travellers are required to proceed five kilometers to Puliyankulam.
Here, the LTTE operates a "Customs" point. The cluster
of cadjan thatched and tiled buildings includes a bus halt from
where "Tamil Eelam Transport Board" buses operate. A fleet
of classic cars - old Austin Cambridge and Morris Minors, provides
taxi services. Unlike at the Army checkpoint, there is a restaurant
serving meals. There are also rows of toilets and waiting areas
All goods will
have to be declared. "Duty" levied will have to be paid
before departure. A couple carrying a 21-inch television set had
to fork out 25 per cent of the cost. If that was insult, the injury
came at the Army checkpoint. Acting on regulations that remote controlled
devices cannot be taken to "uncontrolled areas," they
have seized the infrared remote controller of their TV set. "If
they (the LTTE) want remote devices, like all other goods, they
have the means of getting it. It is we who suffer," says the
young man who purchased the TV set in Colombo.
In another instance,
a traveller carrying a 750 millilitre bottle of Johnny Walker Red
Label whisky was ordered to pay Rs 450 as "duty." He paid
up and was issued a receipt. Goods carried in lorries in commercial
quantities are checked at separate "Customs" points and
leaving Jaffna through the Army checkpoint at Muhamalai towards
Vavuniya and beyond, are required to have their credentials checked
some 400 metres away at an LTTE check-point. Thereafter, they are
required to travel three kilometres to Pallai, where there is another
LTTE "Customs" point.
The exact amount
of revenue derived is not known. But one source estimated a daily
collection of anything between four to five million rupees. Over
350 vehicles pass through their checkpoints every day, the source
said. "If the checkpoint is open 24 hours, as the LTTE now
wants it, the revenue they earn will increase further," says
the source. However, LTTE officials do not comment on the revenue.
remains an administration in place. There remains a mechanism to
provide the people what they need. Whether you call it taxation
or not, a system is required to run the administration," says
"civil administrative infrastructure" is a "Tamil
Eelam Police Force."
"Police Stations," very much like the ones functioning
outside the North and East, have sprung up in many parts of the
Wanni. The "Inspector General of Police of Tamil Eelam,"
Balasingham Mahendran alias Nadesan says 14 "Police Stations"
and several "Police Posts" in rural areas are now functioning.
Two more "Police Stations" will be opened in the East,
in Trincomalee and Batticaloa, he adds.
Asked what the
future of "Eelam Police Force" will be if the Government
concedes an Interim Administration, Mr Nadesan says "definitely
we will continue to maintain law and order in our areas." See
details in INSIDE WANNI - SITUATION REPORT on Page 11.
Both "Magistrate's Courts" and "District Courts"
have begun to function in the Wanni. The LTTE has set up its own
"Law College" and enrolled students from the area. This
month it plans to extend it to areas it controls in the East.
By setting up
and operating a separate "civil administrative" system
supplemented by a "Police Force," the LTTE has laid the
groundwork for an elaborate infrastructure to govern areas in their
control. Whether this is a forerunner to self-determination or a
separate parallel political process in the North and East is a matter
But the onus
will be on the Government, when it meets the LTTE in Thailand, after
de-proscribing them. The first item on the agenda will be the modalities
for an Interim Administration. The LTTE has made quite clear its
"non-negotiable position" that it wants its own "civil
administrative" system and its own "Police Force"
in the Interim Administration. Unlike in the days when the LTTE
ran an "administrative system only in the Jaffna peninsula,
this time the demand encompasses the Eastern Province too. For the
UNF Government, conceding it would mean not only acknowledging two
systems in one country but also making tough political decisions.
Otherwise, the discussion on core issues, the key to ensuring permanent
peace, would be elusive.
Would a stalemate,
resulting from a developing situation of mistrust, lead to war again?
Many Government, Opposition and senior Military officials seem to
think so. Some well wishers who have volunteered, or ensured the
Government seeks their services, have already come out with proposals
from foreign sources including private concerns to prepare for war.
Needless to say the moneys involved are enormous not to mention
"There will be no war at all. That will not happen. Why should
the Tigers declare war now?" asks a senior foreign official
familiar both with the separatist war and associated with the peace
process. Speaking to me on grounds of anonymity somewhere in the
North, he said, "They (the LTTE) have achieved through the
Ceasefire Agreement what they could not through million bullets.
Their "economy" is growing. As every day passes, their
conditions are improving. They would not want to interrupt that.
Unless something untoward happens, or if they are attacked, they
will not wage war to get what they can by waging peace." For
the UNF Government, which lost no time to concede guerrilla demands
through the Ceasefire Agreement, to force them as early as possible
to the negotiating table, indeed is a big dilemma.
Even if they
are not inclined to wage war, the LTTE appears to be firm believers
of the words of Sun Tzu, the Chinese philosopher. He said more than
2,500 years ago "In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for
peace. The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is
a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or ruin. Hence
under no circumstances can it be neglected
costs and priority development programmes, among other matters have,
however, forced the Government to think differently. They have to
heed the advice of aid donors in recent weeks - cut down on defence
Hence, at least
for the moment, a "cold war" will continue. But talks
on core issues that can end future wars seem a long way off.