Expanding 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 Eelam (LTTE).

We 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.

Answers 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:

AN 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 being waged.

The war 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.

The Interim 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 embargo.

Accepting 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.

COLLECTION 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.

If one 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.

The Tamil 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 Ocean.

They brushed 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.

Whilst troops 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 when necessary.

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.

Planning and 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 the Government.

"The mechanism 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.

The Eelapadai 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.

Since taking 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.

Regarded as 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."

Thereafter, 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 with seats.

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 "duty" levied.

Similarly, passengers 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.

"There 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 Mr. Thamilchelvan.

Bolstering this "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 of conjecture.

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 the commissions.

"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…."

Soaring living 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 expenditure.

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.


Situation Report Archives

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.