S. P. Thamilselvan

Tamil Tigers political leader


S.P. Thamilselvan, guerrilla leader: born Chavakacheri, Sri Lanka 1967; married (one son, one daughter); died Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka 2 November 2007.

In October 2006, when talks in Geneva between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government broke down, a journalist asked S.P. Thamilselvan whether the Tamil people had been given any hope by the discussions. The head of the Tamil delegation was to the point: "We ourselves are not hopeful, [so] how can the people be?"

In recent years, Thamilselvan had been the international face of the struggle by the rebels, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers, as they fought for a homeland in Sri Lanka. With the group's leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, declining to appear in public, Thamilselvan was one of the points of contact for a conflict that has taken an estimated 70,000 lives. On 2 November, he, too, became one of its victims when he was killed during a Sri Lankan air -force bombardment.

Thamilselvan joined the armed struggle in 1983 as fighting broke out between the rebels and the government forces. He took part in several military operations in north Sri Lanka, including an abortive bid to storm the Elephant Base camp in 1992 and the battles in Pooneryn. But he was wounded in both the stomach and the leg and had to refrain from any further active military service.

Many observers saw Thamilselvan as a moderate, but earlier this summer he told reporters that the rebels were prepared to launch major attacks on both military and economic targets to try to cripple the country's economy. "Let the Tamil people live in their traditional homeland," he said in an interview in Kilinochchi, the rebels' de facto headquarters. "Leave the Tamil people without any military occupation or persecution. That will be the day there is no war."

Thamilselvan was born into a humble background and worked originally as a barber, before rising through the LTTE ranks, partly through his association with the Tamil leader, Prabhakaran, for whom he once served as a bodyguard. His wife is a member of the Tigers' women's wing.

In 2001 he was considered of such importance that the Sri Lankan government dispatched its army's Deep Penetration Unit after him; on that occasion he survived the attempt to kill him.

His profile grew during the late 1990s, especially after Norway took an interest in the struggling peace process. When the Tigers' international spokesman, Anton Balasingham, became increasingly ill from kidney problems, Thamilselvan, who was already heading the rebels' political wing, found himself being asked to take a more prominent role as a spokesman – even though he did not speak English. Following Balasingham's death in 2006, Thamilselvan was the Tigers' chief point of contact for the outside world.

Andrew Buncombe

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower