Tamils fear retribution as war reaches its climax

LTTE 'will still operate' despite military defeat

In a shop in Colombo's Bambalapitiya neighbourhood, the man stretched out on a sofa suddenly woke with a start. "They're not terrorists," he declared, correcting his friend's use of the word. "They're freedom fighters – 99.99 per cent of Tamil people support them but they are not in a position to show it."

As Sri Lanka's army squeezes the last remnants of the once potent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), such sentiments voiced within the Tamil community represent one crucial reason why this operation might not mark the end of the insurgency.

Analysts say that even if the rebels in the country's north-east are neutralised in the coming days, the movement will retain the capacity – and perhaps the public support – to launch terror strikes and suicide attacks.

"As a viable insurgency they are finished but they will still be able to operate as a terrorist organisation," said Bahukutumbi Raman, a former security advisor to the Indian government.

Despite international calls for a ceasefire, a bloody end appears the most likely outcome for the fewer than 1,000 rebels cornered in a two-square mile patch with up to 50,000 civilians.

A day after the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, called for a humanitarian ceasefire, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, rejected their calls.

"The government is not ready to enter into any kind of ceasefire," he said. "It is my duty to protect the people of this country. I don't need lectures from Western representatives." The LTTE and its leader, Velupillai Prabakharan, said they would never surrender but called for international help to enforce a ceasefire.

"If any country really cares... I ask that country to go beyond its diplomatic boundaries for the sake of saving human lives and make Sri Lanka stop this genocidal war," the LTTE's political leader, Balasingam Nadesan, told the Associated Press.

It is impossible to accurately gauge the level of support for the LTTE. Fearful of the government and equally fearful of speaking out, most Tamils talk about suffering routine discrimination. They talk of their fear when passing through the ubiquitous check-points and how the troops might arbitrarily decide to detain them.

One university lecturer, who agreed only to speak on the telephone, said: "The police are always asking us what we are doing here. Why we are in Colombo. We are scared. In public places we have to speak Sinhalese. If you speak Tamil in a bus or market, people will stare."

This, of course, does not equate to support for the rebels' violent tactics. But on a walk through Bambalapitiya, replete with Hindu temples and flower sellers, practically everyone who agreed to speak voiced some degree of sympathy for the LTTE.

"The police... always assume we are the LTTE. Perhaps 75 per cent support the cause. There are also people who support the actions," said one Tamil shop-owner, who asked not to be named. Asked about Mr Prabakharan, the 29-year-old replied: "Perhaps 75 per cent of people like him."

The man who had been asleep, a 60-year-old former government worker, said that a series of administrations had passed measures that discriminated against the Tamils. "My own son and daughter have gone to the UK," he said. "The government plans to kill or destroy the Tamil people."

The Sri Lankan authorities say they are seeking to avoid civilian casualties and that the ongoing operation is to rescue civilians. While the UN has estimated that at least 4,500 civilians have been killed since January, the government has rejected reports that it has fired artillery into the area, or fired at a makeshift hospital.

Yet the government says it is taking steps to protect against possible LTTE strikes when the military operation is concluded. In an interview with The Independent, the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the President and the survivor of an assassination attempt in 2006, said: "That is why we have lot of checkpoints and roadblocks. All these things are going on because of that."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker