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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • 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: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor