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Asia-pacific

Newly appointed Tamil Tiger chief arrested

Video by Luke BROWN

Text by Nandita VIJ

Latest update : 2009-08-08

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the newly appointed leader of the nearly defunct Tamil Tigers. Pathmanathan arrest comes only a fortnight after he was declared the successor of Velupillai Prabhakaran.

In another massive blow to the devastated Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan authorities have announced the arrest of the rebels' newly appointed leader, Selvarasa Pathmanathan.

 

 

"Pathmanathan was arrested on August 5 in a Southeast Asian country and is now being interrogated in Sri Lanka", Brigadier Udey Nanyakkara, a Sri Lankan military spokesperson, confirmed with FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview.

 

Nanyakkara, however, declined to mention where the rebel leader was arrested exactly and this as yet remains unclear. Initial reports said the arrest was made in Thailand but Bangkok denied this, while the Tigers said in a statement on Friday that he was arrested near a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and handed over to the Sri Lankan military.

 

The arrest comes almost a fortnight after the remaining rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - who are now mainly operating from overseas - released a statement declaring that Pathmanathan would succeed their supreme leader Prabhakaran, who was shot dead in May. A massive military operation in Sri Lanka in May wiped out the Tigers and most of the organisation's top leadership, including Prabhakaran, bringing an end to an ethnic war that started in 1983.


Pathmanathan was the rebels' head of international relations, is accused of running a global weapons smuggling racket, and is wanted on two Interpol warrants.


The statement from the Tigers, issued from an undisclosed location, also claimed that the organisation would modify its strategies according to the times and demand. They also claimed to have set up a headquarters and an executive committee to chalk out plans to fulfill their dream of an autonomous Tamil Eelam (land). Pathmanathan’s whereabouts remains unclear, and the Sri Lankan government has appealed to foreign governments for help in finding and arresting him.


In an exclusive interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News network on July 22, Pathmanathan said LTTE would now switch to peaceful means to achieve their objectives and that the group would re-organise itself to be democratic, unlike under Prabhakaran’s rule.

 

Prabhakaran and his Tigers were a well-organised organisation, equipped with a navy, air force and supported by thousands of fighters. Long before al Qaeda, the group was the first to develop the cult of martyrdom and suicide attacks.

 

The three decade long conflict killed at least 80,000 people and displaced another 300,000, according to the United Nations.

Resurrection abroad


Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake warned Thursday, that the nearly redundant “Tamil Tigers rebels are trying to regroup under a new leader”.


According to Jehan Perera, director of non-governmental advocacy group National Peace Council, “As of now, the rebels have been eliminated in Sri Lanka as far as we can see,” he said in a telephone interview from Colombo. “Their structure is completely destroyed. Whatever remains is in hibernation.”


However, Perera points out that the 800,000 strong Tamil diaspora across North America, Europe, Australia and other parts of the world could play a key role in the movement’s attempt at resurrection.


Many of the Tamils now living abroad after fleeing in the 1980s were firm supporters of the Tiger's cause under Prabhakaran.


The Sri Lankan government and human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, often accused the Tamil Tigers of exploiting the diaspora to raise funds for their guerrilla warfare.

Date created : 2009-08-07

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