THE HAGUE, Netherlands – When Tamil Tigers were routed on the battlefield two years ago, the Sri Lankan government believed it had crushed the 25-year rebellion for a separate Tamil homeland.
But evidence surfacing in a courthouse in the Netherlands shows that the cause of Tamil independence is still alive in Europe, and an assessment from counterterrorism authorities says supporters of the defeated rebels remain engaged in extortion, human trafficking and other crimes to raise money for their brethren in Sri Lanka.
With the entire Tamil military leadership dead and the Sri Lankan army in control of former rebel territory, independent experts doubt a revival of an armed uprising is possible soon.
But while the Tigers have been defeated in Sri Lanka, “here in Europe they are very much alive,” Dutch prosecutor Ward Ferdinandusse told The Hague District Court during the trial of five Tamils accused of being members of the outlawed organization, running illegal lotteries and laundering money.
A USB stick found in a tea cup at the home of one of the defendants revealed him to be the international bookkeeper for the worldwide Tamil diaspora, prosecutors allege. The data disclosed a financial plan for 2010, and indicate that Tamil exiles remain faithful to the goal of independence in northern Sri Lanka for the country’s Tamil minority, the prosecution claims.
That analysis is echoed by the latest assessments published by Europol, the EU’s police coordination organization.
In its 2011 “Terrorism Situation and Trend Report,” Europol says Tamil Tigers still extort money from Tamils and are “actively involved in drugs and human trafficking, the facilitation of illegal immigration, credit card skimming, money laundering, and fraud for the purpose of funding terrorist (support) operations.”
The twin assessments by Dutch authorities and Europol raise worrying questions about the possible regrouping of the Tigers, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE. The LTTE is still listed as a terror organization by the European Union, United States and other countries.
Terrorism expert Prof. Rohan Gunaratna of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University said the Dutch investigation “demonstrates beyond doubt that the LTTE intention was, even after the defeat of the leadership, to revive the fight. Funds were still being raised in the heart of Europe to sustain their campaign of terror.”
The International Crisis Group, a respected think tank, said in a report last year that even after the May 2009 defeat, “most Tamils abroad remain profoundly committed to Tamil Eelam, the existence of a separate state in Sri Lanka.”
It said Tamil expatriates are more radical than Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are exhausted by decades of war and the deaths of tens of thousands of their kin, and only want to start rebuilding their lives. Not a single attack has disrupted the two-year calm.
“At this point it would be extremely hard to generate any significant militancy in Sri Lanka,” Alan Keenan, Crisis Group’s expert on Sri Lanka, said in an interview. “I don’t see Tamils within Sri Lanka being eager to start any kind of militancy right now. There is no evidence of there being any organized remnants of the LTTE in Sri Lanka.”
The Tigers gained international notoriety through high-profile suicide bombings whose victims included one Sri Lankan president and India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
At the height of their powers, the LTTE ran a virtual country, with border controls, courts and an administrative bureaucracy supported by a rebel army of thousands of soldiers, heavy artillery, a navy and a nascent air force.
Contributions – forced or voluntary – from the 800,000-strong Tamil diaspora were critical to the Tigers’ war effort. Money from abroad bought weapons, ammunition and explosives for regular forces and suicide bombers.
By the end of the war, an estimated 100,000 people were dead. Many of them were Tamils killed in the final no-holds-barred government offensive.
Now, overseas Tamils appear to be moving to fill a leadership void, with one senior Tamil confirming that several groups met late last month in Strasbourg, France, to discuss how to assist Tamils in Sri Lanka.
But Father S.J. Emmanuel, a Catholic priest who lives in Germany and heads the Global Tamil Forum, denied there is any question of a return to armed conflict. Talk of a Tamil Tiger revival is coming from the Sri Lankan government in an effort to demonize Tamils and deflect attention from allegations Sri Lankan forces committed crimes against humanity in the climax of the civil war, he said.
“There is an effort made by the Sri Lankan government to label all the diaspora communities outside Sri Lanka as LTTE supporters,” Father Emmanuel told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “The LTTE is no more there. Why are you still saying we are sending money or something to LTTE?”
Dutch police and prosecutors, however, still believe there is Tamil Tiger activity in the Netherlands.
In a report sent confidentially to Dutch municipalities earlier this year, police warned that front organizations for the Tigers have close links to 21 schools where Tamil children study at weekends, in addition to their regular Dutch education. These groups aim at “passing on LTTE ideology to Tamil children living in the Netherlands,” it said.
The report included drawings from Tamil schoolchildren that depicted the Tamil rebellion in stark terms: Tamil fighters holding hand grenades, Sri Lankan Air Force planes bombing thatched huts, a man loading the corpses of women onto an open wagon.
“The thoroughness with which Tamil children in the Netherlands … are brainwashed with the extremely violent LTTE ideology is shocking,” prosecutors told the Dutch judges.
Judges are expected to deliver their verdicts in the Tamil Tiger trial later this month.