The controversial LTTE dissident, Col Karuna, is believed to have left Sri Lanka recently, following trenchant international criticism of the activities of his group, the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), in the Eastern Tamil-speaking district of Batticaloa.
Media reports said on Wednesday that Karuna had left for the UK. But independent sources could only confirm that he had left the country temporarily.
The Scandinavian-staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had both criticized the TMVP for forcibly recruiting children and extorting money from the people in Batticaloa.
Every UN and EU rights body had been urging the Sri Lankan government to disarm or rein in the Karuna group. And time and again, they had expressed dismay over Colombo's turning a deaf ear to these pleas. But the Sri Lankan government needed the Karuna group to help track down the LTTE and help police the area recently cleared of the LTTE.
While the government needed the Karuna group for military purposes, it was ill at ease with its political ambitions. The TMVP had been nursing ambitions of emerging as the voice of the Tamils in the East, especially Batticaloa district, and winning the proposed elections in the Eastern districts in early 2008.
To prevent the emergence of any new popular Tamil group in place of the LTTE, and to win the hearts and minds of the Tamils, the Rajapaksa government itself started doing relief and rehabilitation work in the war affected areas.
All efforts in this direction began to be directed by Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor and brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Government ministers were asked to make frequent visits to the rehabilitation centres and announce development programmes worth millions of rupees. "But no Tamils were, or are, involved in this task," a former Tamil militant who is now close to the government said ruefully.
The Karuna group itself is partly responsible for this. Though the TMVP had political ambitions, it was doing precious little to win the hearts and minds of the common Tamils. It had neither protected the common man against the Sri Lankan military, nor had it done anything to alleviate the suffering of the 200,000 war refugees in the past year and a half, local Tamil leaders said. On the other hand, it had been harassing the people.
Ground cleared for non-Tamil Parties
The TMVP itself got divided into the Karuna and Pillaiyaan factions, which started killing each other's supporters. When it went out of bounds, the government stepped in and restored peace, forcing Pillayaan to confine himself to Trincomalee district. But he is said to be breaking out of the confines now.
With no powerful, popular and credible Tamil group in the East ( the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance has already been weakened) the ground is now clear for the national or Sinhala majoritarian parties to establish themselves there ahead of the proposed local and provincial elections in early 2008.