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LTTE warlords squabble over 'spoils of peace' in Lanka

A new study reveals that the conflict within LTTE is an intra-elite quarrel over the 'spoils' of the peace process, writes PK Balachanddran.

india Updated: Mar 17, 2004 19:06 IST

LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and his erstwhile Eastern satrap Colonel Karuna are now engaged in a bitter struggle over the "spoils of peace".

The latest report of the University Teachers for Human Rights Jaffna (UTHR-J) reveals that the ongoing conflict in the LTTE is essentially an intra-elite quarrel over the "spoils" of the peace process.

The peace process, initiated in February 2002 with the signing of a ceasefire agreement and the opening of the floodgates to international developmental funding, has spawned new issues in the LTTE. One of the most significant of them is the fierce competition for control over the flow and use of the enormous economic and financial resources the process has given access to.

There is, of course, an attempt to portray the conflict in socially and politically acceptable terms such as "rank regionalism versus unity", or "Subjugation of the East versus Northern hegemonism" and charges of moral turpitude and corruption are also traded.

While there may be substance in many of the charges bandied, the conflict itself is quintessentially a quarrel over the distribution of the spoils of the peace process. It seems that other issues are raked up mainly to provide a veneer of respectability.

The conflict is between the LTTE's central elite concentrated in the Northern region of Wanni, the headquarters , and the regional elite in the Eastern district of Batticaloa-Amparai (BA). The former is presided over by Prabhakaran while the latter is led by Karuna.

Giving an example of an issue which divided the two, the UTHR-J report said: a NGO had formulated a project in which Karuna as well as some leading citizens of Batticalao were on the board. And as part of the project, several scores of vehicles were obtained for developmental work in Batticaloa. But to Karuna's dismay, all the vehicles ended up in the Wanni.

Karuna was not altruistic or just either. The regional satrap enjoyed unique privileges which are now being cited to show how selfish he has been. Karuna's brother and area leader Reggie, had arrogated to himself a virtual monopoly of the seafood trade in the Vaharai-Kalkudah area, an area said to be the brothers' fiefdom.

Such monopolization and privileges were fair when Prabhakaran and Karuna were together. But not now, when Prabhakaran is seeing Karuna as having grown too big for his boots.

When Karuna decided to take on the Wanni leadership, he complained that the development funds collected by the LTTE overseas had not been spent on the Batticaloa Amparai area but only in the Wanni.The Wanni-based Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) had been a recipient of huge funds from overseas, but not a cent was spent on BA district, Karuna charged.

Karuna sought "regional autonomy", ostensibly to carry out "development work" in BA district which, he said, was sunk in poverty despite having abundant natural resources. He said he refused to send "thousands of cadres" to the Wanni because these were needed for the protection and "development" of BA district.

Karuna's complaint against the Wanni leadership is that the latter had not allowed him to do much needed development work in BA district.He said that parents of boys and girls who had joined the LTTE, had allowed them to do so, only because there was a promise that these cadres would help protect and "economically develop" the district.

Significantly, Karuna told Prabhakaran that if there was to be a rapprochement, the latter should ask the Head of Finance, Tamilenthi, the Police Chief P.Nadesan and the Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman, to keep their hands off BA district.

Karuna was the hero of the battles in the Wanni and Jaffna between November 1999 and May 2000.As a reward for his outstanding military leadership, he was sent to BA district to build up the depleted cadre strength and coffers of the LTTE there. Karuna went on a spree of extortion, abduction and trade monopolization towards this end. He went about forcibly recruiting kids as young as 10 or 15 for the combat units of the LTTE.

Initially, Prabhakaran and the Wanni-based leadership had no problem with these and were entirely for these measures. But Karuna, a relatively junior man, consolidating himself in his home ground, could not left unchecked. His ambitions began to clash with those of his colleagues and the Wanni leadership.He had to be watched because the LTTE was an organization based on fear,the UTHR-J report said.

Sure enough, the quarrels were over the spoils of the peace process. Ramesh made this explicit when he said that Karuna became a different man only after the peace process started. Karuna's colleagues, Ramesh and Kausalyan, accused him of being "selfish", though Karikalan indulged in a bit of hyperbole by describing him as a "Pol Pot".

First Published: Mar 10, 2004 19:40 IST