Suicide bomber threat sustains support for war
[TamilNet, Monday, 22 September 1997, 12:00 GMT]
The Colombo public have an abhorrent fear of suicide bomb attacks. The threat seems ever present, even though there have been no suicide attacks in the capital for nearly two years. Surprisingly, the spectre of the suicide bomber is being revived time and again by the Sri Lankan government itself. The fear generated by the official warnings is sustaining public support for the government's war in the Tamil homelands.
Last week the Sri Lankan police said they had raided a house near a military airbase close to the capital, Colombo and seized equipment intended for use by suicide bombers. The police claim to have subsequently apprehended 5 bombers but warn that several others are at large.
The police say they have seized jackets used for carrying bombs, rocket launchers and an automatic rifle, and claim that the bombers were planning to hit the Ratmalana air force base.
In January 1996, three men drove a truck packed with explosive into the Central bank building, devastating Colombo's financial district. There have been no suicide bomb attacks since then, though a parcel bomb exploded on a train in July 1996.
However the Sri Lankan government regularly issues warnings of imminent suicide bomb attacks by Tamil 'infiltrators' who are said to be present in the capital.
Arrests are also regularly announced, though in most cases, no charges have been brought against the alleged bombers, and only one man has been tried (allegedly for involvement in a bomb attack in 1995).
The discovery of arms caches within the city are also frequently reported. Roadblocks and check points have long been a regular feature in the city.
The regular police announcements fuel the apprehensions of the city's occupants. This fear has mobilised the Sinhala public's support for the government's costly war in the Tamil homelands, the logic being that if the government destroys the LTTE, the threat of bombs would recede.
The security forces go to considerable lengths to reinforce the climate of fear. Massive search operations are mounted every so often, involving hundreds of policemen for several hours, ostensibly 'looking for suicide bombers'.
Some Sri Lankan military officials are openly contemptuous of such operations. After a six hour search caused massive traffic jams around the President's residence, one official observed that "If indeed there was a suicide bomber, the huge traffic outside the president's house would have been an ideal to set off an explosion and cause maximum destruction"
Tamil residents and neighborhoods are particularly targeted in these operations. Mass arrests of Tamils are routine. Even long-established residents are picked up outside their homes or places of work.
The Sri Lankan police often say they are seeking the public's cooperation for information about 'suspicious' people in their neighborhoods. As a result, the Tamil residents of the city are as a whole viewed with suspicion by the Sinhalese.
When visitors (particularly youths) go to Tamil homes, a police patrol will often arrive shortly afterwards: a watchful neighbor would have alerted them of possible 'bombers'. Arrests at night are common place, as are random searches of vehicles during the day.
The recent discovery of suicide bombers near Colombo comes at a time when the Sri Lankan government needs to mobilise public support for its controversial 'devolution proposals' which it claims will end the war. In this light, a revival of the public's fear of bombings in the capital may not be unhelpful.
Some of the Sri Lankan government's announcements
14 June 96
Police claim to have arrested 5 suicide bombers.
28 June 96
Defence sources inform media that 17 suicide bombers are in Colombo.
08 July 96
Government announces immediate training for security forces to face suicide bombers.
16 August 96
Colombo police claim to have arrested 4 female suicide bombers.
27 August 96
Defence sources tell Colombo media that 12 female suicide bombers are in Colombo.
19 September 96
Police claim suicide bombers planning to hit high ranking police officers.
06 October 96
Colombo police chief says 25 female suicide bombers are in Colombo.
08 October 96
After massive search operation, police arrest 30 people alleged to have supported suicide bombers in Colombo .
09 October 96
Police arrest 20 alleged suicide bombers after high profile search.
29 October 96
Defence sources claim to have disrupted plans to send 35 suicide bombers to Colombo.
21 November 96
Defence sources claim to have uncovered a plan to kill Education minister with suicide bombers.
28 November 96
Colombo police claim 4 female suicide bombers are in Colombo to attack politicians.
03 December 96
Police claim to have arrested 17 suicide bombers, including 5 women.
06 December 96
Defence ministry claims 50 suicide bombers are arrested in Vavuniya detention camps, enroute to Colombo.
31 January 97
Police claim 5 suicide bombers arrive in Colombo.
03 February 97
Police claim to have arrested a female suicide bomber.
12 March 97
Police claim to have arrested 5 suicide bombers.
19 March 97
Police claim 4 suicide bombers arrive in Colombo.
30 March 97
Police claim to have arrested a senior suicide bomber.
08 May 97
Police claim suicide bombers are in Colombo disguised as soldiers.
22 May 97
Police chief claims at least 12 suicide bombers arrive in Colombo.
28 May 97
Police warn public to be alert for suicide bombers.