Tamils mark Black Tigers' Day

[TamilNet, Sunday, 06 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Across the Vanni, Tamil people marked Black Tigers' day by with traditional religious ceremonies, lighting oil lamps in prayer. Black Tigers are one of the LTTE's elite fighting units, whose members execute missions which carry a high degree of risk and in some cases certain death.

Tamil households across the Vanni marked the 5th of July in remembrance of nearly hundred Black Tigers (including at least 16 women commandos) who have died in the past 10 years. Processions also carried the portraits of local volunteers who died in operations against the Sri Lankan military. The Tamil Eelam national flag fluttered in prominent places.

The parents of Black Tigers killed in action also participated in the ceremonies. Like their children, the parents are also revered by their local communities.

The 5th of July is the anniversary of one of the first Black Tiger deaths. Cpt. Miller drove a truck full of explosives into a Sri Lankan army base in July 1987. At least 120 soldiers were killed in the explosion and the ensuing ground assault. Miller was unable to get clear and was also killed in the blast.

Since then, several Tamil commandos have died in similar attacks. Some have survived, including another Black Tiger who drove his charges into a camp shortly after Miller's attack. Black Tigers have destroyed several naval craft and military installations, killing several hundred Sri Lankan military personnel.

They are trained in escape and evasion tactics and have been able to penetrate the Sri Lankan government's most secure installations. In March this year, at least 15 Black Tigers penetrated the sprawling SLAF base at China bay, Trincomalee. They destroyed several buildings and slipped away having rendered the airfield inoperable, whilst losing 3 of their commandos.

The Black (Sea) Tigers have successfully penetrated three of the Sri Lankan navy's four main HQs, destroying several naval craft. The SLN has also lost several craft in engagements with the Black (Sea) Tigers, including the Shanghai class gunboat which went down with its 40 crew in July 1996.

Black Tigers' identities are closely guarded. Having completed their training, they serve in regular LTTE units, concealing their membership. When called up for a mission, they take routine leave and if they survive, return to regular service again. Membership is only revealed if they are killed in combat.

The Sri Lankan government and press demonise the Black Tigers as fanatical 'suicide bombers' in an attempt to exploit Western discomfort with the concept, and to draw critical parallels with other parts of the world.

A British a film crew which met up with some Black Tigers in the east of the island last year, discounted government claims that the Tigers were irrational or drug-crazed. The Sri Lankan government tried unsuccessfully to prevent the film being shown in England.

In fact, the Black Tigers constitute a successful military unit which has inflicted disproportionately severe physical and psychological damage on the Sri Lankan military, the latter with the help of the Sri Lankan government's own propaganda. The commandos are some of the LTTE's best fighters and often have several years combat experience.

The LTTE intensified its campaign for independence following the island wide pogrom against Tamils in July 1983. Over 50,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in the government's attempts to crush the Tamil struggle. In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka.

 

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