Trincomalee TULF MP assassinated

[TamilNet, Sunday, 06 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Mr. A. Thangathurai, MP and four other people died when a grenade was thrown at them yesterday, as they were leaving a meeting held at a school in Trincomalee. The Sri Lankan government, as always, has immediately blamed the Tamil Tigers. However, there are other parties who may benefit significantly from the MP's death, including the local organised crime and political rivals.

Thangathurai MPAccording to reports from Trincomalee, Mr. Thangathurai, a Tamil MP from the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) party, had attended a meeting at a school within the government held Trincomalee town. The meeting was breaking up and they were leaving at about half past seven when a grenade was thrown at the group. Shots are also said to have been fired.

Two school principles (both also Tamils) and one of the MP's bodyguards were said to be amongst the dead. Several people were said to have been wounded.

The Sri Lankan government has blamed the Tamil Tigers. However, the Tigers are routinely blamed for any assassination on the island, to smear the LTTE, and to avoid incriminating inquiries. Few accusations have actually been proved and several have been disproved - political rivalries and personal vendettas are more often the motives for assassinations in Sri Lanka.

A serious split has manifested itself within the TULF recently. Though the TULF has never had an armed wing and it's members have traditionally opposed violence, there are local rumours that junior activists from opposing sides of the divide may have connections with the government armed Tamil militia such as PLOTE, EPRLF and TELO, and may have been ready to use these links.

One reason for the split was because Mr. Thangathurai was meant to hand over his seat to another TULF member Mr. R. Sampanthan and had refused. Before the last general election, as both men wanted to contest the prized Trincomalee seat, the TULF leadership brokered a power sharing deal between them. The agreement was for whoever won the seat to hand it over to the other midway through the term.

Following his victory in the election, Mr. Thangathurai had gone back on the agreement. The TULF Politburo was said to be growing frustrated with Mr. Thangathurai's stubbornness, and it is possible that supporters of Mr. Sampanthan may have decided to take matters into their own hands.

The TULF has not commented on the attack or the government's claim that the LTTE was responsible.

Violence is ever present in Sri Lankan politics. Earlier this year, there were a series of attacks on Sinhalese politicians from both the ruling People's Alliance (PA) and the opposing United National Party (UNP) by each others' activists.

UNP and PA political meetings have been fired on with automatic weapons resulting in several deaths. Earlier this year, a government MP, Nalanda Ellawela was shot dead following an altercation with a UNP candidate in his district who has since been arrested after surrendering to the police.

Trincomalee is a relatively wealthy town on the island's east coast, with what is described as the finest natural harbour in the world, and Mr. Thangathurai was involved in the economic development of the region. Several armed groups operate in the area, much like the Mafia in other parts of the world where lucrative municipal contracts are up for grabs.

Armed Tamil militia such as the EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE vie for control over various aspects of the town's development. Observers say that a turf war may have escalated when Mr. Thangathurai either refused to allocate lucrative contracts to firms run by one of these groups, or unwittingly allocated it to a rival syndicate.

The PLOTE leader, Sidarthan has also been quick to condemn the Tigers, calling them 'fascists'. It is well known that PLOTE gunmen have been running an extortion racket in Sri Lankan army controlled Vavuniya town, where civil servants are being threatened into allocating government contracts to PLOTE owned businesses.

In addition, Mr. Sidarthan's group recently managed to secure control of Trincomalee's Central Market. However, the local army commander ordered Mr. Thangathurai's administration to take back the contract which they duly did so, much to PLOTE's irritation.

The attack was carried out in the centre of Trincomalee town which is controlled by the Sri Lankan army and the armed Tamil militia. In addition, the security forces are said to have been on alert as July is the anniversary of the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, when at least 3,000 Tamils were killed.

It is therefore not clear how an attacker could have got close enough to the MP as to kill him, without having passed through a strict security cordon, or how he could have subsequently escaped.

The LTTE has not commented on the attack, but a Tamil Tiger official told us on condition of anonymity that they had nothing to gain from the death, and said they would prefer to have the handful of TULF MPs in parliament. "They never have and never will obtain anything [for the Tamil people] from Chandrika and are therefore shining examples [to the Tamils] of the futility of trying to secure our rights by pleading to the Sinhala state."

During the 1977 general elections, the TULF members of the period secured an overwhelming victory in the Tamil homelands campaigning on a platform of a separate Tamil state.


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