An unconvincing charade - and a plan?

[TamilNet, Monday, 14 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Sri Lankan police claim to have arrested 3 men suspected of assassinating the TULF MP, Mr. A. Thangathurai at a Trincomalee school. The Sri Lankan government claims the trio are Tamil Tigers. However, the government's zealous claims are being viewed with increasing skepticism by friends and foes alike.

Thangathurai MP The Sri Lankan police insist that the three Tamil men arrested in Trincomalee last week are members of the LTTE. The police claim that Mr. Thangathurai was killed because he was responsible for developing Trincomalee district.

However, the evidence for the charges and the motive itself are laughably flimsy. Whilst Mr. Thangathurai was in charge of the Trincomalee administration, his death would hardly interrupt the central government driven developments, particularly as the Sinhalese parts of the district are benefiting most.

As one Sri Lankan political analyst observed, "the on-going disparity between the Sinhalese haves and the Tamil have not's in Trinco is a source of resentment within the Tamil community, which the LTTE has been successfully exploiting for years...In any case, the development of a city that is designated as the future capital of a separate Tamil state would hardly be disagreeable [to the LTTE]."

The police claim to have recovered explosives as well as LTTE 'fund raising forms' from one suspect. Given the assassination of the MP would have had to be planned well ahead, it is doubtful that any assassins would not have destroyed evidence that would link them to their organisations ahead of the attack.

Skepticism of government claims is being voiced from all sides. According to the Sri Lankan weekly, the Sunday Times, a Sinhalese army officer, Brigadier Nihal Jayakody has said that he could not point the finger at anybody yet.

The Brigadier is also said to have criticised the school authorities for not informing the police of the MP's visit, a somewhat unfair comment as Mr. Thangathurai's security should have been the responsibility of his state-provided security detail.

Echoing sentiments expressed to TamilNet, the Sunday Times also reports that Trincomalee residents spoke of 'mercenaries' being responsible for the killing. The members of various armed Tamil militia opposed to the LTTE are working with the Sri Lankan army in several parts of the island. Trincomalee has a significant number of gunmen from groups such as PLOTE, EPRLF and TELO all of whom are competing for the lucrative contracts to develop the town.

According to the paper, the TULF Vice President, Mr. V. Anandasangaree has said that "various groups had been given weapons and the blame could not be put on the LTTE without concrete proof," a view shared by the party leader Mr. M. Sivasithamparam.

The Sunday Times said that Mr. Thangathurai's family did not wish to comment until the 'investigation' was over.

Whilst the possibility of the LTTE being responsible for the attack is not being absolutely ruled out, most observers agree that were the Tigers to have done it, they would not have killed other innocent Tamil bystanders, (and risked a loss in sympathy amongst Trincomalee Tamils) and certainly not have left such a blatant trail.

The Sri Lankan police are inherently loyal to the Sri Lankan state and vehemently anti-Tamil. Predominantly Sinhalese, the state police have been responsible for widespread violations of human rights in the Tamil homelands where they have been deployed.

The prompt arrest of a number of Tamil suspects and the 'discovery' of LTTE paraphernalia as well the government's immediate and unsubstantiated claim that the LTTE is responsible for the killing has convinced many observers that the Sri Lankan government has an ulterior motive. However, the observers are not united in their speculation as to what this motive might be.

The general opinion is that the government simply does not know who was responsible for the killing but is seizing the opportunity to blame the LTTE. As international opinion forces the Sri Lankan government of the moral high ground it secured in 1995, the Government may be grasping every single opportunity that will help to "brand" the LTTE as "terrorists."

Many others believe that the government does know who killed Mr. Thangathurai, but is desperate to conceal it. This has lead to further speculation as to who might be responsible, with the armed Tamil militia being commonly suspected.

Another emerging view is that Mr. Thangathurai was 'removed' as he could have been a critic of the government's proposed devolution proposals to be revealed later this year. Though the Sri Lankan government has released some of these proposals, the most important sections are yet to be unveiled. One of these crucial issues is the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island. The future [Tamil or Sinhalese] administration of Trincomalee is the bone of contention.

To appease the powerful Sinhala supremist lobby, the government cannot merge the two provinces, placing Trincomalee in the 'Tamil' province. At the same time the Tamil parties are adamant that the merger must go ahead. The merger would represent the first step to consolidating the Tamil homelands which the Tamils are keen to achieve and the Sinhalese (and the government which they dominate) are determined to prevent.

The TULF party leader has also pointed out that the TULF has enemies amongst the Sinhalese too.

The view that the government is generating a smoke screen is being increasingly expressed, particularly in the light of the clumsy charade that seems to be played out by the Sri Lankan police. The LTTE has now drifted to the bottom of the list of suspects for most observers.


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