Arrests not ethnic: LTTE

[TamilNet, Monday, 21 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Seven out of the 39 Muslim villagers arrested on suspicion of abducting an unarmed Sea Tiger squad have been released, the LTTE said in a press release on Thursday. The other 32 suspects are still in custody pending an LTTE investigation. The statement also stressed that the arrests were not indiscriminate and not based on ethnic grounds but were based on information received on specific individuals.

The LTTE said that they had freed 7 out of the 39 Muslim men arrested in Irakandy village in the Trincomalee district several days earlier. Those released into the custody of the ICRC were a cleric and six students.

The LTTE say that those still being held are suspected collaborators of the Sri Lankan army who had attacked and abducted an unarmed Sea Tiger unit on June 28.

Following an accident at sea near Irikandy village, the Sea Tigers had swum ashore. The exhausted troopers are said to have sought assistance from the village and are said to have been unarmed and without their cyanide capules, the latter indicating that they were not on operational duty.

Some of the villagers, believed to have been paramilitaries working for the Sri Lankan Army, had assaulted the Tigers and overpowered them. They had then handed over their prisoners to the SLA.

Details of the incident were relayed to the LTTE by its sympathisers in the village and subsequently 39 residents had been detained by the Tigers. The village leaders are believed to be among those arrested.

Tiger fighters carry cyanide capsules to avoid capture and inevitable torture before execution by the Sri Lankans. The LTTE statement said that the captured men were being tortured for information. An LTTE official also told us that they were taking steps to minimise damage that might be done by the information extracted from their men.

The official also said that the arrests were carried out not only to locate the individuals who took part in this particular attack, but also to identify the Sri Lankan army's paramilitary organisation within the village.

The LTTE statement also assured concerned individuals and organisations (Amnesty International has appealed for the release of the captives) that all detainees were being treated humanely and stressed that those being held were not 'hostages' as claimed by the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhalese press.

The LTTE has said that if their men are released, they will drop the issue and release the suspects, but the Sri Lankan government is unlikely to let their captives free, going on its past records.

Until earlier this year, relations between the Tamil and (Tamil-speaking) Muslim communities had been patchy. The Sri Lankan government has been able to take advantage of this, promoting inter-communal clashes to keep opposition to its Sinhala rule divided.

Tamil militia working with the Sri Lankan army have attacked Muslim villages, drawing counter attacks by Muslims on Tamil villages. Such tit for tat attacks have cost hundreds of lives on both sides.

Relations between the Tamil and Muslim communities in the Tamil cultural capital, Jaffna became particularly strained in 1990, and matters came to a head with the LTTE expelling the Muslims, the vast majority of whom relocated to the eastern side of the island. The LTTE has since acknowledged that its decision was heavy-handed, and has expressed hope that the Muslim community will return to Jaffna.

Earlier this year, senior LTTE leaders met with representatives of the Muslim community under the auspices of the Red Cross to resolve their differences. The talks concluded successfully according to all three parties.

When the talks were in progress, a spate of attacks against Muslim villages took place, with the Sri Lankan government claiming the LTTE was responsible. Despite the government's efforts to disrupt the dialogue, the LTTE and the Muslim leadership seem to have formed an informal alliance.

Both sides are benefiting from the alliance: the Muslim areas of the island's east are prospering as the LTTE is working with the Muslim leadership to reestablish the infrastructure for trade (the community's forte). The LTTE is enjoying increased support from the Muslim populace, albeit cautiously, and recruitment of Muslim youth is said to be on the increase.

Punitive atrocities by the Sri Lankan army are also on the increase, particularly in the eastern areas where murders and rapes of Tamils and Muslims alike are becoming routine.

Whilst the two communities were still clashing, the Sri Lankan military was able to recruit Muslim paramilitaries (the SLA doesn't actually trust Muslims to be inducted directly in any numbers into the Sinhala army), and incidents such as at Irikandy cannot be ruled out from reoccurring.

However, both the Tamils and Muslims are keen not to disrupt the alliance. The LTTE has appealed to the Muslim leadership to facilitate the release of the captured Sea Tigers by using 'their influence' and said that the cleric and students were released on humanitarian grounds as a "gesture of good-will intended to promote and consolidate existing Tamil-Muslim amity".

Notably, there have been no reported incidents of clashes between the Tamil and Muslim populaces following the Irikandy incident, and the Muslim leadership have not been vocal on the matter. The Sri Lankan government has conversely been using the incident to present the LTTE as 'hostage-takers'. In this light, it is even less likely the Sinhalese are going to help resolve the matter by releasing the Tigers.


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