The LTTE, Muslim conflict in Sri Lanka

PROJECT PAPER- Intercultural Communication

Written by – Fathima Rimsana & Miss Humaidah Hayih

Rimzana Fathima

Rimzana Fathima


The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamilila vidutalaip pulikal; commonly known as the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers) was a separatist militant organization that was based in northern Sri Lanka. Founded in May 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran, it waged a violent secessionist nationwide campaign to create an independent state in the north and east of Sri Lanka for Tamil people.  This campaign led to the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ran about three decades between Tamil Liberal Tigers and Sri Lankan government. After a 26-year military campaign, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, bringing the civil war to an endwith the help of the Sri Lankan army.

The civil war caused a great depression and difficult for the population during the period it occurred and even for the future, it has affected the environment and the economy of the country, around 80,000–100,000 people were killed through the assassinations and war. At the early part of the conflict, the Sri Lankan forces tried  to retake the areas captured by the LTTE.The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were smart and they replied the government in a way what the terrorists of the world are following. It resulted them to be named as a terrorist organization in 32 countries, including the United States, India, Canada and the member nations of the European Union.  The LTTE was also widely criticized for its forced use of child soldiers and the UN panel of experts reports strongly criticized the LTTE for human rights’ abuses. The Sri Lankan government forces have also been accused of human rights abuses and systemic impunity for serious human rights violations. If we raise a question who should take the responsibility for this civil war, my answer would be, both sides share responsibility for. The LTTE had been trying for years to persuade the Moor Muslim community to support its cause of Tamil Eelam. Even though, the Moors speaks Tamil they do not regard themselves as ethnically Tamil. Therefore, Muslims do not share the LTTE aspirations. I consider this was the cause of the conflict between Muslims and LTTE.

It is stated in the book “Dealing with Diversity: Sri Lankan Discourses on Peace and Conflict” written by Frerks and Klem 2004 that there are Muslims who supported LTTE and even joined their group. There are reasons behind this. Why did they join LTTE when they fight for a Tamil Eelam where Muslims will not be included, it is because LTTE always used the word which is, we are from the Tamil Race and we speak the same language. So, some people were really attracted by these speeches and they joined LTTE. Another group joined said we are not against the legitimate struggle of the Tamil militants.  We join them because; when the Sri Lankan army attacked and crack down upon the Tamil militants they found refuge in Muslim villages. As we are Muslims we helped them by shelter and human power. Lastly, after some assassinations done by LTTE Muslims stopped supporting them. The writer stated that,  “ the rise of militancy among Tamil youths received no support from the peace-loving Muslim,” some people may say even after the assassinations were conducted by LTTE Muslim youths joined them, but the reason behind this was, Muslim youths were “abducted and forced to collaborate with the separatist movement”.

When Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was created on the 21st of September 1981, the idea of the Muslim people of Sri Lanka being separate from the Tamils was reinforced. After this, they felt that if the goal of Tamil Eelam was reached, they would be a “minority, in a minority state”, and the SLMC strongly opposed to the idea of Tamil Eelam by collaborating with government. The situation was further aggravated with the creation of the Muslim Home Guard requested by SLMC,and created by the Sri Lankan Government, It led to violent clashes and incidents taking place between the two communities. Due to these factors anger between the Tamils and Muslims were at an all-time high. Both of the communities would have lived happily if there was no fight for separation of the land. While the conflict was occurring, many young Muslims were abducted and forced to become soldiers in the LTTE force. When there was a massacre of  Muslim Policeman abducted by the LTTE, the attacks on villages in the east, as well as the expulsion of Muslims from the north in 1990 put an end to this Tamil- Muslim alliance, and since then the Muslims are suffered around 22 years in refugee camps.

Peace talks began in 1989 to bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict. However the talks eventually broke down, and the LTTE broke the 13-month ceasefire on June 11, attacking numerous government targets such as Police stations They also began attacking Muslim villages, and burning their shops and homes, suspecting them of supporting the government. On July 24th, Tamil Tiger cadres murdered four Muslims at a mosque in the Batticaloa District. On July 29, Tiger cadres killed 10 worshipers in Samanthurai, 25 miles east of the town of Batticaloa.

Finally they started their ethnic clearance. The first expulsion was taken place in Chavakacheri, 1,500 people were asked to leave the place where they were born and brought up. After this, Muslims in Kilinochchi and Mannar were forced many to leave their homeland. The turn of Jaffna came on October 30, 1990.  LTTE trucks drove through the streets ordering Muslim families to assemble at Osmania College. There, they were told to exit the city and they were only given two hours to leave. The entire Muslim population was expelled from Jaffna. They did not keep even a single person there. They were only allowed to take with them the clothes they were wearing and not more than 50 rupees in cash. Their houses and all what they earned in their whole life were looted by the LTTE, over 14,400 Muslim families, roughly 72,000 people, were forced to leave from LTTE-controlled areas of the Northern Province. This includes 38,000 people from Mannar, 20,000 from Jaffna and Kilinochchi, 9,000 from Vavuniya and 5,000 from Mullaitivu. 1990 ethnic cleansing has taken more than Rs. 10,256 Million from Muslims’ economy. They have taken 30,400 Acres of their land. This ethnic clearance has affected the lives of an entire generation of a community who supported LTTE when they were in need; the position of Muslims in the northeast became more insecure after the expulsion of Muslims in North. Most of them resettled in Puttalam district, but the Jaffna Muslim refugees can be found in other parts of country as well.

In August 1990, they issued a warning to the citizens of Katthankudi . It is located 140 miles east of Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. The warning stated that they should leave the town “live or face death”. At the time, 90 per cent of the population was Muslims in that area and there were 60,000 residences. The Muslims were upset and weak inside thinking about what happened the Muslims in the north a year ago, but they did not show that, the result for not leaving their homeland, on the 3rd of August, around 30 heavily armed Tamil rebels crossed a lagoon and entered the town of Kattankudi. At around 8.10PM, they entered the Meer Jumma Mosque, Husseinia Mosque, Majid-Jul-Noor  Mosque and Fowzie Mosque, when around 300 devotees were attending Friday Isha prayers. The LTTE cadres were dressed as Muslims to avoid suspicion. While the Muslims were in prayer, the Tamil rebels attacked them, spraying automatic fire and hurling hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side, it resulted with losing 100 men and boys, but as many of the injured who were rushed to hospital,  also had to lose their lives, and the final death amount rose to over 147. Some of the victims who escaped from the attack spoke to the New York Times and said, “I was kneeling down and praying when the rebels started shooting. The firing went on continuously  for 15 minutes. I escaped without being hit, and finally I found myself among bodies all over the place.” Another 17-year-old student said “I survived from the massacre: “Before I escaped from a side door, I saw a Tiger rebel put a gun into the mouth of a small Muslim boy and pull the trigger”. In my opinion is that the way where people fight for their separation of identity, and I completely believe this is what the terrorists have done throughout the years in the history.

They did not stop from there; they took over nearly 63,000 acres of paddy lands belonging to Muslims of the Eastern province. The lands that belonged to the displaced Muslims from the Northern Province continued to remain under the control of the LTTE and now it is under the control of the government. Besides, agricultural implements, motor vehicles and cattle were taken away by the LTTE. Economic Destabilization hit Muslims in the North – East for entire life, they denied the right of Fishing. In areas such as Valaichenai, Ottamavadi, Eravur and other coastal areas in the East, boats and fishing gears were robbed by the LTTE. Many Muslim fishermen have also been killed while at sea by the sea tigers. They did not respect for Religion and Culture. The grenade attack on a mosque in Akkraipattu and massacre of Muslims at congregational prayer in Kattankudy and Eravur, as well as the cold-blooded murder of Hajj pilgrims returning in 1990 in Kaluwanchikudi, demonstrate the extremism of  LTTE and Tamil militants towards the religion and culture of the Muslims.

Why are the Tigers doing this?  Nirupama Subramanian says in her article that, “At the heart of the problem is the LTTE’s view of itself as the absolute ruler of the north-east, which may be acceptable to Tamils but not to the Muslims.” This is the changing ethnic composition of the east: in 1981, when the last full census was conducted in Sri Lanka, Tamils were 43 per cent of the population in the eastern province that is in Trincomalee, Batticialoa and Ampara, while Muslims formed 33 per cent. Considering this difference,the LTTE claimed that they must be the rulers of North and east of the island which cannot be acceptable by any other ethnic groups. The Muslims were clear about the fact that, they have issues only with the Tigers and not with the Tamil people. Tigers’ plan was to drive out their entire community from the east as they did in Jaffna. But they could not do it as they expect it would happen. So, what they did was, they made it difficult for Muslims to continue living in the east by targeting their economy and individual lives especially Muslim youths’ lives. Muslims controlled much of the trade and business in the east, and that was the major issue for LTTE.  Afterwards Muslims were blamed because of forming Muslim Home Guard, but in my opinion they must have had the right to take back their rights from the Tamils through militancy, when they continued to treat them badly. After all these severe cases, Muslim youth to begin to think that, just as the LTTE took arms to win Tamil rights from the Sinhalese we will also take weapons to claim our rights on that if the LTTE continues to treat us badly, Muslim youth began to think that we want the right upon our motherland, but by the help of SLMC it was stopped.

The reason for me to support these writers statements are the sufferings of Muslims because of LTTE carders activities against Muslims.. And they didn’t stop even after the peace talk with the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. They did not let the Muslims to be in peace even in refugee camps. 03 August 2006 is recorded as another sad day in the history of the Muslims in Sri Lanka. Three schools in Muttur which have been converted to refugee centers were bombarded with heavy Artillery fire. The intention of the LTTE very clearly was to cause the maximum damage to a helpless innocent Muslim community who were gathered in large numbers at these refugee centers. In the historical relationships over thousands of years there was peace between the Tamil and the Muslim communities. But were broken down by a series of unforgettable and unforgivable incidents

The greatest attitudes of most of the expelled Muslims that I have read about in these articles is that , They realize that, it was the LTTE that was responsible for their sufferings and expulsion . They never  blame the ordinary Tamil people for that. Muslims have their fondness for the Tamil language, its literature and their mother tong. They have never scolded the entire Tamil Race although their suffering were caused due to this fact. Some of the Tamils did a greater and vigorous demand to get all expelled Muslims be resettled in their former homes with full compensation and restoration of property and awarded alternate provisions wherever necessary, but it did not happen as they expected. Recently I saw a video documentary which talked about the resettled Muslims life in Jafna. It is unbearable to see them living in cottage even without their basic needs are provided. They are still suffering even after 22 years. They do not have schools for their children and they do not have a toilet in their homes. The entire North Muslims generation has been effected by the expulsion. They are suffering without getting drinking water for their need, 700 families are sharing a single well to get water. Still Sri Lankan Muslims from north are proud of saying that the North is their homeland. Although the Muslims and Tamils know the truth behind all these sufferings still there is a gap between these communities. So, there is a need for rapprochement between the Tamils and Muslims of the North. A strong sincere hand of friendship should be stretched between Tamils and the Muslims. A genuine and humble mass apology should be asked towards the Muslims for the mass expulsion and attacks done by the LTTE.

It is view that all LTTE do not represent Tamils and their activities upon Muslims do not represent the whole Tamils will have the same feeling upon Muslims. I believe that, Tamil peoples silence over the human rights abuses of the LTTE is, because of the fear and the misguidance during the wartime.  Has also created an environment where they cannot support Muslims due to the rules of LTTE. Some of the Tamils have often condemned the brutal murders of LTTE privately. It was not enough to save a community, if the Tamils had the power and the courage to express their views about the acts of LTTE upon Muslims, the abuses against Muslims would have come to an end. Silence can never reduce or stop abuse. No religion encourages violence behavior upon each other. Religion is never part of violence politics is the only reason behind all the violence actions.

#MissHumaidahHayih #Rimsana

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