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 Post subject: India must join battle to defang the LTTE
 Post Posted: Thu May 17, 2007 1:33 pm 
India must join battle to defang the LTTE
Despite their shared ancestry, the Tigers are no friends of India

Parliamentarians of Asian origin in the UK who contributed in large measure to the financing of the Kashmir jihad are set to do the same, pushing to lift the ban on Tigers, opening the route to recommencing overseas funding. It's time India and Sri Lanka shed the crutch of foreign interlocutors and craft their own joint strategy.

By Neena Gopal, Special to
@ Gulf News - 13/05/2007


Three times now and in as many weeks, a long suspected but hitherto unseen Tamil Tiger Air Force has exploded the myth of Sri Lanka's newfound military invincibility.

Will it slow President Mahinda Rajapakse's war machine that has eaten into the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's eastern territories?

Concomitant to the argument, will India, which has covertly helped Colombo tackle the Tigers, take a more overt role to protect its vulnerable and emotive southern flank and safeguard its valued brains trust who have been put on the rebel hit list?

No denying that as the "Vazhu Puligal" (Air Tigers) attacked two Sri Lankan military air bases - one in Jaffna in the north and the other, deep in the south, slap bang next to its international airport - and then its oil depots, not only Colombo and Delhi, but the world also stopped to take note. Sri Lanka's antiquated radar and anti-aircraft defence systems and battery- operated, hand-held missiles that jammed were unable to do much more than light up the night sky with tracer bullets as the Air Tigers, skimming the tree tops, flying low to evade the radar, dropped their bombs with impunity and flew back to sea.

The Sri Lankan air force, unable to engage and destroy the rebel aircraft is clearly frozen in the glare of the Tiger. But as defence experts dismiss the military threat posed by these men in blue as no more than an irritating gnat that must be squashed, there's no denying the propaganda value of the Air Tigers in the eyes of a gullible public fed on tales of Tamil valour in the face of Sinhalese pusillanimity.

Officials believe the Tigers could have five to ten Czech-made Zlin-143 light planes, available for the asking in Europe's markets.

Like all arms in its possession, these too were probably smuggled into the island in parts, to be reassembled and rigged with a small payload of bombs. It could have been brought in by sea.

But with stepped up patrolling by the Indian Navy and a close eye being kept on the support extended by Indian Tamils to their ethnic kin across the Palk Strait, officials suspect the planes may have been transported under the cover of tsunami aid.

Indeed, even the construction of the Iranamadu air strip deep in the Wanni jungles was brought to the attention of Colombo, New Delhi and the Norwegian peace facilitators as soon as it was detected by satellite images, it was dismissed as no threat at all. International defence experts, even the Indian cabinet meeting on security this week, say the same.

The Indian cabinet convened a day after Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said the Tigers' air threat has a range of 200-300 nautical miles that brings Sri Lankan cities, shipping in the Indian Ocean, and Indian nuclear installations within range.

No secret

That Colombo wants greater Indian involvement is no secret.

A mutual defence pact has been ready for several years but remains unsigned. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government does not want to anger his coalition partner in Tamil Nadu.

The ageing Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, whose family is haemorrhaging on the succession issue, is increasingly vulnerable to LTTE supporters like rival Vaiko, who could exploit any sign of weakness to push through his larger agenda of creating a Greater Tamil Eelam.

India has already supplied a new radar to augment the existing two. One more is on the way. Sri Lanka's air force, an object of ire in Tiger headquarters at Killinochchi for bombing raids on its purported homeland that pushed up civilian casualties and forced it to concede ground, wants to upgrade their Israeli-made Kfir fighter planes and fit them with intercepters, manufactured in India.

They also want Russian- made MIG 29s fitted with interceptors through which India dominated the skies during combat with Pakistan's US-supplied F16s.

As Rajapakse's envoy arrives in New Delhi today with a letter for Singh, India's reluctance to get openly involved in the battle to defang the separatists must be reviewed.

Talks on devolution simply have no currency in Killinochchi. Singh's government loses nothing in heeding Rajapakse over revisiting the defunct Cease-Fire Agreement to re-examine the feasibility of retaking Jaffna.

Parliamentarians of Asian origin in the UK who contributed in large measure to the financing of the Kashmir jihad are set to do the same, pushing to lift the ban on Tigers, opening the route to recommencing overseas funding. It's time India and Sri Lanka shed the crutch of foreign interlocutors and craft their own joint strategy.

The "Vazhu Puligal" may not pose an immediate threat to Indian security. But the suicide bombers were invented by the Tigers and fine tuned as a chilling tool of destruction in their bloody battle for a homeland to destroy anyone who stood in their way; as they did with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991. Despite their shared ancestry, the Tigers are no friends of India.


Neena Gopal is an analyst on Asia.


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