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Fall/Winter 2000
The Increasing Threats of Separatist Movements
Spain
Kashmir
Sri Lanka

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The Increasing Threats of Separatist Movements:
Spain, Kashmir, Sri Lanka

LTTE in Sri Lanka

Two main ethnic groups speaking different languages comprise the population of Sri Lanka: the Buddhist Sinhalese who are in the majority and control the government and the Hindu Tamils, who comprise about 12.5 percent of the population and live in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE/ Tigers) is a violent separatist group, waging a bloody war with the Sri Lankan government for an independent Tamil homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

Founded in 1976, the LTTE began its armed rebellion in 1983. Since that time, more than 62,000 people have been killed in the civil war. Led by its secretive leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, 46, a confessed assassin, the LTTE, through its elite Black Tiger unit, primarily engages in suicide bombings against government and military officials and civilians. Suicide bombers have also targeted Sri Lanka's political, economic and cultural infrastructure.

Moderate Tamil nationalism has been wiped out through the assassination of hundreds of Tamil leaders who have opposed LTTE violence. Victims of LTTE suicide bombings have included a former Indian prime minister, a Sri Lankan president, cabinet ministers and legislators. In December 1999, suicide bombers struck at both government and opposition rallies during presidential elections, killing dozens of people and seriously wounding President Chandrika Kumaratunga. In June 2000, Tamil Tigers launched a suicide bombing in Colombo that killed a Cabinet minister and 22 others.

Today, the LTTE is more than a terrorist organization; it is estimated to have 8,000-10,000 armed combatants with a core of 3,000-6,000 trained fighters. These fighters regularly attack the Sri Lankan military and it is believed that at least 60 percent of the Tigers' hardware, especially heavy weapons such as artillery, tanks and armored personnel carriers, have been captured intact from the Sri Lankan army.

The LTTE has become an international movement with a significant overseas support structure for fund-raising, weapons procurement and propaganda activities. It has businesses, terrorist cells and supporters all over the world. The Tigers are believed to operate a highly secretive set of businesses, including running illegal immigrants into Europe and North America, that deliver an estimated $60 million a year. Owning more than a dozen ships, the Tigers smuggle arms, ammunition, explosives and illegal narcotics as well as transport rice, cement and other legitimate cargo to Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The LTTE is believed to raise millions of dollars annually through "front" charity organizations supporting Tamil humanitarian aid, and Tamils living abroad are often "taxed" by LTTE representatives in Asia, Europe, and North America.

The U.S. banned the LTTE in October 1997, designating it a foreign terrorist organization. American supporters of the LTTE sued the Department of State challenging the Secretary of State's designation procedure. In June 1999, a U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the designation and in May 2000 the Supreme Court left the designation intact. U.S. supporters of the LTTE also lost a challenge to the ban on providing "material support" to designated foreign terrorist organizations when a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in March 2000 that the ban on donations to terrorist groups is constitutional even if the donor intends the money to be used for humanitarian activities because "[M]aterial support given to a terrorist organization can be used to promote the organization's unlawful activities, regardless of donor intent."

India outlawed the group after it emerged as the prime suspect in the May 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In July 2000, Sri Lanka asked Britain to close its branch of the LTTE in London -- known as the "international secretariat" of the movement.

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