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Cablegate: Little Support for Tamil Tigers in India Despite

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DE RUEHCG #0039/01 0351052
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 041052Z FEB 08
FM AMCONSUL CHENNAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1452
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2949
RUEHCG/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS CHENNAI 000039

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREF PREL PTER IN CE
SUBJECT: LITTLE SUPPORT FOR TAMIL TIGERS IN INDIA DESPITE
CEASEFIRE'S END

REF: 2007 CHENNAI 690

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Recent events in Sri Lanka, including the Sri
Lankan government's decision to formally withdraw from the ceasefire
agreement and target the Tamil Tiger leadership, have been widely
covered in Tamil Nadu media. Despite the coverage, India's Tamils
remain lukewarm to the occasional appeal to "pan-Tamil" sentiment.
Popular revulsion against the Tamil Tiger's 1991 assassination of
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi near Chennai means there is virtually no
political space for supporters of the Tamil Tigers in Tamil Nadu.
The few remaining political leaders known to support the Tamil
Tigers exist on the margins of Tamil Nadu politics. Police contacts
dispute media reports indicating Tamil Tiger activities are on the
rise in the state while emphasizing their continued commitment to
fighting the terrorist group. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) The Tamil Nadu media closely covers the Sri Lankan
conflict. but recent events on the island nation have received
particularly close attention. The dramatic October 22 air raid on
the Sri Lankan Air Force's Anuradhapura base by the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam's "Air Tigers" received wide coverage. Then
the November 2 air strike which killed Thamilchelvan, the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam's political leader, created a stir especially
after Chief Minister Karunanidhi's controversial poetic eulogy of
the slain Tamil Tiger (reftel). In December, the government of Sri
Lanka's claims that it injured Prabhakaran lead to much speculation
about the elusive Tamil Tiger leader's health and even to stories
that his wife had fled to Tamil Nadu. In January the media also
reported extensively on the Sri Lankan government's decisions to
place underwater mines in its side of the Palk Strait and to
terminate of the 2002 ceasefire agreement.

NO POPULAR SUPPORT FOR LTTE:
RAJIV GANDHI ASSASSINATION "CHANGED EVERYTHING"
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (SBU) With Sri Lanka heating up, we canvassed our contacts to get
a sense of Tamil Nadu sentiment about events on the island. We
spoke with security analysts, journalists, refugee leaders, as well
as government and police officials. The most consistent message we
heard was that revulsion at the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
"decisively" turned Tamil Nadu against the terrorist group. While
acknowledging that pro-LTTE sentiment was common prior to the
assassination, a media contact said that "1991 changed everything.
There is no longer grassroots support for the LTTE." This view was
echoed by police and government officials, as well as leaders in the
Sri Lankan refugee community.

4. (SBU) When we inquired about Indian opinion on recent attacks
targeting LTTE leadership, our contacts said Indian Tamils do not
care that the Sri Lankan army is trying to decapitate the LTTE. A
police intelligence officer said "If Prabhakaran (the LTTE's supreme
leader) is killed, nobody would care. This is because there is 99%
opposition to the LTTE in Tamil Nadu." The officer added that
politicians like Vaiko, leader of the MDMK party, who are
sympathetic to the LTTE have "learned the hard way that there is no
support" for the LTTE cause in Tamil Nadu.

5. (SBU) Despite the consensus opposition to the LTTE in Tamil
Nadu, there are still a few political players who openly support the
LTTE. These include the MDMK and VCK parties. The VCK is part of
the DMK-led ruling coalition; the MDMK allied with the opposition
AIADMK. VCK General Secretary Thol Thirumavalavan caused a stir
recently when he reportedly gave a speech in support of the banned
terrorist organization. Condemnation of the speech came swiftly
from across the political spectrum, leading Chief Minister
Karunanidhi to warn Thirumavalavan to stop supporting the LTTE. The
pro-LTTE parties are marginal and wield little political power: the
MDMK holds six and the VCK two seats of the 234 total seats in the
state's Legislative Assembly.

NO "PAN-TAMIL" IDENTITY
-----------------------

6. (SBU) Our contacts also de-emphasized the idea that a "pan-Tamil"
identity connects Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil communities. A policy
analyst who has close contacts in Sri Lanka said the idea of
historic ties between Indian and Sri Lankan Tamils is "overblown."
He said "(Indian) Tamil youth don't care what is happening on the
island. They are only concerned with material things." A police
intelligence officer said much the same: "A Pan-Tamil identity does
not exist." He pointed out that in the European and North American

diasporas Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils do not mix, even worshiping
at different temples. A Sri Lankan refugee organizer also noted
that although Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils speak the same language,
Indian Tamils know that a Sri Lankan Tamil "is from the island the
moment he opens his mouth" because of his accent and the words he
uses.

REPORTS OF SMUGGLING AND ARRESTS ON THE RISE
---------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) There has been a marked increase in media reports about
seizures of smuggled supplies bound for Sri Lanka and of arrests of
LTTE operatives in recent weeks. The stories concerning smuggling
claimed that items as diverse as iron bars, plastic granules,
detonators, and global positioning system units were seized by the
authorities. Our police contacts downplayed the amount of smuggling
and disputed some of the reports, while emphasizing their commitment
to eliminating LTTE smuggling. Tacitly acknowledging the seizure of
detonators, a police intelligence officer told us that the small
size of the recent seizures demonstrates that LTTE smuggling has
been pushed to the margins. Referring to a media report that the
police had seized 5,000 detonators, he said "before we would see
75,000 or even 100,000 detonators at a time." With support for the
LTTE existing solely at the margins, he said, only "small-time"
smugglers are willing to work for the LTTE.

8. (SBU) Our contacts were split on the question of whether LTTE
smuggling through Tamil Nadu is on the rise. Police contacts
emphatically denied any such suggestion. The police intelligence
officer said "we have no indication smuggling is on the rise." But
a media contact said he believes the LTTE is likely stepping up its
smuggling through Tamil Nadu because its other routes have been cut
off, but acknowledged that any recent seizures are also due, in
part, to increasingly effective police activities. (NOTE: The
ruling DMK party -- which before 1991 was openly sympathetic to the
LTTE -- is frequently charged with being "soft" on the LTTE. Such
accusations, voiced primarily by the opposition AIADMK party, have
been on the rise of late. But police officials and independent
observers tell us that the DMK leadership (up to and including Chief
Minister Karunanidhi himself) have clearly instructed the security
forces to take all necessary actions against the LTTE,
notwithstanding the periodic, politically motivated expressions of
sympathy to the "suffering Tamils of Sri Lanka" articulated by DMK
leaders. END NOTE.)

9. (SBU) Separate media reports had alleged that Prabhakaran's wife
had surfaced in Tamil Nadu and that the police had arrested
Thambidurai Parameswaran, the LTTE's "Tamil Nadu intelligence
chief." Our police contacts disavowed these reports. But they did
say that they are keeping close tabs on LTTE operatives and
supporters in Tamil Nadu. "We have good intelligence and are not
letting up on the few supporters that remain here," the intelligence
officer told us, adding that those who remain are not in
"operations," but rather help with logistics and propaganda.

ALL QUIET, BUT ANOTHER REFUGEE WAVE COULD STIR THINGS UP
--------------------------------------------- ---------

10. (SBU) COMMENT: With the constant drumbeat of bad news coming
from Sri Lanka, we were surprised that we did not hear at least a
little more dissatisfaction or anger here in Tamil Nadu. Opposition
to the LTTE remains strong in the state. The only issue that has
seemed to resonate at all was the Sri Lankan government's decision
to mine the Palk Strait, which has upset Tamil Nadu's fisherman who
rely on the ability to fish in Sri Lanka's more bountiful waters.
But with concerns about the mining limited to coastal communities,
the general sense is that Tamil Nadu public opinion on Sri Lanka
will not move much unless there is a massive influx of the sort in
1989 through 1992 when 122,000 refugees flooded into the state. A
decision by Sri Lanka that leads to another flood of refugees, such
as a military offensive into the LTTE's northern stronghold, could
pierce the indifference. If faced with a new influx, we think the
Tamil Nadu electorate would likely expect the DMK leadership to
exert its influence in New Delhi to pressure the Sri Lankan
government to pull back. END COMMENT.

HOPPER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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