"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Tamil Informers & Collaborators

[see also   யாழ்ப்பாணத்தில் 'றோ'வின் கண்கள் - New Delhi's RAW in Jaffna
Struggle for Tamil Eelam - the Intelligence War and
On Collaborators and Informers: A Cross Cultural Comparison - Sachi Sri Kantha]

15 June 1998

A visitor to the tamilnation website from Malaysia wrote:

"I came to understand that some elements among the Tamils act as informers and cooperate fully with the Sinhalese army. How bad is this situation? If it is so, then how is it that nobody has exposed them and their deeds? Is it because the fighters want to show a front of solidarity? I will be thankful for your explanation."

The matter you raise is an important one. Over the past two decades, it is true that some Tamils have acted as informers and have collaborated with the Sinhala army.

Of course, this is something that has happened in other occupied countries as well. During Hitler's occupation of Norway (in World War II) a Norwegian called Quisling collaborated with the Nazis - his name has now become a part of the English vocabulary to describe a traitor. In the case of France, we had the Vichy 'government'. These agents of the alien ruler, on the one hand, dispensed favours to sections of the populace and on the other hand, helped to identify and eliminate those who resisted alien rule.

In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala authorities have recruited, from time to time, Tamils to achieve similar objectives. Some Tamils become willing channels, through whom the Sinhala ruler dispenses favours to sections of the Tamil populace, as the price for their support for alien Sinhala rule - and 'peace'. At the same time,  other Tamils act as informers and identify those who continue to resist Sinhala rule. These Tamil informers wear hoods with slits for them to see through and shake or nod their head as suspected Tamil supporters of the LTTE are paraded before them. They have come to be known as 'thalayattis'.

The irony in the Sri Lankan case, is that many of these 'thalayattis', belong  to Tamil 'militant' groups which at one time, had the liberation of Tamil Eelam as their stated goal. Indeed, these 'militant' groups which now work alongside with the Sinhala government continue to use their old names - PLOTE (the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam), TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation), EPRLF (Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front) etc!

The reason, perhaps, is not far to seek. Each of these groups started life as a militant response to alien Sinhala rule. But the growth of militancy does not follow a preordained order and pattern. Initially each militant group believes that it alone can lead the Tamil people to the promised land. However, an armed resistance movement is no afternoon tea party. It requires both skill and commitment of a high order. The commitment is a commitment of one's life to the cause of liberation - and not every body is able to maintain that commitment as the suffering and pain mount. Again, not everybody has the skill and acumen to survive, consolidate and direct an armed resistance movement - and retain its integrity.

For instance, with India's involvement in the 1980s, some of the militant groups relied on Indian support more than others. India's own foreign policy objectives were eventually seen to be at variance with the demand for Tamil Eelam.

Those groups which were more dependent on Indian support for their survival, were more easily persuaded to the view that it was unwise to continue to struggle for Tamil Eelam in the face of Indian opposition.

And, unsurprisingly, the Indian intelligence services in Tamil Nadu, and the IPKF in Sri Lanka, (in 1987/88) were not slow to make use of these differences between the militant groups. Eduardo Marino reported to International Alert in December 1987:

"Indian Intelligence services in Tamil Nadu, and the IPKF in Sri Lanka, have been making use of the rivalry and violent bickering between the LTTE and the other Tamil militant groups.

Moreover, India has obviously exacerbated the intra-Tamil militant conflict by rewarding materially - offering to do it politically in future as well - the assistance received from PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF to identify LTTE members living underground with the population, and also in the refugee camps - a process of identification that the recently arrived Indian soldiers cannot obviously do. This is one of the oldest classical tactics by occupation armies...

....the Tamil people by and large seem to resent such a fratricidal mercenarisation of their youngsters, which corrupts a situation already vile enough. Also, information-gathering tactics such as the use of relief and recourse to mercenarisation suggest that the population has not been volunteering information to the Indian Army which, in turn, may suggest either or both of two things : that by and large the Tamil population has turned, if only passively, against the Indian Army, and that popular support for the LTTE is more solid and widespread that anyone anywhere seems to want to acknowledge..."

One result of the actions taken by the LTTE against the TELO in 1986 and the EPRLF in 1987 (though such actions were directed to secure the integrity of the struggle for Tamil Eelam) was that the remnants of these groups, later found refuge in the welcoming hands of the Sri Lanka authorities - and Sri Lanka, (as indeed India, before it) sought to use these ex militant groups to further undermine the Tamil struggle. However, the numbers involved were only a few hundred at most.

Here, Velupillai Pirabaharan's remarks on Maha Veerar Naal, 1996 bear repetition:

"From the beginning up to now, we are resolutely committed to our cause....It is because of our firm commitment to our cause we have our importance, individuality and history."

Having said that, it is generally true that securing intelligence is perhaps the most important part of any campaign against a guerrilla movement - particularly when that movement enjoys broad based support among the people. To secure intelligence, the enemy will need to get informers who are (or were) in touch with the activities of the guerrilla movement.

The enemy may also make careful efforts to infiltrate a guerrilla movement, by using individual grievances that a person may have, family connections and so on. And where the situation demands it, this will be backed up by cash inducements. Mark Lloyd, in his recent book 'Special Forces - The Changing Face of Warfare' comments:

"(This infiltration) is best achieved by targeting a participant whose heart is not in it or who is suffering from obvious family pressures. Initial meetings with the target may only be conducted by highly trained operators, and for obvious reasons must take place in the utmost secrecy. The 'need to know' principle, whereby only those within the intelligence network who actively require details of the agent are given them, must be imposed rigidly.."

In recent years, the LTTE has, from time to time, taken action against those who have been proved to be informers and collaborators.  At the same time, it appears that the LTTE is not unaware of the danger that such 'actions' by a guerrilla movement (without permanent courts of law where traitors may be charged and their guilt determined according to law), may lay it open to the charge of acting 'arbitrarily'.

The principles of natural justice demand that no one shall be punished without being heard, that those who judge shall be impartial and not moved by personal considerations. Again, justice must not only be done but must also be (publicly) seen to done. These are not matters simply of procedural law or social contract. They are deep rooted and seem to touch our innate (natural) sense of justice - and humanity.

In the absence of an established judicial system, a guerrilla movement will need to take care to ensure that any action that it takes against a 'traitor' does in fact accord with the principles of natural justice - however difficult that such an approach may sometimes appear to be for those on the ground, engaged as they are in a daily battle for survival against an enemy with a great reservoir of material resources.

An internal contradiction within the Tamil people cannot be addressed in the same way as the external contradiction between the Tamil people and the Sinhala people.

Any action that the LTTE may take against the Sinhala armed forces in combat will be acknowledged as justified without need for further elucidation - and will strengthen the solidarity of the Tamil people. But, any action that the LTTE may take against a Tamil (even though he be a traitor) sets one Tamil (family) against other Tamils, and will divide and erode the solidarity of the Tamil people, unless the justice of the action and the reasons for the action are publicly known and accepted.

The Tamil people are a people not without common-sense and they will have no sympathy with those who are proven traitors and who have, by their actions, placed the lives of those who are struggling for freedom at risk. In the end, a guerrilla movement derives its strength from the people whose cause it represents - and it will need to place its trust on the wisdom of that people. Indeed, if it is to succeed, it has no other option.

Unless the actions taken by the guerrilla movement are seen to be patently just, public support for the guerrilla movement will erode and the 'desire of waverers' to cross over to the enemy may increase. And the enemy will spare no effort to promote this movement.

This may lead to further information being made available to the enemy and further retaliatory 'action' by the guerrilla movement against the 'new' informers - a vicious cycle that is often deliberately encouraged and directed by the enemy to lead ultimately to the disintegration of support for the guerrilla movement. Mark Lloyd, comments in 'Special Forces - The Changing Face of Warfare' :

"This policy (leading to disintegration) worked with excellent results against the Mau Mau in Kenya and against the communist terrorists (sic) in Malaya, and to a lesser extent against various other guerrilla organisations in South America.."

The responses of the LTTE to the activities of some Tamil elements who are co-operating with the Sinhala government, suggest that it is mindful, on the one hand, of the dangers posed by informers, and on the other hand, of the difficulties of responding to such dangers, within the framework of a guerrilla movement without a stable judicial system. But, that is not to say that the LTTE has always succeeded in its efforts to address these issues.

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