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Defeated Tamil rebels name new leader

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 22 July 2009

Sri Lanka's vanquished Tamil Tiger rebels name a man accused of running a huge arms smuggling operation as their new leader, two months after government troops crushed the separatist movement. Jonathan Miller reports.

A Tamil Tigers flag (picture: Reuters)

The new leader has promised to remake the rebels into a peaceful separatist movement.

Selvarasa Pathmanathan was the rebels' chief of international relations and allegedly ran a global weapons smuggling ring.

The Sri Lankan government has asked foreign governments to track him down and arrest him. Pathmanathan "will lead us into the next steps of our freedom struggle according to the vision of our esteemed leader," said the Tiger's executive committee on Tuesday.

He replaces Velupillai Prabhakaran, the man who led the Tigers for years before being shot dead by Sri Lankan forces in May.

The Tigers said they have set up a head office and an executive committee to push for their dream of an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have claimed unfair treatment at the hands of Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese.

Pathmanathan said earlier the Tigers would give up their military struggle and use peaceful means to achieve their objectives, and he pledged the group would become democratic — a huge shift from Prabhakaran's dictatorial leadership.

"Like all liberation struggles, we will modify the form and strategies of our struggle according to times and demands," the statement said.

The government said in May that its forces had defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and ended the civil war that started in 1983.

The rebels used to have control of a shadow state across northern Sri Lanka supported by thousands of guerrilla fighters, a navy and even a nascent air force.

In the last days of the war, the military killed much of the senior Tiger leadership, including Prabhakaran. About 10,000 ex-rebels are government prisoners.

It was not clear whether Pathmanathan would get the backing of the 800,000 Tamil expatriates in the UK, Canada, Australia and in other nations.

It is clear that they are divided over whom to support. The LTTE's website, TamilNet website, does not have any statements from Pathmanathan.

It is said that many Tamils are angry with Pathmanathan for quickly acknowledging Prabhakaran's death while other people refused to believe the rebel chief had been killed.

In response to the allegations made by Pathmanathan the Sri Lankan High Commission in London told us:

"Selvarasa Pathmanathan is not the LTTE leader. The LTTE has been eliminated in Sri Lanka. We do not recognise Selvarasa Pathmanathan as the leader of the Tamil Tigers - or LTTE.

"Interpol is hunting for Selvarasa Pathmanathan. No such organisation exists in Sri Lanka  because the military operations in May saw its total elimination. Sri Lanka is negotiating with moderate Tamil political groups. Selvarasa Pathmanathan is wanted by Interpol for his many atrocities.

"Tamils are not dying in camps. We are willing to negotiate a peaceful solution. We are currently talking with moderate Tamil political parties."

Full statement from Sri Lankan High Commission:

There are three areas of concern with the allegations made by Selvarasa Pathmanathan.

Firstly the fact that he recognises himself as the new leader of the LTTE and has been selected as such, secondly that he believes his cadres are in the jungle awaiting his instructions to resume the struggle, and finally his allegation that people are dying in what he calls concentration camps.

With regard to these allegations: Firstly we do not recognise Selvarasa Pathmanathan as the leader of the LTTE.

There is no organisation called the LTTE existing in Sri Lanka at present for Selvarasa Pathmanathan or someone else to give leadership to.

The humanitarian military operations that concluded last May saw the total elimination of the LTTE along with their entire leadership and all military materiel.

Sri Lankan forces are in total control of the situation in the country and their forces are dominating every inch of the ground which was under LTTE control three years ago. So there are no LTTE cadres with weapons in the jungle as claimed by Pathmanathan.

We know that Interpol is after Pathmanathan, and that India is also after (him) and we are certain that he will be arrested very soon and will be charged for his involvement with procurement of arms for the LTTE and for many other atrocities.

We deny his assertion that the Sri Lankan government is unwilling to negotiate a peaceful political solution, as our government and all Sri Lankan governments since 1985 have always been willing to negotiate and the door has always been open for negotiation. Right now we are negotiating with moderate Tamils, like Anandasangaree the head of the main Tamil political party in Sri Lanka.

His claim that people are dying in the IDSL camps is untrue. It is a part of his propaganda campaign to bring disrepute to Sri Lanka and to mislead the international community.

The reason why we are responding to Pathmanathans allegations through Channel 4 News is that we believe Channel 4 News is a responsible media organisation. Otherwise it is a waste of time and futile to respond to false statements made by a person like him.

Timeline: the Tamil rebellion


17 Oct - The Sri Lanka army launches air strikes on Tamil bases.


26 Mar - The Tamil Tigers launch an air attack for the first time, bombing a military base.

29 Apr - A Tamil air raid targets a refinery that supplies the Sri Lanka army with fuel.

20 Jun - Scores of rebels killed as army attacks three camps.


4 Feb - Bus bomb kills dozens in Weli-oya.

6 Apr - Suicide bomber kills government minister outside Colombo.

23 Apr - Troops and rebels killed in heavy fighting.

14 Jul - Dozens of rebels and one army soldier killed in heavy fighting.

2 Nov - The Tamil Tigers political chief is killed in an air raid.

20 Dec - A Tamil Tigers ship is sunk.


2 Jan - Sri Lanka army claims a breakthorough by seizing control of the Tamil headqurters in Colombo.

18 Mar - The army claims Tamil Tigers opened fire on hundreds of civilians as they fled fighting by sea.

19 Apr - The Sri Lanka army prepares for a final push.

20 Apr - Tamil rebels are urged to surrender.

24 Apr - The Sri Lanka army vow to keep fighting and reject the notion of a truce.

27 Apr - Sri Lanka declares the war over.

12 May - Thousands driven from north of Sri Lanka by aerial bombardment.

18 May - Tamil leader and founder Velupillai Prabhakaran is shot dead.

19 May - President Rajapaksa claims Sri Lanka has been 'liberated'.

29 May - A United Nations report suggests 20,000 civilians were killed in the Sri Lanka army's final push.

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