Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil: தமிழீழ விடுதலைப் புலிகள், romanized: Tamiḻīḻa viṭutalaip pulikaḷ, Sinhala: දෙමළ ඊළාම් විමුක්ති කොටි, romanized: Demaḷa īḷām vimukti koṭi, commonly known as the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers) was a Tamil militant and political organisation that was based in northeastern Sri Lanka. Its aim was to secure an independent state of Tamil Eelam in the north and east in response to the state policies of successive Sri Lankan governments towards Tamils.
Founded in May 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran, it was involved in armed clashes against the Sri Lankan state forces and by the late 1980s was the dominant Tamil militant group in Sri Lanka. The escalation of intermittent conflict into a full-scale nationalist insurgency however did not commence before the countrywide pogroms against Tamils. Since 1983, more than 80,000 have been killed in the civil war that lasted 26 years, a large number of whom were Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.
The LTTE which started out as a guerrilla force, over time, increasingly came to resemble that of a conventional fighting force with a well-developed military wing that included a navy, an airborne unit, an intelligence wing, and a specialised suicide attack unit. It was designated as a terrorist organisation by 32 countries, including the European Union, Canada, the United States, and India. The Indian state's relationship with the LTTE in particular, was complex, as it went from initially supporting the organisation to engaging it in direct combat through the Indian Peace Keeping Force, owing to changes in the former's foreign policy during the phase of the conflict.
It was known for using women and children in combat and is recognised for having carried out a number of high-profile assassinations, including Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993 and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Over the course of the conflict, the Tamil Tigers frequently exchanged control of territory in the north-east with the Sri Lankan military, with the two sides engaging in intense military confrontations. It was involved in four unsuccessful rounds of peace talks with the Sri Lankan government and at its peak in 2000, the LTTE was in control of 76% of the landmass in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran headed the organisation from its inception until his death in 2009.
The LTTE is a rare example of a secular group that has used suicide bombing as a tactic. Religious apologists have cited the LTTE, along with Imperial Japan, as an argument against the claim that suicide bombings are religiously motivated. Although the LTTE was a secular organisation, its members were free to hold whatever beliefs they see fit.
The United States Department of State states that its reason for banning LTTE as a proscribed terrorist group is based on allegations that LTTE does not respect human rights and that it does not adhere to the standards of conduct expected of a resistance movement or what might be called "freedom fighters".
The FBI has described the LTTE as "amongst the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world". Other countries have also proscribed LTTE under the same rationale. Numerous countries and international organisations have accused the LTTE of attacking civilians and recruiting children. Despite the allegations of human rights abuses, LTTE has been noted for its lack of use of sexualised violence or rape as a tactic.
There are allegations that war crimes were committed by the LTTE during the final months of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009. The alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings by both sides; executions of combatants and prisoners by both sides; forced disappearances by the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them; acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone; and recruitment of child soldiers by both the Tamil Tigers, and the TMVP, a Sri Lankan Army paramilitary group.
A panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the civil war found "credible allegations" which, if proven, indicated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers. The panel has called on the UNSG to conduct an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law.