Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers Confirm Leader's Arrest

07 August 2009

Sri Lankan officials say the new leader of the vanquished Tamil Tiger rebels is in their custody following his arrest in an undisclosed South East Asian country. Details of the rebel leader's arrest are, so far, unclear. But it is a blow to efforts by the rebels to regroup and revive their separatist struggle for an independent Tamil homeland.

Selvarasa Pathmanathan (Undated file photo)
Selvarasa Pathmanathan (Undated file photo)
Sri Lankan intelligence officials Friday interrogated Selvarasa Pathmanathan - the man who took command of the Tamil Tigers after the Sri Lankan military routed the guerrillas and eliminated their top leadership in May this year.

Pathmanathan has been operating from overseas for many years, and is believed to have run the weapons procurement, smuggling and fundraising operations of the Tamil rebels.

Sri Lankan authorities had stepped up diplomatic efforts for his arrest since he vowed to revive the rebel movement following the death of the powerful Tamil Tiger leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.  

Pathmanathan had announced that the group would put down its weapons and try democratic, non-violent methods to achieve the goal of a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's military spokesman, Udaya Nanayakkara, calls him a "top terrorist." He says the arrest is significant and could help them nab other operatives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the LTTE.

"We have to keep the eyes and ears open for security of Sri Lanka," he said. "That is the main reason for us to go behind these people who are highly involved in terrorist activities. There can be some more LTTE hardcore cadres operating outside Sri Lanka which can emerge as leaders, but then they will never be able to reorganize themselves in Sri Lanka again."      

Pathmanathan is believed to have operated from bases in Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.

There are conflicting reports about where Pathmanathan was arrested. Sri Lankan authorities have refused to comment, citing diplomatic norms. The rebels have said in a statement he was arrested on Wednesday in Malaysia, but the Malaysian police chief said he had no knowledge of such an arrest. The Thai government has denied reports that he was arrested in Bangkok.

He was wanted on gun running charges, and by the Indian government in connection with the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil suicide bomber, in 1991.

Political analysts say Pathmanathan's capture will deal a blow to efforts by remnants of the Tamil Tigers to revive their quarter century long separatist struggle, which ended following a crushing defeat by the military.

It will also be another boost for the Sri Lankan government, which has taken credit for eliminating the Tigers after successive governments failed to either negotiate with the rebels or defeat them. The government says it will not allow the rebel movement to rise again.