Sri Lanka

When Tigers Pounce

The surprise attack on Colombo’s Katunayake air base and Bandaranaike International Airport by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on July 24 was perhaps the group’s most daring terrorist tactic yet. Unlike its usual hit-and-run raids on the ground and in the sea, this attack was highly precise: An LTTE suicide squad penetrated a high-security zone—in fact, the most protected installation in Sri Lanka. What’s more, the bombing came at a time when the government had been assuring the people that it was winning the undeclared war against the separatist Tamil rebels.

By the looks of the attack’s aftermath, nothing could be further from the truth. Air Lanka, the national flag carrier, lost six planes in the bombing.

Even worse off is the Sri Lankan tourist industry, the principal source of the country’s foreign exchange, which can no longer sell travelers on the island’s safety. In Colombo’s independent Sunday Times on Aug. 7, an editorial blamed the attack for crashing the “already fragile and just about managing” tourist industry on its head.

The credibility of the political leadership too is now seriously in doubt. According to pundits, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was already facing a no-confidence motion and thinning parliamentary support, must come up with a power-sharing solution that will slake the Tigers’ demands for secession.

In Sri Lanka, the minority Tamils often face discrimination in education and jobs from the majority Sinhalese. The LTTE has been at war with the government since 1983, when it began its mission to create a Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern parts of the island.

According to reports, the LTTE’s endless source of money comes from its trade in narcotics. These funds enable the group to purchase highly sophisticated weaponry, including heavy artillery, from the international arms bazaar.

After the bombing, the Sri Lankan press was awash with condemnation of the Tigers’ no-holds-barred tactics. “The horrors unleashed by the Tigers,” a July 31 editorial in the government-owned Daily News read, “should have spoken more eloquently than words and borne the truth of the LTTE’s intransigence.”

Amantha Perera, writing in The Sunday Leader of Colombo (Aug. 5), noted that immediately after the attack, international flights into Sri Lanka were being “slapped with high insurance premiums,” and five-star hotels were “receiving cancellations around the clock.” The editorial lamented, “The rot is setting in.”

In India, Chennai’s centrist The Hindu (July 25) wrote that with the attack, “the nihilist guerrilla organization has come close to declaring a strategic war” on the beleaguered state
December 2001 (VOL. 48, No. 12)
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