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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 17:27 GMT
Up close with the Tamil Tigers
Tamil Tigers
Until now Tamil rebels have trained in secret
Frances Harrison

Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland in north-eastern Sri Lanka have given exclusive access to the BBC to film their fighters taking part in military exercises.

It's the first time the Tigers have allowed outsiders to see them training for an attack.

Their aim is to show that despite being branded as a terrorist group in many countries including Britain - they've made the transition from a guerrilla group into a conventional army.

Tamil Tiger Guerrilla
The Tigers are a highly disciplined force

At an undisclosed location close to the front line with the Sri Lankan army I watched a group of 60 Tiger fighters in khaki uniforms being briefed for battle by their commander.

The guerrillas hurriedly dismantle their machine guns and run off through the long grass in formation, each man carrying a weapon.

These are veterans of the battle for Elephant Pass, the only land corridor to the far north of the country.

Bitter struggle

Three and a half thousand rebels have died fighting over Elephant Pass in the last decade, but these men survived and helped secure the territory for the tigers.


Suddenly a mock attack is underway - using live ammunition.

Rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and even artillery fire is thrown at the non-existent enemy.

Branches are blown off trees as mortars explode in front of us in a cloud of smoke.

One of the most bizarre sights is teenage girls in military uniform, their hair braided behind their caps, jogging through the jungle carrying heavy machine guns and grenade launchers in the hot sun.

They belong to one of the few rebel groups that uses women not just as suicide bombers, but as front line troops fighting against the male soldiers of a conventional army.

Ideology of equality

Women in the Tamil Tigers pride themselves on their organisations ideology of equality, even on the battlefield. Freedom to die for both sexes.

One female corporal says they've proved women can achieve anything they want.

Female Tamil Tigers
Women serve as front-line troops in some places
"There are different traditional notions about women in today's society. But we've taken up the challenge to show that we also can do something like the others.

"This we understand because we're in this movement. We're given moral support by our leader and we've reached this position only because of him," she said.

To prove that women can handle all the heavy weapons, we're taken to the mortar positions a couple of kilometres away.

A group of women fighters calculate and set the target positions and then load the shells.

The firing over, the women Tigers reverted to giggly girls, posing for photographs and waving good-bye.

It's easy to forget these women have just been trained to kill.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka rebels release war prisoners
16 Jan 02 | South Asia
Tamil Tigers want ban lifted
15 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka eases rebel embargo
11 Jan 02 | South Asia
Optimism over Sri Lanka peace
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway opens Sri Lanka peace talks
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway peace team in Sri Lanka
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