Page last updated at 00:29 GMT, Friday, 9 June 2006 01:29 UK

Discipline, death and martyrdom

By Dumeetha Luthra
BBC News, Trincomalee

The Tigers are renowned for their discipline

It is a small glass vial, no longer than a cigarette, and it is worn with a little black string as a pendant.

It could almost be a fashion accessory if it were not for the white powder inside - a fatal dose of cyanide.

Nothing symbolises the Tamil Tigers and their culture of death and martyrdom quite so succinctly.

Every rebel wears it when on duty. Death is better than capture.

Deadly effect

Maraivendan describes exactly how it is taken.

"We need to bite into the glass so that it will cut the skin on the inside of our mouth."

His calm, detached explanation is unsettling.

"Then the cyanide goes into the bloodstream. We'll be feeling a fizzing at the back of our mouth after about seven seconds and then we die."

He smiles at the end. There is not even a faint tremor in his voice.

But then this is an organisation that has specialised in the art of death. While it did not invent the tactic of suicide bombing, it honed the method to deadly effect.

Mother by coffin of dead Tamil Tiger
Dead Tigers are seen as seeds rather than bodies

Twenty years of civil war, fighting for an independent homeland within Sri Lanka, gave the Tamil separatist group plenty of opportunity.

They have killed one Sri Lankan president, the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and many others.

In total they have launched more than 240 suicide attacks.

The latest was in April, when a female suicide bomber targeted the chief of the army, Sarath Fonseka in what was assumed to be the highly secure army headquarters.

He survived but eight others were killed.

The attacker pretended to be pregnant, her explosives hidden beneath her clothes.

Personality cult

In what was clearly a carefully planned operation, she made several visits to the site, allegedly to visit doctors.

None of the medical staff at the army hospital have any record of examining her. It was a massive breakdown in security at a time when everyone was on high alert.

It is an example of the ruthlessness, patience and sheer audacity used by the Tigers to gain their ends.

They are led by the reclusive Velupillai Prabhakaran, accused of building an organisation around a personality cult.

Tamil Tiger woman
All Tigers carry cyanide capsules to be used if they are captured

He is called the great leader and his picture is everywhere in rebel held areas.

Anyone who wants to join the suicide Black Tiger squad has to write him a letter of application. Before they carry out their suicide missions they are granted a meal with him. Religion is banned, as is alcohol and smoking.

By claiming to be the sole representatives of the Tamil people, he has steeped the entire culture into one of self-sacrifice and martyrdom.

Many Tamils see the Tigers as a necessary evil. Time and again I have heard this view expressed: "I don't agree with them totally, but as a Tamil we would have been wiped out without them putting our cause on the map."

The Tamil minority say they have suffered years of oppression at the hands of the Sinhalese majority.


The Tigers say the only way to tackle this is by fighting for an independent homeland.

Their tactics are ruthless, and opposition is not an option.

They have been accused of killing political rivals in addition to dissenters from inside or outside the ranks. All have been swiftly dealt with.

Tamil Tiger woman oversees physical training of villagers
The Tigers "specialise in the art of death"

The problem for the government is that it has failed to persuade Tamils there is a viable alternative within the government structures, says Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council, an advocacy group in Colombo.

"So far the Sri Lankan state has not been able to convince the Tamil people that their grievances for equality, for power sharing, for a form of federal autonomy, would indeed be delivered to them. Until that point, I don't think the Tigers will change."

Elilan, the head of the political wing in Trincomalee, describes how a Tiger dies smiling. He says that it is not called a "suicide" but "donating yourself to the cause".

The mythology of the movement feeds into the Tiger's sense of power.

Rebels are not buried not in what most would call a cemetery, but in what they call a sleeping arena. There are no bodies, only seeds, they say. Once the dream of Tamil Eelam is achieved, the story goes, they will rise up as trees.

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