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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006, 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK
Renegade rebel threatens Tigers
By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC Tamil Service

Breakaway Tamil Tiger leader Colonel Karuna
Colonel Karuna is alleged to have the backing of the military
A renegade rebel commander in Sri Lanka has threatened to target Tamil Tiger rebels if his group is prevented from operating in the north and the east.

Karuna was the former eastern commander of the Tamil Tigers and had left the group following serious disagreement with its leadership in 2004.

His men have claimed to have attacked a number of Tamil Tiger positions.

The Tigers accuse the government of arming and protecting Karuna - an allegation both reject.

We receive no help for our military campaign
Renegade commander Karuna

"We are trying to develop a political organisation in the north and east," Karuna told the BBC in a rare telephone interview from an undisclosed location.

"If the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] is going to prevent us then we are prepared to launch attacks in self-defence," he said.

Blamed for attacks

Initially, Karuna's group were blamed for a series of attacks in the east.

But recently there have been a series of claymore mine attacks in the rebel-held areas in the north as well. The Tigers say the renegade faction is carrying out these attacks with the help of the army.

"There is absolutely no connection with the army and we receive no help for our military campaign. But as a political organisation we do have contacts with other Sri Lankan political parties," Karuna said.

Tamil Tiger rebels drape the body of top leader Col Ramanan killed in May
Karuna's men claim to have carried out several attacks on the Tigers

He also denies allegations that his men were responsible for the claymore mine attack on a civilian bus on Thursday, killing 64 people.

Karuna recently opened a party office in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

But international ceasefire monitors have repeatedly talked about links between some sections of the security forces and the Karuna faction.

Location unknown

During a round of peace talks in February, the Tamil Tigers demanded that the activities of Karuna and other paramilitaries must be stopped.

The Tigers hold Karuna's men responsible for most of the attacks in the east and also accuse them of carrying out civilian killings. There are also allegations that Karuna's men are carrying out extortions and extra judicial killings in the region.

Karuna is never seen in public and there have even been doubts over whether he lives in Sri Lanka.

He told the BBC that he was speaking from an undisclosed location in eastern Sri Lanka. But analysts say considering the high level of threat to his life he may have been staying in a foreign country.

It is also not clear how many Tamils support him at present.

A few years ago, Karuna commanded great respect from Tamil rebel supporters for his battles against the security forces. But now many regard him as a traitor.

But analysts believe that he could prove to be a key asset for the military if full scale hostilities break out in Sri Lanka.

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