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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Tamil Tigers: A fearsome force
Tiger with gun
The Tigers are given rigorous military training

From the early 1970s, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have developed into a formidable fighting force involved in guerrilla atacks against the Sri Lankan armed forces and on political targets.

The LTTE's power base remains economically deprived Tamil agricultural workers whose families lost their livelihood due to economic reforms in the late 1970s, as well as unemployed urban Tamil youth who faced economic and social discrimination.

Help from abroad

Different Indian administrations have been responsible for training and arming the Tamil rebels in the past in different parts of the sub-continent.

With the expansion of the international wing of the LTTE, which operates from London and Paris, the LTTE made substantial purchases of sophisticated weaponry.

Most of the supplies were from the countries of the former Soviet Union. They have also captured large quantities of arms from the security forces.

Most of the finance for the purchase of arms and other political and military activities is raised through expatriate activists in the West.

Methods are reported to vary from extortion, illegal trade and front organisations to legitimate business and charities.

Dedicated fighters

Tamil Tiger recruits are given a rigorous military training and ideological makeover.

On passing out, each one is handed a cyanide capsule to be worn around the neck. Martyrdom is achieved through avoiding capture by suicide.

Suicide bombing
The aftermatch of a suicide attack in Colombo
The dedication of the rebel force is demonstrated by the very small number who are captured alive by the Sri Lankan security forces.

The Tamil Tigers are notorious for their suicide attacks, and the LTTE has carried out at least five times more such attacks than other similar organisations put together.

The suicide attackers consist of highly-motivated men and women who turn themselves into human bombs by strapping explosives onto their bodies.

Fearsome reputation

Women fighters
Women are also recruited into the Tigers
The fighting force is said to be around 10,000 men and women, who use artillery, surface-to-air missiles and rocket launchers. They also are known to recruit under-age children to fight.

Apart from fighting a conventional war, the apparent willingness of the Tigers to target civilians has been highlighted in instances when they have deliberately attacked villagers.

In one pre-dawn attack in late 1999, Tiger units were accused of hacking to death women and children in a majority Sinhala village.

The LTTE is also blamed for ethnically cleansing Jaffna, when they asked all non-Tamils to leave the de facto Tamil state in 1990.


Peace efforts

Background

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