Sri Lanka: Tamil Tiger leader arrest could be key blow

Selvarasa Pathmanathan led the remnants of the rebel organization that was militarily defeated by Sri Lanka three months ago.

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Three months after Sri Lankan forces defeated the Separatist Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in their last stronghold, the government continues to break up the final remnants of the rebel group. On Thursday, government officials announced the arrest of Tiger leader Selvarasa Pathmanathan, who was hiding in an unknown location in South Asia. He's now been taken to the Sri Lankan capital city of Colombo for questioning.

Mr. Pathmanathan, also known as Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), took control of the Tamil Tigers after its leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, and other senior members were killed during the group's final stand in May. Pathmanathan stands accused of smuggling arms to the Tamils, financing the organization, and conspiring in the assassination of several prominent leaders, including former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, reports The Hindustan Times.

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The Sri Lankan government has heralded his arrest as the final death blow to the ailing Tamil Tiger organization, reports The Hindu. On Friday, a government website released a statement saying that the Tigers must be "wiped out completely from the face of the earth" in order for the world, including ethnic Tamils, to live in peace.

"The arrest of KP has crippled the LTTE's overseas network and the terrorist organisation now has no future in the globe, defence analysts claimed.... Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said that Sri Lanka's intelligence was capable of tracking down all LTTE cadres and leaders who were attempting to sow the seeds of terrorism again," [wrote the Government Information Department in a statement].

News of the detention is of particular interest to Indian authorities, who hope he may provide information about militant activity in their own country. Pathmanathan, who was wanted by Interpol, told a Sri Lankan newspaper almost 20 years ago that his organization would begin targeting Indian leadership, six months before a suicide bomber killed Mr. Gandhi, reports The Economic Times.

So, questioning KP could yield enormously useful information to India since the pellets, explosives and the Singapore Fragmentation Grenade (SFG) used in the assassination [of Gandhi] reached the LTTE courtesy the arrested man though they were meant for the war in Sri Lanka and not for the Gandhi killing per se.

While peace has returned to Colombo and other parts of the country since the fighting ended, more than 300,000 displaced Tamils remain in camps in the former Tamil stronghold, reports Al Jazeera. Government officials say they need more time to weed out any Tigers who may be hiding among the civilians and demine villages where much of the fighting took place. Meanwhile, they continue deny reports of torture, rape, and starvation inside the camps. Already more than 1,000 people have returned to their homes from the camps and authorities say the displacement camps could be empty by as early as December.

Since the end of the fighting, the Sri Lankan government has taken "extensive measures" to crush any remaining elements of the Tigers, reports The New York Times. The government has also drawn harsh criticism from human rights organizations and several western governments who say government forces killed thousands of civilians in the final days of the war.

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