The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged war against the government of Sri Lanka for 33 years. Being a minority group in a nation that has a long history of Western colonization, prompted the LTTE to lash out against the Sinhalese majority in the years following the country’s independence in 1948. Throughout the 1970s, the group began using acts of violence, while undergoing a couple of name changes, until 1976 when the group formally became the LTTE.
Shortly after their establishment, the LTTE began a series of attacks on the Sri Lankan military. These attacks were conducted due to the groups incredible ability to generate funds. The annual income estimates of the LTTE vary greatly depending on the source, with the lowest estimate coming in at a figure around $82 million and the highest estimates being somewhere between $175 and $385 million. The funding originally came from a sympathetic Indian government that believed the Tamils were being mistreated under the Sinhalese-dominated regime.
“However, in July 1987 India formed a pact with Sri Lanka (The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord), effectively ending its material support to the Tamil insurgents” (Freeman, 116-117). The LTTE then took advantage of the Tamil population living outside of Sri Lanka. “Estimates place up to 90 percent of the LTTE’s funding as originating from overseas sources” (Freeman, 116). Using its once extensive propaganda capability the LTTE was able to run an international fundraising campaign aimed at voluntary contributions, especially from affluent businessmen.
Like many other terrorist organizations, illegal fundraising methods were successfully taken advantage of by the LTTE. Human trafficking, arms and narcotics smuggling, and credit card fraud are among the illegal means used by the LTTE to generate funds. “The LTTE also maintained an extensive sea cargo transport and merchant shipping capability that operated throughout Southeast Asia. Using legitimate cargo transportation as cover for arms smuggling, these ships carried rice, flour, sugar, cement, fertilizer, and timber about 90 percent of the time” (Freeman, 128).
The LTTE invested the bulk of its profits into the National Defense Fund, used primarily for arms purchases. In order to compete with the Sri Lankan Air Force the group had a great desire for surface -to-air missiles (SAM) in order to address the strategic imbalance. The LTTE also had a desire to spend money in order to lobby to be removed from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
“According to a U. S. government source, ‘beginning in 2004 and continuing over a period of several months, [LTTE operatives] met with a confidential informant and two purported State Department officials [to discuss] the financial terms of a bribe, including a $1 million dollar up-front payment, [for helping facilitate the removal of the LTTE from the State Department list]'” (Freeman, 130). Throughout the past decade the Sri Lankan government has taken a series of successful countermeasures against the LTTE.
The following events lead to the LTTE’s downfall in May of 2009, “the conventional military defeat of the group; seizure of all previously held territories; deaths of influential LTTE leadership including Vellupillai Prabhakaran and his son Charles Anthony; political chief Balasingham Mahendran; peace secretariat leader Seevaratnam Pulidevan; intelligence chief Pottu Amman; and senior military leader Ramesh as well as the August 2009 capture of LTTE financing chief and international spokesman Selvarasa ‘Kumaran’ Pathmanathan” (Freeman, 135).
The government of Sri Lanka needs to continue to undermine the large support base of the LTTE in order to prevent this terrorist organization from returning to prominence.