Tamil-Muslim alliance being targeted

[TamilNet, Thursday, 24 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Attempts are being made to break the alliance between the Tamils and the Muslims. A Muslim opposition MP, Mr. Mohammed Mahroof was assassinated on Sunday. In another incident, a gunman was said to have been 'arrested' attempting to get close to a ruling Muslim MP. The government has promptly blamed the LTTE for both. However, the violence against Muslim officials comes at a time when the alliance between the LTTE and the leaders of Muslim people is paying off for both sides.

According to Sri Lankan police, Mr. Mohammed Mahroof was travelling in a jeep in the east of the island, when the vehicle was fired at, killing him and five others. The police claim the attack was carried out by the Tamil Tigers. However, the Sri Lankans have routinely blamed the Tigers for any political killing on the island. While many of these accusations have been disproved, none has resulted in proving the LTTE as the killers.

Ironically, the police claim that they were not informed in advance of the opposition MP's visit and hence were unable to protect him. Given that the North and East of the island are in a state of war, it is surprising that the police were not informed, and while the local security forces claim they did not know of his presence, the gunmen clearly did. Adding further doubt to the police claim was also a Reuters news release which said, "..the law maker met the local police to discuss the villagers' safety just before he was killed," indicating that the Lankan forces knew of Mahroof's visit.

A week ago, 32 residents of the Muslim village of Irikanndy were arrested by the LTTE for abducting an unarmed Sea Tiger unit which had sought assistance from the villagers following an accident at sea.

The LTTE has appealed to the Muslim leadership to facilitate the release of the Sea Tigers, and it is believed that Mr. Mahroof may have been traveling to the location to meet the affected families. While the government has been making political capital of the arrest of the 32 Muslims, the Muslim leadership has neither condemned nor challenged the detentions.

Another flaw in the government claim is that the LTTE does not have a significant presence in the area, whereas the Sri Lankan security forces do. This had prompted the Sea Tigers to seek help from the village in the first instance.

Over the weekend, a gunman was allegedly arrested at a Muslim religious festival in Amparai with a handgun and grenades in his possession. The police allege that he was a member of the Tamil Tigers intent on assassinating Mr. Mohammed Ashraff, the Ports Minister.

Killing Mr. Ashraff would have little benefit for the Tamil Tigers strategically, as he does not influence Sri Lanka's military designs in the Tamil homelands. Further, the Tigers would not risk damaging their international standing by killing a muslim politician. Hence observers are skeptical that the Tigers would have attempted an assassination.

For the past few months, the alliance forged by the LTTE and Muslim leaders has been strengthening. The uniting of the minority races on this Indian Ocean island has clearly irked the majority Sinhalese government. In a recent government reshuffle, Muslim MPs were moved to less prestigious posts.

While the Tigers were talking with Muslim leaders under the auspices of the Red Cross (ICRC), several attacks on Muslim villages took place. Despite these disruptive incidents, the talks concluded successfully.

The LTTE has not yet commented formally on Sunday's incidents. However, an LTTE official told us that agent provocateurs were hoping to spark Tamil-Muslim infighting. "The relationship between Tamils and Muslims has been steadily improving recently. The government needs to split the two sides to play one off against the other as it has done in the past," he said.

"Incidents like these may spark off Tamil-Muslim communal violence. Who will benefit from that scenario?" the Tiger official said. "We have worked hard to reach a stable agreement with the Muslims. And don't forget, the Muslims are Tamils, too."

The practice of setting Tamils and Muslims against each other was first started by President J.R. Jayawardene, under advice from Israeli Intelligence, based on the simple premise that once the opposition groups were fighting amongst themselves, it would be easier to dominate them, a stratagem that had worked successfully in Lebanon.

The government alleges that the Tigers were killing MPs who might support the devolution package, the 'final draft' of which is expected to be unveiled in November. We put this to the LTTE official. "We have never seen these proposals. And unless the government talks to us (LTTE) a just and lasting solution cannot be formed," he said. President Chandrika has not been able to convince everyone even within her own coalition to support the proposals, and the UNP (the opposition) has not endorsed it either.

A criticism leveled at the Tigers is their continued silence in the light of government accusations. The LTTE official pointed out that as the government routinely accused them of any political killing, they could not be expected to respond every time.

When we asked the LTTE official who he thought was responsible for Mr. Mahroof's death, he said he did not know, and added "The government has deliberately closed the book on an investigation by blaming us. What is it keen to hide?"


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