Secretive, lethal rebel ‘navy’ a big factor in Sri Lanka conflict

From left: Dr. Fernando Im, Senior Country Economist for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, The World Bank, Hon. Eran Wickramaratne, State Minister, Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, Dr. W A Wijewardana, Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Prof. Indralal de Silva, Former (Chair) of Demography, University of Colombo, Prof. Amala de Silva, Department of Economics, University of Colombo at the panel discussion on "Demographic Change in Sri Lanka" moderated by Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, May 7, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers are increasingly taking their fight to the sea thanks to a secretive and lethal rebel “navy”, a rarity among the world’s guerrilla forces, observers say. Founded in the early 1990s, the “Sea Tigers” claim to have sunk dozens of naval vessels over the years and, despite a ceasefire, have more frequently taken to the waters of the island nation since December, Scandinavian truce monitors and the military say.

“A lot of the serious incidents have occurred at sea,” said Helen Olafsdottir, spokeswoman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) overseeing the four-year-old truce which is tenuously holding despite mounting violence.

“They were not so active last year, the Sea Tigers,” she said. “I think it just goes with the escalation of violence on the ground.”

The Sea Tigers — including an elite Black Sea Tiger suicide unit — are the marine arm of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the rebel movement founded in 1972 as a land-based guerrilla force to fight for an independent homeland for minority Tamils.

“It’s maybe a little bit unique that they have a sea arm,” Olafsdottir said.

Defence ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe