Chennai: Ten Sri Lankan Tamil refugees arrived in Rameswaram last week just as the Sri Lankan government ramped up its cordon-and-search operations in Tamil areas and been detaining Tamil youths for questioning - all to quell what the government has dubbed as efforts to re-establish the LTTE within the island nation.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu that have been critical of the Indian government's attitude toward the Sri Lankan government have not reacted to the arrival of refugees. But it does seem that at least for these refugees and more than 50 others who tried to flee to Australia recently, the situation is intolerable in their homeland.
S Balakrishnan, Sri Lanka-based rights activist, says a sense of insecurity and lack of opportunities in Tamil areas can once again create a significant refugee outflow. Those who are persecuted for their past LTTE links may pay traffickers the money to arrange for an escape, he said. Among the refugees who have been detained in Puzhal prison is a former LTTE cadre.
Though Balakrishnan discounts reports of LTTE resurgence saying it has been decimated, the word on many Sri Lankan lips in April was once again LTTE. The government had put up wanted posters of three men it called former cadres who were trying to revive the organisation. Noted journalist D B S Jeyaraj reports an encounter between the security forces and the cadres in the Wanni jungle in which the men were killed.
There have also been reports of recent mass detentions of Tamil youths in Kankesanthurai. The Jaffna university will be closed from May 16 to 20 to prevent any student demonstrations on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the end of the war.
"Stories of LTTE coming back are concoctions of the government intended to create a situation where abuses can continue. The three people who were killed had been government spies bumped off in fake encounters," says K Ratnavel, a human rights lawyer in Sri Lanka.
However, S C Chandrahasan, founder and chief functionary of Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation, says there is some evidence of a plot and it's not all a bogey. Chandrahasan, who visited the Tamil areas last month, says the situation is qualitatively different and the Sinhalese soldier operating in Tamil areas is more sophisticated and understands local concerns.
While agreeing that there may be "human" factors behind the recent cases of refugee outflow from Sri Lanka, Dayan Jayatilleka, who served as the permanent mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations at Geneva from 2007 to 2009, says nothing dramatically different has taken place to expect a major refugee problem.
"There have been roundups of Tamils by the army. But there have been no disappearances without the families being informed," he said.
Jeyaraj notes in his blog that the situation is not similar to the early 70s when the general public supported militancy. Most analysts agree that a war-weary population will not back an LTTE resurgence. Balakrishnan says a hierarchical organisation such as the LTTE cannot come back since its leadership has been decimated. The fear across Palk Bay is that a fearful Lankan government may up military activities in Tamil areas and create a refugee outflow from the island nation.