Tamil Tigers start a satellite TV channel

BY M.R. Narayan Swamy| IN Media Practice | 30/03/2005
For a group that had hardly 40 members in 1983, it now has all the trappings of a sovereign government. The newly set up television channel will be another step in that direction.

Indo-Asian News Service

M.R. Narayan Swamy

New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Sri Lanka`s Tamil Tiger guerrillas have taken a small but significant step towards their undying goal of carving out a separate state by launching a satellite TV channel beaming to Europe.

In the process, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has become the first insurgent outfit, albeit one dubbed terrorist in more than one country, to operate a television station of this kind.

The National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTT) began beaming, for now, 15 minutes of news every day from March 26, from an undisclosed Tamil Tiger-controlled area in northern Sri Lanka.

The NTT news cannot be viewed in Asia now but the Paris-based Tamil Television Network (TTN) will relay it to audiences across Europe at 1800 GMT. In the course of time, the channel will expand its reach to other parts of the world, including Tamil Nadu.

The decision to start NTT has tremendous value for a group that has taken several steps since the Norway-brokered peace process got under way in February 2002 to consolidate itself politically, diplomatically and militarily.

The LTTE operated a miniscule television station when it controlled parts of Jaffna, in Sri Lanka`s north, in the mid-1980s. But its reach was minimal, and in any case it did not last long. The Tigers had to wait for their costly war with the Indian Army to end before starting a Voice of Tigers (VOT) radio in November 1990.

The VOT was a rudimentary affair to begin with and, like the guerrillas whose cause it advocated, did not have a permanent base until the Tigers consolidated their control of parts of Sri Lanka`s north. However, along with LTTE`s mobile video units, the FM frequency VOT quickly developed into a powerful medium and can now be heard over large areas. It has begun to even air commercials!

The Tigers also control or operate several websites, newspapers, magazines and radio stations in several countries, wherever the Tamil diaspora is to be found. Today, in Sri Lanka, almost the entire Tamil media is brazenly pro-LTTE. There are independent Tamil journalists abroad but they have been vilified or, in some cases, physically assaulted.

Whatever it might say for international consumption, the LTTE goal of achieving an independent Tamil Eelam state remains unaltered. In recent years it has taken calculated steps towards that dream. One reason it insists on an LTTE-run interim administration for Sri Lanka`s northeast as well as a joint mechanism with Colombo to provide tsunami relief is to earn more and more legitimacy.

Thanks to its adroit use of diplomacy, many Western countries do not mind courting, and openly at that, the LTTE despite its record of terrorist strikes, including suicide bombings and assassination. The Tigers have also realised that despite being outlawed, they can still operate, at least through sympathisers, in countries such as Britain, Australia and the US without much hindrance.

In Sri Lanka itself, the LTTE`s political headquarters in Kilinochchi is where diplomats based in and dignitaries visiting Colombo come calling. Before the ceasefire came into being, this would have been unthinkable. As for Norway, sections of the establishment in Oslo are beginning to wonder if an independent Tamil Eelam may not be an idea after all if that helps bring peace to Sri Lanka.

For that to happen, the LTTE needs to be seen as a parallel state, dealing directly with international donors and governments. In a way, that has already happened.

For a group that had hardly 40 members in 1983, it now has all the trappings of a sovereign government: a recognised border, an army, a navy, an intelligence agency, police, courts, media, ?embassies? abroad, and an air force in the making. There is even a Tamil Eelam national flower! The newly set up television channel will be another step in that direction.

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