REGION: Tamil rebels dismiss breakaway commander
* Analysts fear crisis can cause factional fighting
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels expelled a regional commander Saturday after labelling him a “traitor” for mounting the first-ever open challenge to the group’s leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they “discharged” their eastern commander, V Muralitharan, better known by his nom-de-guerre, Karuna, who tried to lead a breakaway faction on Wednesday.
“Karuna has been discharged from the Liberation Tigers organisation and relieved from official responsibilities,” the LTTE said in a statement issued from their political headquarters in northern Kilinochchi town.
The split has been seen by diplomats and analysts as a serious blow to the already faltering Norwegian-led peace process aimed at ending three decades of ethnic bloodshed that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.
The crisis fuelled fears the country could slide back into civil war after the government rejected the breakaway Tiger commander’s request for a defence pact and separate truce.
It was not immediately clear what action the Tigers would seek to take against Karuna, 37, but the rebels have eliminated hundreds of rivals in their bid to lead the island’s long-running Tamil separatist campaign. The Tigers also have killed scores of Tamils they have branded “traitors” to their cause.
“Karuna instigated by some malicious elements opposed to the Tamil Eelam liberation struggle, acting traitorously to the Tamil people and the Tamil Eelam national leadership, has planned to secede himself from the Liberation organisation,” the LTTE statement said.
Karuna’s deputy, T Ramesh, was promoted to be the LTTE’s new commander for the eastern districts of Batticaloa and Ampara.
There was no immediate reaction from Karuna, believed to be holed up in the island’s east.
Meanwhile, a parallel administration run by Tigers in the two eastern districts was in disarray following the guerrilla leadership split, residents said. Police and courts run by the LTTE were closed in the district of Batticaloa from where Karuna mounted the challenge to Prabhakaran, 49. —AFP