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EPRLF leader shot dead

By V.S. Sambandan

The EPRLF leader, Subathiran Thambirajah, who was assassinated by the LTTE in Jaffna today. — Photo: Sriyantha Walpola

COLOMBO JUNE 14. In an ominous return to violence in Sri Lanka, a top anti-LTTE leader, T. Subathiran (45), was assassinated in the heart of northern Jaffna town early this morning by an "unidentified sniper'', allegedly an LTTE sharpshooter, while a rebel ship, said to be carrying arms was sunk off the eastern coast in a five-hour pre-dawn naval operation.

Today's incidents are not entirely unexpected and are indications that the stalled 15-month peace process is now on a short fuse, with the possibilities of a relapse into armed conflict increasing. Analysts see both political and military motives for the LTTE, which has neither claimed nor denied involvement in the killing of Subathiran.

While Subathiran was the senior-most anti-LTTE leader to be killed in a string of killings allegedly by the Tigers since last February's ceasefire agreement, the sunk rebel vessel is the second one `suspected to be carrying arms, ammunition and warlike equipment'' to go down off the eastern seas since March.

Subathiran (a.k.a Robert), de-facto leader of a faction of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) opposed to the Tigers, was shot dead at 6.18 a.m., Jaffna police told The Hindu.

The details of the sinking of the LTTE ship off the eastern coast are still unknown, with conflicting versions given by the Navy and the Tigers to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). The fate of 12 "Sea Tiger crewmembers, who jumped overboard'', and a small boat, which was operating near the rebel ship, is unknown.

Subathiran, who recently condemned the Tigers for the recent killings of "informants'', fell to a single bullet midway through his morning exercises on his office rooftop, police said.

As the second in command of the faction led by the former Chief Minister of the northeast, A. Varadaraja Perumal, the slain Subathiran was the leader of the EPRLF in Jaffna, but with Mr. Perumal now in India, `Robert' was the head of his faction in the island.

On the military front, analysts saw the possibility of `Robert' working in tandem with the Army as a likely damper on any future LTTE advance in the Jaffna peninsula.

Politically, as a part of a core of a fledging, alternative Tamil grouping, Subathiran was seen as a possible non-LTTE member in any proposed interim administrative council, in which the Tigers are demanding a majority stake, to run the northeast.

Of the sinking of the LTTE ship, amid conflicting reports from the Navy and the Tigers, the SLMM has sent a two-member team to investigate the incident. The Defence Ministry said that the ship was spotted at 3.15 a.m. this morning, "175 nm off the eastern Mullaittivu coast''. The LTTE, for its part, says the incident took place about 266 nm off the Trincomalee coast, further south of Mullaittivu.

According to the Navy, the information given by the crew of the intercepted rebel ship — that its name was "SOSHIN'', registered in Belize and was arriving from Surabaya (in Indonesia), — "was false''. The Sri Lanka Navy ``exercised its right to self-defence'' after the LTTE vessel opened fire at its naval craft with "medium calibre machine guns''. The rebel ship was reportedly sunk around 8.40 a.m., a Defence Ministry statement said.

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