Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers join ranks of world's terrorists
In Jaffna, the heart of Sri Lanka's Tamil country, Stanley Bryson Allen and Mary Elizabeth, his wife, were watching a video James Bond movie the night of May 10.
Suddenly the film became cinema verite, as six masked men and women brandishing Soviet AK-47s burst through the bedroom door. They hustled the Allens into a waiting van, blindfolded and gagged them, beginning a five-day ordeal in which it at one point the Allens were thought to have been killed.
In the end, the couple were released unharmed early last week, but the kidnapping of the American newlyweds has left a trail of recrimination that could have profound effect on Indian-Sri Lankan relations, on US vulnerability in this sensitive part of the world, and on the growing confrontation between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese (Buddhist) and Tamil (Hindu) communities.
In Jaffna, these two groups are already engaged in a veritable state of war.
With the kidnapping, the Tamil Tigers, a revolutionary, separatist group, joined the ranks of the world's modern guerrillas and raised the fury of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was playing host to Vice-President George Bush in New Delhi, as the Tigers directed the kidnapping from command posts in southern India.
The kidnapping was the work of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), the most doctrinaire Marxist of the six Tamil Tiger groups. Until they seized the Allens, the heterogeneous grouping of some 300 people was considered more intellectual than military: It was one of the smallest groups of Tigers. About 25 of them have been trained in the Soviet Union - either as university students or in propaganda and guerrilla warfare.
Like the other Tigers, they have one solitary goal - the creation, for Sri Lanka's 18 percent Tamil population - of the visionary state of ''Eelam'' in the country's east and north.
They have strong support organizations in London, Frankfurt, Paris, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and the United States to whom they look for financial backing, including arms supplies. And arms, from the open markets of Europe and the Middle East are, according to intelligence sources, flowing into the Tigers' headquarters in the south of India at unprecedented rates.
Here in Tamil Nadu, in India's tropical south, there are 40 million Indian Tamils. Madras, the capital city, is decidedly a Tamil town. There is thus a close kinship with Sri Lankan Tamils across the narrow waterway, the Palk Strait , who originally came from the south of India.
There are also compelling arguments of political expediency which have led Mrs. Gandhi, for the past seven years, to permit the Tigers' rest and sanctuary here.
Over the years, they have become increasingly entrenched. They now operate sophisticated command structures with headquarters in Madurai and Madras. Many of their leaders have Indian passports. Some even shelter in the state government's posh, panelled guest house.
Mohan and Iqbal (not their real names) are members of the EPRLF's nine-man central committee. They readily conceded last week that, had it not been for Mrs. Gandhi, and by implication, her threatening tone, the Allens - working on a water project in Jaffna, funded by the US Agency for International Development (AID) - probably would not have been released.
In a message to the kidnappers, broadcast every 30 minutes by All India Radio for a day and a half, the patrician voice of Mrs. Gandhi made it decidedly clear that if the Americans were not immediately freed, there would be a crackdown on the Tigers in India's own Tamil state.
A coded message was sent by clandestine radio from Madras to Jaffna, ordering the captors to heed the prime minister's appeal. The message was acknowledged through phone calls from Jaffna to London, Paris, and Frankfurt - all then passed to Madras. For 24 hours nothing happpened.
The Tamil Nadu state government then ''invited'' 30 EPRLF members, including three from the central committee, into ''temporary custody.'' Another message was flashed to Jaffna - the 30 were being held hostage, albeit in posh police rest houses - until the Allens were freed.
The Allens were eventually turned over to the Roman Catholic archbishop of Jaffna. The kidnappers' demands were never met - a ransom payment of $2 million in gold, and 20 Tigers and sympathizers released from Sri Lankan jails.
For the moment the Tigers' primary weakness is that they are fragmented, driven apart far more by personality than political bent. All of them are leftists, of various hues and tone. A hard-core of some 200 have been trained in south Lebanon and Yemen by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Tigers, and a growing number of Tamils, regard with disdain and suspicion the increased US backing of the conservative, Sinhalese-dominated government of President J. R. Jayewardene. Anti-Americanism is thus growing, both in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka and here in Tamil Nadu.
Plans are under way to build a powerful, multimillion-dollar transmitter for the Voice of America on Sri Lanka. The US Peace Corps has returned to the country, from which it had been banned. The frequent presence of US warships in the island's many ports has also added to the suspicions of both the Tigers and the Indian government that an American base is not far away.
The American couple was thus an obvious target, and the kidnapping were rehearsed for three weeks.
There are now 35,000 legal Sri Lanka refugees here in Tamil Nadu. Another estimated 35,000 - mostly young men between 15 and 25 - have come across illegally in fishing craft or spirited aboard high-powered, fancy motorboats that ferry into Sri Lanka a vast assortment of arms.
The journey for the arms smugglers is only 24 miles, or about 12/2 hours in a fast boat. The first 12 miles are Indian waters and there's no problem, they say. It's only the last 45 minutes, where Sri Lanka's naval patrol boats ply the coast, that they must be a bit more cautious.
The Tigers virtually run the Jaffna Peninsula, despite the presense of some 3 ,400 Sri Lankan Army troops. From early evening to dawn, the once rugged, then lush peninsula belongs to them. They strike with impunity - political assassinations, bank robberies, ambushes of Army patrols - then, just as quickly , usually supported by the civilians of Jaffna, the Tigers go underground.
According to government figures, at least 50 people died in the Jaffna Peninsula in March alone, most of them Tamils and, more particularly, Tamil civilians. According to the Tigers, at least 200 died that month.