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India Offering Amnesty to Tamil Tigers

October 22, 1987|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Indian military forces dropped leaflets from aircraft and used loudspeakers Wednesday to offer full amnesty to rank-and-file Tamil Tiger guerrillas entrenched inside the northern Sri Lankan city of Jaffna, Indian diplomats reported here.

Meanwhile, a spokesman said the commander of the estimated 20,000 Indian troops on this island has been called back to New Delhi for "consultations." The recall came amid reports of frustration at senior government levels over the lack of progress in fighting that has already cost the Indians more than 500 casualties, including the official count of 127 dead.

(Senior Sri Lanka officials said the death count is even higher, possibly closer to 175. Tamil Tiger leaders, interviewed by a British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent who managed to enter Jaffna earlier this week, claimed that they have killed more than 300 Indians.)

"Those (Tigers) who hand over their arms will be provided full security and protection by the Indian peacekeeping force," the Indian amnesty offer stated. "They will also be granted full amnesty in terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement which would enable them to participate fully in the democratic political process in Sri Lanka and live with honor and dignity on the island."

The Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, signed by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka President Junius R. Jayewardene on July 29, calls for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other separatist organizations to surrender their weapons. In exchange, they were promised an election to create a semiautonomous majority Tamil province in the north and east.

Indian troops were brought to the island mainly to protect Tamil interests here, where the majority Sinhalese population controls the government.

However, after the Tigers massacred nearly 200 Sinhalese civilians earlier this month, Indian troops moved against them in Jaffna.

Offer Excludes Leaders

Indian officials excluded Tiger leaders, including Chief Velupillai Prabakaran, from the amnesty offer. The message Wednesday was directed to Tiger "cadres."

"The leadership is a separate matter," the Indian spokesman here said. "They have made certain statements that cause problems as far as amnesty is concerned."

The amnesty issue may also create problems for the Indians with President Jayewardene, who in a recent press conference said the Tigers forfeited the amnesty rights guaranteed under the agreement by killing civilian Sinhalese in the northeast.

A senior Sri Lanka official close to the president said Wednesday after being informed of the amnesty bid: "Sinhalese suspicions will be aroused by that offer."

There was no indication that any of the Tiger cadres accepted the Indian offer of amnesty. Since the fighting began 11 days ago, journalists have been blocked by the Indian forces from entering the Jaffna Peninsula.

However, a British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent, Philip Jones, managed to reach Jaffna by tractor with a Tiger escort from Vavuniya, 100 miles to the south. Jones said the Tigers were able to move easily in and out of the city despite the presence of thousands of Indian troops on the peninsula, indicating that the Tigers' position may not be nearly as beleaguered and serious as the Indians have portrayed.

When the Indians first came to Jaffna in early June, they were welcomed by the people as saviors. After the recent fighting, however, many of the townspeople have turned against them, Jones said. He visited two functioning Tiger camps outside the city center, he said, in areas ostensibly controlled by the Indians.

Jones said he was told by Tiger leaders that they will continue to fight against the Indians forever. If the Indian military seriously threatened to take the city, the Tiger leaders told Jones, they would quickly escape and move to bases outside the peninsula.

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