Sampur Defeat Signals Tamil Tiger Weakness

In heavy fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan Army captured the town of Sampur, a strategically important rebel position near the northeastern city of Trincomalee. Analysts say the Tigers’ retreat, along with defeat in a naval battle, is a sign of their increasing military and political weakness. Since the 2002 cease-fire, the Sri Lankan Army has significantly replenished its manpower and military stockpile. The Tigers, meanwhile, face a range of problems. An attempt to acquire weapons in North America—including up to 100 SA-18 surface-to-air missiles and 500 AK-47 assault rifles—was thwarted. Bans by Canada and the European Union have made its fundraising and procurement efforts more difficult. The Tigers were also weakened by the 2004 breakaway of a faction, and new recruits lack motivation. A growing number of Tamil civilians now show open defiance toward the LTTE. Some analysts even say these developments portend the possibility of eventual defeat for the Tigers. But Rohini Hensman, a Sri Lankan analyst emphasizes that the LTTE can only be beaten politically, not militarily. Narayan Swamy, author of “Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas,” points out that the LTTE has shown remarkable resilience several times in the past. And other analysts believe that following the fall of Sampur, the Tigers may retaliate on another front.