People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam

The People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) was a militant Tamil separatist group fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in northeastern Sri Lanka.

AT A GLANCE

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Overview

Brief Summary of the Organization's History.

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Organization

How does a group organize? Who leads it? How does it finance operations?

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Strategy

How does a group fight? What are its aims and ideologies? What are some of its major attacks?

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Major Attacks

What are the group's most famous attacks? What are some key attacks in the group's evolution?

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Interactions

What is the group's relationship with the community? How does it interact with other groups?

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Maps

What is the group's relationship with other militants over time?

Key Statistics

1980 First Recorded Activity
1999 Last Recorded Activity

Contact

mappingmilitants@lists.stanford.edu

How to Cite:

Mapping Militant Organizations. “People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam.” Stanford University. Last modified June 2018. mappingmilitants.cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/profiles/peoples-liberation-organization-tamil-eelam

Overview

Brief History

    Overview
  • Overview
  • Narrative

Overview

Formed1980
Disbanded1987
Last AttackMay 15, 1999: Two suspected PLOTE members killed three Tamil politicians on a beach in the town of Bambalapitiya. Two of the three men killed were members of a rival political group, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) (3 killed, 0 injured). 
UpdatedJuly 30, 2013

The People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) was a militant Tamil separatist group fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in northeastern Sri Lanka. The group was founded by a former LTTE member and the two groups continued to clash until the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009. In the 1980s, PLOTE enjoyed the support of the Indian intelligence services (RAW); however, the group reached its military peak in 1985. Afterwards, RAW withdrew their support, and the LTTE launched a major offensive against PLOTE, causing the majority of its members to defect to the LTTE or be killed. Today, the PLOTE is a minor political party and small paramilitary force.

 

Narrative

Uma Maheswaran, a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), formed PLOTE in 1979.[i] Shortly after Maheswaran’s departure from the group, clashes broke out between the LTTE and the PLOTE, as the LTTE began fighting and absorbing rival Tamil militant groups. The two organizations did, however, cooperate at certain times against the government.[ii] The group was largely subdued by the LTTE in 1986.[iii]

 

By 1985, PLOTE had peaked militarily. Soon thereafter, the LTTE turned on PLOTE and began attacking them, reducing their size dramatically by mid-1987.[iv] As a result PLOTE, unlike the LTTE, accepted the 1987 agreement between India and Sri Lanka. Since then, PLOTE has fought alongside Sri Lankan forces against the LTTE.[v] As of early 2000, the group is reported to still be active as a small, pro-government paramilitary organization and minor political party.[vi] PLOTE, however, denies that it is a paramilitary group and argues instead that it is merely an independent political party.[vii]



[i] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac3e58.html>

[ii] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac3e58.html>

[iii] UK Border Agency. “Country of Origin Information Report: Sri Lanka.” 30 October 2008. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013.

[iv] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

[v] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac3e58.html>

[vi] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Security and Human Rights Situation, Entry and Exit Procedures, and Personal Documentation: Report on joint fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka. 1 May 2002. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3df9badbc...

[vii] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Security and Human Rights Situation, Entry and Exit Procedures, and Personal Documentation: Report on joint fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka. 1 May 2002. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3df9badbc...

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Uma Maheswaran (1979 to 1989)

Leadership

This section describes various leaders, their deputies, and other important officials in the militant organization.

Uma Maheswaran (1979 to 1989)

Former LTTE member and founder of PLOTE. Killed by unknown assailants in 1989.[i]



[i] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013.

 

    Name Changes
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Name Changes

There are no recorded name changes for this group.

Size Estimates

  • 1985: 2,000 in Sri Lanka, 5,000 in Tamil Nadu (Furtado 2007)[i]
  • 2009: 1,500 (Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting)[ii]


[i] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

[ii] O’Connor, Maura R. “Untold Stories: Paramilitary Politics.” Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Sri Lanka. 8 April 2009. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013.

 

Resources

According to Indian officials, PLOTE garners some of their resources from smuggling, international drug trafficking, and other criminal activities.[i]

 

In the 1980s, PLOTE adopted a strategy of “passive accumulation,” wherein the group trained the majority of its members abroad in India.[ii] After losing the support of RAW, India’s external intelligence unit, in the mid-1980s, PLOTE was forced to recruit and train individuals primarily in northern Sri Lanka. In 1992, the Canadian government reported that PLOTE has a secret training camp in Wilpattu National Park in northwestern Sri Lanka.[iii]



[i] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac3e58.html>

[ii] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007

[iii] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac3e58.html>

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

Historically, PLOTE has been strongest in Vavuniya, a city in Northern Sri Lanka.[i] The group has a presence in Jaffna, the capital city of Northern Sri Lanka. Because of their alliance with the Sri Lankan government, PLOTE is also active in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

PLOTE conducts limited operations abroad, although in November 1988, the group was involved in an unsuccessful coup against the government of the Maldives that was stopped by the Indian government.[ii] Maheswaran, PLOTE’s founder and former leader, denied charges that the group was involved in the attempted coup. Indian officials reported that PLOTE was offered between $1-10 million USD to execute the coup and/or a small Maldivian island to use as a smuggling base.


[i] “Development Assistance and Conflict in Sri Lanka: Lessons from the Eastern Province.” International Crisis Group. 16 April 2009. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013.

[ii] Crossette, Barbara. “Coup Attempt in Maldives Laid to Tamil Force.” New York Times. 18 December 1988. Web. Accessed <http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/18/world/coup-attempt-in-maldives-laid-to...

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

Marxist-Leninist

Nationalist

 

Like the LTTE, PLOTE fought for an independent Tamil state in northeastern Sri Lanka. PLOTE differed, however, from the LTTE because the group disavowed the LTTE’s use of guerilla tactics. Of the major Tamil militant groups in the 1980s, PLOTE was the group that adhered most to Marxist-Leninist ideology.[i] PLOTE also adopted a strict anti-LTTE stance and continuously fought the LTTE alongside the government until the defeat of the LTTE in 2009.[ii]



[i] “Sri Lanka.” Country Data. October 1988. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-13260.html>

[ii] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Security and Human Rights Situation, Entry and Exit Procedures, and Personal Documentation: Report on joint fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka. 1 May 2002. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3df9badbc...

 

Political Activities

The PLOTE’s political wing, the Democratic People’s Liberation Front (DPLF), has been in operation since 1988 as a minor political party.[i]



[i] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

 

Targets and Tactics

In the 1980s, PLOTE was less focused on militarizing itself like the LTTE, but rather developing widespread grassroots support and disseminating its socialist ideology.[i]



[i] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

 

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks
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Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing, but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

  1. November 5, 1988: At least 70 PLOTE members were involved in an unsuccessful coup against the government of the Maldives. The Indian government stepped in to protect the Maldivian government. (Unknown).[i]
  2. May 15, 1999: Two suspected PLOTE members killed three Tamil politicians on a beach in the twon of Bambalapitiya. Two of the three men killed were members of a rival political group, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO). (3 killed, 0 wounded).[ii]


[i] Crossette, Barbara. “Coup Attempt in Maldives Laid to Tamil Force.” New York Times. 18 December 1988. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/18/world/coup-attempt-in-maldives-laid-to-tamil-force.html>

[ii] “PLOTE Incidents.” Global Terrorism Database. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?perpetrator=2265>

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relationships with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/Listed

This group has not been designated as a terrorist organization by any major national government or international body.

Community Relations

In a 2002 report, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada issued a report claiming that the PLOTE is involved in the sale of travel passes and land allocation within the Vavuniya region, as well as kidnappings, abductions, and extortion.[i] In 2006, PLOTE, along with the EPDF, was again accused of human rights violations and extortion against local businessmen.[ii]

PLOTE has camps in Vanni where it is rumored that torture is used; which has led to fear and disapproval within the Tamil population. PLOTE has its own illegal detention center in Vanni, known as “Flower House.”[iii]


[i] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Security and Human Rights Situation, Entry and Exit Procedures, and Personal Documentation: Report on joint fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka. 1 May 2002. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3df9badbc...

[ii] “Sri Lanka: The Failure of the Peace Process.” International Crisis Group. 28 Nov. 2006. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/124-sri-...

[iii] “Report on the Fact-Finding Mission to Sri Lanka.” Danish Immigration Service. 14 November 1998. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3ae6a5c70...

 

Relationships with Other Groups

For most of the 1980s, PLOTE was a rival group from the LTTE. In fact, the group was a breakaway faction of the LTTE founded by Uma Maheswaran. In 1985, the LTTE begins attacking PLOTE cadres, eliminating the majority of the group’s members by 1987.[i] Smaller clashes between the groups continued into the 1990s; for example, in July 1992, ten Tamil men suspected of being PLOTE spies were executed by the LTTE in Omanthai.[ii]

 

After being virtually defeated by the LTTE in 1987, PLOTE allied itself with the Sri Lankan government. Unlike the EPRLF or the EPDP, however, the government does not directly fund PLOTE, although the group does support the Army’s operations.[iii] In particular, PLOTE cooperates with the government in its stronghold of Vavuniya where it was tasked with identifying LTTE spies for the Sri Lankan army.[iv] In a 1996 report, Amnesty International also found that PLOTE cooperates with the government in the town of Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka. In Batticaloa, PLOTE officers worked alongside army officers at checkpoints and situated their camps near one another.[v]

 

In 1985, EPRLF, TELO, LTTE, and TULF joined forces to form the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF) to participate in the Thimphu Talks brokered by India. PLOTE declined to participate in the talks. The group, however, was short-lived; in 1986, relations between the groups deteriorated as the EPRLF, TELO, and EROS loosened their demands on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE undertook a campaign to eliminate these more ‘moderate’ groups.[vi] PLOTE was not included.

 

In 1987, a breakaway faction of PLOTE merged with a dissident splinter group of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) to form the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF). The ENDLF supported the efforts of the Indian Peace Keeping Force and allied with the Colonel Karuna Faction of  the LTTE after they defected in 2004.[vii]



[i] Amnesty International. “Wavering Commitment to Human Rights. 1 August 1996. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3ae6a98c1...

[ii] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac3e58.html>

[iii] “Report on the Fact-Finding Mission to Sri Lanka.” Danish Immigration Service. 14 November 1998. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3ae6a5c70...

[iv] Amnesty International. “Wavering Commitment to Human Rights. 1 August 1996. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3ae6a98c1...

[v] Amnesty International. “Wavering Commitment to Human Rights. 1 August 1996. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=search&docid=3ae6a98c1...

[vi] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

[vii] “LTTE Party To Be Dissolved.” Daily Mirror. 22 August 2011. Web. Accessed 24 July 2013. <http://dailymirror.lk/top-story/13139-ltte-party-to-be-dissolved-.html>

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

In the 1980s, PLOTE had close ties with the Indian government. PLOTE received aid from the Indian government and many of its members trained in camps in India.[i] The group was supported by RAW, India’s external intelligence unit.[ii] PLOTE also formed links with political parties sympathetic to their cause in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.[iii] In 1985, however, RAW signaled their withdrawal of support for PLOTE when they allowed Indian customs officials to seize several containers of military equipment being sent to PLOTE through India. The shipment contained over $4 million USD of weapons and ammunition.[iv]

 

The PLOTE also developed relationships with militant groups abroad, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation Palestine (PFLP), the FMLN in El Salvador, and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa.[v]



[i] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “Sri Lanka: Current Information about the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), including their recruiting methods and whether they have camps.” 1 September 1992. Web. Accessed 23 July 2013. <http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac3e58.html>

[ii] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007

[iii] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

[iv] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

[v] Furtado, Christina S. “Inter-Rebel Group Dynamics: Cooperation or Competition, the Case of South Asia.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.

 

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that “map” relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.

Evolving Militant Interactions