Sri Lankan newspapers went to town on the E.U. ban on the Tigers in May 2006.
A SIGNIFICANT development in the new year in Sri Lanka was President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to abrogate unilaterally the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) entered into by the previous government, that of United National Party (UNP) Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Oslo-brokered CFA with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was in force from February 23, 2002.
Chief among the reasons for Colombo’s decision is the confidence that a decisive military victory over the LTTE is within sight. After decades of protracted conflict, there has emerged a dominant line of thought that a concerted military effort can deprive the Tigers of territorial control in the northern mainland known as Wanni.
It is a moot question as to whether there is a valid basis for this optimism, but the prevailing reality is that Colombo has scented blood. Therefore, it wants to pursue the military option without having to worry about any fetters such as a ceasefire. In recent times the CFA had turned into a worthless document as both sides were flagrantly flouting its provisions.
Even though there has been no de facto ceasefire for quite some time, the Sri Lankan government does not want the CFA to exist even on paper. Thus, two weeks’ notice was given to Norway on January 2, and from January 14 there will be neither a de jure nor a de facto ceasefire.
Among the reasons buoying up government hopes of a victory over the LTTE is the impression that the international community is firmly behind Colombo in the war against the LTTE. With the backing of the international community, Colombo is sure that the LTTE can be greatly weakened even if not totally destroyed.
Apart from India and Malaysia, several Western nations, too, have proscribed the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation. The United States, Canada and 25 member-states (including the United Kingdom and France) of the European Union have all formally included the LTTE on their terrorist lists. Australia has listed the LTTE in special legislation to check terrorist fund-raising. More importantly, these countries have, through a series of crackdowns, exerted pressure on the LTTE’s various overseas branches. Earlier, the grouse was that Western countries were not taking enough action against the Tigers amidst the Tamil diaspora. LTTE operatives were, in the eyes of Colombo, having a field day garnering revenue and engaging in propaganda abroad.
It was opined that a worldwide clampdown on the LTTE would virtually de-fang and de-claw the Tigers in north-eastern Sri Lanka. Recent events have instilled hope in the Sri Lankan government that meaningful action is being taken. Thus, Colombo wants to utilise the favourable international mood and step up its own war against the LTTE.
The following is a brief rundown of the recent action taken against overseas LTTE operatives worldwide:
■ In August 2007, U.S. security officials conducted a series of arrests and detained a dozen persons from Seattle, Washington, and the States of New York and New Jersey. This was the result of a sting operation in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials posed as arms dealers.
The arrests related to alleged offences such as trying to purchase surface-to-air missiles and AK 47 rifles and also attempting to bribe U.S. officials to get the LTTE de-proscribed. The U.S. designated the LTTE a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997. Some of those arrests were of Tamils with Canadian citizenship. One person arrested in the U.S. was a British passport holder of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. Another was a Tamil hailing from Tamil Nadu.
Eleven defendants were indicted in the eastern district of New York on charges relating to providing material support to the LTTE. One indictment, United States vs Sathajhan Sarachandran, et al., charges five individuals with attempting to purchase several dozen surface-to-air missiles and other military arms and equipment from an undercover FBI agent in Queens, New York. The second indictment, United States vs Thavarajah Pratheepan et al., charges six defendants with participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to provide material support to the LTTE through the procurement of military arms and technology; attempting to bribe purported U.S. State Department officials to remove the LTTE from the foreign terrorist organisation list and to sell classified intelligence concerning the LTTE, fund-raising; and the LTTE’s covert payment for a U.S. Congressman’s trip to LTTE-controlled territory.
■ In a separate sting operation, U.S. officials arrested six Asians for allegedly trying to smuggle weapons from the U.S. for the LTTE. Undercover agents tracked the suspects from the eastern port of Baltimore to the U.S. South Pacific territory of Guam. Four of those arrested were Indonesians, one was a Singaporean and the sixth was a Sri Lankan Tamil, Thirunavukkarasu Varatharajah. Varatharajah was charged with conspiracy, attempting to export arms, money laundering and illegal possession of weapons. He has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
■ In a more significant act, U.S. officials arrested Karunakaran Kandasamy aka Karuna, a New York resident, in April last year. It was alleged that Karuna was the chief of the LTTE’s U.S. operations. He is the director of the American branch of the LTTE, which is located in Queens, and operates through a front organisation called the World Tamil Coordinating Committee. According to the U.S. indictment, Karuna oversees and directs the LTTE’s activities in the U.S., including fund-raising.
■ The LTTE in France, too, is under strain. Fourteen Tamils of Sri Lankan origin, suspected of being linked to the LTTE, were placed in judicial custody under a preventive detention order in France on April 5, 2006, after being produced at a special counter-terrorism tribunal in Paris.
They were arraigned on multiple charges including extorsion, violences physiques et sequestration contre des Tamouls installes en France (extortion, physical violence and illegal confinement against Tamils settled in France). They were also charged with financing terrorism and with criminal association with a terrorist enterprise. The LTTE was cited as the terrorist organisation in question.
Among those remanded was the LTTE branch chief in Paris, Nadaraja Matheenthiran alias Parithi alias Regan. Also arrested was the politics/propaganda chief for Europe, Duraisamy Aravindhan alias Metha. While Parithi has a French passport, Metha holds an Italian one. As investigations continue, the two remain under detention, having been denied bail.
■ In Victoria, Australia, two persons were charged with providing material support and funding to the LTTE. Aaruran Vinayagamoorthy, 32, of Mount Waverley (a suburb in Melbourne), and Sivarajah Yathavan, 36, of Vermont South (another suburb in the city), were produced in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on May 1, 2006. They were each charged with intentionally being members of a terrorist organisation and providing support and making funds available to a terrorist organisation. The offences are alleged to have occurred between July 6, 2002, and May 1, 2007. Subsequently, a third person, Arumugam Rajeevan, 42, was also charged.
The arrests followed security operations in Melbourne and Sydney, where a number of residences of Sri Lankan Tamils were searched. The men were initially denied bail, but it was granted subsequently and the trial is going on. It was only recently that the acknowledged Tiger chief in Australia, Thillai Jeyakumar, passed away. Had he been living, chances are that he too would have been arrested.
■ On June 21, 2006, in the United Kingdom, Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar alias Shanthan and Goldan Lambert were arrested by the police in London and charged with supporting the LTTE. They were produced before the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on June 28.
Chrishanthakumar is charged with assisting in arranging a meeting in Hyde Park on July 25, 2006, to canvass support for the Tamil Tigers; speaking at the Hyde Park event; receiving £1,500 in January 2005, intending that it be used, or having reasonable cause to suspect that it may be used, for the purposes of terrorism; receiving manuals entitled Underwater Warfare Systems, Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Naval Weapons Systems, as well as possessing six trenching spades, 39 compasses and a piece of ballistic body armour, which may have been received for the purposes of terrorism; and for being a member of the LTTE between January 2005 and June 2007.
Lambert is charged with assisting in the management of the Hyde Park event even while knowing it was for supporting a proscribed organisation. Chrishanthakumar is the head of the LTTE’s British branch. Lambert was allegedly responsible for Tamil youth activities. The bank accounts of Chrishanthakumar and his wife have been frozen. Lambert and Chrishanthakumar were released on bail but their trials continue.
A pattern is visible in the series of arrests of LTTE activists. Many of those arrested are the heads of LTTE branches in their respective countries. Some are responsible for fund-raising, others are prominent youth activists. In what appears to be an orchestrated action, the LTTE is being penalised globally.
Reinforcing this impression has been the action taken against the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), an alleged LTTE front organisation. The TRO has long been suspected of being a “conduit” for channelling and laundering LTTE finances. The U.S., the U.K. and Denmark have frozen TRO bank accounts. An intensive probe is under way.
The LTTE, through its actions, has incurred the wrath of the international community. The Tigers were given a “golden” opportunity when the West relaxed its tough stance towards “terrorism” in the case of the LTTE and encouraged Colombo to negotiate.
Christina Rocca, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Palaly airbase in Jaffna on March 15, 2002. Rocca visited the war-ravaged Jaffna peninsula four days after the U.S. Embassy in Colombo warned the LTTE not to jeopardise the Norwegian-backed peace process.
The U.S., Japan, Norway and the E.U. became the four co-chairs of the Sri Lankan peace process. The West hardened its attitude towards so-called Islamist terrorists and justified its stance on the basis that “terrorism is terrorism” and that there is no difference between “good or bad terrorism”. Yet a notable exception was made in the case of the LTTE, with the international community promoting dialogue between Colombo and Kilinochchi as “strategic partners”.
But the LTTE, true to form, failed to utilise this opening. Overtly and covertly, the LTTE began going against the spirit and letter of the CFA. In monitored ceasefire violations up to November 30, 2006, the LTTE outscored the Sri Lankan government nine to one (3,086 to 345).
The CFA became practically “defunct” as hostilities increased. The Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) found itself forced to “monitor” an undeclared war rather than a declared ceasefire. Day-to-day monitoring was suspended and a scheme of weekly report submissions was introduced.
The international community was unhappy and regularly conveyed its displeasure to the LTTE through meetings at an official level. The LTTE ignored these warnings, which were couched in diplomatic jargon, and continued on its self-destructive course. The LTTE also pulled out of all talks with Colombo despite pleas by the international community that the Tigers “stay the course” at the negotiating table.
A powerful signal was conveyed by the E.U. when it suspended all LTTE travel to Europe. Still, there was no positive response from the LTTE. Finally, the E.U. proscribed the LTTE as a terrorist movement. The LTTE response was to demand and obtain a withdrawal of the ceasefire monitors in the SLMM who were from the E.U. – that is, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Thereafter, the SLMM was virtually crippled.
Slowly, yet steadily, the international community began turning against the LTTE. Incidents such as the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the enforced boycott of the presidential election in Tamil areas, the commencement without any provocation of attacks against security forces, and the closure of the sluice gates at Maavilaaru dam added to its displeasure.
Thus, the international community maintained a deafening silence when the Rajapaksa regime stepped up the war against the LTTE. Initially, the government was wary of international reaction and rationalised its actions by describing them as “defensive”. Gradually, it shed such niceties and pursued the war intensely and relentlessly.
The CFA demarcates certain areas as LTTE-controlled and government-controlled. Both sides were forbidden to make “offensive” incursions into each other’s territory. The government observed these restrictions in the breach as it took back LTTE territory in the east and Mannar South. Now, Colombo plans to go into the heartland of Tiger territory in the north. Confident that the international community will not intervene, the government has dispensed with even the CFA.Negative responses
This has evoked negative responses from the international community. The United Nations, the E.U. and countries such as the U.S., France, Australia, Canada and Japan have expressed dissatisfaction at what seems an all-out effort by the Sri Lankan state to pursue war. India has once again emphasised that there can be no military solution. The question that arises is whether the Rajapaksa regime has misread the situation and irked the international community by pursuing the military option. It must be remembered that the regime earlier intensified its military drive on the basis that military pressure had to be exerted on the LTTE to make it come to the negotiating table. The international community was requested to exert pressure on the LTTE to compel the Tigers to opt for a negotiated settlement.
Despite the flaws in implementation, the government’s adherence to the CFA had given credence to the belief that its pursuit of war was only a device to foster a negotiated peace. The unilateral decision to do away with the CFA has upset such a perception. The international community is caught in the unenviable position of being charged with adopting double standards. If pressure had to be exerted on the LTTE for flouting the CFA, then should not Colombo be penalised for abrogating it?
The international community is also miffed about Colombo not proceeding on a parallel track towards a political solution. Much is expected of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) that is yet to deliver a comprehensive power-sharing package based on a southern consensus. The government has not displayed as much keenness on the political front as it has on the military front. Nevertheless, a sovereign nation is entitled to take whatever steps it thinks necessary to counter terrorism or threats to its territorial integrity, and no nation can openly rap the Sri Lankan state for that. It can, however, be given cautionary advice on how that “war” should be conducted.
Adequate arrangements for accommodating displaced persons, measures to reduce civilian suffering, scaling down of human rights violations, non-curtailment of democratic practices, and so on are some issues that Colombo urgently needs to address if it wants the international community to give it unconditional support. More importantly, the government needs to expedite matters on the political front and evolve a substantial power-sharing formula acceptable to all sections of the people within the overall framework of a united Sri Lanka. Pursuing war against the LTTE without addressing the legitimate grievances and aspirations of the country’s minority communities will not endear the Sri Lankan government to the world at large.
Defaulting on these matters will not lead to the international community withdrawing support for Colombo and aiding Kilinochchi. Such options are ruled out firmly as the “LTTE option” is no longer a credible choice from a global perspective. But the international community can indicate its displeasure in other ways. Restrictions on arms supplies to Colombo is one. Another is the adoption of a “go slow” approach in cracking down on the LTTE abroad. If the LTTE is let off the hook temporarily, the government is likely to be deprived of a major factor boosting its war against the LTTE.
(Letters to the Editor should carry the full postal address)
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