In a world that is wise to the malevolent ploys of terrorist groups, there are still organizations that appear to get away with such duplicity, at least for a while, until the truth catches up with them.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist group in Sri Lanka engaged in an armed conflict with the government to establish a mono-ethnic separate state for the Tamils in north and the east of the country, was recently caught red-handed while in the midst of a ruse to achieve its political objectives by creating hostility in South India toward Sri Lanka.

On March 29, 2007, five Indian fishermen were killed in Indian territorial waters. The Sri Lanka Navy rejected an allegation by some foreign media, that the Navy killed these fishermen. Sri Lanka Navy headquarters issued a statement that the fleet units of Sri Lanka Navy do not fire at fishermen and that instructions had been issued to those units to abide by the Standing Operational Procedures, when dealing with fishermen.

The Sri Lanka Navy stated that it has always maintained a traditional relationship with the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard. Furthermore, the Sri Lanka Navy has, on several occasions, assisted Indian fishermen in distress in Sri Lankan waters. Incidents in the recent past, such as assistance to the Indian trawler RMS 94 on October 25, 2006 off Karainagar and assistance to an Indian fishing boat in distress off Thondimannnar, on 24th November 2006, bear testimony to such conduct.

However, by April 2, 2007, the Chief of the Indian Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta had not ruled out LTTE involvement in the deaths of the Indian fishermen. Basing his views on assurances given by the Sri Lankan Naval chief, Admiral Mehta acknowledged that purpose of the shooting could have been to create a rift between India and Sri Lanka. Admiral Mehta told newsmen, “I had personally spoken to the Chief of the Sri Lankan Navy five days back and he assured me that his men had no intention of harassing fishermen in this manner. The Sri Lankan Navy has also issued strict instructions asking its personnel not to open fire on Indian fishermen, who had strayed into Lankan waters."

The Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, “The Government of Sri Lanka also wishes to point out that as a responsible naval force of a friendly country, the Sri Lanka Navy does not under any circumstances enter into Indian territorial waters.” It added, “The Government of Sri Lanka is of the view that any complicity regarding the alleged incident must be attributed solely to the LTTE, who have resorted to such provocations in the past as well, in attempts to create strains in the bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka remains committed to continuing its engagement with the Indian side to work out a coordinated mechanism between the two Navies, to leave no grounds for any such allegations in the future.”

On March 10, 2007, there was an incident of firing on Indian fishermen in the general area South West of Kachchativu island. Once more, allegations of responsibility were directed at the Sri Lanka Navy. Following investigation into the incident, it was found that no vessel of the Sri Lanka Navy had operated in the vicinity of Kachchativu island, at the time of the incident.

Stemming from this situation, the Government of Sri Lanka proposed to the Indian authorities its willingness to work out an arrangement with India to jointly monitor the International Maritime Boundary Line on either side and to share information regarding the movement of Indian fishermen. Sri Lanka also indicated its willingness to send a team to India to cooperate in the investigations of the killings.

Stepped-up attacks on Indian fishermen came at a time when Indian and Tamil Nadu authorities were trying to curb the arms smuggling network of the LTTE. The recent numerous arrests of operatives and seizures of materials for manufacturing bombs and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) meant for the Tamil Tigers, coupled with the mid-sea hijacking of a Jordanian commercial vessel in December 2006, indicate that the LTTE has stepped up its activity in the territorial waters of India and Sri Lanka.

On April 11, 2007, the Indian coastguard arrested six Sri Lankan Tamils, who had been engaged in transferring arms and ammunition from their vessel ‘Maria’ to smaller boats in the high seas off the Tuticorin coast. A mechanical snag in ‘Maria’ had caused them to drift into Indian waters. When some Indian fishermen in two fishing boats had come to their assistance, they had hurriedly jettisoned their cargo into the sea. Upon interrogation, the Tamil Nadu police discovered these six people were members of a special Sea Tiger squad engaged in ferrying arms, ammunition and equipment from an LTTE ship anchored in the high seas. Director General of Police in Tamil Nadu, Mr. D. Mukherjee said in an official release that upon interrogation, the suspects had admitted that another group of Sea Tigers in the same vessel ‘Maria’ had opened fire on a group of eight Indian fishermen, killing five, on March 29. Mr. Mukherjee said Sea Tigers had also kidnapped 12 Indian fishermen on March 4, 2007. These fishermen had been abducted by the Sea Tigers with their 60 meter fishing vessel ‘Sri Krishna,’ which is now in the hands of the Sea Tigers. The suspects have told the Indian interrogators that the abducted Indian fishermen had been moved to LTTE-dominated areas in the Wanni.

This is not the first time that the LTTE has committed a crime and blamed it on the Sri Lanka security forces, with the objective of attaining their political goals. They have, in the past, used civilians as human shields in attacks against the security forces and then accuse the forces of killing civilians in retaliatory firing.

Civilians and religious leaders in the north and the east are increasingly accusing the LTTE of using places of worship for terrorist activity. On April 29, 2007, Five LTTE cadres including a Tiger leader and his deputy were killed by the Navy inside the Amman Puliyankadal Kovil in Suruvil Vealani in the Kayts Islands. He had been functioning as leader of the Jaffna islands. The Navy also seized a large haul of arms and ammunition after repulsing a terrorist attack.

The latest discovery by a joint navy and police search at the Amman Hindu Kovil in Velanithurai, Kayts, on May 2, 2007, revealed explosives carefully concealed for the LTTE above the statues of Hindu Gods. The LTTE also resorts to revenge attacks against religious leaders who have disregarded or acted independently of Tamil Tiger ideology. The use of places of worship as a cover for terrorism shows the LTTE's total disregard for the sanctity of religion.

In February 2007, on an information received from the Bishop of Jaffna about a suspicious bag inside St. Mary's church, troops recovered 7 hand grenades, 3 cyanide capsules, a communication set and some other items inside the church.

The Hindu priest, Selliah Parameshwaram Gurukkal who blessed President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his visit to Vakarai was shot dead by the LTTE in Batticaloa on February 7, 2007.

The International Religious Freedom Report 2004, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the US Department of State says, “The LTTE has been accused in the past of using church and temple compounds, where civilians are instructed by the Government to congregate in the event of hostilities, as shields for the storage of munitions.”

Furthermore, unsolved crimes like the 17 aid workers killed in Muttur in August 2006, and various disappearances that have taken place in the north and the east, may also end up as crimes committed by the LTTE, with the intention of bringing discredit to Sri Lanka and to increase pressure on the government from the international community.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

04 May 2007

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