The recent activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, portray their desperation to replenish fast-dwindling stocks of weapons and ammunition. The Tamil Tigers, designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in the US, UK, India, EU and Canada, have lost significant stockpiles of weapons and ammunition through joint operations.

The incident occurred on February 28, 2007, when the Sri Lanka Navy observed a ship without a flag, on the international sea lane off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Following international practice, the Navy used Channel 16 to seek information on the vessel’s identity. When cross-checked with Navy headquarters, the information was found to be false. “A name of a ship should be available in the International Lloyds Registry, but we found that no such ship was registered. Therefore the Navy had to stress on checking the ship,” Navy Spokesman Commander D.P.K. Dassanayake said. Suspecting it to be one of the LTTE-linked rogue vessels, the Navy fired several warning shots and ordered the ship to stop its northward movement. Instead of responding, the ship had fired back and had started moving south with increasing speed. The Navy was compelled to fire back at the ship, which exploded instantly amidst a cloud of smoke and the series of explosions, which indicated it was carrying explosives. During the search operation which followed, the Navy recovered 152 mm and 130 mm artillery shells and 120 mm mortar shells from the vicinity of the sunken ship. Some ammunition boxes were found floating near the location as well.

On September 18, 2006, the Sri Lanka Navy and the Sri Lanka Air Force sank another LTTE ship carrying large quantities of weapons and ammunition off Kalmunai seas in the Eastern Province. The ship sailing without a flag, and detected by the Navy, had ignored the warning shots fired by the Navy to stop and identify. Fifteen Tamil Tigers on board perished with the ship.

In recent months, the Sri Lanka and Indian security forces have intercepted many vessels carrying arms and ammunition for the LTTE from South India. In the first week of November 2006, Tamil Nadu police seized a lathe machine used for making mortar shells, attached to a fishing boat. On December 5 and 11, 2006, fishermen in Rameswaram, South India, found live rockets in their fishing nets. On January 24, 2007, Tamil Nadu police arrested eight people including five Sri Lankan Tamils trying to transport two tons of ball-bearings from Chennai to Sri Lanka. Ball-bearings are used to make bombs and claymore mines.

In an attempt at sea piracy, the Tamil Tigers in December 2006, seized a Jordanian vessel Farha-3, carrying 14,000 tons of rice from India to South Africa, when it had encountered engine trouble and anchored in Sri Lankan waters. The vessel is still in Tamil Tiger custody but the crew was released.

These incidents portray the Tamil Tigers’ capability of transporting weapons and ammunition despite the vigilance of the international community. This means that governments need to be extra vigilant about Tamil Tiger gunrunning as they can destabilize other countries in the region.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

01 March 2007

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