On February 5, 2007, Sri Lanka’s security forces arrested three Sinhalese men, two of them former journalists, the other, a computer graphics designer, on charges of collaboration with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, who have held Sri Lanka to ransom through terrorism for nearly three decades.

These arrests triggered off protests from media organizations internationally, with the Embassy receiving many queries from U.S. media. Responding to inquiries, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in the U.S. Mr. Bernard Goonetilleke said that this appears to be new trend with the Tamil Tigers who have, in the recent past, changed their modus operandi.

Tamil Tigers seek proxies for terror attacks

This new trend appears to have evolved from the Tamil Tigers’ need to dissociate themselves from being labeled as terrorists, due to the recent action by the international community, including the ban imposed on the organization by Canada in April 2006, followed by the EU a month later. The Tamil Tigers appear to be in dire need of acceptance by a world fast losing its tolerance for violence and terrorism. Furthermore, international opinion of the Tamil Tigers is presently at its lowest ebb. The US State Department in its Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004, says, “The LTTE continued to commit serious human rights abuses. The LTTE was responsible for politically motivated killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, harassment, abduction, disappearances, extortion, and detention.” The report on Funding the “Final WarLTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora released by the Human Rights Watch in March 2006, concludes, “The LTTE’s use of intimidation, harassment, extortion, and even physical violence against members of the Tamil diaspora is effectively stifling Tamil dissent regarding ongoing LTTE human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.” The Mackenzie Institute of Canada has said, “Political assassinations have also been a staple of LTTE operations; hundreds of politicians, human rights activists and key government personnel have fallen victim to the Tigers' vicious campaign.” These conclusions are ironical in a situation that the Tamil Tigers have never claimed responsibility for their acts of terror.

The Tamil Tigers, thus, needed proxies to carry out their terrorist activities so they could, at least on the surface, be distanced from acts of terrorism, and yet achieve their aim of destabilizing the country’s south.

Focus on politically-motivated former media personnel

The latest focus of the Tamil Tiger search for proxies appears to be politically-motivated former media personnel. The two former journalists and the computer graphics designer, arrested by security forces on February 5, 2007, confessed they received large sums of money and two consignments of weapons and explosives from the Tamil Tigers for several terrorist attacks in Colombo. They were part of two groups of Sinhalese males trained recently by the Tamil Tigers on weapons and explosives. In January 2006, they had used explosives provided by the Tamil Tigers for simultaneous explosions in Colombo’s suburban areas of Kiribathgoda, Rajagiriya, Nugegoda and Dehiwala. Ravi, a Tamil Tiger living in Canada on a visit to Sri Lanka, had given them over $10,000 for expenses. It will be recalled that there were several other recent terrorist attacks in the south, including two bomb explosions in civilian buses on two consecutive days in January, which killed over 20 and injured around 75 civilians in Nittambuwa in the western province and Thelwatta in the southern province.

Focus on underworld in the south

Another dimension of the change in strategy of the Tamil Tigers is to ensnare the criminals of the southern underworld, luring them with hefty sums of money for contract killings. The targets, in these instances, have been mostly military intelligence officers. In June 2005, the Commanding Officer of the Military Intelligence Corps, Major Nizam Muthalif was shot while he rode in his vehicle. Major Muthalif, with expertise in cracking complicated cases of terrorism, had contributed to key Tamil Tiger arrests in the country. In late October 2005, an unknown gunman fired at senior military intelligence officer, Lt. Col. T. Rizvi Meedin as he rode his official car. The assassin was identified as a Sinhalese living in Sampur, Trincomalee, with links to Colombo’s underworld collaborating with the Tamil Tigers. The assassination was carried out with a micro pistol, a weapon favored by the Tamil Tiger intelligence wing.

Focus on some security forces personnel known to be corrupt

The Tamil Tigers have succeeded in obtaining the support of some security forces personnel as well, paying large sums of money to a few corrupt personnel to lure them into cooperating in terrorist attacks by providing vital information. The gravity of this new trend became apparent with the assassination of the third most senior officer in the Sri Lanka Army, Lieutenant General Parami Kulatunge and the attempted assassinations on Sri Lanka’s Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka and Secretary of Defence, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in June 2006, in April 2006 and in December 2006, respectively. Two Majors, a Captain and three Corporals from the Sri Lanka Army are facing charges of collaborating with the enemy.

Focus on Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen

The Tamil Tigers’ desperation to extricate themselves from their present quagmire is also mirrored in attempts to ensnare Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen to assist in terrorist activities.

There are increasing instances of Sri Lankan fishermen of Chilaw and Negombo on the west coast, collaborating with the Tamil Tigers to carry out terrorist attacks. A recent attempted attack on the Colombo Port on January 27, 2007, was foiled by the Sri Lanka Navy. At the scene of the crime, along with several LTTE suicide cadres, the Navy arrested three Sri Lankan fishermen from the west coast.

In January 2006, the Sri Lanka Navy intercepted a boat with five Indian fishermen, sailing from Tamil Nadu with 60,000 detonators bought in Hyderabad. In August 2006, the Sri Lanka Navy took into custody an Indian trawler with Indian fishermen and Tamil Tiger cadres. They had in their possession 64,000 electronic detonators meant for terrorist attacks in the south. In November 2006, a lathe machine used for making shells for bombs, was discovered in the seabed near the Indian coast. In late November 2006, 30 boxes of gelex boosters that can increase the velocity of bomb shrapnel were discovered in a van in Tamil Nadu, destined for Sri Lanka. Following this, fishermen in Rameswaram, India, found three live rockets in their fishing nets. On January 24, 2007, five Sri Lankan Tamils and three Indians were arrested by Indian police with two tonnes of iron ball bearings meant for claymore mines in Sri Lanka. The next day, three more tonnes of ball bearings were seized and another Indian was arrested. The ball bearings had all been purchased from Mumbai.

Tamil Tigers desperate for respectability are using proxies for terrorism

These trends, while causing extreme concern to Sri Lankan authorities, because of the potential to destabilize the country’s south, also reflect the Tamil Tigers’ desperate need to shrug off responsibility for terrorist attacks, especially those that result in civilian casualties By appearing to distance themselves from terrorism, the Tamil Tigers are seeking to convince the countries that have banned them, that they have turned over a new leaf and no longer engage in terrorist activity, thus paving the way to get the ban removed. This will also help the Tamil Tigers to achieve some semblance of respectability in the eyes of the world.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

08 February 2007

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