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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame & the Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom> Securing Regional Waters, How Much Progress? Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka
Securing Regional Waters, How Much Progress?
Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka
It is indeed a great pleasure to be associated, representing Sri Lanka for the first time in the Shangri-La Dialogue. I must thank the Government of Singapore for the hospitality and all courtesies that have been extended to me and to my delegation.
I am looking forward to address this important session here in the Shangri-La Dialogue in terms of our own experiences in Sri Lanka in the context and from a Sri Lankan perspective in relation to Securing Regional Waters, How Much Progress?
Sri Lanka is an island state in the Indian Ocean and just 20 minutes from the international sea route, from the tip off Sri Lanka’s southern coast. So much of the traffic in terms of navigation traditionally takes place. We are on the east as much as on the west, surrounded by very important sea routes and navigational development.
We in Sri Lanka today experiences one of the threats both local and has a regional effect in terms of terrorism that has been affecting my country. It is in you in this session, Securing Regional Waters, How Much Progress, I trust it will be pertinent to present Sri Lanka’s perspective on maritime security in the region and its relevance to the world. This sea’s pertinence in Sri Lanka lies at the crossroads of Indian Ocean which lies in the midst of three continents. Today the world is menaced by terrorism, both global and regional. Most countries have had to deal with the scourge at some time or other, resulting in death and destruction, and for some of us it is a challenge that occurs daily.
In Sri Lanka unfortunately since 1975 we have to grapple with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam a ruthless, fascist organisation which seeks to carve out a separate mono-ethnic state by dismembering one third of the land mass and two-thirds of the country’s coastline. In the process the LTTE has left behind a trail of atrocities, amongst it some 65,000 victims are the Prime Minister Sri Rajiv Ghandi of India, President Ranasinghe Premadasa of Sri Lanka, as well as two generations of Tamil and similar politicians and academics of Sri Lanka including former Tamil United Liberation front leader A Amirthalingam, Tamil intellect and member of Parliament and constitutional expert Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam and my own predecessor in office, former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar whose only fault was their refusal geared to the tirade of the LTTE and abandon the democratic path.
Today the Tamil community in Sri Lanka has been left without the moderate leaders due to the methodical process of elimination adopted by the LTTE during the past three decades. The LTTE state-of-the-art, international propaganda, fundraising, procurement and shipping network have been able to procure both war and war-related equipment. The organisation boasts of having maintained a vast global network since the mid 1980s with political propaganda officers and cells in some 54 countries.
It generates annual revenue of US$10-30 million per month gathered through extortion of the over 1 million strong Tamil diaspora and clandestine operations carried out in most countries including drug trafficking, money laundering, human smuggling and narcotics trading. However unlike most terrorist organisations in the world with proven maritime capability, LTTE own a substantial number of ships sailing across the oceans under the flags of different countries which alongside traditional trading activity engages in smuggling of military hardware. The LTTE has also established a naval combat unit known as the ‘Sea Tigers’.
Thus Sri Lanka confronts what terrorism expert and chief scientist at the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, Dr Magnus Ranstorp, has described best. LTTE is probably the most sophisticated terrorist organisation in the world.
Sea Tigers – the sea wing and its regional trade is something that LTTE set up in order to confront and carry out sea-related activities. The Sea Tigers in the Indian Ocean region has a long and a bloody history. Besides their attempts of struggling arms and attacks on Sri Lankan naval vessels, LTTE has been responsible for confrontations, boarding without permission, attacking, destroying, damaging or ship wrecking a number of foreign-owned civilian vessels in Sri Lankan waters. These acts broadly are defined as maritime terrorism and piracy constitute a fragrant violation of domestic and international laws.
One of the earliest instances which demonstrated this maritime capacity was when the LTTE former Jaffna Commander and founder head of the LTTE international secretariat Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kittu, with a large consignment of weapons in [the MV Yahata]. In mid sea the vessel changed its name and the MV Yahata was challenged by the Indian coast guards in the international waters before the vessel was destroyed in January 16th 1993.
Since then, the LTTE has carried out numerous acts of maritime terrorism, testing the patience of not only the Government of Sri Lanka and friendly Governments of neighbouring countries, but also those of ship owners flying flags of national nations versus the Philippine, Indonesian, Panamanian, Balinese, Chinese, Jordanian, Cambodian and Indian flags have been at the receiving end of the LTTE’s terror. This underlines the LTTE’s capacity to the threat that they have created to international shipping is absolutely clear.
As early as in 1977 the international maritime community in Sri Lankan waters as vulnerable to incidents of terrorists, maritime intelligence and security breach issued by the Maritime Intelligence and Counter-Piracy Operations Centre. On 10 September 1997 it observed Sri Lankan waters continue to remain an extremely dangerous area for maritime traffic, but if it fell into the LTTE, it added, they will not hesitate to approach, board, pilfer and possibly destroy targets of opportunity. On a global scale, according to statistics, maintained by the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, at that time Sri Lankan waters witnessed the fifth largest number of pirate attacks.
On 9 April 2000 a Sri Lankan born Norwegian citizen Christy Reginold Lawrence in Phuket, Thailand, led to the discovery of a half built mini-submarine which was intended for sabotage missions by the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The submarine was believed to have been similar to one, seized by Sri Lankan Government forces from the LTTE in Jaffna in the early 1990s.
In recent times, the LTTE Sea Tigers have been very active in the Sri Lankan and Indian waters. On 20 March 2003 Sea Tigers carried out an attack on the Chinese trawler Fu Yuan Ya 225, killing fifteen Chinese nationals and two Sri Lankans on the north and eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
On 23 December 2006 they hijacked a Jordanian owned cargo vessel and looted 14,000 metric tonnes of rice it was carrying.
On 25 January 2007, 15 to 20 LTTE Sea Tiger boats attempted to ram a Cambodian-owned cargo vessel, ‘City of Liverpool’, that was anchored outside the Kankasanthurai Harbour after unloading relief supplies for the people of the Jaffna peninsula.
The Indians said police said on 27 April that the LTTE was behind the March 29th incident in which nine Kumari [?] fishermen were attacked in mid sea killing and that ended with five of them being dead.
The most recent act of LTTE maritime terrorism occurred less than three weeks ago, when an Indian fishing trawler ‘Sri Krishna’ earlier hijacked by the LTTE on 11 March 2007 was detected in Maldivian waters on the 16th May engaging in arms smuggling for the LTTE, following an attack on a Maldivian dhoni of the Havadu[?] atoll.
The vessel was fired upon and sunk by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) on the morning of 17 May 2007 reportedly with the assistance from the Indian naval aircraft. Five persons – a mechanic of the original crew and four Sri Lankan Tamils belonging to the LTTE who were arrested by the Maldivian authorities have already been interrogated by the Sri Lankan authorities under the considerable knowledge on the continuing operations of the LTTE sea tigers in the region and in our waters...
These incidents which are only few in a series of recentness on the part of the LTTE to challenge the international bill underlines the threat faced by not only Sri Lanka, India and now also the Maldives but all Indian Ocean maritime users. The international committee needs to swiftly respond to these challenges.
I would now deal with the global ramifications of LTTE’s capability. The challenge of the LTTE process is not confined to the waters of the Indian Ocean. In this modern globalised world, where the element of technological transom, amongst different terrorist groups takes place at a rapid place. The LTTE’s maritime terrorist attack offer copy cat models for other terrorist groups. The LTTE also provides a convenient transport facility for other terrorist organisations, thus the LTTE’s activities are being watched as an early example of emerging trends and patterns in maritime terrorism.
The LTTE has carried out ten suicide attacks on Sri Lankan naval vessels with the use of explosive laden boats before the Al Qaeda attack USS Coal in Yeoman in October 2000. In fact, the Al Qaeda attack on the USS Coal was a copycat of the LTTE’s attack on [the Abh Hita?], a Sri Lankan navy supply ship on 4 May 1991.
In a 19 March 2003 interview with the BBC, Sea Tiger’s chief Soosai was to state, I quote ‘I think in Yeoman they used our strategy of targeting the hull of their suicide attack to blow up an American ship USS Coal. This is exactly what we used to do’.
It is well-known that the tactical resource base of terrorism for the next generation will take the form of network terrorism in which actors across a spectrum of conflicts and crimes will modify the existing structures to take advantage of the inter-linked service arrangements. In this context, LTTE with its global reach through the Tamil diaspora, and its fleet of merchant vessels is ahead of the competition in acting as couriers as the providers of military training to several other terrorist groups in the region.
The LTTE ships have been used to provide alternate supply channels to other groups and crime scene syndicates in the region for their arms and human smuggling and for drug trafficking activities. As the LTTE has established a presence in the arms black market. For instance, in 1995 an LTTE ship had clandestinely transported a consignment of arms and ammunition dispatch by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen - HUM - of Pakistan to the southern Philippines for the use by [Abu Sair?].
The London‑based International Institute for Strategic Studies, IISS, in its publication military balance 2000 sermon, also refers to commercial links between the LTTE and Al Qaeda movement. It has been suggested that LTTE establish linkages with the Mujahideeens in Afghanistan as far back as 1987 and in 2001 an LTTE delegation travelled to Kabul shortly before 9/11. India’s national security advisor M K Narayan in a speech on the 42nd Munich conference on security policy on 11 February 2007 said that both Jihad movement and the LTTE were relying heavily on funds from trafficking in narcotics which has doubled in the recent years.
The ramifications of the LTTE behaviour on the global terrorism is significant. It must be recalled that LTTE’s imported two three-side bombing and must have the use of suicide jackets with C4 explosives with devastating impact long before the Al Qaeda movement. In fact, the LTTE was the pioneer in the field and is believed to have conducted 154 battle field and civilian suicide missions up until August 1998 compared with 50 attacks by all other groups around the world, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Kurdish Workers Party.
It also been noted that suicide bombing jackets used in the London underground in July 2005 were very similar to the jackets used by the LTTE in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s and that the terrorist attacks in Bali and Jordan also have the hallmarks of suicide technology that had previously been used in Lebanon and Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the LTTE attack on July 2001 at the Colombo airport was one of the most destructive acts of terrorism in aviation history.
In most recent times, the LTTE have developed using cover of the ceasefire agreement since 2000 to launch its first strike on the Sri Lankan air force base in Katunayake on 26 March 2007, but failed to achieve its desired effect.
Subsequent attacks have been carried out on April 24th in an area adjoining the Palaly military base in Jaffna and on 28 April near Colombo on the night when most Sri Lankans are watching the finals of the cricket world cup being played in the Caribbean.
To the world at large, the global fund-raising, arms procurement, human smuggling and propaganda operations, the LTTE also provides valuable insight into the manner in which terror groups may use those poorer populations to sub-serve their agenda.
In conclusion, I will now cite the significant level of global activity carried out for over two decades by the LTTE and the many instances where the LTTE agents have been apprehended in such acts in several countries across the globe.
Regrettably there are some quarters in the world which continue to believe in the pretentions of peace proclaimed by the LTTE.
The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is unambiguously committed to defeat terrorism in all its manifestations. We see no contradiction in dealing firmly with the scourge of terrorism perpetuated by the LTTE even as Government of Sri Lanka seeks the wall of consensus for a negotiated political settlement to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. It is in such context that the Government of Sri Lanka in recent months have sought to militarily engage the LTTE to convince the group that it cannot expect to achieve a military victory with the exception of a few jungle hide-outs of the LTTE today.
Most in the eastern province of Sri Lanka which was until recently terrorised by the LTTE has been rid of this menace.
The security forces and other agency of the government of Sri Lanka have worked hard to secure the area, and restore normalcy and settle persons who had been temporarily displaced in their own homes. I am sure those of you who are familiar with the difficulties facing carrying on military as well as hearts and minds operations in areas dominated by terrorists would better appreciate the magnitude of the challenge and hence this is why you serve the significance of the successful conclusion of the settlement process of persons in the eastern province of Sri Lanka.
As it has been repeatedly stated, throughout this meeting the fight against terrorism is not something that can be fought single-handedly by affected countries alone. It requires international cooperation.
Sri Lanka remains thankful to the international community for the considerable support so far provided in stemming the tide of terrorism which threatens the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and has caused death, destruction and immense suffering to the people of our country. The support most states represented here extends to Sri Lanka bilaterally to kerb terrorism by the LTTE is deeply appreciated by the Government of Sri Lanka.
It is in the sense that Sri Lanka joined international initiatives such as the container security initiative, the make our ports initiative and the regional cooperation agreement on combating piracy and armed robbery against ships in Asia so that together we address international terrorism.
In conclusion I wish to appeal to those of you associated with the defence establishments in your respective countries who would possibly better appreciate the difficult struggle faced by my country as well as the security ramifications to the world and to the global community that I have outlined to ensure that your Governments remain seized of the complexities the Government of Sri Lanka faces in continuing to keep the LTTE under check.
I ask that the Governments represented by your Excellencies continue to exercise vigilance in order not to permit the LTTE to use your territories or waters to continue terrorising the people of Sri Lanka and that other region and take terrorism to the world at large.