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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam  > Tamil Armed Resistance > Reports of Armed Conflict > The World's First Terrorist Air Force - B.Raman

Reports on Armed Conflict in Tamil Eelam

The World's First Terrorist Air Force

Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter.

SAAG Paper no. 1398, 2 June 2005

Speaking at a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Sri Lanka at Colombo on May 26,2005, Hagrup Haukland, the chief of the Norwegian-led military mission, which monitors the three-year-old ceasefire between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), confirmed the allegation of the Sri Lankan Government that the LTTE had constructed an airstrip near Iranamadu in the Wanni area under its control in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka,

2. He said: "We have seen the airstrip while flying in a Sri Lankan military helicopter." However, he did not comment on the other allegation of the Government that the LTTE has acquired at least two aircraft which looked like the Czech-built Zlin Z-143.He said that his mission had been denied access by the LTTE to verify the Government charges that the LTTE possessed at least two light aircraft. From his statement, it would appear that while his mission was able to see the airstrip from the Sri Lankan helicopter, it could not notice the presence of any aircraft on the ground on or in the vicinity of the airstrip. He did not give any other details as to whether the mission noticed any hangar or any other construction in which the LTTE might have kept the aircraft concealed..

3. He warned that any move by the Government forces to bomb the airstrip could lead to a resumption of the war. Haukland said an air capability would "mean a hell of a lot" to the LTTE. "Those two aircraft, if they have any, represent a very serious threat," he said, and added that India had also expressed concern over the matter.

4. Asked what would happen if the Sri Lankan military were to bomb the airstrip, he said: "If the air force bombs the air strip, then it will be war. If bombs fall, we pull out... it is not a ceasefire anymore. If the Tigers fly, it will be a violation of Sri Lankan airspace and also of international law because the air space is a matter only for the Sri Lankan government."

5. The Sri Lankan authorities, who have been seriously concerned over the implications of the LTTE's success in clandestinely acquiring an air capability for terrorist operations, have for the present confined their reaction to bringing the matter to the notice of foreign governments, including reportedly those of India and Pakistan. President Chandrika Kumaratunga is expected to discuss this development with Indian leaders during her expected visit to New Delhi this week.

6. The LTTE's plans to acquire an air-mounted capability for suicide missions against Government personalities and ground infrastructure were known for nearly 15 years. The Western and Indian intelligence agencies had detected its instructions to its followers in countries such as the UK and Switzerland to join the local flying clubs and learn flying. They had also noticed that its cadres in West Europe and Canada were buying a large number of expensive technical books relating to flying and that they had been making enquiries in Europe about the availability of microlite aircraft and the price. They were closely monitoring its efforts in order to prevent it from acquiring any aircraft.

7. The fact that it had hoodwinked them and succeeded in acquiring some aircraft and having it smuggled to the areas under its control---possibly in a dismantled condition---became evident on November 27,1998, when its Voice of Tigers clandestine radio station, in a broadcast on a function held in the Wanni area in memory of its cadres killed in terrorist operations, claimed that aircraft of the "Air Tigers" had sprinkled flowers from the air on the memorial. It did not specify the number and whether they were fixed-wing planes or helicopters.

8. Since then, there were periodic reports that the LTTE had managed to acquire abroad and smuggle to the Wanni area at least one light aircraft, but the Sri Lankan authorities kept denying these reports. What is new now is not that the LTTE has acquired aircraft for its air wing, which is at least seven years old, but that the Sri Lankan Government has, for the first time, officially admitted it and taken up the matter with the international community.

9. While the LTTE's acquisition of an air-mounted capability for suicide terrorism is thus old news, it needs to be added that it has not so far used the aircraft, in a conventional or unconventional manner, either for suicide missions or in its operations against the Sri Lankan security forces before the ceasefire came into force in 2002.

10. During its various rounds of fighting against the Sri Lankan security forces before 2002, it was totally relying on conventional anti-aircraft weapons and surface-to-air missiles for bringing down aircraft of the Sri Lankan Air Force. It had acquired some of them on its own in Thailand and other places and smuggled them into the areas under its control and received some others from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM---then known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar) of Pakistan in 1995 as a quid pro quo for clandestinely transporting in one of its shipe a consignment of arms and ammunition to the jihadi terrorist groups of southern Philippines, who were being assisted by the HUM.

11. By 2001, the LTTE had exhausted its holding of anti-aircraft ammunition and missiles and started facing difficulties in procuring replenishments. These difficulties increased after the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, when the US intelligence started closely monitoring the movements of LTTE ships in order to prevent their being used for the clandestine transport of arms and ammunition or for the movement of men by the Al Qaeda and its associates in the International Islamic Front (IIF).

12. Despite these difficulties, the LTTE continued to clandestinely procure arms and ammunition from different sources and transport them in its ships to northern Sri Lanka, without anything being done to stop this either by the Norwegian-led monitoring mission or by the other members of the international community. Only the Indian agencies and Coast Guard continued to monitor the LTTE activities and share with the Government of Sri Lanka any information coming to their notice. There had been occasions before the ceasefire when Indian naval ships had by themselves intercepted LTTE ships and foiled their gun-running missions.

13. It needs to be mentioned here that ever since the LTTE acquired a shipping capability for clandestine gun-running, there had been innumerable occasions when its gun-running missions were foiled on the high seas or near Sri Lankan coastal waters. In all these instances, action was initiated by the Navies of India and/or Sri Lanka.

14. To my knowledge, there has not been a single instance in which other powers---either in Asia or Europe, including East Europe or the US---had thwarted a single gun-running mission of the LTTE---either by preventing it from clandestinely procuring arms and ammunition or smuggling them by sea to northern Sri Lanka.

15. From this, it would not be wrong to conclude that the silence and inaction of many external powers have contributed to the LTTE's emerging as the most ruthless non-jihadi terrorist organisation of the world with a capability for sea and air mounted suicide missions. While the US and other Western powers have not hesitated to act promptly and decisively against jihadi terrorist organisations posing a threat to the lives of their citizens and their interests, they have shown a worrisome reluctance to act against non-jihadi terrorist organisations.

16. One does not know clearly whether the LTTE procured the planes in its holding before or after 9/11. It is a serious development whenever they were procured. It would be even more serious if the procurement had been made after 9/11 when the international community, acting under UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 against terrorism, set in place an international anti-terrorist infrastructure and networking in order to prevent the flow of funds and equipment to terrorist organisations.

17. If the LTTE had hoodwinked the intelligence agencies of the world after 9/11, it should be equally easy for other terrorist organisations such as the Al Qaeda and the other members of the IIF to similarly hoodwink them for procuring and transporting weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material to areas of intended use.

18. The reluctance and the failure of the international community to act against the LTTE have serious implications for the so-called war against terrorism. The Sri Lankan Government cannot escape a major share of responsibility for this state of affairs. Its failure to take up the matter with the monitoring mechanism set up by the Security Council after the passage of Resolution 1373 and complain not only against the LTTE, but also against the countries which have been turning a blind eyes to the LTTE's gun-running and the supine attitude of the Norwegian-led monitoring mission towards the LTTE have contributed to the emergence of the world's first terrorist Air Force.


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