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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

Terrorism: A challenge to democratic societies

Tamil Tigers collect $20 – 30 million a month from the Tamil diaspora – Dr. Palitha Kohona, Foreign Secretary, Sri Lanka

Dr. Palitha Kohona, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka told the Institute of International Relations, Prague, that the LTTE is alleged to be collecting in the region of US$ 20 – 30 million every month. “Jane’s International says that this funding goes mostly to procure weapons which are transported to Sri Lanka in a fleet of ships owned by LTTE front entities.

Some of the funds must also go to develop its illegal business empire. It is known from other illegal organizations that success in business ventures is an incentive for self perpetuation. It is noted that so far this year, four of these ocean going ships of the LTTE have been sunk by the Sri Lankan Navy.

This has been achieved through close cooperation with friendly nations. They have also smuggled in light aircraft which have been used for dropping small improvised explosive devices. The existence of light aircraft could pose a security threat, not only to sensitive installations in neighboring countries but also to shipping. Any tolerance of an LTTE air capacity will be picked up quickly by other terrorists. It is clear that the biggest danger in all this is the possibility of emulation. Any success by a terrorist group could spawn copycat reactions from other groups,” he said.

Here’s the full text of Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona speech at the Institute of International Relations, Prague, Czech Republic on 13 November 2007:

“Today, I wish to address you on a serious challenge that is confronting the international community: a challenge that did not grip our ancestors on the same tragic scale. In the past disciplined armies confronted each other and caused loss and misery. But shadowy groups, trained to kill and destroy, did not cause havoc among innocents, to their lives and to their livelihood to this extent. I refer to the challenge of terrorism. Sri Lanka has been a victim of this menace for over twenty five years. We have faced a terrorist group called the LTTE or The Tamil Tigers all these years.

The number of countries that have suffered from terrorism in recent times is very large. Some of them have been victims for over half a century. The U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Algeria, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines – the list goes on and on. Thousands of non-combatant innocents have died, have been maimed and millions in property damage caused. One thing is clear. While this menace has plagued a range of countries, there is no discernible common thread among those who resort to terrorism. This has caused difficulties in formulating common solutions to this global menace.

In the modern era the scourge of terrorism has unsettled societies, hindered progress, and shaken confidence in the future with a foreboding feeling that life will be unremittingly violent and disastrous. Children grow up and reach adulthood knowing nothing but senseless violence. In the absence of the normal influences of childhood, children reach maturity immune to violence. For them, it becomes a normal part of life. Life becomes debased – a commodity to be readily sacrified. Furthermore, terrorist violence has had a significant impact on economic progress of some countries. At a time when the world is witnessing unprecedented economic progress, some societies are held back by the cruel vice of terrorism. Sri Lanka is no exception.

Sri Lanka’s economic growth rate reached 7.4% last year. Exports increased by 8.2%. Foreign Direct Investment more than doubled. Unemployment reached an all time low and foreign currency reserves expanded. However, this performance would have been further increased dramatically into more impressive figures if not for the negative perceptions generated by LTTE’s terrorism. At a time when rapid economic growth could have addressed the aspirations of all our youth, including minority youth, terrorism holds us back. The strategic value of economic disruption in facilitating their goals has not been lost on the perpetrators of terrorism. Economic hopelessness is a happy recruiting ground for cannon fodder and suicide bombers and terrorists have always created this background to facilitate their objectives. The misery generated is a necessary price they demand to assist their strategy. While the economic growth of the state is constrained, the glamour of violence is constantly highlighted for the consumption of disaffected youth.

The challenge before us is to strengthen international cooperation among states, governments and people world wide, against terrorism and to develop national mechanisms that not only confront the menace, counter it with resolution but also develop initiatives for addressing its root causes which could include economic factors.

While measures to counter the violence are essential we must not forget the need to address economic and social concerns that could nourish terrorism. As democratic societies and responsible governments, we have no choice but to counter terrorism in all its virtually limitless manifestations. We owe it to our people and to future generations.

As part of the process of engaging the international community in its struggle against terrorism and being party to the global effort to counter this menace, Sri Lanka has assiduously worked at strengthening its linkages with the international community. Sri Lanka has lobbied vigorously to have the LTTE listed as a banned organisation. Most democracies of the world – the US, Canada, the EU, India, etc. have done so. Furthermore, we have concluded intelligence sharing and cooperation agreements with most of our neighbours. We will actively share information with governments as they work towards countering terrorist groups, including the LTTE.

We are cooperating with a range of countries in tracking terrorist financing networks. We monitor over 300,000 financial transactions involving our banks every month for any suspicious transactions. We recognize the value of law enforcement agencies around the world cooperating with each other and maintaining their focus. Our efforts have produced considerable results. In the US, 17 LTTE supporters have been brought before the courts, following a sting operation, for various illegal activities including attempts to purchase lethal weapons and to corrupt government officials. Judge Bruguiere of France has charged over 20 LTTE members in Paris, including on counts of intimidation and extortion and fund raising for LTTE’s terrorist activities. The LTTE maintains a sophisticated network of fund raisers in Paris with a well defined command structure, who resort to intimidation and violence targeting the Tamil community to raise funds. Individuals are expected to pay about Euro 2000 per year to the LTTE under the threat of violence to themselves or their families back in Sri Lanka.

Credit card fraud racquets by LTTE supporters are being investigated in London, Cairo, Vietnam, etc. In London, LTTE petrol shed attendants obtain credit card details of unwary customers to be used later for fraudulent purposes. Australia has taken action against fund raisers and human smugglers. The challenge remains and it is enormous. The LTTE raises funds mainly in Western countries through various means, including intimidation and extortion, the narcotics trade, human trafficking and arms smuggling. These funds are transferred to other locations, including through countries which have no restrictions on fund transfers and used mainly for procuring weapons. Foreign funds collected ostensibly for charitable purposes are diverted for terrorist purposes. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, an LTTE linked charity, is under investigation in many Western countries.

It is vitally important to curb this fund raising, money transfers and arms procurement by LTTE’s activists; for this is the lifeline that keeps feeding the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is working closely with friendly countries on these matters. However, tracking illegal fund transfers in the modern world is a major challenge for national security services. We need to be constantly vigilant, refine our methods and be uncompromising in our opposition to terrorist violence. The LTTE’s methods could very easily provide inspiration to other terrorist groups around the world.

The LTTE is alleged to be collecting in the region of US$ 20 – 30 million every month. Jane’s International says that this funding goes mostly to procure weapons which are transported to Sri Lanka in a fleet of ships owned by LTTE front entities. Some of the funds must also go to develop its illegal business empire. It is known from other illegal organizations that success in business ventures is an incentive for self perpetuation. It is noted that so far this year, four of these ocean going ships of the LTTE have been sunk by the Sri Lankan Navy. This has been achieved through close cooperation with friendly nations. They have also smuggled in light aircraft which have been used for dropping small improvised explosive devices. The existence of light aircraft could pose a security threat, not only to sensitive installations in neighbouring countries but also to shipping. Any tolerance of an LTTE air capacity will be picked up quickly by other terrorists.

It is clear that the biggest danger in all this is the possibility of emulation. Any success by a terrorist group could spawn copycat reactions from other groups.

As a civilized society, we cannot accept those who would seek to justify the deliberate taking of innocent life, regardless of cause or grievance.

The events of September 11 in the United States brought the issue of terrorism into the forefront of the global agenda. We watched with horror as those mighty towers crumbled causing the deaths of about 3000 persons. Those people had gone to work in the morning hoping to return home in the evening. That was not to be. But we also recall that many countries were confronted by this threat long before 9/11.

The international response

The world has incrementally taken a firm stance against terrorism. Although the argument relating to liberation struggles and terrorism still continues, certain acts have been acknowledged as being unacceptable by the international community. It is also suggested that the vast majority of the countries of the world do not recognize a distinction between good terrorists and bad terrorists. Those who kill, maim and destroy innocent lives and property, whatever the cause, are bad per se. There cannot be good terrorists. The catalyst for this hardened approach was 9/11. If we were to condone terrorism in any form, on the basis of motive, we will never be able to eliminate it.

The UN General Assembly and the Security Council adopted strongly worded resolutions denouncing the Twin Tower attacks the day after they occurred. Two Weeks later, on September 28, 2001, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, aimed at targeting terrorist fund raisers and those who harbour, aid and support them.

From the very specific prohibitions regarding the financing of terrorism through the recruitment of terrorists and supplies of weapons to them, to the actual exchange of information in tracking the activities of terrorist; Resolution 1373 had the cumulative impact of establishing rigorous barriers against global terrorism which under Chapter VII of the UN Charter is mandatory for all member states to implement. The reliance on Chapter VII by the international community is significant. It is now acknowledged that terrorism is a threat to world peace. It is significant that the world community relied on the Security Council, with its ability to take decisions binding on UN Member States, to address the question of terrorist funding. The need for speed and effectiveness were clearly recognized. Treaties take time to negotiate and too many compromises have to be accommodated.

Through this Resolution the Security Council also established a new organ called the Counter–Terrorism Committee( CTC) which is working with international, regional and sub – regional organizations to explore ways of expanding assistance to States on a host of financial, regulatory, and legislative issues. The CTC is staffed by specialists and it reports to the Security Council. Over the past few years, it has established an effective network of linkages in its efforts to counter terrorist fund raising. This is supplemented by national bilateral efforts which are beginning to have an impact.

The Resolution calls upon all UN Member States to report to the CTC on the specific steps they are taking to implement Resolution 1373. While the reporting is mandatory, assistance is provided with reporting. Many countries may find this obligation oppressive as they themselves have had no experience with terrorism. However, given the global dimension of terrorism, it is imperative that all states take serious measures to implement their obligations to contribute to the multilateral effort to eliminating this menace.

Terrorism impacts on countries indirectly, including economically. Therefore the effort to address this problem must have the support of all countries.

A few days later the then UN Secretary – General Kofi Annan called for developing a broad, comprehensive and sustained strategy to combat terrorism. At a subsequent open meeting on Terrorism in the Security Council, Kofi Annan called on the CTC to develop a long – term strategy that would enable all States to undertake the steps needed to defeat terrorism. The Chairman of the CTC at the time, Sir Jeremy Greenstock (UK), stated that the Council’s aim was to “improve the average performance level of governments against terrorism across the globe by upgrading the capacity of each nation’s legislation and executive machinery to fight terrorism”.

The international ‘rule of law’ against terrorism is being strong themed each year. There are 13 UN Conventions addressing different dimensions of the global terrorist threat. A comprehensive convention is being negotiated, unfortunately, too slowly.

Gradually certain strong principles are being established by the international community. First and foremost, it is clear that terrorism is being rejected as an acceptable means of political expression. The international community has also embraced the view that terrorist offenders must either be prosecuted or be extradited. While a definition of terrorism has evaded negotiators so far, a range of acts have been identified as terrorist acts – acts which no civilized society can condone. The international community now has the basis for making progress with the comprehensive convention.

In 2004, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1540, which required States to adopt specific measures against terrorism, including the mandatory enactment of legislation. Both in 2001 and 2003, the UN organized special treaty events to encourage wider participation of states in the global legal framework to counter terrorism. Membership of the UN terrorism related Treaties is extensive and international cooperation is expanding among police, customs and intelligence officials across the globe in recent years. Sri Lanka has been working assiduously to strengthen this cooperation. Over the years Sri Lanka has acquired considerable practical experience in this field.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his address to the 62nd Session of the General Assembly of the UN called on the Secretary General to allocate more resources to UN agencies that deal with counter terrorism matters. This we see as a priority as many states may not participate fully in the global framework against terrorism, not for the lack of will but for the lack of skills and resource.

Terrorism will never be eradicated solely by cooperation among law enforcement officials. It requires a concerted political effort and policy coordination among countries. Further, it also requires an ability to understand and minimize the motivation and impetus that inspire terrorist acts.

It is also a growing phenomenon that terrorist organizations develop internal linkages and global resources bases. Though not established unequivocally, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence of LTTE linkages with Hizbullah, Al-Qaeda, J1 and other groups. The LTTE’s access to funding through its international network, its access to Western decision makers and its sophistication must be an attraction to other terrorist groups.

Sri Lanka’s LTTE is known to be engaged in narcotics trading, arms smuggling and human trafficking. It uses its own ships for transportation purposes. The LTTE raises between $10 million and $30 million a month, making it a very lucrative business organisation. This money is laundered and used for procuring weapons and corrupting officials, including in Sri Lanka. After a while organisations of this type will have a reason for perpetuating themselves.

Mao Tse Teng opined that a guerilla must be like a fish in an ocean of people. The people must feel obliged to nourish the guerilla. This lesson has been patently learned by the terrorists who seek their sustenance among the people. A successful anti-terrorist campaign must ensure that the terrorist’s connections with the people are disrupted. The people must not feel obliged to support and harbour the terrorists. The people must be made to feel more comfortable with the legitimate government and its ability to provide for their needs.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is faced with a challenge that terrorism expert and Chief Scientist at the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp has described as, “[LTTE is] probably the most sophisticated terrorist organization in the world.”

The Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, which was until recently substantially controlled by the LTTE has been brought under government control. The security forces and other agencies of the Government of Sri Lanka have worked hard to secure the area, to restore normalcy and to resettle people, who had been temporarily displaced from their homes. The security forces operation in the Eastern Province was so meticulously planned and carefully executed, the civilian casualty rate was kept to a minimum - there were no civilian deaths in the assault. Furthermore, the government has made it a critical priority to address the economic causes of disaffection and to provide clear economic incentives for the community to move away from the LTTE and embrace democracy and the new dawn. Infrastructure rehabilitation is a clear priority and livelihood restoration gets focused attention. It is proposed to hold elections in the East early in the new year. In the circumstances, the reluctance of certain members of the EU to be more generous with their economic assistance becomes a little baffling. With greater prosperity, the move away from terrorism and drift towards democracy would be quicker. However, the denial of prosperity though the reduction of assistance is an indirect invitation for the continuation of the attraction of terrorism. It may also be a much desired indirect lifeline to a terrorist outfit now on the retreat.

It is the firm conviction of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the present conflict in Sri Lanka cannot be solved through military means alone. The government is fully committed to finding a lasting negotiated political settlement to the conflict. For this purpose a grand coalition of parties has been created with a view to developing political proposals to address minority concerns. Given the nature of the coalition, progress has been slow but this factor also will assist in delivering the commitments undertaken. The proposals for a political settlement, addressed mainly to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, are expected to be tabled in December.

While a massive campaign is being carried out by the LTTE and its supporters on the basis of alleged human rights violations by the government, the government for its part has put in place an impressive framework of mechanisms to address these alleged violations. Ensuring confidence is a goal of the government. The asymmetric nature of the struggle has made it difficult to apply standard rules of engagement to the fight against terrorism. It may not always be possible to apply standard rules against an enemy who may be dressed in civilian clothes, who may be masquerading as a petty salesman or a pregnant woman on her way to the clinic, as has happened in Sri Lanka. There have been cases where “sleepers” have come to Colombo and got married and had children until the time arrived to conduct suicide bombings. It is the party that fires first that might live to tell the tale. In the circumstances those who pass judgment on the basis of rules developed to fight a different type of war may have to revisit the rules. However, it is imperative that every effort is made to spare the innocents. Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in the world and is today struggling to maintain its democratic institutions in the face of a challenge by a totally undemocratic enemy.

In this context, I note the comments of Gerard Chaliand, a prominent French writer regarding the LTTE, particularly his comment that ‘No peace seems possible with V. Prabhakaran as we have seen from the peace process of 2002-2005 which was but a tactical truce. But no military solution can alone solve the Tamil problem.”

His position is very much in line with the thinking of the Sri Lankan Government. The Government is consistently striving to arrive at a political solution which will address the concerns of the minorities, in particular the Tamil minority, without compromising the sovereignty, national security or territorial integrity of the country by caving into the unreasonable demands of a terrorist group. A group which has for over twenty five years maintained a monolithic fascist power structure and which has methodically eliminated all rivals, in particular the moderates of that community. A group which has chosen terrorism as its preferred mode of political expression.

- Asian Tribune -

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