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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2615

“LTTE engaged in transnational terrorism” – Sri Lanka’s experience in countering terrorism

Singapore, 02 June, ( Sri Lanka Foreign Minister while delivering an address underlining Sri Lanka’s experience in countering terrorism, pointed out that Sri Lanka terrorist organization is involved in transnational terrorism. He appealed to countries in the Asia Pacific region to show greater vigilance and come forward to police the sea lanes to deter and impede the arms supplies and the movements of terrorist activists by sea. He sought greater assistance and cooperation to halt the LTTE’s arms shipments transit through many countries in this region, very often with absolutely no cognizance to the authorities in those countries. Sri Lanka Minister also emphasized his deep concern over money laundering and hawala banking functions carried on by the terrorists’ organizations.

The Minister made it clear that terrorists are consistently learning from each other’s tactics and devices, thus assisting one another, irrespective of diametrically different ideologies and causes they claim to represent and portray.

“I wish to remind you that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers who operate in Sri Lanka is unique among other ethno nationalist terror movements in that they are engaged in trans-national terrorism and have indeed been so long before the emergence of the Al-Qaeda on to the centre stage of the terrorism discourse,” Rohitha Bogollagama while address at yesterday at the ISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore.

Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, seen seated in the centre,  in the podium at the IIS Shangri-La Dialogue held in  SingaporeSri Lanka Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, seen seated in the centre, in the podium at the IIS Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore

Given below the full text of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama address yesterday at the ISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore:

How Successful is Counter Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific?
Sri Lanka’s Experience

Mr Chairman


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to have the opportunity to lead the Sri Lanka delegation to the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore once again. I thank you Mr Chairman for extending an invitation for me to share Sri Lanka’s experience in counter terrorism during this session. Undoubtedly, there are lessons and experiences to be learnt and dissected, information to be shared, which could greatly enhance the individual as well as collective capacities and competences of countries in our region to deal with the challenge posed by terrorism. Indeed, the debate on the definition of terrorism continues but for those of you who are professionals in the military and experts on defence, the primary concern should be with the methods used by terrorists and the need to contain and eradicate this menace. This would lead to the formation of a secure and congenial milieu for the region of Asia Pacific in particular and the world in general.

Since 9/11 and the Bali bombings of 2002, counter terrorism measures in the Asia-Pacific region have largely centered around the Al-Qaeda network and Jihadi movement. This has mainly been a consequence of the US led “war on terror”. The perception is that the Al-Qaeda network is operating in the predominantly Muslim States and among sections of the Muslim diaspora in the West and that their actions are mainly targeted against the US and its allies. I foresee an increasing danger in this approach which extends almost exclusive focus on the Al-Qaeda network as the agents of global terror.

I wish to illustrate the danger of dealing with terrorist groups in a compartmentalized manner. In June 2000, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) carried out a suicide attack using an explosive laden boat on the Sri Lanka Navy ship MV Uhana off the coast of Point Pedro in north of Sri Lanka. In October of the same year, the Al-Qaeda used an almost identical method in its attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. The precision targeting and execution of the attack by the terrorists on the hull of the vessel by Al-Qaeda operatives was almost identical to the mode of attack conducted by the LTTE’s sea Tigers. One could discern from the similarity of attacks that there would have been a transfer of knowledge and expertise in the field of maritime terrorism. The Al-Qaeda attacks in Bali and Jordan also demonstrate many of the hallmarks of suicide technology that have been previously used in Lebanon and Sri Lanka. It is too well known of a fact that terrorists are consistently learning from each other’s tactics and devices, thus assisting one another, irrespective of diametrically different ideologies and causes they claim to represent and portray.

In dealing with the post 9/11 challenge, the US and her allies rightly agreed to deal with the immediate threat with all its military might and valor, with fully revamped information and intelligence sharing arrangements, enactment of tough new legislation and laws, increasing the number of days in detention etc. The overbearing concern has been to destroy this network, arrest its leadership and thereby, diffuse the threat of Al-Qaeda.

The attempt to address some of the underlying causes for this hostile attitude towards the West as reflected in the rhetoric of the Al-Qaeda leadership by promoting respect and understanding of other cultures and people has been a parallel political process.

However, it has been clearly independent of the law enforcement aspect. Today, it is understood by many an experts that military victories would not necessarily materialize permanent solutions, but they could create an environment and space for political and economic solutions to be evolved. This premise could clearly be a strong justification of the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I wish to remind you that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers who operate in Sri Lanka is unique among other ethno nationalist terror movements in that they are engaged in trans-national terrorism and have indeed been so long before the emergence of the Al-Qaeda on to the centre stage of the terrorism discourse. Long before the 9/11 bombings, the LTTE rammed an explosive laden truck in January 1996 on the Central Bank building in the heart of Colombo city killing a number of people and seriously injuring several thousand others. Similar suicide missions were executed against our most sacrosanct Buddhist shrine in January 1998. The LTTE possesses ships crossing international waters smuggling arms and ammunition, a worldwide fundraising and propaganda network through sections of the Tamil diaspora, involved in the global narcotics and illicit drug trade, money laundering, credit card fraud, human smuggling and a myriad of other illicit activities. According to Jane’s Intelligence Review, it has described the LTTE as second only to Columbia’s FARC terrorist group in its income and has documented that it raises $200-300 million a year for arms procurement among others. The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once described terrorist groups, which capitalize on the nexus between drug trafficking and arm smuggling as representing a supra national subversive threat to the humanity. Today, the LTTE has established a presence in the arms black market and has been servicing several other terrorist groups as well.

Today, the Government of Sri Lanka has to grapple with the challenge posed by this terrorist movement, unlike the war on terror, almost single handedly. The war on terror is heavily resourced by the world’s most powerful economies, who have identified them as the most potent threat to global peace and security. This is due to a lack of awareness and knowledge, in my view, on the manner in which the terrorist groups network and mostly groups such as the LTTE, whose commercial activities are not confined and limited to the areas, where they are physically waging violence and acts of terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Sri Lanka has adopted a similar approach in countering the threat of terrorism and as a democracy, our people very much supported and have endorsed the Government’s courses of action. Successive Governments of Sri Lanka attempted to negotiate with the LTTE in order to evolve a political settlement. This would be something alien to the West. We entered into a ceasefire in 2002 with the LTTE. To restore trust and confidence as well as transparency, we engaged the Royal Norwegian Government as the facilitator of our peace process but was of no avail. The LTTE flagrantly violated ceasefires and used the period to re-arm, re-group, infiltrate into new areas, conscript children and launch massive suicide bombings.

My predecessor the late Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated in 2005, whilst the ceasefire agreement was in force. They withdrew unilaterally from negotiations and refused to discuss core political issues aimed at reaching a political solution to address their purported grievances. Further, the LTTE vehemently insisted at talks based on seeking strategically advantageous concessions on the ground. As Hannah Arendt argued in her book “Armed struggles” terrorists could be described as persons of violence who had taken extended respite from politics. They have embraced what she calls the “instrumentalities of violence rather than the complexities of generating political power, to struggle for doable social and political change”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what options does a sovereign State have under such demanding and exacting circumstances and vicissitudes? Harold Rood in his book ‘Kingdoms of the Blind’ cautions on what could happen if democracies such as ours become negligent and fail to take action to enforce the law in the face of threat to sovereignty and territorial integrity. Having stated this premise, it is of no surprise that eternal vigilance would be the price of liberty and democracy.

Our President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his address to the UN General Assembly, last year, reminded member States that “terrorism anywhere is terrorism.” With this in view, the Government conducted swift and efficacious courses of action to clear parts of the eastern province in Sri Lanka, which had been dominated by the LTTE. The successful clearance of the LTTE from the east by the military took place with a minimum of civilian casualties. As a direct result of these courses action, we have been able to hold Local Government elections in March this year in areas where the people were deprived of the opportunity to elect their representatives for a period of over one and half decades.

Last month, we held Provincial Council elections as well. This has given rise to the full return to a democratically elected administration in the east. It has provided the space for the commencement of major development programmes aimed at empowering the people and creation of employment, among others, in this province. It is a significant milestone that the party which won the overall majority in this province known as the TMVP, is a break away faction of the LTTE. I am pleased to state that the Government successfully and sincerely managed to assimilate the political group i.e. TMVP, a group which had resorted to violence in the past in order to achieve its means, to the political mainstream. This course of action would not only establish greater normalcy in the region but would also enhance greater conformity among the communities as well as more economic opportunities and new vistas to the people of the eastern province. This political paradigm shift could be viewed as a transmogrification of the polity of the eastern province of Sri Lanka. The results of the elections did reflect the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious representation within the council.

This was a text book example of assimilation of once a violent group to the political mainstream. These gains for democracy would not have been realized if we had not pursued select and measured military action against the LTTE. A similar military operations have been launched in parts of the northern province, where the LTTE continues to defend ground. The Government’s resolve is to clear the north of the country from the LTTE and to restore democracy to these parts of the country as well whist at the same time leaving the door open for the LTTE to disarm and enter the democratic process. The Government of President Rajapaksa has a meticulously structured agenda to pursue and achieve peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me, however, reiterate that the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been fully responsive to the grievances of all communities in our country and that it has sought to address them through the process of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). The APRC has already made a series of interim recommendations which includes full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which set up the provincial council system and wider use of the Tamil language in public administration. The APRC process continues to examine at and scrutinize on several issues, including further devolution of power.

In order to tenaciously and resolutely implement our counter terrorism strategy, we have confronted many a challenges. This would be of no surprise to any a country, which confronts one of the most ruthless terrorist groups. The LTTE’s propaganda machine via sections of the diaspora in the West has attempted to distort our Government’s policy and suggest that we are seeking to resolve this conflict militarily. Those gullible to this propaganda have turned a blind eye to the minimal civilian casualties in the military operations in the East and the precision targeting by the forces of LTTE installations. The prompt and proactive measures executed by the Government to investigate allegations of human rights violations via the National Human Rights Commission as well as the special Presidential Commission of Inquiry.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our considered view that it could be detrimental to the interest of the country when some of our friends overseas attempt to pontificate about conflict resolution, without seeing the clear distinction between the process of addressing the grievances of our communities and having to deal with heinous and ruthless terrorist groups. For record, at the height of the IRA insurgency, the UK Government launched a massive border surveillance force, arrested terrorist activists, and interrogated and detained suspects. Stringent emergency laws were enacted, including the setting up of the non-jury Diplock courts etc.

In December 1977, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the inhumane and degrading treatment of terrorist suspects by the Police in Northern Ireland. Numerous examples could be drawn from the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq from the detentions in Guantanamo Bay to the accidental bombing of civilian targets around Kandahar and Basra. Of course, measured military offensives have certain consequences for Democracies such as ours. But as Democracies, as I pointed out earlier, we have an inherent responsibility to protect our people from the shackles of tyranny and terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is in this context, I wished to assess and expound the topic of this session. We can succeed in countering and suppressing terrorism in the Asia-Pacific, only if there is an invigoration of cooperation and concerted efforts in dealing with this trans-national threat. For all record purposes, Sri Lanka is a signatory to 11 out of 13 of the UN Conventions for the suppression of various acts of terrorism. We ratified the SAARC Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, way back in 1987 and are now part of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) as well. Several countries in this region too have proscribed several terrorist groups, including the LTTE.

I wish to place on record that to a great extent the legal framework to prosecute terrorist suspects and criminalization of the various activities committed by them is in place. Unfortunately, this alone would not eradicate terrorism in general nor lead to the total prosecution and annihilation of LTTE in particular. We need closer and active cooperation in sharing intelligence, exchanging of information and comparing of developments vis-à-vis and terrorism related activities.
It is extremely vital for countries to proscribe and ban, so called, “Front Organizations” of terrorist groups. Many of these front organizations, often operate and conduct their functions to raise funds for charitable purposes. These front organizations, obviously, function as a pretext of the terrorist organizations.

Needless to state, that these funds would be transferred to the accounts of the terrorist organizations. I wish to add, that some of these front organizations function even as legitimate organizations, on paper, but judiciously shield their end objectives, which are funding of terrorist organizations. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) operated in the UK, raising funds for the LTTE. The TRO astutely portrayed themselves as they were raising funds to uplift the livelihood and empower the people of the North and the East of Sri Lanka. The fact of the matter remained that not a single cent had gone to the said locations but to fund the war chest of the LTTE. I am heartened to state, at this juncture, today the TRO remains as a proscribed organization in the UK. Similarly, the other countries in the West and in the US had proscribed such front organizations, which extend financial assistance to varied terrorist groups. It is often stated by many a experts in terrorism that similar to fish which cannot live without water, the terrorists cannot live without funds. It may be presumptuous for me to state to an august gathering such as this, the front organizations, which extend financial assistance and other assistance in kind need to be banned and proscribed at the earliest. This is an imperative measure, which countries need to implement if we were to counter terrorism. On this note, I earnestly and unequivocally request the countries in the Asia Pacific, in particular, to ban such suspicious front organizations, after conducting due diligence of their conduct.

I am of the conviction that greater priority and focus should be extended to the functions of policing and vigilance in the usage of our varied sea lanes by terrorists for the smuggling of illicit arms, drug trafficking and people smuggling. Sri Lanka’s experience is that the LTTE’s arms shipments transit through many a countries in this region, very often with absolutely no cognizance to the authorities in those countries. If we were to deter and impede the arms supplies and the movements of terrorist activists by sea, we need greater assistance and cooperation of the countries in the Asia Pacific region, in particular. The other areas of deep concern are money laundering and hawala banking functions. Needless to state that in order to address these issues with the highest degree of efficacy and success, pro-active cooperation and concerted efforts of the countries in the region of Asia and Pacific are indispensible. On the same note, the financial authorities of respective countries, including central banks, could play a pivotal and instrumental role in markedly deterring such illegal and illegitimate transactions executed by all terrorist groups. In this regard, the financial institutions and banks could strengthen their respective regulations and make them more transparent, thus diluting any ambiguous and illegitimate transactions.

Mr. Chairman,

I believe that during my address, I have highlighted certain aspects, dynamics and developments with regard to the experience of Sri Lanka in counter terrorism in the region of Asia Pacific.
I also believe that I have been able to delineate some aspects and dynamics of our own experience of counter terrorism, which would encourage and stimulate further intellectual and pragmatic discussion and discourse, followed by question and answer session, as customary. I take this opportunity to thank the International Institute for Strategic Studies popularly abbreviated as IISS and organizers of Shangri-La Dialogue for inviting Sri Lanka and the Government of Singapore for the excellent hospitality extended to us during the stay of my delegation.

- Asian Tribune -

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