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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2526

Is LTTE only a Sri Lankan phenomenon and its demise highly exaggerated?

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 24 April (Asiantribune.com): The former United Stated ambassador (2003-06) to Sri Lanka Jeffrey Lunstead declared two years ago in an analytical paper to the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation that Sri Lanka’s rebel Tamil Tiger outfit is a "Sri Lankan phenomenon" and that it "has no links to any other terrorist groups in the world."

Lunstead analyzed thus: "the U.S. opposes all terrorist groups, but all such groups are not equal in the extent to which they threaten U.S. interests directly."

He went on to justify his claim that this terrorist outfit is a Sri Lankan phenomenon:

"U.S. has no significantstrategic interests in Sri Lanka, certainly in comparison to other areas of enhanced U.S. engagement. If the U.S. developed anything approaching a strategic interest in Sri Lanka, it derived from the feeling in the post-September 11, 2001 world that the threat from terrorism had to be confronted globally, and that governments facing terrorist threats should cooperate against them."

He says that U.S. strategic interest was "limited by the fact that the LTTE is essentially a local Sri Lankan phenomenon with no clear ties to other terrorist groups with a world-wide reach."

What the former U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer endeavors to convince is that the LTTE has no influence and clout beyond the Sri Lankan shores and that was the reason the U.S. has limited engagement.

Political commentator Zachary Abuza who has studied terrorist activities and networks in the Asian region has a totally different observation.

He said recently "While I would love to eulogize about the death of the Tamil Tigers, it is of course premature. However, I offer this "appreciation" of the Tamil Tigers, an organization that has been, bar none, the most cutting-edge, adaptive and creative terrorist organization in the world. There is not a terrorist organization in the world that has not adopted LTTE tactics or at least aspired to do so. As the LTTE has never targeted the United States, it has been a low priority for law enforcement, military and the intelligence services. Yet, the Tamil Tigers merit study."

He continues opine: "What to expect? There is nothing more ferocious than a cornered tiger. Expect a wave of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. While LTTE forces might be cornered, the LTTE has operatives and caches spread out. Desperate times call for desperate measures, including attacks on their own civilian population fleeing the war zone. Expect more attacks on moderate Tamil leaders who seek greater autonomy through legal-parliamentary means. If Prabakharan is captured or killed, the LTTE will be greatly weakened. He is the charismatic leader, the embodiment of the revolution. There is no heir to power with his popular appeal/fear or respect from rank and file."

But Zachary Abuza cautions: "Finally, the Tigers will regroup, for no other reason than the government’s failings. Despite the defection of Col. Karuna in 2004, the government failed to bring in meaningful development projects and give the Tamil community the degree of political and social autonomy that was promised to them. Sri Lankan military forces act with impunity and have been behind egregious human rights violations. There must be justice as well as transparent government. The government must put in place legal protections for minorities and end the systematic discrimination of the Tamil community. Though Sri Lanka is in a position to win the war, they must not fail to win the peace."

The following account will help Asian Tribune readers to determine if the LTTE is in fact a “Sri Lankan phenomenon” as Jeffrey Lunstead says or a terrorist movement that has gone beyond the Sri Lanka shores that can have tremendous implications to global security to which the United States says it is seriously committed.

What the Government of Sri Lanka since mid-2006 endeavors to accomplish is to annihilate the LTTE military structure within the island but unable to go beyond to ensure its tentacles are weakened, disrupted or destroyed without the support of the international community which at this moment is largely influenced by the global LTTE lobby to incapacitate this South Asian nation’s effort to destabilize the terrorist outfit.

Here is the track record of the LTTE:

• The LTTE have perpetrated more suicide bombings than Hamas and Hezbollah combined.

• The LTTE’s suicide vest design has been copied by nearly a dozen organizations.

• The LTTE is an equal opportunity employer: the LTTE has used female bombers in a more than 3-2 ratio. The LTTE fields a conventional women’s corp.

• The LTTE has used suicide bombing as a weapon of choice in terms of targeted assassination, including the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the near assassination of Sri Lankan President Kumaratanga in 1999. The LTTE assassinated nearly 50 prominent moderate Tamil leaders, and is estimated to have killed thousands of moderate and anti-LTTE Tamils.

• The LTTE has used suicide frogman and other special operatives to penetrate far behind enemy lines.

• The LTTE targeted pillars of the Sri Lankan economy, including bombings of the Central Bank in 1996 and Columbo’s World Trade Center in 1997. In 2001, LTTE operatives penetrated the international airport and destroyed three jetliners, half of Airlanka’s fleet, in addition to 23 military aircraft.

• The LTTE was the first organization to post martyrs’ posters for the “Black Tigers” their suicide corp.

• The LTTE is the first sub state actor to use suicide naval vessels. There have been over 40 suicide naval attacks since June 1990, seven years before the USS Cole attack.

• The LTTE had a full-fledged navy, and many of their craft were indigenously designed and built. Sri Lankan forces recently captured a submarine in its final stages of construction.

• The LTTE was one of only two terrorist organizations to use a WMD (the other being Aom Shinrikyo). The Tigers used a chlorine gas bomb against Sri Lankan forces in 1990.

• The LTTE became the first sub-state actor to acquire an air force. Though used in desperation, in two attempted "kamikaze" attacks, the LTTE has used their Czech trainers 9 times since March 2007 Sri Lankan forces captured six airfields in LTTE territory.

Jeffrey Lunstead who believes that the LTTE is a Sri Lankan phenomenon sure needs this information that fits this outfit in to a global phenomenon:

While their innovations on the battlefield were remarkable, it is nothing in terms of their innovations in finance and logistics. In short, the LTTE wrote the book on terrorist financing. Originally supported by India, the Tigers, turned on their patron in 1987, and since pursued a policy of self-reliance. The "Snow Tigers" under the leadership Tharmalingham Shunmugham aka Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), have funded themselves through legal and extralegal means and have procurement operatives based in around the world.

The LTTE have used arms dealers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus; shopped black markets in former war zones – Cambodia (Thailand), Afghanistan, Mozambique and the former Yugoslavia; and shopped the countries of the former Soviet bloc - Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Slovakia and Kazakstan, as well as North Korea and China. In one famed case, China North Industries Corp (Norinco) sold the LTTE two consignments of assault rifles, light artillery, rockets and ammunition, each large enough to fill a 230-foot cargo ship. The purchases in September 2003 and October 2004 were arranged through a middleman and certified with North Korean “end user” documents. The Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa personally appealed to Chinese leaders in Beijing in February 2007 to halt a third consignment. One senior procurement officer arrested had a laptop with spreadsheets detailing more than $13 million in payments in the summer of 2006 for military equipment, including anti-aircraft guns and 100 tons of high explosives. His passport showed more than 100 trips in the past five years to countries such as China, Kenya.

The Tiger’s revenue stream has been estimated to be between $50 to $80 million per year. The money was diversified and invested around the world in money and stock markets through an array of front companies.

The LTTE invest directly or front money for supporters as a terrorist venture capitalist, in freight forwarding, gold and jewelry shops, restaurants, magazines and video sales, stores, bus companies, telephone and computer services. At one time, the Tigers owned and operated 11 merchant ships, flying under the flags of Panama, Honduras and Liberia, repeatedly changing the name of the ships, and manifest details.

More money came from illicit sources, including, racketeering, extortion, drug smuggling, money laundering, gold smuggling, and human smuggling. The LTTE have been behind some of the largest human trafficking rings in the European Union.

Perhaps the single-most important revenue stream is a baseline tax on the 800,000-strong Tamil Diaspora, known as the Tamil Tax. They are most active in countries with large Diaspora communities, especially, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, UK, US, Scandinavia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Canadian security forces estimated that the LTTE earned $6.5 million from investments in Canada between October 1998 - October 1999. The Canadian intelligence report estimated that Tamil communities in the UK, Canada and Australia, alone, provided $1.5 million per month. In Canada, the tax began as roughly C$1/day per family, though was increased. In the UK it’s roughly £300 per year.

The above facts indicate the grip the LTTE has on the Tamil Diaspora, a severe challenge to the Sri Lankan authorities to break them away from that grip and lobby.

Political commentator and investigator Zachary Abuza exposes the global network of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger outfit as a warning to the international community and to those who declare that the out fit is a “Sri Lankan phenomenon”.

Increasingly the LTTE has been an issue for US law enforcement. Though proscribed by the US in 1997, there were few enforcements, until after 9/11 when the US took terrorist financing more seriously, and had to target more than just Muslim organizations and individuals for appearance’s sake. Currently, the FBI is investigating a Wall Street financier suspected of donating millions of dollars to the rebels, while an employee of Microsoft was indicted for procuring computers and software for the Tigers. Recently, 8 suspects were arrested in an ATM fraud scandal in NY. In April 2007, the FBI arrested the alleged U.S. director of the Tigers and 11 other LTTE suspects in the New York City region. In Baltimore, "a pair of Indonesian men pled guilty and was sentenced recently for working with others to export surface to air missiles, state-of-the-art firearms, machine guns, and night vision goggles to the Tigers in Sri Lanka."

On 15 November 2007, the Treasury Department, proscribed the LTTE’s development agency, established after the 26 October 2004 tsunami, the Tamil Relief Organization. “TRO passed off its operations as charitable, when in fact it was raising money for a designated terrorist group responsible for heinous acts of terrorism," said Adam J. Szubin, Director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). "TRO's efforts worldwide reportedly have allowed the LTTE to use humanitarian aid, which TRO collected from the international community after the December 2004 tsunami, to launch new campaigns to strengthen LTTE military capacity."

Zachary Abuza observes: “Since the 22 February 2002 Norwegian-backed ceasefire fell apart, and all out war resumed in September 2006, the LTTE’s demise has been surprisingly swift. They are now confined to a small patch of jungle north of Mulitaivu, on the northeastern coast. Why the quick demise? Clearly the thirty years of war wreaked havoc on society, and proved to be a demographic catastrophe. As a result, the LTTE have been forced to rely on child soldiers, limiting their battlefield efficacy. An Amnesty International report estimated that 60 percent of LTTE cadres are under the age of 18 and that 40 percent of LTTE cadres killed in action are between the ages of 9 and 18. While these estimates seem slightly high, there is no doubt that the LTTE had to recruit child combatants to fill their depleted ranks. Second, the Sri Lankan military, never the most apt, had a string of successes. They captured the Tamil city of Jaffna in 1995, then were able to target the LTTE from both the north and the south.

Following the 2005 election of the hardliner president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan armed forces increased in size by 40%. Sri Lanka's military now has about 300,000 troops, in a country with a population of just 22 million. Popular support for the government’s war efforts, now that the LTTE is on the ropes, has rarely been higher. The Tamil cities of Killinochi and Mulitaivu fell this year, depriving the LTTE of concentrated populations centers and a base of revenue.

Third, the once cohesive LTTE began to fracture. In 2004, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, aka Col. Karuna, who controlled the eastern provinces, defected with his forces to the government.

Disputes over the inflow of aid following the 2004 tsunami, led to further infighting. As ceasefire violations increased in 2003-06, it was clear that Prabakharan had no intention of giving the ceasefire a chance, angering his war-weary population and rank and file soldiers. In fact, the LTTE had used three previous ceasefires (1985, 1989-90, and 1994-95) as opportunities to regroup and re-arm. Finally, the post-9/11 environment had severe repercussions for LTTE fundraising and weapons procurement. Prabhakaran, himself, acknowledged that the LTTE had been "compelled by unprecedented historical circumstances to participate in [the 2002-04] peace talks with the Sinhalese state," first by the "Indian regional superpower" and "by the pressure of the international community."

- Asian Tribune -

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