Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Sri Lanka’s perspective on maritime security in the region and its relevance to the world – Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Rohitha B

Singapore, 04 June, (Asiantribune.com): Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama yesterday (Sunday) appealed to defense ministers and military commanders attending the Annual IISS Asian Security Summit – The Shangri-La Dialogue, to ensure that their governments remain focused on the complexities the Government of Sri Lanka faces in grappling with terrorism of the LTTE and not to permit the LTTE to use their territories or waters to continue to terrorize the people of Sri Lanka. Minister Rohitha Bogollagama: Sri Lanka needed international and bilateral cooperation from other countries which could destroy the worldwide activities of the LTTE".  Minister Rohitha Bogollagama: Sri Lanka needed international and bilateral cooperation from other countries which could destroy the worldwide activities of the LTTE".

Minister Bogollagama made these observation when he addressed the 4th plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue, on the theme "Securing Regional Waters: How Much Progress?"

Leading the Sri Lanka delegation which was participating for the first time in this influential defense forum which is being held for the 6th time, the Minister underscored the threat posed to Sri Lanka, countries in the region and maritime users of the Indian Ocean by the attacks of the LTTE. Referring to the arms smuggling activities of the LTTE carried out using a number of LTTE ships flying under different flags, the Minister asked, "How are they able to bring these to Sri Lanka ? They pass through several ports. There are loading ports, discharging ports and transiting ports. They sometimes come in containers." He said "This chain has to be arrested, and towards this end Sri Lanka needed international and bilateral cooperation from other countries which could destroy the worldwide activities of the LTTE". The Minister said the LTTE’s supply chain and funding must be severed to end the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Text of Speech by Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka at the Fourth Plenary Session on “Securing Regional Waters: How Much Progress” at the 6th Shangri La Dialogue, 3rd June 2007:

Sri Lanka is indeed happy to be participating for the first time in the Shangri-La Dialogue – one of the foremost security forums in the world, where countries in the region have an opportunity to focus on security challenges, with key international players representing States, non-governmental organizations as well as the academic community. It is a forum, which seeks to address challenges in order to make our region a safer place to live, to do business in and to explore the full potential of our respective states.

Addressing you in this session “Securing Regional Waters: How Much Progress”, I trust it would be pertinent to present Sri Lanka’s perspective on maritime security in the region and its relevance to the world. This seems pertinent since Sri Lanka is at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean which lies in the midst of 3 continents.

Today the world is menaced by terrorism both global and regional. Most countries have had to deal with this scourge at some time or other, resulting in death and destruction and for some of us it is a daily challenge. In Sri Lanka, unfortunately, since 1975, we have to grapple with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a ruthless, fascist organization 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 coast line. In the process the LTTE has left behind a trail of atrocities. Among its some 60,000 victims are Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi of India, President Ranasinghe Premadasa of Sri Lanka, as well as two generations of Tamil and Sinhala politicians and academics of Sri Lanka including former Opposition Leader A. Amirthalingam, Tamil intellectual and constitutional expert Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, whose only fault was their refusal to yield to the tyranny of the LTTE and abandon the democratic path. Today the Tamil community of Sri Lanka has been left bereft of moderate leaders due to the methodical process of elimination adopted by the LTTE during the past three decades.

The LTTE’s state of the art international propaganda, fundraising, procurement and shipping networks, have been able to procure both war and war related equipment with relative ease. The organization boasts of having maintained a vast global network since the mid-1980s with political/propaganda offices and cells in some 54 countries. It generates annual revenue of US $ 10-30 Million per month largely through extortion of the over 1 million strong Tamil diaspora and clandestine operations carried out in host countries. However, unlike most terrorist organizations, the LTTE is one of the few terrorist organizations in the world with proven maritime capability, owning 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 as “[LTTE is] probably the most sophisticated terrorist organization in the world.”Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka  addressing at the Fourth Plenary Session held at the 6th Shangri La Dialogue on 3rd June 2007.Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka addressing at the Fourth Plenary Session held at the 6th Shangri La Dialogue on 3rd June 2007.

‘Sea Tigers’ : A Regional Threat

The maritime attacks carried out by the LTTE ‘Sea Tigers’ in the Indian Ocean region has a long and bloody history. Besides attempts of smuggling arms and attacks on Sri Lankan Naval Vessels, the LTTE has been responsible for confrontations, boarding without permission, attacking, destroying, damaging or ship-jacking a number of foreign-owned civilian vessels in Sri Lankan waters. These acts, broadly defined as maritime terrorism and piracy, constitutes a flagrant violation of domestic and international laws. (List of acts of LTTE sea piracy and detections of LTTE arms shipments/equipment is annexed)

One of the earliest instances which demonstrated this maritime capacity was when the LTTE’s former Jaffna commander and founder head of the LTTE International Secretariat Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu with a large consignment of weapons in
MV Yahata (mid-sea changed to MV Ahat), was challenged by the Indian coastguard in the international waters, before the vessel was destroyed on January 16, 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 neighboring countries, but also those of ship owners flying flags of nations afar. Vessels flying Philippine, Greek, Indonesian, Panamanian, Belize, Chinese, Jordanian, Cambodian and Indian flags have been at the receiving end of the LTTE’s terror. This underlines the LTTE’s capacity to be threat to international shipping is clear.

As early as in 1997, the international maritime community assessed Sri Lankan waters as vulnerable to incidents of maritime terrorism. Maritime Intelligence and Security Brief issued by the Maritime Intelligence and Counter-Piracy Operations Centre on 10 September 1997 observed, “Sri Lankan waters continue to remain an extremely dangerous area for maritime traffic.“ Referring to 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 the time, Sri Lankan waters witnessed the fifth largest number of piratical attacks.

The arrest on 9 April 2000 of 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 1990’s.

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 15 Chinese nationals and two Sri Lankans off the North-eastern coast of Sri Lanka. On 23 December 2006, they hijacked a Jordanian owned cargo vessel and looted 14,000 tons of rice it was carrying. On 21 January 2007 15-20 LTTE ‘Sea Tiger’ vessels attempted to ram a Cambodian owned cargo vessel ‘City of Liverpool’ that was anchored outside the Kankasanthurai (KKS) harbor after unloading relief supplies for the people of the Jaffna peninsula. The Indian state police said on 27 April that the LTTE was behind the March 29 incident in which nine Kanyakumari fishermen were attacked in mid-sea killing five.

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 16 May engaging in arms smuggling for the LTTE. Following an attack on a Maldivian Dhoni off the Huvadho atoll, the vessel was fired upon and sunk by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) on the morning of 17 May 2007, reportedly with reconnaissance from Indian Naval aircraft. Five persons, a Keralite 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, unearthing considerable knowledge on the continuing operations of the LTTE ‘Sea Tigers’ in the region . In the immediate aftermath of this attack, 11 of the 12 Indian fisherman who had originally been held by the LTTE when ‘Sri Krishna’ was hijacked by the LTTE were returned to Madras, where they publicly stated that they were held captive by the LTTE during the interim period.

These incidents, which are only a few in a series of brazenness on the part of the LTTE to challenge the international will, underlines the threat faced by not only Sri Lanka, India, and now also the Maldives, but all Indian Ocean maritime users. The international community needs to swiftly respond to these challenges.

Global ramifications of LTTE’s capability

The challenge the LTTE poses is not confined to the waters of the Indian Ocean. In this modern globalized world where the element of technological transfer amongst different terrorist groups takes place at a rapid pace, the LTTE’s maritime terrorist attacks offer ‘copycat models’ for other terrorist groups. The LTTE also provides a convenient transport facility for other terrorist organizations. Thus the LTTE’s activities are being watched as an early example of emerging trends and patterns in maritime terrorism.

The LTTE had carried out ten suicide attacks on Sri Lanka Navy vessels with the use of explosive laden boats before the Al Qaeda attacked ‘USS Cole’ in Yemen in October 2000. In fact the Al-Qaeda attack on the 'USS Cole' was a copycat of LTTE’s attack on Abheetha, a Sri Lankan navy supply ship on 4 May 1991. In a 19 March 2003 interview with the BBC Sea Tigers Chief Soosai was to state, “ I think in Yeman they used our strategy of targeting the hull in their suicide attack to blow up an American ship ‘USS Cole’ - 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, the LTTE with its global reach through the Tamil Diaspora and itsfleet of merchant vessels is ahead of the competition in acting as couriers, as well as 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 syndicates in the region for their arms and human smuggling and 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 dispatched by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) of Pakistan to the southern Philippines for use by the Abu Sayyaf.

The London based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in its publication 'Military Balance 2007' also refers to commercial links between the LTTE and the Al-Qaeda movement. It has been suggested that the LTTE established linkages with the Mujahiddins in Afghanistan as far back as 1987, and in 2001 an LTTE delegation travelled to Kabul shortly before 9/11. India's National Security Adviser M K Narayanan in a speech at the 42nd Munich Conference on Security Policy on 11 February 2007 said that both Jihadi movements and the LTTE were relying heavily on funds from trafficking in narcotics which has doubled in recent years.

The ramifications of LTTE behavior on the global terrorism is significant. It must be recalled that the LTTE resported to suicide bombing and mastered the use of the suicide jackets with C-4 explosives with devastating impact long before the Al-Qaeda movement. Infact the LTTE was a pioneer in the field and is believed to have conducted 155 battlefield and civilians suicide missions up until August 1998, compared with 50 attacks by all other groups around the world, including Hamas, Hizbollah and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It has 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 1980's 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’s July 2001 attack on Colombo airport was one of the most destructive acts of terrorism in aviation history. In more recent times, the LTTE’s ‘Air Tiger Wing’, developed using the cover of the ceasefire agreement since 2002, launched 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 24 in an area adjoining the Palaly Military base in Jaffna and on 28 April near Colombo, on the night when most Sri Lankans were 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 of the LTTE also provide valuable insight into the manner in which terror groups may use diaspora populations to sub-serve their agenda.

As for fund raising, the March 2006 Human Rights Watch Report titled “Funding the Final War” details the manner in which funds are collected by the LTTE in Canada and the U.K., mainly through extortion. In April 2007, 17 key LTTE activists were arrested in Paris, for extortion of money from the Tamil diaspora in France to finance LTTE terrorist activity in Sri Lanka. In the same month, the UK commenced investigations into a global credit card scam involving LTTE operatives who were skimming credit cards at some 150 petrol stations across the UK and transmitting the information to operatives across the globe who were able to withdraw large sums of money from unsuspecting customers. On 1 May 2007 the Australian Federal Police arrested 2 suspected terrorists in Melbourne after unearthing a massive fraud and criminal operation that diverted money collected from the Australian public in the name of Tsunami relief into the coffers of the LTTE.

With respect to illegal arms procurement, in a case filed by the US Government in Baltimore, four LTTE agents, including three foreign nationals have pleaded guilty to charges of seeking to provide material support to the LTTE, a designated foreign terrorist organization in the US. In Brooklyn, New York eleven others and the LTTE leader and the leader of the arms procurement group in the US, Karunakaran Kandasamy stand charged for provision of material assistance to the LTTE, for seeking to purchase surface to air missiles, missile launchers, AK-47s, and other weapons to be used by the LTTE against the Sri Lankan military. They are also charged for attempting to use LTTE front organizations, including the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) to bribe State Department officials for obtaining classified documents containing information relating to the organizations.

As for human smuggling operations of the LTTE, many of those who risk the journey become victims of an international crime racket. INTERPOL has noted that having been part of the illegal trade and indebted to the smugglers, scores of Tamil youths find themselves becoming messenger boys, agents or couriers of the European operations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Most recently two LTTE Cadres were arrested by the Indonesian Government for complicity in human smuggling activities into Indonesia.

The extent of the LTTE’s propaganda operations has also drawn international attention and the group has suffered heavy blows in recent months. US based INTELSAT terminated the illegal use of its facilities by the LTTE to broadcast the LTTE’s so called official TV channel, ‘National Television of Tamil Eelam’ (NTT) launched in 2005 and originating from northern Sri Lanka and beamed across Europe and Asia. The closure by the French authorities of the Tamil Television Network (TTN) which operated out of Paris through satellite service provider Globecast, has further exposed the complex tentacles of the LTTE into modern communication methods. Such incidents have shown how the LTTE uses satellite communications to spread its propaganda and to reach the Diaspora. Satellite technology that is commercially available in the hands of a terrorist organization like the LTTE bodes a sinister threat to reckon with, as it can also be used for furthering terrorism. Attention has been drawn in recent months, that satellite images and aerospace technology can easily be used for target identification and would be a deadly weapon in the hands of a terrorist organization like the LTTE, particularly coupled with its maritime and nascent air capabilities. That the LTTE could offer its services as mercenaries should not be discounted.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding 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 continues to believe in the pretensions 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 perpetrated by the LTTE, even as GOSL seeks to evolve a 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 has 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 hideouts of the LTTE, most of the eastern province of Sri Lanka which was until recently terrorized by the LTTE, has been rid of this menace. The Security Forces and other agencies of the Government of Sri Lanka have worked hard to secure the area and to 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 faced in carrying out military as well as ‘hearts and mind‘ operations in areas dominated by terrorists, would better appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, and hence assess for yourselves, the significance of the successful conclusion of settlement of persons in the Eastern province.

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 bi-laterally to curb terrorism by the LTTE, is deeply appreciated by the Government of Sri Lanka. It is in the same spirit that Sri Lanka joined multilateral initiatives such as the Container Security Initiative, the Mega Ports Initiative and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, so that together we can address international terrorism.

In conclusion, I wish to appeal to those of you associated with the defense establishment in your respective countries who would possibly better appreciate the difficult struggle faced by my country, as well as the security ramifications to the global community that I have outlined, to ensure that your governments remain focussed 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 to terrorize the people of Sri Lanka.

Facts of the LTTE Piracy

* In October 1994 LTTE destroyed the MV Ocean Trader off Vettilaikerni

* In June 1995 LTTE destroyed the MV Sea Dancer off Kankesanturai

* In August 1995 LTTE attacked the MV Lanka Muditha off Kankesanturai

* In August 1995, the LTTE hijacked and looted the MV Irish Mona off Mulaithivu.

* In April 1996, the LTTE staged an abortive attack on the port of Colombo and damaged three foreign owned vessels.

* In August 1996, the LTTE blasted a Philippine registered cargo ship MV Princess Wave with underwater explosives while it was loading mineral sands at Pulmoddai. The cargo was for a Japanese consignee. 15 soldiers were killed.

* In May 1997, the LTTE blasted MV Athena, a Greek registered bulk carrier while in anchor in Trincomalee.

* In July 1997, the LTTE set fire to a 500 seat passenger ferry MV Mission, an Indonesian flagged vessel, transporting Tamil civilians from Mannar to Jaffna.

* In July 1997, the LTTE captured the North Korean registered, flagged, and crewed MV Morang Bong, a 3000 ton general cargo vessel, which was anchored off Point Pedro. It had delivering a consignment of food to the Jaffna peninsula.

* In September 1997, the LTTE captured a Panama-registered, Chinese owned MV Cordiality, a bulk carrier, which was transporting essential food cargo. 5 Chinese were killed.

* In August 1998, the LTTE hijacked the Indian owned MV Princess Kashoff Mullaittivu. The 6000 ton ship, chartered from Dubai based Goodwill Company was transporting cement, dry food rations and vehicles for civilian use in Jaffna.

* In July 1999, LTTE destroyed the MV Newco Endurance at Trincomalee Harbour

* In September 1999, LTTE attacked the MV Julia off North of Mullativu

* In June 2000, LTTE destroyed the MV Mercs Uhana off Point Pedro

* In September 2001, LTTE attacked the MV Pride off Point Pedro

* In October 2001, LTTE attacked the MT Dunhinda off Point Pedro

* In March 2003, a Chinese Fishing trawler named ‘Fu Yuan Ya 225’ was captured and was exploded by the LTTE, killing 20 of its crew members.

* In December 2006, the LTTE attacked the Jordanian vessel MV Farah III and looted the ship.

* In January 2007, MV Liverpool delivering relief supplies to Jaffna was attacked off Point Pedro.

Detection of LTTE Arms Shipments/Equipment

* In December 1990, MV Sun Bird was detained by Malaysian authority in Penan, Malaysia

* In November 1991, MV Tongnova was detained by Indian Navy off Karailkal

* In January 1993, MV Ahat was scuttled by LTTE off Bay of Bengal

* In February 1996, MV Horizon was destroyed by SLN off Mullaithivu

* In November 1997, MV Fratzescomwas destroyed by SLN off Mullaithivu

* In March 1998, MV Mariamma was scuttled by LTTE off west of Nicobar

* In May 1999, MV Showamaru was detected off West of Nichobar Island

* In April 2000, Thai authorities discovered half built mini submarine in Phuket.

* In September 2006, Sri Lanka Navy destroyed un-named vessel off Kalmunai

* In February 2007, Sri Lanka Navy destroyed un-named vessel off South of Dondra

* In March 2007, Sri Lanka Navy destroyed un-named vessel off South East of Arugambay

* In May 2007, Indian fishing trawler Sri Krishna was sunk by Maldivian National Defense Force while it was transporting ammunition to LTTE off Maldivian territorial waters.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this


.