The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Friday, 15 February 2008

HOT ZONE : Chapter 13: Sri Lanka

Kevin Sites covered Sri Lanka as violence erupted between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, pushing a nation with so much to lose back to the brink of all-out war. In rebel-held territory Sites interviewed Tiger fighters about their tactics and reported on the many effects of war still seen in the region.

Sites found signs of progress -- an important library has been rebuilt and land mine-related casualties are sharply declining -- but Sites also found the renewed violence had already erased tourism in some areas.

"A World of Conflict" is the documentary about the "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone" project, in which veteran war correspondent Kevin Sites reported from every major global conflict in one year, in an effort to understand the costs of a world perpetually at war.

We are highlighting one chapter of the documentary each week in chronological order, allowing you to see the film in its entirety — exclusively online.

The documentary contains searing, never-before-seen images of combat and its lingering impact on civil society, beginning with the anarchy of Somalia in September 2005 and culminating with the explosive war between Israel and Hezbollah in summer 2006.

The documentary is included with Sites' new book, "In the Hot Zone: One Man. One Year. Twenty Wars." (The Harper Perennial paperback original is available now at and at book stores.)



Tamil Tigers Exploit Exiles Abroad to Fund Insurgency

By RĂ¼diger Falksohn and Padma Rao

After 25 years of civil war, the Sri Lankan government believes that its goal of militarily defeating Tamil rebels is finally in sight. But cutting off the rebels' financial resources is a different matter.

The Sri Lankan flag, with its green-and-orange stripes and yellow image of a lion, fluttered proudly in a brisk ocean wind. President Mahinda Rajapaksa also seemed filled with pride when he stepped up to the microphone to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka's independence on Monday of last week.

"Our security forces are today achieving victories against terrorism unprecedented in history," he said defiantly, referring to the civil war that has crippled the country for the last 25 years. "Terrorism is receiving an unprecedented defeat."

Despite the military parade that followed Rajapaksa's address, it was clear, judging by the many ordinary soldiers positioned behind sandbags, rolls of barbed wire and temporary bunkers in the capital Colombo, that the ceremony was only made possible by tight security precautions. Soldiers and armed security personnel kept a watchful eye on every shop and even every ice cream vendor along the city's harbor promenade.

Nevertheless, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgents -- commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, who are demanding an independent Tamil state and occupy one-third of the country -- managed to stage several attacks. At least 13 people were killed when a bomb exploded at a Colombo train station. Almost at the same time as Rajapaksa's speech, a bus went up in flames 240 kilometers (149 miles) away in the country's interior, also killing 13 people. Twenty people died in another bus explosion in Dambulla, the site of a cave temple and a popular tourist destination.

The civil war has already claimed the lives of more than 70,000 Sri Lankans, and the cease-fire agreement reached six years ago has long been worth less than the paper it was printed on. After the government formally dissolved the agreement in mid-January, Rajapaksa's troops resumed their bombardment of the LTTE-occupied north and have reported many successes since then. They even claim that Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was mortally wounded in one of the attacks.

One of the World's Most Resilient Rebel Groups

But the Tigers seem unimpressed. In fact, the self-appointed representatives of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority have repeatedly demonstrated, with their attacks and assassinations, that they remain one of the world's most resilient rebel groups. The LTTE is the only guerilla organization in the world with its own rudimentary air force, as it demonstrated a year ago in a surprise attack on the headquarters of the Sri Lankan Air Force near the airport in Colombo. Although the Tigers' aircraft and bomb technology were substantially outdated, the air attack confirmed what had been just a rumor until then: That the LTTE is more than just a collection of jungle fighters, including many child soldiers, and naval vessels.

The Tigers are said to have the second-highest budget of all separatists, outdone only by Colombia's FARC guerillas, with their sizable cocaine revenues. The British military publication Jane's Intelligence Review and the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch recently published details of the group's sources of funding.

According to the report, the Tigers raise up to $300 million (204 million euros) a year, or between 80 and 90 percent of their total budget, abroad. Overseas Tamils are expected to donate funds, making private households and businesspeople the group's principal source of funding. Human Rights Watch describes the Tamils' fundraising method as "extortion." Indeed, poor or financially strapped Tamil families living in London, for instance, are asked to pay a monthly contribution of 40 British pounds (54 euros) apiece, while the Tamils who operate a Hindu temple in Canada are expected to come up with the equivalent of 700,000 euros ($1.03 million) -- as a "contribution to the final war."

With one in four Tamils living abroad, the number of potential donors runs upwards of 800,000. The largest diaspora is concentrated in Canada (about 250,000 people), followed by India (150,000), Great Britain (110,000), Germany (50,000), Switzerland, France and Australia (30,000 each). LTTE allegedly demands that Tamil expatriates contribute 20 percent of their earnings to the Tigers' cause, and Tamil cultural organizations are believed to employ money collectors who then funnel the revenues through circuitous routes to "Eelam," as the Tigers' realm is known.

Converting Dollars into Weapons

The collected dollars are often converted into weapons before reaching Sri Lanka. The weapons are shipped to Jaffna, the Tamil stronghold, primarily from southern India. Speedboats take only 45 minutes to cross the 35-kilometer (22-mile) Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. They often arrive loaded with overstock from a global weapons bazaar: Ukrainian explosives, Bulgarian SA-14 short-range missiles, bazookas from Cyprus, grenade launchers from Croatia and guns from Cambodia, Thailand and Burma.

To pay for all of this, the Tigers have apparently even turned to the illicit use of credit cards. In Norway, 16 LTTE supporters were put behind bars for credit card fraud last May. Authorities in Singapore and Thailand have raided criminal gangs outfitted with blank credit cards and reading devices designed to crack secret codes at ATMs.

The Tigers are organized centrally and hierarchically. According to Jane's, the organization's finances are handled by the Aiyanna Group, which is run by LTTE intelligence chief Potta Amman, and the Office of Overseas Purchases, headed by senior LTTE official Kumaran Pathmanathan (hence the nickname KP Department). Pathmanathan is believed to be in charge of securing financial contributions and allegedly works hand-in-hand with groups like the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC) in the borough of Queens in New York.

The WTCC, for its part, denies any involvement with LTTE, which is listed as a terrorist organization in North America and in the European Union.

Many Tamils who fled Sri Lanka in the early 1980s in the wake of pogroms committed by the Singhalese majority, or who have traumatic memories of the violent acts the government has committed in fighting the Tigers, support the LTTE voluntarily. They see the organization as the defender of a just cause.

Those who don't see it this way receive house visits from money collectors whose repertoire ranges from subtle encouragement to blatant extortion. Anyone who consistently refuses to pay up runs the risk of anything from harassing phone calls to a ransacked apartment, can run into problems when traveling home to Sri Lanka and endangers family members. According to a Tamil who has been at the receiving end of Tiger harassment, "they simply say: we'll show you. We all know that this can be a matter of life and death."


India to help Sri Lanka build power plant

B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: Ending the nearly 14-month stalemate, India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday agreed on the exact location in Trincomalee in the east for setting up a 500-MW coal-based thermal plantand signed an understanding for commissioning the project by 2012. The agreement, with revised ‘milestones’ for completion of the project, was signed here by representatives of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) in the presence of Sri Lanka Minister for Power John Seneviratne and visiting Indian Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh.

Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Alok Prasad, who was present on the occasion told journalists later that the project would be located at Veloore in north of Trincomalee.
$500m investment

The project, involving an investment of $500 million, would be implemented through a 50:50 joint venture company to be formed by NTPC and the CEB, and would be funded with a debt equity ratio of 70:30.

Addressing a news conference here Mr. Ramesh said that in the course of his discussion with his counterpart in Sri Lanka it was also decided to commission a $3 million feasibility study on interlinking of the Sri Lanka Electricity Board (SLEB) with the Southern Regional Electricity Grid (SREG).


Sethu project: Beware of LTTE, says Lankan Navy chief

Sri Lankan Navy chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda on Thursday sought international cooperation to deal with the threat posed by the LTTE and claimed that patrolling would have to be increased if India’s Sethusamundram shipping channel project is implemented.

Wasantha Karannagoda, who is in New Delhi to take part in Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, claimed that the LTTE has been a threat for Sri Lanka but if its activities were not checked the group will pose problems for other countries.

He said the Sri Lankan Navy has been successful in countering the LTTE. Welcoming the Indian Navy’s initiative to bring together sea forces of the Indian Ocean region, he said such a cooperation will help in forming a joint strategy to deal with threats posed by terrorists.

Karannagoda steered clear from the controversy over the Sethusamundram project but said that the Indian Government would have factored the security aspect while conceiving the shipping lane.

On its party, Sri Lanka will increase patrol on its side of the channel, he added. The Sri Lankan official said the bilateral cooperation between the maritime security agencies of the two countries was in place.

The two sides hold regular discussions to clear any misunderstanding. There are coordinated patrols to secure the area.


Tamil Tigers cannot be crushed says MP

By M.R. Narayan Swamy

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger guerrillas can never be vanquished militarily, a Tamil MP has said, calling for an Indian role to bring peace to the island nation.

M.K. Shivaji Lingam of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) also said that the escalating violence in the war-hit country was only adding to the unending human misery, principally among the Tamil community.

"It is impossible to crush or destroy the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) militarily," Shivaji Lingam told IANS, a day after he took part in a demonstration urging India to stop its military backing to Sri Lanka.

The LTTE campaign for a Tamil homeland, he said, "has become a people's struggle. Even ordinary villagers are now armed. They volunteer for duty round the clock to check the military's deep penetration units in LTTE areas."

Shivaji Lingam, a member of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the biggest Tamil grouping in the Sri Lankan parliament, said he expected the war now raging in the country to continue.

"The LTTE will never give up," he said. "Even if the military takes over LTTE areas, the Tigers will fight on. But it won't be easy for the government to do that anyway.

"The government had wanted to crush the LTTE about 10 years ago. What could not be achieved 10 years ago cannot be achieved today. Today, the LTTE is more powerful militarily," he added.

Shivaji Lingam, however, admitted that the Tigers had suffered serious reverses in the country's east, where the guerrillas have been driven out of their strongholds, and that Colombo was strong too - militarily.

Shivaji Lingam, who comes from the same region in Jaffna that is home to LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, was once opposed to the Tigers. Over the years, he, like many others in Sri Lanka, has come to see the Tigers as the true representative of the Tamil minority.

Shivaji Lingam said the Tamils had no faith in the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Tamils, he said, could not understand why India was silent over the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka.

"India should get involved and bring about a political solution," he argued. "If it cannot do that, it should recognise the Tamil liberation struggle."