Sri Lanka will open a diplomatic mission in an unlikely destination— in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, one party totalitarian state of five (5) million people, which broke away from Ethiopia after the ouster of the Soviet -backed dictator of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Asmara’s crumbling Italian architecture, which colonial Italy built in 1930s, and now considered to be a world architectural heritage is reported to be a concern of the UNESCO.
The other reason which brings Eritrea into the spotlight is far more worrisome: The East African country is accused of harbouring and sponsoring a plethora of terrorist groups worldwide, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. (See box)
Selvarasa Pathmanatthan alias Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), the chief procurer of the LTTE’s arms smuggling wing has shed insights into the LTTE’s Eritrean connection, which has been long suspected and was also mentioned in an US Foreign Relations Committee Report in December 2006.
KP has told that an LTTE owned business venture is entrusted with the operations of the International Airport in Asmara and that during the last leg of the war, it had been planned to smuggle the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran to Eritrea. What stopped the plan being put into action, he claimed, was the assurance made by the Diaspora lobbyists to secure a ceasefire, for which they campaigned hard, yet fell short of success.
Prabhakaran is believed to have built a special rapport with President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, the former Rebel leader of Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front.
Prabhakaran sent a personally signed fax to President Isaias Afewerki on 24 May, 2006, communicating directly with a Head of State, according to Shanaka Jayasekara, a Terrorism Researcher at the Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (PICT) at Macquarie University, Australia. A copy of the fax is available with an Asian intelligence agency, says Jayasekara.
KP had confessed that LTTE maintained a close relationship with the higher authorities of Eritrea. The East African country is believed to have functioned as a transshipment base for the LTTE as well as a safe haven for the key operators of the arms smuggling network.
End- user certificates
It is widely believed that most end- user certificates which the LTTE used to procure arms originated from Eritrea and Burma. The serial numbers of the Chinese made medium caliber weapons unearthed from the East had been traced backed to Burmese end user certificates.
The second in command of the KP Department, Ayyar alias Thurairaja is believed had operated from Eritrea.
The Sri Lankan diplomatic mission would be entrusted with tackling the LTTE operations in Eritrea. Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence Major General Amal Karunasekara is tipped to be Sri Lanka’s envoy to Eritrea. Other nominees are expected to be finalized this week- and would come mainly from the ranks of the armed forces.
The latest diplomatic cum intelligence overture comes in the wake of another successful mission of this sort, which netted the new leader and head of the LTTE’s arms smuggling wing Kumaran Pathmanathan.
Operation KP was handled by another military man, Udaya Perera, former Director Operations of Army who was posted to Kuala Lampur for the specific mission.
Having decimated the LTTE at home, the government has extended its hunt to the international network of the LTTE.
Several weeks back, we reported the government’s decision to demand the extradition of three leading LTTE activists in the United States, Gnananakkan brothers -Charles and Jayantha Gnananakkan and LTTE’s legal advisor, V Rudrakumar. The government is now considering making a formal extradition request for Rudrakumar, who also represented the LTTE in the peace talks.
LTTE’s international network is well institutionalized and is still intact, despite the decimation of the LTTE at home.
Shanaka Jayasekara, for instance, says: “The LTTE is known to have a presence in over 44 countries. The LTTE has established a structured presence in 12 countries, which are considered to be the top-level contributing countries to the LTTE. The LTTE has designated a country representative in each of the 12 countries. The leadership in each country receives instructions on all aspects of overseas operations from the LTTE international co-ordination centre in Kilinochchi. The overseas leadership disseminates its dictates and authority through the Tamil co-ordination comates in the respective countries”
What, in fact, has prompted the government to speed up the campaign against the overseas LTTE is the fear that the overseas network would act as a catalyst in re-organizing the LTTE, by financing the next phase of the Eelam struggle.
Intelligence sources confide that they have intercepted several satellite phone calls made by Aiyanna, an overseas operative of the LTTE. Aiyanna Group is also the name of the LTTE’s overseas intelligence unit, which monitors and coordinates fund raising activities in the West.
According to the intercepted satellite communications, Aiyanna had contacted an LTTE sleeper in Colombo and another operative in Jaffna. Calling the sleeper cadre in Colombo, Aiyanna had advised him not to give up the fight and prepare for the next phase of the struggle. He had however cautioned against rushing up for attacks, cautioning that it could trigger a manhunt in Colombo.
The message, said sources who intercepted the communication was “wait till the right moment”.
In the second instance, Aiyanna had instructed the Tiger operative in Jaffna to resume fund raising in the peninsula from the business ventures and people who would volunteer for donation, there by keeping a low key status for the operations.
These developments and emboldened military hunt suggest that LTTE’s once overt fund raising activities would likely to become more secretive, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. As we wrote in an earlier column, the Eelam war, which was once fought on the battle field, has now transformed into an intelligence war.
“LTTE had links with Taliban, operated a safe house in Peshawar”
Did LTTE have a hand in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore?.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani says that he had been told by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the attack on March 3, this year, may have been masterminded by the LTTE. Gilani said he was informed about this by President Rajapaksa during a recent visit to Libya.
“The Sri Lankan president told me that they have clues that the attack on the team was funded from Sri Lanka and that some finances had been made from Sri Lanka to Pakistan,” Gilani said. “We are sending interior ministry officials to Sri Lanka to get the clues that could help us to get to the attack on the cricket team.” Mr Gilani is on record as saying.
This is an unexpected twist to a story which has been at the centre of controversy.
Pakistan earlier accused Indian Intelligence Service, Research and Analysis Wing of training and arming the attackers, the charges were later retracted.
The Sri Lankan president’s claims substantiated or not would extricate Pakistan from some of the blame of the attack. Pakistan is a victim of its own making, which made “jihadification,” – arming Islamic armed groups- a strategic imperative, partly as a deterrent to India. Pakistan is not at war with Pakistani Taliban, which is accused of the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers.
President’s revelations would offer a diversion from the bitter reality. However, not all are surprised if there is an LTTE link with Pakistani Taliban.
Rohan Gunaratna, Professor of security studies at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the Head of International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism (ICPTVR), in an email interview claims that it is very much possible that the LTTE had a hand in the attack.
He says the LTTE maintained contacts with the Taliban and even operated a safe house in Peshawar.
Shanaka Jayasekara, a terrorism researcher based in Sydney claims that officials of an “Asian security agency” believe KP head of the LTTE procurement unit traveled from Bangkok through Karachi to Kabul on 19 May, 2001 and had meetings with Taliban officials on matters relating to the Sharjah network.
The Sharjah network is an arms supply network run by the infamous Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who had operated 3-4 flights daily to Kabul to transport arms.
Jayasekara adds that at the same time, the LTTE operated a cargo company in Dubai, 17 km from the offices of the Sharjah network. The company was named Otharad Cargo, headed by Daya the younger sibling of Nithi, a Canadian based member of the LTTE’s KP Unit. Otharad Cargo is believed to have acquired several consignments of military hardware as part of consolidated purchase arrangements with the Taliban’s Sharjah network.
Jayasekara also claims that “Information recovered from a Laptop Computer of a LTTE procurement agent now in the custody of a Western country has provided detailed information on LTTE activities in Pakistan.
The LTTE had registered a front company in Karachi which had procured several consignments of weapons for the LTTE and several other Pakistani groups. A shipment of weapons procured by this front company and en-route to Sri Lankan waters was intercepted by the Sri Lanka Navy and destroyed in September 2007.”
Brian Joyce in an article in the Jane’s Intelligence in November 2002 on Terrorist Financing in South Asia states that, the LTTE shipping fleet provided logistics support to Harakat-al Mujahideen, a Pakistani militant group with Al Qaeda affiliations to transport a consignment of weapons to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines.
The LTTE used a merchant vessel registered by a front company in Lattakia, Syria until 2002, to service most of the grey/black charters.
Eritrea’s terrorist ties
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report on December 15, 2006 revealed that Eritrea was providing direct military assistance to LTTE.
Although the report did not specifically identify the military assistance given to the LTTE, it had confirmed the direct link between the LTTE and Eritrea.
Excerpt from East African, September 3, 2009:
“Two senior Obama administration officials have warned that Eritrea could face severe punishment if it does not halt its alleged arms shipments to an Islamist terrorist group in Somalia.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said last week, that the Obama team is “deeply concerned and very frustrated” with Eritrea’s support for Al Shabaab fighters who are trying to overthrow the Somali government. “It is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it, nor will other members of the Security Council,” Ms Rice told the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee. Her comments were echoed a day later by Johnnie Carson, the State Department’s top Africa official.
Briefing reporters on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s seven-nation tour of Africa this week, Mr Carson accused Eritrean leaders of acting as “spoilers” in Somalia, adding, “Time is running out on Eritrea.”Ms Rice indicated that the US will seek the backing of the UN and African organisations for sanctions against Eritrea if it does not signal a change in its behaviour regarding Somalia. The Bush administration said in 2007 that it was considering designating Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a move would result in imposition of unilateral US sanctions against Eritrea.’’