Procurement: Sri Lankan Smugglers Strive To Survive

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June 1, 2009: Sri Lanka recently defeated ethnic separatist Tamil rebels, after nearly three decades of fighting. The rebel organization, the LTTE, had built a large international weapons smuggling organization. The government is hustling to try and prevent this smuggling operation from surviving the LTTE defeat. In the wake of that defeat, police found and arrested one of the lieutenants of LTTE weapons smuggling chief Kumaran Pathmanadan, hiding out in a Tamil refugee camp. The government has a list of Tamil weapons smugglers they are seeking, either among the dead bodies of the last LTTE battle, the Tamil refugee camps, or among the million Tamil refugees living in the West (where the LTTE raised over a hundred million dollars a year to support their fighting forces, and import weapons.) The LTTE "Sea Tigers" operated a fleet of boats (often fishing vessels) and six ocean going ships to move the weapons to LTTE controlled towns and villages on the coast. Kumaran Pathmanadan is believed to be outside the country, and already working to revive the LTTE gunrunning operation.

Government officials also accused Norway and Eritrea of aiding the LTTE weapons smuggling effort. Eritrean ports tolerate all sorts of shading shipping activities, and the Norwegians have had close relationships with the LTTE, as part of an effort to get the rebels to negotiate a peace deal with the government. That has led to many Sri Lankans believing the Norwegians favored the LTTE. Government efforts to halt LTTE arms smuggling has brought unwelcome publicity to ports in places like Cambodia, where gunrunners can bribe local officials to ignore the illegal shipping of weapons.

Eventually, Indian police increased their arrests of Indian fishermen, who admitted they sold fuel to LTTE "Sea Tigers" and weapons smugglers. In southern India, police also broke up most LTTE weapons smuggling gangs. While most guns and ammo come from gunrunners in more distant countries, India has long been the main source of explosives and detonators for bombs. These can be bought or stolen from construction companies, and smuggled into Sri Lanka. But now the Sri Lankan navy makes the boat ride very risky, and Indian police are arresting most of the men bringing the bomb making material to the boats.

By last year, The air force and navy had crippled LTTE smuggling efforts, but had not eliminated them. Tamil fishermen from India were still willing to risk arrest or injury to move weapons, medicine and diesel fuel to LTTE controlled beaches in northern Sri Lanka. The fee paid for these trips went up from about $1,000 to over $2,000 in the last year. But the blockade eliminated the use of cargo ships for these supply runs. So instead of getting hundreds of tons of supplies at time, the LTTE has to be satisfied with a few tons.

The government fears that the LTTE will continue to raise money among the Tamil expatriate community, and fund renewed smuggling of weapons from southern India to Sri Lanka. There, the LTTE will try to rebuild their military forces, carry out a terror campaign, and try to revive their large scale war with the Sri Lankan security forces.

 


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