For intelligence to be more effective, however, it needs to be shared amongst nations. It is also very important to realise that few of the serious threats nations face in today's environment are truly localised, Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said.
"Terrorism, human trafficking, narcotic drug smuggling and the illegal financial transactions that support all these activities are not confined to one nation but take place within several nations and across national borders," Defence Secretary said addressing the Inauguration of BIMSTEC Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime at Jaic Hilton Colombo yesterday.
Full text of the speech:
Your Excellencies, the High Commissioners and Ambassadors of BIMSTEC Member countries
Eminent members of the Head Table
Delegates from BIMSTEC nations
Ladies and gentlemen
I am very pleased to welcome all of you on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka as we commence the Sixth Meeting of the BIMSTEC Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime. The subjects discussed at this meeting are particularly important in today's increasingly globalised world. In one form or another, one or a combination of these issues has affected each of the countries represented here. Sri Lanka itself suffered from three long decades of terrorism, which we successfully overcame four years ago, and we have also experienced the problems caused by drug smuggling and human trafficking from time to time. While most of the countries in the Bay of Bengal region have addressed these issues to some extent, the threats of terrorism, terrorist financing, illegal migration of persons and trafficking of drugs and other illegal substances still remains significant. As a result, it is very important that all our nations remain vigilant and proactive with regard to these threats.
The most important tool that nations have at their disposal in countering these threats is intelligence. For intelligence to be more effective, however, it needs to be shared amongst nations. It is also very important to realise that few of the serious threats nations face in today's environment are truly localised. Terrorism, human trafficking, narcotic drug smuggling and the illegal financial transactions that support all these activities are not confined to one nation but take place within several nations and across national borders. For example, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE, was engaging in ruthless terrorism activities in Sri Lanka, it raised funds abroad and used agents in various parts of the world to smuggle arms, ammunition and heavy weaponry to Sri Lanka through the sea. Even after the end of the war, the rump of LTTE organisation is still engaged in raising funds and trying to regroup in order to destabilise Sri Lanka through various means. These elements have even gone to the extent of providing arms training abroad to LTTE cadres in recent times. Because of the effective cooperation between Intelligence agencies, however, we were able to identify and stop these developments in their early stages. This is an example of how enhanced cooperation between Intelligence agencies is essential for maintaining national and regional security.
It is important to realise that because of the freedoms we enjoy, and the relaxation of our immigration laws and procedures for tourism promotion and trade purposes, terrorists and other criminals have the opportunity to use any of the countries in this region as meeting places, transit points o even temporary bases from which to initiate their activities. Take for example drug trafficking, which is increasingly becoming a serious issue for many of the countries in this region. On occasion, we have seen instances where drug dealers have escaped law enforcement agencies by moving into other countries and staying in these countries illegally, using them as safe havens. In addition to impeding law enforcement efforts in the country the offenders escaped from, allowing such offenders to remain at large can also cause social and criminal problems within the countries that stay in. It is therefore imperative to encourage cooperation amongst the law enforcement agencies of the respective nations to apprehend these culprits and ensure that justice is served.
Yet another issue that is increasingly becoming problematic in our part of the world is the trafficking of people across borders. Primarily due to economic reasons, large numbers of people seek to flee their nations of origin and migrate illegally into developed countries such as Australia, Canada and Europe. This has become a lucrative business for people smugglers, some of whom also have links to international terrorism as well as drug trafficking. Most of the time, the victims of these human traffickers find themselves in very serious trouble. Having sold or mortgaged their properties and given over their complete wealth to the smugglers, trapped on board unsafe vessels along with hundreds of illegal migrants. Sometimes these boats get into serious difficulties, threatening the lives of all on board. Occasionally, such illegal migrants are rescued or intercepted by the Navies or Coast Guards of other nations.
These nations then face the problem of accommodating the illegal migrants, sometimes without proper mechanisms to repatriate them. Even on occasions when the illegal migrants arrive at their destination without mishap, they are not assured of being granted refugee status. Ultimately, they may end up staying in difficult conditions within temporary camps for a very long time, until they are finally deported to their places of origin. Greater information sharing amongst the relevant agencies, including the establishment of a regionally shared database on the vessels used in people smuggling as well as other important data, will be essential in mitigating this problem.
All the illegal activities mentioned so far share a common feature in that they are often facilitated or at least accompanied by illegal financial transactions that take place through formal or informal channels. During the conflict, the LTTE collected vast sums of money in various countries around the world and transferred these funds to Sri Lanka through various legal and illegal channels. Tracking these transfers, particularly when they happened through informal channels, was a very difficult exercise. Having a proper understanding between the Financial Intelligence Units, Intelligence Agencies, Law Enforcement Agencies within the region is therefore extremely important in tracking illegal financial transactions and identifying and apprehending the culprits involved.
Particularly in today's globalised context, the full potential of regional organisations such as BIMSTEC to enhance technical and security cooperation must be exploited by member nations. Although there are international agencies that are engaged in these activities, our experience has shown that bilateral and regional cooperation amongst the intelligence and law enforcement institutions of our nations has produced superior results. It is ultimately the cooperation, mutual assistance and cordial relationships within the region that will help nations in the region to achieve their goals. In concluding, therefore, I encourage the delegates to freely and frankly discuss the various issues and identify more avenues of strengthening regional cooperation further during the Joint Working Group meeting. I also take this opportunity to wish you all a very pleasant stay in Sri Lanka.