By PK Balachanddran
(Reproduced from the Hindustan Times, October 14, 2003)
Despite the freezing of an estimated $4 billion of its funds and the curbs put by the US and UK, where it is banned, the LTTE is managing to collect a lot of money for its war chest.
Reports say that the global collections from Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates averages $1 million a month.
The LTTE is also able to buy the kind of weapons it needs with the vast expansion of sources since the end of the Cold War. With its eleven freighters, it is able to trawl the deadly cargo across the seas.
But what it is not able to do, as easily as before, is to land the cargo in Sri Lanka and this is its main worry now.
"Improved naval surveillance has made a critical difference," a naval expert told Hindustan Times. Aided by invaluable intelligence inputs from the Indian Navy, the Sri Lankan Navy has been able to curb the smuggling to an extent, he said.
He, however, denied President Chandrika Kumaratunga's claim that six consignments had landed and that next three were stopped. "One cannot give figures of this sort because some consignments may be allowed to land, so that the informants are not compromised," he explained.
Sri Lankan and Indian agencies, in cooperation with the governments of several countries, especially those in South East Asia, are also constantly hounding the LTTE's master arms buyer, Thanmalingam Shanmugham, alias Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias KP. The source said that following pressure from the Thai authorities, the LTTE had "rehabilitated" this shadowy figure in Indonesia.
Coincidentally, the last LTTE arms freighter to be spotted ("Agasthi" according to Colombo-based The Sunday Times ), was loading at an Indonesian port. It is surprising that the Indonesian government should be turning a blind eye to KP when it is itself facing terrorism and separatism.
In a paper written for the Small Arms Survey in October 2003, Dr Chris Smith says that since the end of the Cold War, the LTTE has capitalised on the chaotic conditions prevailing in countries which were formally part of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact.
Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Slovakia and the Ukraine have joined traditional arms bazaars in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Lebanon and Singapore. "There are also allegations that the LTTE has links with organised crime groups in Bulgaria, Lithuania and the Russian Federation. Erstwhile war zones such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mozambique and the former Yugoslavia, provide another source," Dr Smith says.
LTTE and Sri Lankan Security Forces
In terms of the quality of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), the LTTE is a match for the Sri Lankan Security Forces (SF). But it is in numbers that they differ radically.
Smith says that with a cadre strength conservatively estimated at 7,000, the LTTE should be having 14,000 SALW on the basis of the thumb rule that there are two SALW for every guerilla.
The Sri Lankan SF had an estimated total strength of 157,900 regular personnel in 2002. Applying the orthodox military small arms multiplier of 2.25 SALW per soldier, the SL forces should have 355,000 SALW.
The Sri Lanka Police (SLP) is also highly armed, with even constables on routine duties carrying T-56s and AK-47 assault rifles. The SLP has 28,000 personnel and going by the conventional police multiplier of 1.2 SALW per sworn officer, there is a total police arsenal of 34,000 small arms, Dr Smith says.
The Security Forces primarily use the 7.62 mm T-54, T-56 and SKS carbine. The Sub-machine guns are the 9 mm Sterling; Heckler and Koch MP-5A3 and the 9 mm Uzi. The main suppliers of these are Pakistan and China.
There are also variants of the US made M-16 rifle and carbine. If the entire range of SALW is taken into account, the Sri Lankan government bought SALW worth about $ 64 million between 1996 and 2002, according to the UN COMTRADE data base.
As for arms with private persons, there could be 1.9 million SALWs in this category as per the Small Arms Survey of 2002.
The Sri Lankan government puts the unaccounted weaponry among Sri Lankans at 30,000. But this is clearly a gross underestimation given the easy availability of assault rifles and grenades.
The Sri Lankan SF have admitted that so far, 51,000 service personnel have deserted. It is widely believed that many of these had left with their personal weapons, including assault rifles. These have either been sold or used by the deserter turned criminal. A T-56 assault rifle can be had for the equivalent of $ 200 in the island.
Smith says that in 2000 alone, 161 offences, resulting in murder, were committed with T-56s. Only last week, there was a grenade explosion inside a bungalow in the posh Rosmead Place in Colombo in which a house servant was killed. How come a civilian house had a grenade it?
The Sri Lankan government is in a fix about how to tackle the proliferation of deadly firearms among the public. The biggest obstacle is that politicians and businessmen want firearms and armed guards for self-protection. The government has found the easy way out of the sticky situation - it is going to appoint a Commission on Small Arms!
In the meanwhile, no social groups are said to be arming themselves. The LTTE is now alleging that the Muslims of the Eastern districts are arming themselves in a big way, with a plan to "kill Tamils".
The LTTE-paper Tamil Alai said on August 22, that the Indian Army had given a lot of weapons to the Eelam Peoples' Revolutionary Liberation Front - Varathan group in the 1988-1990 period and these weapons, were now being sold to the Muslim militants "at a discount".
Despite peace talks the LTTE is far from decommissioning its weapons and the Sri Lankan government is far from exchanging its swords for ploughshares. While the LTTE is on a weapons buying spree, the government is planning to spend $554 million on defence in the coming year, notching a 3.37% increase over the previous year. Both believe that they must negotiate peacefully but only from a position of military strength!
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Naval surveillance is the millstone around LTTE's neck