Sri Lanka's National Security – Part 2:
Reconciliation will enhance national security
Continued from last week
Another prominent LTTE-linked group emerged out of the British Tamils
Association (BTA), which was active since 2001 in supporting the
terrorism of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. In 2006, the leader of the BTA,
Arunachalam Krishanthakumar, alias Shanthan, was investigated on
suspicion of supporting terrorist activities.
The Vembakkottai camp in Tamil Nadu was set up in 1990 to
accommodate Sri Lankan refugees.
As a result of these suspicions about the BTA, the British Tamils
Forum (BTF) was formed in 2006 to carry on the same activities in a new
guise. The BTF acted as an umbrella organisation that mustered support
from the immigrant Tamil community and local British politicians to
divide Sri Lanka.
With Shanthan's arrest by British authorities in June 2007 for
providing material support to terrorism and his conviction in April
2009, and the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the role played by the BTF
needed to be changed to suit the post-war environment.
As a result of this, the Global Tamils Forum (GTF) emerged in
February 2010, with many of the same members as the BTF. The head of the
GTF is the so-called Father Emmanuel, a Priest who was once hailed by
Prabhakaran as “a freedom fighter who has given leadership to a movement
committed to setting up the homeland to Tamil Eelam.”
Father Emmanuel has been engaged in a pro-paganda campaign against
Sri Lanka for many years, targeting Tamil expatriates, foreign
governments and international organisations. He is known to have visited
LTTE strongholds in Sri Lanka in mid-2000 to conduct training for
selected youth who were earmarked to take up overseas appointments for
fundraising and propaganda for the LTTE.
Under Father Emmanuel's guidance, the GTF has successfully influenced
a number of politicians from various political parties in European
countries as well as the United States, Australia, Canada, and India to
support the separatist cause. In addition, the GTF has courted officials
within international organisations such as the United Nations, the
European Union and various international non-govern-mental organisations.
Part of the success of the GTF in these activities can be attributed to
the influential pro-LTTE foreigners’ involvement in it. (All of the LTTE-linked
groups are coordinated by the GTF and united by one overarching
Yet another group that is active internationally in supporting the
separatist cause is the LTTE Headquarter Group, which is based in France
and headed by Vinayagam, a senior intelligence cadre who managed to
escape during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka. This group is
known to engage in human smuggling, with some of its past operations
including the sending of the Sun Sea and Ocean Lady vessels from South
East Asia to Canada in 2009 and 2010.
The members of this group generally maintain a low profile and their
movements are kept to a minimum as most of them have been issued Red
Notices by Interpol for their involvement in criminal activities. They
also keep their distance from both Nediyawan's and Rudrakumaran's
groups, but still maintain links with the GTF.
All of the LTTE-linked groups are coordinated by the GTF and united
by one overarching objective. Their unwavering intent is the division of
Sri Lanka and the setting up of a separate state of Tamil Eelam. There
are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their
These include: the winning of international opinion for the
separatist cause; increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka in
various areas including pushing for international investigations into
war crimes and claims of genocide, and by encouraging international
monitoring of the national reconciliation process; undermining all
efforts of the democratically elected government of Sri Lanka to create
a better future for its citizens through reconciliation and economic
development; and continuing to push for the resumption of conflict
through reorganizing local pro-LTTE elements within Sri Lanka.
The efforts of these LTTE-linked groups have been successful to a
limited extent in that despite the war having ended four years ago, the
internal affairs of Sri Lanka remain at the forefront of the UNHRC's
sessions as well as at the top of the agenda of several prominent
It has to be noted that many of those who create this pressure by
claiming to be human rights activists and victims of state repression
are actually trained LTTE cadres and operatives now fully engaged in
propaganda activities. It is important to understand that their attempts
to pressure the government through international bodies such as the
UNHRC and non-state actors, such as international NGOs, strengthen those
who work against Sri Lanka's interests.
In this context it must be further realised that there are groups
even within the democratic mainstream in Sri Lanka that obtain funding
from the LTTE's international network and pro-LTTE elements overseas,
which more or less openly talk about achieving the same objectives that
the LTTE had. Though they appear to have a democratic face, their
actions and remarks clearly show that the extremist separatist ideology
has not yet disappeared.
Their ultimate objective is achieving the division of Sri Lanka. As a
result of their actions and statements, it is very much a possibility
that certain radical elements will feel empowered to once again attempt
to take up arms in the name of separation. This is a major national
security threat that needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.
In addition to the threat of terrorism, Sri Lanka also faces a
potential threat from other extremist groups. These are the remnants of
the radical groups that were involved in previous insurgencies. Some of
these groups are trying to reorganise within Sri Lanka and mobilise
people to once again take up their extreme left wing causes.
There is information that some of these groups have started to
establish ties to LTTE-linked agents to create further problems in Sri
Lanka. Some of their activities include radicalizing students and
encouraging them to take to the streets in various protests. Though such
activities are still in their early stages, they pose another serious
national security concern that must remain a consideration.
Another growing concern in the post-terrorism environment is the
increasing communalism, which, if left unaddressed, could result in the
rise of tensions in the future. During the period of the terrorism, it
was not only the Sinhalese and Tamil communities that were affected by
the terrorist separatism of the LTTE, but also the Muslims.
After the LTTE started engaging in ethnic cleansing in the North in
the early 1980s, it expelled the Sinhalese community from Jaffna and
soon after turned its attention to the Muslims. Several massacres were
carried out at Mosques in the East, and in October 1990, the LTTE
expelled more than 75,000 Muslim residents from the North. This was
followed by further brutal attacks on Muslims in vulnerable villages
near LTTE dominated territory.
In this environment, the Muslims also started to organize for their
own protection against the LTTE. Since the LTTE's defeat, some of these
groups have begun to engage in activities that stem far beyond
self-protection. There is information that some of these groups have
even tried to link up with global Islamic terrorist organizations. This
is a situation that requires careful monitoring.
On a broader scale, it also must be acknowledged that one of the
consequences of the terrorist conflict Sri Lanka endured for thirty
years has been the increased insularity of ethnic groups. Rather than
identifying themselves on the basis of nationality, the communities of
Sri Lanka have begun to identify themselves on the basis of their
ethnicity or their religion. Instead of calling themselves Sri Lankan,
they identify themselves as Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims or Buddhists
This fragmentation of Sri Lankan identity is most unfortunate,
because activists within these communal groups seek minority rights or
ethnic rights rather than working within the framework of a common
The cross-border links that can arise as a result of such insular
ethnic or religious identification are also troublesome. It is clear
that there are some in the Tamil community who identify themselves more
with the Tamil community of Tamil Nadu than with their fellow Sri
This has been encouraged by some parties overseas who wish to promote
the idea of a greater Tamil Nation. Similarly, it has been observed that
there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims
to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby
reducing their integration within Sri Lanka.
This trend has been particularly prevalent in the post-September 11
world in which a tendency among certain groups to try and influence the
global Muslim community toward, religious extremism has become visible.
The increasing insularity and cohesion among minority ethnic groups
has also led to the emergence of hard line groups from the majority
community: the popularity of certain political groups and movements can
be viewed as being largely a response to this trend.
In turn, the emergence of hard line groups in the majority community
causes further tensions amongst other communities, which leads to a
vicious cycle of greater fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity.
Sri Lanka has had numerous divisions in the past that ultimately led
to conflict, making this a very serious national security concern at the
present moment. Sri Lanka must learn the lessons of its past, and ensure
that history is not repeated.
The maintenance of maritime security is another serious national
security concern for Sri Lanka. In the past, the only maritime security
issues that had to be dealt with were the illegal movement of Indians
into Sri Lanka and the smuggling that took place between Sri Lanka and
Preventing these threats was one of the foremost duties of the
military in the 1950s and the 1960s. However, with the evolution of the
LTTE and other terrorist groups in the 1970s and beyond, maritime
security imposed greater challenges.
For example, it is a well-known fact that the LTTE acquired a vast
arsenal of weapons and equipment including artillery, missiles, mortars,
armored vehicles and even light aircraft.
None of these items was produced in Sri Lanka, but were brought into
Sri Lanka by sea. In addition to military supplies, the LTTE's cadres
were initially trained at bases in Tamil Nadu. Given the recent
activities of LTTE-linked organizations outside Sri Lanka and
particularly in Tamil Nadu, this is very much a current threat.
The organised trafficking of persons or human smuggling is another
significant maritime security issue. Organised groups, some of which are
connected to LTTE-linked organisations, have lured many people seeking
better economic prospects into this lucrative, illegal operation. In
2013 alone, more than 440 people have attempted to leave Sri Lanka
Having sold their properties and handed over all their wealth to the
operators of these schemes, the victims of human trafficking find
themselves trapped on board unsafe vessels along with hundreds of
others, travelling to countries that will most often refuse them entry.
To make a compelling case for their acceptance by border control
authorities abroad, such economic refugees often concoct stories about
being persecuted in Sri Lanka, thereby damaging the country's
Furthermore, the mechanisms of human trafficking have enabled trained
terrorists to escape justice in Sri Lanka and flee abroad to safe
havens, from which they may once again attempt to cause problems to the
country through other means.
A further consideration with regard to maritime security is the
protection of our maritime assets. One of the problems Sri Lanka has
faced in the maritime domain after the defeat of the LTTE has been the
increasing incidence of pirate fishing in Sri Lankan waters by South
These fishermen use illegal practices such as bottom trawling to
maximize their catch. This causes serious damage to the healthy fish
stocks in Sri Lankan waters, and also adversely affects the livelihoods
of native fishermen.
Protecting Sri Lanka's waters, both from these fishermen and others
who might seek to exploit its other oceanic resources, including oil and
gas, will be one of the key maritime security challenges for Sri Lanka
in the future.
Somewhat further afield, the threat of international piracy is also a
maritime threat to Sri Lanka.
The reach and sophistication of the pirates originating mostly from
East Africa has been increasing in recent years. This factor undermines
the security of these sea-lanes and could pose a serious problem to
shipping in the region in the future.
This will have an impact on the country's economic security.
With regard to border security, one of the concerns Sri Lanka has is
the possibility of the country being used as a transit point for
transnational crime. The arrest of certain elements connected with
extremist regional terrorist groups in India and Pakistan has shown that
they have used Sri Lanka as a transit point from which to coordinate
Some, who are known to have been temporarily sheltered in Sri Lanka
after claiming refugee status in the west, are known criminals engaged
in illegal activities such as credit card fraud, drug smuggling and
counterfeit currency printing abroad.
Organised crime in Sri Lanka is another issue that needs to be
addressed. As a result of the rise of terrorism and the insurrections
Sri Lanka experienced over the last forty years, and the response from
the state, a considerable amount of arms and ammunition inadvertently
fell into the hands of criminals.
In today's environment, the possibility of foreign interference in
Sri Lanka's internal affairs remains a significant national security
concern. With the involvement of countries like India, Norway, and the
United States in Sri Lanka as a result of the recently ended terrorism,
matters relating to this country's internal affairs have gained
increased visibility within the international community.
India, in particular, is very sensitive to what is going on in Sri
Lanka because of the large Tamil population in its influential southern
state of Tamil Nadu. Especially during the elections cycle, Sri Lanka
figures large in Indian politics.
In the recent past, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu even attempted
to pressure the Indian government into opposing Sri Lanka
internationally. This is a serious threat to Sri Lanka's security, and
perhaps even its sovereignty.
Furthermore, as a result of the rapid economic and military
development of countries like India and China in recent decades, the
entire Asian region has become increasingly important in global affairs.
Sri Lanka's important geostrategic position within the Indian Ocean
region has brought it increasing attention.
It is conceivable some western powers might wish to have a Sri Lankan
government that is closely aligned with their interests, and will seek
to influence Sri Lanka's destiny so that it cannot pursue the
independent course it is presently following.
A third factor that has led to Sri Lanka's increasing importance in
the international arena involves regional power politics. Tensions
between India and Pakistan and between India and China are particularly
sensitive in this regard.
With China emerging as a world economic leader, there is a widespread
belief that India will seek to align itself with the others similarly
concerned at China's ascendancy. The likelihood of the United States
showing more interest in the region and aligning more with India is a
factor that may affect Sri Lanka.
Further, its establishment of a base in the Maldives is also changing
the complexion of the region. These are developments that need to be
monitored from the point of view of Sri Lanka's national security.
The final threat to Sri Lanka's national security is the emergence of
new technology-driven media, including social media sites such as
Facebook, Twitter and other websites. Although the likelihood of events
such as the Arab spring transpiring in Sri Lanka is minimal, because it
is a democratic nation with an extremely popular political leadership
that enjoys a very large electoral majority, this is still another
threat that needs to be monitored.
Those with vested interests can exploit social media, causing
problems in Sri Lanka or any other country, by circulating certain
ideologies online and mobilising and organising people. This can be done
with a minimal physical presence, and therefore constitutes a threat
that is difficult to contain through the traditional tools of national
National security response
The foregoing threat assessment makes clear that even in the present
post-terrorism situation, national security remains very much a
justified concern for the government. In addressing the challenges
discussed above and developing a comprehensive national security
strategy, it is important for the government to take a holistic view and
incorporate many of its elements into a single policy framework.
In terms of internal security, the best response to most of the
threats that we face is the development of the intelligence services.
Sri Lanka has two primary intelligence arms; the State Intelligence
Service and the Defense Intelligence, which comprises the Directorate of
Military Intelligence, Directorate of Naval Intelligence, and Air
In addition, the police maintain the Special Branch, while the
Special Task Force also has its own intelligence division.
The present government has brought these intelligence services under
the Chief of National Intelligence.
Another important development in this regard has been the augmenting
of resources allocated for the intelligence function. Although Sri Lanka
today has no immediate need for offensive military operations, it is of
the utmost importance that security measures not be relaxed.
The military is not engaged in law enforcement activities, and their
visible presence has been greatly reduced. Still it is essential that
the military remain in strategic locations throughout Sri Lanka.
Particularly in the North and East, where we know that there are still
potential threats to national security.
The recent arrest of some youth in Jaffna and Chennai, who had been
recruited by a Chennai based LTTE-linked group funded by the LTTE's
Europe-based network, shows the utmost need to remain vigilant.
It must also be underscored that as a sovereign nation, Sri Lanka has
every right to place its security elements in any part of the country it
so chooses. While some in the international community talk about the
so-called militarization of the North and East, and some political
parties in Sri Lanka decry the presence of the military in these areas,
it must also be understood that the people of the North and East mostly
have a cordial relationship with the military.
Regarding internal security the national identity system has been
significantly improved. Because it was previously a manual, paper-based
system, criminal and terrorist elements could easily obtain forged
Enhancing domestic security will require national reconciliation and
the forging of a common Sri Lankan identity.
Economic development is an absolute necessity in this regard. The
fact remains that unless people enjoy a reasonable standard of living,
peace and reconciliation are difficult to achieve.
Finally, it is of the utmost importance that Sri Lanka maintain
cordial relationships with its allies.
Despite the present pressure from Tamil Nadu, it is essential to
maintain a strong and healthy relationship with India. Relations with
the many countries that helped Sri Lanka in the past, both in economic
terms and political terms, should be strengthened further through
skillful diplomacy and further development of mutual ties.
It is essential to continue to strengthen the existing cordial
relationships with powerful nations such as China and Russia, which have
permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. In this overall
context, it is very important that the foreign policy of Sri Lanka is
Ultimately, the best way to ensure that Sri Lanka remains safe and
strong in the future is for its citizens to put aside the differences of
the past, unite as Sri Lankans, and work toward a better future for
themselves and their fellow people.
Courtesy: CCO Portal.org