the EU ban
The ban by the European Union (EU) of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been hailed in many quarters as
a major victory against the separatist group in the two decades-long
festering conflict that has brought such suffering on this nation.
For a war-weary population on both sides of the divide, the move
signalled some faint hope that all was not lost even though the
country seemed poised perilously on the brink of another outbreak
With the EU ban, following on the heels of the
ban by Canada -- it seems the writing is on the wall for the LTTE
that these are major reversals in its quest for global recognition
as a freedom-fighter organization.
Soon after the assassination of Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar in August last year, the Ministry that he headed
was spurred on by its officials -- from the secretary to the ambassadors,
to argue their case before the courts of Europe and at least win
what in legal parlance could be equated to a Leave to Proceed -
by way of a travel ban imposed on the rebel group, showing there
was prima facie evidence to ban the LTTE.
The late minister would surely have been proud
of the work of his officials whom he had trained in the art of diplomacy
through example and advice during his 10-year term as the country's
chief spokesman abroad.
However, the upgrading of the travel ban to a
total ban of the organization was largely the work of the rebel
group itself. It kicked into its own goal by the acts of wanton
terrorism committed since the assumption of Mahinda Rajapaksa to
the Presidency in November last year.
The LTTE has continued its killings not paying
heed to any appeals for a halt to the violence whether from politicians,
religious leaders or foreign countries. The death toll has been
terrible: More than 175 servicemen killed since November. They have
even attempted bigger things like the suicide bomb attack on the
Army Commander, ambushing a troop carrier vessel, not to mention
constant attacks on civilians in the North and East. Last Saturday,
a blast at the Wilpattu wildlife sanctuary left another seven people
The EU was seen as pussy-footing all along, mainly
because some of its member-states were eager not to rub the LTTE
on the wrong side, and also because as an entity that has such a
large membership it takes time to reach a consensus.
But increasingly, the EU was sticking out like
a sore thumb. Apart from the slur on its character, a ban of this
nature would impact more realistically on the fund-raising activities
of the LTTE in Europe.
But the long procedure involved resulted in the
LTTE having time enough to pull out most of its finances, and channel
them elsewhere. Where, is the million-dollar question. Of course,
ask many ordinary Sri Lankans living in Europe, and they will tell
you that the LTTE does not even use the legal banking system in
those countries. Most of its transactions are through the well-known
and well-patronised 'unofficial' system.
Despite all the bans, however, there are hardly
any arrests or prosecutions of members of the LTTE in these countries.
In some countries, registered charities simply changed their name
and transferred all their cash into a new charity when they were
The LTTE spends most of the funds collected in
the West in Asia, where it purchases arms and ammunition and gets
them trans-shipped to the North and East. There is a concerted need
to check on this front as well. Hitherto, the focus of successive
governments has been to thwart the fund-raising activities of the
LTTE, and not to curb its arms purchasing capabilities. But this
needs to change.
However, the Government is now in the unenviable
position of having to send its ambassadors to make two requests
of foreign nations these days. The first is obviously, to ask for
support in its campaign against the LTTE, and the second, to ask
for their vote for our candidate for the United Nations' Secretary
Are we dissipating our energies and resources,
is the question. And in this business, a country like Sri Lanka
can ask for one favour, not two.