Going beyond 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 of hostilities.

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 dead.

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 questioned.

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 General's post.

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.

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