Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Case of the vanishing Tiger

Sri Lankans in Colombo are puzzled over the whereabouts of Shanmugan Kumaran Tharmalingam (aka Kumaran Pathmanathan), chief procurer of arms of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Sri Lankan defence ministry website stated that “reliable sources from Thailand reveal that LTTE’s chief for cross-border terrorist activities, Kumaran Padmanathan, alias KP, has been arrested in Bangkok on 10 September.”

However, Thai authorities dismissed the report, saying they were not aware of the arrest, if any was made. And Thai police told the media that a thorough check showed that the last time it arrested any LTTE member was in 2003, and he was extradited to Sri Lanka on 15 August, 2007.

The local newspapers in the teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean are awash with speculation of KP’s supposed disappearance while in Thai custody.
The latest, by the main opposition United National Party, alleged that the Sri Lanka government had facilitated his release as it had a pre-presidential poll deal between the President and the LTTE.

KP is some sort of an enigma in the conflict-ravaged country where the government is engaged in a two-decade-long military operation to tame the Tigers fighting for a separate homeland and who control areas of the north.

“He is a master of disguise,” said Rauff Hakeem, Sri Lanka’s posts and telecommunications minister who shared iftar delicacies with me at his Colombo residence. However, Rauff, who is the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader, said he was not aware of KP’s present whereabouts.

According to F Rovik, who is a lawyer with R-Senter, a Norwegian human rights organisation, KP travels widely “with more than 20 passports to his name, and possessing the ability to pass himself off as a middle-class Tamil.”
It is believed the 52-year-old Sri Lankan, who is the second most wanted man in Sri Lanka (number one is LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirabhakaran), has obtained Thai citizenship and is married to a Thai woman.

In India, he is wanted for his alleged role in prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991.

There is no surprise in Sri Lanka that KP’s supposed detention is in Thailand as the LTTE has a colourful existence in the kingdom, which is about 2,200 km from northern Sri Lanka.

For example, when the Phuket Marine Police arrested LTTE agent Christy Reginold Lawrence on 9 April, 2000, he led them to his shipyard where they found a half-built mini submarine, which could accommodate two to three people.
The Sri Lanka government revealed that it was similar to a submarine it seized from the LTTE in Jaffna in the early 1990s.

The Tigers, Rovik noted, have been active in Thailand for two decades, using the country to acquire weapons and train cadres and as a transit point for weapons smuggling.

“LTTE has established several front companies and has a broad net of contacts in shipping, military and the police as well as among arms dealers. The front companies include shipping companies, trading firms, restaurants and hotels,” he wrote in a published report Peace in Sri Lanka: Obstacles and Opportunities.

Rovik wrote that Thailand’s long coastline, porous borders, modern infrastructure, corrupt officials and a history of gun-running since regional conflicts of the 1950s, make it an ideal location for weapons traders and buyers.

“Experts say that some of the arms sold in Thailand are rusty leftovers from the Cambodian conflict, but brand new weapons are also freely available, either smuggled from China or obtained illegally from legal manufactures,” he noted.
“There are more than 10,000 trawlers and other vessels roaming the Thai seas, making it difficult to monitor weapons smuggling.”

He added that the Tigers’ front companies and sympathisers in Bangkok had an extensive logistics network.

“Munitions have moved not only through Phuket but also Ranong and Krabi on the Andaman coast, as well as Sattaship on the Gulf of Thailand,” he pointed out.
However, Rovik said LTTE had very limited support, if any, among Thai politicians or the public in general.

“The fact that they have operated in Thailand for so long is purely due to corruption and liberal Thai policies,” he explained.

Whether Thai policies are liberal or not, the fact is KP remains as elusive as ever.

LTTE has strong links with Thai military

There was extensive news coverage of Shanmugan Kumaran Tharmalingam (a.k.a Kumaran Pathmanathan and KP), chief procurer of arms of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is based in Thailand and that he has been arrested by the Thai authorities.

The credible news of his presence in Thailand has not been reported so far. The LTTE uses Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as its main operating hub and extensive network of clandestine operations are carried out using Singapore as its financial centre.

All the activities are commanded by KP who is on the move all the time between the hub countries. Some of the Malaysian based LTTE activists who are said to be professionals give valuable support to legitimise the nefarious deeds of the clandestine activities of the Tamil Tigers in the area. A Sri Lankan lawyer Pasupathy based in Malaysia is confirmed to be the head of professionals working under KP.

KP’s activities further stretches to the renounced pariah state of President Mugabe i.e., Zimbabwe, where he is able move-about without any difficulties. He is said to be travelling between Cambodia, Thailand and Zimbabwe under false names and identity. Cambodia is said to be the main place of residence of KP.

It is known the LTTE has heavily bribed the Thai military officials. In 2002 when LTTE delegation met the Sri Lankan officials in Bangkok for peace talks some members of the delegation was taken by a senior Thai military commander accompanied by soldiers to meet KP in the interiors of north-eastern jungle. The delegation members (names withheld) had lengthy meeting in a tea boutique and they had discussed operational issues of the LTTE.

The Thai military had provided security throughout the four hour meeting with KP. Once the meeting was over, the delegation members were taken back to Bangkok in military vehicles.

This visit of the delegation members had taken place when LTTE mentor Anton Balasingam was tussling (refer to Anton Balasingam’s hero’s day speech in 2004) with few other members whom were visiting the red light areas of Bangkok.