Friday, November 23, 2007

Political Double Speak in Tamilnadu

The Tamil Nadu chief minister simply cannot afford to have a 'personal view' different from the Union government's policy prescription when it comes to issues of national security. One can see the signs of Tamilnadu politicians trying to use the death of Thamilchelvan to gather some mass support, perhaps for their own gain and the Congress party trying to soft pedal the issue for political reasons. The LTTE fighting with its back to the wall, needs Tamilnadu's political, financial and material support now, more than the people of Tamilnadu need the LTTE.

The sudden passion exhibited by the political leaders of Tamilnadu, while mourning the death of SP Thamilchelvan, the political head and chief negotiator of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is typical of the double speak most of the politicians of the state have been practising on issues relating to the LTTE.
Perhaps the Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's ode paying tribute to the "courage and valour" of the slain LTTE leader on the occasion, particularly when the state is supposed to be carrying out a crackdown on the LTTE militants operating in the state, is a prime example of this. In recent times, the chief minister has repeatedly said that his policy on Sri Lanka was the same as that of the government of India. His response to the strong objections of to the Chief Minister's response to Thamilchelvan's death when his bĂȘte noire Jayalalithaa, the leader of All India Anna DMK, showed how he has mastered the art of doublespeak. He said that he had only made a 'humanitarian gesture' towards a fellow Tamil. "The person who was killed in Sri Lanka was a Tamil. And the blood that runs in me is Tamil too. So, I extended my condolence," he added.

Of course, conveniently he did not remember that the leaders brutally killed by the LTTE like Amirthalingam, Ranjan Padmanabha, and Neelan Thiruchelvam also had Tamil blood running in their vein. Nor did he think of his close friend of early days of Eelam militancy, Sri Sabaratnam, leader of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), massacred by the LTTE. But then, Tamilnadu politics had always considered some Tamils are more 'Tamil' than some others; after all this had been the cornerstone of Tamilnadu politics.

The comments of Cho Ramaswamy, editor of 'Tuglak' known for airing his views freely, on the chief minister's approach to the Eelam Tamil issue is interesting. In an interview with on May 16, 2000 Cho succinctly summed it up thus: "Karunanidhi always takes great pride in being hailed as a leader of Tamils wherever they live, and there is no Tamil issue as such in India now. Earlier, you had this anti-Hindi platform; then came the anti-north Indian platform. Now, none of those issues are relevant. So, what is the only Tamil issue available now? It is the Sri Lankan issue. If he doesn't occupy that platform, it will become the monopoly of Ramadoss (leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi and partner of the ruling coalition at Delhi) and Vaiko (leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and a vocal supporter of the LTTE). He is not able to digest the situation. That is why he wants to go on record as having made some noise about this." One can only hope that Cho's comments are still hold good.

Almost all the political leaders of Tamilnadu, including the Communists, were quick to come out passionate messages of condolence on Thamilchelvan's death. Perhaps, the Communists had a nagging guilt feeling when they joined the condolence bandwagon remembering the entire leadership of the only Leftist Tamil insurgent group Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), who had close contact with them, was wiped out in Chennai by the LTTE in Tamilnadu. Their wording of the condolence message was appropriately carefully worded.

The Congress party was one exception. It had no choice in any case. However, compulsions coalition politics perhaps made the senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily, to brush aside the chief minister's remarks as "personal views." However, the Union Minister of State G.K. Vasan, the leading light of the party in the state, was more forthright. He said the Congress has "neither forgotten the gruesome murder of its leader Rajiv Gandhi nor forgiven the perpetrators of the crime." It was in an earlier spell of Karunanidhi's regime that a LTTE suicide bomber had killed the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. A few months before Rajiv's killing, the same killers gunned down the EPRLF leaders while the Tamilnadu police conveniently stepped aside.

There is some confusion in understanding among non-Tamils of the Tamil mindset (including Indians and Sri Lankans) about their support to the LTTE. This confusion is understandable as it prevails even among some people in Tamilnadu also .The people of Tamilnadu, like most of the Tamils all over the world, have always supported the struggle of Sri Lanka Tamils for their democratic rights. They will continue to do so till the Tamil aspirations are satisfied. Tamilnadu extended passionate support when the Tamil struggle turned into militancy in 1982. The support to militants gained legitimacy in after the Sri Lanka government inspired Black July pogrom against Tamils was carried out. Different Tamil political parties patronised different Tamil groups. While TELO had Karunanidhi as a patron, his political rival MG Ramachandran naturally favoured the LTTE, which was contending with TELO for leadership of Tamil militancy. At the Centre, Mrs Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, during the crucial years of the growth of Tamil militancy found it politically expedient to provide sanctuary and lend support to the Tamil militancy.

However, two developments split this support base for militants in Tamilnadu in 1987: the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. The military involvement of the IPKF against the LTTE was not accepted by most of the Tamil people, who had romantic notions about it. But this notion was shattered when the LTTE carried out the killing of Rajiv Gandhi after meticulous planning. And after Vaiko, then a popular leader of the DMK, fell out with Karunanidhi over his overt support to the LTTE (among many other internal issues), there had been a change in Karunanidhi's attitude. He had studiously distanced himself from the LTTE, when the people of the state adversely came out against the LTTE when Rajiv Gandhi was killed. Though the LTTE had been trying to cultivate him for sometime now, he had been careful in talking about them on the subject.

Commenting on the aspects of Tamilnadu's attitudes, I had commented in an article (Sri Lanka update 97 of July 30, 2006 'Engaging Sri Lanka: India's potpourri' ) last year: "The Sri Lanka Tamil issue is no more in the centre stage of Tamilnadu public or political agenda. However, if war breaks out in full scale and the refugee inflows increase it will make reappearance as the bread and butter issue of minor political partners in the central coalition. In principle the DMK is unlikely to change its stand in such circumstances. However, political compulsions will compel it to toe the same line. LTTE has probably enough 'sleepers' who will become active in such a situation. This could not only prove embarrassing to GOI, but also affect national security, as LTTE could make silent inroads to establish its support facilities in Tamilnadu as it did in 1987-90. It would reflect poorly on the GOI's ability to fight against terrorism and insurgency in its own backyard. And that would not be in the larger interest of India-Sri Lanka relations either." This is still valid.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister simply cannot afford to have a 'personal view' different from the Union government's policy prescription when it comes to issues of national security. One can see the signs of Tamilnadu politicians trying to use the death of Thamilchelvan to gather some mass support, perhaps for their own gain and the Congress party trying to soft pedal the issue for political reasons. The LTTE fighting with its back to the wall, needs Tamilnadu's political, financial and material support now, more than the people of Tamilnadu need the LTTE. In this ambience, mollycoddling the LTTE is a dangerous game not only for Tamilnadu leaders, but also for the state and the nation. In the past many have paid their price for such attempts. It is good to remember that the LTTE always has its self interests first and last. Right now it has one and only priority fighting it out with the Sri Lanka government; all other issues including Tamil leaders and people come after that, if at all the organisation has any space to spare.

Maritime Counter Terrorism

First, terrorists hijacking a huge oil or gas tanker and exploding it in mid-sea or in a major port in order to cause huge human, material and environmental damage. There were 67 reported attacks on oil and gas tankers by pirates during 2004. This despite the stepped-up patrolling by the Navies of different countries. What pirates with no ideological motive and with no suicidal fervour can do, ideologically-driven suicide terrorists can do with equal, if not greater, ease.

The attack, stated to be by Al Qaeda, on the US naval ship USS Cole at Aden in October,2000, and the subsequent investigation into that incident gave birth to concerns that international terrorists might expand their acts of terrorism from the land to the sea. Terrorist groups of West Asia and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had indulged in acts of maritime terrorism even before October,2000, and the LTTE, through its fleet of ships, ostensibly used for legitimate commercial purposes, had been using the sea for the clandestine transport of arms and ammunition and other material required for its acts of terrorism on the land. However, such uses had limited tactical objectives and did not think in terms of mass casualties or mass damage to be inflicted on the global economy as a whole.

The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US and the precision and the evil ingenuity with which they were planned and executed created a wave of alarm about the likelihood of similar strikes at coastal and maritime targets.Since 9/11, there is hardly any discussion, governmental or non-governmental, on threats to national security and to international peace and security in which possible threats from maritime terrorism do not figure prominently.Post-9/11, scenario-building exercises have invariably included scenarios involving possible catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism. Four of these possible scenarios are or should be of major concern to national security managers:

First, terrorists hijacking a huge oil or gas tanker and exploding it in mid-sea or in a major port in order to cause huge human, material and environmental damage. There were 67 reported attacks on oil and gas tankers by pirates during 2004. This despite the stepped-up patrolling by the Navies of different countries. What pirates with no ideological motive and with no suicidal fervour can do, ideologically-driven suicide terrorists can do with equal, if not greater, ease.

Second, terrorists hijacking an oil or gas tanker or a bulk-carrier and exploding it or scuttling it in maritime choke-points such as the Malacca Strait in order to cause a major disruption of energy supplies and global trade. There were 52 reported attacks on bulk carriers by pirates during 2004. If the pirates can do it despite naval patrolling, so can the terrorists.

Three, terrorists smuggling weapon of mass destruction material such as radiological waste or lethal chemicals or even biological weapons in a container and having it exploded through a cellular phone as soon as the vessel carrying the container reaches a major port.

Four, sea-borne terrorists attacking a nuclear establishment or an oil refinery or off-shore oil platforms.

American maritime counter-terrorism experts have been projecting the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean region as highly vulnerable, if not the most vulnerable,to such catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism. Amongst factors influencing their perceptions are:

First, the presence in this region of terrorist or insurgent organisations with proved or suspected capabilities for maritime operations. Amongst the organisations coming to mind are the LTTE of Sri Lanka, with proved capabilities for maritime operations, conventional as well as unconventional; and the Abu Sayyaf of Southern Philippines, with its proclaimed readiness to extend its operations from the land to the sea.
Second, the wide networking of Al Qaeda across this region---either through its own members or through surrogate jihadi terrorist organisations, which are members or associates of the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by it in 1998. The existence of this networking had been suspected since the discovery of a Manila-based plot under Ramzi Yousef in 1995 for spectacular acts of terrorism directed at civil aviation. Corroboratory details emerged after 9/11---particularly during the investigation of the Bali explosion in October,2002.

Third,the long-known reputation of this area as the world's leading producer and supplier of heroin from the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent and its recent emergence as a producer and supplier of synthetic drugs. Drug money, which was first allegedly used by the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for funding their operations against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, has since become an important source of revenue for insurgent and terrorist organisations in the Latin American and Asian regions. Amongst organisations of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean region, which are known or suspected to be using drug money to finance their operations are the Hamas, the Hizbollah, Al Qaeda, the various Pakistani jihadi organisations, the LTTE, the United Wa State Army of Myanmar and the jihadi terrorist organisations of the Southern Philippines.

Four, the continuing availability in this region----in Pakistan as well as in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia--- of large quantities of arms and ammunition to anyone with the means to pay for them and with the capability for their clandestine transport to areas of intended use.

Five, the presence in this region of terrorist organisations such as the LTTE with a commercial shipping capability, which can be diverted for the clandestine transport of narcotics and arms and ammunition.

Six, the presence in this region of trans-national mafia groups such as the one headed by Karachi-based Dawood Ibrahim with vast financial resources, a capability for clandestine shipping and a willingness to place their resources and shipping at the disposal of Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations operating across the region.
Seven, the long-known(to India), but only recently admitted role of Pakistan as the region's leading supermarket for nuclear weapon-capable material and equipment and the nexus of some of its scientists, enjoying the protection of its Army, with Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations. Recent investigations into the proliferation activities of A.Q.Khan & Co have brought out how they had outsourced proliferation responsibilities to others in countries such as Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, thus possibly sowing the seeds for nuclear or radiological terrorism. The detailed post-9/11 investigations have brought out as to how there was a Pakistani involvement in all major acts of international jihadi terrorism since the New York World Trade Centre explosion of February,1993. Recent investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Vienna have brought out an ubiquitous Pakistani hand in all clandestine proliferation commerce across the Asian and the African regions.
Eight, the presence in this region of tempting choke-points such as the oft-mentioned Malacca Strait through which pass a half of the world's oil and a third of its trade. The annual shipping traffic across the region rose from 44,000 in 1999 to over 62,000 in 2003. It is since believed to have risen further. There is a large volume of container traffic originating in this rapidly developing region. It has been estimated that 48 per cent of the global container traffic passes through this region.

Nine, the reputation of this area as one of the most piracy-prone in the world. There has been an increase in the tactical sophistication of pirates. The International Maritime Bureau has been quoted by the media as saying that pirates now break into freight companies' computer systems, change order forms, arrange for changes in shipping, and then intercept the shipment. This is especially a problem in the South China Sea and around Indonesia. There is still no conclusive evidence of the nexus of any group of pirates with terrorist organisations, but fears that the pirates of today may turn into accomplices or mentors of terrorists of tomorrow strongly influence threat perceptions.
Ten, the presence of a large number of uninhabited islands in the region, which serve as sanctuaries and operational bases for the pirates and could similarly serve for the terrorists tomorrow.

While there are thus growing concerns over the likelihood of catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism, it needs to be underlined that there is no unanimity among counter-terrorism analysts about the magnitude of the threat. Skeptics feel that while the possibility of catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism has to be taken seriously, one has to keep in mind that there has been a certain over-projection and over-dramatisation of the threat by embedded analysts of the US in order to serve its own strategic objectives in the region. There is similar skepticism in certain circles regarding the correctness of the statistics relating to piracy attacks. It is alleged that often trivial incidents and instances of misappropriation or theft of goods by the crew of ships are reported as due to piracy attacks.

Despite such misgivings among sections of the policy-makers, senior intelligence officials of the countries of the South-East Asian region take seriously the possibility of a major act of maritime terrorism in the region. According to them, terrorist organisations active in the region had contemplated such acts in the past, though they might not have carried them out. In August,2004, the "Jakarta Post" quoted Hendropriyono, of Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency, as saying :"Senior Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists now in detention have admitted that attacks on Malacca shipping traffic had been contemplated in the recent past."

The growing concern over the likelihood of a catastrophic act of maritime terrorism has led to measures for increasing physical security. Amongst such measures, one could cite the co-ordinated patrolling by the navies of the region, the strict enforcement of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code adopted in December,2002, which went into effect globally in July, 2004,and attempts towards a similar strict enforcement of the Container Security Initiative.

The concern is also reflected in the frequent joint exercises by the Navies of the region with maritime counter-terrorism as an important objective of the exercises and the large number of conferences and seminars held on the subject in the countries of the region during the last two years. The role of non-governmental experts in creating a better awareness of the threat and in proposing measures for meeting it has also been increasingly recognised.

At the same time, the still lingering misgivings that the threat is being magnified by the US to serve its strategic objectives in the region have come in the way of regional countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia agreeing to a greater participation by the US in the regional initiatives such as joint or co-ordinated patrolling of the Malacca Strait. Their contention is that any such US participation or assistance should be at their instance when they feel the need for it and not at the instance of the US. These have also created doubts about the real purpose of other US ideas such as the Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI).

Amongst the countries of the region,the policy-making circles of India, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Australia have shown the greatest awareness of the threat of catastrophic maritime terrorism and of the need to develop the required maritime counter-terrorism capabilities, individually as well as through mutual assistance. The policy-making circles of Indonesia too have shown a considerable awareness of the threat, but their capability to translate this awareness into the required action is still weak. In the case of maritime terrorism too, as in the case of land-based terrorism, Bangladesh continues to be in a denial mode-- showing neither an awareness nor a willingness to co-operate with others.

Maritime counter-terrorism has received considerable attention in India, but till recently the focus was naturally and mostly on maritime counter-terrorism and security in the waters off Sri Lanka and in the Malacca Strait. There was till last year inadequate attention to terrorist threats of a strategic nature from the seas to the West of India---- whether from the Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Strait of Hormuz or the Mediterranean.

Over 80 per cent of the terrorist organisations with a capability for maritime terrorism operate in the areas and seas to the West of India. Over 90 per cent of successful maritime terrorism strikes have taken place in the areas and seas to the West of India. Israel has been the largest single victim of maritime terrorism in the Mediterrannean, with nearly 60 strikes by organisations such as the Hamas, the Hizbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) etc. The only two successful strikes and one unsuccessful attempt by Al Qaeda were off Aden. Almost our entire energy supplies come from this area. The security of the Malacca Strait has limited relevance for our energy security, whereas our entire energy security depends on maritime security in the areas to the West of India.

There have been many instances of maritime terrorism in the waters to the West of India since 1985 carried out by the Palestinians, the LTTE and the Chechens. The acts of maritime terrorism carried out by the Palestinians and the Chechens were confined to acts such as hijacking of ferries and holding the passengers in custody in order to achieve demands of a tactical nature, attacks from the sea on coastal military targets etc. The LTTE developed a dreaded Sea Tigers wing, which specialised in suicide tactics such as ramming explosives-laden boats against chosen targets on the coast, in ports or on the sea. The Al Qaeda attacks on the US Naval ship, USS Cole, in October,2000, and on the French oil tanker Limberg in October,2002---both off Aden--- were in emulation of the tactics developed by the LTTE and involved ramming a boat laden with explosives.

Among other illustrative incidents of maritime terrorism in the waters to the West of India before 9/11, one could mention the following:

The hijacking of the Italian-flagged cruise ship P/V Achille Lauro in 1985 off Port Said, Egypt, by terrorists of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), who held the ship with 180 passengers and 331 crew members on board, hostage, demanding the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. They killed an invalid Jewish American passenger, before negotiating the release of the rest of the hostages. .
In 1994, the LTTE shipped 50 metric tons of TNT and ten metric tons of RDX explosives on board one of their own freighters, operated by a front company called Carlton Trading, from a Ukrainian Black Sea port via the Turkish Straits to Sri Lanka. It also hijacked in 1997 a freighter called "Stillus Limassul", loaded with more than 30,000 81mm mortar rounds, worth over three million dollars. The owning and operation by the LTTE and by the PKK, the Kurdish organisation, of ocean-going ships, which were normally used for legitimate commercial activities and, when needed, also for facilitating acts of terrorism like hijacking, arms transport and seizure.

In January 1996, nine pro-Chechen gunmen (six Turks of Abhkaz origin, two Chechens, and an ethnic Abkhaz from Georgia) hijacked a Turkish ferry in the Black Sea and kept 255 passengers and crew hostage for three days. They threatened to blow up the vessel and their hostages, but released the ferry and the passengers after negotiations with the Turkish authorities. The Turkish authorities had alleged that in order to draw attention to the Chechen cause, the hijackers had earlier considered blowing up one of the two suspension bridges over the Bosphorus with explosives in order to block the Strait to traffic.

However, none of these incidents, though serious by themselves, could be described as mass casualty or mass destruction or mass damage terrorism. The intelligence and security agencies were alerted to the dangers of acts of catastrophic maritime terrorism by the arrest of the organizer of the Limburg attack, a Saudi national of Yemeni origin called Abd al Rahman al Nashiri, who was also suspected to have been involved in the attack on the USS Cole. His interrogation brought in information about Al Qaeda's preparations to attack ships in the Mediterranean and elsewhere using tactics such as ramming, blowing up medium-sized ships near other vessels or at ports, attacking large vessels such as supertankers from the air by using explosive-laden small aircraft, and attacking vessels with underwater demolition teams using limpet mines or with suicide bombers. During his interrogation, Nashiri also reportedly revealed that if warships became too difficult to approach, tourist ships could be targeted. Amongst the documents reportedly captured from him was one giving details of Western Cruise ships, which could be attacked if a suitable opportunity presented itself. His interrogation brought out that Al Qaeda had also planned an operation to bomb American and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, off the northern coast of Morocco.
One would have, therefore, expected that the concentration of our maritime counter-terrorism efforts would have been on building a database of capabilities, threats and risks from the areas and seas to the West of India, adopting a vigorous proactive policy of co-operation with the navies of this region and developing preventive and termination capabilities, which would have relevance in the areas to the West of India. Unfortunately, this was not so.

The Americans did not want our Navy playing any proactive role in maritime security in the waters to the West of India lest it cause any undue concern in the minds of Pakistan. They, therefore, tried to keep our Navy confined to the East and the Malacca Strait. Till last year,we seemed to be happy to go along with this role.

Presently, the deployment of a large number of naval ships belonging to the US-led coalition has thwarted any other serious incident of maritime terrorism after the suspected Al Qaeda attack on Limburg in October, 2002 and the attacks on oil terminals in Iraq post-April, 2003. We should not leave the protection of our shipping and our energy supplies totally in the hands of the US-led coalition. We should develop our own capabilities and networking with the countries of the region.

Against this background, one is gratified to note the correctives to India's maritime security policy, which have been sought to be given by Admiral Suresh Mehta, India's new Chief of the Naval Staff (CONS), so soon after taking over by giving it a "Look West Dimension" to complement the "Look East Dimension", which has dominated our thinking and policies so far. The "Look East Dimension" continues to be important for our power projection, but our capability for self-defence against conventional and unconventional threats will be weakened without the "Look West Dimension" brought in by our new Naval Chief. He needs to be complimented for thinking and acting fast.

As the starting block for putting in motion his "Look West Dimension", he chose the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One need not have any qualms over his decision. The UAE is as important from the point of view of our maritime security as Kuwait is. It is very significant that his first overseas visit since taking over as the chief was to the UAE. It is not as if our Navy did not have any interactions with the UAE and other friendly nations to the West of us before Admiral Mehta took over.The Indian and the UAE Navies held joint exercises in November 1995 during the visit of three Indian naval ships. Indian Navy's aircraft carrier INS-Virat and two other ships visited the UAE in March 1999. In 2004, Rear Admiral Pratap Singh Byce, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Command, visited the UAE, leading four ships. But such interactions were few and far between as compared to the interactions of our Navy with its counterparts in the East. And, no chief had visited the UAE before.

In his interactions with the media at Abu Dhabi on February 8, 2007, Admiral Mehta stated as follows as reported by "The Hindu" of February 9, 2007: He chose the UAE as his first overseas destination because "we look at the UAE as a neighbouring country with whom we wish to engage." The UAE personnel would now be able to avail themselves of some of the training course in India." Naval exercises would also begin in due course." The Navy has a key role to play in ensuring the free flow of oil and gas from abroad. Protection of the country's growing off-shore assets is also a top priority. There are three choke points that are of specific concern. These are the Bab Al Mandab, that links the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, the area south of the Cape of Good Hope (Africa) and the Strait of Hormuz (Gulf). Countries round the world need to work together to make sure that the Strait of Hormuz is not blocked. Nearly 90 per cent of the oil exports from the Gulf pass through it. The primary area of India's maritime interest range from the Gulf to the Antarctica. It also covers the zone extending from the Cape of Good Hope and the east coast of Africa to the Straits of Malacca and the archipelagos of Malaysia and Indonesia. There are 30 process platforms and over 125 well platforms whose security is vital. Besides, the Navy has to look after more than 3000 KMs of pipeline on the seabed that carry oil and gas from the process platforms to terminals onshore.

The National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which presently acts as the nodal agency for the co-ordination of the intelligence collection process, would not be in a position to co-ordinate the implementation of the preventive security measures. Its capability in counter-terrorism matters is very limited.

It was a very comprehensive and lucid enunciation of the Indian Navy's core concerns while ensuring maritime security. He underlined the importance of the Malacca Strait also in our maritime security architecture, but put it in the proper perspective as only one important component of our maritime security policy. This is a welcome departure from past enunciations in governmental and non-governmental debates which made the Malacca Strait appear as if it was the end-all and be-all of our maritime security.

By unintended coincidence, the three-day visit of the Naval chief to the UAE from February 7, 2007, came at a time when Al Qaeda elements based in Saudi Arabia had renewed their call for attacks on energy supplies-----including production and transport facilities. In the 30th issue of its electronic magazine called "Sawt al-Jihad: [Voice of Jihad]", which was uploaded on February 8, 2007, Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia once again stressed the importance of the oil weapon in the global jihad against the US. An article titled “Bin Laden and the Oil Weapon”, written by Adeeb al-Bassam, called upon Al Qaeda members to continue to follow bin Laden’s directives and strike oil targets not only in Saudi Arabia, but elsewhere. The article said: "We should strike petroleum interests in all areas which supply the United States, and not only in the Middle East, because the target is to stop its imports or decrease it by all means. Targets should be oil fields, pipelines, loading platforms and carriers, which will ultimately choke the U.S. economy."

While the call of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia to attack oil production and transport facilities was meant to hurt the US economy, its success will hurt our economy too as badly as it will hurt the economy of the US. For protecting our energy security and for strengthening our maritime counter-terrorism capability, it is important to give further momentum to the "Look West Dimension" initiated by Admiral Mehta and to bring within its regional networking Kuwait,Qatar,Oman and Saudi Arabia too. Apart from Navy-Navy interactions, it is equally important to strengthen the interactions at the non-governmental level between maritime security experts of India and those of these countries.

Addressing a press conference at New Delhi on July 31,2007, Rear Admiral Pradeep Chauhan of the Indian Navy gave details of a planned series of exercises in August-September,2007, in the waters to the West of India, which confirmed further that under the new Chief of the Naval Staff more attention is being paid to the Look West policy of the Navy. According to him, the INS Rajput (D51), INS Beas (F39), INS Betwa (F37), INS Delhi (D61), and INS Jyoti (A58) would undertake a visit to West Africa and the Persian Gulf for 48-days from August 8,2007. The flotilla would move in two groups. The first group consisting of INS Rajput (D51) and Betwa (F37) will proceed to the Northern Persian Gulf to hold exercises with Kuwait and Bahrain, then will rejoin the other ships for a larger exercise with Saudi Arabia later in August, followed by another PASSEX with Oman in late August. The flotilla will move to the Red Sea in the second week of September for the Varuna exercise with FS La Motte Picquet (D 645), a ship of the French Navy. An exercise with the Oman Navy and a patrol close to the Gulf of Aden were also being planned. Some of these exercises were to be held just off the choke points of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb through which most of the world’s oil supply passes. “These are places of geographical and strategic significance and we will get the opportunity to hone our skills with top-of-the-line consorts,” he said.

To underline that the increased attention to our Look West Maritime Security policy would not mean any dilution of attention to the Look East Dimension, the Navy would be organising an ambitious exercise involving the participation of 15 ships of the Navies of India, the US, Singapore, Japan and Australia in the Bay of Bengal in the first week of September,2007. In the past, the Indian Navy had been holding exercises in a bilateral framework with the navies of the US and Singapore and the Coast Guard of Japan. This would be the first time this bilateral framework has been sought to be extended to a limited multilateral one.

Addressing the 14th annual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) at Manila on August 2,2007, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, India's Minister For External Affairs, underlined the continued importance attached by India to the Look East Dimension of its maritime security policy. He said: " India will design and conduct a training module on maritime security specially for the ARF member-states, with themes of anti-piracy, search and rescue missions,off-shore and port security, anti-smuggling and narcotics control and anti-poaching operations. The nucleus of the module would be capacity-building for these and related aspects of maritime security."

Thus, with the encouragement of the US, Japan and Australia, India has sought to further enhance its role in maritime security in the South-East and East Asian regions. It has taken a significant lead over China, whose capabilities continue to be confined to coastal presence as in Gwadar in Pakistan and the projected presence in Hambantota in Sri Lanka, the Arakan area of Myanmar and possibly Chittagong in Bangladesh. The enhanced role of the Indian Navy is welcomed in the region, much to the discomfiture of China.

The first reference to the possible dangers of an act of maritime terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material was contained in a letter which Albert Einstein, the renowned scientist, wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt on August 2, 1939. In this letter, while advising President Roosevelt on the need for extreme caution in the development and use of uranium as an important source of power, Einstein said: "Uranium could also lead to the construction of bombs. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory."

This warning, which remained forgotten in the Presidential Archives of the US since then, has seen its resurrection since the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. Since then, it has been haunting the international community as one of the possible catastrophic terrorist scenarios, which might confront it in the months and years to come. It is said that the expression catastrophic terrorism was given currency by a group of American terrorism analysts associated with the Harvard University in the wake of the unsuccessful attempt by a group of international jihadi terrorists to blow up the New York World Trade Centre in February, 1993.

This attempt drew the attention of the international community to the emergence of a revanchist group of terrorists, largely, if not entirely, drawn from Islam and owing their ideological inspiration to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the late Abdullah Azam, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No.2, and the late Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of the Binori madrasa of Karachi, who were indifferent to the impact of their actions on public opinion. Any worries over the possibility of public revulsion as a result of their serial and mass killings of innocent civilians, including Muslims, were not a restraining factor on their actions. The need to avenge what they looked upon as the historic wrongs committed against the Muslims by the non-Muslim world was of paramount importance to them and the likely consequences of their actions, even if fatal, to large sections of their own community, did not deter them from giving vent to their revanchist impulses.

Till 1995, terrorism threat analysts viewed catastrophic terrorism scenarios as largely likely to arise only on the land. The likely dangers of similar scenarios in the air started receiving attention, but inadequately, only after the accidental discovery by the Filipino authorities in 1995 of a plot by Ramzi Yousef, a Pakistani now in jail in the US for his role in the February, 1993, explosion in the New York World Trade Centre, and some of his associates to launch well-orchestrated serial attacks on civil aviation in a number of countries.

The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US saw the post-1995 fears of catastrophic acts of terrorism mounted from the air turning into traumatic reality. The much-noticed testimony of Mr.Richard Clarke, who was the counter-terrorism co-ordinator in the US National Security Council Secretariat, before a Congressional Committee enquiring into the 9/11 incident in 2004 and his book brought to light how the repeated wake-up calls of security and counter-terrorism experts regarding the likelihood of a catastrophic act of terrorism mounted from the air failed to make an impact on the minds of Ms.Condoleezza Rice, the then US National Security Adviser (NSA), and other governmental strategic analysts, whose minds were attuned to thinking and analysing conventionally. Those, who warned of the likelihood of unconventional scenarios, were greeted with skepticism. This skepticism extracted a heavy price on 9/11.

One of the important lessons of 9/11 was the need to anticipate and prepare oneself to prevent other similar unconventional scenarios of a catastrophic potential and, if prevention fails, to have in place a capability for coping with the resulting situation. Amongst such likely scenarios of catastrophic potential increasingly receiving attention since 9/11 are those relating to maritime terrorism, terrorist threats to energy security, terrorism involving the use of WMD material and terrorist threats to critical information infrastructure. Strategic counter-terrorism refers to the drill and the capabilities to be put in place in order to be able to prevent such scenarios and to cope with them if they do materialise despite the preventive measures.

Strategic threat analysis has undergone a significant change since 9/11. Before 9/11, analysis and assessment of threat perceptions were based on actual intelligence or information available with the intelligence and security agencies. 9/11 has brought home to policy-makers the difficulties faced by intelligence agencies, however well-endowed they may be, in penetrating terrorist organisations to find out details of their thinking and planning. This realisation has underlined the importance of analysts serving policy-makers constantly identifying national security vulnerabilities, which might attract the attention of terrorists, and suggesting options and actions to deny opportunities for terrorist strikes to the terrorists. Vulnerability analysis has become as important as threat analysis. When Einstein cautioned President Roosevelt of the dangers of an uranium-made bomb being smuggled into a port and exploded, he did not sound the wake-up call on the basis of any specific intelligence. He was doing so on the basis of his understanding of the vulnerabilities.

National security managers should not confine themselves to an analysis and assessment of strategic developments of a conventional nature arising from State actors, but should pay equal attention to the strategic impact of non-State actors, such as international or trans-national terrorists, crime mafia groups and nuclear proliferators on global security in general and our own national security in particular. The development of the contours of a Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism Mechanism should be an important part of the exercise undertaken by them to protect national security.

Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism would require an intelligence collection, analysis and assessment capability of a nature different from what we have presently---whether in respect of human (HUMINT) or technical intelligence (TECHINT). Our civilian intelligence capabilities continue to be largely land-based and land-related, with some capability, though inadequate, relating to the air. Sea-based and sea-related capabilities are not yet adequate even to meet the needs of conventional threats from State actors. The needs to meet unconventional threats from non-State actors have to be identified and analysed and appropriate follow-up action to create the required capabilities should be taken.

Police and civilian intelligence officers do not adequately understand the sea. The responsibility for the collection, analysis and assessment of Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism Intelligence cannot be left to their efforts alone. At the same time, there cannot be an effective Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Mechanism without the active involvement of Police and civilian intelligence officers. Terrorist threats of a strategic nature----whether land or air or sea related----would always arise from the land. The planning and the initial preparations would be on land. Land-based terrorist strikes of a tactical nature generally involve the use of hand-held weapons or explosives or a mix of the two. Terrorist threats of a strategic nature would generally involve the use of explosive material--- conventional or non-conventional, WMD related or both. Initial collection of intelligence about the planning, preparations and procurement of explosive material has to be from the land. For this, a strong police and civilian intelligence collection capability is essential.

Once the planning and the operations of the terrorists shift from the land to the sea, the Coast Guard and the Navy have to play a more important role in the intelligence collection than the Police and the civilian agencies. The collection of timely TECHINT would call for sea-based monitoring capabilities. The present monitoring capabilities of the civilian agencies are largely, if not totally, land-based. They do have some air-based capabilities, but within a restricted radius. They do not have adequate capabilities for intelligence collection over the high seas.

Strategic maritime counter-terrorism would, therefore, call for a dedicated intelligence collection, analysis and assessment capability bringing together under one roof police, civilian,Army, naval, Coast Guard and Air Force experts, with the Navy or the Coast Guard exercising the leadership role in its functioning. The Special Task Force for the Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus set up by the Government of India in 2000 did go into the question of improving the capability of our intelligence collection agencies in matters relating to terrorism, but it recommendations had only limited relevance to Strategic Maritime Counter-Terrorism. It is time to pay attention to this aspect.

The post-9/11 period has seen the formulation and implementation by the international community of many physical security measures relating to maritime and WMD terrorism. Amongst such measures, one could mention the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code), the Container Security Initiative (CSI), the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) etc. A number of bilateral, regional and trans-regional networking arrangements for co-operation against different kinds of terrorism has also come into existence. There is a need for a single nodal agency to constantly monitor the implementation of these preventive security measures, to identify deficiencies in their implementation and take action to remove them.

The National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which presently acts as the nodal agency for the co-ordination of the intelligence collection process, would not be in a position to co-ordinate the implementation of the preventive security measures. Its capability in counter-terrorism matters is very limited. There is, therefore, a need for a separate nodal agency for the co-ordination of all preventive security measures having a bearing on Strategic Counter-Terrorism, whether land, air or sea based..

The National Security Guard (NSG) was created by the Government of India in the 1980s to perform the role of a special intervention force to terminate terrorist situations such as hostage-taking on the ground, occupation of premises, hijacking of aircraft etc. One does not know whether in the wake of 9/11 the Government of India has already taken measures for a similar force to terminate terrorist situations on the coast, in ports, in sensitive coastal installations and on the high seas. There is a distinction between preventing and terminating a terrorist situation. The task of termination arises when the preventive measures fail and the terrorists have taken control of an installation or a ship or an oil or LPG tanker and threaten to blow it up.

The ability to terminate such situations without catastrophic consequences requires specially trained personnel with special equipment, which would facilitate rapid and stealthy movement, the ability to co-ordinate the termination operation from the land or the sea, depending on the circumstances of the case etc. If such a force has not already been raised, its raising should have a high priority. Our Coast Guard has a good record of preventing and terminating piracy strikes, but terminating terrorist operations with catastrophic potential requires a different capability, which cannot be acquired through improvisation, when a situation actually arises.

The post-9/11 international co-operation against terrorism has led to the mushrooming of Joint Counter-Terrorism Working Groups involving India and other countries. One does not even know whether the maritime counter-terrorism experts of the Navy and the Coast Guard are represented in such working groups. In the media reports on the meetings of such working groups, one hardly finds any reference to maritime counter-terrorism.

In land-based terrorism, the Police is the weapon of first resort and the army the weapon of the last resort except in border areas, where one faces the problem of cross-border infiltration of terrorists. In maritime counter-terrorism in the high seas, the Navy, including the Coast Guard, has to be the weapon of first resort, aided by others such as the Army,the Air Force, the coastal Police and the civilian intelligence agencies.

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive approach to maritime counter-terrorism covering the various dimesions of it such as intelligence collection, analysis, assessment and dissemination; the need to strengthen the capability for the collection of technical intelligence (TECHINT) relating to maritime terrorism through monitoring stations on the coast and the islands as well as sea-based monitoring platforms; port security; strengthening coastal patrolling in the vicinity of sensitive establishments such as nuclear installations, oil refineries and off-shore oil platforms; intensive naval patrolling in the high seas; monitoring developments in coastal maritime communities; a rapid action capability to deal with a maritime situation if preventive measures fail; a crisis management capability; and regional and international co-operation.

It is high time the Government of India set up a dedicated Task Force to go into the entire gamut of maritime counter-terrorism and make suitable recommendations for a comprehensive martitime counter-terrorism strategy.


The Muttur Tragedy: A Re-Examination

On 20 July 2006 the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru anicuit, thus depriving irrigation water to downstream paddy land. This was, indeed, a classic ‘riparian gambit’ – a challenge for a showdown for control over the entire Mahaveli delta, based on the belief of the LTTE leadership that the recovery from the ‘Karuna’ and ‘Tsunami’ setbacks was adequate by this time for its fighting cadres to achieve the twin objectives of evicting not only the security forces of the government but also the Muslim inhabitants from this area

Armed confrontations between the security forces of Sri Lanka and the LTTE for which the riverine tract of Mavil Aru and the township of Muttur provided the venue in late July and early August 2006 appear in retrospect to mark a major turning point in the history of the ‘Eelam Wars’. The area has remained one of the most turbulent parts of the country throughout the past twenty years. It also ranked among the few localities of the ‘north-east’ in which the LTTE made significant advances over several years after the commencement of the ceasefire on December 2001.

The most pronounced demographic feature of this area – it is roughly coterminous with the Administrative Division of Muttur – is its highly intricate spatial mosaic of ethnicity. Forming a part of Trincomalee District in which the main ethnic groups of Sri Lanka are represented in the total population in roughly equal proportions, Muttur Division had, in 2004, a population of 45,298 of which 62% were Muslim and almost 38% were Tamil. There is here a fairly distinctive sectoral contrast in the ethnic composition of the population. In the urban sector, consisting mainly of the township of Muttur, Muslims account for 90% of the population. In rural Muttur 56% of the population is accounted for by Tamils. Superimposed upon this sectoral contrast is a distinct spatial segregation of population on ethnic lines.

In Muttur town, for instance, there are residential ‘neighbourhoods’ exclusively of one or the other ethnic group. More or less the same pattern is replicated in rural areas, with the majority of Muslim villages located in proximity to Muttur town, and the Tamil villages located in the eastern parts in the direction of Sampur, a predominantly Tamil township. The irrigated areas to the south of Muttur town are featured by a fairly dense scatter of Tamil and Muslim villages which extends westwards towards the Division of Seruwila in which the Sinhalese account for about 90% of the population.

The bustling township of Muttur covers an area of approximately two square kilometres. Since a regular ferry service is available between Muttur and Trincomalee town, and since overland travel between the latter and the areas south of Trincomalee Bay involves a circuitous route, Muttur town forms, in fact, the principal gateway for the entire area covered by the Administrative Divisions of Muttur, Seruvila and Ichchalampattu. Its location overlooking the Trincomalee Bay also makes its control vitally important from military perspectives.

The rural population of Muttur is served by a channel network fed by an up-stream anicuit along Mavil Aru that regulates the flow of water to a large segment of the command area (approximately 30,000 acres of paddy land) of the Allai tank. It was well within ‘government controlled territory’ (the so-called “cleared areas”) as demarcated (albeit somewhat imprecisely) under the Ceasefire Agreement. However, since early 2002, the LTTE had, in defiance of the terms of the agreement, established a series of bases and encampments in the southern and eastern parts of the Division.

Some of these were believed to have been equipped with heavy artillery that could bombard the government naval base at Trincomalee. This had been ignored by the government of that time in accordance with its policy of “confidence building”. Up to the outbreak of military confrontations in late July 2006, there were three camps of the Sri Lanka army sited at Kattaparichchan and Gandhinagar in proximity to Muttur town, and Palathoppur about 10 miles further south.

Mavil Aru-Muttur Battle

On 20 July 2006 the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru anicuit, thus depriving irrigation water to downstream paddy land. This was, indeed, a classic ‘riparian gambit’ – a challenge for a showdown for control over the entire Mahaveli delta, based on the belief of the LTTE leadership that the recovery from the ‘Karuna’ and ‘Tsunami’ setbacks was adequate by this time for its fighting cadres to achieve the twin objectives of evicting not only the security forces of the government but also the Muslim inhabitants from this area. Further, its capture would mean a vast enrichment of the LTTE granary and would also provide the Tiger forces supremacy over the entire coastal area south of the Trincomalee Bay and over a corridor of access with only minor obstacles between their principal domain in Vanni and the localities they hold in Batticaloa and Ampara districts.

The day after the closure of the sluice-gates armed LTTE cadres prevented officers of the Irrigation Department from reaching the anicuit, while ignoring a plea by the SLMM and a group of peasants from the affected villages for restoration of the flow of water along the channel. On 25 July, ‘Elian’ (LTTE political wing leader in Trincomalee District) conveyed a demand to the SLMM that the government should take immediate steps to construct a water storage tank at Paddalipuram (in a LTTE-controlled locality) for use by Tamil residents of that area. Though this was intended to appear as a precondition to the re-opening of the anicuit, government’s prompt agreement to grant the demand evoked no response from the LTTE leadership. Instead, two days later, there was a “community appeal” engineered by the LTTE containing a series of fresh demands, some of which infringed on conditions laid down in the ceasefire agreement.

The LTTE challenge had thus to be met with a decisive response, the ceasefire agreement notwithstanding, if not for holding on to an area the loss of which could have far-reaching repercussions from strategic perspectives, at least for performing the government obligation of defending an innocent farm population. Thus, a military counteroffensive, codenamed ‘Operation Watershed’, was launched by the security forces on 26 July with the objective of reopening the anicuit and flushing out the LTTE cadres from that locality.

Soon after the commencement of ‘Operation Watershed’ the LTTE captured the army encampments located in the vicinity of Muttur town thus opening a second front of the battle. The Tigers launched their occupation of Muttur town in a pre-dawn attack on 2 August. By the following morning a large number of well armed Tiger combatants appeared to be in control of the town, having forced most of its Muslim inhabitants to either flee or seek refuge at public venues such as schools and mosques. In the course of this ‘conquest’, the Muslims were evidently subject to the entire range of harassment including killing, looting, extortion, assault and intimidation, thus adding to the already embittered Tamil-Muslim relations in the town.

To elaborate this latter phenomenon, the history of serious clashes between the Muslims and Tamils of Muttur could be traced back to 1987 when a communal conflagration was ignited by the killing of a Muslim civil servant and the abduction of several Muslims, allegedly by LTTE cadres making their presence felt in the area. Thereafter, in the early 1990s, when the LTTE put into operation its programme of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the ‘north-east’ (this was the era of the large-scale ‘Mosque massacres’ in Batticaloa District and of mass eviction of Muslims from Mannar), there were several spells of violence in the Muttur-Sampur-Toppur area which, however, did not cause ‘internal displacement’ on the same massive scale witnessed in Batticaloa and Mannar. There was, in response, the formation of militias bearing names such as “Jihad” and “Al Fatah” reported from some of the main Muslim areas of the east at that time. Far more serious than these in destructive impact was the violence that erupted in the first year of the ceasefire to last with fluctuation intensity over several months. On 29 May 2006 the LTTE issued an ultimatum ordering the Muslims to leave Muttur within seventy-two hours. It had no immediate effect other than that of inculcating fear.

Soon after their arrival in Muttur on 2 August 2006 the Tiger cadres began a forced eviction of people from the town. According to an eye-witness account of a person in one of the groups so evicted, they were herded out of the town in the direction of the LTTE-held areas, and, while on their way, the women and children were ordered to proceed, having separated them from the men. When the women refused to obey this order, some of the men were allowed to re-join the group while the others had their hands tied and were led away. The whereabouts of these captives are still not known.

The counterattack by the security forces on Muttur began soon thereafter. By about 6 August the SLArmy had re-taken the town evicting the LTTE, killing a large number of its cadres. This had involved both artillery bombardment as well as close-encounter gun battles. It is possible that the workers attached to the French aid agency Action Contre la Faim or ‘ACF’ (16 Tamils and 1 Muslim; 13 men and 4 women) were killed in the course of these clashes. There are, of course, several other speculative explanations, equally plausible. For instance, one cannot rule out the Tiger high-command deciding that the sacrifice of 17 lives – had those of the aid team been genuinely engaged relief operations among the Muslims, they could also have been seen as “traitors” to the Eelam cause – is worth the gains that will accrue from the likelihood that the SLArmy would be held responsible for the killing, and thus ordering its cadres to kill the ACF workers prior to withdrawal from the town. (This possibility has been considered and discarded by a Reuter correspondent on the grounds of information conveyed by the grieving father of one of the victims according to whom the LTTE does not kill other Tamils!)

Inquisition and Propaganda Onslaught

Soon after reports of the killing of ACF workers reached Colombo President Rajapakse initiated an investigation – one that would use the expertise offered by several foreign governments. On the basis of preliminary discussions at which officers of the ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, local experts in the field of forensic medicine, and representatives of several diplomatic and aid missions participated, an investigation strategy was decided upon, and the information on the killings as available at that time was disclosed to the media at a press conference. Indicating the prevailing mood, the ACF Executive Director Benoit Miribel, when asked by the press for an opinion on who was responsible for the killings, said: “I do not know who is responsible. We will take all steps to get to the bottom if this tragedy”.

In order to make that ideal descent to the bottom, it was vital for the inquiry to be far more thorough and objective than, say, the investigation conducted by the famous Allen Rock in November 2006 who, in a tour of a few places in the east of Sri Lanka that lasted no more than a few hours (he had no pervious experience in the country, no communication skill in a language used by its inhabitants, no access to its more turbulent areas, and much of his time in Sri Lanka was spent in Colombo) discovered, among other things, photographs of young Tamils residing in that part of the country being supplied by the Sri Lanka Army to the rebel group led by Karuna so as to facilitate their abduction for conscription as fighters!

To digress briefly from the main subject of this essay, there is reason to speculate that the Allen Rock “mission” was intended by its sponsors to harmonise with their ongoing efforts to rescue the LTTE from the impending debacle in the Eastern Province. At least one pro-LTTE journal gleefully proclaimed that Allen Rock was sent to Sri Lanka by Radhika Coomaraswamy, ‘UN Rapporteur for Children in Armed Conflict’ as her ‘Special Advisor’. The discovery by Rock referred to above is one of many mentioned in his report which provided the basis for his indictment of the armed forces of Sri Lanka for alleged collaboration with Karuna in the forced conscription of children. To those of us with some familiarity with how some of these visiting consultants conduct their investigations in the country, there could hardly be any doubt that most of the Rock “findings” would have been picked up from the “cocktail circuit” in Colombo. Further, a highly receptive atmosphere for the submission of the Rock report to the UN was created by Philip Alston, another of UN’s innumerable Special Rapporteurs whose repertoire included a report intended to persuade the Security Council that a UN-sponsored “international human rights monitoring mission is indispensable” to Sri Lanka. Had that effort succeeded, the advances being made by the armed forces against the Tigers in the Eastern Province would have been effectively halted.

Getting back to Muttur, since the killing had taken place at a time when the SLArmy and the Tiger cadres were locked in fierce combat for control of the town (i.e. on 4 August), there appeared to be no means of ascertaining the veracity of the mutually conflicting charges which the various accounts of the atrocity contained until the completion of the investigations to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

With the exception of the propaganda organs of the LTTE, most publications that contained references to the Muttur tragedy were cautious enough to place the blame in general terms on both the government as well as the LTTE for the rising tide of violence in the country, but refrained from making specific accusations. There were, however, the exceptions. The earliest Reuter report on the incident, dated 6 February 2007, quoted Jeevan Thiagarajah, the Head of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (AHC) as stating: ”They (AHC relief team) found them (ACF workers) in the office on the ground, lying face down, executed, (and) the military, which says it now controls most of the town, said it knew nothing about the bodies and denied involvement”. A further report by Reuter correspondent Peter Apps datelined 8 August reported two persons he had interviewed – (a) Sinathambi Navaratnarajah according to whom on 2 August fighting raged throughout Muttur with the Tigers taking positions in key buildings in the centre, and that by 4 August most of the town’s people had fled, and (b) Richard Arulraja (father of one of the victims) who had said “… we heard the military personnel came and shot them.”

Far more significantly, the same report quoted Ulf Henricsson, the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, as saying: “When you (‘you’ refers to the monitors) are not let in, it is a sign that they (army) have something to hide” – a curious conclusion, given the fact that even by 8 August, Muttur town was still vulnerable to artillery attack by the retreating Tigers, and the army was still engaged in operations south of the town. Thereafter, in several published reports on the Muttur tragedy, Henricsson was cited as the principal authority for the conclusion that the ACF workers had been killed by the SLArmy. It was also probably on the basis of information from Henricsson that the ‘Resolution’ adopted by the European Union Parliament in on 7 September 2006 stated: “(T)he SLMM has found that seventeen aid workers employed by the French humanitarian agency ‘Action Against Hunger’ had been shot dead by government forces in Muttur” (EU Parliament Resolution of September 7, 2006, Paragraph D of the ‘Preamble’).

The reference in the EU Resolution to the SLMM “finding” that the ACF workers were killed by the Sri Lanka army evokes special interest for several reasons – first, by early September 2006, the in-depth investigations into the Muttur killings were still in their early stages; second, the Monitoring Mission’s own investigations at Muttur (if any) could not have been systematic and comprehensive because the process of resettlement of the displaced was far from being complete; and third, such a “finding” with the related evidence had not been formally conveyed by the SLMM to the government of Sri Lanka. This curious feature of the EU Resolution provides reason to speculate whether its references of Muttur represented an input of the Norwegians who, by this time, were not even attempting to conceal their pro-LTTE bias (It is well known that the government of Norway ardently opposed the passing of sanctions against the LTTE earlier that year).

A report in The International Herald Tribune of 30 August 2006 authored by Shimali Senanayake and Somini Sengupta, though not adding significantly to the facts on the Muttur tragedy, sheds light on how Henricsson arrived at his conclusion regarding the culpability of the SLArmy. Three reasons evidently formed the basis of the conclusion.
“First, security forces had been present in Muttur at the time of the killings. Second, the government had prevented the truce monitors from going to the crime scene to investigate immediately after the discovery of the bodies. Third, confidential conversations with "highly reliable sources" had pointed to the culpability of security forces. No other group, the peace monitors concluded, could have carried out the killings.”

This type of reasoning does cause surprise, especially in the context of the vital importance of Henricsson’s position as the Head of the Monitoring Mission and the absurdly extreme circumspection he had always shown in pinning any crime on the LTTE. To comment briefly on these “reasons”: (a) It is true that on 4 August, the SLArmy was present in Muttur, but so were LTTE cadres; (b) The army is very likely to have prevented the truce monitors from proceeding to Muttur, but its consideration could well have been the safety of the monitors. As for Henricsson’s reliance on “confidential conversations with highly reliable sources”, the question which he should have asked himself is whether it is reasonable to “convict” the SLArmy on the basis of evidence from undisclosed sources, given the fact that, contextually, the source of the information is vital to a determination of the credibility of the information.

A masked man identified individuals among the crowd, who were accused of being members of Jihad, and they were tied up by the LTTE. There are conflicting reports as to what happened next, with some stating that the LTTE began firing at the men. A shell landed in the vicinity reportedly killing some of the LTTE cadres and the fleeing Muslims. It is still unclear as to how many of the men were abducted by the LTTE, with rough estimates ranging from 30 to 60 and how many were killed in the explosion or shot by the LTTE.

In a paper by Mirak Raheem titled ‘Muttur: A Betrayal of a Community’ – probably the most detailed account of the tragedy published during its early aftermath – both the SLArmy as well as the LTTE have been charged with indiscriminate shelling of the town and causing immense suffering to its civilian inhabitants by way of both death and injury as well as large-scale eviction. Sri Lanka government, in particular, is criticised in the paper for its seemingly callous neglect of the safety of Muslims of the area. However, its statement that “(F)inally on the 5th (August), three days after the battle began, it seemingly ended, as the government intensified its attack and moved into secure control over the town and the LTTE made a strategic withdrawal from Mutur (sic.)” is of direct relevance to the specific issue on which the present study is focused, for, it implies continuing armed confrontations in the town on 4 August, the day on which the ACF workers were killed. In addition, the following extract from this paper provides a glimpse of the nature of LTTE relations with the Muslim community at the time of their evacuation of the town.

“When the Muslim community took the decision to leave south to Kantale, the LTTE said it would provide safe passage and even drinking water. Between the third mile-post and Pachanoor the LTTE cadres’ behaviour abruptly changed – they began to verbally and physically abuse the civilians and demanded that the men should separate from the women and youth under 15. A masked man identified individuals among the crowd, who were accused of being members of Jihad, and they were tied up by the LTTE. There are conflicting reports as to what happened next, with some stating that the LTTE began firing at the men. A shell landed in the vicinity reportedly killing some of the LTTE cadres and the fleeing Muslims. It is still unclear as to how many of the men were abducted by the LTTE, with rough estimates ranging from 30 to 60 and how many were killed in the explosion or shot by the LTTE”.

While preliminary investigations were still under way, the notion that a ‘Mai Lai’ type of massacre by the SLArmy had occurred at Muttur gained currency. Its origin has to be traced to Henricsson’s clumsy logic. Its propagation was, of course, the result of the coordinated campaign of propaganda by various agencies which, with diverse motives and impulses, have tended to lean towards the LTTE especially over periods featured by its military defeats and other setbacks. Certain well known human rights organisations – those that have had a record of silence in the face of atrocities of unimaginable brutality committed by the LTTE, and of justifying their silence on the grounds that there is no “hard evidence” to prove Tiger culpability – had no such reticence in pointing their prim fingers at the Sri Lanka Army. There was, in addition, the usual chorus of “genocide”, “holocaust”, “pogrom” and “extermination” charges from the LTTE propagandists and front organisations.

A discrepancy between the ballistics report submitted by the Government Analyst to the Magistrate’s inquiry on 7 March 2007 and the findings by Malcolm Dodd (Australian pathologist invited by the government to observe the forensic examinations in October 2006) reflected adversely on the investigation procedures being pursued. According to the former report, the bullets recovered from the corpses were all of 7.63 mm calibre. Dodd, however, though his expertise is in the field of forensic pathology, had ventured to make the ballistic-related observation that the calibre of one of the projectiles he had recovered from the skull of a victim was of 5.56 mm. Needless to say, the almost spontaneous response of all external vigilante was to accept the latter claim and to imply that the ballistic findings of the Government Analyst could well be part and parcel of a cover-up attempt. Such an insinuation, it should be noted, disregards the fact that the bullets being of either 7.62 mm or 5.56 calibre is of no consequence to an identification of the killers because cartridges with both types of projectile are in use by both the army as well as the LTTE. What is of even greater interest in the context of this display of prejudice is that a second report submitted by Malcolm Dodd in which he has admitted to an error in his earlier ‘ballistic’ findings, and stated that all recovered bullets are, in fact, of the 7.62 calibre, have had no impact whatever on publications of the recent past (including, it is sad to note, a report of the prestigious International Commission of Jurists) which have continued to highlight this so-called discrepancy.

Certain observations contained in the two ICJ reports (Text Box 1) generate doubt on whether the CJC has actually adhered to the “distinguishing” characteristic which it claims for itself – its “impartial, objective and authoritative legal approach to the protection and promotion of human rights through the rule of law” – to the preparation of its reports on Sri Lanka. For instance, in order to substantiate its claim that the investigations conducted by the government of Sri Lanka are featured by a “disturbing lack of impartiality” (Paragraph 3 in Text Box 1), the ICJ report refers to Michael Birnbaum according to whom “(O)fficial police reports indicate that from the outset, prior to any investigation, the police had decided that the LTTE were responsible for the killing.” The ‘police reports’ (referred to by Birnbaum as those compiled at “the outset”) are evidently the records that contain the initial impressions of the investigating officer. These are usually based on an examination of the crime scene and haphazardly conducted interviews with on-the-spot informants – no less methodical than, say, the investigation of a truce monitor of the type Henricsson has shown himself to be. This routine procedure (similar to that followed in most countries) does not tantamount to formulation of conclusions, especially those that restrict the scope of subsequent investigations. Nor can the records be construed as indicating prejudgment and prejudice. Does Birnbaum or the ICJ imply that, had the police found at the outset of its investigations evidence of LTTE involvement in the crime, that evidence should not have been reported? Thus, by both misrepresentation of the purpose of the police reports on the Muttur killings as well as making no reference whatever to the actual contents of the police reports (which could be quite revealing, unless there is a presumption that the police cannot be impartial), the ICJ itself has committed the same offence of prejudgment with which it has branded the investigations conducted by the Sri Lanka police.

Further, in its criticism relating to the subject of ‘collection of evidence’, the ICJ states that, “apart from the family members of those killed, no other Tamils of the area have been questioned (by the police)”. How did Birnbaum arrive at this conclusion? What the police places on record being evidence considered materially relevant to what is being investigated, surely, the record will not contain a comprehensive list of those questioned. Moreover, does this criticism imply that, in order to meet the level of adequacy demanded by the ICJ, it would be essential to record evidence from Tamil witnesses, regardless of the near certainty that, given the specific circumstances of this crime, those of the Tamil community (unless the were participants in the killing) would not have been present at the time it was committed? Does the ICJ criticism also imply that the government investigators ought to have gone on recording evidence from Tamil witnesses until such time that some such witness says that it was the army that had killed the aid workers?

Yet another suspicion which the ICJ disseminates without actually making a categorical accusation is that some of the ‘ballistic productions’ at the investigations could have been tampered with. The basis of this suspicion is that the items referred to were not produced at the magistrate’s inquiry by the authorised officer but by another, and that the sealed packets that contained the items were not opened in the presence of “an Australian expert observer”. Is there a display of naivety (if not traces of racial prejudice) even in this criticism? Had there been a genuine conspiracy to defeat the objective of the investigation, wouldn’t it have been possible for the conspirators to easily avoid any procedural irregularity?

In comparing the two ICJ reports, one also notes that the alleged “unwarranted interference” which the transfer of the inquiry to the Magistrates Court of Anuradhapura, made in the April report, does not appear in the July report. Was this due to a realisation that the charge made in the earlier report was later found to be unwarranted? Finally, as noted earlier, there is the ICJ persistence with the “bullet calibre discrepancy”, in disregard of the fact that it is unfounded and irrelevant to the determination of culpability to the killing.
How and why a group of seventeen aid workers (all, with one exception, Tamil) happen to be at the predominantly Muslim town of Muttur at such an intensely turbulent time has remained a mind-rankling question ever since the occurrence of this tragedy. In this context, the questions that have recently been raised (abridged as follows) by the Head of SCOPP, are, indeed, vitally relevant.

• Why were these workers sent to Muttur on August 1, 2006 – i.e. on the day before the Tiger cadres launched their attack on the town?

• Why were they not withdrawn, as workers attached to other aid agencies were, when, according to reports, some of them begged to be rescued

• Did the ACF act with a sense of responsibility regarding the safety of its workers?

• Why has the ACF refrained from paying any compensation to the bereaved families?

To recapitulate the facts relevant to the first of these questions: A group of young Tamils arrived at Muttur, a predominantly Muslim town, at a time when an almost week-long battle was raging in the hinterland of the town and when the capture of the town by the LTTE was imminent. Soon thereafter (on 2 August) a much larger group of young Tamils (note that even in the “battle field” not all LTTE cadres wear uniforms) arrived in Muttur, occupied it with the force of arms, and caused intense havoc and misery to the inhabitants of the town. While this latter group held sway over Muttur (i.e. 2 August) there was no reported attempt by the ACF workers either to request rescue or to escape from the venue of battle (the reported telephone conversations on that day do not convey a sense of desperation among them). Soon thereafter (from about 3 August), however, heavy fighting erupted between the LTTE cadres and the army. Given the embittered Tamil-Muslim relations that prevailed in Muttur, what specific “actions against hunger” were the young Tamil men and women employed by the ACF expected to perform? It is in the context of these considerations that questions such as ‘Why were they sent” and “What were they expected to do” assume significance.

The responses by the ACF authorities to these queries have hitherto been no more than a display of a level of imbecility which one does not associate with individuals holding positions of responsibility in organisations that have a global reach in the functions they perform. They have stated, for instance, that the T-shirts emblazoned with the ACF symbol worn by the aid workers should have immunized them from any danger. Implicitly, they have thus pretended both ignorance about the ground situation in Muttur at that time as well as lack of understanding of the reality that, for combatants (of both the LTTE as well as the army) constantly in danger of sudden death from any source and in any form, T-shirt insignia could hardly be of any consequence. Is this a pretence meant to cover a more sinister objective?

Implications of the reported information on the ‘crime scene’ from the perspective of motive should also have received the attention of the accusers of the SLArmy. The relevant information is that the corpses of the victims in the alleged “mass murder” had bullets embedded in the heads; firing had evidently been “close range”; the hands of some of the victims were tied at the back; and, as the Chief of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies was reported to have said, the corpses were placed on the ground face down when his team found them. These details, highlighted in pro-Tiger propaganda publications as evidence of not only a “mass execution” but also a post-execution “exhibition” of corpses, have been repeated even in reports published by reputed international organisations.

Admittedly, Sri Lanka is not unfamiliar with “executions cum exhibitions” conducted with the obvious motive of inculcating terror. The LTTE, for instance, has engaged in it on innumerable occasions especially in administering punishment to “traitors”. It was also a widely practiced terror tactic during the insurrection of the late 1980s. In the aftermath of the Muttur tragedy, however, no conceivable benefit could have accrued to the SLArmy by proclaiming in such a manner that a mass execution had taken place. Nor is there any evidence of an attempt on its part at concealment. Had concealment of the crime or confounding evidence been an intention, it would have been easy to place, say, a few guns and grenades amidst the corpses – not an entirely unknown practice among law enforcers – so as to make the killing look like an act of self-defence, while creating suspicion of possible collaboration between the ACF workers and the LTTE. What the army is reported to have done instead is to deny involvement in the killing, permit (as early as 6 August) a “relief team” dispatched by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies to examine the “crime scene” and to transmit impressions to their Chief in Colombo (who, in turn, conveyed the information to the Reuter correspondent as early as 6 August), and then ensure, with commendable professionalism (in the context of the fact that the army control over parts of Muttur still remained uncertain), the delivery of the corpses to the District Hospital at Trincomalee, thus facilitating subsequent investigation. Is there in this conduct the basis for a charge of committing a “crime against humanity”?

About one year after the ‘Battle of Muttur’, Sir John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, while on a visit to Sri Lanka, was reported to have stated at an interview with the Reuter correspondent in Colombo that Sri Lanka "is one of the worst in the world” in respect of the safety of humanitarian workers. This came as a shock to the government mainly for the reason that both at Holmes’ meetings with various officials in Sri Lanka as well as at the news conference held prior to his departure, the impression he had conveyed was one of general satisfaction with the conditions under which those attached to aid agencies work in the country.

The post-Muttur attempts by various personages and agencies at denigrating Sri Lanka were expected to converge in an all-out attack on the government of Sri Lanka at the International Human Rights Sessions held in Geneva in September 2007, and to culminate in a major intervention sponsored by the UN in the name of safeguarding human rights which would, in turn, (hopefully) rescue the LTTE from the setbacks it has suffered in the previous months. As matters stand at present (late September 2007) this appears to have been averted (or, at least, temporarily halted) mainly as a result of the efforts of a few Sri Lankans including the country’s ambassador to the UN, Dayan Jayatillake, and the Head of SCOPP, Rajiv Wijesinghe. Judging on the basis of information made available to us by the press and other sources, they appear to have also demonstrated that the promotion of the country’s interests necessitates, besides the usual diplomatic niceties, the bold confrontation of duplicity, prejudice and arrogance.