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South African LTTE Connections Exposed

By Rohan Gunaratna

The international intelligence and security community focused their attention on South Africa with recent reports exposing the clandestine political and military infrastructure of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in South Africa. To many, it came as no surprise because from time to time, there were unverified reports that groups such as Hamas (Palestinian), Hezbollah (Lebanese), PKK (Turkey) and Bin Laden (Afghan-based), were operating out of South Africa.

Away from the glare of the international media, the LTTE is operating a state-of-the-art propaganda, fund-raising, procurement and shipping network in South Africa. Compared to other countries where the LTTE operates, the LTTE influence in South Africa is profound because like in India there is a politically active Tamil community. The LTTE has exploited that situation and developed a series of training camps to train South Africans of Indian Tamil origin. These South African Tamils have formed South African Tamil Tigers. Many of them were trained by LTTE trainers from Sri Lanka and retired South African service personnel drawn from Koevoet and 32 Battalion, two elite military organisations of the Apartheid era. These organisations spearheaded the counter insurgency drives against the guerrillas of the African National Congress (ANC) who were operating out of bases in South Angola and Northern Namibia. Koevoet and 32 Battalion troops fought not only ANC and SWAPO guerrillas but also regular Angolan and Namibian forces. There are also reports that LTTE activists from Sri Lanka received specialised training on South African soil.

The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and National Intelligence Service (NIS), the institutions responsible for the internal and external security of South Africa respectively, were aware of the ruthlessness of the LTTE, but appeared powerless to contain the influence of the LTTE in South Africa. The LTTE had effectively won over the support of key political leaders, particularly from the South African Indian Tamil community. LTTE strategy was to lure their support either by financially winning them over or appealing to their Tamil nationalism.

The Origins:

The LTTE established their influence in South Africa through a series of front organisations. LTTE drew their attention and sympathy by exploiting the Hindu cultural and religious affinity between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the South African Tamils. In the Hindu temples, there were many Pusaris who were Tamils from Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka. Initially, the LTTE raised funds through these officiating priests to procure weapons to support their war for an independent state in Sri Lanka.

After consolidating their presence through propaganda, the LTTE ventured out to win over key South African leaders. Among them were ANC leaders including parliamentarians representing the ANC. Since 1995, LTTE began to operate a series of training camps in South Africa. The LTTE established the training program by registering itself as a "closed corporation" by paying 200 Rand in February 1995. In a closed corporation, both the company name and constituent members can change without informing the registrar. For expediency, the company was providing private security guards to private and government organisations. The compounds of the camps were well concealed from the public eye - the perimeter was protected by barbed wire, spikes and high walls. The first three camps were established in three Tamil neighbourhoods.

The camps provided accommodation and facilities to train recruits in guerrilla warfare. Initially, all the trainers were Sri Lankan Tamils but gradually South Africans joined in. Each camp had between 20 to 10 trainers many of whom rotated. For instance, one camp had 18 trainers. Of these, 4 trainers instructed the recruits on the history of "Eelam Tamils." After rigorous physical training (PT) by 6 trainers, the recruits were provided basic military training by 2 trainers. The training included armed and unarmed combat. There was instruction on how to evade surveillance, counter-intelligence, explosives use and communication.

The other trainers - Sri Lankan and South African were silent and observed the performance of the recruits. The training period for each batch was three months, comparable to the LTTE training provided in India to some Indian Tamil groups such as the Tamil National Retrieval Army and the basic training provided to LTTE recruits in Sri Lanka. Upon graduation, the best were transported to Sri Lanka. They were inducted to Sri Lanka via India by boat and via Maldives by air. Reports of some being transferred to Sri Lanka by LTTE ships, frequenting South African ports, is currently under investigation.

The South African agency, NIA, became aware of the training camps within a year of their operation but the influence of ANC hard-liners within the NIA prevented NIA from advising the South African government to close down the camps. But, the NIA inducted an agent who provided them details of the training and trainers. One of the major factors which led South Africa to adopt such a position was the effectiveness of LTTE propaganda and the susceptibility of the ANC government towards supporting violent movements. In fact, the confidential South African Foreign Ministry assessment on Sri Lanka (1996) cites the US State Department human rights report as guidance. Although this US report gives a gloomy picture about the LTTE, a report of the sub directorate for South Asia of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Africa implies that it has no objection to the South African government from raising human rights violations by the Sri Lankan armed forces in multilateral fora. Among the South African diplomats who supported the LTTE quite openly was Jacky Selebi, the former South African Ambassador in Geneva and Chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and since currently Director General, Foreign Affairs Department, Pretoria. On a visit to Geneva, he met with representatives of LTTE fronts on August 10, 1998 and pledged his support towards their cause.

LTTE-ANC relations:

The ANC and LTTE relations dates back to contacts in London and Paris in the late 1970s. Through the umbrella organisation - Friends of Palestine - LTTE activists frequently met with ANC representatives at the Arab League Building, UK. LTTE also established links with the South West African People's Organisation which had close relations with the ANC. This long relationship - including some military assistance to ANC guerrillas - opened the door for the LTTE to enter South Africa when Mandela assumed office. Some of the influential ANC activists in the UK distanced themselves from the LTTE after the LTTE assassinated Dr. Rajini Thiranagama (an LTTE activist turned human rights activist) in 1989. She had forged LTTE-ANC relations in the UK. After the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the ANC activists in the UK resented the LTTE.

Post-1994 relations witnessed the LTTE activists travelling to South Africa including Tharmalingam Shanmugam Kumaran alias Kumaran Pathmanathan, the head of the LTTE International Network. Close links between South African Tamils and the LTTE were forged through the International Secretariat in London. The LTTE links with the Mandela government was consolidated in late 1994 when LTTE activists won over a few ANC hard-liners. The LTTE also established contacts with South African missions in Canberra, New Delhi and London. The LTTE continues to feed South African missions with propaganda, particularly the UK mission. After the ANC government came to office, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was the first Sri Lankan dignitary to visit South Africa. ANC hard-liners in the Mandela government did not wish to displease the LTTE.

Around the same period Minister Kadirgamar visited South Africa in early 1996, a 14 member LTTE delegation was received by President Mandela in his office. Three delegates were women. Except one delegate who joined the team from South Africa, the others came from Sri Lanka via India on airline tickets issued by the South African government. Their program was organised by the ANC with the assistance of the South African High Commission in New Delhi. Research Analysis Wing, India's agency for gathering foreign intelligence and conducting overseas operations, had failed to monitor the ANC-LTTE link. Indian Intelligence Bureau had failed to monitor the use of India as a transit point. This high level meeting was followed by several meetings between ANC and LTTE representatives in India. Among the ANC officials was a South African foreign ministry official. The South African mission in India, particularly the Office of the Deputy High Commissioner, was involved with these discussions.

Before Minister Kadirgamar left South Africa he received an official briefing from a White South African intelligence official. Although Sri Lanka through the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) supported the ANC, Sri Lanka and the Apartheid regime maintained intelligence liaison. This was a necessity because Sri Lankan groups were training both in Lebanon and Syria, particularly in the Bekha valley with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the ANC. Senior Sri Lankan intelligence officials visited South Africa and South Africans assisted Sri Lanka to develop its war-fighting and intelligence gathering capability. The intelligence official explained to Minister Kadirgamar that the LTTE was disseminating propaganda and raising funds through four front organisations and that there were about 100 Sri Lankan Tamil families in South Africa.

The post-Mandela NIA was NIA and ANC intelligence wing combined. Many ANC intelligence types entertained the view that South Africa had an obligation to assist their former allies - meaning the groups that had assisted them such as the PLO and LTTE and the countries that had stood by them such as Iran and Libya. Therefore, the ANC hard-liners in the NIA were annoyed that a Sri Lankan government minister was briefed of LTTE activities. Within a few days, the intelligence official was transferred out. This exacerbated the tension between the NIA old guard and the new additions.




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