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Speech at the inaugural session of the Galle Dialogue Maritime Conference

Full text of the speech made by Secretary Defence Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the inaugural session of the Galle Dialogue Maritime Conference as follows.

`Your Excellencies, Heads of Missions based in Colombo

Secretary to the President

Secretaries to Other Ministries

Chief of Defence Staff

Service Commanders

Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Staff, Indian Navy

Prof. James Clad

Invited Speakers

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am glad to have this opportunity to address you at the Inaugural Session of the Galle Dialogue Maritime Conference, which is being organized by the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka. This Conference takes place at an opportune time, one year after the defeat of the LTTE, one of the world's worst terrorist groups, by the Sri Lanka Defence Forces.

The importance of this achievement cannot be overstated. It has not only created the space for an economic resurgence within Sri Lanka, but has also strengthened security and stability in the region as a whole. Furthermore, this military defeat of terrorism is an unprecedented event. There are many lessons that other countries can draw from the Sri Lankan experience. One of the reasons behind the organizing of this Conference is to provide a forum for this exchange of information to take place.

The LTTE, which caused enormous suffering in this country for three decades, was no ordinary terrorist group. It had a well-organized international network that provided both funding and logistical support to its domestic outfit. It also had a network of operatives within Sri Lanka that had infiltrated every part of the country. It had a ruthless ground force, a fledgling air force, and a sophisticated naval wing. At its height, the LTTE not only controlled a large area of land but, crucially, up to two thirds of Sri Lanka's coastline.

The LTTE's naval power and its control over so much of the coastline was a grave threat to this country. Their ability to attack our naval vessels, as well as attack targets on the mainland using the sea, was a significant security challenge. The arms, ammunition and equipment that it procured and smuggled in through international waters posed an even greater problem. Over the years, as depicted here,

Artillery weapons: 152 mm

Artillery weapons: 122 mm

MBRL - 107mm

Mortars - 120mm and 140mm

Anti tank weapons - SPG-9, ATGMs

Shoulder fired Anti Tank Weapons

Anti aircraft systems - 20mm, 23mm, 30mm, 37mm

LTTE Aircraft - Type Zlin 143L

Missiles - SA-7, SA-14

LTTE Aircraft - Shot Down


Torpedo Launcher

Underwater Scooters


Underwater Diving Gear - Re-Breather Kits

Communication Equipment - Satellite Communications System

the LTTE managed to bring in thousands of items of heavy weaponry, including heavy artillery, mortars, multi barrel rocket launchers, and anti aircraft systems. They also managed to smuggle in sophisticated equipment, including aircraft, communication systems, missiles and torpedoes with which they greatly enhanced their offensive capabilities.

The mechanism through which these items were brought to Sri Lanka is worth elaborating. As mentioned earlier, the LTTE had a large network of activists around the world that raised funds to support their separatist ambitions. By engaging in various criminal activities, including extortion, smuggling, and various kinds of fraud, as well as by tapping sympathizers in the Diaspora, this network generated a constant flow of funds. These funds were used to procure arms, ammunition and equipment from various sources. These items were stored at large warehouses in strategic locations abroad, and when needed were transported to Sri Lanka through international waters.

The ships that the LTTE used were often purchased under false pretences at international auctions. The ships travelled under different guises, hoisting flags of various countries and changing their names from port to port. Instead of travelling to Sri Lanka, where detection could lead to an attack and the destruction of their cargo, these ships became virtual floating warehouses that lay thousands of miles away in international waters. Smaller vessels, such as trawlers, were then used to transport the weaponry in batches to terrorist bases on the coastline. Even during this phase of the operation, the boats were usually disguised as fishing vessels, and the weaponry was hidden within false hulls.

Through this financial and logistical chain, the LTTE obtained various sophisticated equipment, all sorts of heavy weaponry and enormous quantities of ammunition with which it engaged our Defence Forces over the years. It is pertinent as well as disturbing to note that much of this activity took place in a post 9-11 world, despite increased global awareness and sensitivity about the dangers posed by international terrorism. The LTTE's financial network operated with varying levels of impunity in many countries. The weapons they procured quite often came from unscrupulous sources within respectable nations. Finally, their cargo ships travelled mostly unimpeded through international waters.

Over the years, through the obtaining of intelligence about these floating warehouses, the Sri Lanka Navy was able to engage and destroy ten vessels, often by going over a thousand miles into the deep sea. The destruction of these ships, as depicted here, was a key factor in crippling the LTTE's ability to sustain itself.

Destruction of the LTTE's floating warehouses


In this context, alongside the crucial blows it dealt to the LTTE's naval outfit-known as the Sea Tigers-the Sri Lanka Navy was instrumental in reducing the efficiency of the LTTE's ground operation. The contribution made to the defeat of the LTTE through this dismantling of its armaments supply chain cannot be overstated. In addition, through its destruction of the LTTE's naval capability, the Sri Lanka Navy justly deserves commendation for clearing the Indian Ocean of overt maritime terrorist activity.

At the same time, we must realize that although the LTTE has been militarily defeated in Sri Lanka, its international network remains largely intact. In May this year, a vessel named the MV SUN SEA was reported to be off Thailand waters. The MV SUN SEA is a general cargo ship believed to be carrying more than 200 immigrants including a considerable number of LTTE cadres, and is heading towards Canadian waters. This voyage is part of the LTTE activists human smuggling operation that began after the military defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

Charging anything between US$15,000 to US$40,000 per immigrant, this human smuggling operation poses a significant threat, because it allows trained terrorist cadres to enter other nations while disguised as civilians or refugees. It should be noted that these operations benefits from a lax legal framework that prevents the detention of such vessels while in international waters.

It is vitally important that all maritime nations realize the threats they face from the sea. Transnational crimes, whether human smuggling, piracy, drug trafficking, terrorism or the smuggling of supplies for terrorism, have space to take place because of the lack of adequate domination of the sea. The increasing number of sea going vessels and their growing diversity makes the identification of potential threats very difficult. It still not that difficult for small vessels to slip through coastal defences and even allow trained terrorists, like the Mumbai bombers, to slip into countries and wreak havoc. Threats also exist to Sea Lanes of Communications, such as those that cross this region. Given the vast quantities of cargo that cross these Sea Lanes on a daily basis, they are vital to international trade and energy security. A threat to them is a threat to peace. Countries must realize that with the increasing sophistication displayed by non-state actors in this era, the first line of defence is shifting beyond the shore.

In this regard, the message that I want to stress most clearly at this forum is the urgent need for greater international cooperation in terms of maritime security. As the Sri Lankan experience demonstrates, a terrorist organization was able to procure and transport sophisticated equipment, heavy weaponry, and vast quantities of ammunition over international waters for many years without much difficulty. Even to this day, the same network engages in the dangerous game of human smuggling.

There are legal difficulties relating to the ability of a country to intervene with regard to such threats in international waters. It must be said that despite the existence of various treaties, there was insufficient commitment at a multilateral and bilateral level to combat the LTTE's transnational operations. It is this lack of effective intervention arising from an outmoded legal framework and inadequate multilateral commitment to combating transnational crimes that needs to be addressed if we are to successfully face future challenges to maritime security.

Robust ties need to be established between the maritime powers in the region not just at the diplomatic level but even more importantly at the operational level. Ineffective treaties extolling cooperation and token joint naval exercises are no longer enough. There has to be a deep-rooted commitment to cooperation amongst these powers. Proper intelligence sharing and timely communication between the Navies is essential. If a suspicious vessel is sighted, the relevant authorities in other nations should be contacted to determine its provenance. If, once challenged, the vessel cannot give a valid answer as to its business, the relevant Navies should be alerted and proper steps taken to ensure that any potential threats are nullified in time.

This level of international cooperation will only be achieved once we all realize that no matter how powerful we are individually, so long as we act in isolation, we will be ineffective against threats arising from the transnational operations of non-state actors. While the further strengthening of diplomatic ties remains essential in achieving this understanding, it is our sincere hope that your Dialogue at Conferences such as this one will encourage further cooperation at an operational level. If we act together to oppose the shared threats we face, we will be able to stand firm and uphold our security. If we do not cooperate with one another, and are forced to continue to act in isolation, we will all be at risk.

In conclusion, I would like to wish all the delegates present here an informative, productive and enjoyable few days in Sri Lanka. I am sure that a lot of hard work has gone into the preparation of Papers by our distinguished presenters, and I am aware that the organizers have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Conference is a success. Special mention should be made of the assistance provided by the Near East South Asia (NESA) Centre of the United States, which assisted in numerous ways. The Conference has been named the "Galle Dialogue". It is my sincere hope that the dialogue it prompts both formally and informally amongst the participants over these two days will promote greater and more effective cooperation in the region as a whole.

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