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Powerful satellite equipment for LTTE in VOT cargo
By The Sunday Times Diplomatic Correspondent
Amid the raging controversy over broadcasting equipment the LTTE has acquired duty free through the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo, another serious irregularity has now surfaced.

They have been allowed to acquire sophisticated VSAT satellite communications equipment completely unrelated to the radio station in the same consignment though the whereabouts of it have now become a mystery.

Westborg leaves for Oslo
Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg left for Oslo yesterday for urgent consultation in the face of the breaking scandal on the import of radio equipment for the LTTE by the Norwegian embassy in Colombo as diplomatic cargo.

Prior to his departure, Mr. Westborg had briefed his Indian counterpart Nirupam Sen on the circumstances that led to the Norwegians importing the expensive equipment.

The Sunday Times learns that the Norwegians are taking up the position that they had been requested to act as consignees of the cargo by the Sri Lankan government, and are unawares as to who raised the funds for the radio equipment.

Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal who was in Colombo conveyed New Delhi's serious concerns on the LTTE acquiring radio broadcast equipment through Norwegian diplomatic channels.

VSAT or Very Small Aperture Terminal is a software driven earth station used for the transmission of data, video or voice via satellite. With the help of a dish antenna, this will enable the LTTE, if it has acquired it, to carry out voice communications, transmit data or pictures via satellite without any interception by any source in Sri Lanka or abroad.

The Sunday Times investigations revealed that a VSAT communications equipment officially declared to be worth US dollars 25,000 or Rs. 2.4 million (prices can even be higher) by the Norwegian Embassy was among the items for which the Embassy obtained approval from the Government. The VSAT equipment is in no way related to the Voice of Tigers broadcasting station.

The mystery about the VSAT equipment has been compounded after Defence Secretary Austin Fernando appointed a Committee to inspect the broadcasting equipment consigned to the Norwegian Embassy -- an unusual step since diplomatic cargo is not examined and a declaration of the mission concerned is accepted by the host country in accordance with diplomatic practice.

The Committee comprised R.D. Somasiri, Advisor, Ministry of Mass Communications, Brigadier Y.S.A. de Silva, Director, Signals of the Sri Lanka Army, Group Captain A. Gunawardena, Director, Electronics and Telecommuncations of the Sri Lanka Air Force and Upali Arambewela, Additional Director General, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.

In their report to Defence Secretary Fernando, the committee, among other matters, has reported that the VSAT communication unit was not found with the consignment. What happened to it? Was it cleared earlier or was it pilfered from the consignment? Answers may not be known unless the Ministry of Defence conducts a fuller investigation.

The Committee also made some other worrying observations. Among them -- The Radio Data System (RDS) equipment (that has now been given to the LTTE) is capable of sending data from point to multi-point and cannot be monitored without a specific decoder. In other words, the Sri Lanka Government cannot monitor them unless it obtains the required decoder.

Another observation is the broader FM frequency range in the equipment given to the LTTE. That is much more wider than the frequencies now allotted to all other licensed FM radio stations which is 87.5 Mhz to 108.0 Mhz.

The LTTE equipment, however, has an extended range from 87 Mhz to 109 Mhz and signal experts confirmed to The Sunday Times that the broadcast range could be heavily enhanced with the use of booster systems.

Among the 12 items for which Defence Secretary Fernando was the final authority to grant approval was the VSAT communications unit. Though the item is in his approved list, the licence for the VoT radio station issued by Kumar Abeysinghe, Secretary, Ministry of Mass Communications, makes no mention of the VSAT equipment the whereabouts of which are a now a mystery.

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