The Special Report
4th March 2001
By Chandani Kirinde, Hiranthi Fernando and Tania Fernando
Thunderous applause broke out in the midst of a candle lit vigil and musical show to honour soldiers, when it was announced that the British Government has moved to ban the LTTE. The compere gave the news to the thousands gathered at the Viharamahadevi park, quoting Ariya Rubesinghe, Information Director, Competent Authority and Director General (Media) of the President's Office,
The 'Viru Jana Upaharaya' which was telecast live on national television provided a fitting stage for this announcement to be made to many Sri Lankan viewers.
Britain would be the fourth country to ban the LTTE, along with India, USA, Malaysia, and also the first European Union country to do so.
Britain's Labour government had passed the Terrorism Act 2000 last year to fall in line with two United Nations conventions on global terrorism. The Act seeks to outlaw in Britain any terrorist organization that uses violent methods to achieve political objectives. The far reaching provisions of this new law defines terrorism as the use of threat or action involving serious violations against a person or involves serious damage to property.
Measures against fund raising, whether voluntary or by compulsion one of the major sources of revenue for the LTTE from about one million Sri Lankan Tamils living in Britain have been included in the Act. Funding arrangements and money laundering and the export of cash are also offences which have jail sentences running up to 15 years, apart from the seizure or forfeiture of such monies or properties.
A significant aspect of the UK Terrorism Act 2000 is that the Act includes activities outside Britain. The law gives police increased powers to seize assets and arrest those they believe may be promoting terrorism outside Britain.
Alison Kemp, the spokesperson of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, said the draft order recommending the proscription of 21 organizations, including the LTTE, under the new Terrorism Act 2000 was presented in the British Parliament on February 28. She explained that the draft order will be debated by both Houses of Parliament. The date for the debates have not been set, but it would be done when parliamentary schedules allow it. Once it is approved by Parliament the Home Secretary will sign it the next day and it will come into effect immediately. Until the list is approved by Parliament, there would be no proscription, she said.
Other European Union countries are unlikely to follow the British example as they do not have the legislation to ban suspected terrorist groups.
Ilkka Uusitalo, head of the EU Delegation in Colombo said the Union cannot make a collective decision on such a issue.
"Each individual state has to make their own decisions. As far as I know they will first need to introduce the necessary legislation to do so," he said.
Mangala Moonesinghe, Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in London said the atmosphere appeared to be favourable to Sri Lanka since Britain presented the recommendation to proscribe the LTTE. He is reported to have said in an interview with the website Colombo Page that British officials have described the LTTE as the most violent organization in the world.
Mr. Moonesinghe however feels that the proscription of the LTTE would not affect the peace process in Sri Lanka. He says it would induce the LTTE to start talking peace. He says fund raising, campaigning and displaying photographs of Prabhakaran had been banned since February 1.
In Sri Lanka, the news has been welcomed by many people, although some felt it was necessary to talk to the LTTE if a solution was to be found to the ethnic problem.
Apart from the government who had made a concerted effort to have the LTTE proscribed, the UNP and the JVP both issued statements welcoming the move.
Parliamentarian Mervyn Silva, who recently participated in a demonstration to ban the LTTE, and handed a petition to the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Ms. Linda Duffield, said this move by Britain was an example to the world. Britain can be hailed as a truly democratic country," he said.
Meanwhile, Sinhala Jathika Sangamaya president S. L. Gunasekera said he was delighted about the move. "I hope Britain would take prompt action under the act and that the LTTE will not use its delaying tactics. This shows that Britain has recognized the LTTE for what it is. I hope other European countries, particularly Norway and Sweden would follow suit," he said.
Tilak Karunaratne, Sihala Urumaya Parliamentarian said "we are happy that we also contributed our mite towards this". However, we should not stop at that. Britain is the fourth country to ban the LTTE. But there are many more countries where the LTTE is active, such as Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, Australia and Norway. There is a strong rumour that the LTTE is trying to move its London headquarters to South Africa. We must continue until those countries also recognize that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation.
We request the Government to contact all the countries it has diplomatic relations with to get the LTTE proscribed".
Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, a leading member of the Buddhist Clergy said he was happy that Britain had decided to do the right thing even belatedly.
"The world took time to realise that the LTTErs were no freedom fighters but ruthless killers. This move alone will not help eradicate terrorism from the country. The government must have the political will to take further action to put an end to this war."
However Tamil politicians felt that the ban on the LTTE would have little effect on the organization's activities.
It seems to be a known fact that although this move would have come as a surprise to the LTTE, it is likely they would have alternate plans.
UNP's Jaffna MP T.Maheswaran said that it was necessary to talk to the LTTE if a solution was to be found to the problems of the Tamil speaking people.
"The reason Britain banned the LTTE was because they wanted to do so and not because of their love for Sri Lanka or the Government. The government is trying to hoodwink the people and take credit for this." he said. Jaffna district MP A.Vinyaga-moorthy of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) said a solution must be found to the ethnic problem with third party mediation and talks with the Tigers. "That is the reality whether one likes it or not," he said.
Meanwhile, the question is whether the move to ban the LTTE would by any means weaken it or whether it would make it lobby harder to present its case to the rest of the world.
Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council said the positive aspect of the ban was that it would weaken the LTTE's ability to use war as a means to achieve its objectives forcing it to re-evaluate its record with regards to human rights violations.
It would also enable the government to go for peace talks from a position of strength, both militarily and politically.
However, he felt the danger was that hard-line elements in society may use this to pressurise the government to adopt a firm stance against the LTTE.
They could ask the government why Sri Lanka should legitimize the LTTE by talking to them when Britain had de-legitimised the group," Perera said.
Although everyone has taken it for granted that the LTTE has been proscribed, only the stage has been set and the outcome would be only after the draft order is debated in the British Parliament.
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on Friday appealed to the Sinhala people not to treat the proposed proscription of the LTTE in Britain as a matter for "gloating or exultation".
"Look at it rather as the end of one chapter, hopefully, the violent chapter of our recent history, and the opening of another chapter, which might presage peace and, therefore, prosperity for our people," Minister Kadirgamar told a media conference.
Minister Kadirgamar in his opening remarks before answering questions from journalists said:
"My remarks on the meaning and effect of the proscription will fall into four parts.
"First, in relation to the United Kingdom itself, the British Government has, in proscribing the LTTE and 20 other organisations, acted fairly and squarely within the provisions of its law, that is, the Terrorism Act of July 2000, which came into force on 19 February 2001. That Act has a very broad definition of terrorism.
"In brief, under the Act any act done in furtherance of any cause of any kind, political religious, ethnic, philosophical or whatever, is terrorism if it involves violence. In other words, the British Act does not focus on the worthiness of the cause; it merely declares that, in legal terms, an organization is a terrorist organization if it conducts activities of a violent kind.
"Therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would say respectfully that the British Government has taken the only decision it could possibly have taken as a responsible, law abiding member of the international community, within the terms of its own law, and also in terms of the two International Conventions, the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings of 1997 and the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing of 1999, both of which the British Government has signed.
"The British Government, together with a number of other Governments, including the Government of Sri Lanka, was in the forefront of the campaign to have international legislative measures put in place to combat international terrorism. The Government of the United Kingdom has made, within its purview, a sovereign decision. It is not for me, or for anybody, to thank the British Government for what it has done. One sovereign does not thank another sovereign for acting in terms of its own law.
"In this connection, I wish to say, Ladies and Gentlemen, that a news report which was brought to my notice this morning in our own media, that I was going shortly to the United Kingdom to thank the British Government for proscribing the LTTE is utterly and totally unfounded.
"I have absolutely no intention of doing any such thing. In fact, it would be inappropriate, unnecessary, undignified, indeed foolish, for me to go on a venture of that kind. The British Government has not given us a gift or granted us a favour.
"Having said that, I wish to say that there is one aspect of this matter on which all the governments of the world would applaud what the British Government has done. And that is that it has shown that even with the pressures to which a democratic society and a democratic government are subject, the British Government was able to apply its law fairly, correctly and objectively and not be deterred or deflected from the correct path by domestic considerations or by considerations such as whether its decision would interfere or not with some peace process in which the British Government has no part.
"Whenever a sovereign government acts in that principled manner it is a matter of great satisfaction for the entire international community. therefore, I salute the British Government for having acted wisely and fairly in that manner in respect of its own law.
"Secondly, I wish to address a word to the Sinhala people of our country. I say to the Sinhala people with great respect, do not treat this event, the proscription of the LTTE, as a matter for gloating or exultation or an occasion for the manifestation of triumphalism. All sections of moderate people in Sri Lanka will find relief and satisfaction that the law of another country where the LTTE was, unfortunately, operating with license has brought the LTTE to heel.
"That is as it should be. But it would be a great mistake, and I say it again with respect to the Sinhala people, to use this as an occasion for glorification. Look at it rather as the end of one chapter, hopefully, the violent chapter of our recent history, and the opening of another chapter, which might presage peace and, therefore, prosperity for our people. I would put it like this: one battle has been won but the biggest battle is yet to be fought, and that is the battle for a just and durable peace.
"Thirdly, to the Tamil people I would say, with equal respect, please do not treat this proscription as a blow aimed by the British Government at the Tamil people. It is no such thing. As I said a moment ago, the British Government is merely applying the law of its land and that law does not draw any distinction between the organizations against it, or in respect of, whom the law may have to be enforced.
"The law itself is a perfectly neutral instrument. It contains a definition of terrorism, which is now universally accepted. In proscribing a particular organization, be it the LTTE or be it a Muslim organization or be it any other type of organization, the British Government is certainly not aiming a blow at any section of the people of the country where that organization operates.
"It will be unrealistic for the Tamil people to look at it in any other way. I think, with respect, the Tamil people should look at this matter in the following way : in so far as the LTTE pursued its goals by violent means it has fallen foul of the law of the United Kingdom according to which no organization in that country can any longer be permitted to promote or carry out violent activities in another country.
"If the LTTE eschews violence then it may cease to be a terrorist organization. I request the Tamil people to look at the matter realistically, and ask themselves has not the time come, finally, when they should say to the LTTE "turn over a new leaf, enough of violence, and let us join hands with other moderate, sensible people in the rest of Sri Lanka who earnestly desire peace".
"Fouthly, I would say to the LTTE itself, as their spokesman has said, yes, this proscription is indeed a blow. But the LTTE cannot objectively be heard to complain about that because the LTTE knows very well what the definition of terrorism is in the UK Act.
"The UK Act, as I said a moment ago, is not concerned with the worthiness of a cause. It passes no judgement at all, one way or another, on whether a cause is a good cause or not. What the law does is to prohibit violent activity in pursuit of any cause whatsoever. So I say to the LTTE, let us look at it like this: the proscription has occurred, but that has nothing whatever to do with the peace process that is going on.
"In the first place, the British Government is not a party to the peace process. The peace process involves the Government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE and the Government of Norway. It is, if I may say so, not a sound argument for the LTTE to say that if the British Government bans it then it might pull out of the peace process. There is no logical connection at all between the proscription and the peace process.
"I am confident that the LTTE will ultimately see this matter in the correct light; that it will realize that if it is keen on peace, as the Government of Sri Lanka is, then the LTTE will continue to remain engaged in the process that is now ongoing. So that is my appeal to the LTTE. What I am saying is that Government of Sri Lanka is determined to go on with the peace process and bring it to a successful conclusion for the benefit of all the people.
I urge the LTTE to look at it in that way. Ladies and Gentlemen, so much for the question of the LTTE, as far as my opening observations are concerned."
Former High Commissioner to Britain and presently Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, S. K. Wickremasinghe talking on the proscription of the LTTE said it was all due to the hard work of the Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar that the LTTE has finally been recognised as a terrorist organisation.
"As the High Commissioner I too played a role in assisting the Minister to get the British establishment to change their attitude towards the LTTE and to categorize them as a terrorist outfit.
Mr. Wickremasinghe said although Sri Lanka has been trying for a long time to get the LTTE banned, Britain always quoted the lack of legislation to do so. After the UN resolution against funding of terrorism, Sri Lanka was able to lobby for it more effectively.
He said in early 1998 a successful demonstration was held on Downing Street organised by the Sinhala Bala Mandalaya and in mid 1998 another procession was held with the participation of about 5000 people.
Mr. Wickremasinghe said all these would have helped the British government make a decision.
He also said though the move was a positive one, the LTTE would probably have alternate plans as it would have foreseen this eventuality.
Although the LTTE would not be able to openly campaign anymore, they would have planned other ways and means and could always have alternate organisations, Mr. Wickremasinghe said adding that this move would however curtail its funding of about US$ four to five million annually.
In a news release the British High Commission said:
Twenty one international organisations including the LTTE have been recommended for proscription under the new Terrorism Act 2000 as listed in a draft order laid before Parliament by the Home Secretary Jack Straw. The Draft Order will be subject to debates and approval by both Houses of Parliament.
Mr. Straw said "the Terrorism Act is an important legislation which brings our provisions into line with the European Convention on Human Rights and ensures that we are better able to deal with the serious threat which terrorism poses".
"Taking account of police, security, and legal advise, I have given careful consideration to which organisations should be recommended for proscription. I believe that this action is both fair and proportionate to the threat that is found both in this country and abroad".
"Once proscription of these organisations take effect it would be open to any of the terrorist organisations concerned - or any person affected by their proscription - to make an application to me as the Home Secretary for de-proscription. If that application is refused the organisation can then appeal to a new independent tribunal, the 'Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission'.
"Proscription is an important power in the new Act - the UK has no intention of becoming a base for terrorists and their supporters nor to see it flourish abroad and we will take every legal action to prevent this".
Under part 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Secretary of State has the power to proscribe any organisation which he believes is "concerned in terrorism". An organisation is "concerned in terrorism" if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism either in UK or abroad. "Organisation" is defined as including "any association or combination of persons". Once the statutory criteria are satisfied the Secretary of State then has the discretion whether or not to proscribe a particular organisation.
"In reaching his decision the Home Secretary also took into account a number of factors including, the nature and scale of an organisation's activities the specific threat it poses to the UK, the specific threat that it poses to the British nationals overseas, the extent of the organisation's presence in the UK, and the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism. Specific offences relating to membership, support for and funding of an proscribed organisation are included in the Act.
"This decision reflects the British Government's firm stance against international terrorism. It should have no bearing on the peace process in Sri Lanka if both sides are genuinely committed to the search for a negotiated settlement.
"The UK continues to believe that the only way to find a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is through a negotiated settlement which addresses the aspirations of all communities within a unitary state. The UK will continue to support the Norwegians in their efforts to facilitate peace talks. The UK strongly urges both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to begin peace talks as soon as possible.
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