26th April 1998
By Imran Vittachi
Britain's Labour Government has gone on-record as saying it will propose tougher anti-terror laws to prevent foreign militant groups from conducting their international operations on British territory.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair made this declaration on April 17, during a visit to Egypt where a recent militant attack at Luxor killed scores of British and Western tourists.
"Britain will not be a safe haven for terrorists," he was quoted as saying in overseas news reports. "We will bring forward proposals soon for stronger counter-terrorism laws in the UK."
Then there is another consideration. Britain — along with Sri Lanka and other member-states of the United Nations — has signed the 1996-97 UN General Assembly Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. Nations that sign and ratify the treaty are required to align their national laws to make it bind universally.
And, in recent weeks, Britain has faced mounting public criticism from Sri Lankan expatriate communities, that are calling on London to follow the United States in listing and proscribing the LTTE as an international terror group.
Until now, anti-terrorism and conspiracy laws in Britain have functioned to defend the realm against attacks or subversion that directly affects its national security. British Governments have, in the past, also cited an inability to pin criminal evidence of terrorist activity on foreign militant groups active in Britain, such as the LTTE.
In his April 17 comments, Mr. Blair was referring specifically to how London would co-operate with Cairo to clamp down on Egyptian extremist organisations that have long used Britain as a base for terror strikes at home.
Generally, the Prime Minister's remarks came fresh on the heels of his having helped to clinch the Northern Ireland peace deal, and amid European Union efforts to jump-start stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
But, where Sri Lanka is concerned, Mr. Blair uttered those words less than 48 hours after Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar — in a much publicised speech in London — openly criticised the British for their stance on LTTE activities in Britain.
In fact, Mr. Blair views on combatting terrorism and playing at peace broker were monitored by Mr. Kadirgamar himself, while the British premier toured West Asia. The day after Tony Blair landed in Egypt, the Sri Lankan High Commission in London urgently faxed to minister's office, attaching excerpts of related-news reports, a copy of which was obtained by The Sunday Times.
In an April 15 address to the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the International Foundation of Sri Lankans, Mr. Kadirgamar blamed London for turning a blind eye repeatedly to fund raising and other logistical activities carried out in Britain by the LTTE and its alleged front organisations, in support of its war against Colombo. At the same time, he said, Britain consistently condemned indiscriminate LTTE attacks against Sri Lankan civilians. The minister stopped just short of accusing the British of behaving hypocritically and betraying an old friend.
"I cannot tell you how deeply grieved and sad the Sri Lankan people have been in recent years when they have seen - as bomb after bomb has gone off in our cities, killing, maiming hundreds and thousands of people - a response from the United Kingdom that has been far less positive than we would expect from a close and valued friend...," the Minister said.
"But I do say that there is a degree of passivity in its [the British Government's] reaction to the role that this terrorist organisation plays in this country that causes very great distress to the Sri Lankan people."
Minister Kadirgamar, in his lengthy speech, called on the Blair Government to act swiftly on four fronts - all covered, he said, by the new UN Convention - to clamp down on LTTE operations in Britain and cut off British Eelamite financial contributions of up to £ 250,000 per month, destined for the LTTE's monthly war-chest worth £ 1.25 million.
To bring domestic anti-terror and national conspiracy laws in line with the UN Convention, so that countries can co-operate with one another to defend their respective interests internationally and to prosecute cross-border offenders; to impose curbs on fund-raising on British soil by the LTTE and its so-called fronts based in Britain; to enact laws to prevent against abuse of Britain's asylum policies by the LTTE, which is reported to profit from the lucrative worldwide racket of human trafficking and extortion; and to enter into bi-lateral protocols covering matters of extradition and the confiscation of organisation funds.
"These are measures that will have to be taken sooner, I hope, rather than later by all those countries who profess to be concerned with combatting terrorism at the international level," Mr. Kadirgamar said.
Global terrorism over the past 30 years, he said, had become more sophisticated and deadly, extending its reach even into the blurry dimension of cyberspace. Until recently, the West had viewed the security problems of poorer countries with what the minister called "studied indifference".
But, he added, the 1993 New York World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and other terror attacks on Western soil changed all this. Now the equation was one of "enlightened self-interest". As a result, the UN Convention was adopted relatively quickly, he noted.
"What this means, ladies and gentlemen, is simply this: it will no longer be open to an organisation that uses terror for the purpose of advancing its own political objectives to plead that it is a national liberation organisation and not a terrorist organisation," Mr. Kadirgamar said.
"Under the new definition adopted by the United Nations, nobody will be able to take the plea that terrorism can be used legitimately in pursuit of political objectives, which are considered to be of the nature of a liberation struggle or something of that kind. Terrorism is terrorism.
Q: What precautions have we taken in Sri Lanka against biological terrorism and chemical terrorism?
A: For reasons of security I cannot tell you precisely what measures have been taken. All I can say is that we have given close consideration to all aspects of the possible forms of terrorism that we might encounter.
Q: You have very eloquently put across all the reasons why the United Kindom should act as quickly as possible to try and support your government in combating terrorism. You are confident and hopeful, but we in the United Kingdom are not that hopeful, that the United Kingdom government is going to take any action that quickly. There are Members of Parliament like Jeremy Corbyn and others who are so sympathetic to the cause of the Tamil Tigers, there are so many others who are sympathetic on the superficial values. Could I appeal to you and ask you, Mr Minister, what confidence have you got and what guarantees have you got from the United Kingdom to suggest that they would take immediate action and what more do you want, your government want, to convince the United Kingdom to act quickly and urgently?
A: I am confident that the government of the United Kingdom will honour the international treaty obligations that it has recently undertaken. I do not have the slightest reason to doubt that the government of the United Kingdom, a responsible government of great stature, will not honour the obligations that it has to honour under those treaties. I don't look for guarantees, because my best guarantee is the record of the United Kingdom in international fora for many, decades.
Q: How closely is the British High Commission in Sri Lanka working, together with the Sri Lankan government to clamp down on bogus asylum seekers who form part of the fund raising machinery in the United Kingdom? Most of them come from the South and not from the War zone. There is a lot the British High Commission in Sri Lanka can do to help us.
A: I doubt if the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, and John Field will correct me if I am wrong on this, can do very much to curb the exodus of bogus asylum seekers from the country. The asylum seekers usually find a way out of the country in the hands of very sophisticated, able, cunning, undetectable organisations that operate these illegal rackets. And the British High Commission, I would have thought, would be pretty helpless in joining the hunt for illegal immigrants leaving Sri Lanka. Efforts are now being made by a number of countries to which these illegal immigrants go, to see that they are intercepted as quickly as possible on route. We are getting numerous requests, almost by the week, from various cback because they have been intercepted in the most far-flung areas of the world. Recently, there was a request for us to take some hundreds of people back, who had been intercepted in Senegal. It is a question really of governmental authorities matching their wits against these very "competent" racketeers and as often happens in real life, the racketeers tend to be a step or two ahead.
Q: You rightly and eloquently described the situation in the United Kingdom regarding fund-raising. There is one aspect which I would like to request you to bring to the attention of the British people. The British tax payer and the British rate payer are not aware that a lot of the local councils, specially in London, are contributing hundreds of thousands of pounds every year to front organisations of the LTTE. They go under the guise of Tamil women's associations, and other Tamil associations, and this is done without the British rate payer knowing this. I would inform the Minister that there is a role for the mission here to highlight these things to the local people here and they themselves will then take up the matter with their local councillors or the MPs. And the other matter I would like to ask is what we read recently, that President Clinton is prepared to bring up measures for the arrest and trial of Pol Pot of Cambodia. Could not you in your foreign travels make sure that a similar request is made for the arrest of Prabhakaran and his group and to bring them before an International Court of Justice because of the crimes they have committed against humanity?
A: On your first point, I have no doubt that the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka will take note of it. With regard to the Pol Pot point, all I can say is that Mr. Prabhakaran is now the number one convicted assassin of Rajiv Gandhi, late Prime Minister of India. He is very much a wanted man in India. He is very much a wanted man in Sri Lanka. The question is how does one manage to get hold of this wanted man. If President Clinton is able to do that with Pol Pot, then we might consider asking President Clinton whether he could lend his good offices to doing the same thing for us.
Q: We are thankful to you for taking all the risks and performing your job very successfully. We all are aware that Tony Blair has just brought peace to Northern Ireland and we hope that you could convince him that here is a similar case and could he intervene and bring about a settlement which we would greatly appreciate.
A: I, like every right thinking Sri Lankan, hopes, wishes, longs for the day when peace will return to our land. But those of us who have to run a government and contend with the various problems, know very well that peace is not easy to find. It is a hard, long road with many complexities strewn on it. As for Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, he had just accomplished a very considerable achievement. We are all hoping that the agreement will stick. It is too early to say whether it will or not. But I think it will be cruelty in the extreme to inflict on Tony Blair an invitation to grapple with our problem as well.
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