By Paul Tighe, Bloomberg
Sydney: UK will stop illegal fundraising by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that serves only to prolong Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said.
Security agencies in the UK are moving to “counter the bullying, threats and acts of fraud that are used regularly to extract money from the Tamil population and others in the country,” Howells told Parliament in London.
Intelligence officials have revealed that “widespread fraud scams” may be providing funds to the LTTE, he said. The Tamil Tigers last month denied allegations by Sri Lanka’s embassy in London that they’re involved in an operation to clone credit cards.
Fighting in Sri Lanka escalated last year as two attempts at peace talks in Geneva between the government and the LTTE failed to restart a peace process to end two decades of conflict. More than 600,000 Tamils have fled the country to escape the violence, more than half of them going to the UK and Canada.
“The ability of the LTTE to raise funds oversees helps to sustain its ability to carry out violent acts and reduces the incentive to move away from the path of violence,” Howell said, according to a parliamentary transcript.
The UK will continue to designate the LTTE as a terrorist group until it renounces terrorism “in deed and word,” he said. The US, India and European Union also proscribe the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization.
Sri Lanka’s government is trying to distract international attention from the human rights abuses of its armed forces by alleging Tamil Tiger involvement in illegal credit cards, S.P. Thamilchelvan said on 22 April, according to TamilNet. The Sri Lankan embassy said employees at UK gas stations cloned credit cards and pin numbers to withdraw funds from accounts.
The government is “making false accusations of LTTE responsibility of criminality in other countries,” Thamilchelvan said. “We also urge Tamil activists among the diaspora community to cooperate fully with the law enforcement authorities in their host countries.”
A court in Australia two days ago brought terrorism charges against two men for being members of the LTTE and raising funds for the group. Six Sri Lankans were convicted in Norway on 27 April for credit card fraud, Sri Lanka’s Media Centre for National Security said on its web site on 30 April.
The LTTE uses intimidation and violence to extort funds from Tamils living in countries such as Canada and the UK, Human Rights Watch said in a March 2006 report.
The LTTE in late 2005 began an “aggressive” fundraising drive in Canada and Europe, the report said. Representatives pressed Tamil businessmen for money and threatened to harm their families if they didn’t pay, it said.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate homeland since 1983 in a conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people. The rebels want an interim self-governing body established in the areas they control in the north and east before a peace settlement can be reached.
The UK recognizes that the LTTE isn’t solely responsible for the violence, Howells said, referring to paramilitary groups linked to the military.
The UK’s experience trying to bring a settlement to the conflict in Northern Ireland “told us that peace will not happen until the parties to the conflict understand that nothing can be gained by continuing violence.”
The conflict escalated this year with the army driving Tamil rebels from the eastern region and the LTTE retaliating by carrying out three raids with a new air wing, two of them near the capital, Colombo, since 26 March.
The Tamil Tigers have an estimated 12,000 fighters and a 4,000-strong naval force, known as the Sea Tigers. Sri Lanka’s army deploys about 155,000 soldiers in operations against the rebels, who have their headquarters at Kilinochchi in the north.