SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The leader of the breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, also known as 'Colonel' Karuna, has finally openly accepted that he has areas under his control. Karuna, who heads a political party, Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), and a military setup (often labelled 'paramilitary') now admits that his group is "involved in civil administration" in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. In a telephonic interview with The Sunday Times of March 11, 2007, Karuna said,
Karuna accepted that the TMVP has a ‘close relationship’ with the Government and that his party’s members have a close relationship even at a ministerial level. He, however, declined the charges that the group operated as a ‘paramilitary’ and claimed that they functioned independently. On this, he echoes the Government position. Speaking in a 'Hard Talk' program with the BBC World Service on March 15, 2007, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rohitha Bogollagama, refuted the charges that Karuna’s forces were operating as a paramilitary organisation on territory controlled by the Sri Lankan Government and claimed that the TMVP was a ‘political party’ registered with the Government.
Karuna’s split with the LTTE goes back to his March 3, 2004, refusal, as the LTTE’s ‘special commander’ of the Batticaloa-Ampara region, to send an additional 1,000 troops to the North as requested by the rebel chief, Prabhakaran. Sources suggest that, since there was no operational requirement for this transfer, unless Prabhakaran was planing the resumption of hostilities against the Sri Lankan Army about which he had not consulted Karuna, the latter suspected that this was possibly a prelude to his removal from the leadership of the East, and he consequently revolted. Operations carried out by Pottu Amman, chief of the LTTE's intelligence wing in the East, without consulting Karuna, had also angered him. Soon after defying Prabhakaran's directives, Karuna simultaneously informed the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that he and his Eastern troops would thereafter act independently. Later, in a leaflet dated March 4, 2004, Karuna set out his faction's grievances against the Vanni leadership. Among them were:
Further, on March 7, 2004, in an interview with the BBC Tamil Service, Karuna stated that, as a condition for a settlement, Prabhakaran should remove his intelligence chief, Pottu Amman; financial chief, Thamilenthi; and police chief, P. Nadesan.
The Eastern component comprising Batticaloa and Ampara was almost indispensable to the LTTE. The active cadre strength of the LTTE was about 18,000, of which 7,500 were drawn from the Batticaloa and Ampara Districts. More than 2,000 cadres had been recruited or conscripted from the Eastern region after the cease-fire came into force. Being the battle-hardened leader of the East, Karuna was a prize scalp for the Government, which was trying to pressurise the LTTE.
In April 2004, when the LTTE launched a searing attack against the Karuna faction, he disbanded his forces and escaped with a small group of supporters, allegedly to be welcomed in Colombo. According to a BBC report of June 24, 2004, he was helped to escape by opposition United National Party (UNP) Member of Parliament, Ali Zahir Mowlana. It was also reported that Karuna was seen in hiding in Army safe-houses in Colombo for more that two months, masterminding a series of killings of LTTE cadres and their supporters in an attempt to weaken the outfit. The Government Information Minister Mangala Samaraweera also accepted the allegation and admitted that Military personnel were involved, adding, however, "I mean that we cannot deny, but not with the knowledge or connivance of the Government."
The ‘close ties’ between the Sri Lanka Government and TMVP are said to have been the decisive factor behind the recent successes of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in Mavil Aru and Sampur in the Trincomalee District and Vakarai in the Batticaloa District. The Government forces are also making inroads with the ongoing operations in the Thopigalla jungles and other LTTE-held areas. The SLA has used Karuna’s knowledge of the hinterland to weaken the LTTE and go for a final assault. According to sources, Karuna cadres, including children, helped security forces push North through the mined no-man's land, allowing the Army to claim about 600 square kilometres of territory from the LTTE so far. Sri Lanka, however, continues to maintain that no link exists between the Army and the Karuna faction. According to a March 17 report, Sri Lanka's National Security Minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, said, "It can be inevitable assistance. (But) it is unplanned. We don't request assistance from an illegal organisation."
Estimates regarding the military strength of the TMVP range between 300 to 700. The TMVP reportedly aims to increase their number to 2000 cadres. E. Pradeep, the political leader of the TMVP in the East, ‘Commander Pillaiyan’, and ‘Senior Commander’ Jeyam, are some of the top leaders of the group. The group is active in all three districts of the Eastern Province – Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee – as well as in Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province. The TMVP has three military camps in Mutugalla, and one each in Maduarrangala and Karopolla as disclosed by an aid worker, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) January 2007 report. The report further claimed that the group was active in abduction and conscription of children in Mankerni, Valaichechenai, Kumpurumollai, Korakallimaddu, Maavidivembu, Vantharumoolai, Chenkalady and Eravur areas. The political wing of the group has its offices established in Valaichechenai, Korakallimaddu, Morakkottanchenai, Chenkalady and Batticaloa Town. All these places where TMVP has its presence – political, military or operational – are allegedly closely connected with security forces check posts, giving credence to the claim that they have tacit support from Government troops to carry out their ‘limited operations’ to nullify the LTTE’s advantage.
Apart from the tactical advantages brought in by the Karuna faction, his renunciation of the idea of a separate state is in perfect rhythm with the official vision of a conflict-free Sri Lanka. While addressing a passing out parade of his cadres at an undisclosed military base in the East on March 3-4, 2007, Karuna declared,
Using faction against faction, however, could prove a double edged weapon. The Government is currently using the Karuna faction’s strength to advantage in the entrenched battle to regain lost territories from the LTTE, but the future is fraught with risk. Karuna, the most dreaded and ruthless of the LTTE ‘commanders’ before he split from the mainstream ‘Wanni faction’, has already adopted his former leader, Prabhakaran’s, methods in the areas of his dominance. He has reportedly banned several Tamil dailies in Batticaloa for not carrying the TMVP’s propaganda and allegedly truing to ‘create conflict’ among the Tamils and Muslims in the Eastern Province. Reports indicate that the TMVP is going the same way as the LTTE, levying taxes and harassing people.
Karuna, who encouraged some 2,000 child soldiers to return home in 2004, once again began to abduct children and forcibly recruit cadres into his forces around June 2006. According to UNICEF data, they had recorded 208 complaints of children and adults having been abducted by the Karuna Group in 2006. HRW claims the actual number could be three times higher, since victimised families are often to frightened to lodge reports. Evidence received by HRW indicates that the abductees were first held in political offices operated by the TMVP in the townships, which were guarded by Sri Lankan Security Forces personnel, and further, that such a large number of abducted persons could not have been taken past numerous military checkpoints en route, without the knowledge of the Sri Lankan forces. Both HRW and Allan Rock, a UN Special Envoy on Children in Armed Conflict, who visited the country in November 2006, have pointed a finger at the Army for enabling the abductions. Although the Government has denied these allegations on numerous occasions, these charges will eventually hurt the Government in its dealings with the International community in long term.
The TMVP says it sees itself as the regional Government of the future. "Karuna is the leader of the political and military wing, he is the overall leader now and forever," E. Pradeep, the political leader of the TMVP in the East, declared on March 17, 2007. The Government needs to be wary cautious in its dealings with an organisation that is still being led by one of the toughest separatist extremists – though he has declared a shift in his agenda. There is no guarantee that he will not switch his game plan once again, if he sees an advantage in, or a threat from, a different direction.
For successive years ‘democracy’ to an average Bangladeshi has meant little more than bitter polarized politics, long absenteeism from the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly), and unruly mass rallies, demonstrations and pitched street battles between the two main political parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). While each of these parties, during their tenure in the Opposition, managed to hold the country to ransom by paralyzing the administration, they utilized their time in Government by engaging in rampant and uninhibited corruption. This remained true not just for national politics, but for all forms of representative politics at every level, down to what went on in most of the 64 Districts of the country.
Under the circumstances, the measures undertaken by the Interim Government, which functions under a limited mandate to prepare the roadmap for national elections, to carry out extensive reforms in both the political and administrative arena, have the appearance of bringing about a much-needed cleanup of the political mess in Bangladesh. At the same time, however, several of these measures have been authoritarian and repressive, and suggest that the regime may be seeking to consolidate its rule, rather than to make way for an elected government in the immediate future.
A state of Emergency was declared on January 11, 2007, by President Iajuddin Ahmed amidst raging feuds between the two main political alliances, and an Interim Government was installed the next day. The invoking of Emergency provisions also led to the suspension of fundamental rights, all forms of political activity and imposed Press censorship in the country. Over the succeeding months, the Interim Government has systematically graduated to the status of a regime that holds extraordinary – if not absolute – powers.
As a result, there is, today, complete confusion regarding the holding of Parliamentary elections, originally slated for January 21, 2007. On February 27, the head of the Interim Government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, stated that it was not possible to indicate a specific timeframe for elections, as electoral reforms were now under way, a prerequisite for holding free, fair and credible polls. Indications that emerged in March 2007 suggest that the comprehensive electoral reforms, including the preparation of the new voters’ list and identity cards for all above 18 years of age, would only begin in the month of July. According to sources in the Election Commission, the massive exercise involving about 76 to 80 million voters, would require at least a year to be completed, thus indicating that the Parliamentary elections might be held no earlier than the end of 2008 or in early 2009.
Part of the reform process that the Interim Government has undertaken, and one of its priorities, is the ‘mission’ to rid politics in impoverished Bangladesh of corruption, a move that has been described by the Chief Advisor, Fakhruddin Ahmed, as one that "would help create an environment congenial to holding the stalled polls in an acceptable manner". On January 22, 2007, Fakhruddin Ahmed had vowed to crack down on the endemic corruption and violence which, he said, undermined the country's democracy. The Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International had rated Bangladesh as the third most corrupt country in 2006 along with Congo, Sudan and Chad.
The anti-corruption drives of the Interim Government have been comprehensive and have targeted the highest and most powerful in the country. The Government reconstituted the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) on February 25, 2007, and has since tightened Emergency powers with provisions barring the corrupt from taking part in any polls. High profile members of both political parties, businessmen and bureaucrats, have been taken into custody for alleged corrupt practices and Taka 26 billion (USD 377 million) in 53 bank accounts have been frozen. Among those arrested are the outgoing Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s son and senior joint secretary general of the BNP, Tarique Rahman; Nazmul Huda and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury of the BNP; the mayor of Chittagong, A.B.M. Mohiuddin Chowdhury; and Mohammad Nasim of the AL. Investigations are continuing into the alleged links between Tarique Rahman and the Indian fugitive mafia don and US designated ‘global terrorist’, Dawood Ibrahim.
The Government has also announced its decision to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) that would allow Bangladesh to benefit from a comprehensive international cooperation framework for mutual law enforcement assistance, especially in extradition and investigations. The Government has further asked the National Board of Revenue to prepare profiles of over 100 former lawmakers or businessmen who have links with political parties, to determine whether their living standards matched their declared incomes. Further, on March 21, the Government promulgated an amendment to the Emergency Powers Rules, 2007, suspending the rights to appeal for bail and seek redress from any higher court until a case is resolved in a trial court. The amendment also gave the ACC sweeping powers to seize moveable and immovable assets of corruption suspects without the permission of the Government or officials appointed by the Government.
Such moves, which have been welcomed by several sections of society in Bangladesh, have also been accompanied by a subtle growth in the power of the Army. It is widely speculated that the anti-corruption moves of the Interim Government have been blessed by the Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed. It is the Army that has gained the most during the ongoing phase. The long-dormant National Security Council is being reconstituted, giving the military Chiefs a formal means of expressing views about the way the country is run and a potential veto over Government decisions. Eight central and 64 District-based Anti-corruption Task Forces have been constituted, comprising members of the Army, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a para-military force under the Home Ministry, and the different intelligence agencies.
On many occasions, Army vigilantism has bordered on the extremes of excessive repression. According to a March 13 Press release by human rights organization, Odhikar, during the first 60 days of the state of Emergency, from January 12 to March 12, 2007, a total of 50 people were killed during operations by law enforcement agencies, while 95,825 were arrested. Similarly, a new-found confidence in the Security Forces has also transformed into several repressive measures targeting the largely free Media. On March 9, 2007, the Police arrested Idris Ali, editor of a local weekly, in Barisal, and M.A. Muhit, correspondent for the newspaper Jugantor. Two days earlier, the Security Forces raided the newspaper Janakantha, arrested publisher and editor Atiqullah Khan Masud, and searched his home. Khan Masud, who in late January had openly criticised the imposition of Press censorship, is in custody for a month on charges of corruption, criminal activities and "tarnishing the country's image abroad". In February, Police searched the homes of seven journalists in Rupgonj, near the capital, after articles critical of a Police officer were published. The editor of Pratham Alo, Matiur Rahman, was also been arrested on March 19 by the Security Forces.
The anti-corruption moves have created another class of victims, the poor, whose houses had come up in unauthorized settlements in many places, including capital Dhaka. The Interim Government has flattened these structures leaving thousands homeless. Some aid organisations estimate that, in the first two months of the Emergency, more than 50,000 people have been evicted from more than a dozen slums in Dhaka alone.
However, the Government’s anti-corruption moves, steps to arrest the rise in prices of essential commodities, and the anti-hoarding policy, have found ready supporters in a country where nearly 50 percent of the population is under the poverty line.
Similarly, the Government has also done well in targeting the vast network of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants, a task that appeared to have been deliberately left unfinished by the previous BNP-led regime. On March 4, 2007, President Iajuddin Ahmed rejected the mercy petitions of the six convicted JMB leaders, paving the way for their execution, speculated to be scheduled between April 13 and 19. The decision marked an end to the judicial process that commenced with their individual arrests in the first half of 2006. Additionally, as a part of the ongoing drive against the militants, the security forces have arrested a number of the outfit’s cadres, including several second and lower-rung leaders from several Districts. Among the arrested are:
Significantly, however, there are no reports of the Islamist terrorist Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami – Bangladesh (HuJI-B), being specifically targeted by the present regime. It is useful to recall the HuJI-B has been involved in a number of recent terrorist incidents in India, has deep linkages with terrorist organizations based in Pakistan, including the al Qaeda, and is considered to constitute a significant international terrorist threat. HuJI-B figures in the US State Department’s list of ‘other terrorist groups’. The complete absence of action against this group in the sweeping SF operations across the country can only raise suspicions regarding the criteria on which these actions are based.
That Bangladesh desperately needs democratic and political reforms is unquestionable. However, the manner in which these are being imposed by the Interim Government, without any process of debate or consultation, raises many and disturbing questions. While a complete lack of faith and confidence in either of the two principal political groupings remains the basis of the popular silence on the ongoing transformations in the country, history should serve as a ready reckoner: promises of stability in a milieu of political anarchy have historically catapulted dictators and Fascists into the seats of authority. It would be a tragedy if preceding conditions of near-chaos serve as the foundations for a permanent retreat or denial of democracy in Bangladesh.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 19-25, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Terrorists using banks for funds, informs Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal: Observing that terrorists primarily use hawala channels to route their funds, Government said even the banking channels were a "significant route" for movement of money by these elements. "As per available reports, terrorists and terrorist organisations active in India are using different channels to fund their operations. They route their funds mainly through hawala and other informal means. Banking channels are also a significant route for movement of funds by such elements," Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal said in reply to questions in the Rajya Sabha. He said the Government was pursuing a multi-dimensional approach to deal with terrorist operations and supporting the States to neutralise their activities. To a question on the recent observations of National Security Advisor (NSA) M K Narayanan on the matter, Jaiswal said the NSA had recently recounted the methods adopted by terror outfits to generate funds and had pointed towards the reported "misuse" of the formal financial system by them. He said the revenue, security and law enforcement agencies were regularly sensitized to pursue an inter-agency approach to detect the use of these channels for funds received by the terror groups. "There is continuous coordination between Home, Defence, Finance and other ministries, which are the administrative ministries of security sensitive sectors," he said, adding that proposals relating to such sectors were referred to the Home and Defence ministries for vetting from the security angle. Zee News, March 22, 2007.
Maoists warn of more attacks in Chhattisgarh: Adopting a belligerent stand against the counter-revolutionary movement, Salwa Judum, the Maoists warned that they would step up attacks against Security Forces (SFs) and the special police officers employed by the Chhattisgarh Government. Terming the recent Rani Bodli attack, in which 55 SF personnel were killed in Chhattisgarh, a "heroic tactical counter-offensive" operation, the Maoist spokesperson Azad warned that the Maoist guerillas and militia were prepared even to take on the Indian Army, if it was deployed in the Chhattisgarh forests. He also appealed to the jawans of Central forces, particularly the Naga and Mizo battalions, to disobey orders and withdraw from Chhattisgarh. Hindu, March 24, 2007.
‘Joint patrolling by the Navies of India and Sri Lanka has been suggested to keep trouble-makers at bay’, says Defence Minister: In an obvious reference to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who have been allegedly using the sea between India and Sri Lanka as a passage for gun and drug running, Defence Minister A.K. Antony after a visit to the Southern Naval Command at Kochi in Kerala said, "Joint patrolling by the Navies of India and Sri Lanka has been suggested, to keep trouble-makers at bay". Indian intelligence services have been alarmed that the LTTE could be acquiring guns not only for their armouries but also for some Indian insurgent groups for money or services in kind. Answering a question on the terrorist threat to the country from the seas, he said the Navy, Coast Guard and personnel of coastal police stations must act in coordination, to thwart attempts to attack India's coastal assets. "We already have unmanned aerial vehicles to do surveillance of the coast. Three offshore-patrol vessels and more helicopters will be commissioned into the Navy," he stated further. Daily News, March 21, 2007.
28 persons killed in clash between Maoists and MJF activists in Rautahat District: At least 28 persons, including five women, were killed and over 40 persons were injured at Gaur in the Rautahat District when Maoists and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) activists clashed with each other. 12 dead bodies were found at the major clash site at the Rice Mills ground in Gaur while 15 more bodies were discovered in the nearby Hajmaniya and Mudhbaliya Village Development Committees (VDCs) – four kilometres away from Gaur city on March 21. One person succumbed to his injuries later. The incident occurred after 1 pm at the Rice Mills ground in Gaur where both the Madhesi Mukti Morcha (MMM) affiliated with the Maoists and MJF had planned to hold their separate mass meetings. Unconfirmed reports say that Jwala Singh faction of Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) has owned up responsibility for the shootout. Superintendent of Police (SP) at the Rautahat District Police Office, Ram Kumar Khanal, says 30 Maoist cadres, five MJF activists and five civilians were injured in the clash. Khanal said, "Most of those who died in the encounter are Maoists," adding that other dead persons were yet to be identified. Neapl News; The Himalayan Times, March 21-22, 2007.
At least 160 persons including 100 foreign militants killed in South Waziristan: Nearly 160 people, including 130 foreign militants, have been killed in four days of fighting between the al Qaeda-linked militants and Pakistani tribesmen, Pakistani Government officials said. Fresh fighting broke out on March 19 in Shin Warsak village, 7-km west of Wana. Earlier, a battle between foreign militants, most of them Uzbeks, and ethnic Pashtun tribesmen erupted in the remote area near the Afghan border on March 6, when militants tried to kill a pro-Government tribal leader, in which seventeen people, most of them Uzbeks, were killed. This followed Government efforts to convince the tribesmen to help keep order and stop militant raids into Afghanistan. "It's a success of the Government tribesmen strategy ... the tribesmen are fed up with them because they and their activities adversely affect their lives and business," said Military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad.
A Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) – Fazlur Rehman dominated tribal jirga on March 22 brokered a temporary cease-fire between foreign militants and Wazir tribes in South Waziristan. "Both sides have agreed to the jirga demand for a ceasefire," said Niaz Muhammad Qureshi, JUI-F information secretary for South Waziristan. "We are glad that the two sides conceded to the tribal elders and clerics’ plea for silencing their guns in order to solve their issues through peaceful means," he added. Senior militant leaders like Baitullah Mehsud, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of senior Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and an unnamed Taliban commander from across the Afghan border reached undisclosed locations in South Waziristan to take part in the cease-fire negotiations. "They are all monitoring the situation and discussing with key local militant commanders how things can be cooled down," said tribal sources. Tribal sources said that Maulvi Nazir, commander of pro-Taliban tribal militants in Wazir areas, at one point was unwilling to negotiate a cease-fire with foreign militants and their local harbourers. "The jirga members convinced him after hours-long parleys," said sources in Dera Ismail Khan city, 200 miles south of Peshawar.Reuters; Daily Times; Dawn, March 20-24, 2007.
Pak frontier regions hotbed of extremism, says Condoleezza Rice: United States (U.S.) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed worry that Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan was serving as a possible safe haven for terrorists and said extremists in the area have to be dealt with. Rice, in testimony before a congressional hearing, also expressed concern about a disputed peace deal that the Pakistani Government struck last September in the North Waziristan tribal area under which traditional tribal leaders are to enforce an end to militancy. Critics say the peace accord has allowed militants to regroup in an area viewed as a possible hiding place for al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Rice said the frontier "is remote, it is cut-off, it is underdeveloped, and it is a hotbed for extremism", adding, local tribal groups had started to fight back against extremists in the area. "You have to separate the population from the foreign fighters. And you do that through fighting — the Pakistani Army fighting them, through the tribals fighting them. But you also do that by trying to improve the economic base and the modernisation of that region."Daily Times, March 22, 2007.
Tigers sold Norwegian passports to al-Qaeda: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have stolen Norwegian passports and sold them to the al Qaeda organisation to earn money, said Norwegians Against Terrorism Organisation chief spokesman, Falk Rovik. "The LTTE has sold these passports to the highest bidders, including an Algerian al-Qaeda group," Rovik said. Rovik pointed out that the LTTE has used some of the stolen passports and the balance had been sold to the highest bidders including the al-Qaeda group in Algeria. Rovik, who is also a member of the board of the Oslo Chapter of Amnesty International, said almost 90 per cent of LTTE revenues are raised from criminal activities outside Sri Lanka, including the smuggling of narcotics and humans, extortion of Diaspora members, credit card fraud etc.
The LTTE supplied forged passports to Ramzi Yousef who bombed the World Trade Center, counter terrorism expert Aaron Mannes claimed, and further, that the Sri Lankan terrorist group not only supplied forged passports to Yousef, it also smuggled weapons from Pakistan’s militants to their counterparts in Philippines. Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 bombing at New York’s World Trade Center, was sentenced to a jail term of 240 years without parole and is spending his time in a US federal jail. The attack killed six and injured more than 1,000. Daily News, March 20,26, 2007.