Sri Lanka
India concerned over LTTE explosives smuggling
Feb 27, 2007 - 8:44:36 AM

New Delhi, Feb 27 - Massive smuggling of explosive material from India to Sri Lanka by the Tamil Tigers has raised serious concerns here, with one official warning the problem may be bigger than previously thought of.

Indian security agencies have in recent months seized, mainly from Tamil Nadu and off its winding coastline, a huge quantity as well as variety of stuff that can be used to make lethal explosives and also arrested several suspects.

The seizures have sparked some alarm in Tamil Nadu, whose Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has declared he would not tolerate any illegal activity even as he sympathized with the suffering of the island's Tamil community.

But home ministry officials here say that Tamil Nadu needs to do much more to ensure that those covertly assisting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - in smuggling out explosive substances from the state are put out of business.

'We feel the magnitude of the problem is bigger than what it was thought to be,' a senior official told IANS here. 'It is clear more than one network is operating in Tamil Nadu. Just how many, we don't know. It is disturbing.'

Tamil Nadu is separated from Sri Lanka by a strip of sea and has been home to Tamil militants in the past. A previous Karunanidhi government was sacked by New Delhi in 1991 following reports of widespread LTTE presence in the state.

LTTE activities in the state virtually ended in the wake of a crackdown that followed the May 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi near Chennai. They picked up from the latter part of the 90s but never reached the levels of the 1980s.

The latest bout of smuggling appears to have coincided with a dramatic surge in violence in Sri Lanka from December 2005, soon after President Mahinda Rajapakse took power and the LTTE vowed to renew its separatist campaign.

The Sri Lankan navy seized some 60,000 detonators from the sea on its way from Tamil Nadu in January 2006. In November, a large quantity of boosters to produce explosives was found in Tamil Nadu's Sivaganga district from a van that met with a road accident. The consignment was headed to Sri Lanka.

Since then, the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, police and other security agencies have seized or recovered huge volumes of explosive material, bought mainly from other Indian states but routed to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu.

'Everything is in tonnes,' said a Tamil Nadu Police officer. 'The material is being bought from places like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra while Tamil Nadu is used as a transit point.'

The most notable of the finds were arms and ammunition including a seven-kg suicide belt from an explosives-packet boat off the Tamil Nadu coast this month. The boat has since been destroyed.

Home ministry officials admit that for every tonne of material seized, much more may have gone past the Tamil Nadu coast.

'Those arrested say they have clear-cut instructions from the top - to avoid any skirmish with Indian security forces,' said one source.

Another officer said it was clear the Tigers' dependence on Tamil Nadu had soared parallel to its mounting difficulties in the Western countries, many of which have outlawed LTTE as a terrorist outfit.

'The LTTE has the support of a hardcore base in Tamil Nadu. They may be small in number but they are dedicated to the LTTE cause,' the officer said. 'With violence rising -, Tamil Nadu's importance has naturally gone up.'

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