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Tiger base in Thailand … a faux pas.
[ TamilCanadian ] [ 10:16 GMT, Jun. 13, 2000 ]

By: K.T.Rajasingham

Rhetorical pattern that emanated from the print media in Thailand was a clear indication of the paranoiac insistence of the Sri Lankan Government's design to win the hearts and minds of Thais, who are predominantly Buddhists, to justify as well as to internationalize the on-going war against the Tamils. In the Thai language, the word "Tamil" is derogatory and contemptuous. Sri Lankan Government feels that it is easy to win over Thais, with such age-old aversion towards Tamils and by propaganda that the war against the Tamils is to safeguard Buddhism.

However, despite Sri Lankan Governments insistence of Tamil militants activities in Thailand, Thai authorities adopted a very balanced approach to deny of any such involvement and dispelled doubts in the minds of Thais, to the sigh of relief to the very small section of the Sri Lankan and Indian Tamil community residing on a temporary basis in Thailand.

Thailand is a country with kind and hospitable and a very lively people. The country attracts people from all over the world, not only for the scenic beauty and for the well-preserved customs and traditions, but mainly for the generous kindness, friendliness and for the peoples' warmth smile written permanently in their faces. Unfortunately, invidious attempts are made to insinuate the hearts and minds of Thais with instigated details of Tamil militants using the Thai territory as base for subversive actives against the majority Buddhist in Sri Lanka.

Buddhism the religion that preached pacifism is being politicized for desired cause and effects' adopting a calculated approach to win over the support of Thailand. Political observers admit that it was a cleverly orchestrated ploy, designed by the Sri Lankan Government and carried out ingeniously, making use of the media. Thai print media, very vociferous, boldly tow an independent line, free from all sorts of interventions, but has inadvertently fell prey to the dubious scheming and manipulation. Once the lingering doubts are cleared, the issue of Tamil militants using Thailand a base, would be put behind conclusively.

Accordingly, Thailand's National Intelligence Agency chief, Bhumarat Taksadipong, whose agency investigated allegation that Tamil Tigers used Thailand as their base, reiterated in clear terms that, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger militants are not using Thailand as a transit port of arms smuggling.

Earlier, Kingsley Wickramaratne, Sri Lanka's minister for Internal and International Commerce and Food, in an interview with the Thai English daily, "The Nation" said, "The Tamil Tigers are not using Thailand as a base, but rather as a transit point or moving base. They have many similar bases around the world."

The issue of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) using Thailand as a base for arms smuggling was first raised by Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri lankan Minister for Foreign Affairs, when he last visited Thailand 18 months ago. Sri Lankan government repeatedly charged that the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) use an island near Phuket province in the South of Thailand, to smuggle arms into their stronghold in the Wanni region.

Thai Intelligence Chief told that, it was an "old story." Bhumarat said, "We have made it clear to Sri Lanka several times that, we have found no solid evidence to justify their claims."

Allegations of arms smuggling resurfaced when, the Thai police arrested one Christi Reginald Lawrence, a Sri Lankan Tamil, but a naturalized Norwegian, holding Norwegian passport. Thai authorities confiscated alleged contrabands, according to the police sources, that included sophisticated communication equipment, Tamil Tiger propaganda materials, a military uniform and 5,000 liters of fuel.

Lawrence, along with a local Thai partner runs a shipyard at the island of Kon Si-Lae, located in Phuket, in the Southern Thailand. Last April, Phuket police arrested the Jaffna-born Lawrence, in a crackdown on smugglers and found a junk in the form of a peculiar vessel and sophisticated equipment including radar and sonar in his shipyard. Police also suspected those speed boats that were built in a shipyard in Phuket's Koh Si-Law area, are being made for the Tamil Tigers. Thai police revealed that when they searched the shipyard found four speed boats in completed condition and the fifth one nearing completion.

Sri Lankan Ambassador to Thailand, Karunatilaka Amunugama, approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to arrange a meeting with Lawrence, who was then in custody, for questioning. As the matter was in the hands of the judicial system in Thailand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs found it difficult to arrange such a meeting. Everybody knows that, the Thai judicial system functioned independently and free from governmental interventions. Eventually, it was confirmed that no such meeting took place between the Sri Lankan embassy officials and Lawrence.

Thai police tried to link Lawrence to the Tamil Tigers, but found no evidence to support their suspicion. The Special Police Chief, Major General Saweek Wattanakit said that Lawrence who holds Norwegian passport was released after police found that he had no connection with the Tamil Tigers.

Earlier, Thai print media reported that they received confirmation from the Thai army chief General Surayuth Chulanont, that Tamil Tigers have set up bases in Southern Thailand after being forced to evacuate from Twente Island off Myanmar (Burma), in 1996. News report began to come out in Thai press on an assumption that nothing has been done by the authorities to boot the Tamil militants out of Thailand. Thai media reported the approach adopted by the Thai authorities in handling the Tigers was to continuously nag them, until they pack up and leave. Thai Print media further reported that the Tamil Tigers have opened companies in Phuket to serve as fronts for their activities.

Thai military officials however have previously confirmed reports that, Thai territory near Phuket is being used as a support base by the Tamil Tigers. At present, after extensive investigation, Thai military officials have concluded that they have not found any incriminating evidence that, the Tamil Tigers has actually run weapons through the area.

Once, after the release of Lawrence from the police custody, the Thai army chief General Surayuth Chulanont said in an interview that, so far no legal action could be taken against Lawrence, as he legally entered the Kingdom of Thailand and his business is completely legitimate.

He added, "His (Lawrence's) ship building business is a normal one, serving many people. However we will keep contact with the Sri Lankan embassy and will monitor his activities."

In its 10 June issue, The Nation, which quoted anonymous senior intelligence source reported, "It is found Lawrence supports the Sri Lankan rebels by shipping them petrol and food stuffs, such as canned food. However, we cannot take any action against him, because his activities have nothing to do with arms smuggling."

"Lawrence done his business properly. In shipping petrol to Sri Lanka, he has done everything according to regulations, such as having appropriate documents and hiring registered shipping company, sources said."

"The source acknowledged that vessels belonging to the LTTE had been anchored in Phuket province few years ago. The distance from Phuket to Sri Lanka is the shortest, compared with the country's other provinces."

"We believed that the vessels were that of the LTTE's, but we could do nothing, because they loaded only petrol and food. It is beyond our jurisdiction and mandate to determine their itinerary or block them from going to their planned destinations, possibly to Sri Lanka, he said."

"Referring to Sri Lanka's claims of Thailand as an LTTE base, the source said the rebels no longer want to purchase weapons from this region. It is true the LTTE in the past purchased small weapons from Cambodia, but in small quantities."

"So far, the LTTE has confiscated large amounts of weapons, including tanks and other heavy weapons from the Sri Lankan government which has lost many areas to the rebels. The weapons confiscated were more sophisticated than those purchased from Cambodia. So they did not want any weapons from our region."

Even after Lawrence was cleared from any wrong doings, speculation is still rife with the Thai print media about the finding of a piece of junk scrap, said to be a submersible, but not seaworthy, even the matter was cleared by the Thai authorities. Thai foreign ministry and other connected agencies in Thailand clarified that the structure in the form of a half-built miniature submarine discovered in a shipyard owned by the Tamil in Phuket, is a piece of junk scrap, abandoned for years and was not believed to be seaworthy or meant for the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting a war against the Sri Lankan Government armed forces, for a separate homeland for the Tamils.

Earlier, "Bangkok Post" another Thai English daily, in it's 7 June issue, quoted a Thai intelligence official saying the 5-meter long vessel was meant to be used for sabotage missions by the separatist guerrillas of Sri Lanka. Supat Chitranuk, the Deputy spokesman of the Thai foreign ministry, while denying the superfluous news report said a government report on the submarine determined that it had been abandoned for years and was not believes it to be seaworthy or meant for the Tamil Tigers.

Even after the Tahi authorities clarified the issue, the English language dailies, "Bangkok Post" and "The Nation" continue to "cry wolf." The Nation in it's 8 June, edition carried an editorial comment with the headline "Thailand must join the anti-terrorist fight."

Whilst appreciating The Nation's concern about Thailand - the land of thousand smiles, to be free of foreign terrorists and terror organization, the print media has to be told that, they should not be made used by a country which preposterously and provocatively unleash anti-Tamil propaganda in the international arena, to justify its war machination against the Tamils, which also continuously deny the Tamils with their right of self-determination.

Sri Lanka, which internationalized the ethnic conflict by declaring war against the Tamils on 11 July 1979, by the then President J.R.Jeyawardene, the Reynard, and dispatched for the first time to the Jaffna district, the Sinhalese military under the command of a Brigadier, with the mandate to wipe out the Tamils spearheading the demand for a separate Tamil state.

Since that date, the country is technically on a state of war with the Tamils. Successive Presidents of Sri Lanka had continued with the war and the present President too has not shown any marked difference, other than the continuance of the bloodied war against the Tamils. There were couple of cessation of hostilities armed aggression agreement signed between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE, but later to be flouted. Up to date, it was unfortunate that there was no armistice to end the war, to find a negotiated political settlement to the protracted ethnic war, which has so far killed more than 80,000 people .

Military campaign is today is seriously accepted as the extension of protest by both the warring partners in Sri Lanka - in the case of the Government, it is to subdue the Tamils, whereas the militants consider it the only democratic option forced on them to wrest control of their homeland from the siege of the government. Therefore, the Tamils feel that Thailand a great country, has to think before becoming a prey to the Sri Lankan Government's malicious designs.

In the editorial comment, The Nation said, "Suddenly Thailand is in the headlines again, as a possible stamping ground for foreign-based terrorist organizations, especially the Tamil Tigers. For the time being, the report of a surprise discovery of an unfinished submersible in Southern Thailand belonging to the Tamil Tigers must be treated with skepticism. The government and the provincial authorities must investigate thoroughly before any conclusion can be drawn. Otherwise, Thailand could be drawn into the labyrinth of the current conflict in Sri Lanka and its war with the Tamil Tigers."

The editorial comment was confusing, when the daily in its same day's issue (8 June) reports in its front page, the lead piece to read, "Tamil blast kills MP, 21 others - Security alert after attack - Phuket 'sub' claim rejected."

The Nation in its report wrote, "Meanwhile, Thai authorities said the submersible-type vessel in Phuket was simply a scrap-metal dummy, the purpose of which is unclear."

The Thai English daily further added, that the Special branch Police Commissioner Pol. Lt. Gen Yothin Matayomchun said that his men had already checked the vessel. Yothin said, "It was found to be only scrap metal built up like a mini-submarine. However its construction is still incomplete, making it hard to say whether it could have become a submarine."

The news item appeared in the Thai media reported, "Phuket Governor Charnchai Sunthornmut said that, he would have an expert check on the vessel although he personally did not believe it could be a submarine. The Governor was speaking after inspecting the shipyard together with the Third Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Saneh Chaichomlert."

Saneh said that, he did not think that the object could become a submarine, as it was not equipped with any technology. Meanwhile the Thai partner in the Lawrence shipyard, told the reporter for the English Language "Phuket Gazette," that the vessel was brought in its unfinished state from Bangkok to the shipyard about five years ago and had been sitting there unattended since then.

National intelligence chief Bhumarat, repeating the Third fleet commander Vice Admiral Saneh's claim, said that the object found in Lawrence's shipyard could not become a submarine, as it is only a scrap metal built up to look one.

Bhumarat further added, "It is our understanding that submarines used for covert operations have a rather rounded shape, not the rocket-like one, found in Lawrence's shipyard."

Thai foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan told the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand that, Thailand would make every effort to prevent the Tamil Tigers from using its territory as a base.

Surin said, "We do not want our territory to be used as a transit point or for anyone to create problems for any country."

Thai foreign minister who has long dismissed any suggestion of Tamil rebel activity in Thailand, said the media was being sensationalist. He also quipped, "I have made it clear to the authorities that these are issues that be handled more effectively behind the light of the cameras."

Whilst the news items, reports and interviews clarifies that there was no need for any alarm or concern over the alleged submarine structure found in the shipyard at Phuket, but it was confusing to observe that The Nation in its editorial comments takes up a different position with conflicting anecdotes to besmirch the Tamils.

A diplomat from an Asian country, who wished to remain anonymous, told that the print media is simply practicing the age old prejudice against the Tamils. In Thailand it has become the practice to call anything bad, Tamil. Even the political turmoil of May 1992, where dozens of Thais were reported to be gunned down, was called "Purassapa Thamil" - The Tamil May.

Earlier, Sulak Sivaraksa, an internationally renowned human right activist and a reputed Buddhist scholar told this writer that, anything bad in Thai is called Tamil. He said, "If you are called a Tamil, then you are dreadful person. This of-course we understand, because we have been brain-washed by the Sinhala."

Concerns are being expressed by the Tamil community, that the Thai print media's primary aim of arousing the past prejudicial awareness, might tend to generate antipathy in the midst of the Thais - the pleasant people with one thousand smiles.

Thai political commentators alleged that the lack of a sound strategy has prevented Thai officials from taking decisive action against foreign terrorists and the case-by-case attitude is still very prevalent. But, they hasten to agree that the outmoded Thai policy is still the best way out. However, Thai authorities, after a thorough investigation have put to rest for the time being, the hotly debated issue of Tamil militants using Thailand as the base, an antinovel theory continuously put forward by Sri Lanka..

In the meantime, the war ravages on in the Jaffna peninsula, where the Government forces are fighting a doomed battle to save the peninsula from falling in the hands of the Tamil militants, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

For the last two weeks there was a marked lull in the military campaign. It was because the Tamil Tigers showed considerable concern about the Civilian trapped in the Thenmaradchy war zone. It was earlier reported that the Government forces were not cooperative to the pleas of the UNHCR to allow safe passage to 15,000 civilians trapped in the war sector, to move out.

The international office of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in its statement released on 10 June, has urged the international agencies present in the Northern province of Sri Lanka, such as, UNHCR and the ICRC to take adequate measures with the Sri Lankan government to safeguard the innocent civilians trapped in the war zone. The press release states as follows:

According to reports emerging from the Jaffna Peninsula, civilians in small groups are leaving the war ravaged region in search of safer places. Once the civilians move out, the military campaign is expected to intensify with full vigor for the capture of Kodikamam, Kilali and Nagarkovil. Also it is reported that, India is intensifying its diplomatic efforts to bring the Sri Lankan and the LTTE to the negotiation table to end the revolving cycle of the ethnic conflict. The irony of this comical circus is India and USA consider that talking with the Sri Lanka's President, who continuously prevaricate would bring an end to the military campaign, whilst conveniently ignoring the LTTE and its leader V.Prabkaran, the leading player in the issue, to ascertain their views on a negotiated settlement.


E-Mail: ktraja@loxinfo.co.th

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