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Tigers take terror ops to space

SATELLITE TV: While the attention of most remains drawn to the LTTE’s development of an air capability, a piecing together of its recent activities indicate that its new focus is on developing a much more ambitious capability in space, using it to best effect in its communications offensive against Sri Lanka, and to further its aim of being a dominant force in the South Asia region.

President George W. Bush is determined to pursue with the anti-missile defence operations in Europe, using Poland and the Czech Republic , much against the objections of Russia.

The recent meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice failed to give any concessions to Russia on this matter.

The position of the Bush Administration is that the missile defence capability in Europe is necessary to prevent the dangers of any rogue state or terrorist organization getting their hands on long distance missiles, with the added capability of delivering nuclear warheads.

While this must be a worry for the super power that initiated the War on Terror which brought it to the quagmire of Iraq, developments in the US itself indicate that apart from missile threats in Europe, international terrorism is making a great leap in the use of satellite communications for terrorist purposes.

Intelsat

Already the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington has lodged complaints with the US Justice Department, State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) against the Washington based Intelsat Ltd., for enabling the National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTT) channel and Pulikalin Kural radio from the Intelsat 12 satellite transponder, thereby continuing to facilitate and broadcast terrorist propaganda.

It will be recalled that following representations made by the Sri Lanka Embassy, Intelsat Ltd., had agreed to remove both channels from its transponder. In a press statement dated April 10, Intelsat, referring to its meeting with Sri Lankan Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke over the LTTE’s use of its satellite, said: “Intelsat does not tolerate terrorists or others operating illegally on its satellites.

Since we first learned of the LTTE’s signal piracy, we have been actively pursuing a number of technical alternatives to halt the transmissions.

We are clear in our resolve to ending this terrorist organization’s unauthorized use of our satellite.” It was on this basis that Intelsat agreed to stop the broadcast of the LTTE propaganda channels using its satellite.

Chennai

The LTTEs continued use of the Intelsat Satellite has compelled this matter being brought to the notice of the US authorities, on the basis that the satellite provider is violating US law by continuing to broadcast the propaganda television and radio services of the LTTE which is listed the US as a foreign terrorist organization, through the satellite they own despite public assurances given weeks ago to the contrary.

Closer home, it is now reported that the LTTE has launched its second TV pay channel Tharishanam this week by broadcasting via satellite the Makkal Television Tamil channel of Chennai, India.

Makkal, a Tamil satellite TV channel which was launched in September last year, is owned by Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founded by S. Ramadoss, which is one the alliance partners of United Progressive Front, the India’s ruling alliance.

The PMK is a pro-LTTE party in India, and its leader Dr. Ramadoss, a strong pro LTTE supporter, who runs programmes to support LTTE on Makkal TV.

Sources said then PMK had come forward to assist the Tigers with their propaganda drive, in view of current problems the LTTE is facing over propaganda broadcasts in foreign countries.

Significantly, while the US authorities are being told the broadcast of LTTE material by Intelsat is a violation of US law as it is an international terrorist organization banned by the US, the ramifications of the use of the Chennai-based Makkal satellite channel for LTTE propaganda also raises important questions about the freedom for LTTE propaganda there, while it remains an organization banned by the Indian Government.

The situation is more complicated with the current curbs that India is imposing on LTTE operations in Tamil Nadu and South India following its killing of five Indian fishermen and the holding of one Indian vessel and 12 fishermen by the Sea Tigers.

Israel

It is also reported that the LTTE is planning to beam a second TV channel to Europe this week named Tharishanam (Revelation), which will be a pay channel to run as a client of Globecast of France.

The French authorities had earlier stopped another TV channel of the LTTE for its transgression of French regulations. The new channel is to be up-linked on to the Israeli Satlink platform in the Hotbird 8 Satellite, Asiantribune reports.

Asiantribune says: This act of defiance by the Tamil Tigers in France comes in the wake of the closure of their Tamil Television Networks (TTN) pay channel on May 2, 2007. The closed down TTN pay channel had 22,000 subscribers drawing Euro 330,000 per month.

Knowing in advance that TTN would be closed down by the French authorities; the LTTE launched a supplementary free channel Mathuram on April 14, 07. The Mathuram channel now carries announcements that the LTTE will launch another TV channel called Tharishanam, in due course.

With all its declared opposition to terrorism, it will be interesting to see how Israel reacts to this move to use it’s Satlink satellite platform for the purpose of disseminating propaganda and also being used as a communication facility by the LTTE, which is listed by many countries including the US and the European Union as an international terrorist organization.

Switzerland

It is reported that Mathuram is part of the Tamil Box Office (TBO) channel of Singapore, owned by GV Films of India and broadcast by Satlink of Israel. Asiantribune reports that faced with objections from the owners of TBO channel and stiff measures of the French Government, TTN has decided to move and locate themselves in Lausanne, Switzerland.

However, it is still not clear whether the LTTE is planning to broadcast the new channel from Switzerland via Globelink (of France) up-linking to the Hotbird 8 Satellite through Satlink (of Israel), or whether they will prepare the programme in Switzerland and then send it to Israel for broadcasting, the Asiantribune states.

This gives a clear indication of the international ramifications of the LTTE’s communications operations, and its use of satellite technology in countries that are opposed to terrorism and those that have banned it as a terrorist organization either unilaterally or regionally, for its own purposes.

Giving a warning that the LTTE may be considering the use of commercial satellite networks for its intelligence operations, Ajey Lele, a research fellow at IDSA observes in the Indian Express (May 14, 07) that: To date the LTTE has been found using these satellite services mainly for the purpose of propaganda through their television programmes, both for the local population and non-resident Tamils.

They have been able to collect funds and procure arms by tapping a large Tamil population overseas. The uplinking of transmission was probably done from a secret location, believed close to Vavuniya, in northern Sri Lanka.

Ajey Lele who comments on the difficulties of identification of users when using satellite services under proxy identities, states: Unfortunately, the irony is that today terrorist organizations like the LTTE, blacklisted by the US and EU, are exploring the possibilities of using space assets procured commercially in order to spread terror.

This cannot but be an alarming development for not just Sri Lanka but India, given its close proximity to this theatre of conflict. Those countries and leaders prosecuting any War on Terror would be fostering the growth of terrorism if they ignore these warnings of the use of space for terror.

It is not by missiles and warheads alone that terrorism can strike.

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