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Global action over maritime security cripples LTTE

Heightened global and regional cooperation to increase maritime security is adversely affecting the fighting capabilities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on sea and land, military experts say.

"In naval terms, detection is more difficult than destruction and therefore, there is growing international cooperation for detection through arrangements like the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) programme in the Asia-Pacific region," a military official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

He pointed out that the Indian Navy was holding an MDA conference at Port Blair in the Andamans in which 12 navies, including the Sri Lankan Navy, were participating. The Sri Lankans had sent naval cutter Suranimala under a commodore for the meeting.

He added that the Andamans were ideal for holding such a conference because, at its eastern most end, it was only 63 nautical miles from western Indonesia, an area that had become notorious for arms smuggling and piracy.

And significantly, the floating warehouses of the LTTE, which the Sri Lankan Navy had destroyed in the past year, were generally anchored just west of Java in Indonesia.

Recounting the astounding successes of the Sri Lankan Navy, its spokesman Commodore D.K.P. Dassanayake told IANS that significant hits had taken place on March 10 and July 14, 2003, Sep 17, 2006 and Feb 20 and 28, March 18, Sep 10 and 11, and Oct 7 in 2007.

"The Navy had sunk floating warehouses which can carry between 800 and 1,000 tonnes of cargo. We have been able to destroy an enormous quantity of munitions, including 80,000 to 100,000 artillery rounds; 152 mm, 130 mm and 122 mm artillery and 120 mm heavy mortars, besides torpedoes and underwater scooters," he said.

"That the LTTE had owned these ships was clear. After the sinking of a vessel on Feb 28 last year off Matara in south Sri Lanka, the LTTE announced that it had lost 13 cadres including five lieutenant colonels and five majors," Dassanayake said.

Significantly, the once feared naval wing of the LTTE - the Sea Tigers - has not been able to interdict the Sri Lankan naval vessels.

Unlike in the past, they have not even hijacked civilian ships. Keen on maritime security, the US has extended its protective cover to Sri Lanka.

Diplomatic sources told IANS that the US would not want the Colombo and Trincomalee ports to be used by arms smugglers, whether belonging to the LTTE or Al Qaeda.

The US has set up a container scanning system in Colombo port. And it will be providing maritime radars for the surveillance of the Western coast.

In November last year, US Ambassador Robert Blake journeyed to Trincomalee in the East Coast to hand over to the Sri Lankan Navy a radar-based maritime surveillance system and some Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs). In his address, Blake made no secret of the fact that these equipments were meant to "interdict arms shipments by the LTTE".

When he was in the island last week, the chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Robert F. Willard, vowed to help Sri Lanka beef up its maritime security. He promised more aid if the human rights situation improved.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Forces have strengthened their hold on the northwestern coast at Mannar, to prevent the LTTE from smuggling munitions and dual purpose material from Tamil Nadu. This is besides the "coordinated patrolling" that the Sri Lankan and the Indian navies are carrying out in the Palk Straits.

The capture of Silavathurai port in south Mannar in September last year had hampered the flow of smuggled munitions and strategic material from Tamil Nadu.

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