Slow Creep — the World Tamil Movement and Tharisanam TV

The banning in Canada last week of the World Tamil Movement (WTM) and the taking down in London of Tharisanam TV a couple of days ago, hit the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) a double punch that largely went unnoticed in Sri Lanka.

Last week’s listing of the WTM as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, caused a furor in that country that went beyond the usual GoSL-LTTE split. The decision by Ottawa sparked as much debate on both sides of the Liberal-Conservative constituencies as can be seen on any Sri Lankan blog. Many of the voices remain supremely ignorant of the war in Sri Lanka, as well as the greater Tamil nationalist struggle, with much of the argument taking the predictable route of “terrorism is wrong” vs “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

Announcing the ruling, Canada’s Public safety Minister Stockwell Day said that Ottawa had sufficient and reasonable evidence that the WTM had been raising funds for the LTTE, a Sri Lankan terror organization that Canada finally banned only in in 2006. Day also went on to say that the federal government will seize WTM assets and make it illegal for Canadians to help the group, financially or otherwise.

What is most significant is that this is the first time Ottawa has used its Anti-Terrorist Act (passed in the wake of 9/11) to shut down a Canadian community group for its links to terrorism. Until now, groups listed by Ottawa (40 in all) have been actively engaged in terror; organizations such as Al Qaeda, Hizbollah, Hamas, and the WTM’s parent group, the LTTE.

Active investigation of the WTM by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada’s federal law enforcement agency, began in 2002, but it wasn’t until Ottawa’s proscription of the LTTE in 2006, that the WTM came under the RCMP microscope as a possible front organization. The RCMP raided the WTM’s headquarters, housed in a red brick industrial building, a block from Highway 401 in Toronto’s suburb of Scarborough, while they looked into the organization’s financial connections to the LTTE. Earlier this year, dozens of bank accounts tied to WTM officers were frozen across the country and the group’s Montreal office shut down. By April, the Scarborough headquarters had ground to a virtual standstill, the building in the hands of RCMP officers.

The World Tamil Movement has operated in Canada since the 1980s, using the country’s large Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora as a source for funding which the group claims is used for community projects in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged Northern and Eastern Provinces. While the LTTE commands a huge support base in Canada, there have been complaints that the WTM employs heavy-handed fund-raising methods that border on extortion.

While police investigation of the WTM only began in 2002, the group had been under the scrutiny of the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) as far back as the mid-’90s, when staffers of the WTM were investigated for laundering money channelled to the LTTE. One of these individuals was Manickavasagam Suresh, who was sent to Canada by the LTTE in 1990 to head the WTM. He was arrested in 1995 and accused of buying military equipment for use in terrorism. He is still awaiting deportation, an order which Suresh is fighting to have turned down. By 2000, the CSIS had concluded that at least eight non-profit organizations and five commercial companies operating in Canada were fronts for the LTTE, the WTM being one of them.

However, successive Liberal governments turned a blind eye to LTTE financial operations in Canada, ignoring repeated CSIS recommendations for proscription and bowing to their Ontario MPs, who in turn were courting a large Tamil constituency in the Toronto area. Liberal MPs routinely attended LTTE funding events right upto the 2002 proscription, and even though Canada’s previous Liberal government banned LTTE fund-raising after 9/11 as a part of the Anti-Terrorist Act, they stopped short of formally declaring the group a terrorist one. Several Liberal MPs attended the recently organized remembrance ceremony held in Scarborough for the head of the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat, killed in a Sri Lanka Air Force decapitation strike.

This being the first Canadian proscription of a non-combatant group, it remains to be seen how much Vim will be used in Ottawa’s prosecutions. That having been said, it is hard to see any real future for the WTM in Canada or elsewhere.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the London-based Tharishanam TV, an LTTE-funded pay channel announced it was going off the air. This was the latest battle in the propaganda war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE for the eyes and ears of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. In March this year, GoSL influence on the Italian Ministry of the Interior resulted in the closure of Swiss-based Tamil V Channel Euro Television’s Milan transmitter. Last year saw the shutting down of the Paris-based Tamil Television Network (TTN) in May, and the removal by Washington-based Intelsat of National Television of Tamil Eelam (NTTE) from their network. TTN alone had 22,000 subscribers in Europe, pulling in roughly 330,000 euros a month.

Tharisanam TV is a client of France’s Globecast, and operates on the Israeli Satlink platform, off the Hotbird 8 satellite. Initial announcements on Tharisanam TV stated their reason for going off the air was “pressure exerted by the Government of Sri Lanka”. That pressure was exerted on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which obviously has many interests in Sri Lanka, particularly in the area of military trade. It’s interesting to note that the now-defunct Swiss-based Tamil V Channel also used an Israeli platform, RRSat, which was even preparing to support a resurgent Voice of Tigers (VOT) radio transmission out of Serbia this month, before GoSL intervention nipped it in the bud.

The letter to Satlink CEO David Hochner from Yaron Meir, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Vice Manager of the Southeast Asia Department, informing Satlink of the decision, says in part: “For your knowledge, the Tamil underground LTTE, is battling for independence in east of Sri Lanka and is making use of means of terror and violence. Said underground is defined as a terror organization in the United States, Canada, the European Union countries and India. It is not yet defined as a terror organization in Israel. However, any connection between it and an Israeli body is highly problematic and even extremely severe in light of Israel’s coping against the terror organizations.”

While it is gratifying to see this progress in the international arena, particularly at a time when very little verifiable news is available from the battlefield, the fact that many nations still remain unaware of the LTTE’s true nature (Serbia claims they revoked VOT’s license when they discovered their mistake), is a strong indictment of the GoSL’s overall failure in the international propaganda war.

Canada remains a propaganda disaster for Sri Lanka, where many successive federal administrations have refused to take action to curb the LTTE in North America. It is clear that with the long run up to the banning of the World Tamil Movement, the LTTE would have taken steps to transfer funds to other still unlisted front organizations. Whether Ottawa will continue this momentum against the LTTE will depend not just on internal Canadian politics, but on the GoSL’s ability to manage its own international image.

12 thoughts on “Slow Creep — the World Tamil Movement and Tharisanam TV

  1. Spot on David. Most of these things are happening inspite of GOSL’s inability to put together an effective strategy to counter the LTTE propaganda machine, plus we have idiots like Dayan Jayatillaka pontificating on all mattersto the West,including now the British Monarchy!

  2. Even shutting down the physical and financial infrastructure of the WTM is not enough. The LTTE has permeated the overwhelming majority of the Tamil Canadian establishment from TV stations to Tamil schools to many successful front companies. I think a few months from now something like the WTM will reemerge except under a separate name, administration, location etc. The Canadian government doesn’t have the drive to investigate and ban all these organizations since doing so would literally involve banning a large number of Tamil Canadian community organizations.

    David how do you reckon the war will play out over the next few months? Do you think the LTTE is a spent force?

  3. I fully agree with you, Redblitz, about the LTTE front organizations. However, there’s a morale and PR victory in each banning. It disrupts funding, and spreads the word.

    As for Ottawa’s drive, we can only wait and see. As I said, it’s the first time they’ve banned a community organization, and the route the prosecution process takes will be indicative of their intent. At the same time, the GoSL needs to make Ottawa’s job easier by getting its house in order, cracking down on corruption, and working on media freedom and human rights issues. It’s hard for Ottawa to ban organizations if it looks like those organizations are fighting a tyrannical state.

    It’s hard to predict how the war will go, since we have an incomplete picture of it. Certainly the LTTE is losing its grip on the North, but is in no way a spent force — as can be seen by the increase in guerrilla-style attacks on cops and government servants in the East. The LTTE still has the ability to hit back (remember A’pura?), though it’s getting harder for them to venture out of the Wanni-Mannar area due to encirclement. Strictly speaking, the GoSL must take out the Tiger top brass and/or inflict heavy casualties on its elite units in a short period. The recent Charles Anthony KIAs were a good sign, but that’s a rare occurrence. As long as units such as the Siruththi Pulli, Charles Anthony, and Imran Pandiyan retain their integrity, they’ll remain a danger.

  4. It might be a morale and PR victory, but in terms of funding I think the LTTE has progressed through a few generations of financial development outside the NE to the point that direct contributions by SL Tamils directly through organizations like the WTM is miniscule. They operate many stores, businesses locally within each country with large numbers of Tamils in addition to international enterprises in a a few sectors such as an entertainment (DVD distribution etc). They also have individuals that engage in actual market investment.

    While the WTM took direct orders from the Vanni, which make them easy to prosecute, the rest of LTTE cash cows are all indirectly controlled and operate in the grey and white side of the law. To prosecute these will be literally impossible without directly targeting large chunks of the Tamil diaspora. Even the WTM newspaper has just reemerged as Canadian World Tamils, and is being distributed as if nothing happened.

    Furthermore the ideology of Tamil nationalism and to a much lesser extent support for the LTTE is being successfully transmitted to large chunks of the younger generations of the Tamil diaspora, especially so among the cream of the crop. I think the GoSL will be better off it is capable of just paralyzing the LTTE’s ability to procure weapons with the cash rather than targeting the sources of the cash itself.

    As per the GoSL and its human rights violations, they seem to just get worse. Just a few days ago, a British national and journalist were assaulted. It seems the LTTE had all this in mind while forcing MR a victory.

    The LTTE hitting back in terrorist cum crack commando attacks on military/economic installations (like A’pura) is mostly a psychological victory than one on the battlefield. The LTTE has not actually shown itself capable of launching a coordinated conventional offensive on the scale they’ve done so in the past decade. All the Muhamalai debacles are more products of SLA hastiness than LTTE ability. I don’t think the LTTE has gone for so long without engaging in a big operation in the past two decades. However this shouldn’t encourage complacency.

    There is also speculation that despite the Vanni offensive the LTTE has sent the Jeyanthan brigade to the East. If this is true it would mean the LTTE considers itself more than capable of taking the full thrust of the forces.

    I think just as much as it target the Tiger brass, the forces must also target middle rankers. Otherwise the brass will keep getting replenished by middle rankers who can gain expertise given time.

  5. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the direct contributions by the diaspora, which has been estimated at approximately 30% of the LTTE income.

    While it is necessary for the GoSL to interdict arms supply to the Tigers, I don’t think its an either/or situation. The GoSL must keep all its balls in the air — beat the LTTE on the battlefield, interdict resupply, win the hearts & minds of the Tamils, AND sort out the economy. The LTTE’s great weakness is it’s inability to cover all the angles, and that’s why this weakness must be exploited. However, at the moment the GoSL seems to be capable only of the first two.

    I would also disagree that a commando op by the Tigers cannot blunt the Army. The A’pura raid did slow down planned offensives by crippling the SLAF — particularly its UAV capability — albeit temporarily. And the shock of such ops cannot be discounted. We’ve seen that the LTTE will ruthlessly take advantage of any chink in our armour, as they did by assassinating Jeyaraj Fernadopulle. If they were to take out the DefSec or Army Commander, it would be disastrous.

    However, you’re correct that the LTTE has had very little success in the last two years.

    About the Jeyanathan. I maintain that as long as the LTTE can retain a strategic reserve — preferably outside the Wanni/Mannar pocket, it can break the Army stranglehold. The Army must inflict massive casualties over a short period so that the strategic reserve is forced to commit.

  6. Imho those estimates are over a decade old, from what I hear the LTTE make much more money indirectly off the Diaspora than directly.

    As you said the A’pura attack was a temporarly slow down. Killing Jeyaraj did not in anyway help the LTTE’s military situation on the ground in the NE. The LTTE as we both agree, over the past two years, has yet to prove its ability to wage warfare within the NE yet.

    I’m just curious what do you think happened in Muttur a while back when the LTTE captured the town and then quickly retreated? Do you think they underestimated the SL forces response time/ counter mobilization?

    Btw an LTTE front held another massive rally in Toronto… seems the Canadian authorities won’t do anything. I’m anticipating similar events for Black July.

  7. It’ll be interesting to see, as you’ve already pointed out, how impactful this ban will actually be. I remember post 9/11 there was a huge stink raised about Paul Martin and a couple other government officials attending an LTTE fundraiser by “accident.” It’s all a load of bollocks if you ask me.

    The Tamil diaspora in Toronto is burgeoning at an insane rate and coupling that with a growing understanding of how important ethnic minorities are to the Canadian political landscape I doubt there’ll be any more “real” crackdowns in the future.

    Perhaps I’ll be proven horrendously wrong!

  8. i can send u and apply for film festivel?

    Refugees from Sri Lanka

    Documentary Non Fiction Film


    Teyron Terance plumbs in the reservoirs of feeling and difficulties with the victims of the Sri Lankan racial conflicts. Faced with the perils of long lasting war, loss of home and property, plights of becoming and being as a refugee, separation of human relationships has been brought out by Teyron Terance. Through this work of documentary states the Lankan Singhalese and Tamil conflicts in a neutral way

    Director: Teyron Terance

    Producer: Anton john ( London )

    Screenwriter: Teyron Terance


    Tel-0091 97 10 50 74 01

    26:30 minutes of this documentary gives the real picture with English and Tamil subtitles.

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