Smear campaign by fax?

[TamilNet, Thursday, 24 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
According to a report carried by a Sri Lankan weekly, a western embassy in Colombo received an unusual fax last week. The message claimed to originate from the Tamil Tigers and said that a Sri Lankan arms shipment had been interdicted. When the embassy queried the claim with the Sri Lankan military, they were told that an arms shipment was indeed 'missing'. However, the fax had not originated from the LTTE.

The fax was delivered without the LTTE's usual letter head, and was sent to a single diplomatic mission in Colombo. The word 'WARNING' was printed 3 times on the top and bottom. The message was signed 'LTTE' and it read:

"We, the Tamil Tigers, inform you by the present that on 11 July 1997 we have hijacked a vessel carrying arms, sailing under the Liberian flag.

The name of the vessel "Stillus Victoria". On the deck of the vessel there were 12 containers containing 32,400 mortar bombs 81 mm, destined for Colombo Sri-Lanka, Ministry of Defence.

We know that the manufacturer and the supplier of the mortar bombs is Zimbabwe Defence Industry from Harare, Zimbabwe. We also know that the deal was executed by Col. Dube of Zimbabwe Defence Industry. The cargo was confiscated by us and the vessel's crew was released by us unharmed. We make known and warn that we will take action against all persons participating in the supply of military equipment used against the legitimate rights of the Tamil people and we will severely punish those concerned."

The Sri Lankan MoD claims that a ship had indeed sailed from Madagascar on July 2 with Zimbabwean mortar shells on board and was expected in Colombo a week later. The ship had apparently 'vanished' enroute, the Sunday Times said.

However, a number of anomalies show up with regards to the fax. Firstly, all LTTE faxes are delivered with the LTTE letter head, and this fax was not.

Secondly, the opening line of the note admits to 'hijacking', a criminal offense. It also seems to admit to taking the ship in international waters, which is tantamount to piracy.

The LTTE's International Secretariat, is generally careful about the wording of statements issued on behalf of the organisation. It therefore seems unusual that almost deliberate admissions of criminal offenses have been made in this note.

The LTTE press release is received by many media organisations in Colombo and abroad, by diplomatic missions, NGOs and foreign departments of many countries. According to the Sunday Times, only one diplomatic mission from a country not connected to the ship or the supplies received this fax.

TamilNet had not received this note, even though we are on the LTTE's list of media recipients. We spoke to an LTTE official with the International Secretariat who told us that he was aware of the story about the note from a BBC world service report on the subject, but was certain the fax did not originate from the LTTE.

Speculation about who could have sent the fax and for what purpose is centering around the Sri Lankans.

The use of a fake fax supposedly from the LTTE is not a new tactic. The LTTE official told us that early last year, an international news agency had received a fax supposedly from the Tigers, complete with the LTTE letterhead. Suspicious of the contents of the fax, the bureau chief had rung up the LTTE's London office to confirm. The LTTE had not sent the fax.

So why had a newspaper or news agency not received the fax, and only a single diplomatic mission?

Perhaps the senders were hoping that the embassy would simply take the note at face value and inform their government immediately, rather than investigate the contents.

This would have resulted in at least one Western government believing that the LTTE had carried out an act of piracy.

Assuming that an interested party wished to smear the LTTE, it would arguably be more effective to surreptitiously send a message to a small number of influential embassies, rather than to media organisations which may investigate the story further.

It is possible that other western missions had indeed received this fax and notified their governments, and were subsequently maintaining their silence in the light of media reports raising doubts about the authenticity of the note.

The LTTE official told us that LTTE press releases were being published on the Internet shortly after being distributed to the recipients list, which would enable concerned parties to confirm the contents relatively easily. (The Tamil Eelam site can be found at URL www.eelam.com.)

So what had really happened to the arms ship? The Sunday Times mentions the possibility of an unsuccessful arms dealer attempting to embarrass the government.

Some observers speculate that as the shipment was said to be insured, Sri Lankan procurement officers may be attempting to avoid paying for the cargo, which is said to cost millions of rupees. (1 USD = 58 SL rupees, approx.).

Another possibility is that the arms dealer had found a customer willing to bid higher for the cargo, provided delivery was immediate. 81mm mortars are widely used throughout the world.

In any case, it is clear that the LTTE's detractors are ready to use any incident to allege criminal activity by the LTTE, particularly in the international legal arena. Sri Lanka is desperate to draw other countries into actively working with it against the LTTE.

 

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