The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were set to get 10 new aircraft through an Eritrea-based arms smuggling network as the war against the Sri Lankan army was reaching its climax.
The aircraft had been dismantled and were to be shipped to the north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka when the war reached a decisive stage, a senior army officer told HT on condition of anonymity. “The LTTE calculated that the war would stretch but it didn’t happen; the aircraft could not be delivered,’’ he said. The longest running internal military conflict in Asia came to an end on May 19.
Sri Lanka is now looking at opening an embassy in Eritrea to counter LTTE’s international network, said to be still active.
Information about the aircraft and the network was revealed by Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP, anointed LTTE chief days before his arrest.
A US Senate Foreign Relations Committee report in December 2006 stated that the Eritrean government provided direct support to the LTTE. The LTTE, according to news reports, had established a presence in Eritrea primarily to operate in the informal arms market.
The army officer said while waiting for the aircraft to arrive, LTTE had got pilots trained from training schools in Malaysia and Indonesia. “Trained instructors were also present here (in Sri Lanka). We recovered a pilot training simulator from the jungles of Mullaitivu. At least a dozen pilots had been trained. Two among them have been arrested. The rest could be hiding among the internally displaced persons (in refugee camps),’’ the officer said.
The officer added they had also come across a conversation between KP and LTTE chief V Prabhakaran’s son, Charles Anthony two weeks before the war ended on May 19. It revealed that the LTTE were facing a shortage of rifles.
“Charles told KP to send more rifles. KP then asked Charles whether he was worried. “‘No, I am not. Neither is father (Prabhakaran),'” Charles told KP,” the officer said, adding that the LTTE leadership had pinned hoped on the US taking a side.
Hundreds of satellite phones have been recovered in the continuing search operations by the SLA. “Besides satellite phones and advanced communication systems, we have recovered scores of radars, at least 10 152 mm guns and a dozen 130 mm guns,” he said.