FOR the ltte, the sea east of the Andamans is a goldmine. From here, they ship gold and narcotics to the West to fill their coffers and buy sophisticated weapons. It's here that they receive most of their shipment of weapons as well. Says a senior Sri Lankan foreign office spokesman: "The ltte is like the Suez Canal. It provides a short route to link the east and the west. The ltte links the narcotics barons and gun-runners of the east and the west.."
Sri Lankan officials say the ltte has created a new route: Cambodia to Myanmar, then to Mullaitivu in Sri Lanka via the uninhabited islands of Andaman and Nicobar, from where the trail leads to the Cape of Good Hope, then to the Mediterranean and Latin America. This is the most volatile route with maximum insurgency. The ship MV Ahath, in which senior ltte leader Kittu was travelling before being captured by the Indian navy, had used the Myanmar coasts drug-arms route. According to Sri Lankan military intelligence sources, the ship which was blown up by Kittu on January 13, 1993, following Indian intervention, was full of arms collected from Thai and Cambodian sources mid-sea between Andaman and Myanmar.
Sri Lankan defence expert Rohan Gunaratne says the ltte bought sam missiles from Cambodia at $1 million a piece. The Russian-made sam 7s, procured in the 80s for the Cambodian armed forces, were sold off to the ltte and opium warlord Khun Sa of Myanmar by corrupt Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officials. The Bangkok-based Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific regional editor of Jane's, confirms the purchase.
According to Thai intelligence, surface-to-air missiles were moved from Koh Kong, south west of Cambodia, to Chumporn in Thailand and then across the Kra Isthmus to Phuket. This was one of the three shipments by the ltte even as it was talking to the Sri Lanka government.
The ltte's money-laundering methods are similar to that of Latin America's drug cartels. Money is invested in legitimate ventures, making it difficult for investigators to trace its origins. Intelligence agencies have detected their narco operations from the Philippines to Germany and from Italy to Canada.
Citing H.P. Klepak's book, The International Drug Trade, Gunaratne says: "Colombia's FARC, Peru's Shining Path, Myanmar's Khun Sa, Turkey's PKK and Afghanistan's Hizbi-Islami engage in trafficking. US experts say 80 per cent of narcotics found in the US originate from Myanmar, shipped via the ltte network.
In October 97, The Observer revealed that the underground PKK, which is backed by the shadowy 'November 17 Revolutionary Group' in Greece, has close links with the ltte. Saydo Hazar, a Kurdish-born German resident described as one of the world's most dangerous bombers, said the PKK supplied 11 Stinger missiles to the Tigers. The money came from smuggling narcotics out of Myanmar.