Sri Lankan migrant wanted for smuggling
Accused of working for Tamil Tigers
Published: Monday, October 26, 2009
A Sri Lankan who arrived off Canada's West Coast aboard a cargo ship is wanted for his alleged role in a procurement ring that smuggled electronic equipment to the Tamil Tigers rebels.
The allegations against Kartheepan Manickavasagar, one of the 76 migrants on a ship that entered Canadian waters on Oct. 17, explain why he is wanted in Sri Lanka and why he was the subject of an Interpol notice.
But his lawyer said the 26-year-old has no links to the Tamil Tigers, and the Canadian Tamil Congress said the charges should be treated with caution since Sri Lanka has a history of falsely accusing ethnic Tamils of terrorism.
“In light of everything we know about its practices, the Sri Lankan government has very little credibility when it comes to making allegations against the Tamils,” said Hadayt Nazami, the man's Toronto lawyer.
Since the ship arrived in B.C., Canadian officials have been screening the migrants, and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office has said that the government will exclude any found to have criminal or terrorist ties, including to the Tamil Tigers.
The discovery that one of the asylum seekers is on the Interpol wanted list means that Canadian immigration authorities must now decide whether the allegations have sufficient merit to justify returning him to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has been looking for Mr. Manickavasagar since last September, according to details of his case obtained by a Singaporebased terrorism expert, Professor Rohan Gunaratna. A senior Sri Lankan official confirmed Mr. Manickavasagar was wanted for his alleged role in a rebel procurement operation.
The investigation began when a Sri Lankan named Anthony Pillai Tony Jeyrai was arrested at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo on Sept. 5, 2008. The CID alleges that Mr. Jeyrai was caught while attempting to smuggle high-tech equipment to Sri Lanka from Singapore, including 40 GPS devices, 30 Motorola units and 30 antennas.
Police believe the items were to be delivered to the Tamil Tigers rebels, and that the operation had been financed and organized by Mr. Manickavasagar, who police allege was acting on the instructions of rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief Pottu Amman.
Six days after Mr. Jeyrai was arrested, Mr. Manickavasagar fled to Singapore. The Magistrate Court in Negombo issued a warrant for his arrest on Sept. 19, 2008, for violating the country's emergency and telecommunications regulations.
According to his CID file, he is an alleged Black Tiger, a member of an elite wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) whose members were sent on missions from which they were not expected to return.
“A Black Tiger is a member of the suicide squad of the LTTE. They are willing to kill and die. The most prominent Black Tiger was Dhanu who killed [Prime Minister] Rajiv Gandhi of India,” said Prof. Gunaratna, head of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at Nanyang University.
He said that electronic equipment was critical to the rebels. “In the hands of a terrorist group, dual use technology enhanced LTTE performance both against civilian and military targets.”
During the three decade civil war between the Tamil Tigers and government forces, the rebels ran an extensive international procurement operation that smuggled weapons and equipment to the South Asian island.
The operation stretched into Canada as well: In 2006, the RCMP and FBI arrested several Canadian Tamils who had attempted to purchase AK-47 assault rifles and surface to air missiles for the Tamil Tigers.
The Sri Lankan conflict ended in May when government forces overran the rebels and killed their leaders. Last week, a U.S. State Department report said both sides had committed atrocities during the final months of the war.
Several ships of Sri Lankan migrants have since sailed for the West, some towards Australia and one to Canada. Canadian officials believe the ship that arrived off the British Columbia coast 10 days ago is the Princess Easwary, a Cambodian-flagged vessel operated by a ghost company in the Philippines.
Vancouver lawyer Lee Rankin, who has met many of the ship's passengers, said he did not know where the men had boarded the vessel but said they had spent a harrowing six weeks at sea. Shipping records show the Easwary left northwest India on Sept. 8.
“I think overwhelmingly they're young male ethnic Tamils. Many have family and/ or friends in Canada already. Many have proper, authentic original documentation, national identity cards, school certificates, driver's licences. A couple also have passports,” he said.
He said reports they had paid up to $45,000 to come to Canada were incorrect. He said some had indicated they paid 45,000 Sri Lankan rupees, or about CDN$400. Others mentioned paying in Malaysian currency, he said. “We're talking poor people from villages and even if they got help from their relatives in Canada, nobody's going to scrape together $45-50,000,” he said.
He said none of those he has met have any links to the rebels. “The majority I've dealt with are polite, intelligent, deferential, cooperative, very small but healthy looking, very young, ages 18 to 25 and 30 and none of the people — and I've talked to many, many — and none of them have said anything other than 'I'm afraid but, no, I'm not a member of, supporter of, and I haven't rendered assistance to, the LTTE.' ”
He said they were no different from the thousands of other Tamil refugees who already live in Canada. “What's notable is how many have come with contact information for relatives and friends in Canada. I'm going to guess probably at least half. And that means, and for assurance to the Canadian taxpayer, these are people saying 'uncle or cousin or whatever is going to give me food, shelter and a place to live.' ”
In the House of Commons on Friday, Liberal MP John McKay said Tamils are seeking refuge in Canada “because of the injustices they experience each and every day from their government merely because they are Tamils.”
He urged the government to apply the law “swiftly and fairly” to the boat people and to examine their cases individually. Immigration and Refugee Board hearings have been taking place in Vancouver.
“The Sri Lankan CID can say anything,” David Poopalapillai, the Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman, said in response to the police allegations. He said the migrants may have come by ship because Ottawa has made it more difficult for refugees to enter Canada by air.
Mr. Nazami said Sri Lanka had even branded Liberal MP Bob Rae a Tamil Tigers supporter. In June, Mr. Rae was detained and deported after arriving at the Colombo airport. Ottawa called the allegations against him “absurd.”