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The Tiger Trap -SBS

[MISC, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 13:01 No Comment]

For 2.5 decades, he roamed the globe on 23 different passports. But time was running out for one of the world’s most-wanted men. Just over two months ago, the mysterious ‘KP’ is believed to have been secretly abducted from a hotel in South East Asia.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA, NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY: KP knew that it will end this way. KP was wanted by the Sri Lankan Government for a very long time.

‘KP’ was born Shanmugam Kumaran Tharmalingam, but he was known by many other names. He ran a global arms-smuggling and money-laundering network for Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, and was one of their most senior commanders. This photo, with KP at the left, was taken at the wedding of the man who started the Tigers.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: The terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka could not have been sustained without KP. KP is the man who provided the arms, ammunition, explosives, and the logistics, as well as the finance.

But although he’s still on the Interpol wanted list, KP is now being interrogated, back in Sri Lanka.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: KP has been living on borrowed time.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna runs the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, in Singapore. He’s close to Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, who’s credited with masterminding KP’s rendition.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: Previously, the Americans, the Israelis did this kind of rendition operations. By bringing KP home, Sri Lanka demonstrated that it will not spare any Tamil Tiger, or any other terrorist, who is going to harm Sri Lanka’s national security interest.

The undoing of KP started with the Tiger’s military defeat in May. After their leader, Prabhakaran, was killed, KP was anointed as his successor. From an undisclosed location, KP emerged from the shadows into the spotlight on British television.

CHANNEL 4 NEWS REPORT: He has never before been interviewed face-to-face. He spent his life on the run. And he now claims authority to speak on behalf of Sri Lanka’s vanquished Tamil minority.

KP: Still we have a fighting force. We can continue our armed struggle. We have our friends and fighters, they are in the jungle.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: The Sri Lankan Government assessed, after Prabhakaran’s death, that KP posed the single biggest national security threat to Sri Lanka, and it was paramount for KP to be brought home.

This was the unlikely location of KP’s disappearance – a budget hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur. According to its website, one of the main reasons you should stay at the Tune Hotel is its security. But it wasn’t so secure for KP on August 5, when, it’s thought, he was snatched from here in a joint operation by the Malaysian and Sri Lankan security forces. Exactly how and where KP was snatched hasn’t been officially confirmed. But, according to a detailed account by a Tamil journalist, KP came to Malaysia from Thailand for a meeting. He was brought to the Tune Hotel by his driver, Appu, and met outside by two Tamil visitors from London. The three men went upstairs to a room for their meeting. There was hostility to KP in some parts of the Tamil Diaspora, and it was through meetings like this that he asserted his authority over the Tigers. After receiving a call on his mobile phone, KP left the room to continue his conversation. The visitors waited for almost 20 minutes and then went looking for KP, but he’d vanished. So, too, had his car and driver downstairs. After many frantic phone calls, KP’s contacts in Kuala Lumpur went and searched the room he’d been staying in. He was missing, but the insulin he took for his diabetes was still there.

REPORTER: Was he, in fact, arrested at the Tune Hotel, as has been reported?

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes. He was arrested at the Tune Hotel.

So, what happened after KP left the hotel room? Some reports say he was taken to Bangkok by the Malaysian Special Branch and handed over to the Sri Lankans. Professor Gunaratna tells a slightly different story.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: KP was taken directly from Malaysia on board a Sri Lankan flight. He flew on business class to Sri Lanka – in style!

REPORTER: And how do you know this?

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: KP has been a man of deep interest to us for a very long time.

When news of his arrest broke, conflicting reports had KP captured in Thailand and Singapore, as well as Malaysia. I wanted clarification from Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, but no country wants to admit to handing the feared rebel leader over to his enemies, least of all Malaysia – home to around 2 million Tamils.

REPORTER: Can you confirm reports that the former Tamil Tiger leader KP was captured here in Malaysia?

HISHAMMUDDIN TUN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER: I’m not aware of that, and I cannot confirm it, nor deny it.

REPORTER: So, not confirm or deny? So the fact that there are sources close to the Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government who say he was captured here with the cooperation of the Malaysian authorities…

HISHAMMUDDIN TUN HUSSEIN: Those are the sources that are given to you. If they come up to me and tell me what the source of their source is, then we’ll do the necessary investigation and I’ll get back to you on that but, right now, I don’t have any information on that.

Human rights groups say if KP was arrested in Malaysia, he should have been extradited, not kidnapped, especially since he faces a risk of torture back in Sri Lanka.

SAM ZAFIRI, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Sending someone back in these circumstances is also unlawful and violates international law. If there are charges to be brought, if there are people who should be pursued, then the Sri Lankan Government should make sure that it goes through proper legal channels for that.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: There was no other way for the Sri Lankan Government to do this. I don’t think any human rights organisation – if it is a human rights organisation – should criticise this, because KP was the biggest human rights violator.

REPORTER: Can you see the Sri Lankan Government mounting similar operations against other enemies in the Diaspora?

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: Yes. I can share with you that the Sri Lankan Government is already planning to bring a number of other people home.

Tamils around the world are now worried about the long arm of the Sri Lankan Government. Although the Tamil Tigers are banned in Australia, Tamil community leaders like these, meeting in Sydney, have been accused of supporting the rebels. According to media reports in Sri Lanka, the government has a blacklist of 100 Tamils living overseas it wants to prosecute.

MELBOURNE TAMIL MAN 1: I don’t know whether I’m on the list, um, but I don’t want to sound too important, but that’s a real concern for a lot of the committee members.

QUEENSLAND TAMIL MAN 2: We don’t know. I mean, how do we know that’s not going to happen, even in Australia? So we are worried.

Dr Victor Rajakulendran knows he’s on one of the lists that’s been circulating. Now he wants to find out which countries helped Sri Lanka to capture KP.

DOCTOR VICTOR RAJAKULENDRAN, TAMIL COMMUNITY LEADER: So who are these "friendly countries"? That is what the Tamil diaspora’s question now is. We need to identify the friendly countries so we can be careful to avoid those friendly countries to go into first. For example, Malaysia. I will never step into Malaysia now. So, earlier, I decided I will not to step inside Sri Lanka or, for that matter, to India. Now I have to add Malaysia to that.

Dr Rajakulendran says Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs is taking the threat seriously.

DOCTOR VICTOR RAJAKULENDRAN: They have also advised us, whenever we are travelling outside Australia, we should let the authorities know here, so they can keep an eye on us.

REPORTER: They told you to let them know when you travel outside Australia?

DOCTOR VICTOR RAJAKULENDRAN: Yes, yes, and we are doing that and, time-to-time, they are contacting us and asking whether there is any threat to us.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Australia, Senaka Walgampaya, offers no reassurance.

REPORTER: If the Sri Lankan Government was involved in investigating Tamils here, in Australia, would you be aware of it, sir?

SENAKA WALGAMPAYA, SRI LANKAN HIGH COMMISSIONER TO AUSTRALIA: No, no, I’m not informed. These are all being done in Colombo and I’ve not been kept informed of that.

REPORTER: So it’s possible that people like Dr Victor Rajakulendran are being investigated, but you wouldn’t know about it, if that was the case?

SENAKA WALGAMPAYA: I don’t know. I have no information whatsoever on that.

Professor Gunaratna believes some Tamils in Australia should be investigated.

PROFESSOR ROHAN GUNARATNA: There are a number of professionals who are living in Australia and they have supported a terrorist group by providing them funds, by distributing their propaganda, by advocating violence, and by supporting a group that conducted violence, and I believe that they should be prosecuted.

DOCTOR VICTOR RAJAKULENDRAN: They have to first prove to the Australian Government if there are any people in Australia, Tamil people, who have done that. The Australian Government only will have to take action about that.

2.5 months have now passed since KP was captured and the Sri Lankan authorities are still questioning him. He’s being held under anti-terrorism laws and hasn’t been charged or appeared in court.

SAM ZAFIRI: What we have is an unlawful process that takes somebody suspected of doing criminal action or human rights violations basically outside the law, and that makes it vigilantism, that makes it vengeance, but it doesn’t make it justice.

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