The LTTE rides high in Norway while Lanka gets torn apart

Special Assignment by Fedrica Jansz.

Norwegian law allows for Sri Lankan Tamils in Norway to raise funds, which would be generated towards working for a cause, and a political goal, for what they feel is important, back in Sri Lanka. Among the Sri Lankan Tamil people in Norway there will be those who are sympathetic to the LTTE, so in that context, there are Tamils in Norway who will propagate the cause of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. The Sunday Times Special Assignment was told that such work however needs to fall within the purview of Norwegian law. "We pride ourselves on the freedom of expression and hope, and we pride ourselves on the freedom to be able to fight within the laws of our country for causes of the individual he or she think are important," Ambassador Jon Westborg said.

Asked if Norway did then feel the call for a separate state in Sri Lanka was justified, Westborg said, the question does not arise.

The fact remains Sri Lankan Tamils in Norway are not breaking the law by fund-raising for a cause, political or otherwise in Sri Lanka, even if it means Eelam, is a cry for a separate state. Norwegian authorities say it is doubtful if there exists any evidence to ascertain the scale of LTTE funding-raising in Norway.

Fund-raising in Norway is taking place for humanitarian issues for the Tamil population back in Sri Lanka. There are several humanitarian organizations among the Tamil community, which are fund-raising for relief and rehabilitation activities. It has not been identified if all these funds are being used for humanitarian assistance for Tamils in Sri Lanka, or whether in fact most of the collection goes to aid the LTTE's war machinery in Sri Lanka. Special Assignment was told not all fund-raising organizations in Norway are a front for the LTTE.

It may not be right to assume that all donations by the Tamils in Norway is being forced by any one particular group. On the other hand the duress if it does exist, has not been identified, interpreted or defined in any court of law in Norway.

There still is no hard evidence to prove that funds raised in Norway are being used to sustain the LTTE's armed struggle against the Sri Lankan government.

Though the fact is almost obvious, Ambassador Jon Westborg asserted that Norwegian law allows for fund-raising on humanitarian grounds and political issues. He would not elaborate on whether Norway would turn a blind eye to funds being raised for military assistance for a guerrilla group in another country.

One great difficulty the law makers in Norway would face is, that it is difficult to prove that funds raised in Norway could or maybe used for terrorist offences in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. It cannot be automatically determined that funds raised in Norway for a political or humanitarian cause could in effect be diverted to propagate terrorism or any other illegal activity in Sri Lanka, says Westborg. Once entry is allowed into Norway no individuals or persons need register as an organization before fund-raising in Norway. There is no registration of organizations because Norway adheres to a freedom of congregation.

If members of the LTTE were to apply for entry into Norway their application would be considered and forwarded to immigration authorities in Norway who would conduct the necessary verification and ascertain if there exists legitimate grounds for such persons to be allowed entry. Norwegian authorities say it is difficult to determine who may be a member of the LTTE.

The Norwegian Ambassador said that even if LTTE leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran were to apply for entry into Norway his application would be considered, saying it would be upto the immigration authorities in Norway to determine if such an entry should be allowed. (see box).

Norway has no legal structure of identifying an organization as a terrorist organization unlike in the US and certain other countries. Mr. Westborg countered that since Norway does not possess counter terrorist laws similar to the United States, it is irrelevant on whether Norway, perceives the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Allegations are being made that the LTTE raises some half a million US dollars per month in Norway and other Scandinavian countries.

Special Assignment however could not verify such statements as fact. However what remains clear is that fund-raising by the LTTE in Norway is active and Denmark, Sweden and Finland are considered to be safe havens for LTTE operations.

At present, the main LTTE communications centre is based in Norway, while the LTTE allegedly operates six offices out of Norway under the names of front organizations. The Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), at P.O.Box 1699 VIKA, 0110-Oslo-1, Norway, and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) - phone no: 4722 164 279, are two of the main LTTE front organizations operating in Norway. Special Assignment contacted the above organizations in Norway asking how a donation could be made, but was told the office is in operation only after 5pm as its members are employed elsewhere during the day. Special Assignment then contacted the LTTE in London and asked how a donation could be made to the two listed organizations operating in Norway.

The LTTE were suspicious of the phone call and demanded that the caller speak in Tamil. They then refused to divulge details of the above organizations in Norway. Maintaining that this caller intended travelling to Norway and so wanted to make a donation, the LTTE then told this caller that once she reached Norway details would be divulged on how and to who the donation should be made. Sources in Norway said, the LTTE Communication Centre in Norway is the most important for the rebel organization who daily send information from the jungles of the Wanni to Oslo the bustling capital of Norway, from which point, within a period of less than twenty four hours, it is put on the internet and distributed globally.

Jon Westborg, Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, speaking to The Sunday Times denied knowledge of the LTTE having an 'official office' in Norway. He however said that since there is no need to register an organization in Norway, the LTTE could operate out of an office, and still not break Norwegian law.

According to Tamil expatriates living in Norway, who wished to remain anonymous, the LTTE raises some US$ 65,000 per month on a till collection basis from Sri Lankan Tamils who have sought refuge in Norway and other Scandinavian countries.

Other methods of collection are also available they say and in practice but done secretly. Special Assignment could not ascertain if in fact, the LTTE do raise such large sums of money in Norway, and received conflicting reports, which said the LTTE demand a annual payment of US$ 400 from every Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate family living overseas.

There are a total of some 10,000 Sri Lankans living in Norway at present. The LTTE it is alleged have invested in a variety of business establishments in Norway and other Scandinavian countries.

The rebel group does not however violate Norwegian law, but do raise considerable sums of money for the organization to carry out its military battle against Sri Lankan government forces. The LTTE, uses taped cassettes and video tapes together with Tamil publications to gain sympathy for the fight for Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. Such propaganda material is also used to seek financial contributions towards sustaining the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

Soon after 1983 when there was an influx of Tamil refugees into Scandinavian countries. Sri Lankan Tamils sought refuge into Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Today, they celebrate festivals, arrange their own cultural and religious activities and functions, have their own newspapers and shops and have even created pre-school education programs in the Tamil language. Many of them live in the northern part of Norway in the villages of Hammerfest, Mold, Aalsund and Bergen.

Special Assignment was told that Bergen is yet another key city for LTTE operations which continue unabated. Tamil expatriates told The Sunday Times that it is into this society that the LTTE have infiltrated and depend on its resources for funding the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are the Scandinavian countries where the LTTE is actively involved in and controls fund-raising activities, they said. While being conscious of the activities of the LTTE the Sri Lankan Government however has failed in creating an effective awareness programme in these countries to counter LTTE activity.

A retired Ambassador of the European Union said the Sri Lankan Embassy in Stockholm is not given adequate funds to even travel to Norway and other Scandinavian countries to study or evaluate the depth of LTTE activity with regard to fund-raising for sustaining the warfare in northern Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government has placed no real emphasis to cooperate with foreign governments in cracking down on LTTE activities abroad.

Ravinath Ariyasinghe, Director Publicity, from the Foreign Ministry in Colombo, said, as far as he is aware there is no effective machinery set in place to counter LTTE lobbying in Norway and other Scandinavian countries.

While the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry did appoint a press councillor for their mission in Stockholm mainly with a view to counter LTTE propaganda in Scandinavia, controversy has evolved around this particular appointment. While a judicial hearing in this regard is in progress, LTTE activities in Norway and other Scandinavian countries continue unabated. Highly placed Norwegian sources revealed that demonstrations and marches against the armed conflict and the plight of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, do take place in Norway.

They asserted the issue of Sri Lanka has not been very highly profiled, claiming that it is a misconception that the Tamil community in Norway is particularly tight knit, and live in a kind of ghetto community with a high impact on their own culture.

When it comes to people entering Norway illegally, it is an issue that concerns the entire European community. Sources revealed that there are many groups actively engaged in human smuggling in Europe. It is therefore not unnatural, to assume they said,that an organization like the LTTE could be using a similar system to ensure that people are getting the opportunity to gain entry into Norway. The Sunday Times was told that human smuggling into Scandinavia in effect could be a largely commercial operation that no doubt however the LTTE will use in order to infiltrate cadre into these countries. The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo said, they do not have any documented proof to ascertain if the LTTE is indeed using such a method to illegally smuggle Sri Lankan Tamils into Norway.

They however conceded the possibilities do exist. According to Rohan Gunaratne's book on 'Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis &National Security' the LTTE in pre 1991 held three bank accounts in Norway at "DNC den Mordke Credit Bank" under the name of account holder 'Tamiler.'

The LTTE held another account at Bergen Bank, Bergen under the name of account holder, 'Uthayam' and at Sparebanker midt-norge under the name of account holder, "Koneswaran Tharmalingam."

Tharmalingam uses at least 10 different names but is well known as S.S. Kumaran Pathmanathan and is the LTTE's chief arms procurement officer. Pathmanathan is also head of the LTTE's international network.

The background of Sri Lankans gaining entry into Norway dates way back to 1967. In the 1960's the Norwegian Development Cooperation came into being, which meant that work began in India, certain parts of Africa and Sri Lanka. This programme consisted of a strong group behind the entire question of Norwegian participation and development cooperation, where youth organizations, non governmental organizations, and research organizations cooperated with Norway in building international links. In Europe at this time there also began a solidarity group building links with developing countries.

A Norwegian group which was particularly interested in working towards strengthening alcohol laws in developing countries, at the time established contact with Sri Lanka. The Youth Organization of the Temperance Movement established the 'CEY-NOR Development Foundation.'

It yet exists in Sri Lanka and at present is a wholly government directive. They started their work way up in the northern peninsula of Jaffna in Karainagar. This was in 1957 -58.

There was a problem of excessive alcohol consumption among the fishing community and it was originally in this context that CEY-NOR began their work in Sri Lanka. CEY-NOR worked actively to improve the fishing communities daily trade and livelihood.

It was during this course that a need for training was identified and some Sri Lankans were taken to Norway for training. They were taken to the northern part of Norway where the fishing industry is strong.

These people were Tamil, Muslim and some Sinhalese, all from the fishing community. The consequence of that was that most of them were to work in the fishing industry for a while in Norway and then come back to Sri Lanka. Subsequently however with the changes occurring in Norway's fishing industry as well, Norway required labour. This program continued through the nineteen sixties and the seventies. The Sri Lankan Tamils settled where there was work. They settled in the northern most point of Europe. In fact the Sri Lankan Tamils were very well spread out, mostly in the north of Norway and along the Western coast. At times in some villages you would not find more than two or three Sri Lankan Tamil families. Most of them started work in the fishing industry in Norway. Gradually over the years some of them started becoming Norwegian citizens. One needs to be domiciled in Norway for a period of seven years before applying for citizenship. Through family ties more Sri Lankans gained entry into Norway.

Then came 1983. With the race riots in Colombo and elsewhere, there was an exodus of Sri Lankan Tamils seeking entry into Norway, the UK, Germany, US, Australia and other Scandinavian countries. By this time however because of the very high input, Norwegian immigration laws were tightened. Even when family ties were claimed, reportedly, an intense scrutiny was carried out to verify how authentic such relationships were.

During 1987 to 1989 due to the JVP insurgency in Sri Lanka, Norway had members from the Sinhala community who sought refuge. They had all experienced some kind of pressure for whatever they had been doing, in Sri Lanka.

With the situation in Sri Lanka being what it has been since 1983 a continuous trickle of people have tried to get into Norway, legally or illegally. Seeking refuge in one way or another. Norwegian authorities say they cannot clarify by what percentage there was an increase in the number of Sri Lankan Tamils who sought refuge in Norway by this time.

Asylum has been awarded for both Tamils and Sinhalese. But there is another group of people who have been allowed to stay in Norway on humanitarian grounds. Norway adheres to international convention protocol which determines the grounds on which persons may seek humanitarian refuge.

As a consequence of this entire process, there are some 6000 Norwegians of Sri Lankan descent. The other category are those who are not Norwegian citizens, but who have been given entry on humanitarian grounds which would fall into the region of about 4000. 'By far the majority of them are Tamil,' Westborg said.

Special Assignment discovered that over the last three years there has been groups of people gaining entry illegally into Norway.

People who end up one way or another in Norway and who then apply for the right of abode. These people are according to Norwegian law scrutinized, and their statements verified if a genuine need exists, that they be given asylum or the right to stay on humanitarian grounds or not.

Those who have been refused entry over the last couple of years are in the region of 400 to 500. Mr. Bernt Hauge, a Norwegian national, went on a hunger strike in Trondheim, Norway on January 13, this year, a strike which lasted forty days.

Mr. Hauge demands that the Norwegian government should approach the Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers applications positively and should reconsider their cases again. Mr. Hauge works for an NGO called 'Raadgivingsruppa I Trondheim' as a counselor for asylum seekers.

In May 1997, he visited a number of Tamil refugee camps in the north and east of Sri Lanka where he met various people including those Tamil asylum seekers who had been sent back from Europe.

Hauge, has written a report about the situation for Tamil refugees and those who have been sent back from Europe, especially from Norway. He concludes that it is not safe to send Tamil asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka, and that in general the situation for Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka is bad.

Mr. Hauge speaking to The Sunday Times by telephone from Norway said, he is very disappointed with the actions of Norwegian authorities who he says have not been completely fair in assessing the situation regarding Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers.

When the Norwegian government changed in October last year, a decision was made to stop sending back to Sri Lanka, Tamil asylum seekers, until Norwegian government authorities had re-evaluated the situation.

By February 1998 two Sri Lankan Tamil persons, seeking asylum were sent back to Colombo. The Norwegian government together with Sri Lanka are at present negotiating a 'Memorandum of Understanding' to send those seeking asylum in Norway back to Sri Lanka. One per four of every Sri Lankan Tamil live outside Sri Lanka. They live in India, Western Europe, America and different places in Asia.

There is also a category classed as floating refugees. These people are in a horrible situation. They have not been granted asylum status in foreign lands neither are they registered in any refugee camp elsewhere. Most of these people are from the Northern Jaffna peninsula.

In Norway alone there are some 400 to 500 Sri Lankan Tamils in a floating situation, where their application for the right to abode has been refused and they move from border to another, refusing unless they are placed under arrest to return to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Hauge said that it is clear that there are networks among the Tamil population in Norway and also there are contacts between Sri Lankan Tamils in exile with Tamils back in Sri Lanka.'It is some sort of a network,' he said. The Sunday Times found that there is extensive business networking officially and unofficially to get Tamils out of Sri Lanka.

A large part of funds to get Sri Lankan Tamils to foreign climes is sustained by money sent from Tamil expatriates residing overseas. The Tamil struggle for self-determination in Sri Lanka has received world publicity. Father S. J. Emmanuel, living in the United Kingdom is a well known figure advocating the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils and their struggle for survival in Sri Lanka.

In a book authored by him, "The Tamil Struggle for Survival and self-determination in Sri Lanka" Father Emmanuel expresses deep sorrow, and states how aghast he feels about the conditions of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Father Emmanuel asserts that the Tamils in Sri Lanka need a Prabhakaran to protect them from all the horrible and inhuman atrocities of the cruel Sinhala army.

He asks, 'How is it possible that peoples and nations cry out so loudly against a single bomb in the city of Colombo or in any part of the world, including the horror of Oklahoma, but do not condemn the Sri Lankan government, when its security forces under the pretext of attacking terrorist bases and under the cover of a strict media blockade, drop not one, but hundreds of bombs and fire thousands of artillery shells over civilian areas causing indiscriminate destruction and kill many civilians." The Sunday Times Special Assignment was told that it this kind of rhetoric that allows for such immense freedom of movement and expression in Scandinavian countries and Britain.

Once a person has gained entry into Denmark or Finland no passports checks are required and one can easily cross the border into Norway. Immigration authorities in Norway do not know if all those Sri Lankans whose applications for asylum are turned down have actually left Norway or not. The minute they are informed that they have been refused entry some of them cross the border and get lost somewhere else.

Norway has a policy that those who have not been given the right to stay should be sent back to Sri Lanka. As a consequence Norway has been sending people back over the years and continue to do so. However Norwegian law does not allow for force to be used on illegal immigrants to send them back home. Illegal immigrants according to Norwegian law cannot forcibly be gathered together and put on a plane back to Sri Lanka.

So it seems unlikely that Norway will follow in the foot-steps of its European counterparts for example like Switzerland and France, which have adopted a 'last in, first out' policy vis-a-vis illegal Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants.



"Prabhakaran's Entry To Norway Will Be Considered"

Asked what would happen if LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran were to apply for entry to Norway, Ambassador Westborg said, "Prabhakaran's application would certainly be considered."

Such a request for entry to Norway would be placed for consideration, using the normal immigration channels which adhere to Norwegian law.

Norway works within the structure of international agreement which means Norway would co-operate with Interpol, he said. In cases where people have committed crimes which are registered with Interpol then Norway would co-operate with the police in other countries to make certain such persons were arrested, Mr. Westborg said. The Officer in Charge of INTERPOL in Sri Lanka, told The Sunday Times, that LTTE leader Prabhakaran's name was provided to INTERPOL by Sri Lanka in 1994 after the conclusion of the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination hearing in India. The names of Vellupillai Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman, was published on red notices under the registration number 142/4-94 by INTERPOL.

Jacob Daniels, Counsel in India, for the Special Investigative Team on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, said, since India and Sri Lanka share an extradition treaty, it is upto the Sri Lankan government to hand over Prabhakaran to Indian authorities, in the event of him being caught. The INTERPOL branch in Colombo confirmed that India provided the necessary details regarding Prabhakaran soon after the conclusion of the court hearing into the killing of former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi, where it was proved the LTTE had committed the assassination. Sri Lanka then formally registered the name of Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman with INTERPOL.



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