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Pak backing jihadi group in Lanka: LTTE

LTTE says the Muslim regiment being raised in Lanka is a jihadi group in new garb, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2006 20:41 IST

The Pakistani intelligence agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is backing a Muslim terrorist group called "Jihad" in Eastern Sri Lanka, the LTTE's ideologue and chief peace negotiator, Anton Balasingham, charged on Wednesday.

According to the Tamil daily Sudar Oli, Balasingham had complained about this to the Norwegian peace facilitator Erik Solheim when the latter met him in London on Wednesday.

"I gave him details about the Jehad group and its links with Pakistani intelligence," Balasingham told Sudar Oli in an interview.

The LTTE's chief negotiator hoped that Solheim would inform the Indian government about this during his forthcoming visit to New Delhi to brief the Indian authorities about the state of the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Norway routinely keeps India informed about what is going on in the peace process in its southern neighbourhood.

Balasingham told Solheim that the Jihad group had been operating with the help of the Sri Lankan Army intelligence wing.

When the LTTE exposed the existence of this group, the Sri Lankan government took cover by absorbing the rag tag group into its regular set up, he said.

The Muslim rgiment, now being raised, was a devise to give the Jihad group legitimacy, Balasingham charged.

During the first round of peace talks with the Sri Lankan government in Geneva in February, the LTTE delegation gave details about five paramilitary groups operating in the Eastern districts.

The Jihad group was one of them.

According to the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet, the LTTE's dossier on Jihad, contained the names of some Jihad men and their leader, a Major with the Sri Lankan Army' 22 Brigade based in Trincomalee.

Quoting the anti-government weekly Sunday Leader, the Tamilnet website said on Wednesday that the recruits to the Jihad group were former members of the Sri Lankan Army intelligence wing.

Muslim political parties and civil society groups have vehemently denied that there is any armed militant group in the community.

But in the same breath, they also say that if the LTTE continues to persecute the Muslims of the East, Muslim youth will be forced to take to arms.

Ploy to involve India and US?

Despite the LTTE's loud claims about the existence of Islamic terrorist groups in Sri Lanka, there is no confirmation so far.

An informed Indian source said that it was too early to come to a conclusion on this matter.

"The LTTE claims it has evidence, but it has not shown it to anybody. It is too early to comment given the insufficient evidence," the source, who requested anonymity, said. 

According to most political observers here, the LTTE's claims about the existence of a Muslim militant group may well be motivated by a desire to get the sympathy and support of the United States, which is on a world-wide campaign against Islamic terrorism.

To the discomfiture of the LTTE, the United States has been taking a hard line against it with strong statements being made periodically.

The current attempt to link the Jehad group with Pakistani intelligence is seen as a bid to get India on LTTE's side, since India has a problem with Pakistan-backed Islamic militants on its own soil.

It is pointed out that so far, the LTTE has not been able to produce a single Muslim Jehadi militant, though it has been making claims about the existence of Muslim militant groups for some years now. Earlier, it was the "Osama" group. Now it is "Jehad".

Islamic fundamentalist groups gaining ground

However, informed sources note that Islamic fundamentalist groups are becoming influential in Sri Lanka, especially in the Eastern districts of the island.

But their concerns have been cultural, social and religious, not political.

There is no sign of political militancy, let alone armed militancy. 

These new fundamentalist groups get financial and other kinds of support from Islamic countries, including Pakistan.

Pakistan's interest

It is apparent that Pakistan considers the Muslim community in Sri Lanka to be its area of special interest, and the community is assiduously cultivated in various ways.

Muslim institutions, associations and Muslim schools seem to be special targets.

When there was a Pakistani trade exhibition sometime back, bus loads of Muslim school children (recognisable by their uniforms) were brought to the venue.

More recently, when the Pakistani naval ship PNS Shahjahjan was at the Colombo harbour, again, hundreds of Muslim school children were entertained on board.   

LTTE lays down conditions for going to talks

Balasingham said that the LTTE would participate in the second round of peace talks to be held in Geneva from April 19 to 21.

If Sri Lanka government did not disarm anti-LTTE "Tamil paramilitary" groups (like the breakaway Karuna group and the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party led by Sri Lankan cabinet minister Douglas Devananda), the LTTE's delegation would use the talks to expose the government's perfidy.

"We will also not agree on a date for the third round," Balasingham warned.

He also said that the LTTE was worried about the security of its delegation during the journey to and from Geneva, in the light of the activities of the Tamil paramilitary groups allegedly supported by the government.

"We will not go to Geneva unless our security is guaranteed," Balasingham said.