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SL for propaganda blitz on LTTE piracy

The propaganda is to convince world that LTTE is a major threat to peaceful shipping, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 18:25 IST

The Sri Lankan government is expected to go on an international propaganda offensive against the LTTE on the issue of piracy involving a Jordanian merchant vessel last week.

Diplomatic sources told Hindustan Times that there was a strong possibility of the government's going on a propaganda offensive to convince the world that the LTTE was a major threat to peaceful shipping in the area and that coordinated international action against it was called for.

Commodore DKP Dassanayake told The Island newspaper on Wednesday, that before the LTTE boarded the ship on Saturday at about 3.30 am, the Navy had received an SOS from the crippled vessel.

The Navy had requisitioned a vessel to tow it to the nearest port.

And that vessel was on its way when the LTTE intervened, he said.

"It would have reachedwithin four hours or so, but before that the LTTE boats had moved towards the ship."

The captain of the ill-fated vessel then radioed to say that armed men had boarded his vessel and that it was under attack.

"We didn't want to prevent them (the LTTE) as the ship would have got caught in the crossfire," Dassanayake said.

Diplomatic sources said that the chances of approaching the grounded ship and recovering its cargo (14,000 tonnes of rice) were dim in view of the fact that the ship was just 1600 metres away from the Mullaitivu coast held by the LTTE.

The ship is now surrounded by the LTTE's Sea Tigers and is within the range of its shore based guns.

An enormous effort will have to be made to salvage the grounded ship and get it going again.

At any rate, success in such a venture will hinge critically on full support from the LTTE.

But the LTTE is unlikely to cooperate after the captain's statement in Colombo on Tuesday.

Capt Ramees Jabbar had said that the LTTE (which he referred to as an 'armed group') had forcibly boarded the ship, forcibly removed the anchor, fired shots in the air to make the crew abandon the vessel, and had taken away all the communication equipment.

The LTTE, which has not reacted to Captain Jabbar's charges yet, had earlier stated that it boarded the ship because it saw a threat from the Sri Lankan Navy, which was lurking in the vicinity.

Recounting the incident to Hindustan Times the LTTE's military spokesman Rasaiah Ilanthirayan said that the Sea Tigers (the Naval arm of the LTTE) had boarded the ship as there was some "suspicious" Sri Lankan naval movement in the area.

A Sri Lankan military spokesman told Hindustan Times on Wednesday that discussions were on with Norway and the ship's agents in Colombo about getting the ship released without the use of force.

But diplomats wonder if Norway or the Jordanian ship owners would be able to do anything.

As of now, the LTTE has not taken away the 14,000 tonnes of rice on board.

"We know because we are keeping a close watch on the ship both in the sea and from the air," the military spokesman said.

First Published: Dec 27, 2006 17:11 IST