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Australia must shed muddled stance on Tamil Tigers

2013 Jun 27

by: Dinoo Kelleghan


SRI Lanka's External Affairs Minister Dr GL Peiris would be scratching his head this week after departing from Canberra, where he called on the Gillard government to ban fronts of the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from operating on Australian soil.

The Australian stance on censuring the LTTE is, to say the least, contradictory. This became clear in 2009, when enraged LTTE supporters staged demonstrations all over the world in an attempt to dilute the hard-fought victory of government forces over the terrorist guerilla force after a miserable 30-year civil war.

In Australia, as elsewhere, the snarling tiger on the red and gold LTTE flag with the defiantly violent symbol of crossed rifles was captured on television as Tiger lobbyists shouted and gestured for the cameras.

In Sydney, the terrorists' flag was waved openly for days, against the backdrop of the Australian prime minister's official residence. How, people wondered, could Canberra countenance having its highest institutions associated with terrorism?
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How did this square up with the fact that Australia banned fund-raising by the LTTE on grounds that such funds were used for terrorist purposes?

The answer came in an Alice-in-Wonderland explanation from the Attorney-General's Department's National Security - Law and Order Division.

It was a criminal offence in Australia, it said, to use or deal in assets owned or controlled by the LTTE or to provide assets to the LTTE, directly or indirectly, because the LTTE was listed under the Charter of the United Nations Act as a terrorist organisation for asset-freezing purposes, and Australia, as a UN member state, had an obligation to abide by the consequences of that listing.

So the Tigers couldn't raise money in Australia because it would certainly be used for terrorism. But the LTTE was not listed as a terrorist organisation under Australia's own Criminal Code.

Under s.102.1 of the Australian Criminal Code, a terrorist organisation is defined as an organisation that is directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act, or an organisation specified as being terrorist by the Criminal Code Regulations.

Even if an organisation has not been listed as being terrorist, a court in Australia could find it to be so if it was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an organisation was directly or indirectly engaged in these activities.

So the security, intelligence or law enforcement authorities of Australia could determine that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation, and if they didn't, the matter could also be proved through the courts by a successful prosecutor.

As the Australian authorities have decided not to label the LTTE a terrorist outfit it can freely advertise its extremist presence in this country.

How an organisation that assassinated two world leaders, carried out suicide bombings that killed hundreds of civilians, murdered scores of non-violent Tamil leaders opposed to its extremist agenda, and has been listed as a terrorist group by more than 30 countries including the US, Britain and India and been described by the FBI as one of the deadliest and most dangerous extremist outfits in the world, can continue to lie under Canberra's anti-terrorist radar is a mystery.

Part of the puzzle is linked to Australia's matey support of "the underdog" in any situation, and a group opposed to a government is ipso facto an underdog.

Add to that the historic influence of the smooth-tongued LTTE supporters who had been winning over Australians since the 1980s, when the Sri Lankan government had no idea of how to fight a hearts-and-minds campaign, and the splenetic opposition of LTTE-influenced NGOs and the Australian Greens to the 2009 victory, and you get a country floundering between rival principles.

That's how Kirribilli House - under the prime ministership of Kevin Rudd - was tagged with impunity with terrorist bunting.

Perhaps the current Foreign Minister Bob Carr who, as a keen student of history, particularly the American Civil War, would be able to distinguish between a rebel force and a terrorist force, might encourage a more intelligent policy. Or are we just whistling "Dixie" on that one?

Dinoo Kelleghan is a former foreign news editor of The Australian.

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