The LTTE cannot be
- Lord Avebury
By Bandula Jayasekara in London
Lord Avebury was elected to the House of Commons in 1962. He is
also a member of the Liberal Democratic Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. He
continues to work on human rights issues, as well as on immigration, refugees, gypsies and
travellers and UK prisons. He is currently promoting a bill to abolish the law and
blasphemy and to make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence. Lord Avebury is
the only Buddhist in the House of Lords. He worked hard to get the LTTE and its
fund-raising activities banned in the UK. In an exclusive interview with The
Island at his home in London, Lord Avebury spoke freely about the LTTEs
activities in the UK and on why Britain had still failed to control them. He said that he
wouldnt trust the LTTE considering its past records and questioned why Balasingham
is allowed to move freely in London despite being a leader of a banned organization in the
UK. Lord Avebury also said that it was The Island newspaper that
alerted him to some of the LTTE front organizations operating in London. The interview in
Q: What made you lead the campaign to ban the LTTEs fund-raising
activities in the UK?
I have been interested in the fund-raising activities by the LTTE and it
seemed to be that we should have taken measures to clamp down on this organization of
terrorism in the UK. At the same time, the LTTE was going about with its activities in
fund-raising without any interference and under the guise of operating as charities. So it
was in fact The Island, your newspaper, that alerted me to some of the front
organizations which the LTTE was using in this country under the guise of charitable
operations, housing associations and so on. So, I asked the Charity Commission to look in
to these and they found that some were not legitimate though they claimed to have
beneficiaries in Sri Lanka who were receiving grants of money. But, they didnt have
a list of these beneficiaries and they could not satisfy the Charity Commissioners that
they were engaged in genuine charitable operations. So, their funds were frozen and they
couldnt continue to collect money for those purposes. But, I am afraid this is like
a hydro. You close down one, another starts somewhere else. It is extremely difficult for
the Charity Commission to keep an eye on thousands of organizations, some of which are
very small and dont require any policing at all.
Q: So, what you say is that Britain has failed to stop LTTEs
fund-raising activities in the country completely?
I dont think we have failed completely. I think as a result of the
investigations both by the Police and the Charity Commission, the activities might have
been disrupted to some extent. But, I am really not confident that we have done enough to
stop their activities altogether. I think it still continues under various guises.
Q: Last Sunday there was this sports festival where the TRO, THO and
others were present. They also displayed the map where the LTTE has demarcated a separate
state. All these happened under the very eyes of the British police. Balasingham and the
LTTE chief in the UK move about freely. How could you allow the leaders of a banned
organization to move freely in the UK?
On the one hand you have so-called peace negotiations, on/off going on in
Sri Lanka, which means that the authorities there have some dealings with the LTTE. On the
other hand we have a law which specifically names the LTTE as a terrorist organization and
as such it is an offence to belong to, and as such it is an offence to contribute money to
an offence to support in anyway, including appearing on the platform with these people. I
wonder why we dont enforce this law as rigorously as we might have otherwise have
done, Perhaps may be on the argument that if there are peace negotiations going on in Sri
Lanka, then it is not for us to say that the activities of the LTTE should be disrupted in
our country despite the fact it is against the law.
Q: Dont you think that the LTTE has found some other ways to get at
the money frozen by the British government?
Yes. I am quite certain that they have found other ways of siphoning off
the money, particularly from those who come here as refugees or asylum seekers in many
cases with the assistance of the LTTE. So, they have to pay that money back. That goes on
for years and years after somebody arrives in this country. The rackets, which are
operated by the LTTE to bring people into this country, are a very serious matter, which
we needs to be controlled. Not that anyone should be deprived if he is a genuine refugee.
But I think many people who have come here in the past are not persons fleeing from
persecution. They were using it as a means of getting into this country and repay the
Q: You are known to be good friends of the late Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam
who was killed by the LTTE. How do you feel his loss considering the present situation in
It was a disaster for whole of Sri Lanka. He was one of the few sensible
voices that spoke for whole of Sri Lanka in terms of possible solutions and the need for
harmony between the different groups in Sri Lanka. I think if you lose a really good man
like that it is a loss to the whole country. But, he was not the only one. I can think of
many others, whom I have known were assassinated. Leaders of the TULF, people who worked
for the Tamils in this country and who went back to Sri Lanka and were assassinated
because they didnt play the LTTE game. I do really worry about the LTTE. About the
way in which they treat anybody who disagrees with them in the Tamil community. Obviously
they dont represent everybody and there are other parties. Yet, these are the
parties find it extremely difficult to operate in Tamil speaking areas because the
violence against them.
Q: Do you think that the LTTE could ever survive in a democratic set-up?
If there were valid elections in the Tamil areas they would still probably
get a lot of votes. But, I think it would be a pluralist system, which the LTTE might be
unable to tolerate and they dont seem to be able to work with others holding
different views. So, if there were elections and other people would get in to the assembly
or whatever representing the people, I dont think the LTTE would tolerate their
existence. They always want to have the sole right to exercise power.
Q: Do you think the government of Sri Lanka is giving too many concessions
to the LTTE when negotiating with them for peace?
It is not really for me to say. This is a matter for the people of Sri
Lanka. I would say that the people are getting worried. I observe that without wanting to
enter into an argument and saying who is right and who is wrong. I do think that there are
people in Sri Lanka who say that the government has bent backwards to accommodate the
LTTE. But, there has to come a point where you should draw a line. The demands that they
have made are quite impossible to be granted by any state. Let alone the trauma that Sri
Lanka has endured. I mean such things like allowing them to operate a navy. It is
inconceivable that you can have a multiplicity of armed forces within a single country.
That is not within the principle of statehood, let alone democracy.
Q: Do you trust the LTTE?
Personally I am reluctant to take the word of the LTTE. Because in the
past it had always been devious and backtracked on its promises. So, I would advise
extreme caution to anybody who has to deal with the LTTE. I think there has to be
guarantees when agreements are made. Knowing from experience that the LTTE has defaulted
on its promises guarantors are necessary. I wonder how the Norwegians could make the LTTE
Q: Why can't Britain put pressure on the LTTE since you have allowed LTTE
theoretician Anton Balasingham to live in London?
I have no idea if they tried to put pressure on Balasingham or not. I
rather doubt if they have any official dealings with him at all. As you say, here is
somebody who is a leader of an organization which is listed as terrorist by the British
government and yet he is living here and conducting his activities openly. I confess, I
dont really understand what is the viewpoint of the security authorities is in
allowing him to function this way, unless there is some tacit agreement with the
government of Sri Lanka which allows him a certain latitude because of his role in the
peace negotiations and his supposed willingness to enter into an agreement which would
ultimately solve the whole conflict. That may be the reason. I am just guessing now. But,
I can see no other reason why he would be left free from the law.
Q: In the same way there are other hard-core LTTE leaders still operating
freely and there is extortion taking place and innocent Tamils are being harassed. Most of
the Tamils who spoke to me said that they are not for LTTE. There is no doubt about that.
But these things are going on. What is the British government doing about it?
You hear about these cases, particularly the businessmen who are held to
ransom. There is this American word and it is called 'protection money'. They say it is
best they gave the LTTE money because they will look after them by which they mean is that
if they dont give the money some disaster would befall them. So, people do pay the
money and they dont report it. One of the difficulties is how the police could get
the evidence. People are terrified to go to the police and to complaint. I do see that it
is a problem for the police and they would welcome some complaints which would enable them
to investigate what is clearly a widespread phenomenon.
Q: Do you think that India could play an important role at this juncture?
India has played a role, which has not always been a happy one. I think
the episode when the Indians came in and tried to sort things out taught both India and
Sri Lanka a lesson. From which they probably have not altogether recovered. This made the
Indians very cautious in terms of what they are prepared to contribute. Yes. India
obviously does have a role to play. But, it has a much more limited role at this time.
But, I dont think it has a military role to play.
Q: How do you see the role play by the Norwegian facilitators?
The Norwegian have been setting themselves up as the facilitators. They
got to a point where everybody thought it would be plain sailing. But, I think the
Norwegians have discovered like everybody else, that one cant very easily make
bargains with the LTTE. You sit across the table and think you have arrived at a solution.
Everybody is happy with it and suddenly some more demands are made. So, I think the
Norwegians have learnt their own lesson in terms of the difficulties of this operation and
the inability of the third party facilitators to play a useful role when there are agendas
which are not revealed even to them.
Q: How do you see the Muslim factor in the Sri Lankan conflict?
Well, I am worried about the Muslims. In the past, the Muslims have been
in a very precarious situation. They have been some appalling massacres. At the moment the
Muslims who are still in the East are in a difficult situation and they dont always
agree with what the LTTE is up to and they are nervous I think about having to living in a
political entity which will be completely dominated be by the LTTE. So, you may find in
Sri Lanka that lots of Muslims have migrated from the North and East and will want to
settle in the South and Colombo.
Q: What are your views on the fingerprint tests introduced by your
government to the visa applicants from Sri Lanka?
We had a debate on the fingerprint issue in the House of Lords. We did ask
why Sri Lanka was chosen as the prototype. It is clearly the intention of the government
to adopt the same procedures for every other country from which people may seek to enter
Britain. But, they chose Sri Lanka because, among other things, it was a place which had
been cooperative. The government of Sri Lanka was prepared to accept it. Perhaps it
wouldnt have been Zimbabwe which we dont have good relations with. First there
is a harmonious relationship with Sri Lanka and secondly technological facilities that
they have in Sri Lanka which could be installed in the high commission.
Q: You are the only Buddhist in the House of Lords. How do you lead your
life as a Buddhist?
Occasionally people mention the fact that I am a Buddhist and they think
in some way it causes me to take particular attitudes, when I speak for examples on
prisons. But, we dont normally ascribe views to people because of their religion. It
is irrelevant to their political stands and you get people from different political
persuasions and with all religions. The fact that I am a Buddhist does not make a
difference. I hope the people will accept that in a multi religious society as we have
become now everybody is entitled to their own views. They shouldnt be in anyway
regarded as something special or different. Because they dont confirm to the