The LTTE cannot be trusted
- 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 LTTE’s activities in the UK and on why Britain had still failed to control them. He said that he wouldn’t 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 full:


Q: What made you lead the campaign to ban the LTTE’s 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 don’t require any policing at all.


Q: So, what you say is that Britain has failed to stop LTTE’s fund-raising activities in the country completely?

I don’t 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 don’t 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: Don’t 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 LTTE.


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 Sri Lanka?

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 didn’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 do otherwise.


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 don’t 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 don’t give the money some disaster would befall them. So, people do pay the money and they don’t 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 don’t 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 wouldn’t have been Zimbabwe which we don’t 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 don’t 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 shouldn’t be in anyway regarded as something special or different. Because they don’t confirm to the majority.