By Shamindra Ferdinando
Contrary to reports, none of the Sri Lankan Tamils who paid $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 each for passage to Canada are ex-LTTE combatants involved in Eelam war IV.
Authoritative military officials say the LTTEers had no way of escaping the advancing army on the Vanni (east) front early last year by taking a boat due to heavy naval presence backed by 24-hour monitoring by the SLAF and navy technical sources.
The navy had over a hundred craft ranging from small boats and Fast Attack Craft to Offshore Patrol Craft deployed off Mullaithivu to thwart attempts by the LTTE to flee, a senior official said.
Responding to a query by The Island, the official who had been involved in naval operations on the Mullaithivu seas, said had there been the slightest chance, the LTTE leadership would have escaped. "We captured Sea Tiger leader Soosai’s wife as she was trying to reach the Indian waters less than four days before the final battle on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon," he said, urging the Canadian government not to be deceived by human smugglers.
Since the conclusion of the war in May last year several ship/boatloads of Sri Lankan Tamils have reached Australia, Indonesia and Canada.
Sri Lankan sources said that even if LTTE cadres had managed to leave Sri Lanka through the Bandaranaike International Airport using forged travel documents, they could not have raised $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 each for their passage. Sources emphasised that almost all the passengers of MV ‘Sun Sea’, now seeking political asylum in Canada had left Sri Lanka years ago and most probably were not involved in LTTE terrorism.
Intelligence sources told The Island that the 59-metre cargo ship MV ‘Sun Sea’, which had been especially modified to accommodate about 500 persons left Thailand three months ago. "The vessel came from the Gulf of Thailand, between the Philippines and Japan and then straight across the ocean and following a similar, but not exactly the same, route as the ‘Ocean Lady’," a senior official said.
The MV ‘Ocean Lady’ was a migrant smuggling vessel that reached Canada’s West Coast in October, 2009 with 76 aboard, all Sri Lankans.
The official said that the ‘Ocean Lady’ (formerly ‘Princess Easwary’) after a stop in Mumbai on Aug. 31, 2009 had sailed from northwestern Indian port of Mundra on September 8, 2009. All of them were released in batches. The Sri Lankan navy said that MV ‘Ocean Lady’ had been one of the LTTE vessels used to carry arms, ammunition and equipment during the war.
He said that the LTTE rump was behind the ongoing human smuggling operations driven by profit motives.
"In fact, the ‘Sun Sea’ itself was modified in order to make this trip and maximize the number of persons to be transported and maximise the attendant the profits."
Although a section of the international press says MV ‘Sun Sea’ had planned to reach Australian waters before the Australian government warned them not to come, sources said that human smugglers always targeted Canada due to its slack immigration laws.
Sources said that there were over 50 children among the new arrivals. Had the Canadians bothered to talk to children, they would have known the truth, sources said.
One of the nearly 500 Tamil migrants had died just weeks before the ship arrived off the British Columbia coast, the Canadian press reported on Sunday.
Sri Lankan officials expressed confidence that Canada would follow the Australian example by tightening immigration laws. Australia recently declared that asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan were not welcome and went to the extent of freezing the processing of their applications.
A senior official said that the Canadians could accommodate any number of illegal immigrants and subsequently give them voting rights. That is their prerogative but not at Sri Lanka’s expense, he said, emphasising that the war had ended 14 months ago.
Sources said that human smugglers had the support of some Tamil organisations based in Canada, who exploited lax Canadian laws. They also had the support of a section of the politicians and officials to bring in more economic refugees.