In Italy, like in other Western countries, the LTTE had established a very powerful network of agents and was carrying out a massive campaign of misinformation which helped them to collect funds. Their headquarters in Italy was situated on the island State of Sicily, in the southernmost part of Italy. The capital of that State was Palarmore. It was estimated that there was a Tamil population of more than 15,000 in Sicily. The LTTE worked hand in glove with the Sicilian Mafia. They were responsible for transporting drugs for the Mafia and were involved in money laundering operations. Information received revealed that the LTTE was very close to one of the biggest Mafia families in Sicily, known as the Greco family.
The LTTE chose Sicily for two reasons, firstly, their connection to the underworld and secondly, the ancient shipwreck laws which permitted a person rescued from a sinking ship to plead his cause and obtain a temporary resident permit. Many Tamils and Sinhalese, who came to Italy as economic refugees, were loaded on an old boat and taken near Sicily and the boat destroyed so that the people in the boat could swim or be rescued by the Coast Guard and brought under the ancient law as the old boat had been destroyed.
Enormous amounts were charged by the LTTE to arrange their papers. After the applications were processed, according to the connection they had in Italy, most of them were taken to Regio Emilia from the South to the North. From the time they land in Italy, they had to pay a huge ransom to the LTTE, who forced them to pay the money from their menial jobs they did as housemaids, caregivers and the men as laborers in plantations and factories. There was no reprieve for them from the LTTE. They were forced to participate in anti-government rallies and pay for the war effort in Sri Lanka. As I said, in my previous article, they were warned not to have any dealings with the Sri Lanka Embassy and not to interact with the Sinhalese.
One of the most important dates in the calendar of any foreign mission is the National Day of its country. Most missions, even those of countries with meagre resources, organise a grand National Day at a five star hotel. This is considered the barometer of the popularity of their mission and their country.
At most Sri Lankan Embassies, the Independence Day is a lacklustre event as they, due to financial and other constraints, hold the ceremony in the Embassy premises. In Rome, generally the 4th of February is the coldest day in the year and the Ceremony is held in the Embassy premises itself and the majority of participants are Sri Lankans in Rome.
The LTTE is also concerned with our National Day. Their main focus was to disrupt the National Day ceremony. One year, they attacked most of the Sri Lankan Embassies in Europe ad even destroyed the Embassy in Norway. It was customary for them to demonstrate a few yards away from the Embassy by hoisting black flags and having megaphones blaring, burning the Sri Lanka flag and hoisting the Tiger Flag to attract more media attention than the ongoing event in the Sri Lanka Embassy. I was determined to stop this LTTE scheme and prevent any demonstration being held anywhere near the Embassy.
The main propagandistic theme of the LTTE, which lured the governments of the West, was that they were striving to liberate their people from the tyranny of the Sinhala-Buddhist Army. They cleverly portrayed that the Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka were dominantly Catholics, and the Sri Lanka Sinhala-Buddhists were killing the Tamils. The Sinhala Buddhist government was not only engaged in a racial war but also a religious war. Most foreigners and even knowledgeable diplomatic officers believed the LTTE propaganda without questioning its veracity. Such was the hold the LTTE had on the West. Unlike the Sri Lankan missions abroad, the LTTE had unlimited amounts of money, which they lavishly used for bribery and corruption and even to intimidate and throw lavish parties for the media and buy them tickets to travel to Sri Lanka and write adverse reports about the country.
On the 15th of June 2006, the Kebithigollawa massacre took place. The gruesome photographs and video footage were mailed to us by the Foreign Ministry. I took them and the video and other media footage on the killing of Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, where the severed head of the Minister was photographed. Those were pictures that would have aroused the emotions of even the most staid law enforcement officer. My first meeting with Dr. Antonio Borerelli, the Chief-of-Staff of the DIGOS (Secret Police) and Dr. Antonio Sbordone, Director of the Secret Police, was extremely fruitful in my mission to obtain the help of the Police to cripple the activities of the LTTE in Italy. I took with me the video clips and a power point presentation was made of the brutality of the LTTE in relation to the Kebithgollawa and other massacres. I knew that the Italians with their more than 3000 years of culture and civilization, which had been mainly instrumental in changing the entire West from a Feudal backward and barbaric society to its present civilized form and that rethinking and remaking of the Western culture and basic foundation of Civilization was laid by the Romans and the Italian women had a very important place in their qusai-matriarchal society. In their families the love they have towards their mother and the superior position the mother held in the family is remarkable, even for a person who came from a Sinhala-Buddhist background. The respect they have towards women is unbelievable and similarly, the protection of children and their rights was an inalienable right that is protected to the utmost.
Therefore, the Kebithigollawa massacre, with bodies of women and children mutilated by this horrendous act of terrorism, mellowed and melted the emotions of the most senior directors of the DIGOS. They told me that no liberation movement, with any norms, would kill women and children in this fashion. They agreed to appeal to their Government to establish a Special Unit at their Headquarters in Rome with three officers who would monitor the LTTE activities, not only in Italy but also in Europe.
*Hemantha Warnakulasuriya (President’s Counsel) was the former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Italy