25 September, 2020

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Sri Lanka…!! Sri Lanka…!! – Catch Me If You Can

By Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

It was utter panic when I, along with my wife, reached the immigration desk with our Sri Lankan passports at Siam Reap international airport of Cambodia last week. “Sri Lanka…!! Sri Lanka…!!” shouted the immigration officer and his loud voice attracted a few other officers to the counter. They were talking something in their own language and then we were separated from the rest and took into virtual custody.

Following accompanied to their main office in the airport building, a senior immigration officer started questioning us. He questioned the intention of our visit and several other details, then photo copied all our relevant documents but slowly became friendly with us. We were allowed to enter the country after this entire process.

Some friends who had been there before informed us in advance of this “harassment” by Cambodian authorities towards Sri Lankans, but never expected to this extent. This was extremely embarrassed and humiliating in the presence of others.

The situation was not different when we were on our way out at Phnom Penh airport. The immigration officer shouted again and we were taken into special questioning.

Mahinda and KP“Why is this ‘special treatment’ for Sri Lankans?” I diplomatically asked the officer. “Because Sri Lanka is in the special watch list with countries like Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and few others. Many Sri Lankans coming into our country are not genuine tourists, they do illegal things,” he said. But he was puzzled when I asked him “What kind of illegal things?”

Of course the poor immigration officer was doing his job, as per the instructions from his government to keep an eye on Sri Lankans visiting Cambodia, though he had no clue on the real reasons behind it. Little he knew that his action was a result of a request made by Sri Lanka itself a couple of decades ago.

The main focus of this particular request by the government of Sri Lanka was Tharmalingam Shanmugam Kumaran alias Kumaran Pathmanathan – or KP as he was widely known – and his super fugitive underground network. Having realized that his network was extensively active in the Southeast Asian region, successive Sri Lankan governments took every effort to trace and unearth this network and disrupt its activities.

KP headed the most important department of the LTTE – international finance and procurement. In short, the entire international operations of the organization. Leading intelligence agencies would put him par with any well-known arms dealer, or rather above them. His profile would certainly be a book by itself, with an unbelievable collection of international operations, misguiding almost all world leading sophisticated intelligence apparatuses.

Once the weapon black markets in the Balkans and east Europe shifted to the far-east in mid 90s, KP too shifted his focus to Southeast Asia and established a strong operational network within the region. That included food chains and restaurants in Cambodia and Indonesia, computer hardware shops in Laos, small ad hoc businesses in Myanmar, both underground and open businesses in Malaysia and Thailand and financial businesses in Singapore. Highly corrupt systems in many of these countries and their porous international borders made KP’s life easier and clandestine transportation activities along the Mekong River that connect six countries at a stretch within the region was safe heaven for him to smuggle the weapons up to Thailand or to Malaysia as transit points , before getting them into the northern jungles of Sri Lanka. Once these transit countries – mainly Malaysia –tightened their grip, Indonesia was a better option as the archipelago had many ‘relaxed’ ports. Many LTTE ships that were destroyed by Sri Lankan Navy during the height of the war in the international waters originated from Indonesia.

Sri Lankan government continuously requested its Southeast Asian counterparts to be vigilant on KP and on his network and assist Sri Lanka in its efforts to curb terrorism. In late 90’s Thailand arrested some maritime equipment including a primitive submarine belonging to LTTE in Phuket and Ambassador Karunatilaka Amunugama who was then serving in Thailand visited and inspected the arrested items, if my memory serves me correct.

The writer still remembers the closed door meeting in 2003 Ranil Wickremesinghe had with then Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister who was also holding the portfolio of Defence Minister Najib Razak [present Malaysian Premier] in Kuala Lumpur. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe advised well in advance High Commissioner Rosy Senanayake to arrange a closed door meeting with Minister Razak for unknown reasons. Later we realized that the intention of this secret meeting was to request Malaysian government to tighten its grip against LTTE and to take steps against clandestine sea roots of weapons smuggling via Malaysian ports. This meeting resulted in several arrests of weapons-to-be-smuggled and their fugitives in Malaysia.

In mid-2000, a fully-fledged school was built by Sri Lanka in an extremely poor village called Twantay close to Myanmar’s capital of Yangon – close to Yangon River. Under the leadership of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake has opened the school. Though the plaque says that it was a gift from the people of Sri Lanka to the people of Myanmar, one could easily understand the diplomatic strategy behind the move. The poor riverside village has been a key weapon transit point of the LTTE who used state-of-the art high-speed boats to transport weapons along the Mekong and Yangon rivers, through Twantay canal and bring them to Yangon international port for smuggling. The efforts to help the village, perhaps was to win the hearts and minds of its people to assist Sri Lanka and also probably to send a psy-op message to LTTE.

Thus was the sophisticated Southeast Asian network of KP whose name was a key sound-bite on last presidential election platforms. The high-flying international fugitive who had a self-proclaimed motto “catch me if you can” was caught in Malaysia a few months after the killing of Tiger Prabhakaran in 2009.

KP was a popular topic on political stage early this year. But hardly we hear of him then onwards; what has happened to him after the polls; whether he is continuing his alleged luxurious life as continuously claimed on election platforms or behind ‘real’ bars and subjected to a proper trial after JVP’s filing of a legal case, we do not know.

But one thing we certainly know of is that his network is not that sophisticated anymore. Though the US annual country report on terrorism claims that LTTE’s financial (and some international political) networks are still active, it is not in a position to engage in comprehensive arms smuggling and such similar operations. Of course, military defeat in Sri Lanka does not mean that it was uprooted in total elsewhere. Diaspora and LTTE political activities are scattered but active in many parts of the world.

Hence, it is high time that Sri Lanka conducts a full-scale review on the situation and revise the requests made from foreign governments. It is important that they keep a close eye on those fugitive operatives but not at the expense of the dignity of its own citizens who face immense embarrassments, just because they are carrying Sri Lankan passports. Especially at a time where such rigorous watch-out is no more required.

I do not think Sri Lanka deserves to be in the same category of Iraq or Syria, as the Cambodian immigration officer claimed.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    They may have been keeping an eye on LTTE members and supporters in the past. Bur now, they are more likely to keep an eye on crooked politicians masquerading with a second identity and smuggling gold and precious stones, Sri Lankan politicians using diplomatic passports trading on heroine and other such drugs, weapons and other contraband, or trading in prostitutes supplied to the well shod countrymen of their, politicians of SLK parliament and local government trading on disassembled motor cars, or those politicos and governor generals of banks who are seeking to transfer their ill gotten black money through Cambodian banks to western countries or China. Name any crooked thing that the alert Cambodian Immigration and Customs officers are on the look out, then you will surely find that Sri Lankan politicians, their wives and extended family members are in it and at the top of the queue. Well done Cambodia, too bad that you have caught up in this writer. Anyway, you had your say here, and hope that you feel better. Moral to the story? Don’t associate Sri Lankan politicians; one who does it, carries the politicos bad smell and any immigration officer in any country would smell it from a long distance.

    • 3
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      Ranga Kalansuriya is off at a tangent again – irreverent, conspiracy-oriented and always me,me me.

      Thousands of Sri Lankans travel to Cambodia weekly with no such consequences – however, you and your wife are the only one that the authorities pick out. Perhaps it is you arrogance based on being a Doctor or a Journalist that sets them off.

      Confidential meeting you were privy to as press officer at the Malaysian High Commission are broadcasted without any regard. From Cambodia to KP to Rathnasiri to the LTTE seems a very long-winded attempt to justify your reimbursement from the many NGO’s that dole out money to you, provided you are seen to be this astute and hungry journalist – neither of which you are.

      • 1
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        what Dr.Ranga experienced was nothing compared to what i have experienced travelling to third world as well as first world countries, i can only think of one place that let me in and out without much questioning, even my resident country checked me taken away from others( particularly travel documents) every time i enter the country after my holidays. Sri lankan passport does not have any recognition precisely due to the actions of LTTE and later mass scale illegal migration. Its high time government review entire foreign service as our foreign service nothing but shameful part of the government. I can give plenty of examples in relation to this having experienced them personally.
        i am glad that he was not stripped searched.

  • 5
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    Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

    RE: Sri Lanka…!! Sri Lanka…!! – Catch Me If You Can

    “Why is this ‘special treatment’ for Sri Lankans?” I diplomatically asked the officer. “Because Sri Lanka is in the special watch list with countries like Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and few others. Many Sri Lankans coming into our country are not genuine tourists, they do illegal things,” he said. But he was puzzled when I asked him “What kind of illegal things?”

    “It is important that they keep a close eye on those fugitive operatives but not at the expense of the dignity of its own citizens who face immense embarrassments, just because they are carrying Sri Lankan passports. “

    How did this all happen after Independence in 1948?

    Both, VP.,KP and LTTE were born after 1948, after 1956 as well.

    “Identifying the Problem is 95% of the Solution” Bertrand Russel?

    You have not identified the PROBLEM sufficiently. KP and LTTE were/are symptoms, only.

  • 2
    1

    The author of this article has suffered in the hands of immigration officials in Cambodia is not a big story to attract attention. Thousands of innocent travelers too suffer the same fate just because of the nature of their passports.

    this paranoia was created by the last government and that will not go away from the international scrutiny whether you are innocent or guilty. You will have to take that because you are from Srilanka state of terror.

    I know from the other communities too the drug dealers and murderers try to escape to other countries illegally doing the so called ,”illegal activities”. This second class treatment in the hands of foreign immigration officials will continue for ever for SL passport holders. So you will have to grin and bear it rather than trying to score points.

  • 4
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    Much ado about nothing!

  • 2
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    There are quite a few fugitives on the run too wanted for murder and arms supply.remember One Russian SL diploMUT
    On the run .also so called deserters from the armed services doing illegal stuff in foreign lands.??
    So you were in this situation not only by KP but other high profile crooks as well .
    So be warned when you leave your so called country of crooks and murderers your passports will be scrutinized with magnifying glasses in far away lands.

  • 1
    1

    Indeed, we get very special treatment from foreign immigration officers and then those visa officers living in SL. Such is the honor of our valued passport. None have been spared.

  • 3
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    So where is, incidentally this “KP”?? Why wont the New regime grab this man and put him in the dishwasher?

    • 1
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      kumar

      How can one put our good old friend KP in the dishwasher?

      KP is changed now because of Mahinda. He must be rewarded to the extent of even been appointed as High Commissioner for the United Kingdom. He will be a great ambassador to promote peace.

      • 3
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        KP is still playing catch me if you can. Very clever guy.

        • 0
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          Rajash

          Don’t run all over the place.

          Let it be our bed time story.

  • 2
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    Ranga

    Cambodia is a country where a person from any country is given a visit visa on arrival.

    This was abused by many Sri Lankan Tamils connected to LTTE. In fact I understand LTTE established its network there because almost all the Cambodian officials are corrupt and could be bought for money. A fistful of dollars would do wonders with the Cambodian officials, whether they man the immigration counters or any other government departments. Policemen are again rouges and the same is true with the army personnel.

    If you have a problem with the immigration official show him a few dollar notes and you will be passed through with a smile. But of course they take photographs of all arrivals before they stamp visas on their passports. This is standard communist practice.

    Incidentially the ruling Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party was initially installed in power by the Vietnamese communist regime after Vietnam invaded Cambodia and evicted Pol Pot regime. Hun Sen has been the irreplaceable Cambodian leader since then. UN sponsored election in 1993 did not change this. Unfortunately Hun Sen government does not implement any people’s policies or socialist policies any more. It is a virtual one party state for the top party cadres to rob the country’s wealth. Army officials and police chiefs, who all belong the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, are in the forefront in robbing the country. The opposition is in disarray and opposition politicians are not saints either. Unfortunately Cambodia after the dark days of Pol Pot regime is still an impoverished country with a voiceless people. Army and Police are accused of many serious human rights violations. Arms are still available and could be purchased easily for a few hundred dollars. In fact, I heard LTTE purchased a lot of small arms and even SAM missiles from corrupt Cambodia Army officials and shipped them out to Vanni. You may ask Kumaran Pathmanathan for more details since he was LTTE’s chief arms procurer.

    This beautiful South Asian country which had vast forest cover had now been depleted of almost all its forest reserves. Army chaps had been involved in destroying Cambodia’s forest for valuable timber which are going to countries like China.

    People in the country side are still losing their limbs thanks to the unexploded explosives of war ravaged years still remaining undetected in many provinces including in Battambong with its provincial capital Siem Reap where you went to. Siem Reap has become a hot tourist destination because of Angorwat, the site of the former Vishnu temple built by King Suriyavarman II. Cambodians are Theravada buddhists though there are the minority Cham Muslims and the indigenous Chinese, who still control the country’s private economy. Fortunately, the Buddhist monks of Cambodia are not engaged in politics unlike the extremist Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka. They are peace loving monks attached to the numerous Wats and live out of the handouts given by the people. Most of the skilled technicians like motor mechanics are Vietnamese though they are hated by the Cambodians and called derisively as “Yuans”.

    Thanks to development assistance provided by the West and China, the country has now a good network of roads. Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh is connected to most of the provinces with good network of carpeted roads and there is one that also connects Phom Penh to Laos constructed with Chinese assistance.

    • 0
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      Thanks for the good comment and the full summery on present day Cambodia. I totally agree with your arguments while having a strong feeling that a potential political change is in the air. That could even be applicable to Vietnam and China as well. Please read the Foreign Affairs latest edition on China.

      • 0
        0

        The present day situation for Sri Lankans in Cambodia can not be due some thing done two decades ago. Back then I lived there and the LTTE and their illegal activities thrived there then. They even ran a restaurant in phnom penh and as Naga said above a few dollars could do wonders. Since then LTTE had cultivated a culture of obtaining visa by palming dollars to immigration officers and they have made a habit of it to demand from Sri Lankans,they even attempted it on me when I visted Cambodia in 2002.
        This is no big deal when you consider ground reality that they are corrupt they take bribes, we are corrupt we give bribes.

  • 2
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    I also had to go through the same ordeal in 2005 when I visited Cambodia. I was the Deputy Governor of the Central Bsnk and had visited that country on the invitation of Bank of Cambodia, the central bank, as a special guest. There was a Bank of Cambodia officer at the airport to assist us safe passage through immigration and customs. Yet, immigration Officers did not waver and treated me separately from the rest of central bankers from the region.

    A series of questions had to be answered in front of a senior immigration officer who did not speak English. The questions were the same: why I came to Cambodia, who are the people who would be visited by me and what other countries I had visited before I came to the country.

    After about two hours, I was permitted to enter Cambodia to much embarrassment of my hosts who continued to apologise to me for the mishap which was beyond their control. In fact, it was due to carrying a passport of the wrong country at that time.

    I am surprised that the same procedure still prevails despite Sri Lanka being no longer classified as a risk country!

  • 2
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    Watch ” bird revenge against the poisonous snake” 12 mts video. When the belly is heavy with war crimes one can not escape even from an innocent bird.

  • 1
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    WAW…. it time you took over the Governorship of the Central Bank from Yahapalanaya thieves as a last act for the Country.
    COPE will reveal it all.
    This time Rani/Ravi or Yahapalanaya or Sirisena will have no place to hide. They can not do the Ostrich

  • 1
    1

    WHAT ABOUT THOSE CROOKS AND MURDERERS ESCAPED WITH/ WITHIN THE DIPLAMATIC BAGS OF THE CROOKS AND MURDERERS OF THE LAST REGIME??
    PEOPLE SMUGGLERS CARRYING DIPLOMATIC BAGS OF SL. THIS KIND OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES HAPPENED DURING THE LAST REGIME. SOME OF THE THIEVES AND MURDERERS ARE HIDING IN FOREIGN LANDS WITH THE BLESSINGS AND HELP OF THE LAST CROOKED REGIME.

    WHAT YOU SOW YOU REAP THEY SAY.

  • 6
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    all most all the countries in the world dont respect the sri lankan passport and sri lankan travelers.

    These countries have bitter experiences with sri lankans who have violated their visa conditions. They are invariably economic refugees who will do anything to stay on in the country although having only a student or visitor visa.
    We are considered untruthful, unreliable and dishonest.

    Look at our track record -CBK -air lanka deal-unexplained wealth.

    MR commisions and bribes and even murder. His sone and nephews ( many were dipolmats) out and out crooks in fact criminal. Our present PM embroiled in the Treasury bond scam and enjoying a premership although never voted for that post. Our former CJ sarath silva caught with his pants down with a young female student.
    Will you give such people a Visa ?

  • 0
    0

    “Look at our track record -CBK -air lanka deal-unexplained wealth. MR commisions and bribes and even murder. His sone and nephews ( many were dipolmats) out and out crooks in fact criminal. Our present PM embroiled in the Treasury bond scam and enjoying a premership although never voted for that post. Our former CJ sarath silva caught with his pants down with a young female student. “

    Well said, Harry Hatton. Every word of what you said is true.I sometimes think that we would have certainly fared better under colonial rule. Our curse is our politicians. All of them, whatever colour they repretsent, are hell-bent on raping the counntry of its wealth. I cant understand how you missed the point about the ex PM and his son smuggling drugs into the country by the container load on forged documents from his own office.

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