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Maldives sink ‘Sri Krishna’ hijacked by Sea Tigers
*Seize four terrorists, rescue Indian skipper
*Lanka likely to seek extradition
*Latest bid to replenish depleted arsenal thwarted

by Shamindra Ferdinando

LTTE efforts to replenish its depleted arsenal suffered a serious setback with the Maldivian Coast Guard destroying a large Indian fishing trawler, Sri Krishna, carrying a sizeable consignment of arms, ammunition and equipment in their southern territorial waters.

The 25 meter vessel commandeered by Sea Tigers went down near Gaaf Alif waters at 8.25 am following a 12-hour stand-off, a Sri Lankan Navy official said. The Coast Guard had swung into action after a vessel flying a Sri Lankan flag fired at a Maldivian dhoni (fishing craft) on Wednesday afternoon.

Of the nine-member crew, four died in the confrontation with the Coast Guard vessel Huravee. The Maldivians rescued four Sea Tigers and an Indian believed to be the captain of the vessel who jumped overboard shortly after Huravee confronted the intruding vessel. Two Coast Guard vessels are believed to have been involved in the confrontation. The Indian was one of the 12-member Sri Krishna crew seized by the Sea Tigers on March 4. The LTTE is believed to have transferred 11 Indians to the Vanni-mainland, while retaining the services of the ship’s captain.

The confrontation took place against the backdrop of Indian Defence Minister A. K. Anthony’s recent accusation that the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) was responsible for a series of attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen resulting in the deaths of 77 civilians between 1991 and mid-April 2007. Yesterday’s destruction is the first of a vessel carrying arms since the Indian Navy attack on MV Ahat in January 1993.

LTTE Political Wing leader S. P. Thamilchelvan recently accused the SLN of seizing Sri Krishna.

The ‘Q’ Branch of the Indian CID recently, on April 26, revealed the seizure of the large Indian fishing vessel along with 12 Indians - ten from Kanyakumari and one each from Thoothukudi and Kerala.

Sea Tigers are believed to have seized the vessel near the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary. The missing vessel is registered with Verkodu Visai Padahu Meenavar Sangam Verkodu, Rameswaram.

Earlier, India sought Sri Lanka’s assistance to track down the vessel which the fishing sangam (association) believed may have reached Kalpitiya waters.

"Now there is irrefutable evidence to link the LTTE with the seizure of Sri Krishna along with the crew," a military official said.

The ‘Q’ branch revelation followed the interrogation of six Sri Lankan Tamils arrested on April 11 by the Indian Coast Guard off the Tuticorin coast after a mechanical snag in their boat, Maria, caused them to drift into Indian waters. The investigators identified them as members of special Sea Tiger squads deployed to ferry arms, ammunition and equipment from an LTTE ship stationed on the high seas.

According to a two-page note issued by Tamil Nadu Director General of Police, obtained by the Colombo foreign ministry, the squad seized by the Indian Coast Guard was one of the several units ferrying weapons and ammunition to their camps from an LTTE ship stationed on the high seas. Under interrogation, the six Sri Lankans had claimed that one of the squads, engaged in the mid-sea arms transfer, on March 29 killed five Tamil Nadu fishermen off Kanyakumari coast believing the Indians were monitoring their movements.

Sri Lanka yesterday sought access to Sea Tigers in Maldivian custody. Authoritative sources expressed the belief that the Maldivian government would quickly give the SLN an opportunity to question the terrorists. Sri Lanka is expected to seek their extradition after Maldives completed their investigations.

Since last September, the SLN destroyed four large LTTE ships on the high seas.

Last November, the SLN rescued an Indian fisherman after blowing up an Indian trawler which was being commandeered by Sea Tigers. He was later repatriated although a section of the military suspected the Indian may have been involved with Sea Tigers.

Authoritative sources said Sri Lanka requested access to five persons—three Sri Lankan Tamils and two Indians arrested on February 13 off off Kodiakarai and the six arrested on April 11. Sri Lankan intelligence services want to interrogate the suspects allegedly involved in moving arms, ammunition and equipment between Tamil Nadu and areas under LTTE-control in northern Sri Lanka. But India is yet to respond to Sri Lanka’s request.

Senior officials said that India may review the request in the wake of the incident in Maldivian waters

The Indian Coast Guard seized the explosives-laden fibre glass boat carrying three Sri Lankans and two Indians and bomb making chemicals and a suicide belt. The suspects included a senior LTTE cadre.

Unlike the previous detections made off the Tamil Nadu coast, the February seizure was made as the boat was heading towards Tamil Nadu. There had been no fishing gear onboard the vessel which was subsequently taken to the high seas and blasted by Indian security services.

Coast Guard Regional Commander Rajendra Singh is on record saying that the suicide belt was meant to cause destruction at a big temple celebration in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lankan officials emphasized the need to share intelligence between the two countries. "We are fully aware of the Tamil Nadu factor," one official said. But politics should not be allowed to impede anti-terrorist operations, he said, pointing out that a spate of recent incidents at sea underscored a coordinated action plan to tackle Sea Tigers and their associates in Tamil Nadu.

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