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Cablegate: Abandoned Boats Stoke Fears of Ltte Operatives Fleeing Into

VZCZCXRO9244
RR RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHNEH RUEHPW
DE RUEHCG #0408/01 3530204
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 180204Z DEC 08
FM AMCONSUL CHENNAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2013
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENNAI 000408

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PTER PHUM IN CE
SUBJECT: ABANDONED BOATS STOKE FEARS OF LTTE OPERATIVES FLEEING INTO
INDIA

1. (SBU) Summary: Six abandoned Sri Lankan boats, some marked with
bullet holes and blood stains, recently washed up on Tamil Nadu
shores. Tamil Nadu police claim the boats drifted to India after a
recent cyclone, but this explanation has not convinced Indian Navy
officials. Security analysts suspect that members of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) abandoned the boats after fleeing from
Sri Lanka to India. The unexplained Sri Lankan boats on Indian soil
reinforce the serious concerns about India's capacity to protect its
coastline in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. End summary.


Abandoned Sri Lankan boats wash ashore in Tamil Nadu
---------------

2. (SBU) Between November 19 and December 5, local fishermen found
at least six (some newspapers reported eight) Sri Lankan boats
drifting offshore near Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu (the point in India
closest to Sri Lanka). Three of the boats reportedly had bullet
marks and one had dry blood stains. All but one of the boats had
been stripped of its outboard engines. Law enforcement authorities
inspected the boats and took them into custody. According to media
reports, police officers said such a large number of abandoned Sri
Lankan boats have never washed ashore before.

3. (SBU) The abandoned boats triggered speculation of infiltration
into India by LTTE fighters escaping the war in Sri Lanka. Some
reporters suggested that injured LTTE operatives might have used the
boats to travel to Tamil Nadu to receive medical treatment. (Note:
The consensus view is that it is unlikely that these boats were used
by Sri Lankan refugees who abandoned them upon arrival. Refugees
from Sri Lanka have no incentive to surreptitiously enter India as
the government accepts them as a matter of course, even going so far
as to make welfare payments to properly registered refugees. End
note.)

Police deny LTTE angle
------------------

4. (SBU) On December 10, a police official told the media that "a
thorough investigation conducted along with sister agencies revealed
that the boats had apparently drifted from Sri Lanka due to the
recent cyclone." He claimed that the boats "were not being used for
any activity subversive to the nation's security as reported in
certain sections of the media."

Indian Navy disagrees; says state probe is ongoing
---------------

5. (SBU) Vice Admiral N.K. Varma of the Indian Navy's Eastern
Command, who was on a "routine inspection of the naval detachment"
at Ramanathapuram on December 11, told the press that it is hardly
possible that the storm carried the boats from Sri Lanka to India.
He noted that the engines had been removed from the boats, saying
further details would become available after the state government
completes its investigations. He added that although there is no
threat from the LTTE to India, the Indian Navy would strengthen its
surveillance of the Indian seas.

Analysts believe terrorists might have crossed over
---------------

6. (SBU) A retired Indian Navy Commodore who, among many other
assignments, commanded a patrol vessel during India's peacekeeping
operation in Sri Lanka during the late 1980s, told post the "number
of boats turning up is quite alarming." Disputing the police
explanation that the boats had been abandoned during the recent
cyclone, the Commodore said he believes someone was using the
weather as cover to land in India and abandon their boats. "In
light of the situation on the island (Sri Lanka)," he said, he
presumes that LTTE fighters used the boats to escape Sri Lanka and
then abandoned them upon arrival in India.

7. A retired Indian Army intelligence officer who also served in
India's peacekeeping operation and still follows closely events on
the island nation, was more emphatic in rejecting the police
explanation. When asked why the abandoned boats turned up in Tamil
Nadu he laughed (presumably at our naivete) and quickly replied that
he had no doubt LTTE operatives used the vessels to escape from Sri
Lanka to India. He believes the fleeing LTTE operatives likely came
for medical treatment in Tamil Nadu, joking that they could easily
get some "R&R" in state. He surmised that private medical clinics
in Tamil Nadu would have no problem providing treatment for injured
LTTE fighters if the price was right.

8. (SBU) Comment: The inability of the Indian security forces to
interdict or even explain convincingly the presence of these boats
assumes greater importance as it comes shortly after the amphibious
entry of the Mumbai terrorists raised serious questions about
India's ability to protect its coast line. The state police's
quick, public conclusion that the boats just washed ashore after the

CHENNAI 00000408 002 OF 002


cyclone likely stems from a desire to avoid the potentially
explosive conclusion that LTTE operatives are turning up in Tamil
Nadu. If evidence comes to light that the boats transported LTTE
fighters, the state's ruling DMK will face charges that it has been
soft on terror at a time when the issue is front and center in the
minds of the electorate. Such evidence will also force the
government to take some sort of action to show it is taking
terrorism seriously, which will expose it to criticism from the
state's small, but vocal pro-Sri Lankan Tamil lobby. As a result,
we expect the state to continue to downplay the matter.
Nonetheless, we will continue to follow the issue closely given the
serious security implications of having LTTE fighters moving about
Tamil Nadu. End comment.

KAPLAN

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