Sunday, May 3, 2009

China constructs its own new path, while British concerns cry "foul" and plot new gambits

[China constructs its own new path and a string of Pearls..., while British concerns cry "foul" and plot new gambits.]

Chinese billions in Sri Lanka fund battle against Tamil Tigers

Chinese construction workers bore a hole in the harbor bed at the construction site of the new Hambantota harbor in Sri Lanka

On the southern coast of Sri Lanka, ten miles from one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, a vast construction site is engulfing the once sleepy fishing town of Hambantota.

This poor community of 21,000 people is about as far as one can get on the island from the fighting between the army and the Tamil Tiger rebels on the northeastern coast. The sudden spurt of construction helps, however, to explain why the army is poised to defeat the Tigers and why Western governments are so powerless to negotiate a ceasefire to help civilians trapped on the front line.

This is where China is building a $1 billion port that it plans to use as a refuelling and docking station for its navy, as it patrols the Indian Ocean and protects China’s supplies of Saudi oil.... Ever since Sri Lanka agreed to the plan, in March 2007, China has given it all the aid, arms and diplomatic support it needs to defeat the Tigers, without worrying about the West.

Even India, Sri Lanka’s long-time ally and the traditionally dominant power in South Asia, has found itself sidelined in the past two years — to its obvious irritation. “China is fishing in troubled waters,” Palaniappan Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister, warned last week.The Chinese say that Hambantota is a purely commercial venture, but many US and Indian military planners regard it as part of a “string of pearls” strategy under which China is also building or upgrading ports at Gwadar in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sittwe in Burma.

The strategy was outlined in a paper by Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher J. Pehrson, of the Pentagon’s Air Staff, in 2006, and again in a report by the US Joint Forces Command in November. “For China, Hambantota is a commercial venture, but it’s also an asset for future use in a very strategic location,” Major-General (Retd) Dipankar Banerjee of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in Delhi said.

The British Navy used the Sri Lankan port of Trincomalee as its main regional base until 1957 and still shares a naval base with the US on the nearby island of Diego Garcia. China has no immediate plans for a fully fledged naval base but wants a similar foothold in the Indian Ocean to protect its oil supplies from piracy or blockade by a foreign power, analysts say.

Beijing sent three ships on an unprecedented anti-piracy mission to the Gulf of Aden in December, and in January a Chinese defence White Paper said that the navy was “developing capabilities of conducting co-operation in distant waters . . .”

China has cultivated ties with Sri Lanka for decades and became its biggest arms supplier in the 1990s, when India and Western governments refused to sell weapons to Colombo for use in the civil war. Beijing appears to have increased arms sales significantly to Sri Lanka since 2007, when the US suspended military aid over human rights issues.

Many of the arms have been bought through Lanka Logistics & Technologies, co-headed by Gotabhaya Rajapksa, the Defence Secretary, who is also the President’s brother.

In April 2007 Sri Lanka signed a classified $37.6 million (£25 million) deal to buy Chinese ammunition and ordnance for its army and navy, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly.

China gave Sri Lanka — apparently free of charge — six F7 jet fighters last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, after a daring raid by the Tigers’ air wing destroyed ten military aircraft in 2007. One of the Chinese fighters shot down one of the Tigers’ aircraft a year later.

“China’s arms sales have been the decisive factor in ending the military stalemate,” Brahma Chellaney, of the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi, said. “There seems to have been a deal linked to Hambantota.”

Since 2007 China has encouraged Pakistan to sell weapons to Sri Lanka and to train Sri Lankan pilots to fly the Chinese fighters, according to Indian security sources.

China has also provided crucial diplomatic support in the UN Security Council, blocking efforts to put Sri Lanka on the agenda. It has also boosted financial aid to Sri Lanka, even as Western countries have reduced their contributions.

China’s aid to Sri Lanka jumped from a few million dollars in 2005 to almost $1 billion last year, replacing Japan as the biggest foreign donor. By comparison, the United States gave $7.4 million last year, and Britain just £1.25 million.

“That’s why Sri Lanka has been so dismissive of international criticism,” said B. Raman of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. “It knows it can rely on support from China....”

Although the corporate media is focusing on Sri Lanka's military assistance from China, little mention is being made of the island nation's military links with Israel.

After the establishment of diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Colombo, Israeli military technicians arrived to maintain Sri Lanka's Israeli-made Kfir fighter-bombers and Russian MiG-27 aircraft and provided Sri Lanka with Dvora fast naval attack craft. Israeli arms and ammunition also began flooding into Sri Lanka.

Soon, Israeli military advisers and "consultants" were regular visitors to Colombo's new Access Lanka Building, owned by relatives of Sri Lanka's top military officers. Among Israel's security exports to Sri Lanka was state-of-the-art electronic and imagery surveillance equipment. Israeli air force pilots reportedly flew Sri Lankan attack aircraft against Tamil Tiger targets on the Jaffna peninsula. Israeli military personnel were also reported to have taken part in Sri Lankan military attacks on Tamil units.

Due to Israel's military assistance to Sri Lanka, Palestinians reportedly began aiding the Tamils in the 1980s. It is also believed that Israel's Mossad recrtuited agents among Sri Lanka's large contingent of foreign workers in the Persian Gulf Arab states. There were also reports that Israelis were also providing weapons and training to Tamil guerrillas in order to maintain a "market" for Israeli arms suppliers in the civil war-wracked island nation.

On March 2, 2007, WMR reported: "WMR visited Phnom Penh, Cambodia and discovered that the Mossad and Cambodian criminal syndicate allies continue to obtain bought-back Cambodian weapons from Cambodian government warehouses and are selling them to guerrilla groups throughout Asia, including Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, anti-Laotian Hmongs, the small anti-communist Free Vietnam Movement, and Burmese tribal guerrilla groups. WMR photographed a number of Zim shipping containers portside along the Mekong River in Phnom Penh. From this and other port facilities, including the port of Sihanoukville, bought-back Cambodian weapons, some originally provided to the Khmer Rouge by [Israeli tycoon Shaul] Eisenberg and the Chinese, are making their way to insurgent groups around Asia, possibly including Iraqi guerrillas battling U.S. forces in Iraq."

Tamil guerrillas have claimed to have destroyed an Israeli-made Sri Lankan fast naval attack craft, perhaps reminiscent of Hezbollah's destruction of the INS Hanit, a Saar-V class missile corvette, which was deployed off the Lebanese coast during the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon, with a C-802 Iranian-made Noor missile.

Although Sri Lanka suspended diplomatic ties with Israel in 1970 over the failure of the Israelis to withdrawal from illegally-occupied Palestinian territory, However, operating an Interests Section within the U.S. embassy in Colombo, Israeli-Sri Lankan ties began to grow closer in the mid-1980s. Israel provided Sri Lanka with military advisers and established a special commando unit for the Sri Lankan police.

In 1990, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa ordered the Israeli Interests Section at the U.S. embassy to close its doors and two Israeli diplomats in Colombo were ordered t leave. Premadasa was said to have come under pressire from Muslim ministers in his government. In 1990, Premadasa also ordered a government investigation of charges that Mossad was training both Sri Lankan and Tamil guerrilla forces. On September 25, 1991, Reuters reported from Colombo: "Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, fighting against a campaign to have him impeached, yesterday accused the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad of plotting against him because he closed the Israeli interests section in the U.S. embassy. He spoke at the opening session of parliament."

On May 1, 1993, Premadasa was assassinated in Colombo during May Day festivities by a suicide bomber said to be a Tamil guerrilla. Twenty three other people were killed in the blast. On May 28, 1993, Abdul Hameed Mohammed Azwer, Sri Lankan minister of state for Muslim affairs, said in Jeddah: "Israel was enraged by when they were expelled from Sri Lanka by Premadasa and I suspect the Mossad was behind the dastardly murder of this respected leader."

Those behind Premadasa's assassination remains an Asian "cold case." On September 23, 1997, Attorney General Sarath Silva released 18 Tamil suspects in the assassination of the president, citing lack of evidence. Silva declared the case would be officially deemed as "unsolved."

During a March 2009 trip to Israel by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, talks were held with Israel's leading arms suppliers on increased military aid by the Israelis to Sri Lanka.

Israel continues to supply Sri Lanka with arms and military training even after the United States and Britain cut off military supplies to Sri Lanka over the government's human rights violations....