Myanmar Drug Trade May Be Fueling Sri Lankan Civil War and Terrorism

A conflict that doesn't make the US radar screen as often as it merits is the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers are a nasty group that among other abuses uses children as soldiers. I don't know enough about Sri Lanka's government to venture an opinion on its own human rights record, though a quick web search did not turn up anything quite so obvious or outrageous. I'm not too familiar with the causes of the conflict or issues that are driving it. Regardless of that, the Tigers are bad. Naturally, press living closer to the conflict cover it much more prominently. An article the Asia Times today reported in detail on the buildup of arms on both sides and predicted intense resumed fighting. The drug trade came up:
The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly charged that the Tigers' ships transported illegal drugs from Myanmar, though no concrete evidence of this has been presented. However, the Tigers do seem to have close links to organized criminal groups in Russia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, as well as foreign terrorist groups. Whatever their source, the Tamil Tigers appear to have ample funds to acquire weapons from anywhere and everywhere. Modern assault rifles, machine-guns, anti-tank weapons (rocket-propelled grenades), mortars and even man-pack SA-7 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, China and Europe.
Without concrete evidence, one should never fully trust any government's accusations of drug trafficking made against its opponents -- not only because the government has an incentive to make its opponents look as awful as possible, but because there are drug-fighters within the government who want the money and crave the attention, and because it is a tactic governments use to try and get the international community and the US in particular more involved with their fights. That said, it could certainly be true -- John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian think-tank concerned with organized violence and political instability, discussed the issue of terrorist groups using the drug trade to finance their activities in an interview with us in October 2001 -- it is a substantial factor for many such organizations, also one that tends to keep them around as mere criminal organizations once the political issues have faded. This is a reason for legalization -- it is only because of drug prohibition that the illicit trade is of such a size that it can help terrorist groups so much -- that it can literally cause civil wars to escalate, a phenomenon that is by no means limited to Sri Lanka (e.g. Colombia). Go and click on the letter to the editor link to speak out.
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Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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