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Sri Lanka seeks weapons from rogue states, earns U.S. ire

Sri Lanka potentially violated U.N. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, according to a confidential U.S. cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by the Norwegian daily Aftenpost. According to the cable, Sri Lankan officials sought to procure grenade launchers, ship-borne rocket systems and other military equipment from Tehran and Pyongyang.

U.S. intelligence was reported to have linked a Sri Lankan company that buys military equipment for the Sri Lankan military to an effort to purchase of RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade launchers (RPGs) and multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) from North Korea's primary weapons trading firm. The cable also said that the United States had received information that Iran's Ministry of Defense Logistics Export Center (Modlex) has recently provided an $11.4 million quote to the Sri Lankan Navy to install rocket systems on their war ships.

It remains unclear whether the weapons sales ever went through. Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador, Palitha Kahona, told Turtle Bay in a telephone interview from Colombo, that he was not aware of the full details of the American charges. But he said: "At the time, the government issued a denial, a total denial to these allegations. I think the position remains the same."

The internal U.S. cable showed that Sri Lanka was mounting an aggressive procurement effort, involving agents from Iran, North Korea and Syria, to beef up its military capability on the eve of a major military offensive against the country's Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan offensive, which resulted in the deaths of as many 30,000 civilians, brought an end to the country's decades-long civil war. The Sri Lankan military has a history of flouting international arms embargos dating back at least to 2006, according to the cable

"This is not the first time Sri Lanka has attempted to purchase LME from countries under U.N. Security Council sanctions," the cable, which bears Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton's name, states. "In August, 2006, the USG [the U.S. government] demarched the GOSL [government of Sri Lanka] regarding its interest in acquiring pyrotechnic and armament spare parts for training aircraft, as well as hundreds of weapons from Iran."

The cable instructs U.S. diplomats in Sri Lanka to demand that Colombo cancel the military deals or face the prospects of U.S. and international sanctions against the companies involved in the banned trade. It also instructs Sri Lanka to conduct an investigation to determine whether Lanka Logistics and Technologies Ltd, has been negotiating the purchase of grenade and rocket launchers with the Korea Mining Development Company, North Korea's primary weapons trading firm and a target of U.S. and U.N. sanctions. The cable also seeks "clarification" on Sri Lanka's 2008 negotiations with an agent of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force over the purchase of $40 million of weapons and defense equipment for the Sri Lankan army.

"We ask that you halt the purchase of all military equipment from Iran," according to a set of talking points to raise with Sri Lankan official. "Given North Korea's continued destabilizing activities, and the international reaction to those activities, now is not the time for business as usual with North Korea."

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Mark Kornblau, declined to comment on the Wikileaks cable. The U.S. government has not revealed the evidence of the alleged arms sale described in the cable. A U.N. panel that was set up by the Security Council to probe illicit arms sales from North Korea and Iran has never launched a probe into Sri Lanka's supposed dealings, suggesting the Americans have never shared it with them.

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