US arrests over arms for Tamil 'terrorists'

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The Independent US

A number of people have been arrested in the US on charges of trying to buy surface-to-air missiles for the Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka. Those arrested also allegedly tried to bribe American officials to give them classified intelligence and to have the Tigers removed from the list of banned "terrorist" groups.

News of the arrests, which emerged after court papers were unsealed, comes at a pivotal moment for Sri Lanka - so much so that there were suspicions the timing was intended to send a deliberate message to the Tigers.

The civil war between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government has resumed in all but name over the past few weeks, with artillery battles, ground offensives, hundreds of civilian casualties and tens of thousands forced from their homes. Several defendants, who have appeared in court, allegedly offered to pay $900,000 (£480,000) for 50 to 100 Russian-made surface-to-air missiles, and hundreds of Kalashnikov rifles. "We need something for Kfir," one said, according to the court documents, referring to the Israeli-made fighter jets used by the Sri Lankan air force. They were arrested after their negotiations were secretly recorded by US agents. Other defendants were arrested after a sting operation in which they offered millions of dollars in bribes to undercover agents posing as State Department officials, according to court documents.

One was named as Nachimutu Socrates, who was born in India but went to live in the US in 1976. He asked the undercover agents whether they "could stop the United States government from sending arms to the Sri Lankan government" and "provide intelligence".