- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Top of the list

The foreign minister of Sri Lanka is a marked man.

Lakshman Kadirgamar holds the dubious distinction of being No. 2 on the hit list of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a formidable guerrilla army that recruits children as soldiers, dispatches suicide bombers and requires all troops to carry cyanide pills.

"Sometimes I make the top of the list when I make speeches that denounce them," Mr. Kadirgamar told Embassy Row yesterday.

The Tigers have been blamed for many political assassinations, including those of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Mr. Kadirgamar, however, does not spend his life looking over his shoulder.

"If you view what you are doing as worthwhile, it is worth the risk. I can live with that," he said.

There are some regrets occasionally.

"I haven't stood on the seashore in six years," he said, recalling the beautiful beaches that line his island nation south of India.

Mr. Kadirgamar is in Washington on an annual visit to discuss Sri Lanka's political and military situation with administration officials and members of Congress.

The latest news involves a government offensive against the rebels, who mounted their own offensive in the spring. He will also review the prospects for parliamentary elections next month.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was re-elected to a second six-year term in December, is hoping her party does well enough to give her a mandate to continue her efforts to negotiate with the Tigers. She was rebuffed in earlier attempts to open peace talks but remains optimistic, Mr. Kadirgamar said.

He said the 20-year-old guerrilla war has left a psychological scar on Sri Lanka.

"There is violence all around us," he said. "It is exhausting, debilitating."

Some of the worst violence involves children, especially those recruited by the rebels.

Mr. Kadirgamar said he has heard reports of children as young as 7 serving with the Tigers, although most are in their early teens. After his Washington visit, he will travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to deliver a speech at a conference on children in conflict.

"The children are constantly brainwashed. They are easily influenced and easily frightened," Mr. Kadirgamar said. "In a horrible kind of way, they are very useful to those people."

Mr. Kadirgamar worries about their future.

"Their childhood is gone," he said. "One day peace will come, and these children will be walking time bombs and a threat to the society in which they live."

'Compromising' Greece

The assassination of a British diplomat by a shadowy Greek terrorist group shocked Greece into a "full awareness" of the damage terrorism has done to the country's image, according to a Greek law enforcement official.

Michalis Chrysohoidis, the minister of public order, told Washington's Western Policy Center last week that Greece has responded with a series of measures designed to break the terrorist group, known as "November 17."

No member of the group has been arrested since 1975 when it began a campaign of political assassinations and bombing.

Greece has "difficulties penetrating and breaking a small, closed clandestine organization," Mr. Chrysohoidis said.

"It is even more difficult … when this same organization does not engage in arbitrary, mass terrorist acts but … uses selective and specific targets," he said.

The assassination in June of the British military attache, Brig. Stephen Saunders, brought a "full awareness, a conscious awareness, in the Greek mind that terrorism was compromising Greek national interests and seriously damaging the nation's external image," he said.

Since then, Greece has offered a $4.2 million reward for information leading to the arrests of those responsible for killing Brig. Saunders. It has also created a confidential hot line to guarantee anonymity for citizens who inform on criminals. Greece is also increasing law enforcement cooperation with its Balkan neighbors.

In Washington, Mr. Chrysohoidis signed several crime-fighting agreements to establish better cooperation with the United States.

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