TAMIL TIGERS MAY BE USING PNG, SOLOMON ISLANDS ROUTES TO AUSTRALIA

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 9, 2001 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Tamil Tiger rebels from Sri Lanka may be among those using Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as routes to Australia, Papua New Guinea's National Security Advisory Council has been told.

The Tamil Tiger threat was highlighted after four suspected rebels were caught recently trying to travel to Australia through Papua New Guinea on forged Canadian and Malaysian travel documents.

The concern about the rebels illegally entering PNG via routes such as Vanimo, bordering Indonesian-ruled West Papua, was made in several briefs widely circulated among National Security Advisory Council members.

The briefs said apart from illegal entry the Sri Lankan human smuggling organizers also seem to have easy access to forged Papua New Guinea passports and visas and were being helped by PNG officials and residents.

One brief said there had been suggestions that PNG be used as a transit point for the rebels or ex-rebels on their way to Australia where there was a real possibility of causing harm to individuals, businesses "or even their High Commission in Australia."

An alleged ringleader of the Sri Lankan human smuggling ring also tried unsuccessfully to take a group of Sri Lankans to the Solomon Islands last year.

According to authorities, he and five of his countrymen traveled from Port Moresby to Honiara. Officials in Honiara refused entry and the six returned to Papua New Guinea where he abandoned them and boarded a Singapore flight on the same day.

According to the brief, Tamil Tigers connections with Sri Lankans in PNG go back at least a decade. It noted that in 1996, an LTTE (Tamil Tiger) supporter in Australia was in touch with a Sri Lankan resident in PNG, attempting to raise funds for weapons.

In 1989 a London-based Sri Lankan visited Papua New Guinea three times, apparently trying to collect funds for Tamil Tigers from the Sri Lankan community in PNG.

In total, three Sri Lankan residents were named in the official briefs as Tamil Tiger sympathizers.

Members of the National Security Advisory Council were told that apart from entering PNG through legal means, the rebels may resort to illegal routes. These were via Vanimo by boat or plane then to Wewak, Madang and Lae. Or through Merauke (West Papua, Indonesia) to Sota (Indonesian border post) and then to Weam (PNG)

The four suspect rebels highlighted in the National Security Advisory Council briefs tried to travel to Australia on April 23 last year. They were in possession of two forged Malaysian passports and two forged Canadian ones.

Two PNG nationals, a man and a woman, did the check-ins for two Sri Lankans at the Air Niugini counter and then the other two at the Qantas counter. They used tickets in the name of a Canadian couple who had stayed at the same hotel as the four suspects and the alleged ringleader of the smuggling ring.

The passports presented at the Air Niugini counter were PNG passports with valid Australian visas bearing the Canadian couple's names but the photos were of the two Papua New Guineans. The boarding passes were obtained in the names of the Canadian couple.

The exact procedure was repeated by the two Papua New Guineans at the Qantas counter. The two flights were scheduled to depart within 30 minutes of each other.

The boarding passes were then given to the four Sri Lankans. However, the PNG passports were not. The four Sri Lankans then attempted to pass through Immigration with boarding passes and tickets in the names of the Canadian couple but with forged Malaysian/Canadian passports in their own names.

Immigration picked them up because the "electronic visas" on the Malaysian passports were found to be defective. Presumably, when they got to Australia the four Sri Lankans, who were in fact Tamils, could have claimed refugee status, the investigators concluded.

PNG authorities interviewed the Canadian couple but found no evidence that the two knew the Sri Lankans. The couple left for Singapore on April 26 and the suspected human smuggler left on the same route on May 7 before he could be interviewed. The investigators believed a senior Immigration official was involved in slipping him out of the country.

PNG authorities believe the alleged ringleader, who has a Canadian passport, is a major player in the Sri Lankan human smuggling racket in PNG and is probably involved in obtaining false passports as well.

He said he came to Papua New Guinea to start up a textile business but there is no evidence that he has done anything on it. He claims his family owns a textile business in Vancouver, Canada.

In one incident, on September 18 last year, three Sri Lankan men checked in at Nadzab International Airport, Lae to board the Air Niugini flight PX 062 to Cairns, Australia.

They were in possession of British passports under the names of Benjamin Johnson, Alan Christopher Horton, and Henry Peter Richard. They could not speak English and they did not have any money.

They showed visas to enter PNG via Port Moresby four days earlier but had no tickets to prove this. Apparently they were in Lae on September 5 and their Australian bookings were paid in cash, on September 13.

Investigators later concluded that the three men had not entered PNG via Port Moresby but had crossed illegally via Vanimo. They then flew to Mount Hagen and finally wound up in Lae.

Investigators believe two expatriates were involved. One was subsequently arrested, jailed and deported while the other was traced to Vanimo and placed under surveillance.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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