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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Thai officials 'sold arms to Tigers'
By Larry Jagan
BBC correspondent in Bangkok

The Thai authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of 15 people accused of being involved in selling arms to the Sri Lankan rebel group, the Tamil Tigers.

These include two Thai air force officers and six police.

Woman Tamil Tiger fighter
Tamil Tigers: Fighting for autonomy since 1983
They are accused of the illegal trading and possession of firearms, and falsifying government documents.

If found guilty, they could serve a maximum of five years in jail.

One of those involved, chief warrant officer Surachai Sompong, has already confessed to the police that he supplied pistols and ammunitions to three Sri Lankans earlier this year.

He was assigned to the security operations at Bangkok's main international airport.

Among the others being sought is another junior air force officer and six low ranking police.

The police have been conducting a major investigation into the supply of illegal weapons to the Tamil Tigers after three Sri Lankans suspected of being involved with the Tigers were found in the southern provincial town of Rangong, on Thailand's eastern coast near Burma, four months ago.

They had a supply of small arms and ammunitions in their possession.

It appears that these came from a gun shop. During the investigation several police were questioned about the issuing of false gun licences.

Seven gun shop owners are among those who have been arrested and charged.

'Major conduit'

The Sri Lankan authorities have long feared that Thailand was a major source of weapons for the Tamil Tigers.

Several years ago a Tamil Tiger suicide submarine was discovered near the Thai southern island resort of Phuket.

International criminal investigation bodies have long accused Thailand of being part of a massive illegal arms trade.

There is an abundance of weapons, including US surface-to-air missile launchers, available on the black market - the legacy of decades of conflict in Burma and Cambodia.

The long open coastal line in southern Thailand makes the country prone to large smuggling operations.

When Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited Colombo in August, he promised his Sri Lankan hosts that his government would crack down on all terrorist groups using Thailand as a transit point for gun running.

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