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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Arming the Tigers

The Tigers are a well-equipped force
The assault by the Tamil Tigers on Sri Lankan forces in the Jaffna peninsula has been possible with the help of its formidable supply of arms.

The rebel force boasts of an impressive arsenal - including surface-to-air missiles, rocket launchers, assault rifles and mortar shells.

Many of these arms were purchased from arms dealers in Eastern Europe as well as the flourishing global arms black market.

But recently, the Tigers have managed to seize weapons from the retreating security forces within the island.

Arms bazaar

The bulk of the Tigers' arsenal is made up of small arms, which are easier to procure than heavy weapons.

Major arsenal
Artillery and mortar shells


Assault rifles

Rocket launchers
Most governments do not monitor the movement of small arms across international borders, making them easier to purchase from illicit dealers.

Analysts suggest the Tigers have picked up supplies from arms dealers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Lebanon and Cyprus.

They have also shopped heavily in some of the world's former war zones - Cambodia, Afghanistan, Mozambique and the former Yugoslavia.

But the favourite source seems to have been countries of the former Soviet bloc - Bulgaria, Ukraine, Slovakia and Kazhakstan.

Sea trade

According to a recent report in the Lloyd's List, the world's leading shipping and insurance publication, the Tamil Tigers own and operate 11 merchant ships.

Arms are bought from war zones across the world
They fly under the flags of several countries, including Panama, Honduras and Liberia.

Operating a highly lucrative freight forwarding business, they are said to be used to transport arms and ammunition for the Tigers.

In a bizarre - and as yet unsolved - mystery, 34,200 mortar shells meant for the Sri Lankan army disappeared enroute to Colombo in 1997.

They were purchased from Zimbabwe Defence Industries and shipped to Sri Lanka.

But the 81 mm mortars never reached and it is believed that they were seized by the Tigers.


In the Tigers' early years, fighters received most of their training and arms supply from India.

But with the expansion of Tiger offices in Paris and London, the rebels have tapped into the purses of the substantial Tamil diaspora.

Fundraisers are routinely conducted among the expatriate community living in Australia, Canada, Switzerland and UK.

Most of the money is reported to be transferred through major banks, via legitimate accounts.

However, the Tigers are also accused of raising money through extortion and illegal trade.

It all provides for a formidable operation that has sustained the rebel movement for 17 years.

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28 Sep 99 | World
UN targets small arms
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