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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution: Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Broken Pacts & Evasive Proposals > Chandrika's 'Devolution' Proposals:1995/2001 > We need India - Anton Balasingham

 We need India...

Anton Balasingham,
LTTE’s theoretician and chief negotiator
Interview with Deccan Herald
6 July 2000 - Courtesy: Deccan Herald

"...The Thimpu principles are totally misconstrued. Right to self determination means we might choose to associate with the Sinhala government or accept a federal autonomy. Sri Lanka should not see self-determination as a right to separation. It only means that the Tamil people have the right to decide their own political destiny. Accept the principles first and let us negotiate... Anton Balasingham - Interview with Deccan Herald, 6 July 2000

[see also  "Liberation Tigers and the Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle" by the Political Committee of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, 1983 written by Anton S. Balasingham - "...The concept of self-determination needs a precise and clear definition. Such a clarification is vital to our national question, since some of the so-called Leninists in Sri Lanka are confused on this basic concept. The most ridiculous misrepresentation and misconceptualisation of this concept arises from a position in which the right of the Tamil nation to self-determination is given recognition while opposing secession..."]

Interview with Deccan Herald, 6 July 2000

Anton Balasingham, the LTTE's idealogue since the inception of the organisation 25 years ago, feels an independent Eelam may well become a reality in his life time. In an exclusive interview at his suburban home in Streatham in South-East London, he told S Murari of Deccan Herald that the political package put forward by the Sri Lankan government is totally unacceptable.

DH: Why have you rejected the package even without looking at it?

AB: When the package was first made public in 1995, we felt that it had severe limitations and failed to meet the political aspirations of our people. We were the first political movement to reject it. We have been insisting that any political solution should address our key demands articulated in the Thimpu declaration.

To elaborate further, the package was reformulated in 1996 and the final draft was presented in 1997. Now the UNP and the PA are discussing the final draft. In these five years of reformulating the draft, lots of powers originally proposed to be allocated to the Tamils have been whittled down. Now we find that the package as it stands is totally unacceptable not only to the LTTE but also to the other Tamil parties. The TULF has openly said it is unhappy about it.

Where we differ is that the problem should be treated as a nationality issue. Sri Lanka is trying to treat it as a minority problem. We are of the view that the Tamil people of the north and east should be construed as a nation with their own language, culture, history and contiguous territory, components which constitute a nation.

The package serves the interests of the majority community and fails to address the nationality or ethnic issue. It is part of a new constitution which reinforces the interests of the majority by upholding the supremacy of the Buddhist religion and the Sinhala language, ignoring the fact that the Tamils also have their own religious and cultural identity. It is not a secular constitution. Nor is it federal in that it envisages only regions and a centre.

Further, the package gives the President the extraordinary power to dissolve a regional council which, in his or her view, is acting prejudicial to the interests of the State. After having struggled for the past 50 years, 25 years peacefully and 25 years through an armed movement, we cannot accept a solution that is not permanent. Given the fact that the Sinhalese have abrogated so many pacts in the past, the LTTE has to be extremely careful. After having sacrificed 70,000 civilians and 15,000 fighters, we cannot just accept whatever is offered by the Sinhala establishment.

DH: The LTTE launched Operation Unceasing Waves when the Norwegian initiative was underway. Now, by rejecting the package even without looking at it, will you not be giving credence to President Kumaratunga`s charge that you are a war monger?

AB: The current offensive has nothing to do with the peace initiative.Norway had been trying for the past one year to broker peace. We found there was no common ground for starting negotiations. We suggested a ceasefire to create conditions of normality and mutual trust. But the Sri Lankan government was not agreeable to it. They said lets talk while we fight.

So the war was going on and the LTTE's Operation Unceasing Waves Three is a continuation of this. Sri Lanka wants to annihilate the Tigers. During the last five years, they had taken over Jaffna and quite a large extent of area in the Wanni region. Everyone thought the LTTE would be finished and kept quiet.

But when we fought back and regained all the territory in Wanni last year and then moved back to Jaffna, everybody was panic stricken. The panic is quite unnecessary as what we see now is status quo ante 1995.

It is not a deliberate attempt on our part to disrupt the peace process but there is an ever widening gap between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. We don't trust the government. The government wants to crush us. The Sinhalese people treat us as enemy No 1 and feel we have to be wiped out. So we have to fight back and survive. We can't lay down arms after 50 years of struggle.

DH: Won`t rejecting the package at a time when the international community is taking an active interest in the issue give you a negative image?

AB: It is the right of any liberation movement to articulate the views of its people whether the international community likes it or not.

DH: Ms Kumaratunga has made it clear that if you don`t accept the package, she will nevertheless push it through Parliament. What options will you have in such an eventuality?

AB: Chandrika has a scheme of things to do within a timeframe and she expects others to fit into it. She has wasted five years and now in the last moment, she is pushing through a set of constitutional reforms to suit her own interests in elections. We are saying it is a very complicated, intractable problem. You have talked to the Sinhala parties for five years and you want to give just two weeks to the Tamil Tigers. We are not saying we want a new Constitution. We are not a political party but a national movement and 70 per cent of the land mass in the north and east is under our control and we have the backing of the people.

DH: You say the Thimpu principles, which includes right to self-determination, can be a basis for negotiations..

AB: The Thimpu principles are totally misconstrued. Right to self determination means we might choose to associate with the Sinhala government or accept a federal autonomy. Sri Lanka should not see self-determination as a right to separation. It only means that the Tamil people have the right to decide their own political destiny. Accept the principles first and let us negotiate.

DH: The Thimpu principles were enunciated in 1985. But you at least initially accepted the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka agreement which envisaged only provincial autonomy against the regional autonomy now on offer. Why do you think the package is not even worth considering?

AB: The Indo-Sri Lanka accord had several positive features. It recognised the north and east as Tamil homeland by declaring they were areas of historical habitation. It temporarily merged the north and east.

Now the unit of devolution is yet to be agreed upon. You want to have an interim council when you are saying you want to solve the problem permanently. You talk of a referendum to decide if the east should be permanently merged with the north. If the majority of the Sinhalese and Muslims vote together against such a merger, it will mean bifurcation of the north and east. That is an issue we cannot accept.

Even though the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement also envisaged a referendum, we were pressing for a permanent merger and discussions were held. If we accept regional council and lay down arms, what is the guarantee that tomorrow the president will not dissolve the council?

DH: After the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, there has been a paradigm shift in India`s stand towards the LTTE. But there is renewed interest in India now about the Lanka developments. Do you think India can play a mediatory role?

AB: I will say India has a role to play.. it is a regional super power and we cannot wish it away. What we feel is our struggle will not undermine India's geo- political interests.

We have already formally said we will never do anything that will be prejudicial to India's interests or interfere in its internal politics. There is apprehension in India that the Tamils' struggle for a separate Eelam will have repercussions in Tamil Nadu. I think it is an over-exaggerated fear. India is a federal state and there is no oppression of Tamils like we are facing in Sri Lanka.

There is no demand for separation in Tamil Nadu. Our struggle is entirely different. We don't want to create any kind of pseudo nationalist parties in Tamil Nadu. We need India, we need the support of the Indian people.

Both sides may have made mistakes in the past. We want to forget them and enter into a new relationship with India. We feel we are a friendly ally of India.

Presently, India is supporting the government of Sri Lanka and there is no link between the Tamils of Eelam and the Tamils of India. But India cannot play an active role so long as we remain a banned organisation. We recognise India's predominance in the region and we look forward to the time when it will lift the ban on our organisation.

DH: In 1989-90 when you entered into an understanding with President Premadasa, you said it was an internal problem of Sri Lanka and India had no role to play and it culminated in the withdrawal of the IPKF. Why do you look to India now?

AB: When we entered into negotiations with President Premadasa, we were on the brink of destruction. The IPKF had taken over the entire north and east and the LTTE and Prabhakaran were fighting for survival. So we entered into an understanding with Premadasa to escape from total annihilation.

Now the situation is totally different. For the past ten years, India has practically abandoned the Tamils. But now there seems to be renewed interest in the wake of the escalation of the violence. We are willing to accept India's role.

DH: Your aborted negotiations with Mr Premadasa as well as Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga have exposed you to the charge that you use the negotiation process only to regroup and strike again. What have you to say to that?

AB: The LTTE does not have to bide for time to regroup or reorganise. We are an organised political force and we have even grown to the extent of a semi-conventional army. It is not as though we want to break talks and start fighting. We are not that mad. We go on fighting because we have no other alternative. We are fighting to survive.

The Sri Lankan government is rounding up Tamils not only in the north and east but also in Colombo and plantation areas and so many atrocities are being committed. But the Indian media is completely ignoring them. The monumental tragedy of the Tamil people, how they are facing up to genocidal oppression by the Sinhala State is not portrayed.

Whether the world supports us or not, we are fighting for the rights of our people. Otherwise, we cannot have sustained this movement for 25 years.

DH: India and the US favour a negotiated settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. Both have banned your organisation because of your pursuit of politics of assassination as an instrument of your struggle. Can you sustain your movement and achieve your ultimate goal without international support?

AB: It is true both the US and India have banned us. But for different reasons. India and the US have their own geo-political reasons. Sri Lanka too has banned us. We realise it will be a difficult task to gain international recognition. We have to rethink and retrospect and overcome the odds.

DH: Do you think there is any prospect for peace in the island?

AB: The Sri Lankan government is determined to pursue the military option. It is buying a lot of modern weapons and is recruiting and training a large number of army personnel. They feel they can destroy the LTTE and push through the package. But the Tamil people are unhappy with the package. So we see no prospects for talks.

DH: Do you think Eelam will become a reality in your life time?

AB: We already control 70 per cent of the territory in the north and east and most areas of Jaffna are now under our control. We are not going to keep quiet. We will take Jaffna and that will give us our cultural capital.

DH: Do you think the Sinhala establishment will keep quiet even if you are able to completely eject the Sri Lankan army from the Jaffna peninsula? Do you think that in the next few years you will have enough military force to retain territory?

AB: Why do you think we cannot retain territory. We already do control vast areas, including in the east. We will build up till we achieve our goal. I am confident of that.



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