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
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
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.