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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
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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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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Geneva Talks & After > LTTE Political Wing Leader Tamilchelven & Sri Lanka President Rajapakse on the Peace process - in TIME, 12/13 February 2006

LTTE Political Wing Leader Tamilchelven & Sri Lanka President Rajapakse
on the Peace process - in TIME, 12/13 February 2006

First Accept The Sovereignty Of Our People
- Tamilchelvan

TIME South Asia bureau chief Alex Perry interview with LTTE Political Wing Leader S.P.Tamilchelvan 13 February 2006

Aside from one press conference in 2002, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam [L.T.T.E.] declines all requests for interviews and delegates meetings with all but the most senior foreign diplomats. Since the Tigers agreed a cease-fire with the Sri Lankan government in 2002, the rebels' public face has become Suppiah Paramu Tamilchelvan, a former fighter who walks with the aid of a cane and is head of the L.T.T.E.'s political wing. He spoke through a translator with TIME South Asia bureau chief Alex Perry at the Tigers' administrative headquarters, the Peace Secretariat, in Killinochchi, in rebel territory in northern Sri Lanka.

TIME: How close are we to war? Can we pull back?

Tamilchelvan: There is a war environment. The government is seriously engaged in provoking people and creating an environment that looks like war. On a daily basis, three or four people are being killed and in places that are fully under military occupation. Even a Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission office outside a military base was attacked. This shows the degree of government involvement. The Tigers are not engaged in any [similar] effort. Our commitment to take things forward as we have done in the last three to four years remains the same.

Q.Do you have any doubt about who is carrying out the attacks?

A.We don't need to think of rogue elements in the Sri Lankan army forces. It's very clear that the military structure under [Sri Lanka President] Mahinda Rajapakse is made up of hardliners who believe in war. They have a history of it. They are hawks. These things come from the top. On one hand, the government makes statements that it is committed to peace. On the other, it openly commits atrocities.

Q.To be absolutely clear, you say there's no link between the Tigers and the deaths of more than 70 soldiers, mostly in claymore mine attacks?

A.The sophistication in which the attacks have been carried out does not necessarily mean the L.T.T.E. is involved. All the battles we had with the Sri Lankan army [during the 1983-2001 civil war] were done with the full participation of civilians. Over 100,000 underwent training and without them we would have not been successful.

To understand who's attacking the army, look at the background. A humanitarian disaster [the Dec. 2004 tsunami] that necessitated joint action  . So in July 2005, the Tamil people, in an uprising of their own involving hundreds of thousands of people, [demonstrated] their disappointment at the [government's failure] to deliver normalcy. The government had failed miserably to fulfill its obligations under the ceasefire agreement, such as minimizing their military presence. The military is abducting females, raping them, killing them, killing families. These are people battered by two decades of war, who expected normalcy and who were not given anything through the joint mechanism [for tsunami aid]. Expecting those people to remain calm forever is simplistic. People were forced to take matters in their own hands because they are so frustrated. But, yes, we accept they have been trained.

Q. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission says your denial of involvement is "unacceptable."

A. We are prepared to cooperate in any investigation. Today we're going to meet the Norwegian ambassador and we are going to put forward our resolution to cooperate in any proceedings they deem fit to satisfy them that we are not responsible.

Q. If you feel the government is trying to provoke you, to create an environment for war, are you going to be provoked?

A. As a responsible political organization, we're not provoked. We have a commitment to the ceasefire agreement and the international community's concern for peace in Sri Lanka. What [worries] us is the grave risk to the ceasefire by the civilians who are being killed, tortured and arrested, and kept under military occupation, people made to feel helpless, who are resorting to actions that any normal human being would take.

We read the statement put out by the UN Secretary General which says that both parties should stick to the ceasefire agreement. And what does the agreement say? Deliver normalcy to people affected by war for two decades. Who are these people? They are the Tamil people. Those people need peace. This is the message. They have not specifically mentioned that the government has failed, but it is very clear that this is what the international community feels.

Q. If I accept your insistence that this is a people's uprising, will there come a point at which the L.T.T.E. feels it has to join in?

A. We would like to join the people, but not in the way you suggest. We would like to join them in the peace process and alleviate their hardship. But if people continue to be harassed, we will definitely defend them.

Q. Why is Sri Lanka's history so often one of wasted potential? It has a booming tourist industry, a population of smart and educated people, and billions of dollars pledged in development and tsunami aid. There's a golden future within reach. But it all depends on peace. Why throw it all away?

A. We appreciate your realistic assessment of the situation. Yes, this island is blessed with such potential in manpower and material resources. Why are we unable to tap this potential? Well, look at countries that are prospering. Those countries too have different nationalities, traditions and cultures. But they commingle. There is a dignified approach to governance. The people, whichever race they belong to, consider themselves rightful citizens and contribute towards the country's prosperity.

A similar thing can definitely happen in this island as well. But that's if there is a change of attitude in Colombo and arrangements are made to bring back the status quo of two nations, Tamil and Sinhalese, living side by side.

Q. Two separate nations living side by side? Is this a hardening of your position from accepting federalism?

A. You may be correct. But our position is based on historical fact. Both nations have their own way of life, culture and language. If all that is restored, and respected, and we are returned our dignity and right to self-determination, then moving away from federalism will be ruled out. We can have a relationship and political arrangements can be worked out. But first, accept the sovereignty of our people.

Q.There can few more blighted places on earth than one which has suffered two decades of war, a tsunami, and now looks to be tumbling back into war. Where is the compassion?

A. We are not a separate entity from the people. When you say 'you' and 'the people', that is inaccurate. We are part of the people. I and other L.T.T.E. members came from the people. Our families were affected by the war and by the tsunami. To ask about our compassion for the people is irrelevant. We are part and parcel of the same unit. The L.T.T.E. spearheads the freedom fighters, but we are the same community.

Also, in the Tamil homeland, there is deprivation in material needs, yes, but people are living in peace and not under subjugation and that is a wholly different quality of life from people who are under military occupation. Why are people from military-occupied areas coming here? Why are they leaving their homes and jobs? Because they are prepared to undergo difficulties, but not live under military occupation.

Q. Should fighting resume, many people think there's so much frustration, that it's going to be even more bloody than before.

A. War is not gentle and nice. It's definitely going to be cruel. We hate war and we do not see it as an option that will produce a political solution. But we were forced into war. The decision to avoid such bloodshed, to avoid the killing of thousands of people, is for the occupying military power, the prosecutor of war, not the oppressed.

Q. What can the international community do to help prevent this tragedy?

A. The international community is serious and relentless in its pursuit of peace and we appreciate that. But they are finding it very difficult to handle the situation in the south, because of the hardliners. Our opinion is that the international community has to bring about sanctions on a rogue state.

Q. The Tamil boycott during the November presidential election helped elect Mahinda Rajapakse, the more hard-line candidate. Why do your enemies a favor?

A. [Laughs] Boycotts are nothing new to the Tamil people. They are born out of frustration and the Tamils have always given Sri Lankan presidential elections a lukewarm response. If Mahinda is a hard-liner, the Tamil people do not see [losing opposition candidate] Ranil [Wickremesinghe] as any different. He didn't do anything for us. The Tamil people had no reason to participate in the election.

"My patience should not be taken as weakness,"
- President Rajapakse

Alex Perry, TIME South Asia bureau Chief, interview with Sri Lanka President, Mahinda Rajapkase, 12 February 2006

There can be few shorter post-election honeymoons than that granted Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse. Within a few days of taking office on Nov. 18, ethnic Tamil rebels fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east began a new round of attacks on his Sinhalese-dominated administration in the south in which more than 100 people have died. Rajapakse met TIME's South Asia bureau chief Alex Perry at his former residence, Temple Trees, in central Colombo.

TIME: Is civil war inevitable?

Rajapakse: The L.T.T.E. [Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam] is trying to force us into war. They have killed over 70 soldiers, and destroyed one of our ships. But we're very patient. We're still ready for talks. People call me a hawk or a warmonger. That's propaganda. I am a Buddhist.

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I believe in the importance of tolerance. Whether we're Sinhalese or L.T.T.E., we are human beings, many of us are related, and we are all from Sri L anka.

Q. When does your tolerance run out?

A. My problem is that I have to keep the south silent, I have to keep the armed forces together, and there is a limit to all this. My patience should not be taken as weakness. I hope there will not be a war. But I will not hesitate to defend my country. And the armed forces are ready to face any situation.

Q. Someone is also killing Tamils. Who?

A. I have already started an inquiry. People suspect the STF [Special Task Force, the Sri Lankan paramilitary intelligence wing]. There may be one or two black sheep, but our forces are very disciplined.

Q. Sri Lanka has such potential: a booming tourism industry and billions of dollars pledged in development and tsunami aid. Why throw it all away?

A. This is what I can't understand. My priority is peace and economic development.

Q. If sense doesn't work, how about compassion? 20 years of war killed 64,000 and retarded development. Then came the tsunami. Now tsunami victims face more war.

A. The people suffer, yes. My feeling is that [L.T.T.E. leader] Prabhakaran and his men have a responsibility. If they want to 'liberate' the Tamil people, they must develop them. Unfortunately, that's not happening. Within a few days [of my election], they attacked. They did not even allow me to breathe.

Q. Are you the right leader to reach across the divide?

A.I am ready to go the extra mile for peace. Let's sit and discuss what they want and what we can give.

Q. Sri Lankans talk about a ceasefire agreement when there is no ceasefire, and a unitary state when a separate L.T.T.E. state essentially already exists. Does Sri Lanka have a problem facing reality?

A.We have a ceasefire agreement but no ceasefire, yes. But it is one country. We cannot divide it. We will give them maximum devolution [instead].

Q.Can the international community help prevent war?

A. Look at September 11. This is the same thing. React like that.

Q. Many believe a new civil war could be even more bloody. Do you agree?

A. Yes. But I hope the L.T.T.E. comes for talks. They must.



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