Sri Lanka government can still avert new war - LTTE
TamilNet, 22 May
"The objective conditions for an outbreak of war are developing.
Yet, there is still a space in which meaningful steps could be taken by the Sri
Lankan Government to contain the violence of the paramilitaries and the excesses
of the armed forces and create a congenial environment for de-escalation,” the
Liberation Tigers’ theoretician and chief negotiator, Mr. Anton Balasingham said
this week in an extensive interview with the Sunday Times newspaper.
In a wide ranging interview, Mr. Balasingham elucidated the
LTTE’s view on the recent controversy stirred by the international ceasefire
monitors comments on the Sea Tigers, on the performance of the Sri Lanka
Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and on the escalating cycle of violence.
The full text of the interview with the Sunday Times follows:
Sunday Times: Mr Balasingham, the LTTE is fighting – they are fighting shy of
peace? Are they not?
Balasingham: The LTTE is seriously committed to peace and negotiated settlement.
During the last four years, since Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed power, we have
made every attempt to seek a negotiated arrangement to resolve the immediate and
long standing problems of our people. Peace talks with Ranil’s administration
could not progress due to the obstructionist and confrontationist policies of
We participated in the peace talks with President Rajapakse’s government in the
earnest with the hope of stabilising peace and normalcy through effective
implementation of the CFA. We strongly believed and continue to believe that the
peace process should be undertaken on a strong foundation of peace, for which
the stabilisation of the truce accord is extremely crucial. Unfortunately,
contrary to our expectations, the Sri Lankan army backed Tamil paramilitaries,
soon after the Geneva talks, launched offensive assaults on LTTE’s border
positions in the east, seriously disrupting the peace environment. The
government’s attitude to paramilitary violence against the LTTE was hypocritical
and deceitful. In total contradiction to the pledge given at the Geneva talks,
the government refused to rein in Tamil armed groups and denied the very
existence of such groups in the military occupied areas.
I should say in all honesty that the failure on the part of the Sri Lanka
government to create a conducive atmosphere of peace and goodwill by containing
paramilitary violence is the primary cause of the current turbulent situation
and the stalemate in the peace process.
Sunday Times: The government refused theatre to theatre transport for the LTTE
leaders, but agreed to peace process related travel and escorted surface
transport, navy ferry and the option of a civilian ferry. Was this not good
enough for the LTTE? If so why was that?
Balasingham: It has been the agreed modality, ever since the CFA, to provide
theatre to theatre air transport for senior regional commanders of the LTTE. We
cannot understand why such an agreed practice was suddenly suspended. A Central
committee meeting, with the participation of regional leaders prior to crucial
sessions of peace talks, is vital to prepare issues for negotiations. The LTTE
leadership was eager to discuss the volatile security situation in the east due
to increasing paramilitary violence. Therefore, this is also a peace related
mission. If the government had adopted a congenial attitude and provided Air
force helicopter transport as a goodwill measure to enhance the peace process,
the negotiating process would have continued, avoiding the current war like
The modalities proposed for surface and sea transport, in our opinion, were too
risky for the safe passage of senior LTTE leaders. We could not take chances
with paramilitaries on the ground and the hostile navy on the seas.
Sunday Times: Will the LTTE allow the Sri Lanka Airline engineers in to do depth
checks for landing of float planes so that they can land safely in the Wanni?
Balasingham: T he LTTE is prepared to allow them. But this is not the issue now.
The government is refusing to grant permission for the LTTE commanders to carry
personal weapons intended for their safety.
Sunday Times: The government is accusing the LTTE of a string of ceasefire
violations. Minister Nimal Sripala de Silva gave a catalogue of LTTE violations
in April to Parliament this week. The Minister said the LTTE is trying to create
a communal riot once again. What do you say to this?
Balasingham: This is a typical mode of accusation levelled against the Tamil
Tigers ever since the July 83 racial violence that followed the LTTE’s ambush
assault on Sri Lankan soldiers at Thinnavelly, Jaffna. At that time, the LTTE,
even in its wildest dreams, would not have anticipated a racial holocaust of
that scale, emanating from a minor military incident.
Racial riots and mass killings of Tamils have occurred even before the birth and
growth of the LTTE. We deeply despise racial violence since it has always been
the Tamil community who has faced enormous suffering in terms of mass scale
destruction of life and property. The elements of political sympathy that may be
generated in India or from the outside world cannot compensate for the
monumental tragedy that could befall our people in the event of racial riots.
Therefore, the government’s propaganda that the LTTE is bent on creating
situations to provoke communal violence against its own community is malicious
Sunday Times: Your Peace Secretariat handed over a dossier of alleged violations
by security forces to visiting Japanese Special Envoy, Yasushi Akashi. He told a
news conference in Colombo that relations between the government and the LTTE
have ‘never been worse’ since the CFA of February 2002. What do you say to this?
Did the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabakaran send a message to President Rajapakse
through Mr Akashi?
Balasingham: I agree with Mr Akashi’s characterisation of the current relations
between the parties in conflict has not been worse since CFA. The Tamil
paramilitary violence has escalated ferociously since President Rajapakse
assumed power. Karuna’s armed men in the east and the armed EPDP cadres in the
Jaffna peninsula launched a series of violent attacks on LTTE cadres. Prominent
Tamil politicians, civil society leaders, popular journalists and innocent
civilians sympathetic to the LTTE have been brutally eliminated. Almost all
these killings have taken place in the government controlled areas with the
active connivance of the state’s security forces. We have ample evidence to
substantiate our allegations.
At the Geneva peace talks during February this year we presented a comprehensive
dossier to the government delegation providing details about the existence,
functions, command structures, leadership and locations of camps of Tamil
paramilitary organisations and secured a written assurance from Rajapakse’s
administration that these armed groups would be disarmed in accordance with the
obligations of the CFA. The LTTE also agreed to strictly maintain peace and take
all necessary measures to cease all acts of violence against the security forces
and police. In accordance with our commitment we strictly observed peace before
and after the peace talks, putting an end to all hostile acts. To our deep
disillusionment, the GoSL has not only failed to take any action to disarm or
contain Tamil paramilitary groups, but also denied their very existence in the
government controlled areas. Following the Geneva agreement the paramilitary
violence escalated manifold. During the first week of March Karuna’s armed
group, with the active backing of Sri Lankan troops, attacked LTTE forward
positions in Batticoloa and Trincomalee inflicting serious casualties on our
cadres. These incidents were followed by a series of civilian killings in
Batticoloa and Jaffna. The brutal murder of Mr Vigneswaran, a prominent Tamil
leader on the 7 April, by paramilitaries with the connivance of the security
forces, became the critical tuning point in the escalation of violence and
The government’s calculated reluctance to contain the violence of paramilitaries
against the LTTE and the Tamil civilian population, is the primary cause of the
current turbulent war like situation, which has ‘never been worse’ since the
CFA, as Mr Akashi has rightly observed.
Our leader, Mr Vellupillai Prabakaran did not send any message to President
Rajapakse through Mr Akashi.
Sunday Times: The LTTE has been accused of claymore mine attacks on government
troops that have led to over 150 deaths. What do you say to this?
Balasingham: The LTTE leaders in Wanni have already clarified that militias of
the Tamil resistance movement, opposed to Sinhala military occupation and
repression, have been carrying out these subversive operations. Unable to
comprehend and identify this phenomenon of resistance, the Sri Lanka security
forces are unleashing violence, killing with impunity innocent Tamil civilians
as collective retaliatory punishment of the whole Tamil society, thereby
committing blatant acts of genocide.
Sunday Times: There is controversy now about the use of the sea by the LTTE.
This is the result of a belated ruling by the SLMM. What is the LTTE’s position?
Balasingham: The ruling of the SLMM, denying the right of sea movement of the
LTTE’s naval force, is unwarranted and imprudent at this critical conjuncture. I
do not understand why the monitors have made this uncalled for pronouncement on
a disputed issue extremely sensitive to the parties in conflict, thereby
creating controversy over maritime rights and conflictual situation at sea. I do
not wish to elaborate on this matter since Mr Tamilselvan is dealing with this
issue with the SLMM, seeking advice from international lawyers.
I can only say that the LTTE, possessing a powerful naval force, is an
indisputable fact, an existential reality. During the times of war, before the
signing of the CFA, the Sea Tiger naval wing played a crucial role in major sea
and land battles and posed a serious threat to the Sri Lankan navy. Though the
CFA did not specify modalities for the freedom of mobility of Sea Tiger vessels,
this matter has been subjected to continuous discussion between the LTTE and the
monitors. It is a well known fact that General Tellefson, the former Head of the
SLMM was forced to relinquish his post by President Kumaratunga when he called
for legal recognition of the LTTE’s naval wing. I think the present Head of the
SLMM, General Ulf Henricsson should have studied the history of this dispute
before making his provocative ruling.
Sunday Times: Is the LTTE happy with the role of the SLMM? Do you believe they
are acting impartially? Do you believe they have been consistent?
Balasingham: On the whole I would say the SLMM has been doing a wonderful job in
spite of the difficult task and formidable challenges. They have displayed
impeccable integrity and their impartiality is unquestionable.
However, recently we are disappointed with the monitors premature, unnecessary
statement on the LTTE’s right to sea mobility. What has further disturbed us
deeply is the SLMM’s retraction of their original statement proclaiming the
truth that the ‘government security forces have, in the north and east, been
involved in extrajudicial killings of civilians’. The SLMM suffered a serious
loss of credibility and reliability when they were forced to withdraw their well
founded judgement under hostile pressure from the government. This shameful
retraction by an international body tasked with a delicate responsibility of
dealing with life and death of civilians, had far reaching negative
consequences. Emboldened by the peace monitors’ retraction and encouraged by the
silence of the international actors, who consistently praised the government for
its restraint – extrajudicial killings of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan
security forces, have escalated manifold. In this context the Sri Lankan
government should also be criticised for undue interference in the delicate task
of peace monitoring.
Sunday Times: Sections of Sri Lanka’s political establishment, like the JVP for
example, say that Eelam War IV has already begun. What do you say to this?
Balasingham: More than anybody, the political organisation who wants war is the
JVP. Like flies feeding and fattening on filth, the Marxists assume that they
can enhance their political position, propagating a false sense of patriotism if
war breaks out with mass scale death and destruction. The JVP leaders have a
distorted perception of reality. Conceiving the Tamil struggle for
self-determination as a phenomenon of terrorism, they falsely believe that war
is the only solution to eradicate ‘Tamil terror’, without realising the
catastrophe the country as a whole would face in the event of a full scale
military conflict. I do not think Eelam War IV has already begun. What has
developed now is a low intensity conflict with a dangerous potential for further
escalation. The objective conditions for an outbreak of war are developing. Yet,
there is still a space in which meaningful steps could be taken by the
government to contain the violence of the paramilitaries and the excesses of the
armed forces and create a congenial environment for de-escalation.
Sunday Times: Quite clearly the Karuna factor is a major issue for the LTTE. How
do you and the LTTE leadership feel about this? This is particularly in view of
the fact that the LTTE said earlier that this was an internal issue.
Balasingham: You are aware that Karuna’s rebellion was successfully crushed with
minor casualties and the LTTE was able to take control of territory and command
in the Batti-Amparai region, forcing Karuna to flee to safety. It is true that
we characterised the conflict as an internal dispute and urged the government
not to interfere in the matter. But to our dismay we learned later that the Sri
Lankan government, particularly the state’s military intelligence agency, had
decided to back-up Karuna, providing all facilities to build his group as a
paramilitary organisation to fight the LTTE. Karuna factor became a major issue
when his armed group, in collaboration with the Sri Lankan armed forces,
launched a series of ambush attacks on LTTE cadres and murdered with impunity a
large number of our civilian supporters. The Sri Lankan defence authorities seem
to believe that Karuna is a military asset to be utilised effectively to weaken
the LTTE and to destabilise the east through terror and by propagating the
ideology of regionalism. Unfortunately, this subversive strategy by the
government has brought the country to the brink of disaster.
Sunday Times: The LTTE, by banning presidential polis in the north and east,
ensured the victory of Mahinda Rakapakse as the fifth executive President of Sri
Lanka. How does the LTTE look at this position? Do you feel you made a mistake?
Or, do you feel he has not seized the opportunity to address the issues raised?
What are your comments?
Balasingham: The LTTE and the TNA jointly urged the Tamil people to boycott the
Presidential elections as a collective protest by the Tamil nation, expressing
disillusionment over the failure of the Sri Lankan political system to resolve
the ethnic issue. Our motive was certainly not to ensure the victory of Mahinda
Rajapakse or to cause the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe. We never anticipated
that the Tamil boycott would help Rajapakse to win with a thin majority. We are
also deeply disappointed with President Rajapakse for failing to grasp the
opportunity to address some urgent issues faced by the Tamil community.