The LTTE's new chief Selvaraja Padmanathan says the group is giving up violence and adopting a non-violent agenda to secure the political rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
In an exclusive email interview to Headlines Today, Padmanathan said one of the priorities of the Tamil Tigers would be to push for revoking the international ban on it. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are the facts about Prabhakaran's death?
Padmanathan: According to the information I have, our leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran has attained martyrdom in the fight against the Sri Lankan armed forces on May 17, 2009.
Q: Were you in touch with Prabhakaran during the final hours? What were the final moments like?
Padmanathan: Yes, I had contact with our leader during the final hours until his communication link was active. My final contact was with Col Soosai, who was leading the defensive resistance of LTTE against the Sri Lankan armed forces during the final hours. He described to me in detail what was happening on the ground then.
The final moments were full of horrific and brutal attacks by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Thousands of our people were killed and injured. There were no medical personnel or facilities to take care of the injured. People were dying due to lack of medical attention. Col Soosai confirmed to me that our leader was engaging the Sri Lankan armed forces and sacrificed his life for our cause of the Eelam Tamil nation.
Q: What remains of Prabhakaran's family?
Padmanathan: We have highly reliable information that our leader's elder son Charles Antony and daughter Duvaraka were part of LTTE fighting formations and that they also attained martyrdom in the fight against the Sri Lankan armed forces during the final moments. Until now, we do not have accurate information on the fate of our leader's wife Mathivathani and their younger son Balachandran.
Q: In an interview to Headlines Today, Eric Solhiem said the LTTE was in touch with him in the final hours of the last battle. Were you in touch with other world leaders?
Padmanathan: Yes. I had contacts with some world leaders. For diplomatic reasons, we are not in a position to reveal the information on such contacts at this particular point in time.
Q: Why did these efforts fail to bear fruit?
Padmanathan: The international community continued to insist on the LTTE laying down arms before they took any meaningful steps to stop the war. Our leadership held the view that any process of laying down arms should be linked to an acceptable political solution. Instead of laying down arms, we were seeking a ceasefire and a political negotiation for a political solution. Unfortunately, our position was not acceptable to the international community on the grounds that our position was not acceptable to the Sri Lankan government. So no effective measures were taken to stop the war.
In the final moments, after seeing the intensity and brutality of the offensive by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the non-existence of any kind of medical facilities, our leadership decided to silence our guns for the purpose of saving the lives of the civilians and the remaining cadres. Our leadership was concerned that if our organisation did not silence the guns, the Sri Lankan government would use it as justification for completing the massacre of our people. The message about silencing the guns was conveyed to me in the evening of May 15. It was a Friday.
We were working with the international community around the clock for the next 48 hours to implement an immediate ceasefire, and we got positive responses for our position. Though the days left for us were a Saturday and Sunday of the weekend, members of the international community were trying to convince the Sri Lankan government to implement a ceasefire. But the response of the Sri Lankan government remained negative. The Lankan government and the armed forces were adamant on carrying out the final assault and finishing the final phase of their brutal massacre.
Q: Many pro-LTTE leaders in India, including Vaiko and Nedumaran, have criticised you for announcing that Prabhakaran is dead. It is reported that individuals within the LTTE's structure do not accept that Prabhakaran is dead. How do you see this?
Padmanathan: The message I brought to the Tamil people was very bad and a sad one. Of course, it also took me many hours to take the message in and accept the reality. Some cadres and a large section of Tamil people were in disbelief of the news that I brought out. I understand their state of mind and I am very sympathetic towards them. Their reactions were the result of their emotions. As a responsible liberation movement, we cannot hide the truth from our people. It is also politically wrong to hide the truth from our people.
Q: Does your assertion that the LTTE has shunned the path of violence have wide acceptability within the organisation? Is this permanent or does the LTTE retain its right to take up arms later?
Padmanathan: The decision of silencing our guns was taken by our leader before his death. We are now moving forward towards a new path. This position has attracted wider acceptance within the organisation. The LTTE's political position is that any political solution for the Tamil national question should be based on the recognition of the fundamental principles of political aspiration of the Tamil people i.e. recognition of Tamils as a nation, having the northeast as their historical homeland and that they are entitled to right to self-determination.
We will continue our fight through political means until these aspirations of the Tamil people are realised. We will stick to this position. If you read the history of the evolution of armed struggles, you can clearly observe that fundamentally an armed struggle has its roots in oppression, occupation and denial of the political means of protest and denial of the democratic rights for fighting for the cause of an oppressed people.
This also happened to us and the armed struggle of the LTTE was the historical product of injustice against the Tamil nation. The LTTE has now chosen to take the political path. I would leave the question of another armed struggle towards the rights of Tamil people for the pages of history.
Q: What do you have to say to people within the organisation and sympathisers outside who still believe that only an armed struggle is the means to achieve Tamil Eelam?
Padmanathan: Our leader had faced tremendous challenges during his more than three decades of armed struggle. He achieved the maximum that he could achieve within the prevailing conditions. He was very committed to the cause. Due to a world order that rotates on the axis of self-interest, our armed struggle could not attract sympathy among the world countries. Instead, we have seen that the Sri Lankan government has utilised the present world order and the geo-political structures to mobilise the entire world on its side. This was the fundamental reason for our military defeat in the recent war. The best option left for us is to be firm on the cause and the principles and fight through the political means in our next phase of the struggle.
Q: How do you respond to reports that talk of a split in the LTTE and a power struggle within the organisation?
Padmanathan: I deny it. It is true that there were different views amongst us on the issue of announcing our leader's death. We were not successful in reaching an agreement on the issue. We are now working to resolve the differences through dialogue.
Q: What role will you play in the organisation going ahead?
Padmanathan: As the head of the department of international relations of LTTE, I will lead the political programme and the required international relations for winning international support for our course. We are planning a restructuring of our organisation and will inform the Tamil people and the world when we make it.
Q: What role will the new non-violent LTTE play in the future?
Padmanathan: The LTTE will continue to fight for the political aspirations of the Tamil people based on the principles of Tamil nationhood, homeland and right to self-determination. As we have decided to choose a new path, we are now transforming our organisation for the purpose of continuing our fight through political means. As one of our tasks, we need to work with the international community to remove the ban on our organisation with support of the Tamil Diaspora and fellow Tamils in Tamil Nadu and in other parts of the World. We hope that the international community, especially India and the West, would welcome our new path and reward it by removing the ban on our organisation to open the door for political engagement.
Q: Can you tell us about the provisional transnational government of Tamil Eelam? How will it be different from other governments-in-exile, which have not been very effective?
Padmanathan: A committee has been formed to create a provisional transnational government of Tamil Eelam under the leadership of our legal advisor Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran. There are some conceptual differences between a transnational government and an exile government. I think Rudrakumaran, the coordinator of the formation committee, would be the right person to answer this question further.
Q: Will the LTTE consider participating directly in elections in Sri Lanka? You have sought a link-up with the TNA. How will this relationship work?
Padmanathan: We do not see any rationale or space for participating in the elections in Sri Lanka. Fighting the cause through political means does not necessarily mean participating in the elections. The LTTE would not participate in the elections until a political settlement is reached based on the principles of Tamil nationhood, homeland and right to self-determination. We do not seek a link-up between the LTTE and TNA, but realise the importance for a link-up in the political programmes in the Tamil homeland and among the Diaspora. It is too early to comment on how this common understanding would emerge and function.
Q: What is your message to President Rajapakse?
Padmanathan: The Sri Lankan government may have defeated the LTTE militarily but not politically. The fundamental causes for the Tamils' struggle for self-determination remain unaddressed. Over the years since its independence, Sri Lankan democracy has become a strong Sinhala majoritarian dictatorship. Sri Lankan Parliament, government and judiciary have been functioning as instruments for establishing Sinhala hegemony over Tamils and Muslims. The recent claim by President Rajapakse that there was only one country and one people in Sri Lanka, without recognising the identity of Tamils and Muslims in that island would lead to dangerous consequences for ethnic harmony there in the future.
It is also absurd to make a claim that the island has no majority and minority, but only patriots and non-patriots, and this while ruling the country under Sinhala hegemony. President Rajapakse must understand that Sri Lanka has miserably failed in nation-building. Tamils in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora do not identify themselves as Sri Lankans but as Eelam Tamils. Tamils consider Sri Lankan rule as an alien rule.
In this scenario, the only option left for true reconciliation is recognising the Tamils' political aspirations, Tamils as a nation, their historical homeland in the Northeast, and that they are entitled to the right to self-determination. Now President Rajapakse has very strong popular support among the Sinhala people. If he decides to recognise the political aspirations of Tamil people, chances for strong resistance from the Sinhala people are minimal. If he considers himself a true leader who treats all communities as equals, then he must prove himself by accepting the political aspirations of Tamil people.
Q: How do you view India's role during what is now being called "Eelam War IV"? Do you think India could have done more to save Tamil civilians?
Padmanathan: In the recent war, India took side with Sri Lanka firmly and provided full support to Sri Lanka. It is not a secret. Sri Lankan leaders, military commanders and Indian officials openly admitted it. Our organisation and the Tamil people have become victims of this Indian position.
Even though we are fully aware how India has contributed to the military victory of Sri Lanka, we do not hate India. We consider Tamil people would be the true and reliable friends of India in its own geo-political struggle with other countries, especially with China. We firmly believe India would realise this one day in the future and support Eelam Tamils' struggle for self-determination.
If India had decided to do something more to save the civilian lives, it would have stopped the war when the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, and other political leaders called for a ceasefire back in November 2008.
Q: Will you initiate direct contact with India? Is there a role India can play in the formation of the proposed provisional transnational government of Tamil Eelam?
Padmanathan: Yes. I would initiate direct contacts with India and request to remove the ban on the LTTE and seek support for Eelam Tamils' political aspirations.
At conceptual level, support from other states is not a precondition for the formation of a transnational government. This is a people-based exercise to be carried out at a transnational level by the Tamil Diaspora. Of course, there is no doubt that support from friendly states will strengthen the transnational government and the cause it would be working for. The committee for formation of the provisional transnational government of Tamil Eelam would seek support for the transnational government from many countries, importantly India.
Q: There are some LTTE fighters who are still active in Sri Lanka. They are said to be operating from the forests in the East. Col. Ram is said to be a prominent leader. What information do you have about this group? What will be your relation with these groups going ahead?
Padmanathan: We have contact with them. They are following our new path by silencing their guns and functioning under my guidance. I am very much concerned about their safety and security since we could not reach any kind of acceptable mechanism for ensuring their safety. I strongly feel that the international community must take more responsibility on this matter.
Q: The Sri Lankan government has launched an international campaign against you, seeking your capture. How do you see these efforts? How do you react to the Sri Lankan government's charges against you?
Padmanathan: I have read this news in the newspapers. I have been a part of our liberation movement which took arms to fight for the legitimate rights of the Tamil nation. This struggle has its justification under international law. A military defeat cannot erase the justification of the struggle. I have not done any crime or harmed against humanity. Furthermore, I am now leading the process of transforming and developing our organisation as a political organisation. The decision of this transformation is taken in the interest of a Tamil nation, but it would also be beneficial for the Sinhalese and Muslims in the island. It is also important for the peace and stability in the island, and indeed the region. I hope that actors concerned on the issue would approach it in a pragmatic way. However, I am ready to take any kind of risk or even to sacrifice my life for the sake of the Tamil cause.
Q: What is the truth about Pottu Amman. The Sri Lanka government says he is dead but they have not been able to give any evidence?
Padmanathan: According to our information, Pottu Amman too attained martyrdom on May 17, 2009 in the fight against the Sri Lankan armed forces.