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Home> Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Velupillai Pirabaharan > Interview with the Week Magazine, 1986
Interview with The Week Magazine, India
The ethnic conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka shows no sign of abating,. The Tamil militants, especially the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seem determined to pursue their military tactics. Velupillai Pirabaharan, Military Commander of the LTTE who lives in the jungles of Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, in a rare interview spoke to GENTLEMAN about the future of the strife- torn island...
GENTLEMAN: What compelled you to take up arms?
PRABHAKARAN: It is the plight of the Tamil people that compelled me to take up arms. I felt outraged at the inhuman atrocities perpetrated against an innocent people. The ruthless manner in which our people were murdered, massacred, maimed and the colossal damage done to their property made me realise that we are subjected to a calculated program of genocide. I felt that armed struggle is the only way to protect and liberate our people from a totalitarian Fascist State bent on destroying an entire race of people.
GENTLEMAN: But don't you think that you could have expressed your grievances within the framework of parliamentary democracy and within the confines of a free press?
PRABHAKARAN: The Tamil people have been expressing their grievances in Parliament for more than three decades. Their voices went unheard like cries in the wilderness. In Sri Lanka there is no parliamentary democracy where our people could effectively represent their aspirations. What passes as Parliament in Sri Lanka is an authoritarian rule founded on the tyranny of the majority. The Tamil representatives were finally banned from Parliament. There is no freedom of the press in Sri Lanka. The press is State controlled and is manned by chauvinistic journalists. The Tamils could not find any democratic institutions to air their grievances.
GENTLEMAN: Did you also try to win popular support and that of the Sinhalese people?
PRABHAKARAN: We do aspire to the support of the Sinhalese people. Our cause is fair and legitimate, but we are unable to mobilise the Sinhalese people in our favour because of the chauvinistic politicians and the Buddhist clergy who have been poisoning their minds against the Tamils. Yet we will continue to struggle to convince the Sinhalese people of the legitimacy of our cause.
GENTLEMAN: Don't you think that the Sinhalese and the Tamil masses have the same socio-economic aspirations despite the present divide?
PRABHAKARAN: Yes, that is true. Both the common Sinhala and Tamil masses are oppressed and exploited and they have similar socio-economic problems and aspirations. What divides them is the national conflict. The Sinhala ruling classes have generated this national contradiction to divide the Sinhala and Tamil masses to reinforce their political power
GENTLEMAN: What were the conditions that influenced you to join the militant ranks?
PRABHAKARAN: From a very young age I was told of horrifying stories of brutal atrocities committed against the Tamil people. During my student days I felt the racial discrimination directly. In my early youth I had a clear picture of the nature of State oppression, which was engulfing the Tamil nation. I then realised that to redeem our people one must organise an armed resistance movement. That is how I founded the Tiger movement and got involved in the armed struggle.
GENTLEMAN: What is your family background and your relationship with your parents? Are you in touch with them?
PRABHAKARAN: I come from a very ordinary family. My father was a government servant. I have two elder sisters who are now married and settled. From my very early youth, I was drawn into revolutionary politics and became "wanted" person. When I was 19 year old l left home and went underground Ever since I have lost contact with my parents.
GENTLEMAN: You are normally projected as symbol of Tamil militancy. Even your own organisation projects you as a big hero. As a radical how do you justify the individual hero worship?
PRABHAKARAN: I cannot help this kind of projection and characterisation. l am only concerned with the political liberation and social emancipation of oppressed people. My people are aware of my commitment and trust me to lead them on the right path. That is why they show great affection. These projection may be expressions of people's love.
GENTLEMAN: How do you assess the present situate in Sri Lanka?
PRABHAKARAN: The present political situation in Sri Lanka is very critical. The Tamil nation is facing a genocide onslaught. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces are continuing their rampage on the Tamilian masses. Our people are subjected to massacres, mass arrests, arson, looting and rape. Thousands of them are uprooted from their traditional homelands and made refugees. Under the guise of a cease-fire, the Sri Lankan State has embarked on a policy of ruthless repression, military domination and annihilation of our people. The present chauvinistic Sinhala leadership has no genuine interest in bringing about a fair and just solution through peaceful negotiations, but is committed to militarily subjugating the Tamil people. Such a policy has made the pre sent, situation very critical and dangerous.
GENTLEMAN: How do you view the present pace of negotiations between the Sri Lankan Government and the representatives of the Tamil people?
PRABHAKARAN: The peace negotiations have been a futile exercise. This is a drama enacted by the Jayewardene Government to deceive the world. Although Jayewardene poses as a lover of peace, he does not desire a peaceful settlement. So far he has failed to offer any substantial proposals that would satisfy the political aspirations of our people. Under the facade of a peace process he has unleashed military terror aimed at the genocidal destruction of our people .
GENTLEMAN: Some time ago you charged that the Jayewardene Government utilised the cease-fire agreement to consolidate its military position.
PRABHAKARAN: Certainly, under the guise of the cease-fire agreement, the Jayewardene Government embarked on a massive militaraisation programme. The Government is spending a huge amount of its national budget on building its military machinery. Lethal weapons of all sorts are being purchased on a large scale. The Government has introduced legislation for conscription. The whole Sinhala nation is being mobilised on a war footing. New Army camps have been constructed in the Tamil areas. Foreign mercenaries as well as Pakistan provide training to Sinhalese soldiers in counter-insurgency warfare. The massive military mobilisation clearly shows that Jayewardene is bent on a military solution rather than being committed to the peace process of a negotiated settlement.
GENTLEMAN: The last time you came to Delhi you achieved a major political concession, in that the Sri Lankan Government agreed to constitute monitoring committees to investigate instances of cease-fire violations. Has the setting up of such communities helped to promote a more congenial atmosphere for controlling the violations?
PRABHAKARAN: (Visibly irritated.) What monitoring committees are you talking about? Have they published a single report? Have they investigated a single instance of cease-fire violation by the rampaging armed thugs of J.R.'s regime? The truth is that he has bought more gunboats from Singapore to kill our fishermen. The truth is that while the talks are going on he is murdering more and more civilians. The Armed Forces, along with the Navy and the Air Force, have conducted military operations.
GENTLEMAN: So for all practical purposes, do you think that the peace process has failed?
PRABHAKARAN: Well, talks so far have failed to bear any positive results.
GENTLEMAN: Does it mean that now there is no possibility of any negotiated settlement to the problem?
PRABHAKARAN: It depends.. .
GENTLEMAN: On India's position?
PRABHAKARAN: In a sense, yes.
GENTLEMAN: But are you optimistic that there is a chance of a negotiated settlement to the problem so as to avoid further bloodshed?
PRABHAKARAN: Past experience and history show that J.R. won't come to a genuine settlement. He is staging this drama to show that he is a peaceful man. The Indian Government has not achieved the desired results because of the stringent attitude of the Jayawardene Government. In this atmosphere we have come to a dead end, but India might try to bring both sides together. India must try harder.
GENTLEMAN: Did you say so to Romesh Bhandari during your talks with him?
PRABHAKARAN: Yes, we did.
GENTLEMAN: There was a press report some time ago that said militants had hacked some Sinhala civilians. What is your policy towards civilians in the armed conflict?
PRABHAKARAN: There was no truth in those reports. They are spreading these lies to malign the liberation movement. We were not involved in the incidents of Namalwatte nor do we know if any of our fraternal organisations were involved. We have never touched civilians. It is only when they attack our people that we protect them.
GENTLEMAN: I was once shown pictures of civilians allegedly attacked by the militants by the Public Relations Officer of the Sri Lankan high Commission in New Delhi.
PRABHAKARAN: Look, they have got these Home Guard thugs who are armed and trained by the Armed Forces. They dress like civilians but are almost like death-squads let loose on Tamil civilians now and again-to loot, burn, destroy. In some cases we have attacked them. They look like civilians. In some areas there are Sinhalese-Tamil civilian conflicts. These conflicts take place when the Sinhalese are brought to the Tamil areas to forcibly occupy the land. Clashes do take place to protect the land. I know that the J.R. regime's propaganda managers use the pictures of such incidents to ,say that the militants have attacked the civilians. But they don't tell the truth.
GENTLEMAN: So you have nearly agreed that the talks have come to a dead end and that till they are revived the chances of a peaceful settlement are very thin. In the interregnum, what will be your strategy? Are you planning to revive your guerrilla operations against the Armed Forces?
PRABHAKARAN: There is no war at the moment. We only defend ourselves when we are attacked. We will never go on the offensive.
GENTLEMAN: There were also some reports of the Sri Lankan Army's efforts to drive the Tamil peasants out of the Trincomalee districts and allow Sinhalese settlements in their place. What will be your stand if these reports are true?
PRABHAKARAN: We have no other opt ion but to fight back. We will effectively fight back and foil their plans.
GENTLEMAN: Are you satisfied with India's approach towards the Tamil problem and her role as a mediator between the two sides?
PRABHAKARAN: As a mediator, India is making genuine efforts to bring about a settlement to the ethnic conflict through a peace dialogue. We are satisfied with India's approach but we are deeply dissatisfied with Jayawardene's approach. The arrogant and intransigent attitude of Jayawardene has become a stumbling block in India's sincere efforts to find a fair solution to the Tamil problem.
GENTLEMAN: If that is so, why did the militant groups stage a walk-out in Thimpu?
PRABHAKARAN: We staged a walk-out because of the escalation of military terror and genocide against our people. I think a similar situation still prevails in Sri Lanka.
GENTLEMAN: You have, time and again, said Tamil crisis in Sri Lanka affects the interests in the subcontinent. Do you say this only to muster support for your cause?
PRABHAKARAN: What was once an internal conflict has now assumed dimensions of an international problem, which is causing grave concern to India. In pursuing a ruthless policy of repressing the Tamil freedom movement, Sri Lanka has been inducting into the foreign forces of subversion. The penetration of the Israeli intelligence agencies, the induction of British mercenaries, the involvement of Pakistan and the massive militarisation disturbed the peace and stability in the region. This dangerous development will certain the geo-political interests of India whose committed policy is to make Indian Ocean a zone of peace. .
GENTLEMAN: What role do you think the US administration is playing in the present conflict in Sri Lanka?
PRABHAKARAN: The US administration has strategic and geo- political interests in the region. Sri Lanka with its natural harbour in Trincomalee, is most strategically located in the Indian Ocean. The objective of the US imperialists is to gradually penetrate the country and eventually bring the island under its sphere of influence and domination. The escalating ethnic conflict has driven the Jayawardene Government to seek American assistance. The US has been directly helping Sri Lanka through her allies, i.e. Israel, Pakistan, South Korea and China. The US objective seems to be to perpetuate and escalate the ethnic crisis, so that she can gradually set foot on the island and establish a base in Trincomalee.
GENTLEMAN: Do the socialist countries sympathise with your cause?
PRABHAKARAN: Yes, they do sympathise with our cause.
GENTLEMAN: What is your political philosophy and which guerrilla leader inspires you the most?
PRABHAKARAN: Revolutionary socialism is my political philosophy. By socialism I mean the construction of an egalitarian society where there is no class contradiction and exploitation of man by man; a free, rational society where human freedom and rights are protected and progress enhanced. Che Guevara is the guerrilla leader who inspires me the most.
GENTLEMAN: How do you classify the struggle of the Tamil people?
PRABHAKARAN: I will categorise the struggle of the Tamil people as the struggle for the right to self determination. It is the struggle for political emancipation, a struggle to determine their own political destiny.
GENTLEMAN: What is the historical background of the present ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka?
PRABHAKARAN: The present ethnic conflict has a history of nearly four decades. Since the "independence" of the island from British colonial rule, the Sri Lankan ruling class adopted a disastrous policy of State repression against the Tamil people. The repression had the genocidal intent of destroying the ethnic identity of the Tamil nation. This calculated State oppression was directed against the very foundations of Tamil society - its language, culture, economic life and the traditional home land. It brought untold suffering to our people. Moreover, State-organised violence was let loose on our people, which erupted on the island periodically with huge loss of life and property. The holocaust of State terror still continues with unabated fury.
At the initial stages, our people adopted peaceful forms of agitation based on the Gandhian principle of ahimsa. They organised satyagraha campaigns and disobedience movements to protest against State violence. For more than two decades, our people demanded a form of regional autonomy to secure our political rights. But our demands never found a sympathetic hearing. Agreements and pacts were abrogated by successive Sri Lankan governments. Instead of resolving the conflict by peaceful means, the Sri Lankan rulers adopted a ruthless policy of military repression.
It was against this background of mounting repression, at a time when our people had exhausted all forms peaceful political agitation, that the armed revolutionary struggle took birth in the early '70s. The Tiger movement was the pioneer of the armed resistance campaign and eventually became the vanguard of the national struggle. Our armed struggle has advanced the cause of our freedom, posed a serious challenge to the State and attracted international attention towards the Tamil issue. This, briefly, is the background our struggle.
GENTLEMAN: What role did the Sinhalese politicians and the Buddhist clergy play in this crises?
PRABHAKARAN: Both the Sinhalese politicians and the Buddhist clergy play a crucial role in creating this nation conflict. Politicians sow the seeds racism among the Sinhalese people simply to gain political power. The Buddhist clergy, on their part generated religious fanaticism an chauvinism. The Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic ideology became a powerful force, swaying the masses towards anti-Tamil politics and laying the foundation for the present crisis.
GENTLEMAN: Whose interest does the present crisis serve?
PRABHAKARAN: The present crisis serves the interest of the US imperialists and the Sinhala bourgeoisie. The consequences of this will certainly affect the geo-political interests of India in this region.
GENTLEMAN: Despite the fact that all the Tamil groups are fighting for the cause of the Tamil people, one finds so much factionalism among them. How do you explain this phenomenon and what remedy do you suggest to improve the situation ?
PRABHAKARAN: Ideological differences are a common phenomenon in every liberation struggle. Now the situation has improved since the formation of a United Front, the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF).
GENTLEMAN: How did the split between you and Uma Maheswaran come about?
PRABHAKARAN: In the present political circumstances, I do not wish to comment. about this matter. At this time, unity between liberation organisations is of paramount importance, it is ill-advised to discuss old problems.
GENTLEMAN: Have the ideological differences, if there were any, been resolved between you two?
PRABHAKARAN: I think there is no point in doing a post-mortem of the past. Every body knows what happened.
GENTLEMAN: Do you envisage the possibility of this group also joining the ENLF in the foreseeable future?
PRABHAKARAN: The possibility is not ruled out (smiles)
GENTLEMAN: There were reports that M G R was so alarmed by your popularity in Tamil Nadu that he felicitated Uma Maheswaran
PRABHAKARAN: Actually, no such thing happened.
GENTLEMAN: Why are the militants so allergic to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)? You have even charged them of being opportunists.
PRABHAKARAN: The political opportunism of the TULF is a well- known factor. They are power hungry politicians who have been cheating our people due to their selfish political ambitions. In the 1977 general elections, they obtained a mandate from our people to struggle to establish an independent Tamil State, but never made any effort to fulfill the pledge. Rather, they sought to negotiate for meagre concessions. I would categorise this as gross betrayal and opportunism.
GENTLEMAN: How do you view the attempts made by certain Tamil Nadu leaders to fan chauvinistic feelings? Do you think this sectarian attitude of Tamil Nadu leaders will harm your cause?
PRABHAKARAN: We do not see them in that perspective. Tamil Nadu leaders are genuinely concerned about the plight of their Tamil brethren in neighbouring Sri Lanka. Whenever atrocities are committed against the Tamils by the Sinhala Army, the leaders of Tamil Nadu organise agitations to register their protest. There is a tremendous feeling of brotherhood and solidarity for the Tamil cause in Tamil Nadu. They feel that India should help to resolve the problem and save the Tamil people from genocide.
GENTLEMAN: There have been reports from time to time that the militants are being trained in India and also that they have training camps here. What do you say about these reports?
PRABHAKARAN: There is no truth in such reports. We don't have any camps in India. All our camps are on our own soil.
GENTLEMAN: What role do you think India can play in finding an acceptable solution to the Tamil crisis?
PRABHAKARAN: The people of India have been championing the cause of freedom of the oppressed people all over the world. The Indian people have a great tradition of upholding the principles of justice and humanism. They have supported the liberation struggles in Palestine, Namibia and South Africa. They recently recognised the Polisario freedom movement. I sincerely hope that the people of India will support a liberation struggle in their neighbourhood and recognise the right to self-determination of the people of Tamil Eelam.