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Home> Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Velupillai Pirabaharan > Interview with Newsweek 1986
"The Eye of the Tiger" - Interview with Newsweek
11 August 1986
For the past 14 years Velupillai Pirabaharan has led an armed struggle to create a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka's volatile north-eastern region. Pirabaharan, 32, commands the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the strongest of Sri Lanka's numerous Tamil separatist groups. It is generally acknowledged that peace negotiations with Colombo are unlikely to prove effective without the LTTE's involvement. Last week, shortly before his group rejected Colombo's latest proposal for peace talks, Pirabaharan spoke with NEWSWEEK'S Sudip Mazumdar in Madras.
Mazumdar: Your opponents often charge that innocent civilians are often killed in your military offensives. How do you respond?
Pirabaharan: The LTTE has never killed any civilians. We condemn such acts of violence. There were occasions when we had to kill home guards. But they are not civilians. They are trained non- combat draftees who carry guns.
Q. How many troops do you have under your command and where do they train?
A. That's a secret. I can tell you we are strong enough to take on the 51,000 strong Sri Lankan military and well enough equipped to carry on protracted guerrilla warfare.
Q. Why do you think LTTE has taken the lead among other groups?
A. Discipline and order are most important. We emphasise personal morality and a sense of patriotism. Our cadres carry cyanide pills with them to avoid falling into en enemy hands. Most of all, the people are behind us.
Q. Critics charge you that you rely on drug trafficking to raise money for your military activities. How do you respond?
A. Our people support us financially. We capture arms and ammunition from the enemy and also buy them on the international market. We don't get support from any other country. Here in India we are living as political refugees and the government of India extends moral support to our existence here. We have imposed a strict moral code on ourselves, not to use even liquor. How can one suspect us of drug trafficking which we condemn?
Q. Press reports say that you received military training in Cuba. How did you manage to acquire your-how?
A. Through sheer personal training. I use my natural instincts and I watch war films and westerns by [American movie actor] Clint Eastwood. If I were trained in Cuba, I would have been a better fighter.
Q. What is your assessment of the latest round of negotiations between moderate Tamils and the Sri Lankan government on evolution of power to Tamils?
A. The proposals (put forward by Colombo) are insufficient even to start negotiations. We have enunciated four principles as the basis for talks: the traditional home land of the Tamils must be recognised; Tamils should be (officially) recognised as a (separate) nationality; their rights to self-determination should be recognised; and the civil rights of the stateless Tamils should be recognised. A framework should be worked out incorporating these principles. Then we will consider [negotiations].
Q. How serious do you think President Junius Jeyawardene is in solving the Tamil problem?
A. This so-called peace initiative by Jayewardene is an at tempt to hoodwink the world. That these negotiations are eyewash is clear from the fact that even while the talks were on the military killed nearly150 innocent Tamils. Talks with Jayewardene? Possible, but only on the question of demarcation of our boundaries [as two separate nations].
Q. Why do you think India allows you to operate from here?
A. Purely on humanitarian grounds. There is genocide going on in Sri Lanka. India knows we are fighting against genocide and trying to protect our people.
Q. Opponents charge that India is abetting "terrorists" by giving you sanctuary, while New Delhi blames Pakistan for training Sikh terrorists? What is your view?
A. There is a fundamental difference here. Our people are facing genocide where as the Indian Army is not committing genocide in Punjab.
Q. India favours a negotiated settlement of the ethnic problem and opposes your goal of a separate Tamil state. What is your view?
A. The world is constantly changing; so is politics. We rely on the hope that changing circumstances will finally lead to India's recognition of our struggle. India has recognised various liberation movements. At a later stage India may be compelled to recognise us as it did the PLO and SWAPO.
Q.What do you expect from the United States?
We want to appeal to the American people to realise that we are a nation of people facing genocide. And we appeal to the US government to stop all aid to the Sri Lankan government which will be used for the destruction of our people.
Q.What kind of a political system do you envisage for an independent Tamil state?
A.We want to establish a socialist society. Ours will be a unique socialist model, neither Soviet nor Chinese nor any other.
Q.Have you ever considered calling for India's military intervention to stop what you call genocide?
A.India's military intervention is not necessary because we have a fighting force capable of facing the military. In fact, India's intervention may allow other international forces to meddle in Sri Lanka, and create [chaos].