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Home> Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Velupillai Pirabaharan > Interview with Sunday Times, 1990
"We Have Not Given-up Our Demand For Independence"
Interview with Sunday Times, 8 April 1990
At 35 Velupillai Prabhakaran is probably one of the youngest and most successful modern guerrilla leaders in the world. And when he surfaced here last week after two-and-a-half years in hiding, he was sure he had won, or was very near winning the battle he began 17 years ago.
There was an aura of unreality even in his native Velvetiturai when the elusive Supreme Commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam visited the battle-scarred village. It did not seem possible that 70,000 Indian soldiers had tramped across this territory in search of this man and missed him.
Today, the fate of his people is in his hands, but the responsibility does not seem to weigh him down. And as I chatted with him over a well-prepared Chinese lunch in a house somewhere in Jaffna, I found Prabhakaran a mild man. It was hard to believe he was also founder and leader of one of the most ruthless guerrilla groups in the world.
'To win a war you have to be firm, determined and ruthless', Prabhakaran said. 'One must abhor war, but when war is thrust on you, you have to be ruthless'.
It was almost uncanny how this city had reverted to what it was before the Indian Peace Keeping Force arrived. The Sri Lankan security forces and police are once again indoors. The streets belong to the people and to the Tigers.
Young boys from the St. John's Ambulance Corps direct traffic. The streets are congested with vehicles and pedestrians. Jaffna is virtually bursting at the seams, and the people seem happy.
Until negotiations between the LTTE and the government are concluded their future is uncertain. A few pessimists warn that this is the calm before the storm. But the LTTE are confident they will get what they want. Says Anton Balasingham, theoretician of the Tigers: 'We are in a position of strength, politically and militarily'.
Here are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Prabhakaran, as translated by Dr. Balasingham.
Jaffna, April 4, 1990
Q. You appear to have won your battle. How does it feel to have won?
A: I feel very proud of my people, our movement and our nation.
Q. Are you still determined to fight for a separate state, or will you settle for less?
A: We launched this struggle for self-determination and political independence because of the systematic oppression by the state. We have not given up our demand for self-determination or independence. The President offered to talk to us unconditionally. Because of this radical approach, we are talking to him. But if the oppression of our people continues, we are ready to fight for self-determination and a separate state.
Q. Will you stand for office?
A: No. I will not participate in elections, or in the administrative set-up. Q. What will your role be then?
A: I will remain the supreme military commander and leader of the movement.
Q. How are your negotiations with the government proceeding?
A: So far, the talks have been very cordial and constructive, and are progressing. There have been no serious problems as yet.
Q. What about your demand for the repeal of the Sixth Amendment?
A: We have told the President that the Sixth Amendment must be annulled, and we expect the government to bring an amendment to this effect.
Q. But the government needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament to do that?
A: The government feels confident they can annul the Sixth Amendment with the support of the Tamil parties, The Muslim Congress and the USA.
Q: Looking at what happened to the JVP, are you confident that you will be safe, if you go to Colombo?
A: I have not yet made any decision to go to Colombo. I have received many letters from members of the public advising me not to go to Colombo.
Q. What was the darkest day of your struggle?
A: The darkest day in our struggle was the day the Indian army landed in our homeland. The Indian military intervention in our struggle was the darkest stage.
Q. Were you prepared for what happened after the Indians came, or did it take you by surprise?
A: We were not shocked or surprised by India's military intervention. We had been anticipating such a move. We were fully aware of India's strategic objectives. We were able to withstand the onslaught because of our knowledge of India's intentions.
Q. What were those intentions?
A: India's strategic objective is to utilise the ethnic struggle to bring Sri Lanka within her sphere of influence.
Q. What caused the souring of relations between the LTTE and India? What was the flashpoint?
A: We were fully aware that the immediate strategic objective of the Indian troops was to disarm the LTTE. And without offering a substantial solution to the Tamil problem, India blundered by forcefully trying to disarm the Tigers.
Secondly. While we were surrendering arms the RAW and the Indian government were arming and training other groups. That was an act of betrayal.
Thirdly, the Indian troops here were helping the Sri Lankan government to build up state structures and to resume colonization. India helped the Sri Lanka government to induct the state system at our expense. It was at that time that Thileepan began his fast unto death, to protest at the reopening of police stations and colonization. India took no action to prevent his death.
Then, when 17 of our men were captured and placed in Indian custody, they prepared to hand them over to the Sri Lankan government instead of releasing them. India showed no concern or interest in the welfare of the Tamil people. Recently India provided security for Varatharajah Perumal and other EPRLF cadres, but at that time they did not provide any measure of protection for our people. They were collaborating with the Sri Lankan government.
Q. In retrospect though, wouldn't you agree that India's intervention helped you to reach this stage? After all, it was their arrival that precipitated the JVP uprising, which in turn brought about the present government - LTTE dialogue.
A: The original plan of Sri Lanka and India was very different to what actually happened. Everything went wrong. All their plans collapsed. The present situation is the outcome of that.
Q. Nevertheless, it helped the LTTE, did it not?
A: The aims and objectives of India and Sri Lanka were different. The LTTE also made its own efforts to force a change in their plans. On the first day of the war the Indians planned to kill me. They sent a special Sikh regiment which surrounded the area I was in. Supposing it had worked and they had killed me? Then India's original strategy would have worked.
0: But would you have succeeded in gaining the degree of control you now have over the north and east, if the IPKF had not arrived here?
A: Even before the Indian intervention, we were in control of many parts of the north and east. It took the mighty Indian army two weeks to enter Jaffna city, and more than a month to gain control of the peninsula. Even during the Sri Lankan operation in Vadamarachchi we launched successful counter operations.
Q: But you now have more control over the east, especially Trincomalee, than ever before?
A: Even the east would have been under our control a long time ago. The Sri Lankan government would never have been able to put up as big an offensive as India did.
0: How do you feel about the cost of your struggle in terms of lives lost? Do you have any regrets at all?
A: It is a common historical phenomenon that oppressed people all over the world suffer tremendously in their liberation struggles. Similarly our people also suffered. I feel that the entire struggle had meaning and significance. It is because we fought for so many years that the Sri Lankan government has now begun to realise the importance of our struggle. I see the historical evolution of our struggle. After 40 years, the Sinhala people are taking us seriously.
0: Don't you think that the cause of the Tamils could have been served much better if there had been unity among the
Tamil militant groups? Why couldn't you get on?
A: I agree with you that with unity, our struggle would have progressed better. But unfortunately, we were placed in a tragic situation. We had to kill our own brothers. It is a curse and a tragedy that disunity prevailed. I find it very painful and tragic. Because of this disunity, there are cadres in our organisation who had to kill their own blood brothers. It is a matter of serious concern. This conflict arose because some groups betrayed our cause. It was unavoidable.
0: Do you fear that this disunity will some day come back to haunt you and cause more problems for your people?
A: It may be possible that some groups may try to penetrate us and cause problems. But we are confident that we can prevent it. All over the world such problems arise. Every government has to face some sort of opposition. In Sri Lanka there was the JVP. In India there is the Punjab and Kashmir.
0: Looking back at the early stages of your militancy, did you anticipate the backlash that resulted from the death of 13 soldiers at Tinneveli in July 1983?
A: No, we never anticipated such a massive racial holocaust. There was tension in these areas, and there had been reprisals for several incidents, but we did not expect a backlash of such magnitude.
0: In the course of your struggle, all other Tamil political leaders and representatives have been eliminated, leaving you the only
major Tamil force for the government to negotiate with. Would you say this is the last chance for peace?
A: For a long time in our struggle, we did not have any direct negotiations with the government. There were always mediators. This is the first direct mediation to take place. It is therefore a very good opportunity for the Sri Lankan government to negotiate and settle our problems. Yes, this may be the last opportunity.
0: Do you foresee any problems in the transition of your organisation from a highly disciplined military force, to a more flexible political organisation?
A: Political conditions led to the creation of our military structure. We are fighting for political objectives. One should not differentiate between politics and militancy. Once we achieve our political objectives, our military structures will automatically dissolve themselves.
0: What model of government would you like to see in this country?
A: I would like to see a society that is economically self-sufficient and self-reliant. I also want a democratic system in which the people have the right to rule themselves. And there should be economic equality among the working people.
0: To your cadres, and to many people in the north and east, you are a hero. How do you see yourself?
A: I am a fighter for my people.