are committed to peace talksĒ
In an exclusive interview with
The Sunday Leader, LTTE Political Wing Leader, S. P. Tamilchelvan
explained the reasons why the Tigers have decided to suspend
negotiations with the government. Tamilchelvan asserted that desperate
poverty and a total lack of development aid to the Wanni has made it
impossible for the LTTE to continue negotiations until these matters are
Excerpts from the interview:
Frederica Jansz In The Wanni
exactly does the LTTE want the government to do at this point in time
that will ensure that the LTTE will return to the negotiating table?
The commitment and the mutual understanding between the parties when
the ceasefire agreement was signed was euphoric. The civilians at large
were pleased with the prospects that were spelt out in the ceasefire
agreement, which amplifies the various aspects of bringing back normalcy
and alleviating hardships. But unfortunately, a year and a few months
have passed and much of these things have not been fulfilled and
therefore there is discontentment, despair and frustration in the minds
and by extension our people, consider the ceasefire agreement as the
first step towards bringing about normalcy.
The preface itself very clearly defines it to say; to alleviate
the hardships caused by devastation of the war and so forth. So that
being the core theme in the ceasefire agreement and since they have not
been fulfilled, at least to a certain extent, are the premises on which
we are now discussing matters.
But what exactly will the Prime Minister have to do immediately that
will once more ensure the participation of the LTTE at the negotiating
These are not new demands. The discrepancies have already been
pointed out and the lapses are already shown very clearly to the Prime
Minister in a very detailed report sent to him. The Prime Minister is
fully aware of all that is mentioned in this report. So, the Prime
Minister, if he is interested in the national welfare, has to take
action according to what we have suggested in our letter and what we
feel should be done immediately. We cannot divulge exactly what is in
this report just yet as this is a matter between our leadership, the
LTTEís central committee and the Prime Minister.
Over this last one year has there been absolutely no development aid
coming into the Wanni for the civilian population?
We can immediately give a negative answer. Yes, nothing has happened...
in the sense, when we say nothing, the A9 road was opened, yet, much of
the repair work to this road is yet to be done. It is in progress at the
moment, but we have to bear in mind the fact that this was a war
continuing for 20 years. The entire infrastructure of the Wanni and the
Jaffna peninsula in particular was destroyed. Tanks, schools, hospitals,
paddy fields, etc. are full of mines and the de-mining is a big process.
That is going on, but at a very slow pace and when it comes to the
question of bringing back normalcy to civilian life, we have the
presence of nearly 200,000 people in the Wanni itself who have been
displaced. In some families
there are about eight or nine displacements. They have lost everything.
Material possessions, their livelihood, at times their children and at
times breadwinners as a result of aerial and carpet bombings.
we have a population that is yearning to get back to their homes. This
is the basic principle where the internally displaced people are
concerned. So, internally displaced people who have lost their
livelihood, who are away from their homes are actually trying to go and
see at least the plot of land in which they lived.
Itís not government land. It is their title property. In most
cases they are unable to even go near the plot of land. There are no
traces of their houses. They have lost their cattle; they have lost
their farming implements and everything is lost. And most of the schools
that fall within the High Security Zones (HSZs) cannot be used by
students. This after all, is the basis of normalcy.
the citizenry finds that all that is spelt out in the agreement after
six rounds of peace negotiations and the establishment of a
Sub-committee for Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN),
despite having met several times ó we havenít been able to show to
the people something of any substance.
Those who are displaced are in the very same position as they
were on day one of the ceasefire agreement.
In your view then, has the government been shilly-shallying during this
last six rounds of talks and not addressing the core issues of this
What has been going on is actually mutual understanding on paper and
promises. Each round of talks, leaving aside the confrontational issues,
when we take the immediate humanitarian needs it is a case of accepting
that there exists a problem, but at the same time when it comes to the
bottom line of implementation, nothing has taken place. The government
is fully aware of this aspect because it has consistently been brought
to its notice. The promises are there ó yes. The name of the sub
committee itself mutually agreed upon is ĎSub-committee for IMMEDIATE
Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs.í So politics apart, this is an
immediate need, which has not been addressed yet.
This is the problem we are faced with today because we are unable
to face our people and tell them as to what we have achieved during this
But isnít the LTTE asking for too much with regard to the High
Security Zones? Itís a catch 22 situation for the army and isnít it
unfair on the part of the LTTE to insist the military remove their camps
from these areas so displaced persons can be resettled? Isnít it too
early in the peace process to make this demand?
The question of the HSZs is highly politicised. We would like to bring
one simple example of HSZs that were existing in the Wanni prior to the
fall of Elephant Pass. This Kilinochchi area itself was a full HSZ as
far as the LTTE was concerned. Pallai is another HSZ where the
concentration of the Tiger forces was there in Pallai and again in
Kilinochchi to safeguard the entire Wanni. When Mullaitivu was captured
and later Mankulam and the entire Wanni was released after the capture
of Kilinochchi as well. The LTTE decided to let the people come in after
clearing the mines locally with the expertise the LTTE had. All the
military complexes belonging to the LTTE that existed in the Wanni were
shifted to the interior jungles because the theme in the ceasefire
agreement that was to come is that civilians must be free to move around
in their natural habitat without any military presence, whether it is
the government military or the LTTE military... we do have a military
these areas you can see for yourself whether there are in existence any
military complexes here that give a sense of fear to the civilians. As
against this, there still exists HSZs in the Jaffna peninsula.
us now take the HSZs in the various areas. Palaly and Vasavilan are
areas where the airport was, earlier.
Only the airport and the premises immediately surrounding it were
the military complexes those days.
Now, gradually after Riviresa and other various operations held
before that, 47 grama sevaka divisions in the fertile lands of
Valikamam around Palaly ó these areas hold the richest red soil in the
Jaffna peninsula. This is the cultivatable land in the Jaffna peninsula.
There were farmerís houses, big buildings, and industrial complexes
that existed in those areas. Now after driving away the people, and
forcing those people to seek refuge in the Wanni and places elsewhere,
the military has arbitrarily and literally put a fence around 47 grama
sevaka divisions and now call it a HSZ and talk about sovereignty,
integrity, security... security of whom? Are they safeguarding the farms
from the farmer? Are they safeguarding the sea from the fishermen? Are
they safeguarding the schools from the children? These are the big
questions now. It is not a question of the LTTE going and occupying the
HSZs. It is the rightful owners that have to go and occupy.
ceasefire agreement clearly says that so many LTTE political activists
without arms can enter into the peninsula in instalments of 50 to 100
and do political work unarmed under the supervision of a monitoring
mission which is empowered to see the terms of the ceasefire agreement
are adhered to. The security forces are putting forward a security
threat problem whereas the LTTE cadres that are moving around in the
peninsula wherever in the peninsula are unarmed. So, it is the civilians
that are asking they be re-settled and not the LTTE.
The Tigers do not hold real estate in these areas. It is the
civilians. The question is to allow the rightful owners to go back.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has repeatedly stated the LTTE is not to
be trusted. Do you think the President is justified in her observation
given that the Tigers have now suspended peace talks?
Our people and we see Chandrika Kumaratunga as a dual personality. One,
as the head of a political party which has vested interests in wresting
power from the opposing group, which is just a regular phenomena in the
politics of Sri Lanka. On
the other hand, we do have an Executive President with powers to control
the armed forces. Now this personality for the last five or six years
has been engaged in a game of duplicity.
She has been right throughout maintaining a dual position from
the time she waged a war for peace, she was playing a double game. Our
concern is not to fall prey to the tactics of Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga while at the same time we cannot also adjust ourselves to
ensure that Chandrikaís game is not successful. We have to only ensure
that we stand by our people. When it comes to the question of compromise
in a negotiation for a lasting resolution of the conflict, we have to
weigh between the interests of the people and the feasibility of a
political settlement. So we cannot compromise on these immediate needs
just because Chandrika Kumaratunga is coming out with a justification
of, ĎI said so...í
Having said that, the President is now saying the peace talks must
continue. In the event parliament is dissolved, would the LTTE ever
discuss peace with President Kumaratunga?
What we are concerned with is the welfare of the nation. When we say nation, we focus attention on the Tamil nation
which is devastated. Rebuilding the Tamil nation is in a way
contributory to rebuilding the whole island, because itís a part of
it. The cancer in one part will definitely spread to the other parts.
So, we are interested in engaging in clean politics. Not the kind of
politics which Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is trying to do.
our answer to this question would be if according to what political
observers feel, in the event of parliament being dissolved and Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga taking the family dynasty or whatever...
according to the circumstances prevailing at a time like that, we will
also adjust and if it becomes necessary we may have to sit down and
carry on with the negotiations because we consider it very essential
that we find a resolution to this conflict. This is something we cannot
predict and it is not appropriate for us to answer directly to that
The President summoned her service commanders the moment Balasinghamís
letter was received by the Premier and had a security briefing. What is your response to this action and did the LTTE do the
same? Is there any
possibility of a resumption of war once more?
We consider the
ceasefire agreement as the first step. We know the dividends, which the
population of Sri Lanka have derived from the ceasefire agreement.
Though not materially, guns are silent; we donít have body bags, the
peasantry in the south is very much relieved to find that they can move
around freely and that their children donít get killed in the war. The
children in the north donít get killed in the war either. Everybody is
able to move about freely without the fear of a war.
a country that had two decades of devastating war, this is a big
dividend. Though yet there are so many things to be realised, it is
still a big dividend. If in the event this personality, President
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga decides to ignore these benefits and
work towards something that will disrupt the ceasefire that will end up
in the re-commencement of war, that person becomes answerable to the
electorate of Sri Lanka. Not just the Tamils, but to everybody in Sri Lanka. She will
stand in the court of the publicís opinion. That is our opinion to
what will happen if she takes such a step. We know of several regimes
that acted in bad faith just to safeguard their own interests and ended
up in a mess. So, therefore if this leader also decides to take that
path, the electorate of Sri Lanka will make the right decision.
Balasingham in his letter to the Premier, has also stated that the LTTE
will not attend the donor conference in Japan this June. Donít you
think the LTTE stands to lose out significantly on an aid package by not
attending this meeting?
Regaining Sri Lanka is the theme. We fully appreciate the concern of the
Prime Minister in putting forward this programme since we realise the
north and east form part of Sri Lanka. But one cannot shy away from the
fact that it is the north and east that was battered by the war. It is
the malnourished child that needs more nutrition, more attention than
the average child. So, there is no politics involved, itís a
humanitarian problem. The war devastated sections of Sri Lanka, which is
the north and east, and must be the focus in all the seminars and forums
where aid is requested. It is common knowledge that this area needs a
lot of money for rebuilding roads, hospitals, schools, etc.
Neglect has been there for nearly a quarter century. To rebuild
it we need more money pumped in. That has to be told very clearly in a
do accept that there are problems everywhere in Sri Lanka, but then this
is a war devastated area and that is the focus of attention. All these
activities began from the ceasefire agreement.
When we say ceasefire agreement we have two parties to the
agreement. The existence of two parties are fully recognised. The
signature of the Prime Minister and the LTTE Leader are recognised.
Therefore, it was agreed upon subsequently that all requests for foreign
assistance, aid and grants, will be made jointly and the government and
the LTTE would have equal partnership in putting forward the claims or
their problems to the international community. By marginalising the LTTE
in the Washington conference the message was that the government of Sri
Lanka is more concerned about getting aid by marginalising the Tamil
ground situation is that there exists a de facto regime and an
administration which runs the affairs of the Tamil people which has been
recognised as the legitimate body to sign this agreement from which
emanated all these activities. So at one stage to marginalise the LTTE
is actually denying the voice of the Tamil people. Therefore, in Dr.
Balasinghamís letter to the Prime Minister it has been clearly said
what has to be attended to immediately. We have maintained our position
that we continue our commitment for peaceful negotiations.
That is exactly my question. By the LTTE not going to Japan, arenít
you shutting out the opportunity of presenting your case and securing
financial assistance for your people?
In our experience, during the last one year after participating
in the Oslo aid conference, these pledges all remain as mere promises.
Nothing is coming to fruition. So, marginalisation has already started
in the Washington aid conference. Even prior to that, the mechanisms
that were arranged to ensure the speedy inflow of funds and
implementation of programmes are not taking place. By just participating
we are not sure how sincere the implementation will be. Upto now. nearly
one year and three months after the ceasefire agreement we havenít
seen anything happening. So, our attendance, at the moment, at these
donor conferences seem to be just meaningless.
Did Milinda Moragoda at Hakone, Japan promise that he would not attend
the Washington aid conference without Anton Balasingham?
Not in so many words as you suggest.
He however said he would make all endeavours to ensure Dr.
Balasinghamís participation on behalf of the LTTE in the Washington
conference. That was a promise given by Milinda Moragoda. In other
words, to say that he will try to ensure this in a way was an assurance.
Given that the LTTE remains a proscribed organisation in the United
States, what could have been the alternative for both America and the
Sri Lankan government in this instance?
The US representative, Richard Armitage participated in the Oslo donor
conference along with the Tigers. What we would have considered as ideal
would have been to change the location to a place acceptable by both
parties. We have had prior experience of such an instance, therefore,
the location could have been either somewhere away from the United
States or even within the United States on neutral grounds. A compound
like the United Nations would have been ideal within the country of the
United States, but on neutral grounds. This was not something that
wasnít possible. Had everybody believed that the partnership in this
peace process is very essential in fulfilling this mutual project this
could have been arranged.