Parliamentarian Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam
admits that the government forces have
gained control over once LTTE held areas but
states that it is not a solution to the
political question that has plagued the
country and driven a section of the Tamil
community towards militancy.
are excerpts of an interview with The Sunday
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: About how many civilians are likely to be
trapped in the LTTE controlled areas due to
the current military engagements? The Inter
Agency Standing Committee (IASC), estimates
the figure to be around 238,831 in the
A: Our information is that there are
about 500,000 civilians living in LTTE
controlled areas purely in the Wanni. Of
this figure, over 200,000 civilians are
Internally Displaced Persons. Of these IDPs
over 130,000 have been displaced several
times over since early June due to the
aerial bombardment and artillery fire
conducted by the GOSL. These IDPs are living
under trying conditions. There are some
50,000 individuals living under trees.
Q: Do you accept the notion that the LTTE is
A: The fact is that when compared
with the situation that prevailed in the
northeast in 2002 when the CFA was signed,
there is no denying that the government has
gained territory and that the LTTE has lost
The real question is whether that is a
demonstration of one side's strength and the
other side's weakness. I am not a military
analyst. To try and understand what is
happening now. I look at what happened over
the past 30 years. There have been instances
when one side lost and another side gained
territory in the past too. In the late 1990s
the GOSL had gained a lot of territory but
that situation changed dramatically by the
time the CFA was signed in 2002. I think it
is a mistake to look at it as a territory
One should not lose sight of the fact that
the LTTE in the eyes of the Tamil people is
a national liberation movement. That is what
is most important. The Tamil people are more
behind the LTTE today than they have ever
been in the past.
If persons are assessing the situation based
on gained and lost territory, my perception
is that such people have not learned from
the past and are likely to repeat some of
the historical mistakes all over again.
Q: The government has set a year-end
deadline for the capture of Kilinochchi and
to eradicate terrorism. Is this feasible in
A: In the first place, I don't accept
there is a terrorist problem in this island.
The Tamil people are fighting for national
liberation against an oppressive state. The
Tamil National Struggle commenced long
before the advent of the LTTE. The truth is
that the LTTE is a national liberation
movement and is very much alive.
Why the LTTE's presence cannot be discounted
is because it is built on popular support.
We have been told many times and by many
governments of Sri Lanka that the war will
be won and that the LTTE will be defeated.
This is also not the first time that
deadlines have been given by governments.
From the little I know, I am yet to come
across an instance when a national
liberation movement in any part of the world
has been militarily defeated.
Q: Unlike other Tamil political parties, the
TNA has not called upon civilians to leave
the LTTE held areas despite a worsening
A: It is clear that the government
wants the Tamil civilians to leave LTTE
controlled areas and to move to the
government controlled areas.
The Tamil civilians in the Wanni know what
is happening to the Tamils in the east
despite over a year having lapsed. The
Tamils continue to suffer immensely in the
east. The situation is far from the
so-called 'liberation' that the government
claims. That does not make it easy for the
civilians to enter government areas. On the
contrary, they fear the fate that befell the
Tamils in the east would now be theirs if
they crossed over.
The Tamils have never felt a sense of
belonging to the Sri Lankan State. The
Tamils consider the state as hostile to
their interests. As to where the Tamil
civilians want to move to avoid the fighting
is something that should be left to them to
But I agree with my colleagues, I believe
the civilians would not want to enter
government held areas. Currently there are
Tamils living in government-controlled
areas. The whole world knows how hostile the
government treats them.
Therefore the Tamil people in LTTE
controlled areas will have natural fears
I doubt the civilians in the Wanni think
that they can trust a government that has
been deliberately bombing civilian targets.
I doubt the Tamil civilians in the Wanni are
ready to trust a government that has been
imposing embargoes and denying humanitarian
aid to them and has been using food and
medicine as a weapon of war.
Q: So your perception is that civilians
would not leave LTTE held areas to enter
government controlled areas on their own
A: Yes. This is my understanding of
Q: Is the government likely to guarantee
safe passage to the affected civilians?
A: Well the TNA has been meeting the
UN and other humanitarian agencies recently.
They inform us that the government has
indicated that they are willing to agree on
a 'humanitarian corridor' to facilitate the
movement of the Tamil civilians from LTTE
controlled areas to GOSL controlled areas.
The government is obviously giving a very
narrow interpretation to the 'humanitarian
corridor' concept. Since it is very unlikely
that the Tamil civilians in the Wanni will
want to leave LTTE controlled areas for the
reasons that I mentioned earlier, our view
is that the 'humanitarian corridor' concept
should be given a more realistic
interpretation, whereby the government
should permit safe passage to all
humanitarian assistance, that is, to all
humanitarian workers and the aid they carry
to where the affected civilian population
Q: Following the air attacks by the LTTE,
the government claims that one of the
aircraft were intercepted and attacked. What
is the ground information you have in this
A: I know only what I hear from the
media and that is, that the government
claims that an aircraft belonging to the
LTTE was brought down, and the LTTE denying
it. But really, I think what is more
important is to understand, that the fact of
the matter is that there cannot be a
military solution to the conflict. This
struggle is steeped in the deep political
aspirations of the Tamil Nation to be a free
Everything that is happening should be
viewed in this background. The LTTE has the
support of the Tamil population. Besides the
local civilian support, it enjoys tremendous
diaspora support. The truth is that the LTTE
has gone from strength to strength.
I find it difficult to believe that they
have suddenly lost this strength, just due
to the advent of the Mahinda Rajapakse
Q: The LTTE is being accused of using
civilians as a human shield. What are your
A: The LTTE has a lot to lose by
using civilians as human shields. The last
thing the LTTE would want is to deliberately
put the civilians at risk and thereby
jeopardise its own support base. The LTTE
will not put the people in harm's way,
knowing fully well that the people remain
their strength. It is a movement built on
the people's strength. It is a people's
movement and derives strength from the
Why would it want to put civilians at risk
and risk its own future? It is ridiculous
even to suggest that.
Q: Is it your contention that the LTTE still
enjoys massive mass support, despite 30
years of not being able to deliver to the
A: I strongly believe so. There is no
disputing that the LTTE is strongly
supported by the people.
Q: Do you feel that the current situation
merits UN or international intervention? In
fact the government has requested both NGOs
and INGOs operating in the Wanni to move
A: The TNA has always maintained that
the international community must come
forward to provide humanitarian assistance
to the affected people. We make this point
to every foreign actor that we meet, whether
it be foreign governments or INGOs.
We also tell them that the GOSL is
deliberately precipitating a humanitarian
crisis for precisely the reason of getting
the Tamil civilian population to leave LTTE
controlled areas. They did it in the east
and now they are doing it in the north. In
other words the creation of this
humanitarian crisis is a part and parcel of
the government's military strategy. This is
obvious to everyone.
What we have been telling the international
community is that, their not restraining the
Government of Sri Lanka when Tamil civilians
are being so blatantly targeted will have
consequences with regards to their own
credibility vis-…-vis the Tamil people. The
Tamil people are watching closely as to who
is doing what in the international community
at this important time for us.
Q: The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is
about to make a visit to India and meet
Indian leaders. What's the purpose of this
A: We would like to go to India.
India is an important country. The Tamil
people have always wanted good and strong
ties with our neighbour. The Tamil homeland
is a very short distance away from India.
The Tamil people have viewed the people of
even more closely. A lot is happening here.
We wish to keep India informed of our views.
'13th Amendment must be
Minister of Social Services and Jaffna
District MP Douglas Devananda believes fire
should be met with fire and calls for the
elimination of the LTTE leadership in a bid
to introduce democracy to the north.
Following are excerpts of an interview with
The Sunday Leader:
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: About how many civilians are likely to be
trapped in the Wanni now?
A: The exact information is not
available with me. The LTTE as usual is
using the people as a human shield. They did
it in the east and it happened in the north.
Now it is happening in the Wanni. Different
quarters quote various figures. I am unable
to offer definite numbers.
Q: You hold the important portfolio of
Social Services. What kind of scheme do you
have in place to assist the displaced?
A: Not just because of that
portfolio, but as a Minister who represents
the people of the affected area, I may lead
the government team there. People are
beginning to move to government held areas
and I want to see this happen.
There is a Special Task Force through which
people come to meet us. We meet their needs
Q: Do you believe that the LTTE is losing
ground to the government forces?
A: Of course they are and it is
natural for that to happen.
The LTTE has denied the north connectivity
with the south. Even though we have a
political problem, complete separation does
not get us anywhere.
I am a politician who hails from a leftist
background. I always held progressive views
but unfortunately, we could not find a
progressive southern government to work
As a member of this government, having shed
my militancy to answer the political
question that affects the community, I have
begun a new journey. I want that
connectivity, lost thanks to the LTTE, to be
reintroduced. Through that, to make
civilians and specially the young people to
understand that they are misled and made to
believe in war.
I just brought thousands of children from
Vavuniya to Colombo recently. Right now I
have a group of over 300 northern students
who have excelled in sports and some young
innovators visiting Colombo. We encourage
them to participate in national athletic
meets and to play a decisive role in shaping
their own future.
We have committed too many youths to the
war, from both sides. And this nation weeps.
I tell the Tamil people that for the past
two decades, people in the Wanni suffered
due to lack of democracy. We need to
reintroduce democracy there.
President is trying to do that. We should
assist him. It happened in the east also.
There are some issues in the east still, no
doubt. But it is better than what it used to
be. Things will improve.
Northern Province is different. It has
special concerns. But the fact remains that
I have steadfastly fought for the rights of
the Tamils, in government also. I have
always strived to serve their needs and to
increase their bargaining power and believe
that their suffering should end.
I know by experience that militancy can get
you only to the half way mark. Beyond that
lies the political path. Naturally the LTTE
is losing ground not just due to military
setbacks but also due to lack of popular
There may be some political criticism on me.
There may be one or two incidents where my
people are involved. But I keep them under
The issue is that the LTTE is against
democracy. It is against democracy because
in such a set up, the Tigers won't have a
role to play. They will lose their
significance. So they feel shielded by the
gun culture for beyond that lies a barren
future in which they are reduced to nothing.
When I call for the LTTE's elimination, I
call for the elimination of its leadership.
It should happen for the people to progress
and look at new political alternatives.
Q: Do you foresee a separate Northern
Provincial Council in the near future?
A: I have no doubt that it is the
President's wish. Once the area is
liberated, it will be a reality. Before that
there is every chance to hold local
government elections. There are many cleared
areas that could be readied for local polls
easily before we go for the larger political
exercise of establishing a provincial
Q: Do you still stand for an amalgamated
A: I still do. That's what I always
stood for as a political leader from the
north. But due to recent political changes,
we are willing to adapt to new situations.
Our original demands of a merged northeast
and recognition of a homeland concept have
not changed. But we all have evolved-
political parties and the people.
The EPDP is willing to accept that the 13th
Amendment was a turning point in Sri Lankan
politics. We want it fully implemented.
Let's take it from there and move forward.
Q: The government has set a new deadline for
capturing Kilinochchi, which is the
year-end. As someone aware of the ground
situation, does this appear feasible?
A: If it becomes reality before that
deadline, I would be happy. Not because I
enjoy annihilation of people or due to some
petty score I have to settle with the LTTE
and its leadership. The reason is that for
people and the area to progress, there has
to be space for democracy. It will never be
a reality as long as Pirapaharan is alive.
He will never allow other political
Q: Do you believe that civilians should be
moved out of LTTE held territory?
A: Yes they should be. When security
forces liberated Jaffna, the LTTE forced
Jaffna people towards Wanni. Some two third
did not turn up. They went up to
Chavakachcheri area. They remained there and
later returned home. Only about one third
followed the LTTE instructions.
It is the LTTE atrocities people have to be
Q: How do you propose the government should
act, to create a humanitarian corridor to
help civilians evacuate?
A: It is a mechanism that the
government should put in place. It is
important to bear in mind that the LTTE
would seriously block this from happening.
That will dilute its presence and
significance. Even if the government manages
to grant safe passage, the LTTE will create
Q: What mechanism can help civilians safely
enter government-controlled areas?
A: Somehow we have to ensure this.
Let me add this. There are two aspects to
the ethnic question. One is the terrorist
issue and the other, political. Terrorists
have to be dealt with in a language they
understand. The more the government
attacks the more ferocious the LTTE response
will be. We have to drain the LTTE on the
one side and drain its leadership on the
other side. Until then, there will be no
amicable settlement. Pirapaharan will stand
in the way to peaceful resolution of the
We must earn the trust of the Tamil people
by granting safe passage. The armed forces
can do that.
Q: When should the political process begin,
according to you?
A: Before the Indo-Lanka Agreement,
we called it a Sinhala government. Now we
accept this as the Sri Lankan government.
After the agreement, the Tamil democratic
leadership had ample openings to enter the
mainstream and make a difference. The Tamil
political organisations did not make use of
the new opportunity. There had been talks
during President Premadasa's time, then
during President Kumaratunga's, Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's and even
with President Rajapakse.
This President is an amicable one. In Tamil
there is a saying that the most enduring of
gods refuse to bear pain at some point. The
LTTE drove the President to this end. Now he
has decided on a course of military action.
Q: Are you satisfied with the Tamil
political leadership in the north?
A: Do you feel only the LTTE
represents the Tamil people? Are they a
strong political presence? The organisation
has been the bane of the people.
After the Indo Lanka Peace Accord, things
have changed. The problem is that there is
no internal democracy in any of these Tamil
political organisations. How can they preach
Also, militancy is a passing phase. It is a
tool to be heard, to clamour for a cause.
But it does not last. There has to be a
political ideology that is pushed through a
limited militant movement. That's why the
Tamil problem remains unresolved.
Q: Is it your position that Tamil militancy
A: Sad as it may seem, it has failed.
The problem is that these organisations
forgot that militancy should be used in
order to be politically heard. Now the
political voice is not heard. The LTTE
especially will be nothing without its
I am qualified to speak as a former
militant. I was in the EROS and the EPRLF
before the EPDP. We should evolve and learn
from past mistakes. Militancy is only a
means to an end, but not the end.
Q: How can the government guarantee safe
passage when it has required the INGOs and
NGOs to leave the Wanni immediately?
A: That is altogether different. That
is an extra burden that the government does
not wish to accept at a time when civilian
security is the foremost issue. Instead of
having multiple concerns, the government has
decided to deal with the humanitarian
problem this way.
Q: Does the humanitarian problems in the
north require UN or international
A: There is a Tamil saying once again
that one's own hand should wipe the tears.
It means, the problem is local and it should
be solved within the country. There is no
role for outside intervention. It is the
complex truth. This is not Dafur.