‘We could settle on a home-spun solution’
PLOTE Leader Dharmalingam Siddarthan
PLOTE Leader Dharmalingam Siddarthan claims that the
LTTE damaged the Tamil cause much more than the
Sinhala leadership or the government led army.
In an interview with , The Sundy Leader the former
militant turned politician opines that local
elections in the north are premature and
inappropriate, and the composition of the
presidential task force non-representative.
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: Now that local elections have been announced for
Vavuniya and Jaffna, what role will PLOTE play in
the forthcoming elections?
A: We welcome a new era, the reintroduction
of democracy and pluralism to the northeast. The
LTTE is finally defeated. Democracy and pluralism
were long denied to the Tamil community.
my view, the announcement of elections, just days
after the war are inappropriate. There should have
been more time for people to overcome their trauma
and settle with a regular lifestyle without guns and
bombs. It is too premature.
am not talking about those rendered refugees, but
civilians who live in their own homes. They need and
deserve some time to experience the return to
normalcy. People should have peaceful minds to think
of political requirements.
But now that polls have been announced, we will
certainly contest the election as a tripartite
alliance with the TULF and EPRLF (Pathmanabha
Faction). We would be happier even with a greater
alliance. Our collective resolve is to contest.
Q: Why is the EPDP not part of your political
A: We have nothing against the EPDP. Its
Leader Douglas Devananda is a government constituent
party member. He may have some difficulties in
adopting an independent political position.
supported the government on its war effort to defeat
the LTTE but wish to retain our political identity.
We would be happy to widen the political circle
Q: If the poll announcement is inappropriate, would
you agree that the government is keen to take
political advantage of the post war situation?
A: I believe the government is keen to start
the political process and many countries are waiting
for that moment. There is hope about democratic
institutions being reintroduced paving the way for
development. The government appears to consider the
setting up of local bodies as the correct move.
am not faulting the government for announcing a
poll, but personally feel, post conflict, people
need time to settle in their villages and homes. It
also offers an opportunity for political parties.
Q: Is the defeat of the LTTE also likely to infer
the subjugation of the Tamil community and their
political identity as some see it?
A: No. Let me give you some background as a
pioneer of a Tamil militant movement. At the
beginning, all of us including Pirapaharan were
committed to the separatist cause. After the 1983
riots, all military organisations ballooned into
larger outfits. This also led us to lose our
direction and sense of purpose.
Secondly, to achieve the goal of sole representative
status, the LTTE commenced the elimination of other
groups. With that they lost their mission. They
forgot their mission and the people’s aspirations.
The LTTE in its quest for supremacy amongst Tamil
organisations, eliminated even democratically
elected leaders like Amirthalingam.
Then, post 1983, there was much international
sympathy for the Tamil cause.
Even India initially never supported a separatist
cause for the Tamil people. After the Indo-Lanka
Peace Accord, most of us realised a separate state
was not achievable. If India did not back it, there
was no way we were going to achieve it. We opted to
enter the mainstream and contested the elections at
local, provincial and national level.
Sadly for the LTTE, even after the Accord, it
continued on a course that was unjustifiable and
unacceptable. They failed to understand the
political reality that a separatist state for Tamils
Destruction is not a liberation struggle. Limited
violence may be a means to be heard but the LTTE’s
levels of violence and lack of political direction
proved to be their fatal flaws.
The LTTE damaged the Tamil cause much more than the
Sinhala leadership by killing a large number of
Tamil leaders. LTTE’s militancy also did not help
Tamils to win their justifiable rights.
Successive governments used the LTTE’s unrelenting
nature to their advantage, and to brush aside any
proposal for devolution as being unacceptable to the
LTTE. That was the ready-made reply for a reluctant
state to deny devolution.
The LTTE had a policy of all or nothing. As long as
the Tigers are alive and kicking, there won’t be
peace. After seeing the destruction and the
refugees, I think the Tamil political leadership
must do some soul searching and come together. Our
collective aim should be to resettle, rehabilitate
and develop. We all have suffered enough.
The urgent requirement is not a political solution
but a human solution.
Q: What role would you play in seeking a solution
to the humanitarian problem you cited?
A: We have already spoken to India and held
discussions with Presidential Advisor Basil
Rajapakse. I believe if the international community
is convinced about the end of the war, they will
play a role in development. India and some European
nations are keen to assist.
think the government is keen to resettle people.
They have a 180-day programme and at least they
might get a head-start during this period. It is
difficult to achieve major targets overnight. There
are thousands of anti personnel mines to be cleared
and some LTTE caches to deal with. The realities are
harsh. It takes time and immense effort. There are
Q: Do you accept that the LTTE organisation is
A: My educated guess is that the LTTE
leadership is routed out. Its structure is
sufficiently devastated. The LTTE influence on the
youth will also peter out and is already on the
wane. It is the LTTE expatriate community that
struggles to keep the LTTE alive. I don’t think it
can rebuild itself to its former level. In a small
way they might function but even that is not
possible just yet. Also, no guerilla group can
survive without the people’s support and the LTTE
has considerably lost its support base.
The government is aware of this. I believe the state
will now try to win the Tamil people over. We all
must play our role to reintegrate our society. There
is a role for alternate Tamil leaders and the
priority is to help our people to enter a new
Q: The composition of the Special Task Force to
rebuild the north is completely Sinhalese. Is this
acceptable to northern Tamil leaders?
A: It should have been inclusive. It is
important that at least some members understand the
Tamil language, know the terrain, the realities and
the attendant problems. The region’s political
leadership should have been invited to play a direct
The body should reflect the representation of the
northern people. Civilians harbour fear. They know
they are viewed as LTTE supporters. They need to
communicate in their language with people who may be
sympathetic to their plight. A Sinhala only task
force is a mistake.
Q: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has described
the conditions of the IDP camps as ‘appalling.’ As a
Tamil political leader from the north, how do you
rate the camps’ status?
A: When people came into the government
controlled areas, I must admit the camp conditions
were very bad. The LTTE had stopped the food
supplies and people were starving when they came in.
now conditions are much improved. The IDPs who came
last informed some of our members that a desperate
LTTE was seen burning massive amounts of local
currency. Tiger cadres have told the IDPs to take
food stocks having forced them to starvation before.
Some ask as to why the government asked the people
to come out when they could not keep the civilians
well supplied. The military continued to liberate
areas and the government had to quickly move the
people into safe areas.
Over 280,000 people are in the camps now. Nowhere in
the world can refugees be completely catered to and
their needs met. Civilians, organisations, political
groups and religious places played their roles to
help them and still do.
are a Third World country and we can’t expect
miracles to happen. The people are not starving. I
can guarantee that. They have reasonable meals.
There are undeniable shortcomings but I think
efforts are being made to ensure some support.
The criticism comes from some NGOs due to being
denied access to camps. The tsunami was a windfall
for them and they are angry over not being allowed a
second opportunity to make quick money.
Q: Post war, can you overrule government-sponsored
colonisation in the north?
A: We are completely opposed to
government-sponsored colonisation. This is a
historical mistake committed by some governments.
The argument is that if Tamils can live in Colombo
why, the Sinhalese can’t live in Jaffna. It is not a
problem if Sinhalese wish to move into areas
inhabited largely by the Tamils. We will only oppose
any government-sponsored colonisation aimed at
altering the demographics of the area. Such a move
will be stiffly resisted.
Having said that, I don’t think the present
government would begin colonisation. Despite
constituent partners like the JHU pushing for such
in the east, this government did not pursue such a
Q: The north had been a hub of militancy for
decades. Isn’t demilitarisation key to restoring
A: Ex-militants from other groups have
already integrated into the mainstream. Some are
still getting integrated into society having lived
like outcasts. We only have a small number outside
and they are not arms-carrying members. They too
will soon come on board.
The problem is applicable to the LTTE cadres. Its
top rung is largely eliminated. The second and third
levels should be separated from society and put
through a rehabilitation process and later
reintegrated. It will take time and we should stay
the course patiently.
Those with minor association with the LTTE could be
pardoned. If we try to be very harsh, these cadres
cannot be won over.
recently visited the Balagalla open prison for LTTE
cadres. They want to return to their education and
to their professions. Today, parents won’t encourage
their children to get into militant movements. That
phase is over.
But they must be carefully handled, or else this
will breed criminal elements. But it will take time.
Q: But it is common knowledge that besides the LTTE,
there are other armed groups operating in the north?
Shouldn’t they immediately disarm?
A: I believe the LTTE threat is almost over.
These groups carried weapons largely to shield
themselves against LTTE violence. I think soon they
will voluntarily disarm themselves. They should
become completely democratic.
Q: What would be the ideal political solution to the
A: The word federal is anathema to the
Sinhala polity today. So I do not want to give it a
name. It should be reasonable devolution, offering
answers to our questions. It should support the
running of these two provinces effectively. The
concurrent list must be abolished, it allows line
ministries to interfere.
Q: Does ‘reasonable devolution’ mean something
beyond the 13th Amendment?
A: When the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord was
signed, we informed the Indian government that it
was insufficient to fulfill Tamil political
aspirations. We are ready to accept it as a basis to
But it was never fully implemented. Now there is a
move to implement it. The APRC process must also
continue. Then we should look at the options and
settle on a homespun solution that meets our
Q: Does your brand of solution require a merged
A: We would honestly prefer that.
Q: Given the diversity in the northern Tamil
political opinion, is it possible to work together
A: The number of opinions should be treated
as a richness. The group with the highest military
might once considered itself the sole
representatives of the Tamil people. The next one
considered it the second largest. That phase is
There is a historical opportunity to develop our
area devoid of bloodshed. If free polls are held,
the people will elect the members they want. Having
suffered enough, they would not wish to have these
militant groups wielding political power.
The people can now have the ultimate choice in
electing representatives and not have the gun
forcing them to choose.