30th December  2001, Volume 8, Issue 24

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  • Kumar Ponnambalam's murder

We suspected the PA government - Gajen

Those who thought that the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) Kumar Ponnambalam's legacy could be wiped out after his brutal assassination are in for a suprise. Kumar Ponnambalam may not be living to name his killers, but his son

Gajendrakumar Gangaser Ponnambalam is here to bring the culprits who killed his father to book. Young and dynamic, Gajen, as he is known, has vowed to write to the Attorney General to intervene in this matter.

Having contested the December 5 election, Gajen, 27, entered parliament. A criminal lawyer himself, Gajen says the report that was submitted to President Kumaratunga by the CDB Chief Bandula Wickramasinghe was politically motivated. He says his father's killing was a motivating factor for him to enter politics though he never wanted to do so. He is committed towards taking his father's policy forward.

After his primary education at Royal College, Colombo, Gajen joined an international school to complete his secondary education. Thereafter, he proceeded to England and enrolled himself at the School of Oriental and African Studies (one of the colleges of the University of London), where he read law. He came back to Sri Lanka and did his law college finals and took oaths as an Attorney at Law. Following are excerpts of Gajen's interview with The Sunday Leader.

By Wilson Gnanadass

Q: Your father's dream was to enter parliament but he was murdered before he could realise his dream. You, his only son, succeeded in your first attempt. How do you view your entry into parliament?

A: I don't think it is a personal success for me. The people voted for me as an appreciation of what my father did. So I don't claim this as a personal success for me at all. The fact that I contested under the Tamil Alliance is because the Alliance made my late father's policy, what he stood for at that time, the chief policy that was put forward at the elections as a mandate. And it is because of that reason that the Congress got involved. Therefore, I would say it is a victory for that policy, rather than for any individual or any political party.

Q: There is a cessation of hostilities on, and steps are being taken to lift the embargo in the uncleared areas. Do you see this as a positive step towards bringing a solution to the ethnic issue?

A: Definitely. I don't think getting the LTTE and the government to the negotiating table is a big problem. But there is something bigger before that to be mentioned. There is a severe lack of trust on both sides. You see, when the government talks, it does so for the Sinhalese people and when the Tigers talk, they do so for the Tamils.

There is bound to be a lack of trust on either side because of this. So the cessation of hostilities in that sense is a positive sign, because it creates some sort of trust at a very basic level, which can be built upon. Even the TNA has stated in its manifesto that a cessation of hostilities would be beneficial to both sides to see positive results, but we had also asked for the lifting of the embargo. So, if the government is seriously considering that, we think that is also a positive step because the people must be at ease and they should not think that hostilities might start at any given moment.

Q: In your view, what should be the basis for a negotiated settlement and do you also accept the fact that India has a role to play?

A: I don't wish to comment on the substantive matters of a negotiated settlement. In fact, this is one of the points that we mentioned at the elections also, that we, the Tamil Alliance, would not commit ourselves to talking about the substantive matters of a negotiated settlement. There is a reason as to why we took up this position because you would understand in 1994, the Tigers did in fact come for talks with the government No one knows what happened. All that we know was that the talks failed and the war resumed. We had the government blaming the LTTE and the LTTE blaming the government. What happened thereafter was that the government used the other Tamil parties and parliamentarians to their advantage in portraying a picture where the LTTE was being marginalised.

It was said that it was the Tigers who were not willing to talk, whereas the other Tamil parties were willing to do so, which in fact, was not the position. If that were the position, the Tamil Congress would not have come into an alliance with the other Tamil parties, who are also blamed for that. It is to prevent such a thing from recurring that we decided not to talk on substantive issues. Because the ground situation is that you can actually bring peace only if you could reach an agreement with the LTTE. This is number one.

The second thing is the action of the Tamil parties in the past, which is used to marginalise the Tigers. And through this election, at least it is clear that the Tamil people, whether one likes it or not, are behind the Tigers. You cannot alienate the Tigers, because by doing this, it would be equivalent to alienating a substantial, if not overwhelming, majority of the Tamil population as far as the north-east is concerned.

To answer your second part of the question, I do not wish to comment about India alone. Foreign countries are indeed welcome to show a keen interest in a negotiated settlement. India also feels that there should be a negotiated settlement. This is welcomed by all. Not only by the LTTE, but also by the government and everybody. However, it also important that the international community must play a positive role. And if the international community is to play a positive role, then the role must be one that is neutral. If the international community takes sides and is biased, such a community cannot hope for something positive to happen. So it is important that the international community's interest be kept positive.

Q: The murder of your father is once again in the news following the publication of a report submitted by the then Director of Crime Detective Bureau Bandula Wickramasinghe to President Chandrika Kumaratunga as far back as September 2000 in which details of the assassination as well as those responsible for your father's killing have all been highlighted. What action do you intend taking on this report?

A: Personally I am considering writing to the honourable Attorney General (AG) through my family lawyers. That is a step that I am quite sure of taking in the near future. As far as taking it up at a political level, the party of course has not decided. Therefore, I cannot say whether we will take this matter at a political level or not. I am not sure about this. But I will certainly be writing to the AG and asking him to intervene in this matter.

Q: It was also reported that you had identified your father's cellular phone discovered by the police in a marshland behind the BMICH. Is it correct?

A: It is correct. But the circumstances that surround the identification of the phone are suspicious. Bandula Wickramasinghe called me and told me the police had recovered this phone and asked me whether it belonged to my father. I was asked to come to the CDB (Crime Detective Bureau) to identify a phone which they had recovered, which was supposedly recovered on the instructions given by a suspect in this case. But my understanding is that the phone was recovered before the suspect was taken into police custody. I was told that the information was received from a suspect who had called the CDB and confessed.

Personally my problems with regard to the CDB's actions is that I feel it is terribly politically motivated. Even Bandula Wickramasinghe was asked to take over the investigations, I think the day after my father's killing, he made it very clear to us. He asked us whom we suspected and the family stated that we suspected the government. He made it very clear to us that the president appointed him and that he will prove through his investigations that neither the president nor the government had any involvement in the killing of my father.

In fact, my association with Bandula Wickramasinghe in my father's killing has clearly shown me that his involvement was purely political and he was merely a political instrument. This report that he had purportedly given to the president does not mention a word about government members. He is only talking of the instruments that these people used in killing my father. Now the three suspects and the son of a former minister who have been mentioned in the letter are only instruments. You see, they only carried out the act. The people behind it have not been exposed. So it is only half the story or I would say it is less than half. There is yet more to come and it will come.

Q: Are you shocked that President Chandrika Kumaratunga, having received the report, did nothing to bring the culprits to book but instead took steps to shield the assassins?

A: I am not shocked at all. It is a known fact that President Kumaratunga is not a credible person. As a member of a Tamil party, we certainly do not see her as a credible person at all.

Q: Does your party, the ACTC, intend acting on the report and on the role of President Kumaratunga on an individual capacity, or even otherwise collectively with other members of Tamil parties?

A: The ACTC and the Tamil Alliance might act on it. But whether it is going to approach the government is a decision that has not yet been taken. As far as the ACTC is concerned, we will certainly act on it. But whether we are going to approach the government or get the government machinery going regarding this killing is something that we have not decided upon.

Q: What action have you all taken prior to this development relating to Bandula Wickramasinghe's report to bring the murderers to book and subsequent to the report being given to the president, did the president communicate with either you or your mother on what action is being taken?

A: Definitely not with me or any of my family members. And to the best of my knowledge not even with any of the members of the ACTC. As to what steps we took prior to this development, naturally the sole member of the ACTC who was in parliament last year, Vinayagamoorthy made several speeches in parliament that also included my father's assassination. Vinayagamoorthy had specifically made comments regarding my father's assassination. He even stated in parliament that it was a cover up. Even we (the family) think it is a cover up. The initial blame was placed on the LTTE. But when the government found that the people were not going to believe this, the government put the blame on some other militant groups. When the government realised that even this would not work, they put the blame on some of the underworld gang members saying that these individuals had been annoyed because my father had taken a pro-LTTE stand. Even now, all these reports indicate that Bandula Wickramasinghe has been instrumental or has been party with the president in trying to keep the blame away from the government. This is a report to basically show that the government is not directly involved, as opposed to the true picture. So my personal feeling is that this is just a cover up.

Q: Legal experts say that the president's role in this issue is subject to criminal liability, and steps are being taken we understand to make it a pivotal charge in an impeachment against President Kumaratunga. In such an eventuality, would the TNA of which you are a member, support this resolution?

A: I cannot speak for the TNA because this is not an issue we have decided to act on right now. But I am quite confident we will take a decision soon. As far as the Tamil Congress, which is a member of the TNA, is concerned, the president's whole governance over the last six to seven years, has been of such a nature that she cannot possibly command the support of the Tamil Congress to continue as president. There is no doubt that if there is an impeachment motion against the president, the Tamil Congress will support such a move.

Q: One of the demands put forward by the TNA prior to the election was that the LTTE should be de-proscribed. Would you continue to press for it?

A: Certainly yes. It is only with the LTTE that the government should talk. Now that is the will of the people. That being the case, the LTTE is not going to sit at the negotiating table representing itself as an organisation. It is going to do something much more. The Tigers are going to negotiate with the government on behalf of the entire Tamil nation. Now our position is, we are talking of equality. Our aspirations are based on a willingness to be treated as equals.

When the LTTE sits at the negotiating table to represent the entire Tamil nation, it is important that the LTTE sits as equals. For that reason, we certainly insist the LTTE be de-proscribed. You see, it is a case of principles. If the government is genuine in finding a negotiated settlement, then it is very important that all the right sounds be made from the very outset. Why is the government talking of lifting the embargo? What is the reason? Because it realises that if talks are to be successful, there must be a sense of trust that should be established between the two negotiating parties. And for the trust to be built there are certain steps that must be taken, and one of these steps is the de-proscription of the LTTE.

Q: Does that mean that without the de-proscription of the LTTE, there will not be talks?

A: I am not sure whether the LTTE will not come for talks, but the TNA would insist that the de-proscription takes place before any peace talks begin.

 

 

 

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