By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Q: How do you see the prospects for the peace talks to actually resume given the commitment made by the LTTE and the government to return to the negotiating table?
A: As far as the peace talks are concerned I have my strong doubts over the resumption of the process. The LTTE has conveyed to the Norwegian facilitators that they are ready to talk without any pre-conditions Ė they too laid conditions earlier, but this time they have said that they are willing to talk without any conditions. According to the statements made by Erik Solheim and Yasushi Akashi,
we also thought that the government was also prepared to resume talks in a similar vein. However, after the statement issued by Erik Solheim, a lot of counter statements were made by the Sri Lankan politicians.
Our Defence Spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella said no one could lay conditions to the government and denied making any statement to the Co-Chairs. Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva who led the government delegation at the peace talks, met the Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka. Right now we are in the lurch again. That is the real position of the government and as usual, our President is tight lipped.
Our Presidentís style of governing the country is either by allowing each and every person to do their work on every side and keeps quiet or when things go wrong, he comes out and says that he never said it. This is the governance President Mahinda Rajapakse has adopted. So we have to see the real stance of the government with regard to the peace talks, which nobody seem to know.
Q: The Co-Chairs after their recent meeting in Brussels announced that both parties had agreed to return to the negotiating table without any pre-conditions, but now the government and the LTTE have said that they would impose conditions to resume the peace process...
A: As far as Iím concerned the ceasefire is in total disarray and the ceasefire agreement (CFA) is violated by both parties. So nothing is working and it is a futile exercise for us to dig into this and find fault with one or the other. So without going into the past, we can start a fresh one. To start afresh, a new beginning, we have to start without any conditions.
This is what I feel. Our people are suffering. It is not only the Tamils, but also the Sinhalese and the Muslims too are suffering. People are suffering on one side and on the other you have large delegations of about 60 people going abroad and having fun. In order to end the suffering, the only way out is to resume peace talks without laying down any conditions and we could take things from there on.
Q: What specific conditions do you think the LTTE is likely to insist upon?
A: We have had no contact with the LTTE, especially with the political wing for the past six months. From what I have seen in news reports, it is clear that the LTTE is willing to talk without any pre-conditions, which is a good sign.
Q: If the government requests for the laying down of arms by the LTTE to resume peace talks, would the LTTE agree to it?
A: Not even the LTTE, nobody would accept it. Not a single Tamil person or any Tamil speaking person would accept it. Would the Muslims in Pottuvil accept it? The LTTE took up arms not for fun, not to have their own way, but to safeguard the Tamil people. Until the Tamil people enjoy that security, not a single Tamil person would like the LTTE to be disarmed and this is a fact.
Q: The distribution of food and other supplies to areas in the northeast has been affected badly due to the closure of land and sea routes which were closed by both sides. The LTTE has warned against the safety of passage. What do you propose in these circumstances to ensure speedy supplies to the northern population?
A: It is total irresponsible act by the Sri Lankan government. The main outcome of signing the CFA was the opening of the A9 road. I am thankful to the then UNP government for understanding the reality and the gravity of the situation. It was done to ensure that the day-to-day needs of the people in the north were met. Opening of the A9 road was the fundamental subject matter of the CFA.
Through Jayasikuru carried out under our former Defence Minister and President Chandrika Kumaratunga the then government wanted to open the A9 road by force and we know what happened to that. So many soldiers as well as LTTE cadres died in that operation. The A9 road was opened without any bloodshed through the CFA. The government has now closed the A9 road. One month ago the LTTE said that they had no problem in opening
the A9 road, it is the government that is continuing to violate the CFA. Look at Article 2.1 of the CFA, which speaks about the A9 road.
So the government is totally acting in an irresponsible manner and has put the people in great difficulty. Let me give you some idea about the prices. A kilo of sugar is sold at Rs. 250, a kilo of flour is Rs. 200, a litre of kerosene is Rs. 150 and petrol if available is sold at Rs. 500 a litre. The hospitals are running short of oxygen cylinders and medicine. This is the real situation prevailing in Jaffna. The closure of the
road is a total violation of the CFA and thousands of Tamil people are stranded in Vavuniya currently. They are unable to go to their families in the north and thousands are also stranded in Jaffna.
The opening of the A9 road is a requirement under the CFA. The government by not opening the A9 road has shown they want the Tamil people to die. This is another way of killing people apart from bombing. It is also another violation of human rights as they are denied the right to live.
Q: A delegation of TNA parliamentarians went to India recently. What is to be discussed? What is the anticipated outcome of the visit?
A: Everybody knows what our problem is and India is our neighbour and whether we like it or not, without Indian support the Sri Lankan people cannot have their own way and work to their political desire. That is why the TNA was invited by India and certain political leaders of Tamil Nadu have gone to detail the present situation in the country and to find a permanent solution to the ethnic problem
and a solution that would answer the political aspirations of the Tamil people.
The TNA delegation has met with political leaders from Tamil Nadu and now they are in New Delhi. They have met with the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Ministry Secretary. The delegation is to also meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and would continue to meet with other political leaders as well. During these discussions, they will detail the Indian leaders on the sufferings of the Tamil people, the attitude of the Sri
Lankan government and the war-mongers in the country, especially the JHU and the JVP.
What is going on in the city of Colombo would also be highlighted at these discussions. We have security personnel in every nook and corner, but people come in white vans in broad daylight and abduct Tamil people. Ransom money is then demanded. I can show documentary proof as to the number of people abducted during the last one and a half months.
These are the matters our leaders plan to raise in India. The government has totally disregarded the security of the Tamil speaking people. Look at what happened in Pottuvil? 11 Muslims were killed for no reason. These matters have to be raised. The Sri Lankan government itself is engaged in state terrorism against the Tamil speaking people.
Whom can the Tamil people go to and complain? The TNA is never invited for any of the all party conferences (APC). How can it be all party then? Whether you like it or not the TNA has 22 MPs from the north and east. Now here you have a round of talks without extending a single invitation to the party concerned and calling it an all party conference. Whom are they fooling? That is why we are raising concerns internationally. It
would not only be in India, we would take it around the world. We are working very hard for it.
Q: What was Indiaís response to the concerns raised by the TNA so far?
A: It is too premature to speak on that and Iím yet to get in touch with the party delegation that went to India.
Q: The Muslims have once again called for separate representation at the next round of talks when it takes place. Having originally opposed this position, does the TNA accept this position now?
A: The TNA or the LTTE to my knowledge, Iím not a spokesperson for the LTTE, have never denied third party representation for Muslims. Our stance is that at the time we talk of the appropriate political solution or the political settlement for the ethnic issue, Muslim representation should be definitely included. You have to understand that the fighting is going on between the LTTE and the Sri
Lankan government and there is no necessity for Muslim representation to be included at the present level.
Infact, Muslims have a lot of representation in the Sri Lankan government Ė there are ministers but they are keeping their mouths shut.
When something happens they keep quiet. If they are concerned about their community, then why canít they come out with the actual facts now? The villagers in Pottuvil know who is responsible for the killings. Did any Muslim minister representing that area speak out? I think there are about five from the Ampara District, and where are they?
Q: Defence Spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella speaking on behalf of the government has said that they would speak only with LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan. Is it possible to have direct talks between the parties without facilitation?
A: Keheliya Rambukwella should first understand that he could dictate terms on the other side. I donít think he could even dictate terms where the Sri Lankan government is concerned because he has crossed over from the UNP and has been given a difficult task to perform. Most of the time he comes out with totally unfounded stories. Even with regard to the killing of the Muslims, he is saying it
is done by the LTTE.
First of all, he should go to Pottuvil and ask the people there. That is the kind of spokesperson we have. I would like to tell him to look after his business without making it worse. Let him decide the members of his delegation. The LTTE will announce its delegation. President Mahinda Rajapakse is not going in this delegation. The LTTE has not asked him to come in the delegation or Ratnasiri Wickremanayake or Rambukwella, who
will never be given the chance, to come in the delegation.
It is up to the LTTE to decide on their delegation. You can see that in the recent past, Pirapaharan has not taken part in this kind of talks. He has appointed a delegation and they are in constant touch with him and they meet and discuss matters. I think once or twice he has met some international dignitaries and journalists and he has met with us several times.
When we go for talks with the LTTE we donít demand Pirapaharan to come there. We talk to the head of the political wing. Keheliya Rambukwella is making things worse.
As for facilitation, the government should understand that it was we who invited the international community to intervene in this country. Personally, I too do not like anybody interfering with our business, but since 1949 we have created this situation and we could not sort out problems although we entered into several agreements and accords.
We asked for trouble and it has come to us. Now we have to deal with it. Tamil people have no problem with Norwegian facilitation. But the LTTE has told the SLMM that none of the members from the EU countries that banned the organisation should be in the mission.
That is correct, it is the basic principle of justice Ė one person cannot be the prosecutor as well as the judge. But Brigadier Wimal Weerawansa and the major generals with him whom I donít want to name, who are verbal terrorists in the country do not want this kind of situation.
Wimal Weerawansa should know in 1971 because of him the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike had to go to India to bring Indian troops here. In Sri Lankaís history, the first time a foreign military got involved in the country was because of Weerawansa and not Pirapaharan. Only in 1987, the Indian force came to the island after signing the peace accord. Maybe Weerawansa was too young at the time these things happened
and his predecessor Rohana Wijeweera knew this. I have a lot of respect for Wijeweera as he was one of the first Sinhalese leaders who accepted that the Tamils had a right to self-determination.
He accepted it but his followers are now totally on a different track. They have something against the Norwegian government.
Let them solve that issue.
Q: The LTTE has conveyed its commitment to resume the peace process. Yet, soon after, the government security forces destroyed a ship allegedly carrying weapons to the Tigers in the eastern seas. Why does the LTTE continue to procure arms if it is committed to peace?
A: Both sides while talking peace are engaged in other activities. The Sri Lankan government is also involved in such activities. The LTTE is also acquiring arms and strengthening themselves. This is natural and is anticipated. The issue is how can we curtail it? If we are sincere in finding a solution to the ethnic problem by way of talks, and sit together and thrash out the matter it could be
After all this is a small country. We speak only two languages and the Tamil people and majority of the Sinhalese people know each other and are not communal minded. I am a person who is very close to the Sinhala people. I go for TV interviews with my broken Sinhalese not to gain political mileage, none of the Tamils watch those, but I go because I need to build an understanding with the Sinhalese and to tell them the plight of
the Tamil people. But if we work with a peace agenda we can definitely achieve peace.