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The Rediff Special/J N Dixit

'Prabhakaran said he did not trust either RAW or the ministry of external affairs'

Prabhakaran The various Tamil groups and the LTTE were not fully satisfied with the Agreement. Prabhakaran told Rajiv Gandhi in the initial stages of his discussions with the latter that he did not know that India was going to sign the Agreement. He thought that India would finalise the draft and submit it to the Tamil groups, especially the LTTE, which in turn would sign the Agreement with the Sri Lankan government after appropriate negotiations.

India originally thought that Sri Lankan Tamils should be signatories to such an agreement. Rajiv Gandhi pointed out that this was his original message to Sri Lanka and to the Tamil groups. He then pointed out that it was the LTTE which stressed that the Agreement should be signed between India and Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran had no answer. He assumed an ambiguous stance.

Prabhakaran made a serious of demands for an immediate follow-up, once the Agreement was signed. He wanted Sri Lankan government forces of all categories to pull back from the whole of the North and Eastern Provinces. He wanted management of the law and order handed over entirely and immediately to his cadres. He was not happy about the tentative provision for holding a referendum on the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces by the end of 1988.

He wanted the merger to be declared permanent and irrevocable. He not only wanted all Tamil refugees in India as well as within Sri Lanka to be resettled and rehabilitated, but the Sinhalese people in north-central Sri Lanka, settled there since the mid-fifties under the Mahaveli colonisation schemes, to be uprooted and replaced by Tamils.

Jayawardane with Rajiv Gandhi Even the moderate Tamil political party, the TULF, in a communication to Rajiv Gandhi immediately after the signing of the Agreement articulated somewhat similar demands. Prabhakaran, while generally agreeing to the surrender of arms, demanded that he and his senior leaders should be allowed to retain their arms for personal protection, a suggestion which was accepted by the Sri Lankan and Indian authorities.

Prabhakaran was flown back to Jaffna as promised by Rajiv Gandhi on August 2. He had already indicated that a ceremonial surrender of arms would take place on August 4 and 5. Rajiv Gandhi insisted that the surrender of arms should not be described as 'surrender'. I had messages suggesting that the whole exercise should be described as: 'laying down of arms by LTTE in the larger interests of the peace and well-being of the Sri Lankan people,' a suggestion which was readily agreed to by Jayewardene.

The most significant event in Jaffna immediately after the signing of the Agreement and the arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Force was a large public meeting which Prabhakaran on August 4, on the grounds of the Sudumalai Temple. His speech was militant and not fully supportive of the Agreement. He said he had agreed to generally endorse the Agreement only on the insistence of the Government of India and because India had always been a source of strength and support to the Tamils. The Agreement did not fulfill all the Tamil aspirations.

While he had agreed to the contents of the Agreement, he reserved his options for the future course of action on the basis of his assessment of how the Agreement was actually implemented. His endorsement of the Agreement did not mean abandonment of the basic Tamil demand for Eelam which he had been advocating over a period of time.

The tone and content of the speech was totally contrary to the commitments he had given to M G Ramachandran and Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi. The text of the speech and its translation reached me late at night. I immediately requested my Sri Lankan Tamil contacts in Jaffna to find out what Prabhakaran's motivations and plans were in the light of the speech he made. The response I got was that he had generally endorsed the Agreement because he considered good relations with the government and people of India vital to the Tamil cause. He, however, had some reservations which he had to articulate.

LTTE militants He said the second reason for the tone of his speech was because he had to carry Sri Lankan Tamil public opinion with him. He could not be seen abandoning his entire set of demands including the establishment of Tamil Eelam. That was why he hedged his commitments regarding the Agreement. I was informed that the surrender of arms would take place as scheduled and that he would remain in close touch with the headquarters of the IPKF.

The arms surrender ceremony took place on August 5 in Jaffna. Defence Secretary Cepalle Attygalle, senior representatives of the Sri Lankan Red Cross, the district officer in charge of Jaffna and General Harkirat Singh of the IPKF represented Sri Lanka and India respectively. Significantly, Prabhakaran did not come to the ceremony to lay down arms. He sent the then political advisor to his high command Yogi along with Mahatya and Balasingham.

Prabhakaran explained later that he did not himself come for the ceremony because he was concerned about his security. It was, however, obvious that his absence at the ceremony was also a political gesture of reservation and withdrawal, which both India and Sri Lanka took note of.

LTTE Militants Prabhakaran had met Lt General Depinder Singh, GOC, Southern Command, before he returned to Jaffna. Lt General Depinder Singh later revealed that Prabhakaran told him (General Singh) that he did not trust either the Indian Research and Analysis Wingh or the ministry of external affairs. He hoped that the Indian Army would stand by Tamils now that it was in Sri Lanka. I cannot confirm the authenticity of this report, but this conversation has been mentioned partly in General Singh's memoirs and partly by some Sri Lankan authors who had written about Indo-Sri Lanka relations during this period.

Excerpted from Assignment Colombo, by J N Dixit, Konarak Publishers, 1998, Rs 400, with the publisher's permission.
Readers interested in obtaining a copy of the book may direct their enquiries to Mr K P R Nair, Konarak Publishers, A-149, Main Vikas Marg, New Delhi 110 001.

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J N Dixit, continued

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