"I am for peace in Sri Lanka and I want to build bridges with India," said Vellupillai Prabhakaran, chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in his first international media conference in 12 years at his hideout in northern Jaffna.
Prabhakaran, who looked poised during the two-and-a-half hour interaction with the media, attempted to project himself as a moderate ethnic leader and said that the LTTE was ready to mend ties with India.
The LTTE chief is the prime accused in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
When asked about the assassination, the 47-year-old guerrilla leader, after consulting his chief aide Anton Balasingham, said: "It was a tragic incident."
Calling for a renewal of ties [severed after Gandhi's killing] -- between New Delhi and the LTTE, Prabhakaran said: "India's role in resolving the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is the most important."
Pressed further for his views on the issue, he said: "I do not want to comment on an incident which happened 10 years ago. I want to forget the past. Don't dig into the past."
"We do not want to break our relations with India by pulling out the past issues. We are for the future and our proposal is peace," he said.
The LTTE chief, whose war with Sri Lanka has resulted in nearly 65,000 deaths, said many people and countries had misunderstood the outfit. "I want to clear their doubts about the LTTE. That is why I wanted to meet you all. I am committed to peace in Sri Lanka," he said.
"LTTE is not a guerrilla force. It is a liberation force. Several countries, including India, have banned LTTE. Lifting the ban on LTTE is a must for lasting peace in Sri Lanka," Prabahakaran said.
He said that the LTTE had requested the Sri Lankan government to de-proscribe the organisation.
Prabhakaran said India was considering a request from him about hosting peace talks between the LTTE and Sri Lanka.
"Our official mediator, Norway, has officially requested India to provide a venue for the talks. But we are yet to get a reply. We hope India will seriously and sincerely consider our request," Balasingham who assisted Prabhakaran throughout the press meeting, said.
Prabhakaran said he would now regularly conduct press conferences to ensure that the peace process moves forward at a faster pace.
Prabhakaran calls Rajiv Gandhi's assassination tragic
India not likely to concede LTTE chief's demands
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