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A few months ago, the man who has met elusive Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo V Prabhakaran 'several times' in his jungle hideouts was urged by President Mahinda Rajapakse to convince the LTTE leader to resume the aborted peace talks. Prabhakaran refused.
Over 1,500 people have died in the violence that erupted since the talks broke down in April -- on Monday, October 16, an LTTE suicide bomber rammed a truck laden with explosives into a naval convoy, killing 92 sailors, perhaps the worst act of terrorism this year -- with the government and the LTTE accusing each other of reneging on the peace accord. Under intense international pressure, the two sides now seem to have tentatively agreed to resume talks.
In an exclusive interview with Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt in Colombo recently, Vithyatharan explained the genesis of the crisis and defended Prabhakaran's struggle as a fight for freedom. He also argued that despite the LTTE being accused of killing former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, India will have to get involved and ultimately recognise the LTTE leader as a political player.
Is it a war-like situation now?
Peace talks are completely off. Any moment we can expect the war.
What triggered the current phase of violence?
In the last election of November 2005, the Tamils by not participating allowed the Sinhalese to choose their leader to solve our problem. The Sinhalese have chosen a man who has the Sinhalese chauvinist hardline. He is not handling the peace process in a proper manner.
What were your expectations from President Rajpakse?
He should have adhered to the ceasefire agreement and should have started political negations with the LTTE directly.
But he has repeatedly asserted his willingness to talk directly with the LTTE...
But on the ground he is not moving at all.
He has invited Prabhakaran to Colombo. What else can you ask for?
That's the point! We said if he is ready, then the president should go to meet him. When I met President Rajpakse I asked him if you are ready to meet Prabhakaran. He said, "yes." But he says he is not ready to go to Vevunia. ( the area in North Sri Lanka [Images] where Prabhakaran is hiding).
Does he feel a security threat?
Yeah, he says he can't go now. The real issue is that his agenda is planned by the military leadership. They want to put the LTTE in a tight corner and they want to go to war. That is the Sinhalese chauvinist line.
He has to satisfy his vote bank that elected him. He is led by hawkish forces like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Jathika Hela Urumaya. He had a chance of bringing peace but President Rajpakse has missed the bus.
Read Prabhakaran's Martyrs Day's speech given after the president's election. The LTTE chief was ready to do something. I know it because my managing editor E Saravanpavan and I were the go-between between them.
How does the Tamil community view President Rajpakse?
He does not have far-sighted aims. He thinks he can control the LTTE with military power. He does not understand the reality at all. That's his problem. The LTTE is not at all like it was in 2000. The LTTE has shown that they have acquired more power than before.
Have you met Prabhakaran?
Yes, several times.
When did you meet him the last time?
Recently, when we took President Rajpakse's message to him.
What is going on in his mind?
He is committed to his cause. He wants a separate land for Tamils. He is not ready to settle for less than that.
When you met Prabhakaran to convey President Rajpakse's proposal, what was his response?
Prabhakaran said if the Sri Lankan government has the guts to throw Norway out and talk to him directly, then it should do so openly and not clandestinely. If the government thinks we can talk only through Norway, then we have a chance to talk about peace if the government fulfils certain things. Like stopping the paramilitary actions and the militarisation of Tamil areas.
Don't you think Prabakaran, who lives in the jungles, is unaware of the changed world realities?
Every day hundreds of people meet him, particularly expatriate Tamils. He has contacts with hundreds of people.
Prabakaran must have realised that he can't win the hearts of Indians when the Indians themselves are victims of terrorism. India is in no position to support his violent methods. Does he understand this clearly?
I will give a different answer. My assessment is that the problem in Sri Lanka is between the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka. India should know that if there is a settlement it should be with both parties. So the so-called agreement of Sri Lanka's Tamil problem should have been signed by (in July 1987) Sinhalese representative President J R Jayewardene and a representative of the Tamils.
Rajiv Gandhi signed on behalf of us! He thought he is an eligible, elected representative of the Tamils. If it is true that the LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi, they have killed our representative, not your prime minister.
How come Rajiv thought of signing on behalf of the Tamils? We were fighting, we were dying every day. What right did he have to sign on our behalf? How can he put a solution in our hands? So he had to bear the consequences.
He may be your leader but he signed the Sri Lanka accord as the Sri Lankan Tamils' representative. You have to look at it that way.
Don't you think the world has changed, and that the LTTE is now condemned more than ever before?
We have our target and we are moving. We can't dance to other's tunes. The world is changing but the world is not giving us anything. Ours is a fight for freedom. Prabhakaran has vast knowledge of globalisation. He is moving ahead to achieve his targets. Please compare his work in the 1980s and 1990s. Two-thirds of the Tamil area is under his control, he has a separate judiciary, he has a separate army and police.
Isn't he losing his case on the world stage?
General Musharraf came to power after an army coup. After sometime India recognised him. Like that, in the future, India will have to recognise us, that is the confidence we have.
India has clearly stated that it believes in the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and is not in favour of any division. Don't you take this seriously?
One day India will accept a reality that Tamils have a separate entity and they should have special rights.
LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham's statement proved that LTTE leader Prabhakaran is feeling low.
That is the way NDTV put it up and the Delhi leadership twisted it. Go through his entire interview -- he is not saying anything that suggests that the LTTE is on the back foot.
What are the LTTE's strengths vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan army?
We have the morale to fight the liberation struggle. If compared with the 1990s to some extent a Tamil homeland is a reality.
More reports from Sri Lanka | The war in Lanka
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