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It is the plight of the Tamil people that compelled me to take up arms. I felt outraged at the inhuman atrocities perpetrated against an innocent people | 'The Week'- March 1986 | Hon. V. Prabhakaran


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" It is the plight of the Tamil people that compelled me to take up arms.
I felt outraged at the inhuman
atrocities perpetrated against an innocent people."

The ethnic conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese in Sri
Lanka shows no sign of abating,. The Tamil militants, especially the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seem determined to pursue
their military tactics. Velupillai Prabhakaran, Military Commander of
the LTTE who lives in the jungles of Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, in a
rare interview spoke to GENTLEMAN about the future of the strife-
torn island.

In a rare interview, the controversial freedom fighter spoke at length
to JASVINDER SINGH. Excerpts:


GENTLEMAN: What compelled you to take up arms?

PRABHAKARAN: It is the plight of the Tamil people
that compelled me to take up arms. I felt outraged at the inhuman
atrocities perpetrated against an innocent people. The ruthless
manner in which our people were murdered, massacred, maimed and
the colossal damage done to their property made me realise that we
are subjected to a calculated program of genocide. I felt that armed
struggle is the only way to protect and liberate our people from a
totalitarian Fascist State bent on destroying an entire race of
people.

GENTLEMAN: But don't you think that you could have expressed
your grievances within the framework of parliamentary democracy
and within the confines of a free press?


PRABHAKARAN: The Tamil people have been expressing their
grievances in Parliament for more than three decades. Their voices
went unheard like cries in the wilderness. In Sri Lanka there is no
parliamentary democracy where our people could effectively
represent their aspirations. What passes as Parliament in Sri Lanka
is an authoritarian rule founded on the tyranny of the majority. The
Tamil representatives were finally banned from Parliament. There is
no freedom of the press in Sri Lanka. The press is State controlled
and is manned by chauvinistic journalists. The Tamils could not
find any democratic institutions to air their grievances.

GENTLEMAN: Did you also try to win popular support and that of
the Sinhalese people?


PRABHAKARAN: We do aspire to the support of the Sinhalese
people. Our cause is fair and legitimate, but we are unable to
mobilise the Sinhalese people in our favour because of the
chauvinistic politicians and the Buddhist clergy who have been
poisoning their minds against the Tamils. Yet we will continue to
struggle to convince the Sinhalese people of the legitimacy of our
cause.

GENTLEMAN: Don't you think that the Sinhalese and the Tamil
masses have the same socio-economic aspirations despite the
present divide?


PRABHAKARAN: Yes, that is true. Both the common Sinhala and
Tamil masses are oppressed and exploited and they have similar
socio-economic problems and aspirations. What divides them is the
national conflict. The Sinhala ruling classes have generated this
national contradiction to divide the Sinhala and Tamil masses to
reinforce their political power

GENTLEMAN: What were the conditions that influenced you to
join the militant ranks?


PRABHAKARAN: From a very young age I was told of horrifying
stories of brutal atrocities committed against the Tamil people.
During my student days I felt the racial discrimination directly. In
my early youth I had a clear picture of the nature of State
oppression, which was engulfing the Tamil nation. I then realised
that to redeem our people one must organise an armed resistance
movement. That is how I founded the Tiger movement and got
involved in the armed struggle.

GENTLEMAN: What is your family background and your
relationship with your parents? Are you in touch with them?


PRABHAKARAN: I come from a very ordinary family. My father
was a government servant. I have two elder sisters who are now
married and settled. From my very early youth, I was drawn into
revolutionary politics and became "wanted" person. When I was 19
year old l left home and went underground Ever since I have lost
contact with my parents.

GENTLEMAN: You are normally projected as symbol of Tamil
militancy. Even your own organisation projects you as a big  hero.
As a radical how do you justify the individual hero worship?


PRABHAKARAN: I cannot help this kind of projection and
characterisation. l am only concerned with the political liberation
and social emancipation of oppressed people. My people are aware
of my commitment and trust me to lead them on the right path. That
is why they show great affection. These projection may be
expressions of people's love.

GENTLEMAN: How do you assess the present situate in Sri
Lanka?

PRABHAKARAN: The present political situation in Sri
Lanka is very critical. The Tamil nation is facing a genocide
onslaught. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces are continuing their
rampage on the Tamilian masses. Our people are subjected to
massacres, mass arrests, arson, looting and rape. Thousands of
them are uprooted from their traditional homelands and made
refugees. Under the guise of a cease-fire, the Sri Lankan State has
embarked on a policy of ruthless repression, military domination
and annihilation of our people. The present chauvinistic Sinhala
leadership has no genuine interest in bringing about a fair and just
solution through peaceful negotiations, but is committed to
militarily subjugating the Tamil people. Such a policy has made the
pre sent, situation very critical and dangerous.

GENTLEMAN: How do you view the present pace of negotiations
between the Sri Lankan Government and the representatives of the
Tamil people?


PRABHAKARAN: The peace negotiations have been a futile
exercise. This is a drama enacted by the Jayewardene Government
to deceive the world. Although Jayewardene poses as a lover of
peace, he does not desire a peaceful settlement. So far he has failed
to offer any substantial proposals that would satisfy the political
aspirations of our people. Under the facade of a peace process he
has unleashed military terror aimed at the genocidal destruction  of
our people .

GENTLEMAN: Some time ago you charged that the Jayewardene
Government utilised the cease-fire agreement to consolidate its
military position.


PRABHAKARAN: Certainly, under the guise of the cease-fire
agreement, the Jayewardene Government embarked on a massive
militaraisation programme. The Government is spending a huge
amount of its national budget on building its military machinery.
Lethal weapons of all sorts are being purchased on a large scale.
The Government has introduced legislation for conscription. The
whole Sinhala nation is being mobilised on a war footing. New
Army camps have been constructed in the Tamil areas. Foreign
mercenaries as well as Pakistan provide training to Sinhalese
soldiers in counter-insurgency warfare. The massive military
mobilisation clearly shows that Jayewardene is bent on a military
solution rather than being committed to the peace process of a
negotiated settlement.

GENTLEMAN: The last time you came to Delhi you achieved a major political concession, in that the Sri Lankan Government agreed to
constitute monitoring committees to investigate instances of cease-fire
violations. Has the setting up of such communities helped to
promote a more congenial atmosphere for controlling the
violations?


PRABHAKARAN: (Visibly irritated.) What monitoring committees
are you talking about? Have they published a single report? Have
they investigated a single instance of cease-fire violation by the
rampaging armed thugs of J.R.'s regime? The truth is that he has
bought more gunboats from Singapore to kill our fishermen. The
truth is that while the talks are going on he is murdering more and
more civilians. The Armed Forces, along with the Navy and the Air
Force, have conducted military operations.

GENTLEMAN: So for all practical purposes, do you think that the
peace process has failed?


PRABHAKARAN: Well, talks so far have failed to bear any
positive results.

GENTLEMAN: Does it mean that now there is no possibility of any
negotiated settlement to the problem?


PRABHAKARAN: It depends.. .

GENTLEMAN: On India's position?

PRABHAKARAN: In a sense, yes.

GENTLEMAN: But are you optimistic that there is a chance of a
negotiated settlement to the problem so as to avoid further
bloodshed?


PRABHAKARAN: Past experience and history show that J.R. won't
come to a genuine settlement. He is staging this drama to show that
he is a peaceful man. The Indian Government has not achieved the
desired results because of the stringent attitude of the Jayawardene
Government. In this atmosphere we have come to a dead end, but
India might try to bring both sides together. India must try harder.

GENTLEMAN: Did you say so to Romesh Bhandari during your
talks with him?


PRABHAKARAN: Yes, we did.

GENTLEMAN: There was a press report some time ago that said
militants had hacked some Sinhala civilians. What is your policy
towards civilians in the armed conflict?


PRABHAKARAN: There was no truth in those reports. They are
spreading these lies to malign the liberation movement. We were
not involved in the incidents of Namalwatte nor do we know if any
of our fraternal organisations were involved. We have never
touched civilians. It is only when they attack our people that we
protect them.

GENTLEMAN: I was once shown pictures of civilians allegedly
attacked by the militants by the Public Relations Officer of the Sri
Lankan high Commission in New Delhi.


PRABHAKARAN: Look, they have got these Home Guard thugs
who are armed and trained by the Armed Forces. They dress like
civilians but are almost like death-squads let loose on Tamil
civilians now and again-to loot, burn, destroy. In some cases we
have attacked them. They look like civilians. In some areas there are
Sinhalese-Tamil civilian conflicts. These conflicts take place when
the Sinhalese are brought to the Tamil areas to forcibly occupy the
land. Clashes do take place to protect the land. I know that the J.R.
regime's propaganda managers use the pictures of such incidents
to ,say that the militants have attacked the civilians. But they don't
tell the truth.

GENTLEMAN: So you have nearly agreed that the talks have come
to a dead end and that till they are revived the chances of a
peaceful settlement are very thin. In the interregnum, what will be
your strategy? Are you planning to revive your guerrilla operations
against the Armed Forces?


PRABHAKARAN: There is no war at the moment. We only defend
ourselves when we are attacked. We will never go on the offensive.

GENTLEMAN: There were also some reports of the Sri Lankan
Army's efforts to drive the Tamil peasants out of the Trincomalee
districts and allow Sinhalese settlements in their place. What will be
your stand if these reports are true?


PRABHAKARAN: We have no other opt ion but to fight back. We
will effectively fight back and foil their plans.

GENTLEMAN: Are you satisfied with India's approach towards the
Tamil problem and her role as a mediator between the two sides?


PRABHAKARAN: As a mediator, India is making genuine efforts
to bring about a settlement to the ethnic conflict through a peace
dialogue. We are satisfied with India's approach but we are deeply
dissatisfied with Jayawardene's approach. The arrogant and
intransigent attitude of Jayawardene has become a stumbling block
in India's sincere efforts to find a fair solution to the Tamil problem.

GENTLEMAN: If that is so, why did the militant groups stage a
walk-out in Thimbu?


PRABHAKARAN: We staged a walk-out because of the escalation
of military terror and genocide against our people. I think a similar
situation still prevails in  Sri Lanka.

GENTLEMAN: You have, time and again, said Tamil crisis in Sri
Lanka affects the interests in the subcontinent. Do you say this
only to muster support for your cause?


PRABHAKARAN: What was once an internal conflict has now
assumed dimensions of an international problem, which is causing
grave concern to India.  In pursuing a ruthless policy of repressing
the Tamil freedom movement, Sri Lanka  has been inducting into the
foreign forces of subversion. The penetration of the Israeli
intelligence agencies, the induction of British mercenaries, the
involvement  of Pakistan and the massive militarisation  disturbed
the peace and stability in the region. This dangerous development
will certain the geo-political interests of India whose committed
policy is to make Indian Ocean a zone of peace. .

GENTLEMAN: What  role do you think the US administration is
playing in the present conflict in  Sri Lanka?


PRABHAKARAN: The US administration has strategic and geo-
political interests in the region. Sri Lanka with its natural harbour in
Trincomalee, is most strategically located in the Indian Ocean. The
objective of the US imperialists is to gradually penetrate the
country and eventually bring the island under its sphere of
influence and domination. The escalating ethnic conflict has driven
the Jayawardene Government to seek American assistance. The US
has been directly helping Sri Lanka through her allies, i.e. Israel,
Pakistan, South Korea and China. The US objective seems to be to
perpetuate and escalate the ethnic crisis, so that she can gradually
set foot on the island and establish a base in Trincomalee.

GENTLEMAN: Do the socialist countries sympathise with your
cause?


PRABHAKARAN: Yes, they do sympathise with our cause.

GENTLEMAN: What is your political philosophy and which
guerrilla leader inspires you the most?


PRABHAKARAN: Revolutionary socialism is my political
philosophy. By socialism I mean the construction of an egalitarian
society where there is no class contradiction and exploitation of
man by man; a free, rational society where human freedom and
rights are protected and progress enhanced. Che Guevara is the
guerrilla leader who inspires me the most.

GENTLEMAN: How do you classify the struggle of the Tamil
people?


PRABHAKARAN: I will categorise the struggle of the Tamil people
as the struggle for the right to self determination. It is the struggle
for political emancipation, a struggle to determine their own political
destiny.

GENTLEMAN: What is the historical background of the present
ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka?


PRABHAKARAN: The present ethnic conflict has a history of
nearly four decades. Since the "independence" of the island from
British colonial rule, the Sri Lankan ruling class adopted a
disastrous policy of State repression against the Tamil people. The
repression had the genocidal intent of destroying the ethnic
identity of the Tamil nation. This calculated State oppression was
directed against the very foundations of Tamil society - its
language, culture, economic life and the traditional home land. It
brought untold suffering to our people. Moreover, State-organised
violence was let loose on our people, which erupted on the island
periodically with huge loss of life and property. The holocaust of
State terror still continues with unabated fury.

At the initial stages, our people adopted peaceful forms of agitation
based on the Gandhian principle of ahimsa. They organised
satyagraha campaigns and disobedience movements to protest
against State violence. For more than two decades, our people
demanded a form of regional autonomy to secure our political
rights. But our demands never found a sympathetic hearing.
Agreements and pacts were abrogated by successive Sri Lankan
governments. Instead of resolving the conflict by peaceful means,
the Sri Lankan rulers adopted a ruthless policy of military
repression.

It was against this background of  mounting repression, at a time
when our people had exhausted all forms peaceful political
agitation, that the armed revolutionary struggle took birth in the
early '70s. The Tiger movement was the pioneer of the armed
resistance campaign and eventually became the vanguard of the
national struggle. Our armed struggle has advanced the cause of
our freedom, posed a serious challenge to the State and attracted
international attention towards the Tamil issue. This, briefly, is the
background our struggle.

GENTLEMAN: What role did the Sinhalese politicians and the
Buddhist clergy play in this crises?


PRABHAKARAN: Both the Sinhalese politicians and the Buddhist
clergy play a crucial role in creating this nation conflict. Politicians
sow the seeds racism among the Sinhalese people simply to gain
political power. The Buddhist clergy, on their part generated
religious fanaticism an chauvinism. The Sinhala-Buddhist
chauvinistic ideology became a powerful force, swaying the masses
towards anti-Tamil politics and laying the foundation for the
present crisis.

GENTLEMAN: Whose interest does the present crisis serve?

PRABHAKARAN: The present crisis serves the interest of the US
imperialists and the Sinhala bourgeoisie. The consequences of this
will certainly affect the geo-political interests of India in this region.

GENTLEMAN: Despite the fact that all the Tamil groups are
fighting for the cause of the Tamil people, one finds so much
factionalism among them. How do you explain this phenomenon
and what remedy do you suggest to improve the situation ?


PRABHAKARAN: Ideological differences are a common
phenomenon in every liberation struggle. Now the situation has
improved since the formation of a United Front, the Eelam National
Liberation Front (ENLF).

GENTLEMAN: How did the split between you and Uma
Maheswaran come about?


PRABHAKARAN: In the present political circumstances, I do not
wish to comment. about this matter. At this time, unity between
liberation organisations is of paramount importance, it is ill-advised
to discuss old problems.

GENTLEMAN: Have the ideological differences, if there were any,
been resolved between you  two?


PRABHAKARAN: I think there is no point in doing a post-mortem
of the past. Every body knows what happened.

GENTLEMAN: Do you envisage the possibility of this group also
joining the ENLF in
 the foreseeable future?

PRABHAKARAN: The possibility is not ruled out (smiles)

GENTLEMAN: There were reports that M G R was so alarmed by
your popularity in Tamil Nadu that he felicitated Uma Maheswaran

PRABHAKARAN: Actually, no such thing happened.

GENTLEMAN: Why are the militants so allergic to the Tamil United
Liberation Front (TULF)? You have even charged them of being
opportunists.


PRABHAKARAN: The political opportunism of the TULF is a well-
known factor. They are power hungry politicians who have been
cheating our people due to their selfish political ambitions. In the
1977 general elections, they obtained a mandate from our people to
struggle to establish an independent Tamil State, but never made
any effort to fulfill the pledge. Rather, they sought to negotiate for
meagre concessions. I would categorise this as gross betrayal and
opportunism.

GENTLEMAN: How do you view the attempts made by certain
Tamil Nadu leaders to fan chauvinistic feelings? Do you think this
sectarian attitude of Tamil Nadu leaders will harm your cause?


PRABHAKARAN: We do not see them in that perspective. Tamil
Nadu leaders are genuinely concerned about the plight of their
Tamil brethren in neighbouring Sri Lanka. Whenever atrocities are
committed against the Tamils by the Sinhala Army, the leaders of
Tamil Nadu organise agitations to register their protest. There is a
tremendous feeling of brotherhood and solidarity for the Tamil
cause in Tamil Nadu. They feel that India should help to resolve the
problem and save the Tamil people from genocide.

GENTLEMAN: There have been reports from time to time that the
militants are being trained in India and also that they have training
camps here. What do you say about these reports?


PRABHAKARAN: There is no truth in such reports. We don't have
any camps in India. All our camps are on our own soil.

GENTLEMAN: What role do you think India can play in finding an
acceptable solution to the Tamil crisis?


PRABHAKARAN: The people of India have been championing the
cause of freedom of the oppressed people all over the world. The
Indian people have a great tradition of upholding the principles of
justice and humanism. They have supported the liberation
struggles in Palestine, Namibia and South Africa. They recently
recognised the Polisario freedom movement. I sincerely hope that
the people of India will support a liberation struggle in their
neighbourhood and recognise the right to self-determination of the
people of Tamil Eelam.

 

Courtesy: 'THE WEEK'   magazine, India "3 March 1986

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