Peace still no certainty for Sri Lanka
Interview with LTTE political advisor,
Dr Anton Balasingham
The last thing Sri Lanka needs is an Islamic Jihad. With a death toll of
over 60,000 in a decades-long civil war, allegations of an Islamic Jihad
paramilitary group operating against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam, or LTTE, is causing further fractures in an already tenuous
Now, next month's peace talks are in doubt. While the government
denies allegations of Islamic paramilitaries, Tamil Tiger leaders say
they have the proof.
Conference spokesman: The government of Sri Lanka and the
LTTE are committed to taking all necessary measures to ensure that
there will be no intimidation, acts of violence, abductions, or killings.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: Geneva last month, the first time in four years
the Tigers and the government sat face-to-face.
Dr Anton Balasingham, LTTE political advisor: LTTE from now on
will cease all forms of violence against the government forces.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: The cease-fire was conditional on the
government disarming Tamil paramilitary groups, whom the Tigers
allege are fighting a shadow war, with government knowledge and
support. During talks, the Tigers revealed the group's locations,
names and details. The LTTE is still reeling over the defection of their
one-time Eastern Commander, Karuna, two years ago. Karuna turned
on his former comrades to run a government-sponsored paramilitary
group in Tamil country in the east.
Karuna, paramilitary leader: The northern leadership is not considered
the sole representatives of the Tamils now. They cannot be the
representatives of the people living in the east.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: The government had succeeded in turning
Tamil against Tamil. But the bombshell came with LTTE allegations of
a Jihad Muslim paramilitary group operating in the east, with links to
Pakistan's Secret Service. The government and Muslim groups have
denied the existence of a Jihad group, but the Tigers claim to have the
proof. There is a long history of Tamil Tigers killing Muslims, which
LTTE now conveniently blames on former Tiger Commander Karuna.
But if paramilitaries aren't disarmed, peace talks are in danger.
So, why are things so deadlocked? Well, the Tigers are facing a fierce
opponent in President Mahinda Rajapakse. The hard-line President
won power opposing Tamil demands, something the Tigers helped
facilitate by boycotting the elections, and securing the defeat of Ranil
Wickremesinghe, who was more sympathetic to their cause. So, is Sri
Lanka about to plunge into war again? The United States Human
Rights Watch group says the Tigers are extorting the Tamil diaspora
for money, to fund a final war. And the LTTE says the government is
also preparing for war.
The man who made the Jihad allegations at the Geneva peace talks is
the Tamil Tigers' long-time ideologue. These days, Dr Anton
Balasingham is the Tigers' chief negotiator and political advisor. I
spoke to him from London, in a rare interview with the western media.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: Dr Anton Balasingham, welcome to Focus.
Anton Balasingham, LTTE political advisor: Thank you.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: Now, you claim peace talks are in jeopardy
because of this "shadow war" also being fought by Tamil paramilitaries
controlled by the government. What evidence do you have of this?
Anton Balasingham: We have provided quite a lot of evidence
documentary evidence, maps and other details to the Sri Lankan
government with regard to their existence and functions, with regard to
their leadership, their command structure, the location of their camps
in the government-controlled areas. And we have submitted ample
evidence to substantiate that these groups are actively functioning
with the Sri Lankan troops in their offensive military campaigns against
Helen Vatsikopoulos: What makes you think the authorities can
control them? Because they sound as if they've got a will of their own
to fight you.
Anton Balasingham: Most of these armed paramilitaries are
operating in the government military establishments, in the military
camps. So, if Rajapakse government genuinely wants peace, the
escalation in normalcy, they can put an end to this violence by
disarming these paramilitaries.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: One of these paramilitary groups is run by
Karuna, your former Eastern Commander. Why did Karuna defect?
Anton Balasingham: He has been misbehaving in the sense that
there has been a lot of complaints about misappropriation of funds. He
has been involved in recruiting underage cadets, and he has been
committing serious crimes against the Muslim population in the east.
What is disturbing is that the Sri Lankan armed forces are helping him,
harbouring him, sustaining him and helping him in this subversive role
against the LTTE. That is a most alarming development.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: These Tamil paramilitary groups were once
your people. They've turned against you, so doesn't that mean you no
longer can represent the Tamil community, that it's now Tamil against
Anton Balasingham: We are not asking the government to disband
the political structure of these organisations. Let them function as
political organisations. But their armed wings have to be curtailed, and
have to be dismantled, because it's posing a serious challenge to the
Helen Vatsikopoulos: You claim that one of these paramilitary
groups is a Tamil Muslim Jihad group. What can you tell us about this
group? Because the Muslims in the east deny their existence.
Anton Balasingham: Yeah, we know why the Muslim political
organizations are denying, is the fact that because the international
community will be seriously concerned if there is a Muslim terrorist
organization functioning in Sri Lanka, with connections.
I think we have evidence to prove that this Jihad organization has
connections with the Pakistani Military Intelligence. Therefore, they are
formally denying it. But we have ample evidence, and we can further
submit evidence if the Muslim leaders contact us.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: But it beggars belief that any government
would allow the growth of a Muslim Jihad group, and one with links to
Pakistan, in this current international climate.
Anton Balasingham: Yeah, that is a dangerous thing. But the Sri
Lankan government has a very good relationship with Pakistan and
China, that is our worry. Because Sri Lanka has been getting military
assistance and training from Pakistan. And also they have very close
relationship with China.
So, we are seriously worried whether the intervention of Pakistan in
this matter, in training and providing assistance to the Jihad
movement, will have serious repercussions. It may have serious
repercussions in India, if India comes to know more about these Jihad
Helen Vatsikopoulos: Dr Balasingham, is it any wonder that you're
having difficulties with this hard-line president? Because by boycotting
the elections, you prevented the sympathetic candidate from gaining
Anton Balasingham: We are prepared to deal with the hard-liners,
rather than with the soft-liners who promise certain things and never
fulfil anything. So, let us take up this challenge and negotiate with the
hard-liners and see how far they will tackle the problem.
Our concern is to impress upon the international community that the
real problem, the real impediment to the resolution of the Tamil
problem are the Sinhalese hard-liners.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: So, how can the international community put
pressure on this government?
Anton Balasingham: I think the international community can assert
tremendous influence on the Sri Lankan political system, because the
Sri Lankan government is totally depending on the foreign aid that is
given by the aid-giving countries.
So, these co-chairs of the aid-giving countries of the international
community can exert enough pressure on Sri Lankan political leaders
to offer something reasonable, something fair to the Tamil people like
this, at these last stages.
Helen Vatsikopoulos: Dr Anton Balasingham, thank you.
Anton Balasingham: Thank you very much.
[Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview]