Interview with Anton
By Lasantha Wickrematunge in Geneva
Government accepts CFA in toto and
agrees to disarm paramilitary groups – Bala
LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham in an
interview with The Sunday Leader at the conclusion of
the Geneva talks, explained the circumstances in which
the talks were held, the issues discussed and the way
forward for the parties.
Following are excerpts:
Q: Could you first of all tell us your assessment of the
talks after two days of deliberations?
A: Even though talks ended on a positive note it has been a
very tough, difficult dialogue I should say frankly because
the government came with a different agenda.
The LTTE from the very start, from the day Mr. Erik Solheim
met Mr. Pirapaharan, we were making statements that the
agenda for talks will be the effective or rather the smooth
implementation of the terms and conditions of the Cease
Fire Agreement. But we were disappointed to note from what
Norway came and told us that the government had ideas of
coming out with certain amendments and with the aim of
revising the entire document.
Then I insisted we will not discuss anything about revision or
reworking of the cease fire document because our agenda
is that we should stick to the letter and spirit of the
agreement and only see how we could implement the terms
and conditions of the Cease Fire Agreement.
So with all that when the peace talks started I made my initial
opening address with the purpose of articulating our point of
view. Our objective in coming for the talks as you would
have observed from my address was that the talks should
be confined to the implementation of the Cease Fire
Q: As you point out in the first paragraph of your
opening statement itself you said the most important
achievement of the Norwegian facilitation of the
peace process has been the signing of the Cease
Fire Agreement between the government and the
LTTE. You also said the CFA was not finalised in haste
to the advantage of one party as argued by some
critics but to be the foundation on which the peace
process can be built. Was that the position you
maintained right throughout the deliberations?
A: Exactly. Absolutely. I’m also one of the architects of the
CFA document and we spent months. Specific attention was
given to each clause and both the parties were consulted
with our military experts and Mr. Pirapaharan and from the
government side Ranil Wickremesinghe was also informed
of the various terms, conditions, obligations and finally both
the parties agreed and both parties signed the ceasefire
So it was not worked out in haste to the advantage of one
party. Both parties were given quite a lot of time to work out
various formations. So what happened after my initial
opening speech, I was disappointed to note chief negotiator
of the government side, Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva, insisting
there were serious flaws in the CFA and that there should
be amendments, revisions and it had to be reworked.
Q: Mr. De Silva said in his opening statement that the
CFA in its present form, signed by Ranil
Wickremesinghe and Velupillai Pirapaharan was
unconstitutional, and against the laws of Sri Lanka. Is
that the position he maintained during the two days of
A: Not two days. Later on they had to give it up. After the
first day, their legal expert, H. L. de Silva, he came out with
the proposition that certain clauses in the ceasefire
document contravened the constitution and that it was not
endorsed by the President who had executive authority, so
on and so forth. I challenged their contention saying that it
was signed by both the parties with international assistance.
It was not the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka only
who were involved. The Norwegian government was also
involved in this agreement and also five Nordic countries. So
it was an international agreement and also we know that it is
determined by the Supreme Court in the P-TOMS case
where the Supreme Court ruled the CFA did not contravene
the constitution, therefore we argued and said it is not a
question of legal or constitutional validity of the document
that is in question.
We have come here with the objective of analysing and
arguing that each term, condition and obligation must be
implemented and I read out what the main clauses that the
government of Sri Lanka has failed to implement.
Q: But wouldn’t you say the government also had a
moral obligation to seek a revision because President
Rajapakse had signed an agreement with the JVP
wherein he said there were clauses in the CFA, which
were not only unconstitutional but also leading to
separation and compromising national security. He
pledged to redo and revise the CFA. Did you
therefore expect the government to sit and discuss
the implementation of an agreement, which it claimed
was unconstitutional and paved the way for
A: We are fully aware of Mahinda Rajapakse’s manifesto, his
position with regard to the CFA, and we know that the
government delegation brought a team of legal experts to
question the legal and constitutional validity of the CFA. But
we took up the position and argued there with the Sri
Lankan delegation and Norwegians that the LTTE will not
discuss any issues pertaining to the revision or the
rewording of the agreement. That is not the mandate given
to me by Pirapaharan, I said.
In front of me Pirapaharan told Erik Solheim that the LTTE
will only participate in the peace negotiations to fully and
effectively implement the clauses and terms of the ceasefire
So I told the delegation that I have come with a specific
mandate from Mr. Pirapaharan to only talk about the
implementation of the CFA. I said we will walk out if anybody
raises anything or starts discussing constitutional or legal
problems pertaining to this document.
I said the moment you claim the CFA is incorrect, then you
are coming out of the CFA. That means you are giving two
weeks notice for the resumption of hostilities. You better
think very carefully, I said. So they kept quiet. Then after
that they have been discussing among them and the
Norwegians also. Erik Solheim openly said that the agenda
for the talks according to Mr. Pirapaharan is to discuss the
implementation of the CFA and not about changing the
structure or coming out with amendments, so they kept
quiet. They agreed.
Matters pertaining to implementation were taken up on the
second day. The most contentious issue that was discussed
on the second day was the disarming of the paramilitary
groups. I took up Clause 1.8 of the CFA.
Q: Does that mean even when the next round of talks
comes in April or even thereafter that the issue of
amending, revising or rewording the CFA will not
arise? That it is now only the implementation of the
CFA that will be discussed? That the government has
accepted the CFA?
A: Of course, the government has openly issued a joint
statement reaffirming its commitment to the CFA. What does
that mean? That they have accepted the meaning and
content of this document.
Q: Are you saying then in the future the issue of
bringing any amendment to the CFA is shut out for
A: That is absolutely correct. I can assure you the LTTE will
not permit even in the future any suggestions for
amendments or rewording of the CFA.
Q: Are you saying the understanding at the end of the
two days of talks is that the government of Sri Lanka
and that of President Mahinda Rajapakse have in fact
accepted this CFA, every word, every comma, every
Q: You were talking about the paramilitary issues…
A: That is very important. There when we raise the issue of
paramilitaries, it is very clearly stated in Clause 1.8 that
Tamil armed paramilitaries will be disarmed by the
government of Sri Lanka and should be offered the
opportunity of being fully integrated with the Sri Lanka
military structure if they want to. That matter was taken up
and I argued at length the violence cause by the
We also provided the government with ample information,
documents stating the entire paramilitary groups, how they
operate, the location of their camps, the commanding
officers of the various districts, how they are working in
collusion with the Sri Lankan armed forced and particularly
the Sri Lanka military intelligence.
Q: Did the government team dispute those charges?
A: Wait. We have given documentary proof. Of course the
government says no. Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva said, ‘I wish
to dispute the arguments and say there is no connection
between the Sri Lanka military and the paramilitaries.’ We
know they will say that but I insisted there is a connection.
Mr. H.L. De Silva said the concept of paramilitaries does not
apply because it entails, he said, quoting me regarding the
definition I tabled of paramilitaries, that is paramilitary
groups are ancillary forces who work in collusion with the
regular forces. So we said these armed groups are working
with the army and since they are working with the army
under the control of the army, they are being supported and
sustained and given sanction by the armed forces. They are
undeniably paramilitary forces. I said, ‘Don’t bring any legal
arguments, Mr. Silva, because this is the ground reality I am
I said, you have no idea what the ground reality is. Because
I have been working with the leaders of these paramilitary
groups for the last 30 years. Some of them were my
disciples. So I know who they are and how they operate and
why they operate.
Then I explained the history of these paramilitaries and how
they originally took up arms for the Tamil cause, how they
joined the IPKF as mercenary groups, then when the Indians
left they joined the so-called democratic mainstream as
political parties and changed their masters. Their masters
are now the Sri Lanka government and military intelligence.
So this is the true history of these people.
The IGP, Chandra Fernando came out with a list of killings
from various times. I told him it is not the question of
individual killings that we are discussing here. It is a
question of an armed conflict coming down for the last 25
years. Of course, the LTTE has killed several soldiers.
There have been communal riots. And the army has killed a
lot of civilians. So if we go through the history of the entire
armed conflict I can say 70,000 Tamils have been killed by
the security forces. We also killed. Our cadres – 20,000 –
were also killed in battle. Therefore I said don’t pick up
individual cases and say Alfred Duraiappah was killed,
Amirthalingam was killed, etc. Then they said okay, that is in
the past but after the CFA we have killed so many people.
Q: Did the government raise the issue of Lakshman
A: Yes. I said the government has no evidence to prove the
LTTE killed him. They say so because everybody thought
Kadirgamar was a target and the LTTE was angry with him.
And it is an assumption. Assumptions cannot be a direct
argument to accuse somebody unless you can prove. ‘Have
you got any proof?’ I asked.
Q: Did the government furnish the proof?
A: No, no. Nothing at all.
Then the question they raised was that recently, in the last
few months there has been intense violence in the north -
east in which 80 or 90 soldiers were killed and civilians were
killed and there were assassinations. Even those killings
cannot be categorised as individual assassinations or
This is a phenomena we call shadow war. A subversive war
because some of these paramilitary groups, particularly the
Karuna group has launched a dirty war in collusion with Sri
Lankan intelligence against the LTTE cadres and we have
listed out the various people who were killed—
Pararajasingham, Nehru, important journalists like Sivaram,
so on and so forth.These are killings done in the context of
a subversive war launched against the LTTE by
So it cannot be categorised as intensified violence but
action against the LTTE
Q: You stated that the LTTE conceded to the
government the non inclusion of the word
‘paramilitary’ in the joint statement. Were you really
being magnanimous or as some people describe you
as being a cunning fox got it incorporated through
the play of words and trapped the government into
accepting the disbanding of paramilitary groups
through the joint statement
A: Yes, there is no need to use the concept of paramilitary if
you study the text of the joint statement because it
specifically states that in accordance with the ceasefire
agreement, that these armed groups will not be able to
function.When we say in accordance with the CFA, there is
a specific clause which is 1.8, which says these armed
groups are none other than the paramilitaries. So the
paramilitaries are specifically included in an undefined form.
Q: In the joint statement it says the government is
committed to take all necessary measures in
accordance with the CFA to ensure no armed groups
other than the security forces will conduct armed
operations or carry arms. Now the government in the
same statement says it is committed to upholding the
CFA. Now the moment you commit the government to
upholding the CFA, Article 1.8 comes into play. Are
you now expecting the government on the strength of
the joint statement to disband all paramilitary groups
A: Of course they should because they are bound by this
statement.And also by the obligations of the CFA they have
to disarm the para military groups.We have also requested
the government that if our political cadres are to go back to
Batticaloa and Jaffna this should be done.You know that a
few months back we withdrew our political cadres because
of the violent activities of the paramilitaries.
Now we have told the government, you better start
disarming these groups and put an end to their armed
military operations so that we could send our cadres to the
north and east.We are ready to do that.And if anything
happens to them, it will constitue a very very serious
violation of the joint statement issued by both the parties.
Q: Through this joint statement and the deliberations
over two days, you have placed the government and
President Rajapakse in a very vulnerable situation in
that the President who said the CFA was
unconstitutional and will pave the way for separatism,
has now agreed to uphold and implement it.The
President has thus been put in the position of
intentionally violating Sri Lanka’s constitution which is
an impeachable offence.Now you have put him into
that position.You have also got him committed to
disbanding the paramilitaries. Now did the
government realise when issuing the joint statement
that they were committing to disbanding the para
militaries and what have you given in return for all
these concessions by the government?
A: I dont want to go into the constitutional complexities
because most probably President Rajapakse would have
made this statement in his manifesto without considering the
serious implications of the CFA. As far as we are concerned
the CFA is signed by two parties, the GOSL and LTTE and
endorsed by international monitors including Norway and
Nordic countries. It is an international instrument. I also told
you we know the Supreme Court has made a ruling that the
CFA does not contravene your constitution. We have no
problem in maintaining our position that the CFA has to be
accepted and implemented without any amendments.
But the problem of Mr. Rajapakse, whether he has made
any mistakes or faces political difficulties or whatever is not
a matter for me to comment.
Q: Once talks on the CFA ends and political issues are
gone into. are you expecting the government to start
from where the talks stalled, that is with the ISGA or
would you expect a fresh approach given the
President’s position the ISGA will not be a basis for
A: Because we are going to talk about various other
obligations under the CFA. Only we discussed in detail two
issues, about under aged recruitment and the disarming of
the paramilitaries. We have given an undertaking of putting
an end to recruitment of underage children. Secondly so
has the paramilitaries.There is a two month space for it.We
have to see whether the government is going to disarm
these groups.And if they are disarmed and made
disfunctional and their operations halted then we will send
our political cadres into Jaffna and Batticaloa. That is one
Second time we are going to take up the issue of High
Security Zones.It is a very sensitive and critical issue
because it is concerning the security of your country and
your military in the north-east and as far as we are
concerned it is a fundamentally humanitarian problem.
Thousands and thousands of people are thrown out of their
houses, their villages,from their farm lands and languishing
in refugee camps. So this is a very very important problem.
For the last 10-15 years people are suffering
Time has come for the government to take some action
because we will definitely come out with some proposals for
the government. We are not asking the government to
withdraw its troops from the north-east.At least there must
be some relocation of these camps to enable and facilitate
these people to go back.There are other issues such as
fishing restrictions.Next time also there will be critical issues
not implemented by the government.We will take it up.
Political issues will come only when there is a total de-
escalation and normalisation of civilian life in the north and
That has being our stand for the last so many decades.
Even with Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe we insisted on fulfilling
the existential problems of our people. Day to day problems.
Here we are going to insist on de-escalation and
normalisation of civilian life as a necessary condition to
move towards the next stage which is the political discussion.
Even when we go to the political discussion, Mr. Rajapakse
will have difficulties because there is a difference. Both the
parties are living in different ideological universes.They
conform to what is called the Mahinda Chintana but we go
by Pirapaharan’s vision. So these are two different
universes with a wide gulf between them. He is insisting on a
unitary structure and we are fighting for a regional
autonomy with self government in our own homeland. To
bridge these two conflictual and controversial positions at
the negotiating table is not going to be a simple matter. It is
going to be a very very difficult task. Let us see. [SundayLeader]