TamilWeek Mar 19, 2006
"It's obvious the LTTE is preparing for war"-
Ponnambalam Jnr.

Q: Is the LTTE preparing for war?

A: That is pretty obvious. There had been no meaningful effort made
on humanitarian grounds, to make a conflict sensitive approach
towards the issues of the civilians over the last 4 years. There has
been instead a systematic effort by the Sri Lankan armed forces and
the government to undermine the LTTE by using paramilitary groups.
Under these circumstances, unless the agreement reached on the
issue of the paramilitary at the Geneva talks are upheld, I think the
LTTE would feel that the peace process has failed to deliver. It would
be unrealistic not to expect LTTE to be prepared. And I have no doubt
the government has been preparing as well.

If there was significant political progress, then the steps taken towards
a military approach by both sides would be minimal. But since that
hasn't happened the chances of the war resuming is very high.

Q: On Wednesday the LTTE issued an ultimatum on the government
on disarming the paramilitary groups. How fair is this in view of the fact
that the government claims it has nothing to do with them?

A: What ever the government says there is a responsibility on the part
of the government to deal with the question of paramilitaries. From a
Tamil point of view the bona fides of the government with respect to
their sincerity and negotiate with good faith comes under question.

When there are paramilitaries working with sections of the government
military forces, the LTTE would have to take that very seriously. For
Tamils the strength of the LTTE has been crucial when it comes to
negotiating, so it is not in our interest either, for the LTTE to be
weakened. The government should come clean on this.

Q: But the government insists that it is not providing any support to
these groups. On what basis are you supporting your allegation?

A: We as MPs working in the NE know what's happening. But apart
from that, the fact that there are well known paramilitary group camps
in the government controlled areas has been exposed. If the
government takes no control, what other conclusion can one draw?
We are not simply saying that the government is turning a blind eye,
but that they are working with them against the LTTE.

Q: But isn't the whole issue of the Karuna faction really the problem of
the LTTE? Why would the government want to sacrifice its forces, to
intervene in what is essentially an internal dispute of the LTTE?

A: This is a question of what the priorities of the government are. If the
state is committed to the peace process, when you have a group
taking hostile action against the LTTE , then the government has to
respond. There is an obligation under the CFA as well. If the
governmentt hadn't given logistical support to these paramilitaries, it
would be justified to say that it was a matter for the LTTE. But the
government is involved with them. So to now say otherwise is just not

Goverment needs to decide whether they want to negotiate in good
faith And if they don't then they must be prepared to accept the
consequences. That is the message the LTTE is giving. If the state
doesn't deal with them, the LTTE will have to deal with them.

Q: The LTTE on Wednesday rejected the pre-conditions of the gvt. on
opening political offices of the LTTE in government controlled areas,
like using children for political purposes, flying the LTTE flag outside
the compounds of the offices and the presence of an armed forces
personnel in close proximity. How justified is this rejection?

A: I am not aware of these conditions. Generally there is a CFA under
which the LTTE is committed to conduct its political activities. The
answers are in the arrangement itself. If the government is going out
of that then Norway would eventually look at it.

In a backdrop of where we are all talking of the full implementation of
the CFA, and there is certainly no move to amend it, the gvt. must look
at it in that sense. It is important that the new President looks at it in a
way the parties can build confidence. To block political activities of the
LTTE which they are entitled to, is counterproductive. The onus is on
the President, because he's someone who came to power on a hostile
platform where the ethnic issue is concerned.

Q: You speak of a hostile platform on the ethnic issue. But a Centre
for Policy Alternatives last week released a study which found that the
majority of the Sinhala community was with the President on a
negotiated settlement?

A: I'm willing to go along with the findings of the CPA that a significant
portion, if not a vast majority of the people who voted with him want
peace. But what I meant by hostile is the substance of what that
solution is going to be. The President spoke of a unitary state. We are
talking of self determination which is going to take us to a platform of
power sharing which can't be accomodated within a unitary state.
There is a rejection of what was even understood even to a limited
level in Oslo. It was even a rejection of his own party's position since
1994. In that sense he has to do a lot of damage control.

Q: But the UNF gave a Federal option at the last election, which the
LTTE rejected, by preventing voters, a large majority of whom the UNF
is confident would have voted with them.

A: When the TNA called for the people to boycott the elections, we
were convinced that the majority Sinhalese people were not in favour
of the type of policies perceived by the UNF in the last few years. We
felt that the UNF government was being propped up by minority
parties. So if he was to deliver at the very least he had to have the
backing of the Sinhala people. That the Tamil people have been
deprived of voting might be true, but there can be no denying that with
the boycott we have brought out what we consider to be the most
fundamental problem that prevents us from reaching a solution.

Q: Then what was the rationale for the support or the understanding
that seemed to exist between the LTTE and Mr. Wickremesinghe
during that phase of the peace process?

A: There was trust until the Washington conference, and the LTTE
showed tremendous flexibility because of that. But things went haywire
after that.

Q: Are you saying then that the majority Sinhalese are against a
negotiated settlement?

A: No. At worst yes, at best they have not been told the truth. There is
a need for its leadership to come clean with them and de-politicise the

Q: In that context how concerned are you with the role played by the
JVP and JHU in the Rajapaksa goverment. ?

A: Pretty concerned, because both these parties which are extremist
by any stretch of imagination have managed to take the PA completely
on their policy plate. There is no doubt in our mind that the JVP has
chosen the ethnic issue, on which to base its entire political agenda, in
its ascendancy to number one power in the country. The President
needs to distance himself from the agreement with the JVP if he's to
solve the issue.

Q: You call the JVP and JHU extremists. They say the same thing
about the TNA. What is the significant difference between you two?

A: I have no problems with Sinhala nationalism. Its not a bad thing to
be nationalist. But the type that refuses a parallel, one is extremist if
not racist. Tamil nationalism has no problem with Sinhala nationalism
as long as it lets the other exist. But when the state refuses to
recognise our own concerns, we have a problem. We are not saying
the Sinhala people shouldn't have their right to run their own affairs,
that's the difference between us.

Q: In the ultimatum to the gvt. Mr. Balasingham claims that the Tamil
people 'overwhelmingly' mandated the LTTE to represent them in
political discussions. How correct a position is this, given that other
leaders like Douglas Devananda or Anandasangaree were prevented
from even campaigning the election in the NE?

A: Trying to make out that the EPDP and EPRLF as the alternate
leadership is completely unacceptable to us. Those are paramilitary
groups and their primary role is military. We have no problem with
what Anandasangaree has to say, but he was rejected by the people.
That he wasn't allowed to campaign is ludicrous. He went against
policies what the Federal Party has stood for for 50 yrs. How can he
expect to be accepted? There was never a decision taken to prevent
him from campaigning.

Q: You said the EPDP and EPRLF were military groups. So is the

A: Of course. But they are not talking of a credible political force. Not
trying to contest elections.

Q: The allegation is that you are contesting elections for them?

A: The Tamil Congress was the first party to come into politics. The
LTTE was not even thought of then. We have not always been
supportive of the LTTE.

To try and make us out to be mouthpieces of the LTTE, is a denial of
the issue. It is in the interest of the Sri Lankan state to make us out to
be those who follow the LTTE out of fear.

Q: The Tamil community itself is raising allegations against the LTTE
for harassment and intimidation. The recent Human Rights Watch
report is an example of this. How can this be if the LTTE represents
the community?

A: The allegation is on systematic collection of funds. But in these
countries of the West there is ample room for people to make
complaints to the police, but without doing that for HRW to make out
that this is extortion is unbelievable. If the LTTE is as bad as made out
to be it couldn't have survived for 30 years. The Tamil people are
rallying around them.

Q: The LTTE accuses the Muslims of operating a Jihad in the East.
But the Muslim leadership denies it?

A: It’s well known that armed forces have used Muslims. The concern
now is that there are worrying efforts to build a Muslim militia. These
are legitimate concerns.

Q: How fair are the concerns of the JVP in asking for the removal of
the Norwegian facilitators,from the process?

A: The JVP would want that because Norway is the only factor keeping
the process this far. The JVP would want hostilities. But have no
doubt, the day Norway leaves is the day the process breaks.

Q: How sincere is the LTTE really, on peace?

A: Despite all provocations, the fact that it continues to have talks
clearly shows their sincerity. I think we have come to a point where the
status quo can't be maintained. It is a point of make or break. Now we
need to wait. And I don't think there is a long time to wait.
Ponnambalam MP