A lot of people have been telling me, ‘Please ask the government to liberate us’– Anandasangareee

Courtesy The Island 11-08-2007

Q. We have come to a certain juncture as regards the LTTE problem. The east is under control and steps are being taken to bring things back to normal. How would you see the latest developments that have taken place?

A. As I see it, it is now proved beyond any doubt that the LTTE will never listen to anybody and come to any understanding with the government. That is one side of it. If due to pressure from the international community and global NGOs, the government starts talking to the LTTE, what will happen to the people who are living under their subjugation? I have been repeatedly telling the international community that they have to see what is really happening in the LTTE held areas.

Yesterday, I read a Reuters report which stated that Tamilchelvan had said that it is the duty of every family to give one person for their fighting cadres. He had admitted that there are up to three members from some families and that he would like to see this reduced to just one. That is all nonsense, the LTTE is taking everyone they can. During my last visit to Europe, a number of people from Kilinochchi came and visited me.

One person gave me a letter written to him by his sister which said that forty LTTE cadres had come in three vehicles and they had insisted that the family give their daughter who is over eighteen to the LTTE. The mother had argued with them for over three hours but they had insisted on taking her. Finally, they agreed to give the son because she did not want to part with her daughter - the daughter had to be safeguarded and she thought the boy can somehow or other make an attempt to escape.

They had got two days from the LTTE to surrender the boy. The boy who was a minor, had gone with great reluctance, with tears in his eyes. This is happening in almost every home. So I ask, what is the use in talking to the LTTE? If you talk to the LTTE and come to some understanding with them, what is going to be implemented is only what the LTTE agrees to. They are certainly not going to set these people free. Despite all the pressure from the international community, the LTTE continues to do what they are doing. So the question arises, what next? I have a suggestion. The government must come out with a set of proposals which should be acceptable to the international community.

Countries like India, Canada and some countries in the European Union which has experience with federal systems of government can help the Sri Lankan government in this. If a panel of experts from these countries study the proposals put forward by the government and say that they are satisfied, I am prepared to tell the people to accept it. People are desperate for a solution. If the international community says that they are satisfied with a set of proposals put forward by the government, then we will have no difficulty in persuading the people to accept it. Today, the LTTE keeps on saying that they are fighting for liberation.

What is the liberation that they are fighting for? Everyday, five to ten innocent people are getting killed. Some days ago, twelve army personnel were killed in Chettikulam along with about seven civilians. The LTTE says that the civilians were killed by the army in retaliation. But on whom does the responsibility finally devolve? It is not fair on their part to plant a claymore mine in a crowded place.

The army is also made up of human beings. They are not Mahatma Gandhis. The moment they see ten, twelve of their comrades dead, what will they do? I am not trying to justify retaliatory killings. This was one rare incident. But in many other incidents, civilians have been killed in LTTE attacks. For example, in Chundikuli, - a place where a lot of people assemble, near the kachcheri - there was a claymore mine blast and only one small child died and twelve service personnel and three civilians were injured. The LTTE has carried out such attacks near the Jaffna teaching hospital and at marketplaces, where thousands of people assemble. The LTTE should not be allowed to hold a country to ransom.

For the last fifteen to twenty years people have lost their independence. I too have lost everything, my lifetime’s collection of memorabilia, furniture, books etcetera. I left home with just my Law College certificate. I lost six members of my family, five in Sri Lanka and one in London. Three of them are my brothers, the others are my nephews. My youngest brother had seven children. Now that family is completely destroyed. The father was killed, and two sons were killed and now the rest are living like paupers. The LTTE is not looking after them. Everyday, there are abductions taking place, killings taking place, no one is worried about it. The whole world talks about conscription, but nothing has happened.

Q. In the 1980s, all those who joined the various Tamil militant movements did so voluntarily. Conscription was unheard of. The first time that I heard of conscription was in 1989 when the EPRLF tried to set up the Tamil National Army in a matter of weeks. But even then all members of the EPRLF proper, were volunteers. This forced conscription is a new phenomenon – the most significant fact being that the government has not had to resort to conscription but the LTTE has been forced to do so.

A. In the past, the boys joined the various groups for a thrill. I know of instances where boys who left home to sit O/L or A/L examination paper, have run away from home. They joined then out of curiosity and for a thrill because the armed struggle was something new. Those chaps are now 40 to 50 years old.

The new generation is different. I left Kilinochchi in 1983. Boys who had not been born at that time, are now being recruited by the LTTE. They have experienced life under the LTTE at first hand. They have seen how they are treated and how their parents are treated. They have seen how their parents are taken into custody by the LTTE and tortured for various reasons, and how some parents never returned alive. If someone says anything in favour of the government, they are tortured. One form or torture is to put a person into a cage with spikes inside.

Another form of torture is to put a person in a dark room with several serpents. People have written to me saying, "Please liberate us". Would you believe that some people have told me to ask the government to send the army? Some people say that the government is fighting the Tamils. The government is not fighting the Tamils. The government has a moral duty to liberate the Tamils who are living under the subjugation of such heartless brutes. I am not blaming the government for not going into the north because the area is heavily land mined. I know what happened after the four month unilateral declaration of hostilities by the LTTE.

The first day the army walked in, there were five hundred casualties. I am happy that the eastern province has been liberated. A lot of people had been telling me, "Please ask the government to liberate us". When I wrote to the Secretary general of the United nations, the word I used was ‘friendly army’ because there is this perception that the army tends to fire indiscriminately in the heat of the moment, even though they may regret it later. What they want is an army that will not harm civilians and cause damage to property. I am surprised to see that some political parties still do not realise the seriousness of the situation.

The Sinhala community has a moral duty to save their Tamil brethren. We are being tortured. I will give you one example, one day soon after the 1958 riots, I was returning to Colombo by taxi after attending a funeral. This was just two or three days after the riots. On the way, near Wennappuwa, the car met with an accident where a Tamil man (a toddy tapper) was run over, breaking his leg. The entire village got together and assaulted the Sinhala driver even though they knew very well that the injured person was a Tamil. So the Sinhalese people are not cruel. The people expect that whoever comes to liberate them should be fair by the civilians. Some one may ask what happens if the talks between the government and the LTTE never take place? I have a statement issued by Geoffrey Van Orden the European Union parliamentarian. I will just read out two paragraphs from it.

"The EU’s ban on the Tamil Tigers could, if implemented properly severely cramp the group’s operations. The Tigers are estimated to receive as much as 90% of their war budget from the Tamil Diaspora – 800,000 – worldwide who are intimidated and extorted on behalf of their terrorist brethren. The Tamil community in Europe and elsewhere would like nothing better than to get the Tigers off its back."

"The EU and other bans have to be backed by tough measures, including a properly enforced travel ban to restrict movement of political activists, recruiters and couriers and repatriation of those suspected of involvement in terrorist support activities. Seizure of key assets such as the Tiger’s commercial shipping fleet – comprising a dozen ships under flags of convenience, engaged in gun running, drug smuggling, and ‘legitimate’ commerce – would have a crippling effect. The Tamil Tiger’s international secretariat in Paris should be shut down. Identifying and freezing bank accounts, closing companies or undertakings associated with the Tigers are all essential moves."

This is the best way of dealing with this problem. The moment LTTE cadres are deported from one country, that will be a lesson to others. I am totally in disagreement with anyone who still thinks that talks should take place with the LTTE.

Q. You have been lobbying the diplomatic community in Colombo and the international community to this effect for quite some time now. What is the effect your views have been having on them?

A. I have never met anyone in the diplomatic community or the international community who disagrees with my proposals. Our people have been so afraid of the term ‘federal’ because of its association with the Federal Party and the feeling that federalism is a step towards the division of the country. I can’t blame the people of the country for that. Engraved in their hearts is the feeling that federalism means separation. That is why I am suggesting the Indian model. But federalism is the only solution to prevent the division of the country. That is my view. They should have very hash measures embodied in the constitution against those who want a separation of the country, and have a federal solution.

Q I think the proposals that you are putting forward are extremely reasonable. But there is a problem like this – I don’t think the international community and the diplomatic corps in Colombo quite appreciate the problem. The LTTE is armed. They have the power of the gun, which means, today, they go and shoot Neelan Tiruchelvam. Then the entire western world protests including the American president and the Harvard alumni. But one week later, the LTTE announces that they are ready for peace talks. Then the international community forgets that Neelan Tiruchelvam was killed and the LTTE becomes their darling once again. That is the dynamic that has been working here. How are people like you, who don’t have the gun, who don’t have suicide bombers going to overcome that?

A. I am now more than seventy five years old, so I am prepared to die. The LTTE is armed, therefore we have to talk to them.

Q. That is the logic that the international community also uses. Because they are armed and because they have the capacity to do violence, whatever criminal activity that they may do has to be disregarded. So we see that terror has provided dividends. The more ruthless you are, the more intransigent you are, the bigger the audience you have.

A. The audience is not genuine. If an alternative can be found, the people can be persuaded to give up the LTTE. You see the LTTE says they are fighting for the people’s rights. But if the people are satisfied with another solution, then half the problem is solved.

Q. If the people of that area are unable to prevent the LTTE from taking their sons and daughters – they want to keep their sons and daughters at home but they can’t, if the Tamil people have no control over that, how can they be expected to have control over something like the form of government they would like to be under? If they can’t decide even over the future of their children, then how can they be expected to decide whether they want the LTTE to rule over them or not?

A. If talks are held and a solution is arrived at, the LTTE will become the legitimate governing party. The people are not going to be benefited – they go through the same hardships. Although some people say that the LTTE will be different when in power, they are people who are used to shedding human blood. For anything, they will take up arms. Whatever happens, the cause of the ordinary man is more important than that of the LTTE. We are trying to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table only to stop the fighting. But why are they fighting? They say they are fighting for a cause. If the cause is fulfilled by some other means, then they will lose support.

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