Tigers will not stop killings, says EPDP leader
By Chandani Kirinde
EPDP leader Douglas Devananda says the LTTE killings of political opponents and military opponents will continue because it was part of its survival strategy. In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Devananda says the LTTE cannot be trusted as a peace partner and it will keep on putting forward demands after demands at the negotiating table. Excerpts from the interview:

What is your view on the recent killings of military intelligence men and EPDP members by suspected LTTE squads?
For those who know the LTTE and its character well, this is nothing unusual. Looking at the LTTE's past record, these are not things that have cropped up suddenly. Such killings have been carried out right from the beginning.

I would like to cite an incident that took place during the Bangalore talks in 1987. This was a conversation between Anton Balasingham and Thileepan (an LTTE cadre who later fasted to death). I was in the EPRLF at that time and our leaders were in Chennai. We had a wireless set that was used to communicate with our cadres and intercept and monitor conversations of rival groups. We overheard the Balasingham-Thileepan conversation. Balasingham was in Chennai at that time and Thileepan was in Jaffna. Thileepan asked Balasingham, "Are we going for talks?" and the latter replied in the affirmative.

Then Thileepan asked, "What are we going to tell the people? We have been fighting for a separate state which can be achieved only through war. In reply, Balasingham said the LTTE was making certain demands. When Thileepan asked what would happen if the Sinhala government granted all those demands, Balasingham said then he would put forward another demand. This is the thinking behind the LTTE. They will start by saying "Our doors are open for unconditional talks" and keep making fresh conditions until the talks are disrupted.

So the killings are set to continue?
Yes. There is a saying that a tiger will never change its stripes. The killings will continue. This is the only way it thinks it can survive. The Tigers are looking at their military interests, not the interest of the people. They know, these intelligence men are a threat to their survival. Hence their elimination.

Do you think the government has taken adequate steps to stop the killings?
From the beginning the government has tried its level best to continue with the peace process. But I don't think the LTTE is pursuing the peace process with a similar commitment. If it was one or two killings, the government can turn a blind eye but now it is time for the government to crack the whip.

Your cadres were asked to surrender their weapons after the ceasefire agreement was signed. Are you asking for the return of these weapons in the wake of the recent killings?
The ceasefire agreement has classified us as a paramilitary group. We don't agree with this definition. We are a political party with a sizable following. Our members have been elected to Parliament in three consecutive elections since 1994. We also control several local bodies in the North.

Those weapons were given to us for our protection. When we surrendered them, we asked for adequate police protection but we are not satisfied with the protection given to us as a number of our members have been abducted and within the last two weeks four of our members have been killed, two of whom were Pradeshiya Sabha chairmen. We have requested the government to either protect us or give back our weapons.

What about the threat to your life? Is it still there?
As long as I am alive or Prabhakaran is alive, there won't be any change.

Do you think the LTTE is genuine about finding a negotiated settlement to the ethnic problem?
No. The LTTE will stay in this process as long as the international pressure is on it. This is not the first time it has come for talks. And every time its pattern of disrupting the peace process has been almost the same.

l Are you saying there is no marked shift in the LTTE's position from the position they held during the previous peace talks?
If the purpose of the peace talks is to find a lasting and just solution to the ethnic problem, the LTTE should start discussing the solution to the problem. But so far, discussions on the basic issues have not taken place though the two sides had six sessions of talks. The Tigers’ strategy at the peace talks has been creating a problem and discussing the new problem, while the core issues are shelved.

Why is the LTTE doing this?
Prabhakaran never consults anyone about his approaches because he is a dictator. The LTTE was forced into talks because of international pressure, the pressure from the local Tamil populace and the success of the Deep Penetration Forces. Prabhakaran's real problem is that he cannot survive in a democratic setup. So he wants a piece of land to rule as a dictator. Until then he will continue. He will continue till he dies. If he is genuine he could have solved this problem overnight. There is support from the international community and the ruling party as well as the PA to find a negotiated settlement. So there is no obstacle to this.

They talk about restoring normalcy. Who is disturbing the normalcy? Not the government. Since the ceasefire agreement was signed, the LTTE's coffers have been swelling with the monthly collection from extortion and ransom reaching Rs. 200 million. So what are they doing with this money? Are they building public toilets, are they building roads? They are using the money for destructive purposes, not for reconstruction of the North and East.

Are you saying the LTTE is using the talks to buy time?
The LTTE has used the past ceasefire periods as a breather to strengthen its military power. There is no genuine attempt on its part to find a political solution. In the East, even today, the LTTE is forcing every family to give a child to the LTTE and a number of families have left their homes because of this forcible conscription.

l Should your party have a role to play in the peace talks?
Certainly yes, when the devolution of power is discussed. The war is between the LTTE and the government; they must sort that out first. Not only us, but also all other parties to this conflict must be there at the peace talks. The PA must also be represented as well as all Muslim parties.

You have said the LTTE is losing support among the Tamils? How did you come to this conclusion?
According to my calculations, 80 per cent of the Tamil people dislike the LTTE. But they are scared, as the LTTE has terrorized them. That's why they are keeping quiet. After the ceasefire agreement was signed, the LTTE came into Jaffna and organized a welcome tamasha for its cadres and gathered about 15,000 people. Subsequently for the Pongu Thamil celebrations in Jaffna they mustered around 10,000.This number fell to around 3,000 when they organized a protest march after the courts passed a 200-year life sentence on Prabhakaran.

Majority of those who took part in these protests were school children. For May Day, the LTTE together with the TNA (We call them the Tiger Nominated Agents) had hoped to mobilize 200,000 people and declare the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils. But all they could gather was less than 2,000 people. This shows the people are not happy with the LTTE.

Are you optimistic about the future of the peace process?
It is difficult to be optimistic. We need peace but with the LTTE we don't think it is possible. We have serious doubts about its credentials as a peace partner.

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