Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Iyer's interview with renegade LTTE commander Col Karuna

In Lanka, it's Tiger vs Tiger

Looks like one Tiger is set to tame another!Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, better known by the nom de guerre of "Col Karuna", raised the banner of revolt against the Tiger chieftain, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in March 2004.But the revolt collapsed like a house of cards in mid April. Karuna disbanded his 4,000-men well-equipped army, and left for the "safety" of the Sinhala-dominated south Sri Lanka, which ironically, he had been fighting tooth and nail since 1983.Karuna joined the Tiger outfit in 1983 and, within a few years, became the top commander of his native district of Batticaloa-Amparai, and went on to win many battles for the LTTE.The man, who used to be Prabhakaran's right hand, has now taken a U-turn and entered mainstream democratic politics with the formation of a political party "Tamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalai Puligal". In an exclusive, written interview to Meenakshi Iyer of HindustanTimes, the Makkal Viduthalai Puli or the Peoples' Liberation Tiger, reveals his perceptions on a variety of issues, including the debacle in March-April last year, the LTTE led by Prabhakaran, the political future of the Tamils, and what he would like India to do in the island's peace process.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. It has been a year since you broke away from your parent group, LTTE. Now, what are your thoughts on the decision you made at that point of time? Do you still believe it was the correct decision? Or do you think you should have done something different?

A. I still feel that I had taken the correct decision. Maybe the timing was wrong. However, I had no option because knowing Prabhakaran, I had to act quickly.

Q. Given your military experience, brilliant performance in the past and your military strength (4,000 cadres) people thought you will stand up and fight Prabhakaran. But you did not, and left the field. Why did you do that? What were the problems you were facing at that time?

A. With that strength and support I had no difficulty in accepting the challenge of Prabhakaran. With a little planning I could have eradicated his group. But that was not my aim.First of all I did not want to upset or disturb the peace process and get blamed. With the Government forces fully backing him as provided in the ceasefire agreement, he was in a very advantageous position.I could not have confronted Prabhakaran's clique on one side and Government forces on the other. I also got disappointed with the forces taking his side without remaining neutral.I had no other way of saving the lives of my followers from a ruthless group. So I called off and disbanded my group.

Q. It is well known that Prabhakaran's group was in touch with your followers and that was how, many rejoined him. Has he tried to get in touch with you recently? In other words, are there any chances of a patch up?

A. I do not agree that Prabhakaran's group had contact with my group. It is equally wrong to say that many of my followers had rejoined them. My followers knew fully well as to how Prabhakaran would treat those who rejoin them.Since I have to safeguard my followers…I do not wish to give details as to what happened to some who joined him. He neither got in touch with me nor I have any intention of patching up with him.

Q. You said you had formed a political party. But it does not seem to be active. It was not active even during the tsunami disaster? Why?

A. Yes I have formed a political party. Unfortunately it is not yet registered. The delay is due to the pending of election of local bodies in the North and East, which is getting postponed every six months for the last two or three years.While election is pending, no new political party can be registered according to the elections ordinance. Our party workers had been fully involved in tsunami relief work. Relief work is hindered due to the insistence of the LTTE to have all relief work and aid be directed through their organisation called the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, which had collected several millions in foreign currency all over the world.

Q. Lanka's Hindu Affairs Minister Douglas Devananda says that he invited you to join him and launch a joint democratic political movement against war, terrorism and separatism, but you did not accept the offer and opted for the military path and linked with the ENDLF (Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front). Was this a correct decision? If so, why did you choose the military path and not the political path?

A. I do not have any difference of opinion with Douglas. Since he holds a cabinet portfolio in the present government, I do not want to be openly identified with him.That is all. As for the ENDLF, it gave up arms with the Indo-Sri Lanka accord and contested the provincial council election in 1988 and parliamentary elections in 1989.They had members both in the provincial council and parliament. The deputy secretary of the ENDLF P Rajaratnam was abducted by the LTTE and is still missing. He was the minister for rehabilitation of the North East provincial council till the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka due to the harassment of the government of R Premadasa backed by the LTTE in 1990. We have correctly chosen the democratic political path like ENDLF and not the military path.

Q What is the current situation in the LTTE? Is there any disunity and groupism there? Why is Soosai (The LTTE Navy chief) so important now? What is the position of Ramesh (former Batticaloa commander) and Paduman (former Trincomalee commander)?

A. There are a lot of dissenting elements in Prabhakaran's group now. Some second rankers and many of their cadres had left the movement and gone abroad.During the first few days of the tsunami, the statements and counter statements of sea Tiger Soosai and SP Tamilselvan (LTTE's commissar) appeared very obvious. Undoubtedly there is struggle for power between these two. As regards Ramesh and Paduman, the fact that they had been stripped off the uniforms clearly explains their present position.

Q. How are the people of Batticaloa and Amparai seeing their new LTTE bosses Banu and Marshall? Generally how do the people see the LTTE rule there?

A. Both Banu and Marshall do not command the respect of the people of Batticaloa and Amparai. The people are laughing at the so called freedom fighters getting helicopter lifts from the armed forces whom they were killing at random until the Ceasefire agreement was signed.The helicopter lifts are given to Prabhakaran's clique at their request for fear of my followers.This is the first time in the history of any freedom movement the freedom fighters are getting frequent airlifts from the very same forces they were fighting and blaming them when some one of their cadres is killed accusing them of conniving with my followers.

Q. What are your chances of establishing yourself again in Batticaloa and Amparai?

A. We are already in the process of establishing ourselves and will very soon extend our activities to other areas, both in the North and East without confining ourselves to Batticaloa and Amparai alone.

Q. Do you seriously think that the eastern Tamils can be divided from those of the North? Is the Pradesa Vaadam (regionalism) good for the Tamil struggle for liberation? Will the Sinhala majority not exploit it to suppress the Tamils?

A. We do not believe in promoting regionalism. It was under my command with cadre from the Eastern command Jaffna and Elephant Pass were captured. Regionalism was actually raised by them and the blame was put on us to discredit us. Of course the Sinhalese chauvinist will rejoice at our inner fighting on regional basis. I do not think the moderate Sinhalese will try to exploit on this issue.

Q. Reggie, your brother, was killed by Prabhakaran's group and your group killed LTTE's Kousalyan. When can one expect the cycle of killings to stop?

A. Killing of my brother Reggie and that of Kousalyan have no connection to each other. These killings took place at different intervals. You will agree that it is the LTTE, which is on a killing spree. Since the ceasefire agreement was signed, the LTTE had killed more than 150 of our cadre and also over 250 others from other groups and the intelligence division of the Sri Lankan Army. Prabhakarans' group adopt all sorts of mean ways of killing our people. However, if they stop killing our people, we will also stop taking retaliatory action. We don't kill unnecessarily.

Q. Where do you think Lankan peace is heading? Do you think LTTE will get the Tamils their rights?
A. The LTTE is taking everyone, especially the international community for a ride. Their demand for the setting up of an Interim Self-Governing Authority as a precondition for talks is unreasonable and will never be conceded by any government. Their problem should have been resolved in 1987 when the Indo-Sri Lanka accord was signed. Both the India and the Sri Lankan government offered an Interim Administration to the LTTE, which they accepted and later rejected on flimsy grounds. I am convinced, based on the way they approach our problem, they will never allow the problem also to be solved.

Q: What is your strategy for the upliftment of Tamils?

A: The first thing I did was to breakaway from Prabhakaran and to expose him. I will take steps to further weaken him till he comes down and agree for a proposal acceptable to us and to the international community.

Q: Do you think that a separate Tamil Eelam is essential for the survival of Tamils in Sri Lanka as a respectable group? Are you hopeful of getting autonomy?

A: At one stage we thought that separate Tamil Eelam would be the only way for the Tamils to live with dignity and respect. Years back it was achievable also.Prabhakaran by his foolish acts made it impossible and we are now back to square one. With the interest of the international community focussed on Sri Lanka getting regional autonomy is possible.If the Singhalas do not concede this they are again making a mistake and will earn the displeasure of the International Community.

Q: What is your strategy towards LTTE/Prabhakaran?

A: I do not want to reply to this question.

Q: All those who rebelled against LTTE, for example, Mahathaiah, were killed. How are you managing to survive? Do you receive threats from the group?

A: I am the one who knows everything about Prabhakaran. I know what he will do when he will do and how he will do. So I am very careful in drawing my programme. I know he is all out for my head but there are no direct threats from him.

Q: What role do you think India and other countries of the world should play to secure peace in Sri Lanka and give the Tamil people a decent democratic solution?

A: I had been always of the view that India should play an important role in finding a lasting solution to our problem. The greatest blunder of Prabhakaran was assassinating the former Prime Minister of India (Rajiv Gandhi) who had gone out of the way to do everything for us.No one can find fault with India's indifferent attitude. However, we know the concerns of India and it is only through India that a solution will be found. When India declares its intention of getting involved every country will give its full backing to India.India a multi-ethnic country has satisfactorily solved the problems of its minorities. The Indian experience will go a long way to help solve our problems. Added to their experience the support of the International community will further facilitate to solve our problem.Therefore, India must get involved in the Sri Lankan Peace Process. It is high time now Norway to give way for India. The LTTE had by their attitude caused enough embarrassment to the Norwegians and had created an impression that Norway is acting partially.
(Written for Hindustan Times on February 24, 2005)

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