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Today is Lalith Athulathmudali’s 72nd birth anniversary

‘We must not give up resolve to fight the LTTE’

The Late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, sought to answer some vital questions on the ethnic problem and its roots with facts and figures during his contribution to the debate on the extension of the Emergency on August 23, 1990. Following is an excerpt of his address. He was gunned down three years later.

I want everybody to agree on one thing. In the present struggle, if the LTTE wins it, none of us will be here whether we are Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, Sinhala political parties will be affected, the Muslim political parties will be affected and the Tamil political parties will suffer the worst - they might not exist. Individual Members come - I concede they have a right-and paint great pictures of incidents for which they say the Security Forces are responsible.

This happened at this kovil, this temple and this and that. I am not complaining about their right to come and say these things. The Members of Parliament are entitled to say it. I am only asking this. When you are making such complaints please ask yourself the question, are you helping the LTTE, are you disheartening the Forces for unity? If you are helping the LTTE, do not say it, or say it in such a way that it is not helpful to the LTTE. I am sorry, Sir, that some of the speeches that were made in this House will be used by the LTTE for propaganda against those Forces which are struggling for unity.

What is the LTTE theme song in Madras? That there is genocide against the Tamils. Fortunately the people in Madras are now much wiser about the LTTE. But let us examine factually the genocide story.

Tamils have got killed by various People, various groups and various forces, but if you were to take a count, more Tamils have been killed by the LTTE than by any other militant group or by the Sri Lankan army or by Muslims or by Sinhalese or by the IPKF even.

The LTTE has caused more harm to Tamils than any other force. As Ashraff said, these are facts that the Tamils also must think of. Some Tamils are doing that. There is a book called “The Broken Palmyrah” written by some academics in the University of Jaffna. I do not know whether they will be able to live in Jaffna after that, but they have pointed out that those who started with a cause have transformed themselves into fascists.

We must be very clear about the LTTE. They want three things very clearly. They want a separate State. Your Regional Council, your Provincial Council, your regional autonomy-none of these things will satisfy them.

Those who went to Thimpu realised it. Those who went to Bangalore realised it. Those who had secret negotiations with them realised it. Those who had secret negotiations with them realised it. Those who entertained them at the Hilton Hotel have realised it. It is common. Those who went to talk had sincerity but those to whom they talked were very clear - they want a separate State, they want a military solution. You can talk of political solutions.

We know that. But they want a military solution, and anybody who has got illusions about that, ask the late Sam Tambimuttu, ask Yogeswatan, ask Amirthalingam, ask Dharmalingam, ask Uma Maheswaram, ask Sabarathnam Their lack of reply is the truth of the answer. The third matter is they want the monopoly of power for themselves. There are Tamil Members sitting here. If the LTTE wins they would not be here.

So let us not speak anyway that favours them. Let us eschew them. Whatever you say directly or indirectly, please ask yourself the question does it help the fascists enemies of this country or not? Having said that, I want to say one other thing before I get on to the main point of my speech. As somebody who has held a similar responsibility, I want Members of this House to understand what a difficult task the Ranjan Wijeratne is engaged in. We must not do anything that weakens the resolve of the Armed Forces. Whatever criticisms you have are marginal, but if they fail you are finished.

I do not want to go into the day-to-day issues. What we are talking about is a political solution. So let us talk about a political solution. We cannot meaningfully talk about a political solution in Parliament or in the APC until the Security Forces have restored law and order in the North and the East. In my view they can. But their is no harm talking about a political solution because we are not battling it there.

I think that today there is some hope because at least all the Tamil groups other than the LTTE I believe are sincere in wanting a political solution. Whatever they say, they are not for a separate State.

They want some resolution of the problems. I have been involved in some of these discussions for some time, though not in the recent past.

I have found that one big problem is left. The quantum of devolution is not such a huge problem today. You may be for a Provincial Council or Regional Council-call it by any name. That there ought to be devolution; that minorities who occupy large areas have to be treated in a special way is accepted all over the world. All those who were against devolution are also for some form of devolution.

But the quality, the level of devolution is held up by one fact-by the fact of what to do with the Eastern Province. That is the truth of it. If we do not resolve the problem of the Eastern Province we cannot resolve the problem of the quantum of devolution. If tomorrow the problem of the Eastern Province is resolved, any Government sitting in Colombo would not hesitate too much about giving a great deal of autonomy to the provinces of this country.

So, why is there this problem of the Eastern Province? Because the three communities have different perspectives of what the Eastern Province is. As between the Sinhalese and the Muslims the differences are marginal. As between the Sinhalese and the Tamils the views are different.

The Muslims have their own position, greatly different to what the Tamils say in some aspects and to some extent, in one or two points, the emphasis is different to the way the Sinhalese look at it. That is not such a serious problem.

I have tried to understand the case of each of these groups. Let us look at what the Tamils say. The Tamils say that the North and the East are the traditional homelands of the Tamils, and when they use the term “the North and the East” they are saying, involve the whole of the Northern Province and the whole of the Eastern Province.

They claim that the North and the East are traditional Tamil homelands based on Cleghorns minute of 1st June 1799. Cleghorn wrote some crazy stuff. He said in one sentence, “North and East means from Chilaw, from the Deduru Oya northwards coming down to the Walawe.” That was not the only crazy thing he said. He also said that the Sinhalese came from Siam.

If you read the next sentence in Cleghorn’s minute, which I have gone through, he said that the Sinhalese came from Siam. He confused religion with ethnicity. But it does not matter. He said the “North and the East” but could never have meant the Northern and Eastern Provinces because the Eastern Province was created 35 years after the Cleghorn minute.

That confusion has gone through the Federal Party Declaration of 1949; it is there in the Bandaranaike - Chelvanakam pact; it is there in the Vaddukkoddai Resolution; and it is there in the propaganda of the LTTE. The Accord is a little more mixed. They say “together with the other communities.”I am going to table some documents which you can examine.

For the Tamils, there is another problem. They say, “The Eastern Province is also our traditional homeland and you came and planted some Sinhalese there and therefore our political representation was affected. Now, these are two separate questions. Their political representation was affected and that is a problem which we have to address our minds to and resolve.

But to jump from that and to say, “You colonised Sinhalese people on Tamil traditional land”, is factually and largely untrue.

Treat them equally. They are all our citizens. We cannot solve this problem without satisfying the Sinhalese, the Muslim and the Tamils of the East. Please understand that. All I can say is, they are all saying yes, but the whole morning and the afternoon I thought they were very far away from that point.

What I say in the Cabinet I cannot tell you unless you join the Cabinet. So, all I say is, please do not give up your resolve to deal with the LTTE. Do not waste time fighting with each other. Please understand the East. Treat all three communities equally.

The sympathy for them, the love for them must be equal; recognise their rights and then once we have got that solution, then the rest will fall into place because whatever you say I feel that the darkest hour is already over.

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