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Monday, 12 April 2010

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Tamils have rejected politics of suppression

Former North East Province Chief Minister Varadaraja Perumal and one of the key Leaders of the EPRLF in an interview with the Daily News expresses his views on a number of issues including the recently concluded elections, the dawn of peace and hope in the North and East, influence of the Tamil Diasphora and his controversial days in the office of Chief Minister, North East Province (1988 - 1990).

Q: The first post-conflict Parliamentary polls in the country has just concluded. What are your impressions on the elections in general and specially of the verdict delivered by the people in the North and East?


Former North East Province Chief Minister Varadaraja Perumal. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

A: The people as a whole has reiterated their trust and confidence in the present regime ably led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They have given a very clear mandate, a near two-thirds majority. In relation to the results in the North and East and specially the verdict of the Tamil people has been very encouraging. If you take the results in the Tamil dominated Jaffna, Vanni and Batticaloa districts you could see that more than 50 percent of the voters has rejected the TNA formed by the LTTE in 2004. Thus a majority has rejected the politics of suppression.

Q: But the voter turn out has been very low in these areas?

A: This could be attributed to several facts such as the lingering fear which yet exists in the minds of a community which was oppressed by a terrorist organisation for nearly three decades. People are not yet fully settled and their economy is in disarray. Also their confidence in the political leadership is yet to blossom. But these are slowly gaining momentum. However it would take some time, the change is already in the air.

Q: What could the Government do to accelerate the process?

A: The larger responsibility in this regard lies with the Government to heal the wounds, build trust and provide basic needs to the affected people. As I see the three Rís Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction should go hand in hand and should be productive and this would no doubt pave way for sustainable reconciliation. In addition the people need a fully equipped civil administration structure. Illegal weapon carriers (if there are any) should be disarmed. People want the complete rule of law. Also the Security Forces presence in the areas should be reduced. The devolution of powers to the provinces (what is possible) should take place. The amount of power devolved could be discussed later but Government should provide first what is possible.

Q: Who should be the major players in this exercise?

A: Of course the President and the Government should play the lead role. The UNP too should give due priority and join hands with the Government in resolving the national issue without engaging in petty politics. Eligible Tamil representatives too should make their contribution in an effective manner. If the two major political powers in the country get-together in resolving the national issue it would give the much needed confidence to the Tamil people.

Q: What about India?

A: The Government of India is doing everything possible to extend help to the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamils. The pre-1990 and post-1990 relations between the two countries are different now. They have a genuine commitment towards Sri Lanka. We have to understand that the conflict affected India too. So India wants peace, harmony and development in Sri Lanka.

We also need their help in many spheres such as technical, industrial, investment development etc. Specially in Tamil Nadu the situation has improved much. The recent visit to the country by Tamil Nadu politicians has gone a long way in bridging the gap. This is a good beginning we should nurture and develop this newfound friendship.

Q: You were Chief Minister of the North and East in 1988-90. What was your experience on the question of devolution of power and other matters?

A: At that time Premadasa was the President of Sri Lanka. At that period I was not Chief Minister of the North and East with the powers that the Chief Ministers enjoy. I was a Chief Minister striving for devolution of power. I presented a 19-point agenda which had proposals which came under the provisions of the existing Constitution.

The proposals did not even consider federalism but came under the limits of the existing PC system. However, the regime at that time did not give due consideration. If they had done so the country would not have faced such a disastrous situation. Since 1990 over 150,000 people have been killed. This includes more than 40,000 Tamil youth and an equal number of soldiers in addition to civilians. Another 60,000 women in North East alone have been widowed, not to mention the rest of the country.

The cream of the Tamil society was murdered by the LTTE. The then Government helped LTTE. The Premadasa regime did not even wont the PC. We had to sacrifice the lives of 3,000 EPRLF cadres at that time.

Q: But you were accused of hoisting the Eelam flag?

A: This is totally false. It was a malicious campaign against me at that time. In fact I hoisted only two flags during my tenure as Chief Minister. The first occasion was the Independence day on February 4, 1988 when I hoisted the National flag. The second one I hoisted was the North-East Provincial Council flag, which was used until 2007. I am not even familiar with the so-called Eelam flag. I am ready for any challenge on the issue.

Q: The LTTE was a force to reckon with for a long time?

A: We should not harbour the misconception that the LTTE had been so far giving leadership to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. It is a terrorist group which destroyed the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership starting from the killing of Srisabaratnam (TELO) in 1986 followed by the liquidation of Amrithalingam (TULF), Padmanabha (EPRLF), Neelan Thiruchelvam (TULF), Keetheswaran (EPRLF).

The LTTE under Prabhakaran suppressed any intellectual opinion. Prabha wanted to be the only leader. There was no democracy.

Q: But there are moves to revive the LTTE by the Diaspora through the concept of a Trans-National Tamil Eelam?

A: As far as the Tamil Diaspora is concerned they are controlled by a few individuals with vested interest. Most of these Diaspora leaders are commission earning money collectors. They earn as much as Euros 12,000-15,000 a month as commission from the money which is extorted from innocent Tamils abroad by force. Now they have nothing to sell and as a result they have lost their income earning avenues. So they are trying to create something. This would not sell. Everybody including the Tamil people, their countries of residence and all are fed up with the culture of violence. It is over.

Q: How did President Mahinda Rajapaksa achieve the stupendous task of defeating the LTTE whereas all his predecessors had failed?

A: He was driven by singleminded purpose of eliminating the source of LTTEís terror. Many other things also fell into place such as the defection of key LTTE leaders. International community getting fed up with LTTE atrocities etc. Also the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime never gave any breathing space which they got during tenures of former leaders such as Premadasa, Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Q: Finally do you have any political ambitions?

A: I have no interest in positions or perks. But I wish to work among the people and for the benefit of the people.

I can derive strength from my vast experience to work towards the benefit of the people. Donít forget that I was the Chief Minister of North Eastern Province from1988-1990. Tamils now realise they missed a golden opportunity at that time. I also stayed in India for almost 20 years and have studied their form of governance extensively. I also enjoy a very good relationship with political leaders from both India and Sri Lanka (both North and South). So with this experience to count, I am hopeful that I would be able to work with the progressive forces and contribute my share to development, a lasting political settlement and reconciliation.

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