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Bearded men talk on peace
 


Keheliya Rambukwella

Face 2 Face by Jayantha Sri Nissanka

Q: What are the issues to be taken up at the next round of talks?


Ravi raj

Keheliya: Nothing else but core-issues. No point of beating around the bush again and again because we have done it during the past 25 years. Therefore, it is necessary to go into core-issues.

Ravi: We need to ensure the security of people. People get killed as a result of the war.

Q: Will the hope of peace talks l be shattered as a result of the increase in violence?

Keheliya: The Government’s commitment is very serious and genuine. We have manifested that over and over again. We will stick to the schedule and commitments. The LTTE play according to their own agenda. It’s a new approach with experience in Thimpu. Prior to that, we have been circulating around issues which are irrelevant. We are trying to get to the co-issues this time.

Ravi: According to statements of the Government and LTTE, both are committed to have talks. But the disturbing fact is the ongoing attacks. We can’t have peace talks which attacks are going on. People do get offended when they witness attacks. It is natural. So I hope both parties can stop military operations for the sake of peace in order to create a conducive environment to have peaceful peace talks. I am very much hopeful that both parties will sit together on October 28 and 29 and iron out differences for future talks. I am really happy with the inclusion of Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle in the Government delegation. He is a good selection because he has understood the plight of Tamils in the North.

Q: An LTTE suicide cadre killed 100 unarmed sailors and made an attempt on the Galle Port. Should the Government go for talks when the LTTE continue to engage in violence?

Keheliya: We are not trying to pacify the LTTE. We have an obligation to address the ethnic questions of Tamils. I don’t see any ethnic problems as such. Our Tamil brothers and sisters should vibrantly participate in the Government and administration on the basis of pluralism in a multi-ethnic country. Our main concern is how do we address the issues raised by innocent Tamils where they are expecting certain changes in vibrant democracy. After 57 years, a major opposition party is supporting the Government to find a lasting solution. Tamil people have got a golden opportunity now to find answers to their problem from the All Party Conference. We keep a window open for the LTTE as well to come to a democratic set up.

Ravi: In order to stop the war, we have no any other alternative other than talk to the LTTE. Although we share the political view of the LTTE, this is the aspiration of the Tamils. We have no control over the LTTE military action. I can’t go and tell Prabhakaran to stop attacks. Whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, we have no other alternative other than talk to the LTTE to stop violence. In all the armed conflict countries, every Government negotiates directly with armed groups. The creation of the LTTE is a result of the 50 years of political suppression of Tamils. The LTTE did not come from Mars or the Moon. In the first 30 years we had non -violence agitation but achieved no results. Then it turned to a large scale war during the past 25 years.

Q: The International community involved in this issue brings unnecessary pressure on the Government. Do you think that they are manipulating this issue with a vested interest?

Keheliya: Well, I don’t want to make any specific comments. But certain countries and NGOs fund our projects. Say they give us Rs.100 million. They employee 90 of their citizens here giving them one million salary to each. That means they take back 90 percent of the donation. But there are genuine organizations. We have to change the thinking of the ‘white man’ that they can not any longer play the merry devil here. We are a nation with lots of talents and courage.

Ravi: There are instances of manipulations. Most of the western countries have a genuine problem because Tamils and Sinhalese are living in their countries. So they spend the tax money of their citizens on our people. There are other various reasons as well. My personal view is that they have no business to get involved in our affairs. We can say bye to them if we can find a solution by ourselves.

Q: Do both parties think that they must achieve military gain before going for talks? It is an old concept used during the last 30-40 years. Latest concept is the support of the people. What are your comments?

Keheliya: I don’t agree with you. We have no interest in gaining territorial ground. The fact of the matter is that when the sovereignty and national security is at stake, then of course we have to respond as a responsible Government accordingly. Sampoor and Mavilaru are examples. We had to neutralise those attacks. In the process, you may have gained territories geographically. Motive was to neutralise the attacks. If they repeat we will have to respond.

Ravi: We have instilled in our people’s mind victories of Dutugemunu and Elara. Nobody talks of Emperor Ashoka. King Ashoka after winning the war he became a Buddhist and saw the destruction. He saw how people have died and the destruction of property. So he sent his son Mahinda and daughter Sangamitha to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Likewise, war will not give us anything other than destruction. Peace is the only way to find a meaningful answer to our problems.

Q: All Governments in the past promised to solve the North and East problem before coming to power. Actually were there efforts genuine?

Keheliya: I believe all successive Governments made genuine efforts. Former Presidents Premadasa, Chandrika and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made genuine attempts. But all attempts were scuttled by Prabhakaran. President Premadasa was killed and an attempt was made on Chandrika and she lost an eye. Now a golden opportunity has arisen with opposition parties joining hands with Government to settle this problem. So, Tamils have to bring pressure on Prabhakaran to pull him out from the terrorist platform either asking him to join the democracy or to push him out totally. We must understand that 99 percent of Tamils are not terrorists. Prabhakaran has denied basic rights of education to Tamil children. Whereas, his children are studying abroad.

Ravi: Unfortunately there were no genuine efforts. Tamils had lots of hope when Chandrika came to power. She got the mandate to do it but after sitting in the President’s chair, she messed up the whole thing. That was a great loss. She was given full support by the TULF who even asked Tamil people to vote for her. Ranil Wickremesinghe put some effort to find a solution when his Government came to power. He opened the A9 road which helped to build a good relationship between the North and South. But Chandrika dissolved his Government. Prabhakaran described Mahinda Rajapaksa as a pragmatic and practical leader because Mahinda is from an ordinary farming family. President Rajapaksa was very much involved in protecting human rights in 1988. But unfortunately there are war mongers on both sides. I will never endorse killings and I am dead against war.

Q: The LTTE say they are committed towards peace talks when they meet Norwegian and Japanese peace brokers. Do you condemn the attacks on the Galle Port and killing 100 unarmed sailors while they were having lunch because these attacks could sabotage the scheduled talks end of this month.

Keheliya: Certainly, because such actions can further sabotage the much delayed talks. This is what happened even in the past. Prabhakaran should show that he understands the meaning of the word “peace”.

Ravi: I condemn any kind of attack. After the LTTE attacked the Galle naval camp, security forces also conducted operations in Batticaloa. I am totally against killing in any part of the country. Both sides have to stop attacks for the sake of peace. We never asked for a separate state. We tried to settle it with the Banda-Chelva pact in 1958. Then the Dudley-Chelva pact in 1965. Then District Development Council of J.R. in 1983. After that the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in 1987. Likewise, we have come a very long way but so far our problems remain as it is. People in Tamilnadu in 1965 asked for separation. The Indian Government addressed their problem under a Federal system. Canada has a confederation.

Q: The LTTE has violated the Ceasefire Agreement over 3737 times so far. Whereas the Government only 280 times. It has become a meaningless document today. Should the CFA be amended to stop violence and give more powers to the monitors?

Keheliya: Yes, I think so. But the Government this time do not want to talk about issues pertaining to the CFA or SLMM which we have been talking in the past. We have to talk on pluralism, multi-party system, North and East infrastructure development, right for other parties to engage in politics, democracy, child soldiers and then on devolution.

Ravi: There are serious violations with regard to Tamils. The CFA Article 1.1 specifically mentions about A9 road. However, both parties should decide what to talk because we are not part of the talks. If there is a will there is a way.

Q: What are the ramifications arising from the Supreme Court judgement on the demerger?

Keheliya: Well, it’s a highest court in the country. I don’t think that I am qualified to make any comment. All what we can do is to have a panel of Constitutional experts in order to study it and report to Parliament. But that is up to the Head of the State to decide.

Ravi: The judgement was given on technical matters. The judgment says that they have not gone into the factual position on politics. The judgment says that the procedure adopted to merge the North and East was wrong. Tamils are highly disappointed over this. The same fate happened to the PTOM. I respect judiciary.

Q: The final solution to the ethnic problem will be under a democratic framework. But do you think that Prabhakaran can adjust to a democratic solution?

Keheliya: This is what I exactly told you. I don’t honestly believe him but I pray some miracle take place and turn him around. I feel they are bluffing. But the Geneva talks are certainly not to pacify the LTTE or Prabhakaran. Because we have a obligation to the Tamil community.

Ravi: Definitely he is a leader whether you like it or not. He is a leader of the Tamil people. He leads us whether you like it or not. We look up to him as our saviour. He has internationalised the issue.

Q: Why has the TNA 22 MPs become a mouthpiece of the LTTE to carry forward the LTTE political view?

Keheliya: Yes, they have become LTTE proxies. They have serious issues to be resolved. If resolved, they will join the masses risking their lives. If you ask them individually why they have become proxies, they will say because of their personal safety. I feel sorry for them.

Ravi: Today whoever talks of Tamil problems, they are labelled as LTTE. We are the mouthpiece of Tamils. That is why we got 22 members out of 30 elected members. We carry out agitations non-violently in Parliament. When we do Sathyaggraha none of the MPs took it seriously. They ignored us and laughed at us.

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