The leader of the Tamil People`s Liberation Tigers(TMVP) Karuna Amman`s reported appearance in the east, once again brought him into the limelight. In a telephone interview with The Sunday Times, Karuna reiterated his group`s commitment to the democratic process and said that they are looking forward to early elections in the east so that his party could enter the political mainstream. He also denied that his group was involved in child conscription, abductions as well as extra judicial killings in and around Colombo. Excerpts:
* After a long lull you made your presence in the east last week
After we broke away from the LTTE we are totally immersed in the political mainstream. We asked for protection from the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga, but she turned down our request. As a result I lost my deputy Bhavan and my brother Reggie ? both killed by the LTTE. It was only thereafter that we decided to organise an armed wing for our own protection. Now we have a political wing as well as a military wing.
* Was this armed wing formed to fight the LTTE ?
This wing was formed not to fight a war. We have capable cadres who can give protection to our political activities as well as defend us against the LTTE.
* You say that you are now involved in mainstream politics, so how do you justify having a military wing ?
Yes, we do have a military wing and when the government can give us assurance of our complete security and when the LTTE is totally defeated, we will lay down our weapons.
* Was your reappearance linked to the security forces taking over Vakarai?
My appearance in the east was purely to motivate the people politically because we have strong support from the people of the east. So I decided to go among the people and create a political consciousness among them. Very soon the entire eastern province will be brought under government control. The LTTE has lost nearly 60 % of the ground they held earlier and the main supply route has been cut off. Vakarai was an important supply route to bring men and materiel from the north to the east and vice versa.
* Is the loss of Vakarai and Sampoor a serious setback for the LTTE ?
Yes. Now the LTTE only holds a small extent of land in the east and very soon these areas too will fall to the forces. Now they are struggling without regular military supplies and cadres. Also many LTTE cadres are deserting the organisation.
* Once the east is liberated, do you have an assurance from the government that it will provide assistance including financial aid to develop the area?
We hope the government will listen to us. Once the east is cleared, elections should be held and we will contest the polls whether it is for the provincial council or for the local bodies. We are laying the ground work for our political campaign.
* Do the people in the east have faith in your group?
The Tamils there need a genuine political leadership which they have been deprived of for many years. We will fill that vacuum. This is the first time that civilians living in the LTTE areas of Kokkadicholai and Karadiyanaru have moved into government controlled area. In the past, when the Tamils were harassed by the forces, they moved into LTTE territory. This shows they have lost faith in the LTTE.
* There are allegations that the TMVP is aiding and abetting the government forces?
These allegations have been made by none other than the LTTE. We function independently. We are not para military. It was Prabhakaran who functioned as one during the IPKF period.
* What kind of relationship do you maintain with the government?
We have a close relationship.Our political members have a close relationship even at a ministerial level.
* Why has your party still not been registered ?
Since the Provincial Council and Local government elections in the east have been continuously postponed, certain legal impediments are delaying the registration process.
* Until now we have heard of government ?controlled areas and LTTE-controlled areas in the east. Your visit to the east has raised questions whether the TMVP too controls areas in the east
We are indeed functioning in this area for the past two years although it is not known. We reached an agreement with the UNICEF last month, for them to visit our camps in the east. We are involved in civil administration in the areas under our control. We have no intention of having a massive military build up in the areas under us nor are we going to fight the government forces. We have cadres in these camps only to defend ourselves against LTTE attacks.
* From where do you get funds and material including arms to maintain your cadres ?
We must thank the Tamils in the east for supporting us financially. When we broke away we had stored arms in various places in the east and now we are using them.
* How is the balance of power in the eastern province ? how is it shared between the government forces the LTTE and the TMVP ?
The LTTE has almost been totally defeated in the east. After losing Vakarai and Sampoor , they have lost the key areas. We have a strong political base and we have opened many political offices in Batticaloa and Trincomalee..
* There are complaints that your cadres are harassing Tamil civilians in Batticaloa and adjoining areas?
I do agree with you. Some of our cadres and supporters are using our names and harassing our people. Within the next two months this will change.
* What is the reason behind the LTTE`s hold weakening in the east?
The decline of the LTTE in the east began with my leaving the group. I was in control of the fighting cadres in the east when I was in the LTTE. I have fought many battles and the best fighters from this area are those whom I groomed. All this time LTTE cadres in the north were depending on us. In the meantime the Lankan forces have reorganised and become more disciplined and hence more stronger.
* The UNP has charged that you are running a parallel army in the east?
I deny that. We are not a stooge of any political party and we operate independently. We are the voice of the people in the east.
* Do you agree with the LTTE saying that they are the sole representatives of the Tamils?
No. There was some truth in it before I broke away but now they cannot claim that they are the sole representatives. Nearly 5000 cadres from the east have died. I repeatedly reminded Prabhakaran that I cannot sacrifice any more in the battlefield. This is how the rift began between us. Today we represent a section of the Tamil people.
* There are allegations that the TMVP is involved in conscriptions, child recruitment, abduction of civilians and that it has torture chambers in the Welikanda area and is involved in extra judicial killings in and around Colombo?
Certainly not. We are only fighting against the war monger Prabhakaran. In the past it was the LTTE that was engaged in abductions and child conscriptions although it was blamed on us. Had we forcibly recruited the fighters they would have run away by now. It is a fact that under-aged boys come to join us. If they do, we hand them over to the UNICEF at our Meenaham office in Batticaloa. We have handed over nearly 20 such boys in recent months. We are not responsible for the abductions and extra judicial killings in and around Colombo, although we have been blamed.
* What type of political solution do you expect from the government?
We expect an honourable solution under a unitary state because it can bring unity and better understanding among all communities. All three communities live in peace in the eastern province even now. So it is unfair to ask for a separate state. Demanding a separate state has been disastrous for the Tamils in the past and we will not fight against the government forces.
* None of the successive governments and Sinhala leaders have sincerely addressed the grievances of the Tamils? So do you believe the present government will be any different?
In the past the Tamil leadership failed to put forward a feasible proposal to address the ethnic problem. I have battle field experience therefore I know how difficult it is to achieve our rights through an armed struggle. Negotiations are the best method to achieve them.
* Have you put forward any proposals of your own?
When we were engaged in an armed struggle, we did not put forward any sensible proposals. We believe in a solution within a unitary state with wide devolution of power to the north and east with special benefits to develop the north and east both in the fields of education as well as economics.
* Is there any possibility that the TMVP will reunite with the LTTE in the Wanni?
No, that is only a dream.