- The LTTE was never before nor later as strong as they were in 2000-2001
- I think Prabhakaran wanted peace and was ready for peace, but there was a lot to compromise on
- You must work with the understanding that the peace talks are only for the outside world and not for us
- Balasingham said, what Thesiyath Thalaivar meant was, that the “war against terror” waged by the powerful countries might turn against them as well
During an exclusive interview with one time Norwegian peace envoy to Sri Lanka Erik Solheim, which was published in last Wednesday’s Daily Mirror, senior journalist Easwaran Rutnam had posed a question whether he (Solheim) ever thought the LTTE was genuinely committed to peace, based on his internal discussions with the organisation.
Solheim had answered: “Absolutely. There is a misconception in the South. Please recall that the LTTE pursued peace when it was at the peak of its power. The LTTE was never before nor later as strong as they were in 2000-2001. It had overwhelmed Elephant Pass. It was very close to overtaking the entire Jaffna peninsula. It was beaten at the last moment because of Pakistani help to the GoSL. And they had destroyed the Sri Lankan economy with the attack on the Bandaranaike International Airport. So, it was at the peak of its strength that the LTTE pursued peace. So, it showed that the LTTE was absolutely genuine. However, it was ready to go all the way for a federal settlement, you may question. I think Prabhakaran wanted peace and was ready for peace, but there was a lot to compromise on.”
This answer shows the peace envoy had pathetically failed to understand the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE, the rebel movement with which he had had close contacts for several years during his peace mission.
Easwaran again asks the same question in other words. “There were allegations that the LTTE used the peace process to regroup and strengthen its military capabilities. Norway was also accused back then of helping the LTTE procure arms. Is there any truth to those claims?”
Solheim replies: “Absolutely not. We do not give gifts to or take gifts from any side. But more importantly, this is also another misconception in the South. The Sri Lankan Army strengthened itself more during the peace process than the LTTE. This we saw when we came to the final phase of the war which was between 2007 and 2009. Sri Lanka also had support from nearly all governments in the world, whether it was India, US or China or European powers. They all wanted peace. But they also had to make a choice between the LTTE and the GoSL and they were all on the Government side. So, it was the GoSL that strengthened its position and not the LTTE.”
Solheim was correct when he said that the LTTE came for peace talks with the Sri Lankan government in 2002 from a position of strength. Tigers were about to take the Jaffna peninsula after overrunning the highly fortified Elephant Pass camp complex which was manned by an estimated 11,000 troops in 2000. India then even had offered to help evacuate the government troops from the peninsula in the event LTTE captured the entire peninsula.
However, in the wake of the 9/11 incidents in the United States, Anton Balasingham during a “Maveerar Naal” commemoration in London, had attributed another reason for his organisation’s peace approach. Explaining Prabhakaran’s “Maveerar Naal” speech a few days ago on November 27, 2001, Balasingham said, what the Thesiyath Thalaivar (national leader) meant was, that the “war against terror” waged by the powerful countries might turn against them as well and therefore they had to take decisions accordingly.
No outsider would have been able to attribute anything to the decisions of the LTTE than the top leaders of the organisation had been. Thamilini Jeyakkumaran, the women’s political wing leader of the LTTE, must have been in a better position to throw light on why her organisation wanted peace talks than Solheim had been. In her life story “Oru Koorvalin Nilalil” (under the shadow of a sharp sword) Thamilini recounts a relevant meeting presided over by the then head of the political wing of the LTTE, S.P.Thamilchelvan, on the heels of the signing of the ceasefire agreement in February, 2002.
Thamilchelvan, in that meeting had stated “We must boost our military strength by working hard, using this space. At the beginning we had military manpower but were in short of weapons whereas now we have weapons but are short of personnel. It is we who have to fulfil this requirement. You must work with the understanding that the peace talks are only for the outside
world and not for us.”
Referring to the international conference on the Sri Lankan peace process held on April 14, 2003 in Washington, Thamilchelvan, during another meeting at the LTTE’s peace secretariat in Kilinochchi had told that Prabhakaran had decided not to participate in the conference on the grounds that the purpose of the meeting was nothing but the decommissioning of their weapons. “Definitely, now it will be war. Elder brother (Prabhakaran) ordered recruiting more personnel stopping everything else,” Thamilini had quoted Thamilchelvan as saying.
Nevertheless, it was on the grounds that the US government had refused visas to the delegation of the LTTE – an organization proscribed in the US – that the outfit had withdrawn from the peace talks on April 21, 2003.
The degree of LTTE’s commitment for peace is vividly explained by Thamilini in another place in her memoir as well. “Thamilchelvan once told us that the leader had asked us to persuade the people to vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2005 Presidential election. He said, if Mahinda comes to power definitely war will ensue. Now that the talks are dragging on, if war starts, it would be the LTTE that is going to win. Therefore he is the appropriate person.”
In an interview with the Sunday Leader of May 31, 2009, twelve days after the last shot was fired in the war between the armed forces and the LTTE, the then Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda also explained how the LTTE used the ceasefire period to regroup and strengthen its military capabilities. He said “The navy destroyed 10 ships since 2003, which incidentally was during the ceasefire period.” Karannagoda in his memoir “Adhistanaya” had even accused the ceasefire monitors – the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) – for helping the LTTE ships escape.
He further refers to a speech made in Parliament by the then Defence Minister Tilak Marapana on October 8, 2003 about LTTE establishing more than 12 new camps around the Trincomalee harbour endangering the lives of the troops in the Jaffna peninsula. This speech had followed a letter sent by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe informing about the LTTE’s increasing strength around the Trincomalee harbour.
Hence, Solheim’s assertion that the LTTE was absolutely genuine in seeking peace and his denial that LTTE used the peace process to regroup and strengthen its military capabilities are not correct. Something seems to have seriously gone wrong in his
information or perceptions.