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In different voices

Published : Apr 27, 2002 00:00 IST

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T+T-

"I am the voice of Mr. Prabakaran. We are one and the same," declared A.S. Balasingham even as Velupillai Prabakaran broke into a smile. Balasingham, the LTTE supremo's Political Adviser and the organisation's self-proclaimed theoretician, made that remark as several reporters insisted that Prabakaran himself should reply to their questions. The occasion was the press conference addressed by Prabakaran at Kilinochchi on April 10. Balasingham was in full flow. Those familiar with Tamil noted serious differences in content between some of Prabakaran's replies and Balasingham's English translation of those replies. Instead of translating Prabakaran's replies precisely, Balasingham elaborated on and embellished the answers with observations of his own. Not only that, he insisted that as the LTTE's theoretician, he would answer questions that pertained to ideology. Sample the following:

Prabakaran on whether he would consider an alternative to Tamil Eelam that embodied an integrated north-east with substantial devolution of powers: "I don't think the necessity and situation have arisen for that now. It is our people who put forward our demand for Tamil Eelam. The people gave a mandate to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) for this as early as 1977. We, therefore, with people's support have been fighting for Tamil Eelam till now." Balasingham: "Right conditions have not arisen for the LTTE to abandon the policy of independent statehood. The struggle for political independence and statehood or Tamil Eelam is the demand of the Tamil people. It is not the demand of the LTTE as such. In 1977 there was an election. It was like a referendum where people gave a mandate to the TULF to fight for an independent Tamil state. It is on the basis of that mandate that we are continuing to fight for political independence and statehood."

Prabakaran on whether the LTTE's involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi has come in the way of its request to New Delhi to lift the ban on it: "As long as this case is alive, we are unable to comment on it." Balasingham: "This case is going on. There are four who are condemned to death and they are seeking amnesty from the Government of India. At this crucial juncture, therefore, we do not want to make any comments that might affect their status."

Prabakaran: "This is a tragic incident which took place ten years ago. We don't want to comment further on it." Balasingham: "I know it is a sensitive issue not only for you (journalists from India) but for us also... because we want to have friendly relations with India. You are raising an issue that happened ten years ago. That is what Mr. Prabakaran says. What he is saying is that it is a tragic incident that happened ten years ago and we are not in a position, therefore, to make any comments at this stage."

Prabakaran on whether Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe would give a proposal, as an alternative to Eelam, that would embody the Tamils' right to self-determination, recognise the North and East as the Tamils' traditional homeland, and recognise the Tamils as a distinct nationality: "That is why we have put forward the interim solution. Our aim is that the interim solution should be used to lift the economic embargoes on our people and arrangements made for our people to lead a peaceful life." Balasingham: "Mr. Prabakaran says that we do not think that Ranil Wickremasinghe is capable of addressing the core issues and offering us a permanent solution at this stage... Because you know that the Executive's powers are vested in the President and his (Wickremasinghe's) powers are limited to Parliament. It is because of this that we are suggesting the formulation of an interim administrative set-up so that we can run an administration in the north-east and the LTTE can participate in the interim administration in the north-east..."

Prabakaran on allegations that the LTTE violated the ceasefire in Batticaloa: "We have not yet received any reports on violations of ceasefire [by the LTTE].As soon as we get them, we are prepared to take action on them." Balasingham: "The monitoring committee has not launched any complaint or accusation that we have violated the ceasefire... in the Eastern province. So I want to impress upon you that ceasefire committees have not yet been appointed in certain areas of the North and the East. They are in the process of appointing these committees..."

Prabakaran on whether he was prepared to accept a compromise because there has been so much of destruction of Tamils' properties: "That is why we have put forward the idea of an interim solution." Balasingham in Tamil: "You have seen the cities that have been destroyed in 20 years of war. Kilinochchi and other towns have been greatly affected. We have embarked on this peace process because we want to ensure a 'dawn' for the people and lift them up economically. If we are going for an interim administration as a kind of compromise, it is because we want to provide a dawn to our people..."

Balasingham also answered several questions claiming that they related to the "ideology" of the LTTE. For instance, on what was LTTE's definition of self-determination, he launched into a lengthy discourse on autonomy and self-government. He answered questions on the LTTE's policy towards plantation Tamils, whether the formation of an interim administration in the north-east would not amount to the LTTE accepting the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan State, whether the Tigers were changing their stripes and embarking on a new political path, and so forth.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Apr 27, 2002.)

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