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Home » Countries » Sri Lanka » Interview with K.V. Balakumar

Interview with K.V. Balakumar

K.V. Balakumar is formerly the leader of Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS). Now he is in charge of the political education of the LTTE cadres. This interview is made by the singhalese progressive newspaper The Hiru. It was done in the LTTE controlled areas in the Wanni in May 2003. Some who are not familiar with the situation in Sri Lanka can e-mail us for clarifications. Mr. Balakumar wanted to apologize to the interviewer for his unfamiliarity with the English language.

See Video clips: Part 1 and Part 2

Transcript of the interview

Hiru: More than one year has passed after the signing of the ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE. What is your assessment of the situation at the moment after 14 to 16 months of negotiations?
Balakumar: To tell you frankly we are very disappointed, we expected much more from the Sri Lankan government. And the Sri Lankan Government was supported by the international community also, we thought that there would be some changes to the living conditions of our people. We expected some change in the mindset of the Sinhala elite, the bureaucracy and the media. But I must say that we are disappointed .

So many sub committees have been appointed  during the peace talks which have been held outside the country, Have some practical steps been taken by these sub committees, for example, for the resettlement and rehabilitation ?
It is a good question, Frankly we don’t  appreciate the functioning of the Government bureaucracy , the Ministries, its Departments, and the so called sub committees. But each time we adjusted ourselves to agree and form these sub committees in the hope that they will do something  but you see the same old problems still exist. For example, we formed a sub committee for rehabilitation.  But after so many meetings and deliberations, only now they tell us the reality that Sri Lankan legal system cannot accommodate the sub committee.(SHIRN). I ask one question from all the Sinhala people,  When you start a war, when you kill us, when you bombard us, where are these legal restrictions? Where are these CR, and FR, so called acts? But when you come to relieve the situation (caused by the bombing etc) and when you want to try to find a way out of the situation, then you say  that there are legal impediments, that there is no majority,  that Chandrika is not willing to do this. But I ask you, when you try to kill us, when you try to oppress us, where are the legal impediments? So we feel that it is a kind of excuse to say to the world that ‘we are willing to do these things but we cannot do it’.  So what do you expect us to do? That is what I ask you.

There is an argument in the South, amongst some intellectuals, and some racist politicians that the LTTE as a military movement cannot go further with the talks because if they keep this pace in their movement the morale will come down so the LTTE wants war because it is a military movement and which was totally maintained by the military spirit and military operations and all that and they war. What have you got  to say about this argument?
It is a very good question. Actually, we have to lay this blame on your side, we feel that the Sri Lankan Government is more militarised than us it is controlled by the military interest nowadays. Basically, the Sri Lankan Government is not  willing to take steps to remedy our problems due to military pressure. For example - the high security zones - our people have been living there for the last hundred years, they have temples, factories and homes, everything is there. Now the military is there. Now they say, due to military considerations, security etc, our people cannot settle there. So what does this mean? This means that they are doing things purely for military interests. So I tell you frankly, it is the Sri Lankan Government that is more and more militarised. The military has grown  1250%  since 1987.  They are spending 80 billion rupees for the war. So you can see now, every decision is vetoed either by Sarath Fonsaka in Jaffna, or Chandrika in Colombo or Sandagiri in Colombo. So I say to the Sinhala side that the  Sri Lankan Government is far more responding to military needs than the LTTE is.
I would agree that the LTTE is a militarised movement- we are very proud of it.  You see, earlier we were totally harmless people our leader Chelvanayagam was described as a person who would never hurt anyone,  even with words - he would not hurt anyone. So, what was your response? You put us under military occupation. In 1961, when we organised a hartal and a  Sathyagraha at the Katchcheri, what have you done? What has Sirima done? She ordered the military commanders to go to Jaffna to install military camps, to oppress us. In  1961, we found out what a military is. Then we found out that military people are ordinary.  Civilians like Punchi Banda is an ordinary man and when he is trained and put in a uniform then he becomes the military. When he has a gun in his hand he dictates to us. We began to think what is the way out of this situation. So we tried to defend ourselves to answer in the same language. But we had a lot of difficulties - we are not a state. So from 1970 onwards, we put a lot of effort and labour into organising a military structure to defend ourselves – so we are proud of it. Due to the approach of the Sri Lankan Government we were militarised.  If the Sri Lankan Government attitude is changed then we will be back to normal- so this is logic, automatically we will reverse. But what is happening now is that nobody wants us to do this, so the Sinhala Media  and the Sinhala leadership are helping us not to change. You keep your military strength by your side- you have to depend on yourself by having your own military strength.  So therefore, we have to defend ourselves by depending on our military strength. So I agree in that sense we are being militarised  because of the military pressure put on us by the Sri Lankan army. So if you want to find a solution to the problem, you have to look at the causes, you have to start at the beginning.

You and other senior leaders of the LTTE have been travelling all over the North and East   talking to the people for the last two to three months, and assessing and evaluating the prospects for the peace process, what were the responses that came from the people about the present situation?
The responses are very clear they want us to continue with the peace process, they don’t want to go back to the war but at the same time they don’t want us to be cheated by the Sinhala leadership, they have some fear in their hearts that the LTTE will also be cheated  by the Sinhala leadership like what has happened in the past. So they ask us to be very cautious.
Be in the peace process but don’t be cheated, so they ask us to be very vigilant. In fact we ask the people to do the same thing to be very vigilant, not to be trapped in the peace process. So we have to somehow save this peace process, to do this we have to show the people that the peace process is working, so the peace process must reflect some changes at the ground level.
The logic is - I will tell you frankly, when Prabhakaran temporarily withdrew from the peace process – it is good for the peace process. If he didn’t say anything and keep quiet for some time and suddenly said nothing has happened, you would all be surprised, you will all be disappointed. So what do we say, we say look here we are doing some stock-taking of the situation, so we find that nothing as yet has happened at the ground level, so do something to save the peace process.  I want to convey to the Sinhalese people the message that we do not want to create any difficulties to the peace process, we are not putting any blockade. On the contrary, we want to clear the obstacles from the peace process . So, we are highlighting where the problems are in the peace process, so that you can take action to remedy these problems in the initial period  so that we can go further forward.
Our people are saying okay now, 14 months have passed, you have been given enough time, only the A9 road is being worked on. You can go anywhere in the Vanni, the whole infrastructure has been destroyed. I tell you frankly, not a single cent has been spent from the Sri Lankan government in the last fourteen months on the Vanni.  You can go everywhere and find that nothing has happened, it looks exactly like it was before . So, the people say, don’t go for war, we have had enough of it, but keep your military strength and keep your movement strong, and put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to act more. So, that is why Prabharkaran  took this decision. He is not going to disturb the peace process.

There are opinions expressed by some quarters of the people who are not against the struggle, that the LTTE has fallen into the trap of the Sri Lankan Government. The trap is the strategy of containment, you prolong it, and you drag it, and then the people will become discouraged and then they will be isolated from the movement. So what have you got to say about this kind of question?
Yes, this is a familiar question,  There are people who are discussing about containment and engagement with us. To ask us to stay in the peace process forever. Talking always, you talk and talk, this advice was given to us by others also. The game is very clear, we know the game, we know the rules of this game. We know that some people want us to be in the peace process so that slowly a rift is created between us and the people, to make  some  difficulties in our cadres in their mindset. It is also true. I will tell you frankly in the last 14 months we have seen these symptoms in our groups. So, that is why we are telling you frankly that we know this kind of game. But, however, we are taking these risks for the benefit of our people and for benefit of the international community who are asking us to give a chance to the Sri Lankan Government. We are taking a risk at this juncture. It is not 14 months, according to our calendar it more than two years. It goes back to before the Agni Kheila  offensive. We stopped that offensive. So, the thing is, we are keeping our cadres educated, explaining to them that the struggle is not only in the arena of the military alone, it may be in dialogue, it may be at the round table- or at the square table, it may be in the international arena. The war is always there.  The war is not a normal war- it is a war of the mind - a war of the people. The war can also be taken to another sphere. So the LTTE is speaking about these things to its cadres and to the people. So, we are not a purely militarised movement.  We took arms due to the situation we faced at that time. We were forced to take up arms, so there is no difficulty for us to understand the reality of the difficulty of the struggle at this time.  So these days our cadres are maintaining their training, they are maintaining their forward defence lines, they are studying, they are singing , they have a little bit of free time now. It is only now that we are able to give them some good food and some good clothes. So they are using the time for education and they are also taking part in the civil administration.

I will agree that we lack experience development work, so we are studying these things now.
This space, during the peace process, is of course used by our enemies.  But we know about this, we know the game – the old game, we are aware of it and we are alert, we are vigilant. But the risk is there. And to some extent we are also disturbed also. Every cadre cannot be very liberated, very educated and ideologically at a very high level. People have their own limitations.

You must realise that we are taking this risk. But we know the risk. Earlier people were defeated because they did not knowing this game! We know this game. But we have to continuously educate our cadres. The lessons are there in history. There is the case of El Salvador, the case of the Philippines and the New Peoples Army. We knew before that one day the whole international community is going to come over here (like it is doing now). We have been preparing for the last 12 years for this kind of development…

So we are not overly surprised or disturbed. It is true that we are disturbed to some extent, because the process has its own effects. But we are aware of it. And we are taking some steps regarding this. That is why we are keeping our military structure untouched. The Sinhala media and everyone should know, that this is a game – an open game – the rules are known by everyone! There is no secrecy at all. So what is all this hype in the Sri Lankan media. Everything is open. We are in the Sea, we are in the land, we have weapons – everyone knows it. So when Sandagiri is saying that we won’t bargain about territorial integrity etc., this is meaningless to talk in this way – the bargaining has been done long ago – these things have already gone.

With regard to the intervention from the International community – we regard them as donor countries. With regard to donor countries – there are grants and there are loans. But really they are mainly loans with conditions. In the Sinhala south we have experienced the destruction, selling off of their lands as conditions, privatisation of banks etc as conditions, in the north and east the Tamil community has also been promised such loans and grants. How do you look at this situation and how do you manage this situation.
It is a dilemma I agree. We cannot immediately explain these complicated issues to all of our people straight away. What our people want is that the people who destroyed our land should reconstruct it. People who supported the destruction should support the reconstruction. Whether you call these the donor countries or whatever.
People who disturbed us going about our normal life, must allow us to go about our normal life. People who kill us should stop killing us – if not we kill them back. People who tried to support the Sri Lankan government’s war should try to support the peace. This is the message from our people. Of course the situation is complicated – we are aware of this. But at this juncture this is all we can say about this.
Now everyone is coming to Killinochchi.
What is Killinochchi?
Killinochchi is a normal rural area.
It was developed by farming before. It became a town in the 70’s and 80’s. It was so many times captured and destroyed. Sri Lankan government captured to Killinochchi, then we tried to recapture it – this happened so many times. In the process to Killinochchi was destroyed. At last we recapture to Killinochchi. to Killinochchi is a kind of symbol of our struggle. So now everyone is coming to Killinochchi. Even Koffi Anan wanted to come. Only the mad leftist – I don’t want to name him – but we all know who it is do not want to come. Even the Chinese ambassador came to Killinochchi.
The politics behind this we don’t want to talk about at the moment. We feel that we should trust, give the benefit of the doubt to the people who are coming to Killinochchi. So we feel that we should follow this approach at the moment. Because we tried our best to get foreign countries to come to see that situation, for the last ten years or so no-one came. Even after the Elephant Pass debacle no-one came. Only now they are coming to see Killinochchi. They want to see – they ask where is Aanai Iravu! They want to see a mock battle of what happened in Aanai Iravu. They want to see our cadres. After three years they come and ask us – how did you do that? This is what we have achieved – this is what I can say.

The next question is with regards to the Trade Unions and the left movement in the south – with which you had connections with long ago – you had many Sinhala friends – but they are no longer your friends – I think. (Mr. Balakumar interjects – ‘they have gone to the other camp’). But you still have optimism about these forces – that something might change. What is your message to the Trade Unions and the left movement – at least with respect to supporting the peace process?
A very good question. This has opened up my memory of the times in the past. I still have thoughts about Edmond Samarackody, and Bala Thampoe – they are still around. I have still hope on the Trade Unions and the Left forces – of course yourselves also. I think that the ordinary Sinhala person is a harmless person. So we have some faith in the political forces that attempt to reflect the ordinary person’s interests – the Trade Unions the left etc. This is why we try to convey a message to the ordinary Sinhala people that we are not against them. My message to the progressive forces is to continue your struggle. You may be a small minority, but one day due to developments, the conditions may change, and then you will be a kind of a vanguard to the Sinhala masses. I think one day the whole of Sri Lanka will realise their past mistakes and take the necessary steps to correct them. They will hand over the leadership to the progressive Sinhala people so that their true interests can be reflected. The same for the Tamil people. In fact I did not expect that this kind of thing (this kind of polarisation) would happen. Now we have some space to develop again some kind of relationship – for us to meet Sinhala friends again etc. I will tell you frankly during the last years I have not been able to have good contact with Sinhala people. To tell you frankly I very much like to hear the Sinhala language spoken by Sinhala people, a very much like Amaradeva, Nanda Malini and also the new musicians. Many of our people like the Sinhala teledramas – culturally we have no animosity with the Sinhala people.
What I feel is that the Sinhala progressives must be frank and speak out openly at every juncture. Otherwise it will be a very bad omen for the Sinhala masses. Now we see that some people are coming forward to support us. This gives us hope and courage. It also makes us reconsider our past memories. Maybe it is possible for us to live together in the whole of Sri Lanka – on par with the Sinhala people. They can come here and we can go there. You with your rights and we with our rights. You with your homeland and we with our homeland. The only link to this process are the small number of progressive thinking people. What is left of the left – who are maybe only a tiny minority.

Some people say that there is no alternative to the present socio-economic structure to the global structure. They say, therefore that there is no hope for freedom, equal rights and dignity – that one has to accept the status quo and one has to compromise. Have you got any points on that?
I have so many points on that. It is a good question. You see, when we started this liberation movement, the same kind of advice was given to us. We were asked – how are you going to fight? You are a small people, you are not able to organise an army – it is not possible, you are up against the whole international order – no one is going to support you – this is the way that the arguments go. We are not very disturbed by these points.
Of course what you say is also true. The whole international pattern has changed, specially after the invasion of Iraq – this certifies that the situation has changed. So we have to go through a certain process. But one think I will tell you frankly. We are not a political party. We are not a state. We are not maintaining a relationship with anyone. We are with our people – we are a liberation movement. Liberation movement means that it is against all prevailing structures – it is against the establishment. We are against the global system. This is the basic premise of a liberation movement. So this point that nobody is going to support us – this is nothing new - nobody ever supports us! So the reality that ‘nobody ism going to support you’ – ‘these people are going to come against you’ is not unduly disturbing us – so everybody might be against us. When you start a liberation movement, you have to change the whole scenario that exists – so this means that you have a lot of enemies everywhere. So this is nothing new to us. The thing is that we have matured, we have now a firmer stand these days, we are not weak we have strengthened ourselves – so we are now more broad minded. We are confident about our strength to give time to others – we don’t feel humiliated. We are more self confident and our willpower is stronger. We are in a position to take heed of the advice given by others – to go this way or that way – we can accommodate them. But I can tell you one thing. No global transformations will pressurise us and put limitations on our movement’s aim to liberate our people. We are true to this and we maintain this link with the people. If the people feel that they are safe and everything is OK – that is the only limitation that we can accept. Whether America is going to come or India or Norway this is not disturb us. In fact we are also not against them. Actually, we are not organising any activities against America or India  or any other power – we are only concerned with the interests of our people. The world should realise this. To some extent we can say that we have educated the world about our stand. We are not aligning with some power against another. We are only concerning ourselves with looking after the interests of our own people. So the world should understand this. So they also should not take unnecessary steps against us. They do not need to disturb themselves. They don’t need to look at us as a terrorist organisation and think that we have links with this group or that group – that we are going to bomb this place or that place or hijack this or that – we won’t do it…
In fact someone in Jaffna asked me, Balakumar what if someone puts about the information that Sadam Hussein’s weapons are in Killinochchi and then the Americans use this as a basis for attacking the Vanni? Some people want this kind of things to happen. Some will try to link us with Al Quiada or with some other group. The fact is that we were pursuing the peace process well before September the 11th. We have been developing the environment for this for more than two and a half years for the interest of our people. We are not engaged in any action against any forces. We are only concerned with defending the rights of our people.

Thank you very much