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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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