Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias Karuna Amman, urged the Government not to have an international war crime probe into alleged war crimes during the final phases of the war in May 2009, as it would hinder the reconciliation process.
Former Minister and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Vice President Muralitharan, who formed a new party – the Tamil United Freedom Front – said the two communities were gradually strengthening their relationship in the last 10 post-war years.
“The war in Sri Lanka was an internal issue and we do not need help from outside to solve the matter. An International war crime probe would create more problems between the two communities,” he said, adding that since the LTTE was no more, if any such international probe were to take place in Sri Lanka, the TNA would have to appear on behalf of the LTTE.
“Since the LTTE is no more, how can they punish the LTTE for committing war crimes? Then are they only going to punish the Sri Lankan military for committing war crimes?” he quipped.
In an interview he spoke about his motive in forming a new party, the need to announce that all missing people have died in the war, the future of the Government and the TNA.
Following are the excerpts of the interview:
Text and pix by Shanika Sriyananda
Q: You were a strong SLFPer; why did you change your political stance?
A: I was a strong SLFPer and was introduced to the party by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I have worked a lot as a Deputy Minister of his Cabinet. But Tamils in the north and the East have been badly misled by the Tamil politicians for the last two years. They were given false promises, especially by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Tamils, including intellectuals, diaspora and religious leaders, have requested me to take the leadership to form a proper and strong political front to achieve their aspirations. This is how the Tamil United Freedom Front (TUFF) was born.
Q: Do you think the TUFF can challenge the TNA which has a strong vote base in the north and east?
A: I want to reiterate that the TNA is not a registered political party and it comprises of several Tamil political parties. Due to its diversified ideas, motives, agendas and attitudes, the TNA has lots of internal clashes.
Though the TNA proclaims that it is the sole representative of Tamils, the majority of Tamils in the north and east are not accepting them. For the last so many years they have misled the Tamils for their own gains. They have failed to deliver what they have preached. Tamils are fed up with the TNA and this alliance has no future.
In the last 2015 elections, they have given heaps of promises and the TNA supported President Maithripala Sirisena unconditionally. The TNA was only verbally guaranteed that those promises would be looked into during the 100-days program of the Government. Finally they have received nothing.
Q: You were a trustworthy commander of the LTTE; will your past boomerang on you?
A: Tamils appreciate my decision to leave the LTTE as an arms struggle will never be a solution to solve the issues of Tamils. Most of the war-affected people say that I took the right decision to quit the LTTE and they also would never have suffered if Prabhakaran had also taken a decision to come into the democratic path. People in the north and east are innocent and they only look for peaceful lives with good education opportunities for their children.
My past is a blessing for me and they need me to lead them in a correct political direction. After I broke away from the LTTE, thousands of people died in the war. The Tamils won nothing. People from the south have also accepted me for quitting the LTTE. But we can’t achieve success overnight. I am confident that I can successfully lead them in the correct path with my 10 years of experience in a democratic political career.
Q: But some political parties still want to keep the LTTE ideology alive. Your views?
A: Yes, anyone can try. They can arouse people to be racists. But around the world there is no space for any political party or someone to promote racism. People hate such people. Unfortunately, some of the TNA members are still into arousing racism, mainly for their survival in politics. However much the TNA propagates the LTTE ideology in different means, the Tamils will not accept them as people do not want to suffer anymore.
Q: Can you elaborate more about your party?
A: We formed the TUFF to engage in moderate politics. It is not ethnically biased. The Sinhala population in the east is high and they can join the party and so can the Muslims. We welcome all as it is a party not only for Tamils and the north and east. I do national politics, not regional or provincial politics.
Q: What do you see as the major unsolved issues in the north?
A: The most important requirement is changing the mindset of the Tamils, who were brainwashed first by the LTTE and then by the TNA, that the north and east is their motherland. Earlier it was merged but with the Court ruling after the JVP’s case, the two were demerged. Tamils in the east want to join those in the north. However, Muslims in the East are a little hesitant as their percentage will decrease when the two provinces are merged. We have to have a federal system in future to do the merger.
Sri Lanka comprises 80% Sinhalese and 20% Tamil speaking people including Tamils and Muslims. Without the support of the 80% majority we can’t think of remerging the north and the east. We have to make them believe that we are not going to have a war again.
Q: What are the other unsolved issues in the north?
A: Tamils in the north and the east lived and suffered in the 30-year-long war. The newborn babies grew up amidst violence and they know nothing about democracy. The major issue is implementing a proper reconciliation process to heal the wounds.
Q: Reconciliation has been the buzz word of both previous and present Governments. What more can be done?
A: The reconciliation process is getting better and no government is at fault. During President Rajapaksa’s regime we worked hard to implement the reconciliation process.
The LTTE had totally prohibited Tamils learning the Sinhala language. Sadly, still some factions are against Tamils learning Sinhala. In most of European countries they have to learn German or French to get a job. I think for proper reconciliation Tamils and Sinhalese should learn each other’s language to have a good understanding between the two communities.
During the previous regime, over 12,000 ex-cadres were rehabilitated and given vocational training to develop their skills to get employment opportunities. They were also given the opportunity to catch up their missed education. Today they have become peaceful citizens who promote non-violence.
The TNA, which always shed crocodile tears for the LTTE, proving its dubious stance had strongly opposed the ex-cadres who contested at the last elections. It is a good sign that they come into democratic politics but the TNA didn’t accept the accusing them as pro-Government candidates of the previous regime. TNA Leader R. Sampanthan openly rejected them. But I invite them to join the TUFF as I am happy to see them in the democratic political path.
The JVPers were the first to start violence in Sri Lanka. Now they are in the democratic political mainstream. Then, why not the ex-LTTEers? There are politicians in the TNA who were in the arms struggle. How can they refuse only the ex-LTTE cadres, who want to enjoy the democratic politics?
The next important issue is addressing the grievances of war widows. There are over 85,000 women who are heading the families. They need support. We have to have special programs for them.
Q: Since you have your origins in the SLFP, will you be joining the SLFP?
A: I do not have any problem with the SLFP and I worked hard for the party. I was able to open the first SLFP office in the east after 30 years, when Prabhakaran was still alive. Nobody could open an office as they were in fear of the LTTE. We got votes for the SLFP too.
My objective of forming the TUFF is to speak more for the Tamils. This party is not against anyone but to change the mindset of Tamils, who need a strong political front to solve their issues. I want to put a halt to the TNA misleading innocent Tamils.
The best example for this is the Chief Minister of the Northern Province. He is a moderate man who comes from Colombo and knows nothing about the north. But he promotes racism as he wants to become a hero among the Tamils.
When he became the Chief Minister, people had hopes that he would solve the problems in the north. But he has failed and lost the opportunity. Today, he is going in the other direction, deviating from the TNA. So far the TNA has failed to achieve anything meaningful with the support of the Government.
Q: The TNA in its Elagu Thamil campaign in the Eastern Province demanded a probe into missing people. What is the stance of your party on missing people?
A: Their requests, including the fate of the missing people and releasing land occupied by the military, are reasonable. How the TNA is demanding to solve these burning issues is wrong because they use innocent people, whose kith and kin have been missing for years. The parents of missing people who have been suffering for many years will join anyone who give them some hope. The TNA at the recently held Elagu Thamil campaign in the east used these innocent victims for their political gains.
Whatever the government in power has the responsibility of telling the truth about missing people. Some interested political party is trying to mislead those innocent parents further by accusing the Government of running illegal camps to detain those who went missing. Can anyone imagine this rumour? How can anyone run a secret camp while the most sophisticated technology can be used to find out such hidden camps in Hambantota and Anuradhapura? The USA will scan the whole country through their satellites.
I say with responsibility that there are no such camps in Sri Lanka to hide missing people. It is time to tell the truth that they died in the deadly war. Then the Government has to pay compensation to the families of the missing people. They also can have final rituals according to their funeral customs. It is not the time to manage the situation by appointing commissions to probe into missing people.
Even my brother went missing. I asked my mother not to have hopes about his return as he was killed by the LTTE. We had final rituals. Since we have not recovered his body he too will be in the list of missing people. But I told my mother the truth. I strongly believe this is the time to reveal the truth about them. Though it is hard, we have to announce that they died in the war.
When the LTTE attacked the Elephant Pass Army Camp, many soldiers died. The LTTE informed the then Government to collect the bodies but it refused to get the bodies saying there would be a huge commotion if the bodies of soldiers were sent to their villages. So people in Kilinochchi and the LTTE buried those bodies. Those soldiers may still be in the list of missing people. Not only Tamils, there are Sinhala villagers and soldiers in the list. Their loved ones need to know the ‘certified’ truth.
Q: The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) came out with some proposals during the previous regime. Why did the then Government fail to implement them?
A: Yes, it was a good system and there were lots of good recommendations. Unfortunately no one has implemented them. It was similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. When I was the Deputy Minister I went to South Africa to discuss the issue of missing people as they also had the same issue. They first did the count through the TRC and found 22,000 people were missing. Then the Government declared that 22,000 people have died. The families were compensated and after that no one raised the issue. We too need to implement the same process.
Q: They have requested an international commission. Do you believe in an international probe?
A: No, I strongly believe an international inquiry will create further problems. In an international inquiry there should be two parties and two whom they are going to punish. After 30 years of a blood-stained past, the people in the south and the north are gradually strengthening their relationships during the last 10 post-war years.
The war in Sri Lanka was an internal issue and we do not need help from outside to solve the matter. I believe we need the international community and their support but we do not need a war crime inquiry from the international community.
Even if they carry out an international probe, both parties – Sri Lankan military and the LTTE – should present. Since the LTTE is no more, how can they punish the LTTE for committing war crimes? Then are they going to only punish the Sri Lankan military for committing war crimes?
They are only talking about the war crimes committed during the final stages of the war in May 2009. What about the war crimes committed earlier and are they going to punish for those also? Will the Sri Lankan military only be punished for war crimes? This will create serious issues in the south. Or otherwise the TNA, which voiced for the LTTE, has to represent the LTTE in a war crime inquiry.
Q: TNA Parliamentarian Sumanthiran exposed a plot by ex-LTTE cadres to kill him. Your views?
A: His complaint is baseless and false. The main motive is to strengthen his security; he is insecure in the north as people hate him. He doesn’t know anything about the north as he was born and bred and also lives in Colombo. He is creating lots of problems in the north and people do not like him. He can’t go to Jaffna without heavy security.
It is very sad that he has put the lives of rehabilitated ex-cadres at risk. They are innocent and struggling to find jobs. Six ex-cadres have been arrested. His false complaint has affected the lives of many ex-cadres who live peaceful lives.
Q: You claim that the rehabilitated ex-cadres still lack livelihood opportunities. What are your future plans to get help from the Tamil diaspora?
A: Yes, I will be talking to them about these issues. The Tamil diaspora has a huge responsibility to develop the north and east. There are lots of Tamil businessmen there and they can start business ventures to give jobs to the people of the north and east.
Brandix is building the biggest industrial venture in the Eastern Province and they need 5,000 workers. There are over 40,000 war widows in the province and this is a good opportunity for them to get employment. If the Sinhalese businessmen can start businesses to offer jobs for the war-affected people, why can’t the wealthy Tamils around the world come to Sri Lanka to start business to help their own people?
There are multibillionaires like Jaffna born Ananda Krishnan, who owns the Twin Towers in Malaysia, and several top class businessmen from the north. It is time to invest here to help their own people.
I will soon start a dialogue with them to invite them here to invest. They have money to make the north better than Colombo. The main blockade to encourage them to invest in the north and east is the false pro-LTTE propaganda by the TNA. These top Tamil businessmen are scared to come to Sri Lanka. I will convince them to know about the ground realities in the country.
Q: But the TNA has mature politicians to talk and invite them. Why do you think they have failed so far?
A: Yes, the TNA has mature politicians like R. Sampanthan and Mavei Senandiraja. The issue is most of them don’t know how to express their views while not creating tension between the two communities. They also do not know how to explain the ground realities to the Tamil diaspora.
Mavei is saying that Tamils will take up arms if the problems are not solved. He was one reason why I also joined the LTTE. Those days they boosted the image of the LTTE and the youth like me were fooled by them saying that the arms struggle was the only solution to win the issues of Tamils. We were misled by those mature politicians. But when we were fighting for the cause, they ran to India for safety.
After the end of the war, which killed thousands of people, they have returned from India and sadly again these mature politicians are promoting the same war mentality. I request them to stop their aged-old slogans, to stop extremist and racist ideas which will affect the peaceful lives of Tamils. They are again in politics during the past 10 post-war years but they couldn’t do anything for the people. At the very least they couldn’t even move camps from civilian properties.
It is time for them to change their style of language to address national issues. Instead of taking out military camps from the north they should ask the Government to shift the military camps to State lands. No Government will totally remove military camps from any province as national security is very important.
As I said before, Tamils need moderate political leaders. The mindset of the senior leaders will not change. They are still not ready to embrace the change that has taken place after ending the war. We do not want fundamentalists; the country needs leaders who can develop the country and its people. Those mature leaders are playing the old radio programs which we have listened to 30 years back.
Q: Did the TNA want to join the MR Government to solve the issues?
A: When I was in Cabinet I invited TNA Leader Sampanthan to join the Government, because then we had the two-third majority to solve most of the issues and also former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was a very straightforward leader. I have not seen such a brave leader. He will directly tell you whether he will do something or not.
I have heard that Sampanthan was recently saying they need the support of President Rajapaksa. Why now? We need strong leaders like MR to develop the country. The Government should now shift from revenge taking mode and consider more on developing the country.
Q: The Government says that they are not taking revenge but exposing large-scale corruption during the MR regime?
A: I can’t accept that allegation. The Government is engaged in a propaganda campaign so far by taking several people including politicians into custody. Two years have passed but nothing has been proved. We have seen people going to FCID, which is an illegal investigative arm, according to Minister Susil Premajayantha.
The biggest-ever corruption in the country’s history happened after this Government came into power. Why they do not talk about it and carry out a full inquiry into it? This Government has a vengeful mentality. I do not think this Government has a second chance after 2020. People will change it at the next election.
The present Government blames the MR Government for taking huge amount of loans. The Government told the Parliament that they got GSP Plus. But what happened was they set 58 conditions to grant the facility.
The same offer came during the previous government but President Rajapaksa said that his Government doesn’t want GSP Plus and he could develop the country without it. Then he turned to China to get loans.
He gave only 750 acres to China but this government has given 15,000 acres to China. According to my knowledge, when you give land, the air space is also owned by that country. I do not know much about the agreement signed between the Government and China, but this has made India worried as China can use that air space in Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean region. India, which is accused of helping to defeat President Rajapaksa, I think now wants him back in power.
I also requested the Joint Opposition Leader not to take revenge if they come into power. After suffering from a 30-year-long war, Sri Lanka cannot afford to waste time and money on unnecessary issues. We need to move forward.