Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, alias Karuna Amman, the former LTTE Commander for Batticaloa and Amparai, who this week formed a new party, Tamizhar Aikkiya Suthanthira Munnani (Tamil United Freedom Front) says the purpose of his party is to help Sri Lanka move away from confrontational ethnic based politics. He states that his new party will welcome Sinhalese and Muslims as members.
He declares that he will work with all parties of Sri Lanka in order to seek ‘visible solutions’ to the long drawn ethnic problem which pitched the country into a 30 year old civil war that ended in a military victory for the government in 2009. Karuna, who fought for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for over twenty years, broke away from the movement in 2004, and entering democratic politics, joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was sworn in as Minister of National Integration in 2009 and appointed vice chairman of the SLFP by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was the chairman of the SLFP.
Karuna denies assumptions that his new party could be connected to Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In the current scenario, he and Rajapaksa however share many similar views. Like Rajapaksa, Karuna does not believe in the rationale of bringing down foreign judges and the setting up of international courts to deal with wartime accountability concerns. Like Rajapaksa, he feels that this government has not ‘gone very far’ in solving the economic issues of the Sri Lankan people and the diverse concerns of the Tamil community. And like the former president he feels that the solution to Sri Lanka’s issues should be found within the country. With regard to India, Karuna opines that ‘Sri Lanka needs India,’ but quickly asserts that he means bilateral relations that benefit the whole country and not just the Tamils and not ‘interference’ by India.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
You were quoted in the media as stating that you have decided to form a new party to move away from confrontational politics. What will be the first step your party will take in this regard?
Our first step would be to ensure engagement with the intellectual and moderate Tamils and then with the Sinhala and Muslim community to seek visible solutions to the ethnic problem. Next week we plan to have our central committee meeting. Our central committee will be represented by membership throughout the country. We hope to get the Sri Lankan Tamil intellectuals, wherever they may be, involved in our party and make them part of the central committee. Once we have confirmed the Tamil membership we will look at incorporating Sinhala and Muslim citizens into the party as members. We welcome all. We will be calling all citizens of Sri Lanka to support us. We will work in harmony with Sinhala and Muslim political parties. We call upon the Sinhala and Muslim people to support us. We cannot handle our issues in an isolated way. We have to unite.
Recently Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran called upon the Muslims, as Tamil speakers, to support the Elangu Thamil (Arise Tamil) movement. However, he did not apologize for the atrocities committed by the LTTE on the Muslims like the August 1990 massacre, where 143 Muslims were killed in a mosque in Kattankudy and the expulsion of thousands of Muslims from the North. You were the Eastern Commander of the LTTE. Are you ready to apologize to the Sri Lankan Muslims?
I had no part in that incident. We still do not know many truths relating to the incidents that took place during the war. I regret that incident. We have to regret those incidents.
Are you willing to make an open apology to the Sri Lankan Muslims?
As I said I regret the incident. We should apologize. Everyone should apologize. So many people were killed. The Muslims also killed.
Are you saying the Sri Lankan Muslims carried out massacres during the war?
No, but there were commando type of groups that operated and they were Muslims targeting the LTTE. As I said I regret everything. Sinhala and Muslim leaders should also regret so many things that were part of the war.
After giving up arms and entering politics you were appointed as a National List Member of Parliament by the then ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance, and as Minister of National Integration under President Rajapaksa, and absolved from your wartime past. President Rajapaksa also made you the Vice President of the SLFP, a post you served till just after the change of presidency in 2015. Is your current attempt at politics somehow linked to Mahinda Rajapaksa?
Everybody is asking me that. No. My party is not linked to the former President.
So you will cooperate with this current government to bring about reconciliation among all communities?
My party will cooperate with everyone, including President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But many are not happy about the progress of this government. There are many problems. The Tamil people have not got anything from this regime. My party will seek to engage with the government. If we look at the Sri Lankan Muslim parties we see that they get things done for their community by engaging with the government while also speaking out on whatever concerns, they have but without antagonism. We will engage with them on the issue of a North-East merger. We can discuss a separate autonomous unit. The fundamental principle of my party is working with communities and the government for visible results.
Did the Tamil people benefit under Mahinda Rajapaksa?
There were many things done. There was the problem of Tamil people ‘missing’ as a result of the war and war time unrest. The former president established a commission to look into the matter of missing persons. Thousands of former cadres were rehabilitated.President Mahinda Rajapaksa went to the extent of saying he would go beyond the 13th amendment to the constitution brought about by Indian intervention in 1987 which gave power to the provinces. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) opposes the 13th amendment. The issue is that the amendment is not being maximized to give proper power to the provinces.
On your point that the Tamils benefited from the former President; it was the Tamil people (along with the Muslims and the moderates) who ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa…
Extremist Tamil politics got in the way of the reconciliation process initiated at that time. The TNA did their propaganda. They wanted the government changed. They said a solution would be found soon after the new government came in. It is two years since this National Unity Government took over. The TNA is now protesting against lapses by this government to safeguard their parliamentary seats. The TNA misled the Tamil people and said that under this government the military will hand civilian owned land back and promised the Tamil people many things. But very little has been done. Not a single military camp has been vacated in the North.
But this government states that a significant amount of land has been given back to the civilians by the military…
On the land matter, I do not agree. I do not think any significant changes have occurred after this government.
You have been a critic of the TNA. However, there are those who feel that the TNA is the legitimate voice of the Tamil people as there are those who think the opposite. What is your view of the TNA and its role in today’s politics under the current national unity government?
The TNA cannot be called the sole representatives of the Tamil people. The TNA was created by the LTTE. I myself was one of the people who were part of creating the TNA when I was with the LTTE. They came to power in 2013 in the Northern Province. They won the parliamentary elections from the North and East in August 2015. But what have they done so far except attempt to put the Tamil people against the Sinhalese?
There are issues around accountability during the war that surrounds both the LTTE and the then government. What is your stand on this and on the issue of using the expertise of foreign judges as part of this process?
In the war many bad things happened. People were killed. What is the use of foreign judges? What will they do? Will bringing foreign judges take the reconciliation process forward? I think we should move forwards and address the present day issues that the Tamil people are faced with. The Tamil people have to live with the Sinhalese. We have to consider their fears. Over 75% of the population of Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and we cannot just fight with them. No one wants war now. All the people are sick of war.
There are reports that the LTTE is re-grouping. What are your views?
I can assuredly say the Tamil people do not want another war. We have suffered for 30 years. There are over 85,000 war widows in the North-East. The Tamil people will not support a resurgence of militancy. There is no re-grouping but there are Tamil diaspora members who have returned to the North and East and are carrying out other development related work. There are all kinds of propaganda. But I do not think there is a re-grouping of militants.
According to you what are the key current issues Tamil people are faced with?
The Tamil people need a proper political solution. Whether it is one connected with the federal structure or devolution along the lines of the 13th amendment the government must be clear and work with the Tamil people. The government must make a proper statement regarding the issue of missing persons. A clear response is important and will help the reconciliation process. The Sinhala and Tamil people are still separated by the language barrier. There must be strategies to overcome this. There are economic issues. There are many problems that need to be dealt with.
What is your view of India’s current role with regard to the Tamil Ethnic question in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka needs India for a strong bilateral relationship. Not for interference. We do not need Indian interference but we need their support for matters concerning all of Sri Lanka. I say Sri Lanka needs India. Not just the Tamils.
Do you regret that the LTTE assassinated Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi?
Yes. I regret very much. I am one of the many LTTE cadres who were trained by India. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was a big mistake on part of the LTTE. We got labeled as a terrorist organization by India and banned by over 30 countries. When the LTTE formed itself in the 1970s it was as a liberation organization. I thought of myself as a freedom fighter. The assassination of the Indian Prime Minister was a regretful strategic error that negatively changed the image of the movement.