10 Apr 2002
By Nirupama Subramanian
KILLINOCHCHI, (NORTHERN SRI LANKA), APRIL 10. The leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velupillai Prabakaran, claimed here today that he was sincere about peace and wanted a political solution with the Sri Lankan Government but reiterated his commitment to an ``independent Tamil state'' in no uncertain terms.
At his first media outing in more than a decade, he also expressed his desire to rebuild ties with India and said that for this both the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indians should put the past behind them.
The 47-year-old Tamil leader appeared at the venue of the press conference in his now standard blue-grey safari suit, surrounded by armed bodyguards, a little after 5.30 p.m.
He spoke in Tamil during the two-and-a-half hour press conference. His political adviser, Anton Balasingham, was by his side, providing the English translation as well as replies to several questions.
Over 200 journalists from all over the world had arrived here a day in advance for the event and went through a 10-hour security screening today before being taken to the venue.
But expectations that the press conference could lead to a breakthrough in the on-going Norway-sponsored peace talks between Colombo and the LTTE were belied. Indeed, at one point of time visibly disappointed Western journalists wanted to know why the press conference had been called.
``I do not think that the necessity has arisen for us to renounce the goal of Tamil Eelam yet. The right condition has not arisen for the LTTE to abandon the policy of independent statehood,'' Mr. Prabakaran said.
In any case, the desire for a separate state was not the LTTE's alone but of the entire Tamil people, he added.
The reclusive LTTE leader, who consulted Mr. Balasingham extensively before responding to most questions, said his organisation was going to Thailand for talks with the Sri Lankan Government only to discuss the establishment of an interim administration in the north-east. But Sri Lanka would have to first de-proscribe the organisation.
A final solution to the conflict would have to embody the fundamental LTTE demands of the right to a Tamil homeland, nationality and self-determination.
If the Sri Lankan Government was willing to offer self-rule and autonomy embodying these four principles and if the framework of such a solution was acceptable to the LTTE, it would respond positively, Mr. Prabakaran said.
He expressed satisfaction with the pace of the peace progress so far and complimented the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, for ``the bold steps'' he had taken to implement the goodwill measures in Northern Sri Lanka. Mr. Wickremesinghe was sincere about bringing a peaceful solution, he added. But, Mr. Prabakaran noted, the Sri Lankan Government was at the moment not in a position to offer an acceptable formula, which was why the LTTE had suggested an interim administration to give time to prepare its people for a permanent solution.
Responding to a question, he said his instructions to his cadre to kill him if he compromised on the goal of an independent state remained.
Making it clear that the LTTE did not recognise the authority of the Sri Lankan state, Mr. Balasingham said that while Mr. Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the LTTE leader was ``the Prime Minister and President of Tamil Eelam''.
It was apparent all through the conference that the LTTE is wooing India with a vengeance.
``We want to establish friendly, positive and constructive relations with the Government of India. India's participation is crucial for the peace process. We do not want to alienate India. Without the support and sympathy of the people and the Government of India, this problem cannot be solved,'' he stated. He said the LTTE would be taking up the issue of de-proscription in India with the Indian Government ``at the appropriate time''. But he refused to comment on his status as a wanted man in India.
`Rajiv killing tragic'
Mr. Prabakaran described the assassination of the late Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, as a ``tragic'' incident but refused to answer any more questions on it. Mr. Balasingham said that it was some thing that had happened 10 years ago and that those who asked questions about it were living in the past. He said the LTTE leader could not comment on the assassination as the clemency pleas of the four who were sentenced to death in the case were pending in court.
Mr. Prabakaran said: ``We want to engage the Government of India. Our people love India and the people of India. We are culturally and ethnically linked to the Indian subcontinent. India is our fatherland. We look forward to establishing new and constructive relations with India.''