Devananda welcomes MoU, warns of LTTE's motives

Douglas Devananda, Secretary General of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party made the following statement on the government - LTTE MoU in parliament on Tuesday:

"We, of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party were part of the armed struggle till 1987. Following the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement, we gave up arms in the belief that a lasting solution to the problems of the Tamils would be possible through democratic means.

We, of the EPDP had always encouraged attempts at political negotiations and had never placed obstacles to such negotiations. We wholeheartedly welcome the ceasefire agreement signed by the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran pinning his faith in a political solution. It is our sincere desire that the steps that follow too would be successful.

None would be happier than we if an end to the untold sufferings heaped upon our people through more than 20 years of war could be brought to an end through the peace process.

The people of this country, the diplomatic community and the international community are well aware of the culprits who, lacking faith in negotiations and in democracy sabotaged the negotiations of the past.

The LTTE used every stage of ceasefires and negotiations to their own advantage and further attempted to strengthen themselves militarlly. They did not in honestly seek any lasting political solution. They could not even come to terms with the people’s support for a peaceful solution.

Judging from the past, one is not sure whether the LTTE is joining the peace process with real faith in such a process, or an LTTE weekend by the international events which followed the attack on American cities on 11 September 2001 by the Bin Laden group has only compelled it to buy time as part of its overall tactics.

We say these because of our experience of the past. When Tamil militant groups were brought under an umbrella organisation called Eelam National Liberation Front, Prabakaran signed an agreement along with Sri Sabaratnam, Padmanabha and Balakumar, only to kill and burn alive on the streets the cadres of the other militant groups immediately thereafter. He not only killed the signatories of the other groups, but assassinated heads of governments, Rajiv Gandhi and Premadasa. President Chandrika and leader Sivasithamparam are living witnesses to these deeds. It is our genuine concern that the present Prime Minister of our country should not meet the same fate.

Unlike in the past, the LTTE should make full use of the present window of opportunity to seek a lasting peace. If not, they will be subject to the fury of the people who are longing for a peaceful solution.

We of the EPDP reiterate our commitment to the peace process and to our assurance of not placing obstacles on the path to peace. However the LTTE and those whose policies are dependent on the mercy of the LTTE are very active in wanting to cripple us politically. If only they had faith in democracy they would not be embarking upon such undemocratic missions.

In South Africa, when the war against apartheid was brought to an end and negotiations were held to finding a lasting solution, every political party and every ethnic group was given the opportunity to join the process. It was decided to include all shades of opinion in the first government that was to be formed.

Both Nelson Mandela and Buthalesi of the Incatha Freedom Party who never saw eye to eye were included in the government for the sake of establishing peace.

But, here in Sri Lanka, they are waiting to grab the weapons issued to us for our self-defence. They are working on an agenda to cripple us politically. The arms issued to us were never used to kill Tamil leaders. They did not kill academics or educationists. They did not kill public officers. They were not used for fratricide. One must find out why, we who had given up arms following the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement have to once again depend on weapons.

The series of assassinations starting with that of Alfred Duraiyappah, after labelling him as a traitor, went on to include Appapillai Amirthalingam also being labelled as a traitor to justify his killing. The death series stretched to include Tamil and Sinhala political leaders and members of other liberation organisations, undergraduates, academics and educationists, journalists, members of parliament, mayors, the prime minister of neighbouring India, public officers, chairmen and members of local authorities, the police and the armed forces. One cannot forget that the LTTE was responsible for all these killings.

Prior to 1990 making use of a ceasefire, the LTTE assassinated Amirthalingam the duly elected national leader of the Tamils of this country and one time leader of the opposition of this august assembly and his colleague in Parliament, Yogeswaran. The LTTE went to meet these leaders for talks. Then in a cowardly manner shot the unarmed leaders. That was the most barbaric act the world had ever seen.

Judging from the past, are we not entitled to interpret the demand for the withdrawal of our arms as nothing but an act to cripple us politically.

We, of the EPDP believe that an honourable solution to the problem faced by the Tamil speaking people of this country consists of peaceful co-existence within a united Sri Lanka with a permanently merged North-East region as a single autonomous unit and asymmetric devolution of powers to that unit coupled with power-sharing at the Centre. We are a political party with faith in democracy to achieve our goal. We need the weapons for our protection. We had not taken part in Tiger hunts with the armed forces. We had not been involved in extortions, torture or harassment of the public. To suggest that we should be integrated with the armed forces and required to serve outside the North and East is an anti-democratic suggestion. It is important for everyone to realise that my colleagues and I and my cadres did not take to public life as a pastime or to seek fame, or to accumulate wealth or to create opportunities for us to join the armed forces.

We too have political goals, which have already been accepted by our people. Why then does the LTTE show reluctance to meet us on the political arena through clear political activity?

We are confident of overcoming any hindrance and of continuing the work we have already commenced. None need tell us of what we should be doing. At this juncture, I wish to remind this House of what Velupillai Prabakaran had told Anita Pratap of an Indian weekly in 1984. He said "If J. R. Jayewardene is a true Buddhist, I will not be carrying arms". I say in the same vein, "If Prabakaran is a true democrat, then I will not have to carry arms".

The day the LTTE declares publicly that it would not engage in fratricides, political killings, threats and harassments and that political dissent would be respected in the North and East and they implement these promises we would gladly and willingly part with our weapons, but continue our political work among our people. I say this in no uncertain terms.

The EPDP has over the past 10 years urged that solutions to the day to day problems of the people deserve simultaneous attention as does the solution to the ethnic problem of the country. Those who ridiculed us in the past for such a philosophy are now wanting to do the same. We are very happy about this change.

In 1990 and 1994, there were many politicians who had declared that the situation in the North and East was not conducive for democratic elections. In fact they were scared to get into these areas. We however took the bold step of meeting the people and paving the way for elections. We contested the elections to several Pradeshiya Sabhas. We served the people through these councils. We collected over 100,000 signatures from the public of Jaffna demanding the opening of the Jaffna - Vavuniya land route. Much against the wishes of those who wanted the war to continue we organised miles and miles of human chain in Jaffna calling for peace. We are now glad that those who scoffed at normalcy are now seeking normalcy. It is not our demand that a solution has to be achieved only through us. We welcome everyone’s participation.

If only the LTTE had taken the decision on negotiations 15 years ago the death of thousands of our people, the death of thousands of militant cadres and soldiers, the displacement of thousands of families and the destruction of property worth millions of rupees could have been avoided. If however, the LTTE does not use properly this rare opportunity, this golden opportunity, there would be left only a bare territory without people.Lastly, I wish to make an appeal. Let there be no punishment of the Tamil people if the LTTE fails to use the present opportunity as well. It is common knowledge that the LTTE hides amidst the common people and commits criminal acts and then makes bold claims of victory. As a result, when retaliation takes place the LTTE is never around to protect the innocent civilians. It is the innocent civilians who get punished for the cowardly acts of the LTTE. In conclusion, I appeal once again that the Tamil people should not be at the receiving end of punishment if and when the LTTE repeats its past tactics".