Midweek Review

Prabhakaran will never eschew terror: Douglas

by Prabath Sahabandu
Leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Douglas Devananda tops the list of Tamil politicians the LTTE wants eliminated. Battle-hardened former guerilla, Devananda is one of the few Tamil politicians who have the courage to resist LTTE terrorism. Prabhakaran is, Devananda says, a monster who hates humankind.

"I, like Prabhakaran, can sport a cyanide capsule and make my cadres wear one each," says he, occassionally turning in his chair to have a look at a TV screen where he gets pictures from the security cameras. "But I don’t. I want people to live, not die. That’s the difference between the LTTE and us."

Deputy Leader of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), T. Subhathiran (Robert), who was gunned down by the LTTE recently was a close friend of Devananda. Together they stood up to LTTE terror and dared scoff at the LTTE’s claim of being the sole representative of Tamils. They both disarmed in accordance with the MoU now in force. Asked whether he now regrets having done so he answers in the affirmative.

Devananda says it is high time that the foreign powers behind Sri Lanka’s peace process stepped up pressure on the LTTE to give up violence.

That the LTTE will give up violence on its own and agree to a peaceful solution is, he says, only wishful thinking. What Prahbkaran is striving for is a Cyprus like arrangement and at the present rate he is likely to achieve it before long.

Monitors are useless, he says, calling for Indian involvement in monitoring and the peace process. Monitoring and facilitation, he says, must not be done by the same country.

What would he say to those who aim at the Tamil vote at the next presidential election by appeasing the LTTE? Is the LTTE playing the same demand-game as in Banglore in the late 1980s? Does the North and East need any interim set up at this juncture?

Devananda speaks to The Island in Colombo.


Q: Your friend and political ally Robert has been killed. What message did the LTTE try to convey through this killing?

A: I believe that the LTTE wanted to clip my wings by killing Robert. Although we belonged to two different parties, we worked together. We were very close to each other. The LTTE claims to be the sole representative of the Tamils and wants Tamil leaders to either accept its claim or face death.

Q: But the LTTE says that the majority of Tamils are with it as could be seen from mass gatherings like Pongu Tamil......?

A: I am sure that more than 80 per cent of Tamils are against the LTTE. But they are too scared to speak out. If there is a strong alternative to the LTTE, the people will come out. That’s why the LTTE is hell bent on eliminating those who are capable of being that alternative.

Q: Anti-terror activists and democratic Tamil leaders like Robert are being gunned down by the LTTE at a rate. They, including you, complied with the MoU and disarmed. Don’t you now regret having done so?

A: Yes, before the MoU was signed we had our weapons for self defence. But today we can’t defend ourselves. We have disarmed but the LTTE is freely moving about carrying arms and terrorising civilians and killing opponents.

Q: But the government claims that the opening up of government-controlled areas to the LTTE was to help the LTTE enter the political mainstream in time to come. What would you say to that?

A: Whoever thinks the LTTE will give up violence and enter the democratic mainstream is being naive and fooling himself.

Q: Isn’t there any possibility of that happening someday?

A: Take my word for it: It will never ever happen!

Q: How would you describe the situation in Jaffna after the MoU was signed?

A: There is no war. The people are happy. But I believe that what we are experiencing is calm before storm. The people are beginning to realise this.

Q: Hasn’t the LTTE won back the people through the peace process? Their rallies are well attended. Any comments?

A: When the LTTE entered Jaffna after the MoU, they organised some 15,000 people and about 200-300 alcoholics were given a free booze to ‘energise’ them to carry on their shoulders the LTTE members in a procession to a welcome Tamasha. After about three months, the LTTE had ‘Pongu Thamil’. The LTTE could bring only 7,000 people. After sometime following the conviction of Prabhakaran—he was sentenced to 200 years of RI—the LTTE organised a protest against the judgement. Hardly 3,000 people gathered and of them two thirds were students.

The LTTE does not have protests during weekends or public holidays.

Q: Why?

A: (Guffawing) Because there are no students out on such days. Last month the TNA—Tiger Nominated Agents—and the LTTE planned a show of strength for May Day. They boasted that they would bring over 200,000 people to the meeting, where a declaration was made that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil people. But only 2,000 people turned up. The LTTE lost face.

The LTTE is losing people's support very fast.

The LTTE is going to hold another rally shortly and bring people forcibly.

Q: Of what use are the monitors to democratic Tamil parties? What’s your assessment of the role that they play?

A: They are of no use. We are not happy with them as we believe that facilitors cannot be monitors. Monitors must be able to say whether something is right or wrong. But they can’t do that as their priority is to facilitate.

The monitors always leave room for the LTTE to get away with serious cease-fire violations. For example when a Chinese trawler was attacked and its crew members were killed a few months ago, everybody knew the LTTE had done it. But the monitors, true to form, attributed the attack to a third party, which helped the LTTE go scot free.

Monitoring must be done by some other people who are not preoccupied with facilitation and are in a position to say which party is right and which party is wrong when a cease-fire violation occurs. We need monitors from some other countries.

Q: Such as?

A: India for example. As a regional Super Power India must also play a major role in the peace process because of its experience with our problem and geo-political interests.

Q: Washington has repeated its call for the LTTE to eschew violence. What do you think of such calls or warnings?

A: Those who believe that they can make the LTTE give up violence are sadly mistaken. For Prabhakaran is not a human being. He is a monster who hates not only the Sinhalese and Muslims but the Tamils as well. In short, he hates the entire humankind. He does not think the way you and I do. For example before the Tokyo aid meet, there were many who thought that at the last moment the LTTE would change its mind and attend it. I said, "No!". For, the LTTE knew if it attended the parley, it would have to commit itself to human rights, democracy. decommissioning etc., Prabhakaran doesn’t want any of those. Some argued that the LTTE would have to attend the summit because of mounting international pressure. I said, "No!" because Prabhakaran’s thinking is not logical or rational. No one even dreamt that he would take on the IPKF, the fourth biggest army in the world. But he did. No one thought he would ever get Rajiv or Premadasa killed. But he did.

So, that’s Prabhakaran. He will never agree to anything other than his goal.

Q: But he is said to have agreed to federalism and if this demand was met, wouldn’t the problem be over as the government claims?

A: They don’t know what the LTTE is. Let me give you another example as to how the LTTE deceives governments with demands. As you know the leaders of Tamil militant groups were once operating from India. Our leaders too were there and we would communicate with them via radio and all of us were monitoring each other's messages. At that time Balasingham was in Chennai and Thileepan was in Jaffna. We monitored this message between Balasingham and Thileepan before the Bangalore discussion :

Thileepan (to Balasingham): Are we going for talks in Banglore (over)

Balasingham: Yes, we are. Over.

Thileepan: What are we going to tell the people? We have told them there is no alternative to an armed struggle Over.

Balasingham: Why we are going there with a demand, no? Over.

Thileepan: What if the Sinhala government grants the demand? Over.

Balasingham: Don’t worry, we will put forward another demand. Over.

That has been the strategy of the LTTE—from the inception. If one of its demands is granted, then it will put forward another one which is more difficult for the government to meet. Like that it will go on until the government finds it impossible to meet its demands. If you remember, when the LTTE declared a unilateral cease-fire, it said it would come for talks without any conditions. But then it put forward demands—deproscription etc. And today it is clinging on to its demand for an interim administration.

Before I forget let me give an example as to how Prabhakaran thinks:

After the Thimpu talks failed, we were getting ready to come back. And we were talking about the importance of maintaining good relations with India. But at this point Prabhakaran turned to Balasingham and said "If we wage war on India, how many people will remain in Jaffna?" Balasingham did some calculations and replied, "There are about one million people and half of them will remain." Prabhakaran said, "That’ll be enough!"

Q: What did he think would happen to the other 500,000?

A: Killed or anything. He did not care. He waged war on India two years later. That’s why I always say Prabhakaran is a monster which does not care for anyone, be they Tamils, Sinahalese, or Muslims.

Q: The government is flaunting what it claims is a pledge by the LTTE that it will not return to war. What do you think of this?

A: As I said it is foolhardy for anyone to go by what the LTTE says. As I said, Prabhakaran does not think the way an ordinary human being does. If some other person laughs, we know he is happy: If he cries we know he is sad. But with regard to Prabhakaran we don’t know whether he is happy when he laughs or whether he is sad when he cries.

Prabhakaran cannot survive in a democratic set up. That is the reality. So, he wants a land where he can live. He will go in for it come what may.

Q: What do you think of the efforts being made by the government to persuade the LTTE to accept a peaceful settlement?

A: The prime minister is trying his level best to usher in peace. He is making a genuine effort. But I am not happy with his calculations about the LTTE. He appears to think that Prabhakaran is an ordinary human being who will agree to give up violence. But I am experienced enough not believe so. I have seen Prabhakaran from close quarters and have been watching him since the very inception of the conflict.

[Douglas Devananda was in the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF) in 1986 of which the LTTE was a constituent member. Of the leaders of the Tamil groups which formed the ENLF, only Devananda and Balakumar (EROS) have survived LTTE terror. The ENLF had four groups, TELO, EPRLF, EROS and LTTE. Devananda was in the EPRLF at that time.]

Q: That is, you know Prabhakaran better than any other person?

A: Yes, in Tamil they say snakes know other snakes’ ‘legs.’

Q: The security situation is fast deteriorating in the areas held by the government. What do you think would be the situation if war broke out?

A: It will be disastrous for the security forces. Earlier, we had FDLs with the security forces on one side and the LTTE on the other. But today even in the areas held by the forces there are LTTE cadres. The Security Forces do not know the LTTE from civilians. Unlike in the past when they were attacked from the front, if war resumes they will be attacked from all sides.

Q: Many LTTE political offices have been opened up in government-controlled areas in the NE. There are allegations that the LTTE is using them for terrorist activities in violation of the MoU. What are you views?

A: Yes, they are used to spy on rival political parties and the Security Forces, terrorise the people, collect protection money, forcible conscription etc.

Q: The LTTE appears to have stepped up arms smuggling. What are your readings of the situation?

A: The LTTE is desperate to ferry in as many arms shipments as possible within a short period of time. In the past, they did not do so. There used to be long intervals between shipments. There is cause for grave concern.

Q: The LTTE is clinging on to its demand for a fully-fledged interim administration. What do you think of such an arrangement at this juncture?

A: Our position is that an interim administration should be tied to a political solution, and decommissioning.

Nothing could be so stupid as trying to reconstruct war torn areas without first finding a political solution. It is like building sand castles on the sea shore. Solving the day-to-day problems of the people is alright.

Q: What do you think the foreign powers involved in the peace process should do now?

A: They must step up pressure on the LTTE to give up violence and immediately start talks on federalism which it is said to have agreed to. And the government must involve all political parties in the talks like in South Africa.

They must not be limited to the government and the LTTE alone. The talks must be open to the SLFP, the PA, the JVP, Muslim parties, Tamil parties etc.

Q: It is alleged that the government is giving in to the LTTE and trying to keep the peace process on the track at any cost so as to obtain the Tamil vote at the next presidential election. Could the Tamil vote be tapped by appeasing the LTTE?

A: I don’t think so. The Tamil people are not prepared to listen to the LTTE. The LTTE may rig polls if a free and fair election is held, the Tamil people will not go along with the LTTE. That’s certain.