LTTE responds to US Ambassador

[TamilNet, Friday, 25 April 2003, 16:25 GMT]
The Liberation Tigers Friday denied they had walked away from negotiations with the Sri Lankan government and said they were temporarily suspending talks “to provide time and space for the government to implement crucial decisions.” Responding to comments by the United States Ambassador, Mr. Ashley Wills, the LTTE’s Chief Negotiator and Political Advisor, Mr. Anton Balasingham told TamilNet Friday “As the representatives of our people we reserve the right to express our displeasure if decisions at the talks are not implemented and bi-lateral agreements are not fulfilled.”

The full text of the interview by TamilNet with Mr. Balasingham follows:

Ambassador Ashley Wills
21st US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Ambassador Ashley Wills
TamilNet: Mr Ashley Wills, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, in a comprehensive interview with Reuters, has presented a critical review of the LTTE’s position as set out in your letter to the Prime Minister Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe. What, in your view, is the central thrust of this argument? Do you agree with him?

Mr Balasingham: Mr Wills’s central contention is that the LTTE should continue to engage the Government of Sri Lanka to address grievances rather than walking away from talks. There is an element of misunderstanding here with regard to our position. We have not terminated the negotiating process or walked away from talks. What we have decided is to temporarily suspend the talks to provide time and space for the government to implement crucial decisions, particularly the normalisation aspects of the Ceasefire Agreement. We have not scuttled the peace process or terminated negotiations. We intentionally created an interval, an interregnum for the government to take immediate and constructive measures to address urgent humanitarian issues faced by the Tamils. We have taken the talks very seriously and the implementation of the decisions at the talks more seriously. Our intention is to pressurise the government to realise the urgency of the existential issues confronting our people and to impress upon them the importance of fulfilling obligations, pledges and decisions. The internally displaced and the refugees have been languishing in refugee camps and welfare centres for more than ten years. Obligations under Ceasefire Agreement have not been fulfilled for nearly fifteen months. Our pleas for the last six months, during sessions of talks, to resolve the issue of resettlement have not been taken seriously. I don’t think Mr Wills has understood the frustrations and the enormous suffering of the uprooted Tamils. The Ceasefire Agreement is a serious commitment by the parties in conflict, not only to cease armed confrontations but to create conditions to restore normal life to the Tamil civilian population also. The Sri Lankan armed forces have yet to fulfil their obligations under the truce and continue to violate the fundamental rights of the refugees to return to their homes and villages. This is the problem in a nutshell. We are representing the interests of our people. As the representatives of our people we reserve the right to express our displeasure if decisions at the talks are not implemented and bi-lateral agreements are not fulfilled. Our decision to temporarily suspend negotiations giving time for the government to act is a fair and rational form of protest. We wish to assure Mr Wills that we have no intention of running away from the negotiating process or ‘pulling out of the talks’ as he puts it. We have reiterated our commitment to seek a negotiated settlement in our letter addressed to Mr Wickramasinghe.

Mr. Anton Balasingham
LTTE's Chief Negotiator and Political Advisor, Mr.Anton Balasingham
TamilNet: Mr Ashley Wills has reiterated the usual American position that the LTTE should renounce ‘terrorism and violence’ to be accepted and respected by the international community. He further says that the possession of weapons and the maintenance of armed formations by the LTTE are not going to protect Tamil rights but rather will prolong the conflict. What is your comment on this position?

Mr Balasingham: Mr Wills as well as Mr Armitage have always advocated the renunciation of ‘terrorism and violence’ by the LTTE. The Americans are well aware that our organisation has already abdicated all acts of armed violence ever since we signed a Ceasefire Agreement. Yet we do have military formations to protect our lands and our people. The ethnic conflict is not yet resolved and the threat of Sinhala military aggression of Tamil lands is not yet over. Under these circumstances, decommissioning or abdication of arms is non-negotiable. The majority of the Tamil people will not agree with Mr Wills’s perception that the maintenance of armed formations by the LTTE would not protect the Tamil rights but rather create conflicts. On this issue the Tamils seriously differ with Mr Wills. Our people have suffered bitter historical experience of state terror and oppression extending over decades. The Tamils resorted to armed resistance as the last resort to defend their right to existence. Having gone through turbulent periods of state repression and armed resistance, of failed negotiations and betrayals, the Tamil people have genuine fears and anxieties with regards to their safe and secure existence. The Tamils are seeking, not only substantial political autonomy but also a security system that would permanently ensure the protection of their right to live peacefully with dignity and freedom in their historically given homeland. I sincerely hope that the Americans will appreciate and understand the aspirations as well as apprehensions of a people who have faced genocidal oppression from State terrorism and violence.

TamilNet: Mr Wills argues that your theme that the economic deprivation of the south and the devastation of the northeast could not be blamed entirely on Colombo’s misguided policies. He says that LTTE’s violent ‘separatist agenda’ was also a contributory factor for the impoverished condition of the south. What do you say?

Mr Balasingham: Mr Wills agrees that successive Sri Lankan governments have made blunders. I stand by my view that the economic chaos of Sri Lanka is self-inflicted in the sense that disastrous militaristic policies based on heavy international borrowing coupled with bad governance, bureaucratic inefficiency and widespread corruption were the contributing factors for the collapse of the economic system. I do not deny the fact that the LTTE’s defensive war campaigns that included strikes at the state’s economic targets had disastrous effects on the island’s economy. The LTTE’s armed struggle can only be characterised as reactive violence against state violence, a form of resistance against intolerable repression. Mr Wills, who should be familiar with the evolutionary history of the armed resistance movement of the Tamils knows very well that successive Sri Lankan governments, until the assumption of the present regime, adopted rigid militaristic policies that intensified the conditions of war which brought colossal destruction of the Tamil nation and led to the economic collapse of the Sinhala nation. Apart from the causal problems of the conflict Mr Wills will certainly agree that poverty and deprivation prevailing in the northeast are far worse than that of the south.

TamilNet: Mr. Ashley Wills suggests that the LTTE is expecting too much too soon by way of a peace dividend, that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ as he put it. How do you respond?

Mr Balasingham: There are two distinct issues here; firstly, the urgent and immediate problems faced by the Tamil people and secondly, the long-term economic development of the Tamil areas. The two should not be confused. As I have said, our present concern and intention is to pressurise the government to realise the urgency of the existential issues confronting our people. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils are being prevented from returning to their homes due to ongoing military occupation. The infrastructure of the Tamil areas, where the conflict has been raging, has been completely destroyed. We do not accept that the resettling of the displaced people and refugees, the restoration of normalcy or the rehabilitation efforts are matters to be addressed in the course of time. We have been stressing the importance of this from the outset of the peace process and are disappointed at the government’s refusal to take this issue seriously. However, the long term development of the Tamil areas is something separate to be discussed and addressed in the future.

TamilNet: The American Ambassador is questioning the economic ideology of the LTTE. What is your comment?

Mr Balasingham: I can only say that we are in favour of an open market economy based on liberal democratic values. Specific economic policies and fiscal arrangements have to be worked out in more detail in the final framework of a system of federal government at a later stage.


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