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Sri Lanka: Heroes’ Day Speech of Prabakaran: Too much is being read. Update No. 39

Paper No. 167                                                29/11/2002

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

As before, too much is being read into the Heroes’ day speech when there has been no shift in the position of the LTTE on the "Tamil question." In the midst of the ongoing peace process, it is natural for analysts to look for nuances in the annual speech, Prabakaran, the LTTE chief gives on the eve of the Heroes’ day, to commemorate the deaths of his cadres in the ethnic strife, many of whom have given up their lives voluntarily in the hope that one day, their leader would bring independence to the Tamils.

This is the problem Prabakaran is facing in making any speech which would be carefully weighed not only by the Tamils and the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka but also by the international community.  Then, there is the changed global environment after September 11 attacks when no distinction is being made between freedom fighters and terrorists.  In the recent Oslo meet on aid to the strife torn north east, the USA in the same context declared that the LTTE should abjure violence and drop its demand on secession before it could consider removing the label as "terrorist outfit".

It is too much to expect LTTE to accept such conditions and too premature when the core issues on the political issues have not been discussed at all in the peace talks.  Today the LTTE is having complete control of considerable territory in the north east, with their own police stations, customs offices, banks, taxation laws, courts and other adjuncts that go for a normal state. Balasingham at some point mentioned about "one country- two systems" which is actually the reality today.  The political dispensation so far offered by the Sri Lankan government ( the most generous so far, has been that proposed by President Chandrika at the beginning of her tenure) comes no where to what LTTE holds now and even such proposals have been scuttled or whittled down due to pressures from the opposition or the Buddhist monks.  The way the President and the Prime minister have been at loggerheads over the handling of peace talks would give no satisfaction to the LTTE to trust the majority community to provide a just solution.

Some of the responses of the analysts starting from "LTTE having opted for regional autonomy" to "LTTE insisting on secession" arise out of lack of understanding of the compulsions of the LTTE in the current global environment. There is some excitement in the response of the Sri Lankan government as they see a "paradigm shift" in the approach to the conflict resolution by the LTTE.

In our view the LTTE has not moved away from three out of four of its basic demands made by all the Tamil groups who assembled for the first time at Thimpu in the eighties to find a solution.  The three demands well known by now, are- 1. Recognition of Tamils as a nation. 2. The Tamils have a homeland. 3. Recognition of right of self determination for the Tamils.  Any consideration of "regional autonomy and self rule" has to take into the consideration these three factors.

Some of the highlights of Prabakaran’s speech are

* The LTTE cannot ignore the changing global environment and the need to adjust its freedom movement.

* The LTTE is on equal footing while talking to the Sri Lankan government and the doors for peace talks were opened by them only when the military situation was in their favour.

* The LTTE is prepared to attempt the peaceful path with all sincerity.

* Ranil Wickremasinghe’s government is also attempting to find a solution to the problems faced by the Tamils with all sincerity and courage.  The progress in peace talks is mainly due to the way the Norwegian facilitators have handled the talks.

* It gives them satisfaction that the international community has come forward to help in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Tamil areas.

* The occupation of Jaffna by over 40000 Sinhala troops and the presence of High Security zones have made Jaffna an open jail.  Unless this issue is sorted out, Jaffna can never be peaceful in the real sense.

* The LTTE is willing to talk on all aspects of the Tamil question.  The talks should have no preconditions or time limits and should be free.

* From Thimpu to Thailand, the LTTE has been insisting that the basis for a solution to the Tamil question could be only on the three issues namely, Tamils as a nation, recognition of home land for Tamils and the right of self determination.

* The LTTE is willing to favourably consider any proposal of self rule and autonomy but if their right to regional autonomy and the right to rule themselves are denied, the LTTE will have no alternative but to go for secession.

On the eve of Heroes’ day, the "Eelam" web site has produced a comprehensive list of all LTTE cadres who died during the period 27.11.1982 to 30.9.2002.

In all, a total of 17,648 cadres (fighters) have died of whom 241 belong to the "Black Tigers" outfit. Of these 13,882 are men and 3766 are women.  It looks that proportionately, the women have suffered more casualties. District wise breakup would be Jaffna 6487, Batticola 4535, Wanni 2521, Trincomalee 1479, Mullaithivu 1291, Mannar 1037 and other districts 298.