We need a Federal system in a united Sri Lanka

By Mirudhula Thambiah

Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leader parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said, people of the North and East fought for their rights. Although the LTTE is no more that does not mean the conflict is over.
“We welcome the stand of the government on appointing a Presidential Task Force for Reconciliation under the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and we feel it may be a new step but they are yet to begin the task,” he said.
Following are excerpts:

What is your opinion about changing the victory day to Ranawiru parade day
A: I don’t see any change! Ministers are expressing various views about changing the name. One says it should be celebrated as the Security Forces Day since they kept the sovereignty of the country and battled against terrorism. However, it is up to the government to decide the changes in names of what they want to celebrate.

Although the government has not interfered in the celebrations of genocide mourning week Mullaitivu Magistrate issued a stay order banning any LTTE remembrance up to 14 days from 18 May in the Mullaitivu Police area. How do you view this
A: Again the government is playing with the people of the North and East. On the other hand they wanted to show the world that Tamil people are allowed to commemorate the Martyr’s Day or whatever it would be called. But at the same time through the Court’s Order they stopped all activities. People want to commemorate their lost ones, but it is now banned through a Court Order. As a result people will not be able to mourn their loved ones.
Tamil people want to commemorate those who lost their lives in the war. Each person in this country will have the fundamental right to pay tribute to their loved ones. They cannot be stopped from paying respect to their family members and relatives.
Recently a minister said people cannot commemorate the terrorists. Who is he to call people’s loved ones terrorists? Everyone should understand that those who died in the battle fought for a cause to win over the rights of the Tamils of North and East. I feel the government representatives are taking a double stand on this matter.

It is understood that party leaders in your coalition, including you, were not allowed to express your views properly with the US Foreign Secretary John Kerry. It is said that even Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran was not given time. Is that true?
A: Our party Leader Sampanthan always speaks out the issues in such discussions. As leaders we also tell our views. However, this is a different meeting where the Northern Chief Minister was also invited. As the Chief Minister he may have wanted to discuss with the US Foreign Secretary but unfortunately he was not given time. However, the time was limited and our party leader also should have known to give the minimum time at least to say something. May be it should be corrected in the future.

Were you satisfied with the discussion with Foreign Secretary John Kerry
A: Apart from the problems of the people of North and East, we also discussed the militarization in the North which is still continuing.
However, as our main concern was to find a political solution, therefore, we stressed on that matter. Currently the government is stressing on reconciliation. But how can we reach reconciliation without a proper solution for the ethnic crisis?
People of the North and East fought for their rights. Although the LTTE is no more that does not mean the conflict is over.
We welcome the stand of the government on appointing a Presidential Task Force for Reconciliation under the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and we feel it may be a new step but they are yet to begin the task.

Did you discuss the international and local inquiries on war crimes with the Foreign Secretary? What was his response
A: We are awaiting the UNHCR Report in September and after that we will be aware of the stand of the International Community. This will clearly state whether they would request for a local inquiry from the government or not. We said our past experiences will not encourage a domestic inquiry. We feel that it will be biased. However, we had less time and the Foreign Secretary did not talk about it with us.

There were at least 37 organizations that launched an armed struggle in the North and East with the aim of creating a separate State. EPRLF was also one such leading organization. Did your members have any differences with your Leader Pathmanaba after 1987
A: Although there were 37 organizations, five of the popular ones were the LTTE, EROS, EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE. We participated in the Thimpu talks too. These are the five major organizations that worked for the Tamil cause.
Our organization, the EPRLF, was formed in the 1970s. By 1987 there were disputes in our organization. Douglas Devananda wanted to be the secretary of the party and it was opposed by the majority of our members. He was arrested over a murder in Chennai. Thereafter, he was expelled from the party and that was the only dispute we had in our party. This tarnished the image of our organization. As a result, Devananda formed the EPDP.

Your organization was also well known among the majority community during the 1980s similar to PLOTE. Since you have worked with various progressive leftist representatives from the South, how far was it successful
A: I wouldn’t say that it was 100 per cent successful. But we should accept that there were progressive representatives from the South. There were also progressive people in the majority community. They were supporting the Tamil cause. At one point former diplomat Dayan Jayathilleka was a progressive person who had an organization called Vikalpa. They were supporting the right to self determination of Tamils. They went on to support the Tamils until the advent of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF). But now people like Jayathilleka have changed their ideas.
He was a minister for sometime in the North-East Provincial Council. There were no differences and we do not know the reason for his change. Now he is following a different path. Some might not have accepted the armed struggle which created lots of problems.

Do you still believe in leftist ideas of your party
A: We are still aiming for a socialist State in this country. There are many inequalities in society. We still have caste problems and there is no equality between men and women in the Tamil community. Therefore, to do away with all such differences to a certain extent I think we can aim for a socialist ideology. That could be a remedy to all the problems. We should take a cue from China and our party has studied the situation. Therefore, we feel that such an ideology can benefit our people.

How did you work with people from the Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the breakaway fraction led by Shanmugathasan
A: It was successful to a certain extent. Even the Chinese wing or the Moscow wing as you said also thought that there was no other option other than to liberate the Tamil areas. All those who represented the leftist movement including Trotskyites, the Chinese Communist Party and the main Communist Party supported the Tamil cause and they believed in liberating the people.
We were very much successful in mobilizing the landless and the so-called low caste people.

Why did you fail in the armed struggle
A: There were five major organizations and the LTTE wanted to take the upper hand. Therefore, internal killings were taking place. At that time nobody was in a position to stop these things. Differences between the major five armed groups may be the first reason why the armed struggle failed. We could’ve formed a proper united front. We were trying but it failed. Later EPRLF, PLOTE and TELO were banned and EROS was merged with the LTTE.
But LTTE being the largest organization failed to maintain a proper relationship with the International Community.

Do you agree that one of your leaders Varatharajaperumal tried his level best to settle the ethnic issue when he became the Chief Minister of North and East
A: He was our central committee member. He was the Chief Minister for one and half years, he did his best to solve the matter by meeting the then President several times. He was reluctant to devolve power to the North-East Provincial Council. Since the IPKF supported the North-East Provincial Council, the government wanted to send them back to their country. The provincial council members and the administration in whole were very much under threat. When the Indian Army left the country Varatharajaperumal also left with them with our leader Pathmanaba for safety.

There are allegations against EPRLF regarding the ‘Mandaiyan’ group which was in charge for many killings. How do you justify
A: That was created by the LTTE. There is no such group at all. At that time we were in the provincial council, definitely the LTTE was against us. This was an attempt to sling mud at us.

If so, how did you accept the LTTE later in 2000
A: All major organizations came in to politics because we had no option to win over our rights. It is not a battle between Premachandran and Prabhakaran. We should go forward.

Why is your party members antagonizing each other within the coalition
A: Whatever issues we should discuss among us. But recently it is not happening. Recently our leader Sampanthan hoisted the National Flag, But ITAK leader Mavai Senthirajah apologized for it, but our leader said why should he apologize, since he is a Sri Lankan and he has the right to hoist the National Flag. He didn’t consider us. Likewise our leader again went to participate in the Independence Day function with Sumanthiran, but most of us didn’t like it. We told him if the government is ready to settle our issue we may join them in such events. He didn’t consider us!

Recently your leader Sampanthan said a Federal System is not required but a solution in a United Sri Lanka will fulfill the ethnic issue. Are you in that position as well
A: I will not agree! Normally in our election manifesto we mention that North-East must be merged and there should be a Federal System. Proper power sharing can be arranged only in a Federal Constitution. If we go against it we will be fooling the people. We need a Federal System in a united Sri Lanka.
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