Interview : P. Ramasamy

Interview with P. Ramasamy
Deputy Chief Minister of Penang, Malaysia

“Sri Lanka is being allowed to pursue its war efforts recklessly”

The Tokyo-Co-chairs and other international actors have been duped in supporting the war aims of the Sri Lankan government, says P. Ramasamy, Deputy Chief Minister of Penang, Malaysia. Ramasamy, who has held the post since March 2008, has participated as a member of the LTTE’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, prior to the Geneva Talks in June 2006. He also served as advisor for the Free Aceh Movement ­during the Helsinki Peace Talks in 2006

The Tokyo Co-Chairs and other international actors have been asking the LTTE to lay down arms, end armed resistance and enter Sri Lankan politics, arguing that their concern to the catastrophic end to the war can only be on humanitarian grounds. What do you think are the reasons that limit them to base their stance solely on 'humanitarian' concerns and how does it affect the ongoing war?
The Tokyo Co-chairs and other international actors have been duped in supporting the war aims of the Sri Lankan government, having fallen into the trap of labelling the LTTE as terrorists. These actors have found they have little or no space to manoeuvre to a fast changing international situation. Although they are mindful of the ground support for the LTTE both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, they are unable to move beyond the present straitjacket of wanting to sideline the LTTE. Knowing very well the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka has been deplorable for a number of years, the Tokyo Co-Chairs have emerged as humanitarian champions overnight.

Some among the international community seem to think that the LTTE has not been flexible enough in negotiations with Colombo. As an expert who contributed in the political affairs committee of the Tamil side during the last negotiations, how do you view the 'flexibility' of both sides? If you think that the LTTE has shown enough flexibility, then what do you think is the reason for some members attempting to blame the LTTE for not being flexible enough?
Flexibility has to emerge from the two opposing in the conflict. While the international community expects flexibility from the LTTE, such a request is not made on the government of Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the international community seems to think the problem is mainly with the LTTE, while Colombo is allowed to pursue its war efforts recklessly, resulting in a humanitarian disaster for innocent Tamils. The LTTE is an expression of Tamil discontent of the Sri Lankan government and the way the latter has dealt with the Tamil national question. The LTTE is blamed for various reasons. This mainly refers to the organisations’s consistent position in defending and articulating the Tamil position in Sri Lanka. The refusal of the LTTE to compromise on Tamil dignity has earned it the anger of India and other countries.

You served also as an advisor for the Free Aceh Movement during the Helsinki Peace Talks 2006. How do you compare the engagement of the international community in contributing to sustainable and conducive atmosphere during the negotiations? What went wrong in the conflict in Sri Lanka?
In so far as the conflict in Aceh was concerned, the international community was much neutral in providing the political circumstances for peace to be achieved. The neutrality and objectivity of the international community was one of the main reasons as to why peace was able to be achieved in Indonesia. However, in the Sri Lankan conflict, the international community took a biased stand and its refusal to accord recognition to the LTTE as the sole representation of the Tamil people has blocked attempts towards a peaceful solution. What is more, in the process of the war, the international took sides with the Sri Lankan government to the utter dismay of the Tamils.

Since the Vaddukkoaddai resolution in 1976, the armed struggle for the establishment of a separate state has been spearheaded by the LTTE. There have been various setbacks, challenges and achievements throughout these years. However, there are certain international actors describing the current phase of the war as an end-game and attempt to describe the near-future as post-conflict scenario. What is your comment on this view?
The armed struggle in pursuit of Tamil Eelam is a long drawn out struggle for Tamils in Sri Lanka. There will be setbacks and numerous challenges. Armed struggle is an aspect of political struggle. Tamils and their representatives are open and willing to pursue a negotiated settlement, but the Sri Lankan state prefers to pursue a military solution. 

Thus, the armed struggle waged by the LTTE to protect and advance the move towards freedom is a defensive action. It is not that the LTTE is not flexible. Every day they call for a ceasefire and for engagement in negotiations. For this to happen, the international community and India in particular must act justly. Even though some ethnic conflicts are longer than others, there is no such thing as a perpetual conflict. Rather than providing confusing terminologies to describe the current phase of war, it is important for international actors to take some concrete steps to address the plight of Tamils.

The LTTE’s position on the Tamil national question is one of a separate state. However, a position need not hamper the LTTE to pursue other options if Tamils demands could be incorporated in other forms of political arrangements, such as it was in the case of Aceh, Indonesia.
The current issue is not one of positions between the warring parties, but one that re-focuses attention on the fallacy of the international community in searching for a just solution for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

—Courtsey TamilNet.

May 2009

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