The Tamil Guardian caught up with the Tamil National Alliance's Batticaloa District Parliamentarian, P. Ariyanenthiran in a phone interview last month, and discussed issues such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Northern Provincial Council elections and the TNA's future plans.
See full interview below.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: After the successful elections, which saw the vast majority of Tamils vote for the TNA, there are concerns that the TNA is acting against what it pledged during its campaign. For example, while [LTTE leader] Prabhakaran‘s picture was used during electioneering, recent comments in parliament by Sritharan, who praised Prabhakaran, were denounced as extremist by Sumanthiran and Sampanthan. What do you say to those allegations? What do you think the people voted for?
I also took part in election campaigning in the North-East, residing there for three weeks. In truth, what we clearly said was that we did not campaign asking for development, or for a bridge, or for sports grounds, or for any support. We campaigned for the - in other words, for 30 years there was a non-violent struggle, then an armed struggle took place as the next stage for 30 years. We have faced many losses during this.
Approximately over 50,000 Maaveerar and over 150,000 civilians were affected by the conflict. In addition to that, for that's not all, we still haven’t come out of the conflict's suffering, for example those who are disabled having lost their limbs, widows, children unable to access an education. We, who have seen many losses such as these, certainly campaigned for votes calling for rights – that we must win these rights.
The Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, C.V. Wigneswaran also called the leader of the LTTE a Maaveerar. It was that photograph you would have noticed published in the Uthayan, under the heading “Prabhakaran the Maaveerar”. Therefore, to be honest, there continues to be criticism that we obtained votes from the people, but are not reflecting that [mandate on which we obtained the votes] in the work we do. There is one thing that we can see clearly here. After campaigning for votes from the electorate on one issue, it is understandable and to be honest, inevitable, that a concern will arise amongst the people that we are detracting from those issues because we don't discuss them and even after the elections we fail to address them.
However in my opinion, even if the leaders within the TNA do not openly discuss these issues, they are doing a number of things such as the issue of a political solution, followed by calling for the war crimes issue to be prioritised. Also on that, if you look at Sampanthan's parliamentary speech, he has said [this] three times, even at present. We can see that along with a number of other things, the main thrust of his speech is that Sri Lankan government continues to violate human rights and therefore an investigation must be launched in response to these human rights violations.
Sumanthiran also said in Parliament that both sides must be investigated. We need to view that as his personal opinion, but in spite that, what he tells us when he speaks to us, drawing on some legal points, is that we cannot call on the international community for an investigation into just one side. Therefore there is no second word that the TNA stands for the need for an investigation. However, I do accept that because different individuals say different things, there is a feeling of confusion amongst the people. Therefore, the people should understand this clearly. As far as we are concerned, whoever grinds the paddy, we need to get the rice. Therefore when they express these statements, so long as the target is correct, we should accept it.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: In your opinion, why do you think the Tamil people voted for the TNA is such unprecedented numbers?
To be honest the reason why people voted in this election was the horrors that unfolded in 2009, that the Sri Lankan government must be punished for the suffering experienced by the Tamil people. They used that weapon – the weapon of a vote – to punish them. The people of the Northern Province have very clearly illustrated our grievances and frustrations at the Northern Provincial Council election. I would view the casting of these votes was the people giving their mandate for an investigation into the horrors of Mullivaikkaal, for punishment for what took place, and that human rights violations must be brought to the International Criminal Court. If we are just going to call for development, then it is possible that can be done using Douglas Devananda [leader of the paramilitary party, EPDP]. Therefore, to be honest, whether it's the TNA leaders, or whatever anyone else says, the people in the Northern Province voted for the Sri Lankan government to be brought to an investigation at the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in March. I have no doubts about saying this confidently.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: Before the election, the TNA stressed the need to merge the Northern and Eastern provinces together again. There was also talk of forming an informal body for both provinces to work together. How will you take this forward?
In truth, this is reason why the Government is preventing the Northern Provincial council from working fully, that we would or should raise such an issue [as the North-East merger]. The Sri Lankan government's plan is to decimate the concept of a Tamil homeland. That's what you would have seen as the systematic [Sinhala] colonisation, whether that's it Batticaloa, or whether that's in Trincomalee, or whether it's in Mullaitheevu. The Sri Lankan government's intention is to carry out a plan to break the land mass into pieces, destroying the concept of a Tamil homeland.
To me it seems that some countries are supporting this agenda. These countries are – now, even the country that neighbours us, if you look at many issues, avoids calling for the merger of the North-East or the North-East as the homeland. This is a grave issue. Therefore, we all – whether that's the diaspora, the TNA here, or Tamil Nadu people – should prioritise this issue and take such an issue forward. Certainly, with regards to the Northern Provincial Council, if the government would allow the TNA, as the ruling party, to work correctly and with ease, our political agenda could certainly be carried out as the 'North-East'...for example, even if we are the opposition party in the Eastern province, there would be an opportunity for TNA officials, including the East's opposition leader, to come together and carry out many common plans. The Sri Lankan government is determined that such an opportunity should not arise. Therefore we need to manage this very carefully. I think we need to make clear at all places that we cannot abide by this.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: You said that you see how the difference in the TNA’s actions and rhetoric before and after the elections may be perceived as problematic. Do you think there is a disconnect between the TNA leadership and the people? There has also been talk of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for which there has been no clear stance by the TNA. You have said that you want a CoI, however now there is talk of the TRC. What is your stance?
Reports on the South Africa’s peace initiative came to light again last week. Our parliamentarians travelling there and back was highlighting in the news here. We have made a clear decision within our parliamentary delegation, and we have expressed it clearly. As our problem is internationalised, whatever country it is, whether it's South Africa, or it can be America, or Britain, or it can even be India, if any of them come wanting to talk about peace initiatives, we won't being saying no and disregarding them. Come, and do your peace initiative. However, if any country acts to disrupt or detract a possible international investigation at the upcoming March session, we are clear that we will not cooperate by that. Certainly, I can clearly say that no discussions will take place with South Africa before March. Therefore, without saying not to come and no to their efforts upfront, it is necessary for us to respond to them diplomatically – and we have. Therefore this issue, I don't think this issue will happen.
In terms of the people, the people in the North-East, they are extremely clear - after all this loss, there must be an investigation into the loss, and alongside that, there must be a political solution. But, the situation here is that the people here trust the leadership of the TNA. They accept their actions. Therefore, there will be definitely be differences between the words used by the diaspora Tamils, or diaspora political figures, or organisations, and the words the TNA use, living here, having taken an oath within the Sri Lankan government. Therefore, the need to understand these differences is an issue for everyone. However, [on whether the] TNA is going astray, has it deviated from its goal, everyone has the responsibility to call up the TNA and ask them. The Tamil people in the diaspora have it, the people here in the North-East have it. They have the right to do so. Therefore, we do need to deal with this maturity. It is easy to criticise just the leadership, but that criticism will only end up supporting the Sri Lankan government; it will not assist the Tamil people.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: Coming back to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are you saying that the TNA will not accept the TRC as a solution?
Yes, yes, for now. Although that doesn't mean that we will say that we have to put an end to the initiative. We won't say that.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: But what will the TNA do if the TRC is used as a stalling measure to obstruct an international investigation in March?
We definitely will not allow any initiative to disrupt this before March.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: David Cameron said during his recent visit that he would demand a Commission of inquiry during the UN Human Rights Council session in March, if there is no credible progress by then. What will the TNA being doing to support this call?
Yes, definitely...not only this March, we have continuously, even since 2009, on [the issue of] war crimes. Although the genocide began before 1983, we have been continuously pressing the international community for an international investigation into the overwhelming loss that occurred during May 2009, with the massacre of over a hundred thousand people. We will definitely continue to push this agenda this year too and the TNA is already working on the plans for this, very carefully and methodically.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: As you have said, the NPC is being blocked by the government. It is going to be difficult to go forward with any plan and there are no historic precedents for the government to allow anything that would provide security to the Tamil people. How long will the TNA continue to engage in the NPC, bearing these circumstances in mind?
Dismissing the governor and demilitarisation were issues stated publicly in our election manifesto, said by the Chief Minister himself, and said by our parliamentarians. These were the statements we made during the election. What is frustrating though, is that as a result of us calling for the governor to be changed, what the Sri Lankan government has done is not to change the First Secretary – she's a woman – even though letters have been sent clearly stating that she is not cooperating with the Chief Minister.
Therefore, it is now revealed, that the TNA, which asked for the Governor to be changed, is unable to even change the First Secretary in the Provincial Council. Therefore, we need to decide whether we continue this fight legally, or encourage the people to protest and thereby take the issue that the Northern Provincial Council is unable to function and that the Sri Lankan government is an obstacle, to the international community. I think this is necessary. Now, three months have passed. I think when January comes - that the TNA brings out events, news about the [non-functioning] of the Provincial Council. This is the need of the hour. I believe the TNA has made preparations to undertake such tasks.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: There are some immediate issues that you said need to be addressed through the NPC, for example demilitarisation, resettlement and employment. Are those issues being addressed? How are you doing this?
The thing is, that the Chief Minister is continuing to undertake whatever tasks he was doing previously and that were within his control. However, even though the Northern Provincial Council was determined by the people, with 30 seats assigned to it, and it is acting in a democratic way, it is being ignored. The Governor continues to oppose the Chief Minister in his work. Even today – I think yesterday afternoon, after the Chief Minister spoke – the Governor, on his own accord, called all the heads of department, and made clear to them what he is capable of within the 13th Amendment. What this shows is that there are two bodies. What he has said, without saying publicly, is that even if the TNA was chosen by the people, you don't need to listen to their views, accept my views.
Therefore, this has not just to do with the governor, the Sri Lankan government and the president are behind this. Therefore the government is using this dispute to teach the Tamil people a lesson that the ruling party from which the government is formed and to which the president belongs, should be the party from which the Chief Minister should come from; even if you cast your votes for the TNA which is in the opposition in national politics as your ruling party in the province, we will not let them function. We cannot continue like this, we need to take the necessary action. Therefore as you said, even the day to day concerns, basic needs, and housing problems have not been freely addressed by the Council. They have plans for it, but whether it is possible to action them is questionable, I think.
TAMIL GUARDIAN: The east has seen several years of militarisation and oppression. What is the situation in the East at the moment?
In the east, severe colonisation, land grabs and prolonged detention of IDPs in camps taking place. In particular, within the Trincomalee district, people in Sampur have been in refugee camps for seven years, continuing to live a refugee existence. The Indian government and the Sri Lankan government is carrying out what I would say is a act of joint conspiracy, not a joint act, to keep the people in the refugee camps, in order to build a power plant. However, the Sri Lankan government has stopped the usual supply of food to even the people living in refugee camps. They have ordered that the people must be resettled elsewhere. However, the people living there are steadfast, saying, we must live in our own lands. This is an incident taking place in Trincomalee currently, but colonisation and land grabs continue to take place in Trincomalee. Similarly, in Batticaloa district, Amparai district, and in all places, whether its grazing lands, or ordinary lands, border villages of Tamil people speaking, are step by step, being surrounded by Sinhala colonisation.
Even if we, as the TNA, have carried out awareness events regarding this, we have also taken some legal measures on this, with some cases being taken to the courts. However, we know what the courts will be like. Although, despite this, we still endeavouring to see if it can be halted using the law of the land. Therefore the issue of land grabs is something that is continuing. In addition to this, is the military's presence. When we say that, in the East, or the North, if we want to freely organise a protest, or a TNA political debate, or a TNA organised function, the military intelligence officers will appear before even the people. If the TNA announce an event is starting at 9, those who arrive at 8:30, will be the military. What they come and do is to film the people, and asking them, why are you going, who told you. When they [military] investigate how the TNA MPs associated with this [event], they [Tamil people] are scared and this stops them from attending.
In addition to this are the former combatants, those who were freed by the Government. They are unable to work, and forced to be inside their home. The reason being that when the military intelligence officers go and investigate them daily, their neighbours are also scared to employ these former combatants for work, even as an ordinary driver, or other jobs. Scared that they too will be harrassed, they don't include them [former combatants]. They avoid employing them, isolating them. This is happening in the Eastern province, it's also happening in Mullaitheevu – when I travelled there during the election campaign, it was taking place there too. Therefore, the ostracism of them [former combatants] is taking place. Another thing is the government is doing is to incorporate the former combatants into the military, and using them as another paramilitary, this has been reported on in several papers. Therefore such severe intimidation continues to take place.
In addition to this, what we can say is a truly awful occurrence, is that since May 2009, in the five years that have passed, cultural degradation is rampant. In particular, during the time of the armed conflict, decorum was prioritised, but now in the North-East, decorum is in the negative. It's absolute zero. Even this is a planned action, to divert young men and young women towards drug abuse, making them drink at bars, degrading culture, showing them online porn - whatever it is, it's taking place across the North-East. Their cultural symbols are being destroyed, Buddhist temples are being built – one could just continue listing examples of what is taking place.