Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, the Deputy Minister of Resettlement of the Rajapaksa Administration and former LTTE commander in the East, spoke to Ranga Jayasuriya of Lakbimanews on wide-ranging issues: about allegations of extortion levelled against groups loyal to him, diaspora tactics, regrouping of the LTTE and how Prabhakaran learnt his military tactics from movies.
You are popular in the South, at least among certain sections of the Sinhalese. Recently there was an opinion peice written by Dayan Jayatilleka, who named you among some other illustrious Tamils such as Lakshman Kadirgamar and Kethish Loganathan who worked within the Sri Lankan system and succeeded. But, are you equally popular among the Tamils? They seem to see you differently…
Tamil people like me; it is only LTTE supporters and the diaspora who have an aversion for me. They don’t like any other Sri Lankan politician either.
I co-ordinate with the army, navy and police in resettlement work of the IDPs. But there is one problem. Tamil people prefer me as Karuna Amman the person, but, they are slightly worried about my political affiliations. I am attached to a mainstream major political party. So they have doubts as to whether they can get things done through mainstream Sinhala political parties. Otherwise, they like me as a person. I have initiated a number of major projects in the East. For instance, on Wednesday, we gave electricity to some villages in Tharavi (in Batticaloa). A few months back, when I promised that I would give electricity, they laughed it off. They said so many politicians have made these kinds of promises in the past, but that they have never kept to their word. When I told them that I would provide electricity, they didn’t believe me. On Wednesday, when we declared open the project, some people cried. Now they know that they can get things done through me. In the East, people like this government. In the north, we should work hard to counter the misconceptions created by opportunistic politicians. For instance, the TNA is claiming that the government would not give anything to the Tamils, that the government is colonizing the north and that the government is changing our voting system – these doubts have to be cleared at all costs.
So do you mean that there are no such plans to colonize the north?
This is false propaganda. Why should Sinhalese people settle down in the North? There are some Sinhalese families who lived there before even 1983 and some of them want to come back. If they have papers, they can come and live in Jaffna. That isn’t colonization.
There are concerns raised by some Tamil newspapers that Sinhalese traders are flooding the North.
That’s good. Because, people in the North now can buy things at affordable prices. Earlier, some businessmen were making huge profits by selling goods such as construction material at inflated prices. Now prices have come down.
You may recall the recent LLRC commission hearing, where a number of widows and mothers complained that people attached to your party are taking money from aggrieved families on the pretext that they would locate family members who had disappeared.
That is wrong. My party is the SLFP. But some groups use my name. There were times in the past; they demanded money over the phone promising to find people who had gone missing. However, now as far as I am aware they know that all this is a racket. I don’t think that people are paying them money any longer, because we have made the East safer. Of course, two years back, many nasty things happened. Though we handed over weapons, some people kept guns and took part in crimes and ransom taking etc. Now, most of them have been arrested. If you ask the Batticaloa DIG, you can get the list of people who have been arrested.
What those families were referring to, are the former cadres of the LTTE who came with you when you broke up. They remain loyal to you.
Nobody is carrying arms. They were sent home and they are living peacefully. Some people got government jobs and teaching appointments, depending on their qualifications. They lead peaceful lives. Two years back, during the height of the war, many things happened. Not only the army, not only our group, but also the LTTE kidnapped and forcibly recruited to their ranks hundreds young people. When the LTTE withdrew from the East, they took these people with them. Many died in the subsequent battles. But they are still being counted as having disappeared.
You are now with the government and a vice president of the SLFP. But do you have a real influence in moulding government decisions. For instance, the government recently wanted to ban the Tamil version of the National anthem…
That issue (the Tamil version of the National anthem) is under negotiation. The President’s thinking is somewhat correct. He thought that many countries sing their national anthem in one language; for instance in India, the national anthem is sung in Hindi. On the other hand, Tamil people are worried. So now the cabinet has taken that into consideration and decided not to act on the matter in haste. Language has been a barrier for thirty years. So at this juncture we have to be a little careful and the government is mindful of that. These issues would be decided only after thorough deliberation. Even the TNA does not need to criticize the government. If they have any objections over anything, they can fix an appointment and talk to the president.
There is this new Tamil political party forum, which the TNA has also recently joined. Why don’t you join them as well?
I am not a Tamil party man. I am a vice president of the SLFP. That’s why I didn’t join. But, I welcome their new found unity. When I joined the SLFP, there were about fifteen Tamil political parties and there was no unity among them. If they work together, I can help them as a politician coming from a major national political party.
Now you are the government’s man in the East and a Minister of this government. You had an LTTE past. Daya Master had an LTTE past. There is speculation that if you could be pardoned, why can’t 11,000 LTTE cadres who are now being kept in camps and facing legal charges be given a general amnesty.
That argument is based on the wrong premise. I gave up arms and demobilized my cadres of my own accord. I renounced violence on my own. Whereas these people were fighting the government until the LTTE was defeated. I am concerned about the well-being of these people as a Tamil person, but that is a different matter. We help these youngsters also. Now, 5,000 of them have been rehabilitated and sent home. Every month, new batches are going home. But we have to be careful, because some people could try to spoil these boys. For instance, take the London incident. When the diaspora campaigns for a separate state, we have to be worried whether these boys will again be used for their personal gains. The diaspora wants to keep the pot boiling because, many of them still have pending asylum applications.
There are reports that the LTTE is trying to regroup in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Do you think that the LTTE has potential to resurrect itself?
No, I don’t think that the LTTE could revive militarily. But, there are attempts to revive its activities on political and diplomatic fronts. Take the London incident. The diaspora supporters of the LTTE were carrying flags of the LTTE. That in my view was an example of the British government using Tamils to intimidate the Sri Lankan government. Would the British government allow al Qaeda supporters to carry pictures of Osama bin Laden and hold protests in central London? They (Britain) have banned 40 terrorist organizations including the LTTE and they let the Tamil diaspora carry LTTE flags.
If not militarily, how can the diaspora determine the course of the future LTTE?
The diaspora has this funny idea about a separate state. But, they don’t have any idea about the ground reality in the North and the East. They haven’t given a single cent to help the IDPs.
Then, how can the government win over the diaspora?
That’s what I am saying too. The external affairs ministry should work hard. They have to appoint proper ambassadors to every major diplomatic mission. They have to coordinate with Tamil people and the diaspora.
Do you mean we don’t have proper ambassadors in key places right now?
No, there are well qualified people and I appreciate that. But there is a huge communication gap between the diaspora and diplomats. Diplomats have easy avenues to reach out to the diaspora. For instance, when all the expat Sri Lankans want to visit Sri Lanka, they have to go to a Sri Lankan embassy or a high commission in their host countries. We need to appoint proper political secretaries to these places so that they could talk to the people, explain the situation and win their confidence. The diaspora could have even met the President in London to discuss their concerns. Our High Commission should be able to arrange meetings of that nature and work pro-actively.
As far as you know, are there any senior military leaders left to resurrect the LTTE?
Even senior military leaders don’t want to resume the armed struggle, because they all have had bad and sad experiences. And the security forces are now strong. So stakes are very high. Let alone the military leaders of the LTTE, even political leaders have now come to realize the danger of the separatist ideology.
There was a media report last week that the LTTE was planning to kill Manmohan Singh and Minister Chithambaram. What is your assessment?
I don’t think that they have the capability to do that, unless some other group does it and puts the blame on the LTTE. The LTTE is militarily finished, at least within Sri Lanka.
Were you involved in the Mullaitivu attack?
No, during the Jayasikuru period I was in the Wanni. Before that even I was in the Wanni. We won several battles. The army won several battles. But, at that time, the army had been subjected to heavy political interference. Some operations were launched simply to get political mileage.
Operation Jayasikuru was one such.
Chandrika launched it purely for political gain.
That was after the Mullaitivu debacle.
I didn’t participate in the Mullaitivu attack. I was in Batticaloa. After the LTTE was thrown out from Jaffna, the LTTE attacked Mullaitivu. That was partly due to the fact that the army underestimated the LTTE’s strength and left an isolated camp in Mullaitivu with no supply routes.
What happened to 1400 soldiers in the camp? Are you aware of their fate?
They all died, I heard. I didn’t see any of them (soldiers). They were not taken into custody by the LTTE. The LTTE also lost a lot of cadres, during the sea landing and during the battle.
Who commanded the attack?
Theepan. He was my second in command in the counter-operation to Jayasikuru.
Who was the most senior LTTE military man those days? Was it you or Balaraj?
I was the most senior when I was with the LTTE. Balaraj was assigned the Wanni range.
What happened to Karikalan?
He died in the last battle.
You had serious differences with Pottu Amman
I didn’t like Pottu. In fact many people (within the LTTE) didn’t like him, because he was a very ruthless man.
Pottu’s body was not found. Did he really die?
He died. I heard he died of an explosive blast. He was not a real leader. He was only carrying out Prabhakaran’s dictates. Pottu was the number one idiot in the LTTE. Killings were all Prabhakaran’s idea. Pottu only put them into action.
You said when you went to peace talks, you saw the world and decided to leave the LTTE…
I had problems with him (Prabhakaran) even earlier. But when we went to peace talks, we studied constitutions of many countries. For instance, I studied the constitution of Switzerland and I told Prabakaran, there are constitutions and there are people living together. I told him we should tell the government that we are interested in a specific constitutional arrangement and really start exploring it.
But, when you returned from peace talks, didn’t your people meet him and brief him?
His message was to drag on talks for five years. I asked him without any specific proposals, how can we go on? Then Anton Balasingham told , “OK, we will try.”
Some say after Balasingham died, Prabhakaran lost a mentor and that he started acting erratically.
No, he didn’t listen to Balasingham either. Balasingham was always giving him good advice. If he followed, there won’t have been any problem.
You were once with the LTTE and then joined the government and now (you are) a Minister. What are your future plans?
Even before I joined the LTTE, my family were SLFPers. I remember when I was a kid, there were photos of the Bandaranaikes hung in my house. Now I am a vice president of the SLFP. That’s the highest place a Tamil has achieved in either of the two main political parties. My idea is to promote national level politics in the East and to have a clear break from communalistic political campaigning. My message to other political parties is also to do away the communal line of politics.
But you fell out with Pillayan.
I don’t have any personal problem with Pillayan.
But, I don’t like their line of political thinking. I have all the paper cuttings. The government supported them and they won the provincial council election. Then they opposed the government and went alone in the election and badly lost. They played the race card during the election and told Tamils would not get anything from Sinhalese political parties. Now they are back with the government. They change from time to time.
Courtesy: Lakbima News