Defeat terrorists for peace in SL: Karuna

LTTE is not the sole representative of Tamils in Sri Lanka

Vinyagamurthy Muralitharan (39), better known as Karuna, has become a household name in Sri Lanka, since his defection from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in March 2004. He is hated by the LTTE Wanni faction but praised by others keen on defeating the Wanni Tigers. In a wide ranging interview with Ruwan Weerakoon, at an undisclosed location in the east, Karuna spoke about the Tigersí air capability, the militaryís campaign and his own future plans, even as the government completed half its term in office, with parliamentary elections due in three years. He spoke of provincial council elections and the need for a referendum in the east in another two years to determine whether the easterners wish to merge or de-merge with the north.

Q: Recently, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) base at Katunayake was bombed by the LTTE. What are your views?
Ever since Jaffna was captured, Prabhakaran planned to purchase several small planes known as light aircraft from Thailand and other countries in the east to be assembled here.

Q: Was this after 1994?
Yes. After 1994, after the Riviresa operation, Prabhakaran started on a plan to purchase light aircraft. When the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) was signed between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prabhakaran, the interim period was used to purchase light aircraft. He sent his cadres for training in private schools in Thailand and Malaysia. However, military-wise, this attack cannot be considered a major one. On the ground, Prabhakaran has lost many of his strongholds. The east is almost totally lost, while he is losing in the north. This attack on the air base is a propaganda stunt to create fear in the minds of the people. The aircraft will also be used for suicide missions. This was planned several years ago. Even if Prabhakaran purchases nuclear weapons, he cannot achieve his goal of a separate state.

Q: What is the exact year the LTTE purchased aircraft and how did it do it?
As per the CFA, the LTTE was allowed access to and use of the sea for training and fishing after five months, the LTTE commenced smuggling weapons, ordnance and dismantled light aircraft by ship, aided by the clauses in the CFA.

Q: What is the role played by Jeyakumar in Australia? Did he supply aircraft?
We heard that he has died. Jeyakumar was close to Prabhakaran and played a key role in fundraising. Though he played an important role in purchasing aircraft, his main role was fundraising. Those who played important roles in purchasing aircraft are K. Pathmanathan, better known as KP, and one Pradeep Master. Weapons, ordnance and aircraft are purchased from countries such as Ukraine. Even artillery is purchased from Ukraine. There are many brokers assisting the LTTE to purchase arms.

Q: What type of artillery was smuggled in during the CFA and how?
Some six 130 mm artillery guns, four 152 mm guns and more than 20 122 mm guns and Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL) were smuggled in. They were brought by ship and unloaded off Challai near Mullaitivu.

Q: What advice do you have to destroy the LTTEís air capability?
In fact, the LTTEís air capability is not that great. There are only five or six small planes, which isnít much. My advice is that three steps should be taken. Firstly, the LTTE strongholds on the ground should be captured, starting with securing the A9 route. Next, the Sri Lankan Government should strengthen the Sri Lanka Navy to be able to effectively prevent the smuggling of weapons and ordnance by sea, which is the main supply route for the arming of the Tigers. Thirdly, LTTE fundraising overseas should be stopped.Funds are raised in many ways, including illegal money laundering. If these are stopped, automatically, Prabhakaranís organisation would come to a standstill. However, the capture of the ground level strongholds should be the primary objective. Then, LTTE activities will automatically come to a standstill. Then, the organisation wonít even have a runway for their small planes.

Q: The SLAF has taken on several targets. According to your information, were these targets accurate?
The many air raids launched by the SLAF are accurate. Many Sea Tiger bases and Forward Defence Lines (FDL) have been destroyed, with many commanders and cadres killed. But air raids alone would not help to completely destroy the strength of the LTTE. For example, a gravel road could be used as a runway for light aircraft. Hence, my suggestion is to first capture land and their strongholds, thereby destroying the LTTE.

Q: Do you think the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) is on the right track in taking on the Tigers? How do you rate the concept Ďseek and destroyí by small group teams?
The present SLA Chief Sarath Fonseka has used these new changes as war tactics. During Operation Jayasikuru, scores of army personnel were involved in the operation and the army suffered heavy losses. As a war tactic the military has formed small groups. The army is successfully targeting and destroying the LTTE. What it is doing is drawing the LTTE towards it and making a frontal attack. Many LTTE cadres are killed as a result. In Vakarai, nearly 200 LTTE cadres died, with minimal loss to the SLA of just 40 or 42 killed. Although it is a slow process and time consuming, it is a good concept. It is good to build up the morale of the security forces, as they wonít get frustrated when losses are minimal on their side. The other aspect is that it has helped capture the strongholds. They are now consolidating in many places.

Q: Operations are to be expanded into the Wanni, Madhu, Kilinochchi and possibly, Mullaitivu. What do you anticipate?
When well planned tactics are employed, they succeed. After we quit the LTTE, the organisation lost its capability to launch offensives.

Q: Why?
When I was in the LTTE, 95% of the offensives were launched by my commanders and me. But now, there isnít a single commander with that capability in the LTTE outfit. For example, three years have lapsed since we left the LTTE, and not a single army camp captured. For instance, last month, it could not even capture the Mavadivembu army camp, which had only 40 soldiers. In the past, military operations were launched for political gain, with much political propaganda about it. But now, military operations are for the purpose of destroying or eradicating terrorism. The army should be given complete authority to decide how to launch operations and attacks to destroy terrorists. Earlier, operations like Jayasikuru were used for political advantage.

Q: Can the security forces win this war or not?
The SLA is well organised. It has the capacity and the capabilities. Hence, once the decision making power is given to the SLA, there is no doubt that it will win this war.

Q: How about SLAFís air power and the military in general?
SLAFís power has been strengthened. Nowadays the targeting is accurate. The recent success of the military is because the commandos are used on the ground as commandos and the infantry as infantry, which situation was not there in the past. The Navy is also doing well. Within this month, four ships have been destroyed. The supply to the LTTE has been curtailed by the Sri Lanka Navy. They are performing well.

Q: What about the air targets Ė are they accurate or not?
The targets are accurate. The navy is doing well, and within this month, four ships have been destroyed. The supply to the LTTE has been obstructed by the Sri Lanka Navy. They are good.

Q: You mentioned Jayasikuru. Didnít you attack the government troops from the rear?
Yes, we took all measures to counter that operation with our offensives. It is said that attack is the best form of defence. So our counter operations during Jayasikuru rendered the army helpless.

Q: Did Prabhakaran give you instructions regarding this particular attack that you launched?
Prabhakaran didnít know anything. At that time, I drew up the whole plan and executed the counter operations during Jayasikuru. He appointed me to be in charge of counter operations. I was not involved in the counter operations during Riviresa.

Q: It is alleged that the Karuna group has connections to the SLA. What do you say?
That is not true. It is false propaganda. Our movement is a political movement. We have a military wing at our bases in the forest for self defence purposes. Hence, the allegation about our connection with the SLA is completely false.

Q: Do you totally deny any involvement with the SLA?
Military-wise, we donít have any connection with the SLA. However, our political wing, which is unarmed, has requested security from the government. Security is provided to our offices in Colombo, Batticaloa and Trincomalee to enable us carry out our political activities.

Q: There are strong allegations that you abduct children and Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned you on this score. Even UN Special Representative Allan Rock alleged that the army is helping your faction in recruiting child soldiers?
It is strange to hear that the SLA is assisting us. Furthermore, we donít abduct children. I would like to clearly state that nearly 20 of our offices manned by our cadres are functioning in government-controlled areas in the east. So, if those cadres had been recruited forcibly and sent to those offices, they would have escaped by now.

Q: But, couldnít they be forcibly held by the military?
We donít need to recruit children, since we donít have a need to strengthen our military. Our military is only for self defence. Furthermore, we donít need to strengthen our military to infiltrate because the SLA is doing that. It is defeating the LTTE. In areas liberated by the army, we are putting up political offices to help the people to rebuild and resettle in these places. Hence, we donít have a need to strengthen our military by recruitment. We want to bring a complete stop to this war.

Q: Why is it that the LTTE does not use its power in the east? Why doesnít the LTTE use its air capability in the east?
The LTTEís air capability is not strong. It has some small planes, which are not enough to launch attacks on the ground.

Q: In that case, how did it attack the Katunayake Airbase?
It canít launch a proper air raid, and engage in an air battle. It can only conduct hit and run raids.

Q: Why canít the LTTE build a runway in your area?
It canít do that.

Q: Why not?
Its territory is very narrow.

Q: LTTE Political Wing Leader, S.P. Thamilselvan has said very clearly that if the SLAF continues bombing LTTE camps, the LTTE will bomb Colombo. What is your comment?
Yes, as a terrorist organisation it will do this. In the past, there have been many instances where the LTTE attacked innocent civilians following battlefield losses. It plants bombs inside public transport. These are terrorist activities. My advice is that the Wanni has to be captured.

Q: What is the clout that LTTE Intelligence Wing Leader Pottu Amman has within the outfit?
In short, Pottu Amman is a butcher. He has killed many innocent Tamil civilians and political leaders. He is famous for killing. He has never participated in the battlefield.

Q: Is he a good intelligence leader?
No. All planning is by Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman carries out the orders. Hence, he Pottu Amman cannot be considered an intelligence leader.

Q: Why is Pottu Amman so influential?
Pottu Amman doesnít have the capacity to lead. He is a killer. He is connected to the Rajiv Gandhi killing. He is a wanted person in many countries and that has made him famous. Other than that, he doesnít have the capacity to lead the LTTE.

Q: Sornam, Bhanu, Soosai and Reuben are your past comrades. Ramesh is your good friend. Your comments, please?
Soosai belongs to the fisher folk from Velvetithurai, and a puppet of Prabhakaran, dancing to his tune. He has some experience in the sea, and that is all. Sornam has lost many battles and was punished by Prabhakaran. He was sent to the east after losing in the north. In the east too he was not successful. Now, he has been sent to Madhu. Rueben is not a commander or a leader. He took charge of the financial aspects of the LTTE. Ramesh was my subordinate and was working under me. He was under my control.

Q: Has Prabhakaran sent Ramesh to kill you?
Prabhakaran has told Ramesh to kill me, but Ramesh is not brave enough to do that.

Q: Has Prabhakaran made any attempt to kill you in the past three years?
From the day I quit the organisation, up to now, he has been attempting to kill me since I pose a serious threat to him. But he canít do that. We are ready to face that challenge.

Q: What is the strategy to expand control of the east?
Politically, we are making the people understand that Prabhakaranís struggle for a separate state cannot be achieved and hence, a hopeless one. Once the people realise this and accept it, the LTTE will not have the opportunity to infiltrate and will be defeated. Then, we would take control in the east.

Q: What is the LTTEís strategy to counter your group?
The LTTE strategy to counter us has been destroyed. It was defeated. We will make the world realise that the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamils. We have the advantage of knowing the terrain. Hence, in this instance, Prabhakaran can do nothing in the east.

Q: Where were you in 1997, 1998 and 1999?
With the LTTE in Batticaloa

Q: Did the LTTE acquire planes during that period?
There were no planes in 1997 and 1988. In 1999, there were only two light helicopters. All the planes were acquired after the CFA.

Q: Tell me about the peace talks which you also attended. What happened?
We went for negotiations but we knew it would not succeed since, as a matter of fact, Prabhakaran did not have the will to arrive at a political solution. Before going for the talks, according to the discussion he had, he had asked his men to use this interval to purchase weapons. So, in fact, he had no intention of striking a peace deal.

Q: He just wanted to drag the peace talks?
It was a drama.

Q: What is the way out of this?
The Sri Lanka Government and the forces must defeat the terrorists and only then come for peace talks.

Q: As a former leader of the LTTE, you strongly believe that the LTTE has to be destroyed?
Prabhakaran does not have a single thought towards peace. Hence, destroying Prabhakaran is the only way at arriving at a lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

Q: Are you going to submit proposals to the All Party Conference (APC)?

Q: What kind of political solution are you suggesting for the east?
What we wish is a political solution within a united Sri Lanka. We are drafting proposals for that and very soon we would be publishing them.

Q: Has the subject of north-east merger been included in the draft proposal?
We have to liberate the east from the oppression of the Prabha-group and thereafter, hold elections. Reconstruction and resettlement should take place after a provincial council election is held. Two years later, a referendum should be held in the east to ascertain the will of the eastern people as to merge or de-merge with the north. It is up to the people; they have to decide.