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Interviews


''LTTE was biggest stumbling
block for everythin''

The 30 year old war has reversed the Tamil community’s clock by 30 years, says Batticaloa District Chamber of Commerce and Industry President N. Suntharesan

Batticaloa District Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and Chairman National Construction of Sri Lanka – Eastern Province, Batticaloa branch N. Suntharesan says the expectation of the Tamils is to live in dignity and with self respect. He says the Tamils should have powers that are enjoyed by the Sinhalese in the South. “Tamils are expecting equal rights as enjoyed by their brethren in the South. The country has been devastated by the thirty long years of war because of this problem. I think, if the successive governments had given the Tamil community their due share of power and dignity, the present problem that the country faces could have been avoided to a great extent,” he told The Nation in an interview from his Batticaloa office.

He said the total defeat of the LTTE will now have a positive impact on the business, and added the only fear the people have now is over the popularity the Armed forces had gained due to the defeat of the LTTE. “The Tamils are not sad that the LTTE is finished. But they fear that the Armed forces are becoming more powerful. I think with a proper development plan and a meaningful political package, this fear from the minds of the Tamils could be allayed soon,” he said.
Following are excerpts:

Q: The East does not seem to be in a mood to celebrate the defeat of the LTTE. But at the same time, the people in general also are not too elated about the victory of the government. What does this mean?
A:
True, the people are not too sad about the defeat of the LTTE or its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. There may be a small percentage of the eastern populace who could still believe that Prabhakaran should not have been killed in the war. But, in general, the people are relieved, but are not willing to express their sentiments due to several reasons. If they express their sentiments in favour of the killing or vice versa, in public then they are exposed to danger. Therefore, they prefer to be non committal. On the other hand, just because there is a sense of relief over the killing of Prabhakaran, it is not necessary that the people should rejoice over the victory. The Tamil people feel that the victory has given the government and especially the Armed forces the upper hand, and they fear that this could be used against the Tamils, like in the 60s, 1977 and 1983 ethnic riots. It is only a belief. But I think soon there could be a change of heart. So we have to wait and see.

Q: What do you think could bring about changes in the hearts and minds of the people?
A:
Obviously a reasonable political package, self respect, dignity and most of all development to the war battered areas of northeast. If the government spearheads its nation building programme fast, and convinces the Tamils that the war was not against them, and only against the LTTE, then at that juncture, there will be a huge change of hearts and minds.

Q: What is your analysis of the just concluded war and the humiliating defeat of the LTTE?
A:
The Eelam war has only brought untold misery to the Tamil community. The 30 - year old war has reversed the Tamil community’s clock by 30 - years. That means, we have lost almost everything. To talk of the demise of the LTTE, I must say that it was purely due to the greed of Prabhakaran that the LTTE saw its own defeat.

Q: Now that the war is over, what in your view should be the next step?
A:
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has made some positive and encouraging remarks in his speeches during these few days. If one has to go by what the President has said, I think, the Tamil community could be resurrected fast. We, the Tamils, expect some sort of autonomous powers to build and develop our own areas. At the same time we are ever willing to work under a united Sri Lanka. I think if President Rajapaksa could implement a proper, productive and a meaningful power sharing mechanism, this could be taken as an example to the rest of the world.

Q: The North and East are the least developed regions in the country mainly due to the protracted war. Are you optimistic that with the war coming to an end, this part of the world will now be developed?
A:
In one way we are really happy that the LTTE is finished. All these days, the successive governments accused the LTTE for being a stumbling block to any development or even power sharing. But now, with the LTTE no more in existence, we are waiting to see what is going to happen. We want to see whether any more excuses are going to be given by the government. What I am saying is that the government has a fantastic opportunity to start developing the entire area. That is what we want.

Q: While successive governments have held the view that due to LTTE presence, the North and East could not be developed, do you in particular and the people in general, hold a similar view?
A:
I am unable to make a comment for others, because as I told you a small percentage of the population still believes LTTE could have delivered the goods. Anyway, as for me, I must say that the LTTE was the biggest block for everything. And this is the thinking of the majority, in my opinion.

Q: Are you optimistic that the present regime will find a lasting solution to the Tamils?
A:
While we have confidence in this government and the President, we are very skeptical of the moves of the JHU and the JVP. Both parties have their own agendas, and we are not too sure whether the President will be allowed to do anything for the community by these two radical and racist parties. This is our primary concern.

Q: There is a feeling among the Tamils that they lack proper leadership for the community especially after the termination of the LTTE. What is your opinion?
A:
Yes that is true. People are so fed up with other Tamil politicians and ministers, they now feel that they are lost in the wilderness. This is the worry that they have and this is why they still mourn the death of Prabhakaran as I said earlier. It is not that they are really sad that Prabhakaran is dead, but they are more worried that they don’t have proper leadership. They are also worried that if the government military becomes more and more powerful, they do not have anybody with military power to counteract.

Q: How about the TNA, the EPDP and TMVP?
A:
In my view the leaders of these parties have been totally rejected by the people, especially in the East. These leaders in my view are a spent force. They are only concerned about their own benefit, power and parliamentary privileges.

Q: But how about the TNA that was part and parcel of the LTTE?
A:
They in my view are a disgrace to the Tamil community. They were elected by the people but served the LTTE. They have only earned the wrath of the Tamil people, and at the very next election they will be voted out en masse. They were like puppets, only serving the LTTE’s interests. They should not go before the people for any more votes in the future, in my opinion.

Q: Though the LTTE was northern born, much support has been given to the movement from the East. If there is going to be a regrouping of the movement will there be any support from the east again?
A:
We have learnt many lessons in the history. I know for one thing, the LTTE can never ever raise its head again. Also, we will never give any support to any militant group in the future. Enough is enough. We want to now live in peace and harmony. But the government must speedily rehabilitate the ex-combatants, and give them the confidence that they are part of the society. This is what Fidel Castro did in Cuba. This is how he eradicated terrorism.

Q: Unlike the past governments, the present government continues to become more and more powerful and popular. Some feel the popularity could be easily used to push through a reasonable political solution. What do you feel?
A:
Of course, this is the ideal chance for the government to find a solution. But yet we have to wait and see, because the coalition partners of the government do not seem to think like the main stream political parties. Well, this is my opinion about power sharing. Whenever the majority has more powers and strength, it is useful to give the minority also equal or more powers. Lenin did this. He gave more powers to the minority parties and when criticised and questioned, he said as the majority has the ‘typical majoritarian attitude’, if more powers were vested with the majority parties, they could simply go wrong. Instead he said when more powers are given to the minority then nothing can go wrong. I hope the present government takes lessons from these experiences of other leaders.

Q: Even after two years of defeating terrorism in the East, there still continues kidnappings, abductions and killings. What is your observation?
A:
This is a very sorry state of affairs. I think the Police should be answerable for this. The business community is very upset over this. This continuing trend affects their business in a big way. The business community sat together to find a solution for this problem last month. And we formulated something called Community Development Programme (CDP) with the funding from the United States. The inauguration is over, but we are going to appoint some people from the ordinary civil society to coordinate matters related to such crimes with the local Police. Here, the civil society is going to be extra vigilant. Because we have found out that the Police alone are not able to arrest this menace.

Q: What is the positive impact the defeat of the LTTE has given the business community?
A:
We are very happy about it. The business in this region has been badly hit due to the ongoing war. With the war coming to an end, I am confident the usual business will pick up. In the past investors were refusing to invest in Sri Lanka due to fear and threats. Their reluctance was justifiable. As a result the paddy cultivation, agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry and even the local industries were suffering. We have the potential. And now we need to explore every single opportunity for the growth and development of the eastern region.

Q: It is believed that even now, the business organisations are expected to bribe some groups in the East, if they had to continue their businesses. What is the truth?
A:
This is yet a problem unsolved. These groups are not the ones to earn money in the correct way or through hard work. They want a quick buck, and to go behind business organisations demanding for bribes. I don’t know when this trend will come to an end in the east.

Q: How about the human rights violations? Even recently a school child was abducted and killed in a gruesome manner. What is your observation?
A:
Yes it is happening. This is why we have formed the CDP and we are trying to see whether something positive will come out of it sooner or later, because this cannot go on like this for long.

 

 

Well, this is my opinion about power sharing. Whenever the majority has more powers and strength, it is useful to give the minority also equal or more powers. Lenin did this. He gave more powers to the minority parties and when criticised and questioned, he said as the majority has the ‘typical majoritarian attitude’, if more powers were vested with the majority parties, they could simply go wrong. Instead he said when more powers are given to the minority then nothing can go wrong. I hope the present government takes lessons from these experiences of other leaders. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has made some positive and encouraging remarks in his speeches during these few days. If one has to go by what the President has said, I think, the Tamil community could be resurrected fast. We, the Tamils, expect some sort of autonomous powers to build and develop our own areas. At the same time we are ever willing to work under a united Sri Lanka. I think if President Rajapaksa could implement a proper, productive and a meaningful power sharing mechanism, this could be taken as an example to the rest of the world

****