No time frame can be set to defeat LTTE: Karuna (Interview)

October 11th, 2008 - 10:36 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 11 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers are in “a precarious condition” but no one can predict when they can be overcome militarily, says Vinyagamoorthy Muralitharan, a former top Tiger commander who became an MP this week.Karuna, as the former eastern regional commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is widely known, also said in a telephonic interview that he had entered parliament to give “a powerful voice” to the Tamils in the central government.

“The LTTE has suffered real setbacks. It is in a precarious condition,” Karuna said, discussing the military offensive against the Tigers in the north of the country that has left thousands dead and raised international concerns about civilian suffering.

But he quickly added that it would be unrealistic to claim - as some have done in Colombo - that the LTTE could be vanquished within a certain time limit.

“There can be no deadlines (to defeat the LTTE). In no war can deadlines be set,” declared the 42-year-old, who is likely to be made a minister soon.

Karuna joined the Tigers as a young guerrilla in 1983 and rose to become its feared eastern military chief before revolting in March 2004 with thousands of cadres. Since then, he has sided with the military, helping it reclaim the entire eastern province.

“What we know for sure is that the army is advancing. There is 75-80 percent chance of the army opening the land route to Jaffna.” Though under military control, Jaffna is now linked to the mainland only by sea and air as the LTTE controls territory leading to the northern peninsula.

Karuna’s TMVP party presently controls the eastern provincial council. On Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition nominated Karuna as a member of the 225-seat parliament amid opposition protests.

Karuna said it was the government that approached him with the offer after his return to Sri Lanka in July this year from Britain where he was jailed for some months for entering the country on a fake diplomatic passport.

“I decided it would be good for our people if I become an MP. Our strategy is clear. We are already in the provincial council. At the same time, we want a powerful voice in the central government to speak for our people.

“Yes, there are Tamil MPs today in parliament but they are of no use. They mostly speak for the LTTE.”

He said if and when parliamentary elections were held, his TMVP would win six to seven seats from the multi-racial Trincomalee and Amparai and the overwhelmingly Tamil Batticaloa districts, all in the east.

Karuna was asked how his half a dozen MPs could influence the central government when, in his reading, the 22 MPs of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is pro-LTTE, were having no impact.

He replied that Muslims and “Indian Tamils” - Tamils of Indian origin in the central tea plantations - had benefited because their leaders had chosen to always side with those in power in Colombo.

He said he too wanted to emulate the strategy. “We will be with the central government, whichever the party in power.”

Karuna gave credit to the military’s successes against the LTTE to three men: President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brother and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and army chief General Sanath Fonseka.

“The president has taken a bold decision to defeat the LTTE. The defence secretary is a good planner. And the army chief’s efforts in implementing the plans are praiseworthy.

“Their coordination is a key factor. This was never seen in Sri Lanka earlier. Now the army has real power. They are the decision makers.”

According to him, the LTTE - which still reportedly has thousands of fighters - was “suffering from poor leadership, lack of experienced fighters and inability to hold on to territory. It is also not able to recruit people from the east. Earlier, the bulk of the fighters came from the east.

“They are also unable to make out from where the army will advance. There are so many routes (to the LTTE heartland).”

But is the government serious about a political solution?

“We have had provincial elections and we are in power in the eastern provincial council. People in this country will accept the provincial council. People don’t want war, they are suffering. Outsiders can’t realise this.

“Now that we are in power in the east, development activity is on and will be initiated. It will cover all areas such as housing, roads, bridges and also the fishing community.

“The most important thing is that we believe this government. Four years ago the defence secretary promised me that we would be given charge of the eastern province. Four years later he kept the promise. So we trust them.”

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