Courtesy of the TIME magazine
Pirapaharan in Indian plane in 1987
Q: What made you confront India?
A: India claimed to have intervened in Sri Lanka to secure Tamil interests. In actual fact, India came to secure its own interests. There was never any genuine attempt to understand and solve our problems. India deliberately aggravated Sri Lanka’s ethnic crisis. It destabilized Sri Lanka [by training and arming Tamil militants, including the Tigers] so that it could play a dominant role in bringing Sri Lanka within its sphere of influence.
What I can’t forgive is the way India claimed to have intervened to protect the Tamils and then launched this war against our people. On the third day after the war started, I sent an appeal to India to stop the attack because of the civilian casualties. But India mistook it as a sign of weakness and pressed ahead with the offensive, thinking they could crush us.
Q: But isn’t it true that India has consistently stood for a united Sri Lanka?
A: India used this excuse to impress the world that it was the protector of Sri Lanka. By adopting this line, India ensured that other powers were excluded from interfering in this region.
Q: You knew India was using the Sri Lankan problem to pursue its interests, but didn’t you also use India by taking advantage of Indian training and arms?
A: Yes, we also used India. We were aware of India’s strategy but made use of the opportunity to strengthen ourselves militarily.
Q: What gave you the courage to take on the world’s third largest army?
A: India failed to secure the release of twelve of my area commanders who were arrested by the Sri Lankan security forces. [When the captives later swallowed cyanide] their suicides made me determined to confront the Indian army. Some of my top colleagues cautioned me against it and wondered how long the LTTE could hold out. I gave them the Vietnam example – a small nation can fight a superpower with determination and dedication. When I was deciding to fight, the thought of winning or losing didn’t bother me. What you have to assess is whether you have the will to fight. People cannot give up their cause, their rights, for fear of defeat.
Q: Is there a lesson in this for India?
A: That however formidable a military power you may be, you cannot impose upon a people anything against their will.
Q: What guerilla technique was most useful to you?
A: We used land mines to great effect. They caused a lot of Indian casualties.
Q: What did you consider were the Indian army’s main strengths and weaknesses?
A: Their strength – and their weakness – was their huge manpower. It created difficulties for us. It restricted our mobility. But because they came in large numbers, they suffered many casualties. Also, they wasted a lot of time, energy and money on providing logistical support. Another major weakness was that the Indian army was not motivated. The soldiers didn’t know why they were fighting. They were confused. They came to protect Tamils, and then they had to kill them.
Q: And what in your judgment were the LTTE’s own strengths and weaknesses?
A: Our strength – and our weakness – was our overconfidence. Sometimes our cadres took impossible risks, like ambushing an Indian patrol at a point where there were no escape routes. This cost us casualties. We were sometimes careless. But also because of our overconfidence, our boys carried out some amazingly brave attacks.
Q: The Indians say they fought this was with one hand tied behind their backs because they wanted to minimize civilian casualties.
A: If they could indulge in such atrocities against our people with one hand tied behind their backs, I shudder to imagine what havoc they would have unleashed if both hands had been free. They used every technique – aerial strafing, dropping 250-kg bombs, artillery bombardment, harassment of civilians. These are excuses peddled by a defeated army.
Q: Some 6,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the war with the Indian army. Was it worth it?
A: Yes. We have proved that we will not allow any force to interfere with the freedom and independence of our people.
Q: But what have you gained?
A: I have gained self confidence, courage and the support of my people.
Q: What made you start negotiations with Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa?
A: Our people thought India would give us Tamil Eelam [a separate Tamil state]. Instead India [reached an agreement] against our will. So we thought it would be better to talk to the Sri Lankan government and work out a better deal. Besides LTTE will not allow a foreign force to intervene and dominate our people. Premadasa articulated the same viewpoint. He was determined to end the foreign intervention.
Q: Now that the Indian army has gone, many fear that confrontation with the Sri Lankan government – your historical enemy – is again inevitable.
A: We have had a long history of state oppression against our people. Earlier, the Tamils negotiated and were repeatedly betrayed, and so the armed struggle was born. If the Sri Lankan government resorts to state oppression against the Tamils and Muslims, then we will fight. But we hope the current peace will continue.
Q: How sincere do you think Premadasa is about solving the problems of the Tamils?
A: We started the negotiations on the basis of trust. We have that trust.
Q: How serious is the LTTE about participating in the provincial council elections?
A: We are very serious. We want to show India and the world that we are the authentic representatives of the people.
Q: Have you given up the demand for an independent Eelam?
A: We have not.
Q: Then what are you talking to Premadasa for? How can you enter the democratic mainstream if you still cling to your separatist cause?
A: We are entering the political mainstream. Our demand for self-determination will not be an impediment for us to enter the political process.
Q: Many people feel that your peace talks with Premadasa are only a tactical move.
A: We have not cheated or betrayed anybody. At the same time, if we are cheated or betrayed, we will react. But if somebody trusts us, then we will reciprocate.