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'LTTE must respect democratic rights'

The Hindu  Special Correspondent


CHENNAI, NOV. 19. The peace process in Sri Lanka will remain meaningless for Tamils so long as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam continues to violate human rights and democratic values, a Sri Lankan Tamil politician said today.

"Those who are making efforts to restart the stalled peace process must ensure that the LTTE accepts human rights, democracy and pluralism as an inseparable part of the process," said Thirunavakkarasu Sritharan, a leader of the Varathan faction of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).

The LTTE must be unambiguously told that it must stop killing Tamils who do not subscribe to its ideology, that it must stop recruiting children and harassing the Muslim minority population in the Tamil-dominated North-East and that it must allow freedom of expression and the functioning of other Tamil political parties, Mr. Sritharan said.

On the hit-list

The EPRLF is a former militant group with an independent position on the Tamil question. For this reason, and especially for its support of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and its embrace of the Sri Lankan democratic mainstream, EPRLF members are high on the hit-list of the LTTE.

The February 2002 ceasefire has not afforded protection. A front-ranking member of the party, Thambirajah Subathiran, was shot dead by the LTTE in Jaffna in June 2003. The party leader, Varadraja Perumal, lives in self-exile in India.

"To the outside world, it seems as if the ceasefire has brought peace in Sri Lanka. The outside world should know that for Tamils there is no peace because of the LTTE's killing spree. Tamils are getting killed on a daily basis," Mr. Sritharan, who is on a visit here, told The Hindu.

Need for democracy

Although the LTTE might think that it has marginalised other political parties and that it alone speaks for Sri Lankan Tamils now, there is growing awareness about the need for democracy within the Tamil community, Mr. Sritharan said.

"Despite the best efforts of the LTTE to finish us off, the EPRLF continues to have a role in bringing this awareness. We have a lot of support for this, because after all, people want to live as normal and decent human beings. There is a limit to the repression they can tolerate. Moreover, there is a new generation of Tamils who refuse to accept the LTTE as their only leader," he said.

There is a section among Tamils that believes that had it not been for the LTTE, the Tamil struggle would not have reached the point where the Sinhalese majority is prepared to make concessions to the Tamil community.

But, Mr. Sritharan says, a growing number of Tamils also realise that the LTTE is effectively responsible for causing a division between Sri Lanka's Northern and Eastern Tamils as seen in the revolt earlier this year by Karuna, the group's erstwhile eastern military commander; that its main achievement has been to build cemeteries for Tamil youth who died fighting a fruitless war and to drive a wedge between the Tamils and Muslims who had lived peacefully for so many years.

Many Tamils are also becoming aware that the LTTE destroyed several chances for arriving at a negotiated settlement with the Sri Lankan State, most notably in 1987 at the time of the Accord with India and, in 1995, by pulling out of peace talks with President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He said it was not the Sri Lankan Government but the LTTE that was deliberately delaying the current peace process, in keeping with its track record, in order to consolidate its present de facto "repressive" administration in North-East Sri Lanka.