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Conversations: 'A Separate State for Sri Lanka's Tamils is the Only Solution'
Interview with Indian politician Vaiko Gopalasamy

September 12, 2000
Web posted at 4:10 p.m. Hong Kong time, 4:10 a.m. EDT

Vaiko Gopalasamy, leader of the Tamil Nadu political party Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), is a prominent member of India's Parliament and a close ally of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But he is most often in the news for his vocal support for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority and their calls for a separate state. Vaiko spoke to Time Asia contributor Maseeh Rahman in New Delhi recently. Edited excerpts:

TIME: What impact will October's parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka have on the island's ethnic conflict?
Vaiko: No matter which party emerges with a majority, the election results will only testify to the intransigence of the Sinhalese, who will continue to perpetuate genocide against the Tamils.

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TIME: But isn't there hope that if President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance wins convincingly, she could push forward her plan to give more powers to the Tamil-majority districts?
Vaiko: During the last election [in December], Kumaratunga promised many things, but she did not implement them. And in recent months there has been loud talk of "devolution of powers." But what has happened? The constitutional amendment did not go through Parliament. The Buddhist clergy showed that they would never allow such a thing. Both political groupings in Sri Lanka, the People's Alliance and the opposition United National Party, are under their thumb. The Sinhalese are just not prepared to provide any sort of real devolution of powers to the Tamils. This has been the attitude of the Sinhalese, particularly the Buddhist clergy, right from the time of independence in 1948.

TIME: Don't you think President Kumaratunga is sincere in seeking to resolve the problems with the Tamils?
Vaiko: Kumaratunga has hoodwinked the entire international community with the mask of providing dialogue and peace. She's been very clever--she's also been more treacherous than her predecessors. In the past, when she was offering peace talks, she was procuring arms all over the world. Now, even if she had managed to get the constitutional amendment passed, it would not have solved the problem. Because the so-called devolution package does not satisfy the aspirations of the Tamils, including the moderates.

TIME: So even if Kumaratunga's party emerges with a two-thirds majority, you do not see a solution to the problem.
Vaiko: They're not sincere about giving reasonable rights to the suffering Tamils. So they will never implement a proposal that gives justice to them.

TIME: In the past, it is the Tamils who have been accused of breaking the cease- fire, and not responding to peace offers. Is that correct?
Vaiko: The armed struggle of the Tamils is the result of the genocidal attacks and stepmotherly treatment of the Sinhalese government. Without 'the gun,' the Tamil struggle would have been totally dissipated. At least with the gun they've been able to sustain the demand for justice. Otherwise there would not have been a murmur in the whole world about the plight of the Tamils.

TIME: Did you read the press reports about a 14-year-old prisoner of war in Jaffna, a young girl who says she was recruited to fight by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the age of seven.
Vaiko: The Sri Lankan government has been using so many methods to malign the LTTE. How can you count on the testimony of a girl who is in the custody of the Sri Lankan security forces? Her statements would have been made under duress.

TIME: Are you saying the LTTE are not using children to fight the war?
Vaiko: Teenagers are being used, but not by compulsion. They are there on their own motivation. They have seen how their fathers and mothers have suffered, and that's why they go. It is not a simple thing to give up your life [but] they go and die with a mission. Does anyone bother asking about the bombing by Sri Lankan forces of areas where innocent Tamils are living? Refugees who have reached Tamil Nadu from Jaffna relate heartrending stories. They say that children are taken away by the Sri Lankan security forces and their lips are broken, their eyes are blinded... Why? Because when they grow up they are destined to fight [for the LTTE]. Even the Nazis did not commit such horrible crimes.

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TIME: People on both sides have suffered. How will this end?
Vaiko: When Yasser Arafat says his ultimate goal is a separate Palestinian state, nobody accuses him of being a terrorist. The Tamils have a hundred more justifiable reasons for a separate state than the Palestinians. For thousands of years they had their own separate kingdom; they're a separate race. The British united the island, but after they left, the Tamils were treated like slaves. Regional autonomy can never satisfy the aspirations of the people. I was with Velupillai Prabhakaran [the LTTE's secretive leader and confessed assassin] for nearly a month in 1989 when the war was going on. I realized then that the separate state of Eelam is the only solution. It will happen one day. The LTTE is on the road to victory.

TIME: What has allowed Prabhakaran to continue fighting for so long?
Vaiko: He's a man of indomitable iron will and determination. His name inspires the people of Eelam. He is a man of exemplary personal character. And he has no equal when it comes to military strategy.

TIME: There's a fear in New Delhi that a separate Tamil nation in Sri Lanka will lead to a similar demand this side of the Palk Straits.
Vaiko: There's a vilification campaign to mislead the people of India. The Tamils of Tamil Nadu are proud to be citizens of India, the greatest democracy in the world. When the Bangladeshis asked for a separate state, did the people in West Bengal want to go with the Bangladeshis?

TIME: But we now hear of a Tamil liberation front in Tamil Nadu, after the kidnapping of the Kannada movie star, Raj Kumar, by the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan.

Vaiko: It's a splinter group made up of one or two individuals. Veerappan is a bandit who has killed more than 120 people and 2,000 elephants. He can be given an opportunity to reform. But there is no possibility of him emerging as the leader of a separatist movement.

TIME: Do you think New Delhi is doing enough to help the Tamils in Sri Lanka?

Vaiko: I am not asking India to divide Sri Lanka. But a separate state is inevitable. If it is established by the Tamils, India cannot be blamed or be held responsible. The Indian government is sympathetic to the Tamils' cause. But it will never commit the blunders of the past, those committed by the government of Rajiv Gandhi (who militarily assisted Colombo to fight Prabhakaran's insurgents).

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