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LTTE is beefing up its strength: Kumaratunga

By K J M Varma in Islamabad
Last updated on: January 08, 2004 10:41 IST
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Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has alleged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam increased its military strength during the truce period by recruiting over 11,000 guerrillas.

"The LTTE has increased its cadre by three times from around seven thousand to over 18,000. Quite a few of them are small children and forcible recruitment was going on," she said.

Kumaratunga, whose decision to take over the powerful defence portfolio triggered a major political crisis with Wikremesinghe a few months ago, said the military consolidation of LTTE went on unabated as Norwegian facilitators appeared helpless in stopping rebels from beefing up their military strength.

"The Norwegians can not stop them. The LTTE has opened up several military training camps, many new ones, in violation of the MOU and they are going on regardless," she alleged.

Since the beginning of the peace process last year, the separatist Tamil rebel group killed around 100 cadre and local leaders of the moderate Tamil parties, Kumaratunga alleged.

"With great impunity, they killed a lot of Sri Lankan military personnel," she said. "Still, there is a cause to think that there may be a little chance to keep trying with LTTE for peace."

Kumaratunga also said talks between her and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over sharing power have not broken down and a new round of dialogue would commence later this month.

"Discussions between us have not broken down. Discussions are ongoing. Talks will start after New Year holidays. I truly hope that we can come to a truly negotiated settlement," Kumaratunga, who was here to attend the SAARC summit, told PTI in an interview before she left for home.

"There is another problem, whether I have to take the defence portfolio. Prime minister has decided that he does not want to do the peace process, unless he gets defence portfolio back lock stock and barrel. This is not possible," she said.

She said it was her fault to part with the defence portfolio in the first place when Wikremesinghe formed his government after securing majority in Parliament.

"Constitutionally I did something, I should not have done, in giving the defence portfolio two years ago with all the other ministries, because the constitution stipulates that president was the sole authority to exercise defence powers in the country," she said.

"But I gave it fully aware of this simply because I was not keen to have it. But there were problems that arose because of the problems of mismanagement due to which I have taken it back," she added.

Kumaratunga said since the crisis broke out between her and Wickremesinghe last year, she offered many compromises. "I have offered many compromises, many options on how we could work together. Most of them have not satisfied the prime minister. We are still in the process of discussing it."

She said the crisis also offered a new hope as her party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which was one of the two dominant parties of the country expressed its willingness to work with the other big party, the United National Party (UNP) headed by Wickremesinghe.

"For the first time one major party is willing to work with the other. But the other major party is still not ready. If they will be willing, I would say that the possibilities are immense of resolving the problem. Otherwise one will be doing and the other will be on the roads protesting and vice versa," she said.

Asked whether she believed the LTTE was prepared to give up its demand for 'Eelam' or a separate country for Tamils, she said, "With the LTTE one never knows. For two years they have not gone back to fighting. They said they are willing to look at a federal solution. But up to now they have not given any serious indication of whether they will actually accept it."

She said the LTTE while saying it was ready to take a look at a federal solution added new conditions, which virtually amounted to formation of separate state.

"Their condition amounts to asking for Eelam," she said. "The fact that they said they were willing to look at it is a good sign but that does not mean that they have accepted it. Bad sign is that they have strengthened their military hugely."

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K J M Varma in Islamabad
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