Interview with Ms. Tamara Kunanayakam, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Cuba
Amb. Tamara Kunanayakam
1. You are Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Cuba. What brought you to Caracas?
Our attention was drawn to the active presence in Caracas of a delegation representing Canadian HART meeting Government authorities making false, fabricated and defamatory accusations against the Government of Sri Lanka, alleging that there was a ‘genocide’ against the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and ‘concentration camps.'
They were trying to persuade the Venezuelan Government to give refuge to members of the Tamil community who they claimed were held incommunicado in Indonesia after their ship was allegedly intercepted on its way to Australia.
It baffles me why an organisation in Canada, an immigration country with some 250,000 Tamil residents, should ask Venezuela – a Spanish speaking country – to give refuge to persons who are in the other end of the world - Indonesia and who want to go to Australia!
I can only surmise that this was only a pretext, the real objective being to lure Venezuela into providing symbolic recognition to the pseudo Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) that had just held its inaugural Congress in Philadelphia, its goal being to establish a separate State in Sri Lanka. They were also hoping to obtain Venezuela’s help to organise a network in Latin America to promote their separatist cause.
2. Who is behind Canadian HART?
Canadian HART was launched in 2008 by LTTE front organisations, the Tamil Youth Organisation of Canada (TYO – Canada), the Canadian Tamil Congress and Tamil Women’s Organisation. The LTTE’s Tiger flag boldly flutters on the home page of the TYO-Canada website, despite the LTTE being banned as a terrorist organisation. The TYO and the Canadian Tamil Congress are also listed as supporters of the Canadian HART operated website www.tamilidpcrisis.org
The Canadian Tamil Congress is one of the most influential founders of the recently formed Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which was created by ex- LTTE International Chief Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP by bringing together 15 existing LTTE front organizations from different Western countries with the goal of establishing a separate State in Sri Lanka. KP is one of the two architects of TGTE.
In January this year, Canadian HART Media Team Coordinator Jessica Chandrashekar accompanied Saradha Nathan, a member of another LTTE front organisation, the Australian Tamil Congress, to Indonesia to visit the so-called asylum-seekers detained in Indonesia. The Australian Tamil Congress is also founder of the pro-LTTE pro-separatist Global Tamil Forum.
Canadian HART Jessica Chandrashekar was apprehended trying to smuggle laptops and other documents to those on board. Both she and Saradha Nathan were taken into questioning in Indonesia on suspicion of human trafficking. It is reported that a high-profile LTTE leader who had been deported from Toronto and several other identified LTTE members were on board the vessel.
These organisations and their campaign of defamation have the support of certain major powers, their institutions and NGOs such as the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, The Real News Network of Sharmini Peries, and individuals such as Ron Ridenour and Patrick O’Donoghue.
3. You are part of the Tamil community yourself. What do you have to say about the allegations of genocide by Canadian HART?
Such allegations are ridiculous, a caricature and dangerous. Yes, I belong to the Tamil community and I’m proud to be Sri Lankan!
Cries of genocide were heard only during the last phase of the war and only when the military defeat of the LTTE became possible and to justify external intervention to rescue its leaders.
If one takes a closer look at the definition of ‘genocide’ in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, you will have a hard time finding evidence that there was intent on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka “to destroy, in whole or in part” the Tamil community.
The Tamil community represents about 18% of a total Sri Lankan population of about 21 million. Although there is a large concentration of the community in the North, the majority live outside alongside other Sri Lankan communities, Sinhala, Muslim, Moor, Malay and Burghers. If there was genocide, would the communities be living peacefully alongside each other? Since time immemorial, mixed marriages have been common. This is true in my own family.
You will find political parties emanating from the Tamil community in Government. Others emanating from the same community have elected representatives in parliament. Even the pro-LTTE political Party TNA has entered the democratic process and participated in recent elections. Members of the community are at senior levels of Government, in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, in the various professions, in Universities, in the press, in business – in every walk of life! Sri Lanka’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lakshman Kadirgamar was from the community. He was assassinated by the LTTE. After the Eastern Province was liberated by Government forces with the aid of a breakaway LTTE faction, provincial elections were held and a former LTTE child-soldier was appointed by the President as Chief Minister of that province. An ex-LTTE Commander was appointed as Minister of National Integration.
Government forces were engaged not against the Tamil community, but against a terrorist organisation that fought a relentless and ruthless war for separation. They were engaging LTTE suicide squads, the Black Tigers, trained in suicide operations, unprecedented in history. The Black Tigers were involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Let’s recall that right from the beginning of his mandate and practically until the end of the war in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued to call for discussions, even face to face, with the LTTE leader Prabakharan, who didn’t even respond.
Throughout the war, the Sri Lankan Government continued to transport – physically – salaries of pubic servants to LTTE-controlled areas so that Tamil community was not deprived of essential services.
The Eastern Province was liberated in 2007 by the Sri Lankan armed forces fighting alongside other groups emanating from the Tamil community, including an important faction that split from the LTTE, Within 6 months the Government had resettled 220,000 IDPs from that Province. In fact, some NGOs and governments protested that it was too fast!
The more recent IDPs numbering some 300,000 members are those who fled for safety from LTTE-controlled areas to Government cleared areas in May 2009. They had been forced to follow the trail of a retreating LTTE across jungles for use as human shields. Many had been corralled out of the Jaffna peninsula at gunpoint by the LTTE, as early as 1995, during the first big enforced exodus.
In the last stages of the war when the LTTE was cornered, it is well known that civilians were prevented from moving out of the line of fire or escaping to government-controlled areas. In an attempt to prevent them escaping, the LTTE fired at the fleeing civilians, launched grenade and mortar attacks, and sent suicide bombers to explode in their midst.
4. But, what about allegations of concentration camps?
There are NO concentration camps in Sri Lanka!
To accommodate this unprecedented surge of fleeing hostages, the Government rapidly set up welfare villages with UN assistance. In the welfare villages, not a single person starved even for a day! Not a single outbreak of disease! Not a single death by unnatural causes reported! Efforts were made to provide education facilities for children. In November 2009, 19,364 boys and 19,644 girls were attending classes within the Welfare Village. An important programme of rehabilitation of former child soldiers and ex-combatants was conducted. From May 2009, mortality rates had dropped to an average of 2 to 3 per day giving an annual crude mortality rate of 4,4 per 1000 persons in Vavuniya, which had the largest number of IDP villages. This is compatible with mortality rates in any other part of the country.
The resettlement process conducted in cooperation with UNHCR according to International standards has been rapid, despite the over 1.5 million landmines and UXOs that have had to be cleared to guarantee the safety of returnees. Today, more than 80% of the IDPs have returned to their homes or are with host families. The 20% remaining in welfare villages have been cleared to leave at any time.
More than 68 UN agencies, INGOs and NGOs have access to the villages and assist in the resettlement process. More than 173 media personnel have visited the area since 2009 and can testify.
So far, out of 11,000 IDPs identified as LTTE combatants, over 2000 have been released after completing a rehabilitation programme. These include 847 females, 253 children and 55 university students. At present, there are 148 University students, including 51 females, under rehabilitation.
Canadian HART and foreign supporters of separatism such as Ron Ridenour conveniently forget the collective forcible eviction of the Muslim population by the LTTE from the North and North-West of the country in October 1990. They were given only 24 hours to take a few personal items. It is only now, 20 years after their expulsion that my Government has been able to even begin resettling the over 60,000 Muslims still displaced.
At that time and ever since, nobody called this barbarous act ‘genocide’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’!
5. Does the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) represent the Tamil Diaspora and the entire Tamil community?
No, they don’t!
The GTF and the TGTE claim that they represent the ‘Tamil Diaspora,’ which is then rehashed by individuals like Ron Ridenour, to justify claims of genocide and hence the need for a separate State.
Both organisations were formed by international leaders of the earlier LTTE and are composed of LTTE front organisations and their supporters in various Western countries. What they have in common is their LTTE origins and the demand for a separate State. Having lost territory and control over the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, claims of genocide has become a facile argument to justify foreign intervention to help create a separate State.
The TGTE is a re-branded manifestation of the LTTE overseas structure. Its co-architects are Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, former international legal advisor of the LTTE and New York based Lawyer, and Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP, previously International Chief in charge of international LTTE branch administration, global fund raising and arms acquisition. The TGTE is unambiguously clear about its ultimate goal being creation of a separate State. At its inaugural Congress in Philadelphia, the LTTE flag was openly flaunted alongside the US flag, despite it being a banned terrorist organization, and Rudrakumaran was elected as Interim Chief Executive of TGTE. As I mentioned earlier, the GTF too is an entity formed by bringing together several LTTE front organisations in the West.
These organisations are unrepresentative, but project themselves as the ‘sole representatives of the Tamil people.’ Their leaders belong to a financially powerful and influential class of educated professionals and businesspeople residing in the West and benefiting from external political and financial backing.
Let us recall the brutal war the LTTE waged against other groups issuing from the Tamil community, assassinating intellectuals, politicians and activists to establish itself as the ‘sole representative.’ At the same time, its representatives moved into gain a stranglehold over the Tamil community in the west – including through intimidation, assault, and threats to families in Sri Lanka. Paris and Toronto were prime examples of the phenomenon, where unquestioning compliance was demanded and wrought.
The TGTE too has made clear that it will not take into account decisions of the so-called “Tamil leadership” inside Sri Lanka unless they accept its separatist agenda.
No, the Tamil community is not a homogenous group!
Our perceptions of who we are and the choices we make depend essentially on our historical origins, our economic and social status, geographic location, and cultural background. For instance, the demand of almost 1 million workers belonging to the Tamil community brought as indentured labour by the British from India was to obtain Sri Lankan nationality. The LTTE showed no concern whatsoever for the fate of this working class.
Within Sri Lanka, even in regions such as the East and the northern Jaffna peninsula, which separatists claim as their territory, there is no popular support for the separatist cause.
As for INGOs and their backers and individuals who tow the LTTE/TGTE line, genocide is only a pretext for achieving a hidden agenda. Perhaps we are seeing a new model for external intervention in the making, creation of a dangerous precedent. First, encourage groups without territory or control over the population to establish ‘Transnational Governments.’ Then, facilitate a campaign of defamation to justify intervention by a nebulous ‘international community’ to exercise the so-called ‘Responsibility to Protect’.’ Of course, all this has nothing to do with the principles of the UN Charter or human rights!
My question to you is, would you like to see this happening in Latin America where regional integration, the dream of Bolivar, is on the agenda?
6. In Latin America we have little information about Sri Lanka. Was there a popular insurrection in your country?
Insurrection implies an organised rebellion aimed at overthrowing the Government in place. The goal of the LTTE was not to overthrow the Government but to establish a separate State of Tamil Eelam under its totalitarian control. That is why they projected the Sinhalese people as the enemy.
The LTTE was NOT a liberation movement. It never had an economic or social programme nor did it concern itself with development of the areas it controlled or in improving the well-being of the Tamil community. The only institutions they set up were institutions of coercion – police stations, tribunals, prisons. They had airplanes, a fleet of tankers, and even submarines.
It was a terror organisation terrorising even members of the community they claimed to represent. Theirs was an anti-civilian approach! Child soldiers were forcibly recruited for their notorious baby-brigades and forewarned that their families would be wiped out if they surrender. They invented the suicide belt and pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks. Their soldiers wore cyanide vials for consumption upon capture.They practiced extortion. They were known within the Tamil community as the “Eelam Enterprise” for their involvement in human, arms and drug trafficking and sea piracy.
Tens of thousands of civilians from the community who did not subscribe to their separatist goal were physically eliminated, including leaders of progressive political groups and their cadres, politicians and intellectuals. In one day alone, they killed 175 leaders of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation. Then they machine-gunned the entire Central Committee of the left-wing EPRLF – the Eelam Peoples´ Revolutionary Liberation Front.
It shocks me to hear comparisons being made between the LTTE and genuine liberation movements in Latin America and the Middle East.
Is it ethical to brand an entire community – the Sinhalese in this case – as enemy? Is it moral to target innocent civilians and workers in pubic places, transit hubs, buses, trains, marketplaces, temples, banks, office buildings, etc.
Ron Ridenour’s presentation of Rudrakumaran, top LTTE and TGTE leader and associate of the mafiosi KP, as a moral reference is an insult to the intelligence of people, particularly of the Tamil community itself!
7. How do you see your country going forward?
A new historical period is opening up for our country with a strong potential for development. Sri Lanka is the 2nd fastest growing economy in Asia, second only to China, and the 8th fastest growing economy in the world. According to the UNDP, Sri Lanka is one of the countries of the world on the threshold of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
With the elimination of an autocratic group, democratic space has been opened. A large number of important emergency laws and regulations have been relaxed and a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation established. Soon, Northern Provincial Council elections will be held and members of the Tamil community in the North will be able to choose their own Chief Minister and administration. We are also engaging in a comprehensive dialogue with all political parties to stabilise the democratic administration.
We are building a strong national industry and agriculture to reduce import dependence and to achieve greater self-reliance, food and energy security. Every effort is being made to harness and further develop the country’s natural wealth and resources.
A massive development programme is underway in the recently liberated Northern and Eastern provinces with a total budget of US$ 4,3 billion for the period 2007 to 2012. In addition, from 2010 onwards, the Government will allocate some US$ 1 billion each year – for 3 years – for the North and East for reconstruction and rehabilitation.
With an average GDP growth of 6% or above between 2005 to 2008, our target is to achieve an average economic GDP growth of 8% after 2010 and to double GDP per capita to US$4,000 by 2016. Our priority is to ensure that growth is spread more evenly.
The almost 30-year old conflict ended and Sri Lanka has the potential to develop into a naval, aviation, commercial, energy and knowledge hub, serving as a key link between the East and West. As one of the fastest growing economies and a feeder to rapidly growing China and India, Sri Lanka can become a regional centre and major gateway to India.
8. How do you see the relations between Sri Lanka and Venezuela?
Our Governments have excellent relations based on the principles of mutual respect, solidarity and reciprocity, and the relations between President Hugo Chavez and President Mahinda Rajapaksa have always been warm and friendly.
Sri Lanka and Venezuela are both firmly committed to the defence of State sovereignty, national independence, territorial integrity and non-interference, and to the pursuance of an independent, free and non-aligned foreign policy. Strengthening the national economy for the benefit of people, improving social well-being, achieving food and energy security, protection and preservation of the environment are common concerns. We are also firmly committed to a strong multilateral system and vibrant South-South cooperation.
During my cordial meeting with the Minister of External Relations, Mr.Nicolas Maduro, we reaffirmed the continuing solidity of the friendly relations between our two countries and the need to strengthen our cooperation in areas of mutual interest. My Government will exert every effort to do so at the bilateral as well as multilateral levels – at the United Nations, within the Non-Aligned Movement and the G.-15, which is chaired by Sri Lanka.
(This is an English translation of Ambassador Gunanayagam’s Interview to the Venezeula newspaper “Correo del Orinoco”)