Ananda Vikatan, a popular current affairs and lifestyle magazine in Tamil Nadu with a circulation of over five hundred thousand copies, featured a hard hitting and extensive interview with the former Army Chief, Sarath Fonseka, as a special feature in its issue of 20 June 2012.
The magazine is also popular among the Sri Lankan Tamils, with around five thousand copies sold here. However, in the 20 June issue of Ananda Vikatan sold in Sri Lanka, the pages featuring Sarath Fonseka’s interview had been removed.
Here we feature translated excerpts of Fonseka’s interview, where the former Army Commander has candidly answered some tough questions about the last days of the war, the deaths of Prabhakaran and his wish to see a Tamil becoming a President in Sri Lanka, similar to how Barack Obama became President in the USA.
Q: As former Army Commander you remained the confidant of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. How come you became his arch rival later?
A: Becoming a hero among the people of Sri Lanka is the main reason for the rivalry. Sri Lankans considered the victory over terrorism as another form of liberation for them. People understand the price the Security Forces have paid to gain this victory. We carried out the war to liberate the people of our country from terrorism. So the people praised me. While I didn’t have any intention of thinking beyond the victory we gained, the President had plenty of hidden intentions. Using the war victory for his political gains was one of them. So he was not happy with the way people felicitated me soon after the war ended. Therefore, he was worried whether his calculations in the political arena would go wrong, and it was he who turned me into his foe.
Q: Was your political aspirations one of the reasons for his animosity towards you?
A: Never. Since the war came to an end, several people approached me and insisted that the corrupt family regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa should be brought to an end. But I was patient. At one stage it was Rajapaksa who pushed me towards politics.
Q: Let us go to the war period. What is the reason for the fall of the LTTE? What was its strength and what was its weakness?
A: The weak state of the Sri Lankan Army remained the only strength of the LTTE. Before I became the Commander of the Lankan Army it was backward in many ways. Particularly the technologies were weak and the Navy was also in a state of instability.
The political atmosphere also remained conducive to the LTTE. These were the main factors attributed as the strength of the LTTE. When I took over the army, I changed everything. On the other hand the LTTE hardly realized the international atmosphere following the twin tower attack in the USA. The outfit also remained weak in modern warfare techniques.
Q: Speak the truth. What really happened to Prabhakaran?
A: There is only one truth. Prabhakaran is no more. He died in the war.
Q: Did he die in action? Could you confirm that he did not surrender and was not tortured to death?
A: Definitely. I can never forget that night. We surrounded Prabhakaran in a small area. The Tigers had created three zones with three of their units. There would have been four hundred of them at the maximum. The first unit consisted of hundred cadres led by Pulithevan and Nadesan. We destroyed the unit. The next unit comprised hundred cadres headed by Prabhakaran’s eldest son, Charles Anthony. We destroyed it as well.
Prabhakaran led the third unit, with another hundred cadres and the final battle had taken place at midnight. The unit led by Prabhakaran was also annihilated and the LTTE Chief was killed in the clash.
Q: If you say that you had killed the real Prabhakaran, what problem did you face in taking the media to the scene and showing the body?
A: First of all, I want to correct your question. We did not kill Prabhakaran. It is correct to say that he died in action. In a battlefront, you cannot guess what will happen. We cannot take the media personnel and go to war. The atmosphere there is different. When we found Prabhakaran’s body, we had to determine whether it was his body. Therefore, before announcing his death, we had to determine beyond any doubt that the body was of Prabhakaran. So the death of Prabhakaran was announced after the DNA test was carried out on his body. We didn’t have any doubt. Certainly it was Prabhakaran’s body.
Q: Have you spoken to Prabhakaran at any occasion?
Q: What was the reason for the LTTE to take the decision to surrender?
A: They didn’t take that decision. They were pushed towards surrender. We surrounded them from all corners. The territory they held had started shrinking. They silenced their weapons, when they realized there was no place for them to retreat to.
Q: Did the LTTE speak to the army about their surrender?
A: No. The army didn’t engage in any negotiation with the LTTE over this issue.
Q: In that case, who had made contacts over the surrender? Which Tamil Nadu leaders were in contact? What was the stance of the Army at that stage?
A: There were talks with the government. I don’t know who the Tamil Nadu leaders who were in contact. We know the Non-Governmental Organizations negotiated the issue. When we were contacted, we said we would welcome whoever came forward to surrender. We said that according to international regulations, we would treat the people who surrender with dignity. So the people, who surrendered, including the Tigers, were treated with dignity.
I had delivered very clear orders to my soldiers over the people who wished to surrender. It is because of that you could see the Tigers currently being released. Therefore, no one came with a white flag to surrender and we didn’t violate the ethics of war.
Q: A large number of children have been killed in the war, particularly the youngest son of Prabhakaran. The wounds found on his body indicate he was shot at point blank range. What do you say about it?
A: You are asking speculative questions. As you say I don’t believe Prabhakaran’s youngest son was killed. We had found the bodies of some women and four or five children on the last day of the war. Most of them were found to have taken cyanide. We have brought Karuna Amman and some others, who had been closer to Prabhakaran to identify the bodies. They said none of the bodies belonged to Prabhakaran’s wife or youngest son or daughter. What we know is that Prabhakaran and his eldest son were the only members of the family that had been killed. We don’t have any information on the other members.
Q: What was your mindset as a person who spearheaded the war, which had led to the deaths of thousands?
A: When the war was launched, I told my men that the lives of the innocent civilians should be protected. So my soldiers respected what I had told them. Nothing happened the way you think.
Q: What was the role of the US and China in the war? And why were those countries particular that the LTTE should be destroyed?
A: Whether it is the US or Europe, all countries agree that terrorism should be destroyed. As far as the LTTE was concerned, these countries realized the outfit didn’t have any alternative path for a settlement. Thereafter, they decided to support our stance. As far as China is concerned, it is a friend of the country and our main arms supplier.
Q: Is there any possibility of the LTTE emerging again?
A: The situation in Sri Lanka is now deteriorating. The economy is in a bad shape. The cost of living is killing the people. Apart from swindling, the government has no plans. Now there is no independence, no democracy, and no security for anyone. How would you feel if you are always followed by someone and your telephone is tapped? So we are in a situation like that. The media has been suppressed. Whatever the State media says is news. Rajapaksa is prepared to do anything to remain in power. His family is robbing the country. The youth are agitated. If the` jungle rule’ of the Rajapaksas continue, not only the LTTE, but thousands of others will also emerge.
Q: You once said that the Tamils should be subservient to the Sinhalese. You have also said the Tamils should wait for their rights. What is the reason for your attitude towards the Tamils?
A: I think my speeches had been distorted. I never spoke like that. I don’t have anything against the Tamils. Sri Lanka is now one country. I believe that all should live in peace with equal rights.
I wish for a Tamil to become President of Sri Lanka like how Barack Obama became President in the US.
Q: Even after the war, the areas where the Tamils live have been heavily militarized. What is the reason for the heavy presence of military in those regions?
A: First of all, you should understand I am no more an Army Commander. However, I told the government then that all rehabilitation activities should be completed before 2010 and the army should be withdrawn from those areas. But the government has not yet completed the rehabilitation works. The Security Forces cannot be completely withdrawn without the completion of rehabilitation.
Q: Which country is closer to Sri Lanka? India or China?
A: India is located closer to us. Geographically, historically and culturally, the relations between the two countries are significant. We cannot go against India at any stage. China is a very important friend. So, for Sri Lanka, both countries are indispensable.
Q: What is your next step in politics?
A: Making democracy bloom again in Sri Lanka, creating the space for freedom of expression, and ensuring the right to live in peace…. Working towards annihilating corruption.
Q: Suppose you win in a Presidential Election, how will you settle the Tamil question?
A: I am not the politician to lie for votes. The solution to the Tamil question doesn’t emerge from words or documents. It should come from the hearts of the people. Instead of talking, I will show that in action.
Q: The International Court has sentenced Charles Taylor (former Liberian President) to 50 years imprisonment for war crimes. What do you think about it?
A: I welcome it. I believe whoever commits war crime should be punished.
Q: In time to come you may be placed on par with Hitler or Musolini, what do you think about that?
A: It is because they handled the military. I will not be classified with them in the future. They were dictators, whereas I strive for democracy. Courtesy: Ceylon Today