The signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement on July 29, 1987, in Colombo by Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene marked a turning point in the history of Sri Lanka as well as in India-Sri Lanka relations. Under it, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was despatched to the island’s Northern and Eastern provinces. The situation went haywire with the beginning of a military confrontation between the IPKF and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from October 10, 1987, and a marked reluctance on the part of Colombo to implement the agreement. The IPKF-LTTE military conflict saw the death of about 1,200 Indian soldiers and 660 LTTE cadres. An LTTE suicide bomber assassinated Rajiv Gandhi when he was campaigning at Sriperumbudur, about 30 km from Chennai, on May 21, 1991.
This changed the LTTE’s fortunes forever. It caused a tremendous revulsion towards the organisation in Tamil Nadu. It was proscribed in India and other countries. Prabakaran was killed in a climactic battle with the Sri Lanka Army on May 18, 2009. Five years later, Rajapaksa, under whose presidency the LTTE was wiped out, lost the election in Sri Lanka, thanks largely to Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims voting against him. Frontline has covered the Sri Lankan issue consistently and exhaustively right from the magazine’s inception.
V. PRABAKARAN, the LTTE leader, is a key player in the dramatic developments represented by the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement and its implementation. He was invited to New Delhi before the agreement was signed, raised apprehensions and objections, met Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for a frank discussion of the situation and the problems, and returned to Jaffna in early August. On August 4, Prabakaran made a speech that drew wide attention: in it, he analysed the situation from the LTTE’s standpoint, expressed his dissatisfaction with the agreement but also his closeness to India and said the LTTE would hand over arms basically because it “loves India” and did not want to clash with the IPKF. A week later, a Frontline team comprising writer T.S. Subramanian and photographer D. Krishnan met him for this session in Jaffna. Soon after this, fresh Indian assurances led to the LTTE deciding to go ahead with the handing over of arms.
For his first extended interview after returning to Jaffna from Tamil Nadu in January 1987, Velupillai Prabakaran, the Supreme Commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, meets representatives of Frontline and The Hindu in the second week of August in Jaffna. The interview, conducted in Tamil, lasts over an hour.
The LTTE leader looked cool and relaxed. He sets the ball rolling by suggesting that we should go to the Eastern province where the Sri Lankan soldiers, he alleges, are still harassing Tamil civilians.
Q;There was a media story that when the Sri Lanka armed forces began their offensive against the Vadamarachchi region of the Jaffna peninsula on May 26, you were trapped in Velvettiturai and you managed to escape. Is this version true?
Prabakaran (smiling): I moved to Jaffna on the night of May 25. They began the offensive the next day morning. They attacked Velvettiturai thinking that I was there.
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