Diplomatic Correspondent

It was a "monumental historical tragedy," Anton Balasingham tells NDTV

LTTE prepared to build new understanding with India Ethnic question should be approached in a different perspective, it says India should actively involve itself in the peace process

NEW DELHI: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has said that it deeply regretted the May 21, 1991 assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and described it as a "monumental historical tragedy."

Anton Balasingham, LTTE's chief negotiator and ideologue, told NDTV: "As far as that event [Rajiv assassination] is concerned, I would say it is a great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy for which we deeply regret and we call upon the Government of India and the people of India to be magnanimous to put the past behind and to approach the ethnic question in a different perspective."

Without referring directly to the LTTE's recognised role in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Mr. Balasingham went beyond what LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran said at his April 10, 2002 press conference. At the time, Mr. Prabakaran had said about the assassination: "This is a tragic incident that took place 10 years ago. We don't want to comment further on it."

In Tuesday's comments, Mr. Balasingham said the LTTE was prepared to build a new understanding with India provided New Delhi made a "positive gesture" towards the Tigers. Mr. Balasingham's remarks come at a time when the European Union has banned the LTTE and the Tigers have themselves undermined Norway's role as facilitator.

Asked whether the LTTE's unhappiness over the 1987 India-Sri Lanka accord led to the Indian leader's assassination, Mr. Balasingham was quoted as saying: "No. It happened later on. What has happened is, since we rejected the Sri Lankan accord there were a lot of events that took place creating a gulf between the LTTE and the Government of India and the Indians later sent the IPKF Indian Peace Keeping Force, to disarm the LTTE and eventually broke out into an open confrontation."

"We fought a guerrilla war against the Indian Army for two years and finally the Sri Lankans. We had a negotiation with Sri Lanka and secured the withdrawal of the Indian troops in the 90s and of course finally it was followed by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi," he said.

"We were not very happy with the political solution proposed by India because it did not satisfy the political aspirations of our people. If India has offered a federal solution as she has in her own country then we would have definitely responded positively but the provincial administration suggested by India was totally inadequate to meet the demands of the Tamil people so that's why we did not support the accord," he said.

Asked whether the LTTE could assure India that an event like the Rajiv Gandhi assassination would not happen again, Mr. Balasingham replied: "We have made pledges to the Government of India that under no circumstances we will act against the interest of the Government of India and that ever since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India played a detached role. What we feel is India should actively involve [itself] in the peace process."

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