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Forget peace talks: S.Lanka militant-turned-minister
December 21, 2007 / 9:36 AM / 10 years ago

Forget peace talks: S.Lanka militant-turned-minister

Douglas Devananda, Social Services and Welfare Minister, is seen in Jaffna, Sri Lanka in this March 21, 2004 file photo. Holding talks with the Tamil Tigers' shadowy leader would be a blunder and there will be no peace unless he is killed, Sri Lankan militant-turned-minister Devananda has warned. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi/Files

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Holding talks with the Tamil Tigers’ shadowy leader would be a blunder and there will be no peace unless he is killed, Sri Lankan militant-turned-minister Douglas Devananda has warned.

Social Services and Welfare Minister Devananda, a minority Tamil vehemently opposed to the Tigers, says he has escaped more than a dozen assassination attempts.

The last was on Nov. 28, when a female bomber officials say was sent by Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran made her way into his ministry in central Colombo.

Devananda was watching closed-circuit TV footage of visitors in the ministry’s offices and hallways when the woman blew herself up, killing one of his aides.

“Prabhakaran ... is anti-human,” Devananda told Sri Lanka’s Foreign Correspondent’s Association late on Thursday, after showing journalists a recording of the attack. “You have to compare (him) with Pol Pot or Hitler ... He has to die.”

“As long as Prabhakaran is alive, he won’t allow anyone to solve the problem (conflict) amicably,” he added. “If the president goes again for talks, it’s a blunder.”

Prabhakaran is infamous for his use of suicide attackers as part of his campaign to create a separate state for Tamils in the island’s north and east.

Devananda himself took up arms against the state with other militant groups in the late 1970s and 1980s. He remains at the top of the Tigers’ hit list.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa says the door is open to peace talks with the rebels, but his government has also vowed to wipe out the Tigers military.

Thousands have died in renewed fighting since early last year after a 2002 ceasefire pact broke down. The last round of a series of abortive peace talk initiatives fell apart last year.

Since 1983, about 70,000 people have died in the two-decade civil war and many hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

FUTURE CHIEF MINISTER IN NORTHEAST?

Devananda heads the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and analysts say he has close ties with a renegade former Tiger commander who analysts say helped the government drive the mainstream rebels from their eastern strongholds.

He wants to be the future chief minister for north and east Sri Lanka.

“I have the right to be the chief minister of the north and east,” Devananda said.

He also wants the government and other political parties to decentralise power to provincial councils, rather than wait for divided parties to try to reach an elusive consensus on devolution.

“The Tamil people have grievances. They should be dealt with with a political package,” he said.

Devananda, who adopted the alias Douglas because it was his karate teacher’s name, laughs as he recalls a series of attempts on his life.

He was once forced to dive into the Palk Strait separating Sri Lanka from India in 1996 to escape a rebel attack and spent the whole night in the sea.

The minister, who founded the militant Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), which later morphed into his political party, has no regrets about his own violent past.

He says killings he was responsible for were in self-defence. He also jokes about his former militancy and rivalry with the Tigers in the 1980s, when they were both fighting the state -- and often each other.

“If the LTTE killed anyone from my organisation, I balanced that when I was in EPRLF,” he laughed.

Ironically, it is precisely through agreeing to peace talks that Prabhakaran could torpedo his foe Devananda.

“If tomorrow Prabhakaran comes genuinely for negotiations, I will give up politics and go, because I don’t want to be an obstacle,” he said.

“But the reality is Prabhakaran won’t come, and I won’t go.”

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