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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 02:37 GMT 03:37 UK
Ex-Tiger commander breaks silence
By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC Tamil service

Colonel Karuna
Colonel Karuna denied being behind the violence in the east
A renegade Sri Lankan rebel commander has spoken publicly for the first time since he defected from the Tamil Tigers and went into hiding three months ago.

Speaking to the BBC Tamil service by telephone, Col Karuna said he was currently in eastern Sri Lanka, where - he said - the people supported him.

He said he would set up a political party and enter politics.

The Tigers have accused Col Karuna of helping the Sri Lankan military to wage a covert war against them in the east.

The rebel leadership has told Norwegian peace monitors that they cannot restart peace talks with the government until the issue is settled.

Sri Lankan officials have repeatedly denied supporting the renegade commander. In the interview with the BBC, Col Karuna denied any links with the Sri Lankan military or intelligence agencies.

And he said the Tigers themselves were responsible for a recent upsurge in violence in the east of the country, which has seen rebels and their supporters killed in recent months.

"It is the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] which is killing our supporters, and they are to blame for other violent incidents also," he claimed.

Col Karuna also said Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran did not believe in a negotiated settlement and was gearing up to resume war.

Split

The Tigers have been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east of the island for minority Tamils for over two decades.

In March Col Karuna, their second most senior military leader, split from the leadership saying he wanted to run the east separately.

He accused the northern leadership of ignoring the interests of eastern Tamils, and giving members from northern Sri Lanka plum posts within the organisation.

The Tigers launched a swift operation in mid-April to put an end to the unprecedented revolt within the organisation.

Col Karuna disbanded his forces and reportedly asked thousands of his men and women to return home. Until now, his whereabouts have remained a mystery.

"I retreated because I didn't want thousands of my supporters to die in the internecine fighting," he told the BBC.

Accusing the Tiger rebel leadership of wasting six rounds of peace talks to find a permanent solution to the conflict, Col Karuna said there was no way a separate nation for the Tamils could be achieved through an armed struggle.

Analysts say the re-emergence of Col Karuna does not augur well for the stalled peace process, and that the Tigers may further harden their stance.




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