COLOMBO, May 5, Reuter: A Tamil guerrilla leader said it would take over a year for peace to be restored in Sri Lanka despite an accord signed with India to end ethnic violence,

“There are no hopes even of am not pessimistic but practical,” UMA Maheswaran, leader of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), said on Thursday.

PLOTE was one of five main Tamil rebel groups fighting to set up an independent state in Sri Lanka. It agreed last year to abide by the terms of the pact signed by President Junius Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Maheswaran said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have rejected the accord, were the key to a political solution to the island’s bloody ethnic conflict.

“Talk to the LTTE… if the accord is to work,” he said

“The Indian peacekeeping force will get nowhere by fighting them. You cannot crush the Tigers or any other group…..problems have to be solved by negotiation not by military might,” he told Reuters in an interview.

The accord was aimed at ending a Tamil guerrilla campaign for an independent homeland in the north and the east. Over 8,000 people have been killed in the war since 1983.

The Tigers, the main group leading the campaign, are now being hunted down by 50,000 Indian troops sent to the island to enforce the pact.

The setting up of semiautonomous councils is a key element in the accord, intended to satisfy demand ds for autonomy in the north and east where most of the minority Tamils, who account for 13 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 16 million people, live.

Maheswaran said his group opposed the accord but promised not to stop its implementation.

“We are opposed to it on the basis of foreign intervention. As long as Indian troops are here … there can’t be peace. But we are also keen to see that it works,” he said, sipping a cup of tea.

The Sinhalese majority has been the target of Tamil guerrilla attacks many being killed or driven from their homes in the north and east.

However, Tamil groups like PLOTE agree with the Sinhalese on one aspect —— that the Indian peacekeeping force must leave as soon as possible.

At42, Maheswaran is the oldest guerrilla leader and says the IPKF will not leave Sri Lanka’s shores in the near future. “I think they ‘would remain here for at least five years. Some control in Sri Lanka is useful to India’s interests”.

He says if the accord fails PLOTE may be forced to return to the jungles and resume their armed rebellion,

Article extracted from this publication >> May 13, 1988