On July 29th 1999, Neelan Tiruchelvam was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber. Dr. Tiruchelvam’s death proved to be a grave loss for the Sri Lankan Tamils. Tiruchelvam, as a constitutional lawyer, was determined to settle the ethnic conflict in a peaceful manner.
Even though Neelan Tiruchelvam did not agree with LTTE’s objectives of using violence to solve the ethnic conflict, he was very sympathetic to the young Tamils who were dying in the armed struggle, and in certain instances, Neelan used his authority protected the welfare of those within the LTTE. For example, in the late 1990s, the Canadian government was about to deport Suresh Manickavasagam—the LTTE chief in Canada. However, Neelan Tiruchelvam as a key political advisor in Chandrika’s government wrote a letter to the Canadian Globe and Mail stating that Suresh was likely to be “interrogated aggressively” if he was deported to Sri Lanka. Subsequently, Suresh’s defense lawyers were able to use Neelan’s written statements in postponing his deportation.
In 1995, Neelan Tiruchelvam and G.L Peiris proposed a set of constitutional reforms known as the GL-Neelan package. The GL-Neelan package involved “merging of the Northern and Eastern provinces, expanding the subjects devolved to provincial councils, establishment of a mechanism to resolve disputes between the central and provincial governments and greater recognition of Sri Lanka’s many minorities.”
Neelan and his wife Sithie / File photo
However, despite proposing sweeping constitutional reforms, the LTTE dismissed the GL-Neelan package without having even read it and condemned Neelan as a traitor. In the late 1990s, Neelan worked to initiate peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government under a third party peace facilitator.
In 2002, long after Neelan’s death, the talks would eventually go into full force with Norway acting as mediator. In 2003, during the peace talks, the LTTE would propose the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals. It would be the first set of concrete power sharing proposals ever put forth by the LTTE and was a significant achievement on their behalf. However, the proposals were disregarded by the Sri Lankan government from being considered as a subject of negotiation and was regarded as too maximalist. The ISGA proposal may have received a different reaction from the Sri Lankan government if Neelan had not been killed by the LTTE. Neelan strongly encouraged peaceful negotiation on the part of the LTTE and since Neelan was the closest political adviser to Chandrika he would have insisted that Chandrika take the LTTE’s proposals into consideration. However, the LTTE by killing Neelan ultimately stabbed themselves in the back.
Balasingham would even realize the LTTE’s fatal mistake himself when he made a startling revelation on March 11, 2003 at the ceremonial opening of an LTTE bank (vaippagam) at Kilinochchi. The speech was reported in full in the Jaffna based “Uthayan” of March 13 2003. Here is the relevant excerpt-“1995 aam aandu Neelan Thiruchelvam arasamaipputh thirutha varaipu ondrai samarppithhaar. Athu sariyaana varaipu.Athu etkakkoodiyathu. Aanaal pinnar 2000 aam aandu antha varaipin adippadayil Chandrika oru thirutha varaipai samarppithaar.Antha varaipu Neelan Thiruchelvathin varaipin oru araikkuraiyaana oru thokuthiyaagum.” (Neelan Tiruchelvam presented in 1995 a draft amending the constitution.That was a correct draft. That was acceptable. But later in 2000 Chandrika submitted an amended version based on that draft. This one was only a half-baked version of the earlier draft by Neelan Tiruchelvam)
The LTTE, through its decimation of Tamil political intellectuals, ultimately helped seal their fate for what transpired in the final stages of 2009 as Tamils were slaughtered by the thousands just as Neelan Tiruchelvam, Rajini Thiranagama and other Tamil intellectuals who the LTTE killed had predicted would be the final result of the civil war.