Sri Lanka`s only Tamil chief minister visits India

Formerly a Tamil Tiger child soldier, Sri Lanka`s only Tamil chief minister is visiting India to learn a little more about how to run local self government.

New Delhi: Formerly a Tamil Tiger child soldier, Sri Lanka`s only Tamil chief minister is visiting India to learn a little more about how to run local self government.

Sivanesathurai Chanthirakanthan, better known by his former nom de guerre Pillayan, says he would be happy to pick up points that can help him tone up his administration in Sri Lanka`s Eastern Province.

The 34-year-old Pillayan Friday flew into Thrissur in Kerala where he will attend workshops on Panchayati Raj and governance at the grassroots. He will be there for about a week.

"Our aim is to strengthen our provincial government," Pillayan told a news agency in a telephonic interview. "We want to study how the system works in India, more so in Kerala. It will be useful to us."

Pillayan is at the head of a 30-member Eastern Province delegation that includes members from his own Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) party.

In all, a total of 90 provincial council members and their aides will visit Kerala in three batches.

Including those now accompanying Pillayan, they are and will be from President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the United National Party, the All Ceylon Muslim Congress and one faction of the Eelam People`s Revolutionary Liberation Front.

"We feel that local self-governance is the best way to achieve real unity in the eastern province," Pillayan said, underlining that the region was home to all three leading communities of Sri Lanka: Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

"Our aim is to do what we can to strengthen Sri Lankan unity," he said, speaking in Tamil. "We want to better the lives of our people."

Pillayan joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) when he was in his early teens and a school student, attracted by the fighting abilities of an outfit he was later to disown.

And so Pillayan, dropping out of school, became one of the thousands of "child soldiers" of the LTTE, fighting against the Sri Lankan security forces to carve out a Tamil homeland called Eelam.

Pillayan`s base was in the Eastern Province which, unlike the Tamil-dominated north, is multi-racial. While in the Tamil Tigers, he came close to V. Muralitharan alias Karuna, the powerful eastern regional commander of the LTTE.

When Karuna revolted against the LTTE in March 2004, Pillayan was one of the thousands who sided with him, shaking up the Tigers and triggering a process that ultimately led to the rebels` destruction last year.

In 2007, for the first time after more than a decade, the Sri Lankan military captured the Eastern Province from the LTTE. Pillayan was elected to the eastern provincial council in elections held in April 2008.

In May 2008, backed by Rajapaksa to the point of alienating Muslim politicians who claimed the right to form the provincial administration, Pillayan became the first chief minister of the Eastern Province.

Since then, Pillayan has ploughed on for two years with a mixed bag of successes and disappointments, a former guerrilla now wedded to democracy.


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