Anton Balasingham

Negotiator for the Tamil Tigers


Anton Balasingham, political activist and spokesperson: born Jaffna, Sri Lanka 1938; twice married; died London 14 December 2006.

Anton Balasingham was the international face of the militant group that pioneered suicide bombing, yet he was welcomed in the drawing rooms of Europe. The Prime Minister of Norway addressed him as "Excellency", as if he were an ambassador for an internationally recognised state, instead of chief negotiator for the Tamil Tigers, banned as a terrorist organisation in the European Union and the United States.

The Tigers are also on Britain's list of banned terrorist groups for their remorseless campaign of violence to win independence for Sri Lanka's Tamils, a campaign involving suicide attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds, including that of the Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Yet Balasingham had a British passport and was allowed to live in Britain and openly conduct the Tigers' business here - the West accepted the Tigers were a militant group that it had to be prepared to talk to.

If the sophisticated Balasingham was the public persona of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, for many years the driving force behind the group was his relationship with its reclusive founder and leader Vellupilai Prabhakaran. Balasingham was always self-effacing about his own role in the Tigers. "I am Mr Prabhakaran's voice," was how he put it. But insiders say his own influence was far greater than that. It is said he was the only one who could dare disagree with the guerrilla leader, and he was the ideologue behind the Tigers.

The contrast between the two men could not have been starker. Prabhakaran is almost never seen in public and lives hidden somewhere in the Sri Lankan jungle. Balasingham was an intellectual who worked as a journalist and as a translator in the British High Commission in Colombo before coming to London to study, and who came to the Tigers full of the theories of Che Guevara and Mao and lectured young Tiger cadres. Though Prabhakaran is considered by many to be a military genius, he left school at 16 and has none of Balasingham's airs. Many observers say it was the partnership between the two that made the Tigers so effective.

If Balasingham never fought on the battlefield, he was a fearlessly aggressive negotiator, leading the Tigers' delegation in successive talks with the Sri Lankan government since 1985. At recent failed peace negotiations, he simply walked out.

He married, as his second wife, an Australian woman, Adele Wilby, who went on to write books about the Tamil quest for independence. "I married the collective consciousness and history of a people, a man who embodied the Tamil psyche with all its strengths and weaknesses, greatness and failings," she wrote of him in her book The Will to Freedom: an inside view of Tamil resistance (2001).

It emerged last month that Balasingham had bile duct cancer and he said of his illness: "When compared to the vast ocean of the collective tragedy faced by my people, my illness is merely a pebble".

Justin Huggler

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Class 2 Drivers

£31700 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist wholesaler owned and man...

Recruitment Genius: Laser and Router Operative

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Laser and Router Operative is...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician - 1st Line

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They have been providing local ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive / Trainee Managers

£6000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for smart, orga...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones