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

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?