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Tamils not loyal to LTTE: Rajapaksa

[Express Buzz, Friday, 19 December 2008 08:04 No Comment]

rajapakse_ap President Mahinda Rajapaksa met The New Indian Express at the President’s House at the old Colombo Fort over breakfast on Thursday. The interaction was briefly interrupted when the President went for the swearingin of Mohan Peiris as attorney- general, but continued in his ground floor office.

Excerpts from the interview:

 

Thank you for this opportunity to meet you Mr President, despite your very busy schedule. Let me begin with a most interesting aspect of current developments. You have mentioned that there can be no military solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. How do you propose to solve this problem?

You are right in quoting me. I firmly believe that there is no military solution to the current conflict in Sri Lanka. I have been consistent in maintaining this position. While we are militarily tackling the terrorists, we are keen to pursue a political solution for the people of Sri Lanka. I would like to reiterate our firm commitment to a negotiated political solution within an undivided Sri Lanka, taking into account the aspirations of all the communities, including the Tamils. As an extension to the political process that is currently underway through the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) we have also now invited the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to join this process and we welcome their suggestions and proposals to achieve fairness to all within an undivided country.

While I am awaiting the final proposal from the APRC, I wish to state that we are in the process of implementing the interim proposal submitted to me by the APRC, based on which the elections in the Eastern Province were held, after its liberation from the clutches of terror, and a Tamil chief minister was elected to office. We are now in the process of devolving more powers to the Eastern Province and as a part of this process a DIG of Police from the Tamil community has been appointed to the province. We are hopeful of replicating this success in the East in the Northern Province as well.

 

We hear reports that the arrangement with Karuna and Pillaiyan are not really working as well as they should…

Having followed Sri Lankan affairs and the conflict in the North and East, you must be aware that both chief minister Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan) and Member of Parliament Mr Muralitharan (Karuna) spent many years fighting the government while they were members of the LTTE. The fact that they have renounced violence and chosen the democratic path to the extent of becoming part of the electoral process and government is an achievement by itself. Differences of opinion between two leaders of the same party are common in democracy; you will see it in most democratic parties, and I hope that they will sort out these differences in the better and larger interests of the people they represent.

 

There is a perception in Tamil Nadu that the civilian population is being killed collaterally or otherwise in the military campaign. How do you respond?

Let me be very clear, this is a wholly wrong perception. I have consistently maintained that our military actions are strictly directed at the LTTE terrorists and not against the Tamil people. I have given strict instructions to the forces to ensure that there should not be any civilian casualties; and the forces have also exercised maximum caution on this aspect.

However, I acknowledge that due to the nature of the conflict there has been damage to civilian properties which will be rebuilt and normal life restored no sooner the area is freed from the terrorists, as in the case of the Eastern Province where the government is in the process of spending $ 1.8 billion for development during the next three years. However, the LTTE has been known to use innocent civilians as human shields and is preventing them from moving into safer areas especially using the safe corridor to the South provided by the military and government.

Perhaps the political leaders who have been expressing concern over the safety of civilians in the conflict areas could coax the LTTE to allow the civilians to move towards the safe corridor.

 

There is concern in Tamil Nadu that the relief materials are not sufficiently provided in the conflict areas. What has been done to address this?

It is difficult to address the concerns of anybody that are not based on fact. The total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) mentioned in the media is factually exaggerated.

According to available statistics, the number of IDPs is approximately around one lakh. However, taking into account the hardships of the people living in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts and part of the Vavuniya district, I have ordered that relief items be provided to all the civilians of those areas free of charge, knowing very well that a portion of the food items will be taken by the LTTE.

From September this year to date we have dispatched 11,058 tonnes of food and 598 tonnes of non-food items to the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts. This is apart from 4,370 food items distributed by the World Food Programme during the same period. These are easily verifiable facts and figures to those genuinely interested. We also appreciate the gesture by the Indian government of sending relief items sent by the people of Tamil Nadu, all of which have now been distributed among the civilians in the conflict areas. Hence, there is no shortage of food and other essential provisions in the conflict areas. There is a need for more shelter and we are in the process of addressing this.

 

On the influx of refugees to Tamil Nadu, do you think this could be a problem?

I am not aware of any such influx today. Let me put this in perspective. During the liberation of the Eastern Province last year we had 1,70,000 IDPs and at present there are about 1,00,000 IDPs in the North. According to statistics complied by the Tamil Nadu government, the total number of refugee arrivals from Sri Lanka since January 2006 is only 22,800. Out of this 22,800 about 5,429 have voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka. This illustrates that there is no severe influx of refugees into Tamil Nadu. I understand that following the clearance of the Eastern Province a number of refugees from the Eastern Province who are in Tamil Nadu are now willing to return.

My government is prepared to extend all possible assistance for such returnees. I trust this answers your question adequately.

 

You have been the Minister of Fisheries. Can you give me a candid assessment of how much of fishing goes on in your waters by boats from Tamil Nadu on a daily basis?

According to the information from the Navy, on an average about 500 fishing vessels enter Sri Lankan waters daily and engage in fishing. The entry of fishing craft from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lankan waters has been going on for some time, as you suggested from the time I was Minister of Fisheries, too. This is a matter that has to be resolved in a spirit of friendship by two neighbours.

 

What about the element of smuggling by boats from Tamil Nadu? How serious is that concern? How widespread do you think that practice is?

The movement of smugglers and other illegal entities in the sea is certainly a threat to any country’s sovereignty and security.

Sri Lanka takes serious note of this, especially as they could be, and most likely are linked to terrorism that we are committed to eradicate.

 

Why do you think all this happens even though the navies of the two countries are ostensibly doing coordinated patrolling?

The Sri Lanka Navy has taken all steps to prevent such activities. It is also a well-known fact that there is a nexus existing between the smugglers and the LTTE and perhaps even other terrorist organisations. I believe the answer is more concerted and coordinated action.

There are welcome signs that India is also taking note of the dangers to its own coastal security today.

 

The LTTE is obviously ready for ceasefire. The Tamil Nadu chief minister has backed the call. Yet you dismissed the suggestion out of hand. Why?

One must understand the background to the LTTE’s call for a ceasefire. The LTTE has a track record of announcing ceasefires when they are militarily weakened and are in need of fresh of supply of arms and ammunition, and need to re-group and recruit fighters. After I assumed the presidency in November 2005, the LTTE leader in his Hero’s Day speech described me as a ‘pragmatic’ leader and he stated he would give my government one year’s time to find a solution to the ethnic issue.

However, he never gave me the smallest opportunity to demonstrate my pragmatism as he launched attacks on the armed forces followed by terrorist acts against innocent civilians within two weeks of his speech.

Despite these provocations I was committed to the ceasefire agreement signed by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2002, which had many flaws that favoured the LTTE. Just look at the record of that ceasefire. It was monitored by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission which comprised Nordic countries, which conclusively reported that the LTTE had violated the ceasefire agreement 3,850 times, mostly serious violations, while the violations by the security forces was only 351 times, which were mainly instances of harassment.

Therefore, based on this and our other past experiences of the behaviour of the LTTE in this regard, we don’t think the LTTE is sincere in its call for a ceasefire, especially in view of the fact that once again this new call comes when they have been drastically weakened by the forces. It is necessary to be realistic when dealing with a terrorist force as the LTTE.

 

What are the conditions that require to be met before you declare a military victory? Does it end with Kilinochchi?

As I have already stated I am not for a military solution though it has become necessary to use force that is rightly available to the State and the democratically elected government, to curtail terrorism in order to bring democracy to the people. Therefore, the fall of Kilinochchi will only be a step towards restoring democracy to the people of that area where the people have been subjected to the brutalities of the LTTE. Far from being a military victory, it will be the beginning of the restoration of democratic freedoms. That will be the real victory.

 

How soon do you see it happening?

I don’t wish to give a time frame though it is my earnest hope that it will be in the near future. You must be able to judge it from the reports you receive.

 

The locals and refugees in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu comprise, I believe, roughly four lakh. Given this ground reality, is there a military way to address this dense population scenario? How do you propose to wean away people from the LTTE?

The figures you give are questionable. But I will not go into that. There is an error in the thinking that there is a need to wean the people away from the LTTE. There is nothing to show that they are fully committed to the LTTE, or are nurtured by it, although a small misled minority, mainly indoctrinated by terrorism and given false hopes may still be with it.

The LTTE has at no time been the genuine representative of the Tamil people. We know that the Tamil people left in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu are held there in thrall of the LTTE’s arms. Once that power is effectively broken the Tamil people will be free to choose their leaders, and join the democratic system. That is what we have already begun doing with the development programmes for the North.

As I said recently, we will be looking towards a new Spring of Development in and for the North. We will restore democracy and ensure that the people there are treated equally under the Constitution. Don’t forget that almost all the democratically elected leaders of the Tamil people, their trade union leaders, teachers and intellectuals were killed by the LTTE. I do not think that there will be any need to wean away such people from their oppressors.

 

Gen Fonseka referred to some politicians in Tamil Nadu as political jokers who receive monetary help from the LTTE. Do you share this view?

I was briefed that it was an inadvertent report in a newspaper. I understand that the Secretary, Ministry of Defence, has expressed regret for whatever had been reported, if it was as stated. I also learn that the management of the newspaper has removed the editor concerned, for lack of editorial discretion.

Whatever had been reported inadvertently is not the view of the government, and I believe the matter rests there.

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