|About time international community changed its ideas about us- Foreign Secy. Dr. Palitha Kohona|
|Wednesday, 21 January 2009|
Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona speaks to Hard Talk about meeting both regional and global concerns with regard to the advancing military exercises in the North. He maintains that the work carried out by his Ministry has been effective in better dealing with the international concerns and reiterates that there is sufficient understanding of the international community towards government’s war against terror as a result.
Q: The President yesterday reiterated that it was time for Sri Lanka to inform the world the progress she is making towards restoring democracy and freedom in the north and counter the ill-informed charges being made about the plight of the innocent Tamil there. What new steps are being taken in this regard
A: We’re taking a range of steps. The idea of the workshop we held was to gather all our information and find effective means to send this message across. The information we want disseminated is not only on the military victories on the opportunities now open for investment, tourism and trade as well. The Sri Lankan missions abroad are pro actively involved in the exercise. We are also talking domestically to the ambassadors about what is happening. This is a concise effort to confront allegations against the country despite all our efforts to maintain and ensure democracy, in our fight against one of the most ruthless terror organizations in the world. We have proven with the East how effectively we could restore democracy, and we will do the same in the North. Development has taken immense strides in the East with the Rs. 8.2 billion pledged for infrastructure, fisheries, school and hospital rehabilitation work we have started.
We have also intimated this information to the international media. Our only answer to anyone questioning the success of any country on a war against terror is simple: Sri Lanka.
Q: Was enough being done by our missions abroad so far in carrying this message across in view of the criticism the country received with regard to human rights violations or civilian concerns?
A: The fact remains that a High Commissioner has a range of duties to carry out in those countries aside of countering these allegations while terror organization can make denigrating Sri Lanka its sole agenda. And the government does not have the kind of resources that the LTTE has for this purpose. It is however because of the work undertaken by the Foreign Ministry that the war against terror has been helped this much due the ban against the LTTE in many influential countries in the world. There are a number of court cases against the LTTE in many countries as well. We will continue to press for the proscription of the TRO in the EU and other LTTE front organizations. LTTE derives incomes from these overseas operations through connected drug, arms and people smuggling operations. We will not stop these efforts simply because of the war victories either.
Q: The government has on several occasions expressed the likelihood of banning the LTTE as well. Is the rationale for such a move now to be viewed with regard to pressures from the West to negotiate?
A: There is absolutely no pressure to negotiate. No country would expect us to negotiate with a terrorist organization banned in many democracies. The rationale for now is to facilitate legal action against those espousing their cause and stop any kind of financing for them. This would strengthen the arm of the government.
Q: There is several conflict notions on what the ultimate fate of Prabhakaran will be. Given that India has officially requested that he be extradited there, what position is the government likely to take if and when he is captured?
A: Since he has yet not been captured I think it’s better to be patient till he is and take a considered decision when he is. The President did say that he will be tried in Sri Lanka. Prabakaran is responsible for many atrocities against civilians and places of religious importance. He has a lot to answer for here.
Q: Would you say that the Foreign Ministry has failed to a certain degree in handling the pressures mounting from the South Indian polity, where there is still a threat of pressure to the Centre to stop the war?
A: I think the answer for that are the results themselves. Secretary Menon who was here last week himself said that the bilateral relations were at their warmest ever. There was sufficient work done by the Foreign Ministry with of course the President, Special Advisor Basil Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa which contributed to these positive results. We will continue to be concerned about India’s concerns with regard to the civilians, as a democracy themselves. But the numbers that have come out of the South are over exaggerated with clear support from the LTTE. The real numbers of the affected are much less. The same thing happened with the Eastern liberation when interest persons said that 500,000 civilians were affected when it was less than a 190,000. And we have been able to send 92% of the civilians home already. The government will continue to meet the immediate needs of the civilians. In fact we appreciate the assistance that India gave by way of family packs and we believe there is another consignment due. We have the situation under control.
Q: The ICRC recently expressed concern on the lack of safe passage for patients. Is this the true picture of the situation?
A: The security forces have offered safe passage for the civilians but it is the LTTE that refuses to let them go. They are being herded further and further in to Mullaitivu. As far as we know, the foods and medicines we are sending in 40-50 lorry loads a week are reaching them.
Q: One has to admit the government’s effective handling of the international community on the military exercises has contributed largely to the lack of pressure from outside against the war. How did this happen?
A: First we prepared our comments carefully and a Ministerial Sub Committee chaired by me last year looked in to all these allegations against civilian concerns so that we could confront them effectively. We made sure all the correct information went to the international community, which is why we don’t hear of them anymore. Credit must go to everyone who worked to make sure that the civilians could integrate in to society so effectively. Even on the question of disappearances we found that the numbers were exaggerated. Some of the names in these lists had either gone abroad, applied for migration or had left war torn towns to come to Colombo. These were done just to give the government a bad name. Even the Mutur killing was handled effectively. We hope to close the files soon. We will continue our work with international governments and agencies and try to educate pressure groups on the situation in Sri Lanka. Democracy is under threat from the most ruthless terror group and we need to end that so that all communities can live with dignity and no child has to worry about the threat of bomb explosion in the future.
Q: We have some very important countries from the West advocating against negotiating with the LTTE after two decades. How do you see this change in perception?
A: It’s about time the international community changed its ideas about us. Terrorism is a means to push an agenda through criminal ways which is condemned all over the world. There are UN resolutions, regional conventions that absolutely condemn terrorism. It’s cynical to have suggested that we negotiate with the LTTE at all. Terrorism is dealt effectively elsewhere in the world as well. It was in the US where the term war on terror was coined. Our government has taken the approach to deal with terrorism; first by crushing terrorism and secondly by seeking to meet minority concerns. We have to understand that a conflict over 25 years can’t be resolved overnight. And the concerns of the majority must also be looked into to reach a sustainable solution.
Q: Given that US support did help our own fight against terror, are you concerned that the newly inaugurated US President may take a different path with regard to countries like our fights, given that he saw the concerns of the Tamils as those of ‘the other’?
A: We are confident that the US will maintain its commitment against terrorism, whether in the US or outside. We have already established contacts with the new administration and our efforts will not stop. The LTTE has effectively manipulated the Diaspora in countries like the US and used funds collected to buy arms and fund its terror activities. I don’t think Mr. Obama was very well informed at the time he made that comment.
Q: Indian Defence Minister Anthony recently maintained that SL should concentrate on a political solution. Would this be considered interference by the neighbor you think? Or is this in line with the government’s plan of action?
A: We’re totally in agreement with him. We’re going to deal with exactly that. Our goal is also that.
Q: Plans are reportedly underway to regulate and monitor how funds are distributed by INGOs. Do you expect much resistance to such a move by the international donors or governments?
A: Sri Lanka is not unique in this aspect. Many other countries have such restrictions on NGOs. India for instance has many restrictions. We are concerned that monies collected for Sri Lanka’s development work may be used otherwise. This is especially so after the fate of funds collected after the Tsunami. We know from Central Bank reports that very little of that money had been used for victims and rehabilitation work. There were many NGOs who were unable to show much for what was collected. We are now discovering 7 LTTE airstrips and hundreds of bunkers built from steel and concrete. Where such material came from doesn’t require much thinking. Government is concerned that monies collected may be used for illegal activities.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 14 August 2009 )|
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