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Ceasefire is only on paper, says Rajapaksa
Exclusive interview to H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief, in Colombo

President Mahendra Mahinda Rajapaksa is a hard-boiled southern politician who has fought his way through Sri Lanka’s politics dominated for years by the Colombo elite. In his hands now lies a crucial decision on which will depend whether peace can be restored to the nation caught in an unending strife.

Essentially, the question being debated in Colombo, perhaps the entire South Asia, is: will President Rajapaksa go in for a military solution of the divisive issue of Tamil separatism or opt for negotiations with V. Prabhakaran’s LTTE?

A military solution could involve a full-scale offensive against Prabhakaran in the North and retaliatory terror attacks by his men. The search for a political settlement would involve the resumption of meaningful talks for working out a political set-up for Sri Lanka acceptable to all ethnic groups, communities and regions.

It is indeed a tall order, given the continuing hard positions of the politicians and attitudes of the people of the South – mostly the Sinhalas and the Tamils.

Just a four-day visit to Colombo strengthens the fear that Sri Lanka’s continuing crisis is headed for worse during the next few months.

President Rajapaksa spoke to me for 70 minutes at his Temple Trees office in central Colombo – just a day after the fifth anniversary of the ceasefire agreement was observed by the JVP, with a rally in the capital to oppose the continuance of the ceasefire or any resumption of the stalled peace process.

“Nobody is celebrating the fifth anniversary of the ceasefire”, Mr Rajapaksa said pumping the air with his hand a bit assertively. “The ceasefire is only on paper.”

He said: “Prabhakaran has violated the ceasefire 8,000 times in five years – as many as 8,000 times! The LTTE has assassinated our Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and attacked the Army Commander, and recently there was an attack on the Defence Secretary, who happens to be my brother.” It was a narrow escape for him.

Actually, few people could even think of President Rajapaksa striking a deal with the LTTE. His political rise has been mainly because of his hard-line Sinhala majority politics and life-long grassroot work.

When his attention was drawn to the widespread impression in Sri Lanka and South Asia that Mr Rajapaksa was a hardliner who was actually looking for a military solution to the LTTE question, he said: “I am not a hardliner and there is no military solution… But what to do? I have to defend the country; defend the sovereignty of the country. We have to take a strong action against the terrorists who want to disrupt the country. They are terrorists. Any other country would have done this.”

He said he needed a political solution, but it was difficult to find one. “We need a political solution. We can produce a document for a solution. But what if the South is not accepting it? At present I am trying to take the South along so that a political solution becomes acceptable to the people.” The people of the East will also have to be involved.

“I am trying to bring all political parties together to find a solution. I want to find a solution but it is indeed difficult. Maybe, it will take some time, but it all depends on the people. It is indeed a slow process.”

What kind of a political and peaceful settlement he had in mind to resolve the LTTE question and how did he intend to pursue its search?

“My personal view is that Prabhakaran should come forward to express readiness for a peaceful and a negotiated settlement. But he does not want to come forward. Look at some of his recent statements!”

He was asked about the attempts made a few months ago to work out a consensus with the opposition UNP and the Memorandum of Understanding he had signed with the Opposition leader, Ranil Wickramasinghe. “Where does the MoU stand? Is it still alive and being respected?”

“I will say it is dead, because some of the founders and leaders of UNP have shown little interest in it and some of them say they have already torn the document.” As for himself, Mr Rajapaksa said, he was ready to negotiate with them, discuss with them. He said he had already spoken to some of the senior members of the UNP, “but they have a different approach”.

He bristled when his attention was drawn to the criticism voiced last week by some of his critics that despite his stated hard line he might have struck a secret deal with the LTTE.

“Deal? (laughter) Where is the question of a deal? Where is it? Obviously, there are people behind this criticism – actually some former ministers.” He was clearly referring to a couple of ministers he had recently sacked, including a former foreign minister.

President Rajapaksa brushed aside the charges by NGOs and several western countries that his security forces were violating human rights at a vast scale.

“I ask them to give me concrete evidence of human rights violations so that I can take a suitable action. In a country, like this, Prabhakaran is fighting a war, it is his men who abduct people,” he claimed.

“Our police, our army cannot go in those areas. It is difficult for the police to find out whether there is truth in the allegations. Some of the affected people may actually be fighting the Army.” 



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