2nd Lead (Adds corrections)

Kadirgamar: "ISGA, blue print for a future separate state"

[TamilNet, Thursday, 13 May 2004, 01:25 GMT]
Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal is a blue print for a future separate State and it will be difficult for a sovereign government to accept the proposal, said Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, during a talk he gave at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C Wednesday afternoon. Mr.Kadirgamar is on an official visit to the United States where he met with U.S Secretary of State, Colin Powell and other U.S Government officials.

Lakshman Kadirgamar
Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar(Photo: Frontline)
On peace negotiations, Mr.Kadirgamar said, "the talks broke down in April 2003 when LTTE walked out after six sessions of talks in different parts of the world. An LTTE leader said the talks were a waste of time as people in NorthEast have not received any tangible benefit from the peace process.

"If relief and development do not reach the people then it will be difficult for any ruling party to maintain support from their people.

"We will work to get international help in rebuilding NorthEast, a region devastated by two decades of war.

"The LTTE has put forward a proposal for an Interim Administration as a vehicle for rehabilitation and reconstruction of NorthEast.

"However, the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal, on the face of it, will be very difficult for a sovereign government to accept. It has no reference to a Parliament, claims a separate Auditor General, and demands 200 mile maritime zone along two thirds of Sri Lanka's coast. It is a blue print for a future separate state," the Minister said.

He added, "Discussions will take place and arduous negotiations will happen. Compromises have to be made."

Lakshman Kadirgamar's US visit
On the question of timing of the peace talks, Mr. Kadirgamar said: "Starting date of the peace talks is not important. As long as engagement is maintained there will be progress. The time for shadow boxing is over. We can no longer skirt around hard issues."

On Norwegian facilitation, Mr.Kadirgamar said, "We have encouraged the Norwegians to take a lower profile than they took during the term of the previous government. When people become suspicious and if this creates resentment, these are legitimate reactions in a democracy we have to deal with. Also I think, the Internationalization of Sri Lanka's process has gone too far."

The Foreign Minister answered questions from the audience at the end of his talk. Excerpts follow:

Question: Do you think there will be a solution to the ethnic conflict in our life time?

FM: Yes. Separate State is a solution, but not a satisfactory one. Any arrangement less than that is very welcome. If you think it will happen in 2 years, 3 years, 5 years. I think it won't happen in that time frame, but I can't give you a firm answer.

Lakshman Kadirgamar's US visit
Jessica P. Einhorn, Dean, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, who presided the event, talking to Mr.Kadirgamar
Question: Minister, in your previous term you lobbied foreign governments heavily to proscribe the LTTE. The LTTE doesn't view your stand in the conflict favourably. Infact, your involvement may become an impediment to the peace process. How do you see your participation developing?

FM: I did my duty at that time. I was only reflecting my peoples view. I know LTTE wants to see me dead. I am at the top of their hit list...If I am an impediment to peace I will step down. I may not sit face to face across the table. I think the LTTE still would like to keep in touch with me.

Question: You have said recently that you accept LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils. How can you reconcile this in a democratic system where LTTE was never elected by its people?

FM: There has been much controversy in the press about the statement I made in India. My stand is that LTTE by implication is the sole representative of the Tamil people, at the negotiating table. This is the same position Prime Minister Premadasa, President Kumaratunge [in her earlier term] and former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe took. This is also the de facto situation that we have to accept. But we will include the whole community outside the negotiating table to ensure that everyone understands the issues and the progress of the negotiations.

Question: There has been a lot of criticism against India recently. Can you explain why?

FM: There is no question that any solution is possible in Sri Lanka without India's tacit support. Do not get agitated by what you read in the Press. The Press supports the Opposition or the Government only when its policy coincides with theirs. Ultimately it is the owners who control the press.

Lakshman Kadirgamar's US visit
Mr.Kadirgamar talking to a member of the audience after speaking at the Brookings Institute event.

Question: What role will India play in the negotiations?

FM: India will not play an explicit role. Only Norway will act the facilitator or more. Other countries are not expected to participate but have expressed their positions. For example, U.S has said that it supports a solution that preserves unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Japan is looking for a role and would like to get involved more in the process, but no role is yet conferred on them.

Mr.Kadirgamar also talked at length on the virtues of democracy. He said that voting is ingrained in Sri Lankans as they have been exercising their voting rights from the 1930s. He was pleased with the relatively violence free elections and pointed out the challenges facing the new parliamentarian monks.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Mr.Kadirgamar said, is a party with a single issue, that of fighting for a solution based on the right to self-determination of Tamil people. As a party wielding considerable power with 22-members in a 225 member assembly, the Foreign Minister said, TNA will face hard choices when called upon to vote on a whole range of issues.


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