Feature Article

President’s paradoxes

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 06 June 2007, 00:46 GMT]
In an extensive interview to Al Jazeera television last week, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse set out his government’s policy on the island’s protracted conflict. In doing so he put forward a number of contradictory assertions and policies, which boiled down to a single overriding theme: military defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka's President Rajapakse
Sri Lanka's President Rajapakse
Responding to the questions in his native Sinhala President Rajapakse slammed the LTTE as ‘terrorists’ and ‘criminals’ and vowed to wipe them out.

But at the same time he said he was prepared to negotiate with the Tigers “to meet the aspirations of the Tamil people.”

He later asserted: “we have to bring [a solution] before the people and we also have to eradicate terrorism. We cannot allow these criminals to dictate to us. We cannot have them join us.”

President Rajapakse was interviewed by Al Jazeera’s 101 East presenter, Teymoor Nabili.

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Saying that defeating terrorism and giving the Tamils a solution were different issues, President Rajapakse also stated: “while we go ahead with our programme to control these people we will bring forward a solution.”

But he later also said: “a victory is essential against terrorism. … But because we need to meet the aspirations of the Tamil people, I am prepared to go for talks, with the terrorists.”

But then the President also said: “This is a terrorist group. The people are aware that as long as a terrorist organisation exists, that negotiations will not be successful.”

The President said “the people” wanted him to: “defeat the LTTE and talk.”

And when asked “if the Sri Lankan people would prefer a defeat of the LTTE first?” President Rajapakse exclaimed: “First!”

But when asked again “if there must first be military victory and then peace talks?” the President insisted: “No!”

He elaborated: “That is not what I hope for. Until the terrorists are weakened, they will not come for talks. As long as they think they are strong, they will try to break up the country.”

But then the President later argued: “They are making use of the negotiations to strengthen themselves, to bring in arms.”

However, when asked if then “your military strategy is going to continue until the Tigers come to the table and ask for negotiations and lay down their arms,” President Rajapakse said: “No. I am ready to talk even while they carry arms.”

But then he also insisted: “what the LTTE wants [is] to keep their arms and divide the country into two. That I cannot allow.”

The interviewer asked: “Could you then describe a situation under which both those things can be achieved – defeat of the terrorists and representation of the Tamil people?”

President Rajapakse replied: “they must give up terrorism. They must enter a democratic framework. That is what we expect to achieve through negotiations.”

But then he also said: “Even while they fight, if they want to negotiate with me, and reach a solution, I am ready for that too.”

When asked at what point would he accept the LTTE was weakened, President Rajapakse replied: “Even under today’s circumstances. … Even today I am ready to negotiate.”

“My argument,” President Rajapakse said, “is that terrorism has to be got rid off. We cannot kneel down to that. I am not prepared to kneel down to their arms capability.”

The exasperated interviewer then asked: “I apologise, I am not really following you. You say that terrorism must be defeated but you don’t want, you don’t think that a military victory is necessary?”

To which President Rajapakse replied: “Absolutely, a victory is essential against terrorism. That is a different story. But because we need to meet the aspirations of the Tamil people, I am prepared to go for talks, with the terrorists.”

But he later said the Tamils didn’t want LTTE rule, but “if they say they are opposed to the LTTE, they will be killed.”

Asked later how he proposed to bring about a solution to the conflict, President Rajapakse replied: “We have to discuss it, then we have to bring it before the people and we also have to eradicate terrorism.”

Asked about the prospects of dialogue between his government and the LTTE, President Rajapakse said in the same breath: “As a government we cannot have talks. We say that we are ready for talks always.”

“Even while the fighting goes on, I am ready for talks,” he added.

Asked if he would initiate talks with the Tigers, he replied: “Definitely.”

But then he added: “if the LTTE is ready.”

“We have offered a political solution to the people,” he said at one point, without elaborating. “Along with [this] political solution, we are prepared to talk.”

On one hand, defending his military’s perfomance, President Rajapakse said: “We have cleared the east from terrorism. Today, they (Tigers) have been limited to Killinochchi and Mullaitivu areas. We have weakened them.”

But asked about the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), he replied: “[LTTE] does not honour that. We still honour it. We still do not send our police, our army to that side.”

“This agreement is between us,” he said of the CFA, but then added: “We are prepared to renew the agreement at any time.”

When asked about concerns raised by visiting US envoy Richard Boucher about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, Mr. Rajapakse said: “actually, today I am not prepared to accept that there are human rights violations as has been reported.”

President Rajapakse said the Sri Lankan military was “a very disciplined force” to an extent “not seen in any other country.”

He elaborated, by comparing the military to those of other countries: “We know that in certain instances when bombs are dropped in other countries, people are killed, children die. We do not behave like that. We did not do that. We protected every civilian.”

“Not a single civilian was injured when we took Vakarai,” he said, referring to a military operation in which aid workers and rights groups say scores of civilians were killed in indiscriminate bombardment.

When pressed on abductions and ‘disappearances’ and asked about Human Rights Watch’s documentation of 700 or more case, President Rajapakse replied:

“Many of those people who are said to have been abducted are in England, Germany, gone abroad.”

“Some talk of a few people abducted from Colombo. We do not know whether they are fighting [with the LTTE] in Killinochchi,” he added.

“This is all against the government,” President Rajapakse said. “We have seen this business. We have found out that under the same name, they have gone abroad.”

His response prompted the interview to ask: “So this is a conspiracy?”

“Definitely,” the President replied. “The LTTE has abducted people and killed them. The state forces do not have to abduct people because we have the law.”

“We can question them, and remand them, imprison them. We can detain them under emergency laws. So there is no need [for the state] to abduct someone,” he explained.

The President’s mood darkened when asked about the possibility of humanitarian intervention.

“Sri Lanka is not a colony of England, America or any other country. Sri Lanka is a sovereign state,” he said.

He insisted, paradoxically: “So when they get involved it is important that they do not interfere in the internal affairs of this country.”

He also argued: “Another country cannot force a solution. To find a solution for this country, it is not England of Germany that can help. It is India that can find a solution.”

“To offer a solution to this problem, according to the present situation, to help the Tamil people, India’s support is necessary,” he said without elaborating.

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