says he does not want to make the same mistakes. He wants to have a broad-based foreign
policy and believes, the Tigers should be offered an alternative if they are ready to drop
their claim for a separate state. He also believes that as many Sri Lankans as possible
should hold high posts internationally unlike Kadirgamar who refused to back veteran
diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala for a high posting in the UN.
Fernando served as deputy foreign minister for ten years under the former UNP regime
and has been in active politics for the past 25 years. The Oxford educated barrister has
plans to bring an impeachment motion against the chief justice and President Kumaratunga.
"This is very much in the pipeline. But first we may have to finish the local
government elections," he told The Sunday Leader in an interview.
Following are excerpts;
By Wilson Gnanadass
Q: The image of Sri Lanka in the international arena has been marred as a
result of crime, violence and war, especially with the mismanagement of the previous
Peoples' Alliance regime. Being the new foreign minister, what plans do you have to bring
back the lost image?
A: We must have an open and broad-based approach to international
relations. I think the last seven years have been marked by an obsession to ban the LTTE
and militarily fighting terrorism without a modern, practical and constructive approach to
politically negotiating an end to the war. So much so that the former foreign minister
became a prisoner of the LTTE. He had to live in a fortress, not attending the ministry at
all, getting down people to his house guarded by 125 soldiers, unable to move around in
the city without 12 cars. We wanted to change all this and first of all removed all the
barricades he had put up because he is no more foreign minister. But the prime minister
has allowed him some facilities which other ex-ministers do not enjoy because he is a
prisoner of the LTTE. We wanted to let him out of the prison and guard him from the LTTE's
Regarding building the nation's image, we have invited the Norwegians to bring about a
mutual ceasefire and quickly restored all the supply services to the Wanni. This has
nothing to do with the demands of the LTTE.
The biggest mistake the previous regime made was, after a very conciliatory hero's day
message year before last, and the Norwegians having done a lot of spade work, the
government fell out with Solheim and launched Agni Keela destroying everything that had
been built up over the years. We will not make that mistake. We are going on a
block-by-block building process.
Q: What do you think of the foreign policy of the former regime and what new
policies do you intend introducing?
A: There were no major changes made by the former regime from our
policy of 1994. But they had an undue obsession about annihilating the LTTE. What I am
trying to say is that this ethnic problem is a local problem. It is not something that a
foreign minister should totally get immersed in. Our foreign policy also got entangled
with the local problem. What we are saying is, let this problem be handled by G. L. Peiris
and Milinda Moragoda. I am coming in only on the foreign component.
Q: The PA government antagonised the Norwegian government by way of shabby
treatment meted out especially to the peacemakers. How did the new government manage to
re-invite the Norwegians?
A: We trusted them and they in turn have trusted us. You see, the
charge levelled against the Norwegians by the PA government was that they had links with
the LTTE. So what? How can anybody get involved in a peace process without having any
links with the LTTE? The very fact that the Norwegians have links with the LTTE, I think
is their strength, to march ahead with one aim. On the other hand if we invite the
Samoans, they may be independent but they may not do the job that the Norwegians could do,
because the Norwegians have some idea about the LTTE. So I must say the PA's whole
approach has been very impractical, ill-conceived and mismanaged.
Q: How could SAARC contribute to achieve peace in Sri Lanka?
A: They could be very co-operative. I attended SAARC with the
president and before that I went to India with the prime minister and the overall picture
is that they are very sympathetic towards us. They in no way want a separate state in this
country. Nor do we, nor do our neighbours. And this message I think has gone to the LTTE
also. And we are ready to discuss and arrive at an alternative, within a united Sri Lanka,
giving more powers to the north and east. Also I think even the Sinhalese are ready to
come to some compromise. You see, in a situation like this there must be some compromise.
If they give up their claim for Eelam, then you have to give them some alternative.
Otherwise this won't end. This has happened in the Philippines, in Ireland and it seems to
be happening all over the world.
Q: The LTTE, it seems is willing to hold talks in India. And if India is also
willing to spare its soil for this worthy cause, would the Sri Lankan government agree to
A: I do not see why we should not agree. We have already met the LTTE
in Thimpu (Bhutan). It does not matter where we meet, so long as we do meet. We must get
down to the core issue. If we get bogged down in the de-proscription before talks or
withdrawing the army before talks, nothing will happen. It must be unconditional.
Q: The UNP, from the opposition bench, condemned President Kumaratunga and said
she was not fit to govern the country. But now the UNF government continues its governance
with her at the helm. How do you find it?
A: It is not easy and there are bound to be a whole lot of problems in
the future. It is the first time we are experimenting with this type of governance. She is
working on a constitution devised by J. R. Jayewardene. Fortunately the president accepts
that the last election has shown a different mood in the people. She is accepting this
mandate. Even at the SAARC meeting she referred to the "new government." But it
is certainly going to be difficult because the people behind her will want to see a change
of this government. May be they will press her to dissolve parliament at the end of
December this year. So we have a very difficult time ahead.
If the peace process is to be successful, there has to be a bi-partisan approach. We
gave the PA the bi-partisan support through the Liam Fox accord. In fact the president
told me at Kathmandu that she is willing to support our peace process adding that she does
not want to be a mere rubber stamp. So I think there must be greater communication between
the president and the prime minister. Anyway we have to wait and see.
Q: The UNP at that time planned to impeach Chief Justice Sarath Silva and
President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Has the original plan been shelved or would that be taken
up again? Having completed more than a month in office, the UNF government has not made
any move in this regard so far. Why?
A: We are considering it. Those options are still there. The thinking
is now to finish the local government elections. Then we will be in a stronger position to
decide what we want. Personally I have been pressing for a government of national
reconciliation. Your newspaper attacked me at that time when I tried to move for this,
where the president was going to accept Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister and
have our ministers and her ministers in the cabinet for two years. But I also must say
that the UNP is now in a stronger position.
Q: The PA had 116 seats as opposed to the 114 seats the UNF has now. How stable
do you think your government could be?
A: We are and we will be stable because we are based on the peoples'
hopes and expectations. The huge wave of popular hopes and expectations would keep us
going. I don't see anybody destabilising by crossing over or something like that. On the
contrary I see at least a number of 20 MPs from the PA who are willing to work with us.
The real point of de-stability is the president. It is not so much the numbers as the fact
there is an executive president who is not of our party.
Q: The country, we understand, is disappointed with the UNF government for not
taking any action to deal with the Ratwattes, even after murder charges are levelled
against them. Why?
A: With regard to dealing with the Ratwattes, we have entirely left
that matter in the hands of the police. We are not interfering with the police. We are not
asking them not to arrest them. With regard to the IGP, of course I think the police
commission must come in to do the needful.
Q: How is the UNF government continuing to govern the country with the
Inspector General of Police who is highly politicised, at the helm of the law enforcement
authority? Does not this affect the credibility of the government?
A: We are also continuing with P. B. Jayasundara. You see, we must set
a thief to catch a thief. We have to use some of those old instruments to clear the mess
they themselves have created.
Q: The members of Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) have been accused of causing
acts of violence and especially preventing the PA employees from entering their
workplaces. Isn't it wrong on the part of the UNP?
A: I personally think that the JSS also must be brought under control.
In fact I am all for stamping out lawlessness and enforcing discipline. I hear some senior
members of this government have forcibly entered government bungalows and taken them over.
I think the prime minister will enforce strict discipline. To run this country he should
discipline his own people first.
Q: The prime minister recently told all his ministers and members of parliament
that they should cut down on luxury. But still we see ministers being escorted by convoys
that terrorise civilians on the streets. How do you view this?
A: I fully agree with the prime minister. I think all the ministers
must co-operate with him in this regard. I have, for instance, not accepted the bullet
proof Benz that was offered to me. I have not accepted even a Benz. I am going about in a
small car. I have instructed my bodyguards not to shoo people on the road, and at the
pedestrian crossings they must abide by the traffic lights.
I hate politicians or their drivers shooing people off the road. You see, this will
create a fear psychosis in the minds of the people. Politicians should know how to manage
their time. They tend to rush only when they fail to do this. We must understand that we
are servants of the people. I am sorry to say that even some of our MPs are going about in
such a manner. We must co-operate with the premier and the premier must equally be firm.
We politicians should learn to live a simple life.
Q: How successful has your 100 day programme been?
A: Like any other ministry, what is done in my ministry cannot be
quantified. But we are certainly laying emphasis on re-building the lost image of the
Q: The former government, on the instructions of former Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar, refused to back veteran diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala, for a top UN
posting despite wide international backing. Do you think this action should be condemned
in view of the fact that only a few Sri Lankans are holding such high posts in key
institutions in the world?
A: I think that was very wrong. The foreign minister should have
pushed as many Sri Lankans as possible into the UN for the benefit of this country. We
have asked all our people abroad, including the representatives in the UN, to seek out
vacancies and to push themselves to hold big posts. It is very important. There are hardly
any Sri Lankans holding high posts unlike the good old days.
Q: Being a president's counsel and former state counsel, what are your views on
capital punishment which the PA tried to re-introduce?
A: I, who has sent about 10 people to the gallows, and equally saving
about 20 from the gallows, I am dead against capital punishment. I am absolutely against
this for the simple reason that we can never be sure that the person the state is killing
is the one who committed the crime. The state always relies on somebody else' evidence and
one cannot be sure that a crime has been committed by an individual. Timothy Evans' case
in England is a classic example. Here the wrong man was killed. What is important is
detection. Remember, before a man plans a murder, he does not calculate to see whether or
not he will be sent to the gallows. He will calculate whether he will be caught. If we
have a good scientific police force and detect such potential murderers, then we do not
have to talk about capital punishment.