"Sri Lanka has
become a role model to the world"
Q: Are you of the opinion the peace
process has given the international community a better image of
the government and the LTTE?
A: When the whole world is living
in fear of terror and when people from London to Jakarta and
Boston to Johannesburg, are living in fear as to when a bomb will
go off at any given
moment, it is a great achievement for the
government and the LTTE in Sri Lanka to have for one year ensured an
atmosphere free of bombs and deaths in conflict. The 'father of the
suicide bomb' who used to have last
supper with the bomber is now sitting with us and having supper,
thinking of a new path. I think it is truly remarkable. When the chief
theoretician of the LTTE, Dr. Anton Balasingham said in an interview to
Sunday Observer on December 1, "we recognise Mr.Wickremesinghe as
the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and that secession or a separate state
will come only as a last resort and also that it will not be necessary
if true regional autonomy is achieved," I must say Sri Lanka has
become a role model for every country in the world.
Q: In your opinion how did the
international community view Sri Lanka before you took over office as
A: We had a bad image. The PA's
main thrust of policy was not to settle this matter through peaceful
negotiations but by aggressive war and conflict. For example when the
LTTE began a unilateral ceasefire in the year 2000 there was absolutely
no response from the PA government. In fact the then foreign minister
encouraged war through Agni Keela. The LTTE Chief Prabhakaran in his
'Heroes' Day' message has lamented the fact that the PA had rejected
their overtures. The whole world put us in the category of a war torn
country. Investment and tourism had dried up. In fact our rate of growth
was below zero. By dubbing the United Nations as 'only good enough for
malaria control' and blocking even some of their appointments like that
of UNHCR's representative Mr.Wright, and also barring the possible
selection of Jayantha Dhanapala for the UN secretary general's post, the
former foreign minister isolated himself and more unfortunately the
Ranil Wickremesinghe turned this madness
to sanity. We will have another go in 2006 at the UN secretary general's
post and I will be Sri Lanka's nominee.
Q: Are you satisfied with the aid
package promised to the country by donor countries during the recently
concluded Sri Lanka development forum meeting?
A: It is a beginning. The most
important thing about Oslo was that the LTTE was in association with the
government in its appeal to the donors. There will be more donations
when the donors meet in Japan. But more than donations the more
important thing is the very likely prospect of the inflow of investment
and tourism in the wake of peace. The people in the south have already
benefited through this. For instance my Moratuwa carpenters have
re-established a roaring trade with the north.
Q: What is your personal opinion about
the change of attitude of the LTTE?
A: I think it is very welcome and
very realistic and statesmanlike. Prabhakaran has proved himself a
better patriot of Sri Lanka than many of the buffoons who pretend to be
patriots. As a descendent of Sinhala patriot Puran Appu, I consider the
so called Sinhala patriots of today short sighted and humbas veerayas.
Things have changed over the years. Sri Lanka cannot be considered as
belonging only to the Sinhalese or Buddhists. Sri Lanka is a multi
racial and multi religious society. Let them not forget that Ponnambalam
Ramanathan was a key figure in gaining independence.
Q: Do you think India has a vital role
to play in the peace process?
A: Without India there is no peace.
India is the geographically nearest and historically closest neighbour
of ours. In fact all of us nearly came from there. India has now
discovered that a united Sri Lanka, free of terrorism is in its own
interest. Even when I was the deputy foreign minister in the '80s we had
to condemn terrorists being trained in their own soil.
J.R. Jayewardene's Indo-Lanka treaty and
the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi turned the tide. That is why we are
keeping India fully in the picture and assuring them that no agreement
with the LTTE would go against the strategic interests of India. That is
why the Prime Minister, a year ago was to go to India with me and get
the blessings of Prime Minister Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi for the peace
process. I am in fact a great supporter of building a bridge between
India and Sri Lanka, which will cost US $ 500 million less than the cost
of Hambantota port. But above all, this would link the mainland. Even
the buffoons I referred to earlier, can take a day trip across the
bridge to Kerala and back.
Q: Though India has announced
officially that it supports the peace process, indications are that it
has reservations. Do you think this could cause problems in the future?
A: It could cause problems if they
are not handled properly. But I assure you that we will handle them
properly. India has strategic interests, which they are naturally
Q: Do you think federalism is the
answer to the ills that have plagued the country?
A: I don't believe that words can
settle this problem. There is no doubt that the word federalism creates
certain allergies. The important thing is that the threat of a separate
state is over. And that within a united Sri Lanka some arrangements can
be made for greater regional autonomy to the north and east.
In fact in the draft constitution of the
year 2000, both major Sinhala parties - the UNP and the PA agreed on the
definition of the nature of such a state giving such autonomy even
without using the word federalism. I read in the papers even the
President has said that within the constitution of year 2000 she has no
objection for power being devolved.
To me the vital thing is, whatever
power is devolved in the region, the region will not have a right
to secede and form a separate state.
That would have been the case in a
confederation as is now suggested for Cyprus. But here confederation is
not on the agenda. What we are going to talk about in Thailand and
beyond, is devolution of power within a united country, united forever.
The whole country has been developed and
made free by the joint efforts of all the people. Why should the Tamils
therefore be content with a small area of the country? The whole country
belongs to them to be there with the Sinhalese.
Q: The government has been accused of
granting permission for a radio transmitter for the LTTE. Do you think
it is wrong to have granted such permission?
A: As a former media minister I
took great pains to encourage community radio. This is one such. The
present media minister has licenced this FM transmitter and the
telecommunication authority has given a frequency for the LTTE to
operate within that limited area. I don't see anything wrong in this. In
as much I licenced Sirasa on the basis they had to make payment for it,
the LTTE also has to pay for it.
Dinesh Gunawardena who vexed eloquence on this is welcome to
start his own radio in Avissawella but he will also have to pay for it.