"Lankan Model for
Mahinda Rajapakse has reiterated his commitment to peace. He
says evil cannot be conquered by evil and adds violence is not
the answer to the ethnic strife. Productive discussion with the
LTTE will help the government find a lasting solution provided
the LTTE is also willing to enter into meaningful negotiations.
"I am ready for talks. I
am ready for solutions. But I am never agreeable to war in this
little island," the Head of State told The Nation in an
interview. President Rajapakse also suggested a Sri Lankan model
with wide devolution of powers to the regions instead of
importing models from other countries.
"Why are we talking about
the Indian model or the French model or the Canadian model of
federal structures? Why donít we talk of a Sri Lankan model with
more powers to the regions," he asked.
By Wilson Gnanadass
Exeerpts from the interview
Question: One of your pre-election pledges to
the nation was to bring peace. But after six months of assuming
duties there is only an escalation of violence and a possible
outbreak of war. What are your comments?
A: I am well aware of the growing incidence of
violence in the country especially in the north and east.
However, I am fully committed to peace and I am looking into the
possibilities of finding a solution for this war-ravaged nation.
I am concerned about the spiraling cycle of violence especially
during the festive seasons. The LTTE's attack on the Navy last
Thursday came just a few hours prior to the dawn of Vesak. Then
the assassination of TNA MP, Joseph Pararajasingham, also took
place on the eve of Christmas. The killers had the audacity to
enter a place of worship and carry out the shooting. So these
are not only the violation of the cease-fire agreement reached
between the government and the LTTE but also an attempt to
incite ethnic and religious violence in the country. The other
recent incident was the attack on the Udayan newspaper office.
Now who will ever think of doing such a thing when there were
foreign participants in the country to mark Press Freedom Day? I
feel these attacks are aimed at arousing the feelings of a
particular ethnic or religious group.
Q: While you blame the LTTE for the increasing
violence, the LTTE on the other hand keeps pointing fingers at
the government and accuses the government of being responsible
for the escalation of violence. How do you view this?
A: How could the LTTE find fault with the
government when statistics show that it is the Tigers who have
engaged themselves in the most number of violations of the
ceasefire agreement? According to the latest statistics the
government troops have violated the ceasefire agreement only 600
times while the LTTE has violated it more than 6000 times. And
our information is that the violation by government troops is a
part of the counter attacks it carries out against the LTTE. So
it is clear that the LTTE has been the first to throw the stone
at the government troops. It may be easy for the LTTE to keep
blaming the government for everything. But facts are stubborn.
Nevertheless, the government is absolutely committed to
achieving ultimate peace in the country. I must say that the
government is committed to honouring the ceasefire agreement.
The agreement is still in place and there is no doubt about it.
I am also aware that the LTTE is trying to provoke the
government troops and of course, the majority of the country.
But we will act with restraint and with a sense of
Q: How does the international community look at
the present escalation of violence?
A: The International Community is fully aware of
the present situation and has expressed concern. However, we
have the international goodwill and this is why Sri Lanka was
recently included into the Human Rights Council that directly
functions under the United Nations. The donors and other foreign
governments have warned the LTTE to avoid unwanted clashes with
the government but the LTTE continues to violate the ceasefire
Q: The violence continues unabated and one
wonders whether the ceasefire agreement in reality exists. What
has the government decided to do now? Go for war?
A: There is no question of going for war with
anyone. The government and I firmly believe in solving the
crisis through political negotiations. If the LTTE is keen to
bring an end to this protracted war then it must be willing to
sit down for talks. It is only through proper negotiation that
we could arrive at a solution acceptable to all the communities
in the country. But if the LTTE is not willing to do this, I
think the present conflict situation would continue.
Q: What type of a solution do you think is bound
to bring an end to this problem? Some say a federal structure
based on the Indian model is ideal for our country. What is your
A: First of all the LTTE that is in conflict
with the government must be willing to accept any type of
formula. Previous governments tried to place before the LTTE
different types of formula but to date nothing has been
acceptable to the Tigers. Now how can we find a solution if a
party that is responsible for the war is not willing to sit down
and discuss with the government? Just alone blaming the
government is not going to bring any solution. I don't want to
just talk about a particular model right now. Some are saying
the Indian model is good while others are proposing various
other models. But I am a strong believer in evolving a mechanism
that would suit our climate and our people. Now the former
president Chandrika Kumaratunga, proposed a package but it never
worked. Presidents who were in power before her too placed
before the Tigers various proposals but nothing worked out. So
therefore, I am not going to place any particular model to the
Tigers. But instead we are asking them to first sit down to talk
and then find out an exclusive model favourable to all of us. I
am strongly committed to solving this crisis amicably. Under our
system it could be called anything. Some may call it federal
while others something else. I am also not a follower of models
imported from foreign countries. Why not have our own model and
call it the 'Sri Lankan model' with maximum devolution? I am
sure if this is done effectively in consultation and with the
cooperation of the LTTE, this system could be another separate
model for the world. Why not think of something new? We really
do not have to always borrow ideas and other models from foreign
countries. What is needed is a simple package that would show
the way out to this problem.
Q: During the first round of talks held in
Geneva in February the government delegation led by Minister
Nimal Siripala de Silva agreed to demobilize groups with arms in
the government controlled areas. But so far this has not
A: Yes, but can we settle everything just
overnight? We can't. We are going step by step. First of all
defining the word 'paramilitary' itself is a problem because we
have so many armed groups also running political front offices.
I cannot arrest or close down any office that is opened for
political activities. I understand the LTTE feels the government
should immediately close down Karuna's offices and disarm his
cadres. I can only direct the police to arrest those in these
offices only if they are found in possession of weapons or if
weapons were found in these offices. I will not even use my
powers to close down LTTE political offices even if they are
operated in the heart of Colombo.
Q: The Japanese special envoy Akashi last week
announced that the Co-Chairs have invited India to observe the
forthcoming discussion between them to be held in Japan end May.
Is Sri Lanka happy about it and if so why?
A: Yes, of course. We are happy that India is
invited to play a role. India being our giant neighbour could
play a lead role in finding a solution to Sri Lanka. I have
always believed that India should contribute in this endeavour.
You see, it is a fact that foreign countries are concerned about
our problem. Therefore, we too must take note of this and act
with a sense of responsibility. We must stop all violence and
sit down to real business. But the LTTE does not seem to
Q: While you talk of peace, foreign Minister
Mangala Samaraweera has gone on discussing defence supplies with
India during his visit to India. Does it mean that Sri Lanka is
also getting prepared for war?
A: No. The government will not wage a war with
the LTTE. We are committed to peace. I repeat. But as a small
nation we can be ready for any eventuality. And I believe every
country must be doing this. And I think there is nothing wrong
in talking of defence supplies with any country. This does not
mean we are preparing for war. Almost all countries have weapons
but all don't fight. For self-defence every country will be
prepared with arms.
Q: What are the chances of both the government
and the LTTE holding peace talks again?
A: I am very optimistic that both teams could
restart talks again. We can't go on fighting or accusing each
other. All these things should stop at one point and we must be
able to return to the negotiating table soon. We have to be
practical and think of the future of this country. I am not for
war. But ever ready to sit and talk. Under a unitary system, any
form of solution could be acceptable to me and my government and
I assure there will be no room for war, ethnic riots or
separation in this country.
Q: Are you receiving adequate support from the
main opposition to find a solution to the crisis?
A: The main opposition has been to some extent
sensitive to this issue. And I must say opposition leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe has been cooperative. However, I feel the
opposition could still play a more practical role in helping the
government find solutions to various other issues plaguing the
Q: Are you of the opinion that a national
government could be useful at a juncture like this to find a
A: A national government, in my view, is not a
strong and a vibrant government. Main political parties can
always enter into some sort of working arrangements on certain
specific issues. But the formation of a national government
might not be ideal for a country like ours to sort out the
problems. A vibrant opposition in my view is 'indispensable' so
that there could be checks and balances. A national government
is similar to a 'dictatorship'