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  Interviews  


 

At General Elections

JVP won’t tie-up with UNP

By Rohan Abeywardena
JVPers in general and their leader Somawansa Amerasinghe in particular appear to be genuinely sincere in their wanting to bring about urgently needed constitutional reforms, but their problem is that in trying to do so they have come to a marriage of convenience with their arch enemy the UNP and even the compromise candidate they have chosen to back jointly with the other opposition parties in the UNP alliance is now proving to be an embarrassment in many ways. In the circumstances, Amerasinghe in an interview with The Nation answers many a question posed by us with some understandable hostility. He closed the interview with an emphatic no to the question whether they would cooperate with the UNP at the next general elections. As repeated suspicions were voiced by him that we will not carry everything he says, we have as far as possible reproduced the entire interview.

Q: In the past, you all said that it will only be over your dead bodies that any international tribunal will be allowed to try any of our war heroes. Has that position changed now?
A:
No. Why should it?

Q: Now your Head of International Relations Vijitha Herath has said that the government had got down a letter from the UN Human Rights Council and started a new conspiracy. Throughout the recent past, we have been hounded by this Council and it was thanks to China, India, Russia and most of the third world countries that we were rescued from its hounding. So do you think that the government can influence and get letters down from a body like that?
A:
We must be thankful to the countries that rescued us and that is true. At the same time the country itself did its role.

Q: Vijitha Herath has specifically said that the government got down this letter from the Human Rights Council. It is in today’s newspapers?
A:
I have not seen today’s papers. It is ten o’ clock now, but I have been engaged in other work, so I will have to read the papers. Then I will come up with an answer if Comrade Vijitha Herath did make a statement and that is a correct one based on fact.

Q: If the government can get the Human Rights Council to act the way it wants then it is a great achievement?
A:
What is the relevance of this question?

Q: The Human Rights Council has asked about the statement made by Gen. Fonseka.
A:
What is the statement? You tell me.

Q: There was an exclusive lead story in The Leader newspaper quoting Fonseka of stating that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered the Commander of the 58 Division to shoot LTTE leaders who came to surrender holding white flags?
A:
Sorry that is wrong. I would like to refer Khona’s statement. Please read that. Khona says it’s a lie. The paper is not correct. The General also denied the report. Yesterday Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe has written to the UN that there is nothing as such and the UN should not worry.

Q: Gen. Fonseka has not totally denied making that statement. What he now says is that he had heard it from an embedded journalist. But being a leading presidential candidate how can he make such irresponsible statements?
A:
Has anyone come out with the recording of this interview. Let us hear what he has said. I asked him what he has said. He said no one came with flags and no one was killed so that is the crux of the statement.

Q: It is the editor of the newspaper who conducted the interview and she stands by her report?
A:
Let her come out with the recorded statement. Until such time we won’t believe her.

Q: By your party’s own account your the late Leader Rohana Wijeweera was shot and burnt alive while he was pleading in pain to see his children. Isn’t it grand irony that now you have arrived at a marriage of convenience with the same party which ran torture chambers like Batalanda?
A:
Do you know that there are people who gave information to arrest our members. There are people at the top who are responsible for the death of Comrade Liyanarachchi, Comrade Wannigama. Why don’t you ask the government to conduct an inquiry and punish those who are responsible for all those murders? Today itself let them do that.

Q: But does that give you the right to pitch camp with the same people you accuse of committing terrible things to your people?
A:
Are you going to publish what I say exactly as I say it. Give me an assurance you will not distort anything

Q: As long as there is nothing libelous. If you say so and so is a murderer then we can’t carry that?
A:
Why doesn’t the government conduct an inquiry and punish those responsible.

Q: When you all were in the government why didn’t you demand it?
A:
We have demanded that so many times from the day he was killed. You think we are going to forget about all that. The SLFP is also equally responsible. They did not lullaby the JVP in 1971. Please publish these things.

Q: At the same time you must admit JVPers did terrible things, especially to UNPers?
A:
They killed our comrades without conducting any judicial inquiries. It was brought about because the JVP was denied democracy in this country. That was the start. It was done by the SLFP and it was done by the UNP.

Q: Isn’t it strange that these international human rights do-gooders were nowhere to be seen when your comrades were being burnt on tyre pyres all over the country, but now today they want justice for the most despicable terrorist leaders ever known?
A:
I will come to ’89 later. In 1971 remember Lord Averbury came to this country and visited all the political prisoner camps and voiced his opposition to the Government of Sri Lanka. That is why Prince Gunasekera was expelled from the SLFP.
Again there were a number of countries and a number of embassies here which were concerned about human rights violations in the country during the 1980s. In fact, British High Commissioner Gladstone was expelled from this country. You have forgotten history.

Q: What I am saying is that in the late 1980s. we were reporting cases of bodies being burnt by road sides almost on a daily basis, but there was no such international outcry?
A:
There are changes, I admit. But I haven’t seen you reporting any violation of human rights. It was Richard de Zoysa who raised a voice on behalf of the JVP.

Q: Our names may not have appeared but we did our duty as far as possible. You may not have been in the country.
A:
I was in the country. How do you know?

Q: You escaped?
A:
I didn’t escape. I avoided being killed. You are worried about my presence now. All are worried about my presence that I can understand.

Q: UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has repeatedly said that he will be the next executive Prime Minister and previously Sarath Fonseka too said he will hand over reins to Wickremesinghe?
A:
You are distorting facts. Please correct yourself first.

Q: Please read last Sunday’s lead story in The Leader newspaper?
A:
I also want to become the executive Prime Minister of this country. That is everybody’s wish. There are so many people who would like to be the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. We are not fighting for the establishment of an executive Prime Minister in this country. This executive system is enough and enough is enough. Forget about that.

Q: So what are you fighting for?
A:
We are fighting for democracy first of all. We are fighting against family bandyism, nepotism in this country. We are fighting against corruption. We are fighting against harassment of political parties. We are fighting against harassment of media. We are fighting against robbing this country. Please write all this. Do you agree to write all this?

Q: You have a right to be heard.
A:
Thank you very much.

Q: In the interview given to The Sunday Times last week you have said that you will convince the media to be impartial. This is a great utopian idea, but how are you going to implement it?
A:
They will be convinced because we have already convinced the people of this country to defeat separatism. No one was worried about separatism. We were the only party which has been fighting against separatism from the very beginning from 1975 itself. We stood by that policy and we won.

Q: We are talking about two different things?
A:
That is how we convinced people. So we have the courage. We have the confidence. We can convince the people of this country, including the media.

Q: That is a very tall order?
A:
Convincing is not an order.

Q: At the last presidential election we saw how the private media behaved?
A:
We have been witnessing how ugly the media has been behaving in this country. Everything must be changed. We are going for a change. We are going to enter a new era, where freedom is felt by the people.
Q: The opposition has said you all will scrap even Press complaints Commission laws?
A:
Who said it?

Q: May be not your party, but someone in the opposition said so in recent days. Are you going to introduce legislation to ensure balance even in the private media?
A:
Are you going to get an answer from me saying that we are going to curb media. We are not going to do that.

Q: You sound more conciliatory in your economic outlook in your interview with The Sunday Times. Even Fonseka has said he would be for UNP economic policies. So are you willing to compromise on this front?
A:
Please understand what we are going to do. Our objective is to elect a President who will hold a free and fair general election before the period of the present parliament is over. In that election all the parties will come out with their policies. There will be at least three platforms. One platform for the UPFA or the SLFP; there is no other party in that coalition. Then there will be the UNF platform and the other will be the JVP. The new President Sarath Fonseka will have his own policies. He can believe in anything. Why can’t he? He is also an independent man, independent non party common candidate of the people. Please understand that. We have never achieved such an opportunity to select a non-party person. He has his own policies. So let us have a dialogue. Let the people of this country accept what they believe.

Q: This is exactly what the people opposing you all are saying that you all are groping in the dark not really knowing the candidate you all are promoting. It is being purely opportunistic. You all are even willing to work with the devil in order to destroy Rajapaksas?
A:
Who is opportunistic? Rajapaksa is opportunistic. Rajapaksa is the ugliest opportunist created by this country. Why does he want presidential election now? Then I will answer that question. That is why today we have to discuss these things. Why did he decide to hold a presidential election now, when he has two more years? He can do wonders. He can do miracles.

Q: Maybe he wants to get both major elections out of the way before he gets down to solving the ethnic question. You cannot put it off any longer?
A:
Don’t speak on behalf of the Rajapaksas. Do you know why he is holding the Presidential election? Ask Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena. He said ‘We are in an advantageous position because of the victory of the war. We should have elections when we can win’. So if he waited for another two years he won’t win. Even now he won’t win. He thought there won’t be anybody to contest him. We have agreed to have confidence in the General and he is the best candidate to oppose Rajapaksa.

Q: Even in England the party in power sometimes calls an election when it feels opportune?
A:
In Sri Lanka it is not. We are not going to follow everything that British parties are doing. We are not going to do that. If The Nation wants this country to follow the British government, British political parties…….

Q: So you all are opposed to the executive PM. Then what are you trying to bring forth?
A:
It is democracy. We are trying to transfer powers to parliament, the representatives elected by the people. It is the parliament that will have powers.

Q As Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed an illegal peace treaty with the LTTE. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike extended the life of parliament by two years without an election?
A:
We opposed that. There is nothing to talk about the CFA now. It is over. It was the Rajapaksa government that continued to hold the CFA after talks with the LTTE in Geneva. How do you answer that question?

Q: Even before he could get elected the international media and his local opponents painted him as a hardliner and a war monger who would worsen the problem, so he tried his best to give peace a chance?
A:
Are you representing Rajapaksa? Let him come out with what you say. He doesn’t have any vision. He is a man with no vision whatsoever.

Q: You may have a vision, but the fact remains that in this country when it comes to elections it is either the UNP or the SLFP that the people elect to power?
A:
How do you know? Until we win anyone can say the JVP will not win. Then when we win the election you will have to accept that. Your papers said that the JVP will not raise its head after 1989. So, we are there as a powerful political party in this country. Your predictions are not worthy for the future.

Q: However, sincere you might be, the fact remains that when it comes to voting, people always prefer either the UNP or the SLFP?
A:
Thank you very much for accepting that we are sincere. From that itself we will convince people we must win the election. They will vote for the JVP one fine day in this country. We have enough confidence in the people. Let them decide. Not you or your paper.

Q: Reports indicate that parliament will be dissolved next month. What will happen to your coalition?
A:
What is the coalition? What is the coalition? That is how you all write. There is no coalition. So why are you using that word.

Q: Will you all cooperate with the UNP at the general election?
A:
No. Enough?

“Nothing wrong in calling a betrayer a betrayer” - Minister Samarasinghe

Minister of Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe explaining the gravity of the repercussions caused following the former Army Commander’s statement over the government forces said that the government is not overreacting to the issue but struggling to safeguard the positive picture it earned during the past months internationally.

By Gagani Weerakoon
Following are the excerpts from an interview:
Q.UN calling for an explanation from the Sri Lankan Government over the remarks made by the former Army Commander has assumed unprecedented significance of all topical issues. Now that General Fonseka has refuted the statement and has taken sole responsibility for whatever real or perceived military excesses committed during the war, is there any purpose in making a fuss over this issue any longer in the public domain?
A.
The position at the moment is that there are several statements he has made. On July 10, at Dharmashoka Vidyalaya he made a statement. Then a few weeks ago he gave an interview to another Sunday English newspaper. And as his remarks made to the Sunday Leader became the talking point of the entire country he convened another press conference to tell completely a different story. So all these contradictory statements rose to the point as to where he stands. Meanwhile, what happened was the UN picking up on his original statement to the Sunday Leader.

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions Phillip Alston has written the government asking for explanation. In that letter, he writes that he is supposed to submit a report to the Human Rights Council when it meets in March. This is a dangerous situation to Sri Lanka. We all know that we were on the focus of Human Rights Council and various other international forums throughout the humanitarian operation period. Then several countries attempted to pass a resolution against Sri Lanka. Fortunately we were able to convince the Council and defeat the resolution. With this, the tension and focus on Sri Lanka also died away. Fonseka made this statement when positive comments were coming from everywhere. Even the UN was commending us for the steps we took in looking after IDPs and on our resettlement process. They were even commending us for granting freedom of movement to the IDPs from December 1.

Once again Sri Lanka is under the scrutiny of Human Rights Council and that is not good for the country. Even after all those clarifications and statements, we see still there is a finger pointed at the Secretary Defence who worked hard to achieve peace. He is the superior of the Army Commander and they worked as a team. So even after telling that he will take the full responsibility of what happened during humanitarian operation Fonseka still says that Secretary Defence issued an illegal order. Then comes the Nation scoop last week. In an interview with The Nation Maj. General Shavendra Silva, who was a ground commander at the final battle, clearly says that no such order was ever issued by Secretary Defence. So, obviously in such a situation we need to know what the truth is. As this not only put country’s image in danger but also the entire Army including then Vanni Commander - who is now the Army Commander - Lt. General Jagath Jayasuriya, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva who is now a national hero and all those soldiers who Fonseka says shot at LTTE leaders and their families who came to surrender. It caught focus again. Alston in his letter quote Fonseka as saying soldiers shot at not only LTTE leaders but also their family members with white flags. It gives the impression that there were violations of international treaties when carrying out humanitarian operations. We were able to put a lid on these issues earlier – not by hoodwinking but by taking each issue and proving them in a substantial way. But now we are on the focus again. There are people and movements who are still dedicated in achieving LTTE objectives in winning a separate state. They are still committed to these objectives even at international levels and this is sweet music to their ears as it comes from the former Army Commander’s mouth. They must be clapping their hands.

As a presidential candidate he has simply shot off his mouth and still not being able to clarify himself constructively. He has unnecessarily compromised the interests of the country.

If the forces shot at civilians they could have done the same thing to the four doctors who were giving all sorts of wrong information to international media. They too came with white flags. Later on they told media that they had to exaggerate figures as they were held at gun point by the LTTE and demanded them to issue such exaggerated figures to hoodwink international community that there were massive killings of civilians by the government forces.

Q. Government has said that Gen. Fonseka has already provided an explanation to UN query and the government is in the clear. In this context, should the government make a political issue of this matter? All what the government spokesmen and politicians say is picked by the international media. The international community can think that the government is reacting from a guilty stand. Some government politicians have said in public that Gen. Fonseka should be taken to task for revealing war secrets. Is this not an admission that war crimes have been really committed?
A.
I do not think that anyone would think it that way because there is nothing wrong in calling a betrayer – a betrayer. This is a great betrayal. This is a time when we are trying to boost the image of the country and develop the country. Here we have a former commander who is contesting to become the next president who goes out and shoot off his mouth. What is the message he’s trying to convey. When the rest of the world hears that our military forces shot at civilians who came to surrender they may see us as a barbaric country. His statement would only destabilise the stability we are trying to achieve after 30 years. What would the people think of a man who is contesting at a presidential election making such statements -especially a man who goes around telling it was he who won the war. Not only government politicians, even ordinary men around the country today call him a betrayer and denounce his statement. Maybe there is a different agenda for him to say such thing. He has up to date failed to deny substantially what he said to the Sunday Leader and its Editor, by the way, strongly stands by what she reported. He is now exposed in many ways and he should reveal what his stand is.

Q. If the government is confident that no war crimes have been committed by security forces, why should it take the UN’s attitude seriously?
A.
Yes, we have to take it seriously because an official communication has been sent to the government of Sri Lanka calling for an explanation. There going to be a report on this issue which is to be submitted to the HR Council by special envoy Alston March next year. I have to go there and face the Council and have to give a convincing statement to safeguard the membership of the country.

People are talking about this all over the world that this was said by a former Army Commander and whether the Sri Lankan soldiers actually did what the General is saying they did. All sorts of sentiments like -whether they should take up the issue at the ICC, whether they should take it up at the Security Council and should they start an international inquiry into these allegations to find whether there is any truth are -now can be heard.

None of these problems will occur had this statement not being issued. So the responsibility of Sri Lanka losing its credibility should be taken by General Fonseka. I think now he should set aside his political agenda and come forward telling the truth. Whether he was carrying out someone else’s agenda or whether he was being used in such conspiracy.

Q. Have you responded to the UN yet?
A.
No, not yet. We are in the process of submitting a consolidate report to the UN by March.
The State Department report submitted to the US Congress also simply catalogue number of incidents and in that report they say that none of the incidents have a legal basis and that they cannot vouch for the veracity of the incidents listed in the report. So anyone cannot say that we violated any of the international laws in a substantial manner.
But when these things come from a former Commander, people tend to believe this and that is why we should take it seriously as we have to find ways and means to respond to the UN.

Q. Is the government planning on taking any legal action against General Fonseka?
A.
His actions have ultimately compromised the credibility of our armed forces and have embarrassed the country. Therefore, there will be some sort of legal action but I can’t tell you what exactly the legal action would be at the moment.