People in the North had a misunderstanding
Youth will be given more prominence
We engaged in a humanitarian operation
19A drafted to support political agendas
Colonel Rathnapriya Bandu who served as the Commander of the Civil Defence Force in Vishwamadu made headlines when he was transferred to the Sinha Regiment in Ambepussa. He received a warm farewell from the Tamil community, including rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres proving that he was embraced by all communities alike. Upon his retirement, Col. Bandu made his entry to politics and will be contesting under the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket from the Vanni District. Although it was once a hotbed of communal violence, he assures that communal harmony will soon commence from the Vanni District and spread to all parts of the country.
Q Why did you decide to contest the election?
I never had any intention to join politics. But people handed over this country to a soldier. He is on a mission to find permanent solutions to unemployment, economic growth and development. I have served in the Army for 30 years and I feel I have much more to do for this country. So I decided to join politics to support President Rajapaksa.
Q You received a warm farewell from the Tamil community and rehabilitated LTTE cadres when you were transferred from Vishwamadu to Ambepussa. Do you think people would treat you the same as a politician?
Absolutely. I have lived in their hearts. That is way more different than being around on a poster. I don’t think any other Sinhalese or Tamil person would have earned this kind of respect from people. So I will continue with my mission while keeping all of them in my heart.
Q President Rajapaksa only received 26,000 votes from the Vanni district and voters have always sided with parties that represent the minority voter base. Are you confident that people will vote for a contestant from a mainstream party?
Yes. People had a misunderstanding. This was fuelled by Opposition parties who instilled a fear psychosis among minorities. However the UNP and TNA have split. But people in the North have now realised that these were false claims. This time the SLPP will get four times more votes than what we earned during the Presidential Election.
Q Those affected by the war are still finding ways to integrate into the society. Many people in the North are still reluctant to visit the South in search of jobs. How would you bridge this gap between the North and the South?
This problem is only prevalent in a few areas. But the majority of people have come to the South. There has to be unity among people in rural areas. They should come forward to help one another at times of need. We need to look at bridging the gaps in unemployment, education and prevailing issues. If we take the Mullaitivu District they are the lowest in terms of education. People in Mannar have issues with drinking water.
Q You have promised to revive industries that were affected as a result of the war. There are people who live off selling palmyrah products and engaging in other small industries. How will you ensure that these people get job opportunities?
Self-employed individuals should be empowered and for this private and state sector intervention is a must. There are single mothers and unemployed parents who make a living from home. So we are looking at ways to financially stabilise people involved in palmyrah, handcrafts, agriculture and other industries. For this we are also looking at introducing novel technologies.
Q If we take agriculture, there are acres of abandoned lands in the Northern Province. Will farmers be able to utilise these lands in future?
Yes. Discussions are underway as to how we can give these lands to farmers who don’t have an income. This issue has prevailed for 30-40 years. We are going to identify lands that could be utilised for agricultural purposes, so that farmers could make maximum use out of them.
Q The youth in the North receive vocational training, but they don’t get proper job placements. What are your solutions for them?
The majority of youth have passed O/Ls, A/Ls and are graduates as well. But since they don’t have proper job placements they have taken to farming and other odd jobs. Others are addicted to alcohol and drugs. They don’t have facilities for vocational training. In order to receive such trainings they have to visit Vavuniya or Kilinochchi. Some can’t even afford to purchase a bus ticket. If they remain unemployed any longer, the unpleasant history would repeat. Therefore in future we are looking at giving them everything from vocational training, foreign language training, open avenues for foreign job opportunities and provide them with a future they deserve. For these projects we are looking at getting private sector assistance as well. We will definitely give prominence to the youth.
Q There are people in your own party who claim that war crimes allegations levelled against Sri Lanka are false. What do you have to say?
If there were war crimes, the criminals will be tried according to the country’s law. We engaged in a humanitarian operation. There are few people who served in the forces who are still serving jail terms. So, if proven guilty they would be punished. Politicians should advocate peace, harmony and reconciliation. I will sacrifice my life for that.
Q You were the Commissioner of the Office of Reparations, but it is a known fact that the compensation process for those affected by the war had been an ad hoc one. How are you planning to streamline it?
I wasn’t satisfied with the process at all. The previous government appointed a Commission just to show the world that they were concerned about the minorities. But it didn’t function properly. They did it just to get more popularity. But President Rajapaksa has promised that he will treat all people equally, irrespective of religion and ethnic background.
Q What are your views on repealing the 19th Amendment?
There are certain areas that need to be amended. It has been drafted to support political agendas of various factions. But this repeal should happen in a scientific way. Only two things happened during the previous regime; one was that there were several white elephants and the other was that the Sinhala national anthem was sung in Tamil.
Q The North has had a rich cultural heritage that died down with the war. What are your plans to revive this lost heritage which is also part of Sri Lankan culture?
Culture plays an essential role in making a country’s citizens human beings. Other factors include religion and law. Without a cultural background the youth will not even respect their parents let alone any other elderly person. Therefore plans are underway to revive the lost culture and place more emphasis on cultural affairs unique to the North.
Q As a Sinhalese loved by Tamils do you accept that over a period of time the Tamil community had to undergo a grave injustice?
If they faced any injustices, that was because certain communal tensions were instigated by third parties. While the two communities were at war, it benefitted others. There were foreign interventions that fuelled this process.
Q So you do believe that the Sinhalese and Sinhala politicians were responsible for the 1983 pogrom or mass murder and intimidation of Tamils?
I don’t accept that it was a mass murder. Certain politicians had vested interests. The Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims never asked for war. They wanted to live in harmony. But they faced the brunt of cheap foreign agendas. So in future, under a SLPP Government we are looking at ironing out the misunderstandings between communities. I assure that communal harmony will commence from the Vanni District. I will work towards ensuring that it spreads to all parts of the country.