Q During the final phase of the war, there was international pressure exerted on Sri Lanka, especially by Western countries like the United States, to stop the military exercise. How did you face it?
We did not start the war. In all fairness, it was the LTTE that precipitated the conflict on the legitimate government of Sri Lanka. I was the one who went for peace talks in Geneva on two occasions; in June and October 2006. I was the Chief Spokesperson on behalf of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, in addition to being part of the ministerial delegation. Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and Mrs. Farial Ashraff were by my side. It was a well-structured negotiation that we embarked on. Ultimately, I met with LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham, his wife Adele Balasingham, Tamil Chelvam, Pulidevan, Nadeshan and Ramesh. Except for Adele, everyone else is not among us today. I was keen about the way they got about. Having taken the life of our former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the LTTE was not ready for a peaceful settlement. They were harping on equal status of parity.
It was through the 2002 ceasefire agreement that the terrorist organisation managed to get equal state of parity. We were a state party and they a non-state. The Prime Minister signed an agreement with Prabhakaran in terms of the wording. Our troops, confined to the barracks, could not take even a gun to the territory of the so-called North-East where the LTTE carved out an administrative zone combining eight districts in the country. That being the situation, I was very privy to the modus operandi of the LTTE which was in one thing and doing another. After the Mavil Aru episode, the LTTE began its confrontations. When they blocked the Mavil Aru sluice canal, our people could not engage in cultivation. However, we had a valid ceasefire under monitoring.
When I was elected as the Foreign Affairs Minister, there was an organisation in parity with the government whose terrorist identity had diminished due to the parity of statues given to them. Now, it may be extremely difficult to canvass world opinion against an organisation we had dealt with in terms of equal partners for peace in Sri Lanka.
Q How were the bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and India?
I had to canvass the world opinion to convert this impression to that of a terrorist organisation. That is precisely what my missions abroad did. I started off with India. My first call was on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
I knew India was a major factor. In the latter part of the confrontations, there was pressure from the United States. The then US Ambassador Robert O’ Blake who once visited me wanted to bring an advanced mission to Sri Lanka to see if the surrender would work out -- for the LTTE to surrender to American troops. That was resisted. There was an advanced intelligence team from Hawaii that landed in Sri Lanka to work out the logistics and apparatus. In fact, I did not want that team here. I restricted them to the airport and they went back. Little was known to the general public. We tactically got New Delhi associated with our engagement. We were very transparent for that matter in terms of the need to eliminate terrorism. That was during the second year of my being in office. By that time, the world from Washington to Brussels has come to realise.
I went to the White House and met with Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor of the then President George Bush, on two occasions. Thus, we intensified foreign engagement while operations were active in the country to wipe out terrorism. It was a two-pronged approach: One was to get the governments to support us in our pursuit and the other was to make the world recognize Sri Lanka as a country saddled with terrorism. We needed a lasting solution. There was no foreign influence on the operations initiated, although there were several factions that hindered the elimination process during the eleventh hour.
Q How did you withstand international pressure?
I followed two methods. As the then Foreign Minister, I represented the country under President Rajapaksa who was also the Defence Minister. I had his fullest support. I reflected the thinking of the government, articulated it in a manner shaping world opinion. We shared what we did outside with the larger community of Sri Lanka. I wanted my country to become a platform for international fora, which is why I organised the SAARC Summit in Sri Lanka. I had the Asian Cooperation Dialogue with the foreign ministers of Russia and China coming in. I got Sri Lanka into the Asian Regional Forum. I was trying to get BIMSTEC headquartered in Sri Lanka. Just like we got in to the league of Islamic countries, we got into the African league. Ban ki Moon as the UN Secretary General was receptive to me. We never concealed anything as far as the LTTE was concerned.
We had effective preparatory sessions underway. In fact, there was former IRA Deputy Leader Martin McGuinness who taught us to negotiate with terrorists. We had preparatory sessions to know how terrorists were and how to deal with them. He is dead now. His team was sent to Sri Lanka. I met him in London as well. That is to know the art of negotiation when it comes to the most brutal terrorist organisation in the world. British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were kept updated about Sri Lanka’s affairs. I took President Rajapaksa into Downing Street twice.
I recall US Ambassador Blake calling in at the time he came to see me. He said his government feared a bloodbath in
“There will be genocide in the country in the event you go to take on the LTTE leadership. How are we going to answer to the world if that happens?” he questioned.
Later, when I asked as to what he suggested was the best possible solution, he wanted us to allow them to handle it. “We will get Prabhakaran surrendered diplomatically,” he said.
After listening to him, I questioned, “If that is the case, what do you think of our sovereign rights?” I knew the resulting resolutions in Geneva stemmed from their preconceptions unfolding against what they preconceived.
Q You mean to say the whole question in Geneva would not have arisen if the surrender of Prabhakaran was allowed?
For me, the Geneva process is no process. As seen in the most recent resolution, it is a time-consuming exercise. It is like publishing a periodical. We know we can write the next year’s report now. I can give it to you. It is an unnecessary hype. Some were against President Rajapaksa. The international community wanted a regime change here. I think the 18th Amendment to the Constitution cost President Rajapaksa the presidency and his
Had former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake not allowed the 18th Amendment passed, President Rajapaksa would have received an honourable retirement. The international community would have worried to orchestrate various other means for a regime change in Sri Lanka. The Geneva focus and all these things were precipitated. The line for a regime change was established so that there was contrary publicity given to international isolation about Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, President Rajapaksa fell prey to it.
Q It means regime change was the sole target?
Indeed. What has happened during the last two years of reconciliation? The ultimate is set by the Tamil elected representatives of the Northern Provincial Council. Are they happy?
Q What is your view on the contents of the current resolution, particularly the provision to set up a judicial mechanism?
What does the Constitution of Sri Lanka permit? Didn’t our Prime Minister know that the Constitution did not permit the judicature or administration of justice to be done through external individuals or organisations?
It is the fundamental right of the public to subject themselves to a legal system that is original and is based in terms of the Sri Lankan Constitutional framework. No charter, no protocol in the world can replace that fundamental law in Sri Lanka. Our law dates back to over 200 years in writing, coming from the Dutch. Then, the statute law comes from the English. Our judicial system is an indigenous Sri Lankan system that recognises even the local culture, customs like the Kandyan law, Thesawalamai, the Muslim law and so forth. All those are embodied in the overall Sri Lankan law. Nothing can ever be subjected to foreign courts or foreign judges if they are connected to Sri Lanka. Various bodies such as presidential commissions, investigative commissions or punishment commissions can be created.
We have dealt with similar situations as far as the JVP insurrection was concerned. Who said this was possible? Why did they go and co-sponsor a resolution hostile to Sri Lanka? No country cosponsors a hostile resolution against it. Again, the resolution was cosponsored without eliminating the provision concerned. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said it was impossible. Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva who led the delegation said Geneva was not a binding affair. If it were not so, then what is there to worry? Why is there extension after extension?
Now, the regime change has been done. Rajapaksa is out. Very soon, the UNHRC will also be out. When you cannot perform, what do you do? You avoid.
Q Actually, these are allegations made regarding the manner in which the war was conducted. You are privy to it. How do you respond?
In the event, there are human rights issues connected with warfare. Now that enough and more courts in Sri Lanka can handle in the event, there are violations of individual liberties and issues where the army can be dealt with for excessive action. According to the war definition, in military action, collateral damage is sometimes permitted. If it were excessive, it would fall into the category of acts that needed to be explained. In the event, it goes beyond and does for the purpose of eliminating innocent civilians by virtue of their ethnic identity, then, you can pick on mass elimination.
Can we bring the scenario associated with the LTTE into these categories? Can we cover this under the war crime definition?
Why do we allow the international community to look into this issue? Why don’t we have similar commissions like the Presidential Commission probing the bond scam? Such a commission could go into the excesses by military if there were any.
That is what we said to Ban Ki Moon. We signed a document on May 23, 2009. That was the declaration given by the Sri Lankan Government. That is a domestic process.
Q Also, there is an allegation that this declaration kept Sri Lanka under the international radar of human rights. What are your thoughts?
When we got rid of the LTTE, what did we do? We were being recognised as a country that eliminated terrorism completely. It is really a matter of great recognition by the international community.
President Rajapaksa received international accolade. That is why the Commonwealth leaders decided to have an international summit in Sri Lanka.