“We have eradicated terrorism, not just a terrorist” - Keheliya
Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said due to
the proper directions given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the
Commander in Chief, our valiant soldiers could take up the challenge and
successfully carried out their mission to defeat terrorism, setting up a
perfect example to the entire world on how to defeat terrorism. The
Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer on the significant
victory achieved by the nation against terrorism two years ago said he
cannot recollect any other humanitarian operation launched to rescue
terror victims in any part of the globe.
The Minister said the Armed Forces even rescued Prabhakaran’s parents
as well. Prabhakaran’s father’s pension is paid by the Government. The
Government has rehabilitated a large number of ex-LTTE combatants and
some of them have also gained university entrance. These are unsung
activities that the Government has done for these victims. This kind of
real humanitarian activities with a human touch has not taken place
anywhere in the world. When we look at the past two years, the
Government under the leadership of the President has amazed the world by
doing these things. The Minister also appreciated the tremendous task
done by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa by effectively coordinating
all the three Armed Forces with the President.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: How do you evaluate the importance of the humanitarian
mission launched by the Government?
A: We have to face reality. I don’t think the Government
honestly expected 300,000 people to cross from terrorist-held areas to
Government controlled areas. I don’t think any country without any prior
arrangements would have been able to handle an influx of innocent people
comprising men, women, children and infants. We had to take them. I must
say the Darusman report refers to instance where people were not looked
into or were shot at, but that is a different story altogether. Their
influx from LTTE held areas to Army held areas itself is proof that they
had confidence that the Armed Forces would look after them.
I would say during the first couple of months, it was a nightmare.
But the Sri Lankan Government quickly adjusted and gave utmost priority
to this issue of IDPs. In fact the Government did not do it alone. There
is ample evidence against the Darusman report. The United States, French
embassy, UNICEF and the UN itself were involved in this process. They
all got together and we got maximum assistance from all these groups.
There was a period where they had perhaps some concerns in certain
stages. But we put the whole thing in order and took corrective
measures. As a result, we were able to handle the situation.
In fact I remember then Education Minister Susil Premajayantha
talking about conducting classes to displaced children to make sure that
they will not lose their education. The sanitation part of IDPs was
handled by the UN and some other organisations. So it was a combined
effort led by the Government of Sri Lanka. The victims themselves saw
The end of the second year of terrorism, we find no IDP is left in
any IDP camp. I remember one incident. When the camps had barbed wire
fences for security purposes complained, then they said not to do that,
so we removed it. Then they said that their security was not looked
into. These type of stories went around. But the fact remains that Sri
Lanka took a daunting challenge. We are proud to state that these facts
should be taken as an example in a situation like this so it will not
happen anywhere like this. We were able to move forward in that
direction and defeat terrorism. That is one part of the story.
Of course there are issues of land and still there are thousands of
landmines. So we have to go through the de-mining process. Thirty years
or more of terror cannot be put back to normalcy within 30 months. That
is the reality. When we look at the entire scenario of what we have done
and where Jaffna and the North are today, I think any reasonable and
sensible person would thank the Government and all other organisations
who extended a helping hand at that critical and grave hour. Today we
have issues of land owners. After 20 or 30 years many people have fled
the country and gone abroad. It is not the Government, it was the LTTE
that created the situation for themselves. So things are coming back to
normal. The duration of it one might say should take five years, others
might say six years and still others might say one year. I would say in
a reasonable period within this term of office, President Mahinda
Rajapaksa will make sure that this issue will be hundred percent
Q: Thousands of precious Tamil lives were rescued from LTTE
grip at great risk to the lives of the Security Forces members. What
would have been the situation today had we failed in our mission?
A: Some of the people who are now questioning and ask for
credible information, they would have been happy. On the other hand, the
whole country would have been in the doldrums. As Sri Lankans, the
Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers would have been in a
severe and grave situation.
Thanks to the President as the Commander in Chief and thanks to our
valiant soldiers, they took up the challenge with the right direction
from the top and they were able to carry out this mission successfully.
That is why we always held that terrorism is a curse to humanity. It is
a cancerous situation. Unless we remove the cancer, the entire country
will face great risk. Today certain people are raising many questions
against the President and the Government. But they would have not asked
the same questions if Prabhakaran was among the living today.
Q: Could you recollect any other humanitarian operation
launched to rescue terror victims in any part of the world?
A: We don’t need to find world experiences. What about Tamil
Selvam’s family? what about Prabhakaran’s mother? These are some of the
unsung activities that the Government has done for these victims. Apart
from that the rehabilitation process is going on.
Where on earth have ex-combatants been rehabilitated and gained
university entrance as well. In fact I saw the other day, the American
ambassador was the guest at the event of where rehabilitated ex-LTTE
combatants were released.
They have been trained for foreign employment. I do not think,
anywhere in this world this kind of real humanitarian activities with a
human touch has ever taken place. Looking at the last two years, I think
the Government under the guidance of the President has in fact surprised
the world by doing these things.
The other important thing is that we don’t expect any praise from
anybody as long as we are left alone without pinching us unnecessarily.
That hurts the Government and the people who are involved and have done
all this hard work.
Q: A firm political leadership is a must to guide the Security
Forces to ward off international threat to law and order. How do you
explain our own experience?
A: It is obvious the President as the Commander in Chief had
to give orders. So the President gave the orders correctly. There is not
an iota of doubt about that. The world is rejoicing today particularly
the Americans outside the White House on the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
I suppose they have a reason to do so. Because there was an incident on
September 11, 2001 where nearly 3,000 people were killed in America due
to that terrorist attack. Here over 100,000 people have been killed due
to LTTE terrorist activities. The economy was in the doldrums. The
Central Bank, Airport and Hotel Oberoi which was the best five star
hotel at that time were attacked. So obviously there was a reason for
the people here also to rejoice. When we compare these two incidents, I
would say Sri Lanka would be more delighted because we did not only get
rid of a terrorist.
We got rid of terrorism in the country. Osama Bin Laden’s case is
that they got rid of a terrorist, not terrorism. So there is huge
difference between these two incidents. But I think one has the right to
rejoice and cheer because his kith and kin are killed by somebody. The
natural tendency and human nature is for revenge whether we like it or
not. It should not be the case. But these are natural things that comes
from time to time.
Q: The coordination of the Security Forces to deal with terror
is a tremendous task. How did the Defence Secretary excel in this task?
A: The Defence Secretary has been a military person. During
President J.R. Jayewardene’s time, General Sepala Attygalle was the
Defence Secretary. Except that, most of the time, the Defence Secretary
has been a civilian. Being a military personnel, Defence Secretary
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was aware of the military’s needs. But he went
further. When we talk about coordination, he had direct access (to the
President) at any time. Therefore there is one step more or rather
perhaps meeting advantage having that connection. I think all the Heads
of the three Armed Forces at that time put their heads together. I don’t
think it is fair to say that one Force was better than the other. It was
a coordinated effort by the Army, Navy and the Air Force. The Defence
Secretary coordinated all these people together with the Commander in
Chief, the President. I think he did a marvellous job.
Q: The former hot bed of LTTE terror such as the North and the
East has become the hub of rapid development. Could you elaborate on
A: Terrorism is man-made. Men and women particularly men in
the North made it a terrorist hot bed. Naturally those are the areas of
high potential. Thousands of acres of paddy cultivation and the maritime
economy in the North were lost due to terrorist activity.
Nearly 27 percent of the supply of fisheries come from the North and
the East. There were nearly 650,000 people dependent on the fisheries
industry. At least 150,000 to 200,000 people of the North and the East
would have lost their livelihood due to terrorist activities. At present
we are talking about an 8.5 percent growth rate.
All that was an addition of the North and East contribution that
comes into the national economy.
Q: Sri Lanka is on the threshold of economic advancement
today. Do you think peace has opened new vistas?
A: Obviously it is peace which led to it. Unless we have
peace, there is no development. Earlier we had problems in tourism,
fisheries and agriculture. That is the material part of it. The social
and human part of it was that we would have lost 10 people everyday or
more than that.
So the mental agony that would have stimulated in the minds of Sri
Lankans in general whether Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or whatever would have
also impeded them to a great extent in all their activities. Unless
there is peace, we cannot talk about development.
Q: When the Government has entered into a delicate
reconciliation process in this post conflict scenario, what led the UN
Secretary General to appoint an expert panel instead of extending
support towards the healing process?
A: That I cannot comment. But the whole process is very
irregular and leads to lot of question marks. It also leads to serious
doubts in the minds of the people whether this was a genuine effort to
ascertain whatever one wants to. That is why from the beginning, we
opposed the appointment of a panel. The Darusman report says, they
obtained credible evidence from individuals and groups from time to
time. Who are the groups? They are the people who are living outside and
against defeating of the terrorists. They are the people who wanted
terrorist activities to go on and keep Sri Lanka burning all the time.
So I don’t want to waste time as we have adequately addressed this
question. We will continue to do so. We have now made ourselves very
clear and our position is very clear. Any further development in that
area will be taken up at the highest level and we will give top priority
to deal with that issue when it is necessary.
Q: Is the Government going to respond to the Darusman report?
A: Not really. But we have to basically respond to it. One
cannot say we have not responded. We have collectively responded to it
and the public have also responded to it.
It was discussed in Parliament as well. There is no question of not
responding. It is a question of whether we are going to officially
respond to it. But principally and fundamentally, we have rejected it.
Even that has to be conveyed.