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Sunday, 15 May 2011





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“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 it.

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 settled.

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 this?

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.


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