‘LTTE must lay down its weapons’ - FM
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama has dismissed talks of a
ceasfire and said that the LTTE must lay down its arms. In an exclusive
interview with Times Now’s senior editor Srinjoy Chowdhury, the Minister
went on to talk about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) issue
Srinjoy: Sri Lanka is still in a difficult situation. The
civil war is going on. But the LTTE has asked for a ceasefire. Like in
the past are you going to agree to a ceasefire?
Minister: We have already gone on record. My President has
already stated his position in regards to our engagement with the LTTE.
We always call the LTTE to renounce violence and embrace democracy. That
is the process. We could engage with the LTTE. History has shown, that
LTTE ceasefires have not done any good for sustainable peace to our
people in Sri Lanka. This is getting repeated once again. We are not
going to take much notice of that factor because we are committed for a
sustainable peace in Sri Lanka, as stated by our President. The
President has already said that our engagement is in order to disarm the
LTTE so that we have space for democracy and empowerment of our people
through the democratic channels.
Political issues will always be dealt politically and this is
something we are committed to. This is why we have put the process in
motion now. The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) is now
redressing the political process and that is how we are dealing with
this situation in Sri Lanka. There is no civil war. It is a question of
our engagement with the LTTE as a terrorist organisation that is
threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and
that of national security of the country and people.
Srinjoy: One worry that the Indian Government has is the fact
that in the middle of all this turmoil there is going to be civilian
casualties. What is the Sri Lankan Government doing to ensure that there
are no civilian casualties, or at least keeping them to a minimum?
Minister: We have a zero tolerance policy in terms of civilian
casualties. We have showed that in the Eastern Province. When we cleared
that province, there were no civilian casualties and the collateral
damage is minimal in terms of our approach in military engagement. We
are only looking at the LTTE, in terms of a terrorist organisation.
Beyond that, we are part of the people of Sri Lanka. That is why our
responsibility lies in protecting every civilian in whichever part they
live in. We have to protect them from the LTTE and that is what our
engagement is. Thereby there is no worry one has to entertain in terms
of civilian casualties. That is our paramount and core responsibility to
safeguard our people.
Srinjoy: One point that the Indian Government is making is
that, there is a call for a negotiated settlement. How feasible is this
option and how possible is it?
Minister: This is possible because we are a democracy and we
look at the agenda politically. Our President has always said that when
it comes to political issues, we will address them politically. To that
extent that is possible. However, the LTTE must renounce violence and at
the same time must give up arms. Only then can they be a part of the
political process. Otherwise there is no space in Sri Lanka, in terms of
engaging with a terrorist organisation, in negotiating with the
Srinjoy: In the past there have been reports about LTTE war
planes, which have appeared to have done damage. What is your perception
Minister: The fact that there have been some small lighter
feather-like aircraft trying to come and make some stunts in some part
of the country does not mean that they are war planes with the LTTE.
Even children can find these kinds of aircraft. This is something we are
apprehensive about that, when they are desperate and pushed against the
wall, they will find any desperate act to sensationalise the ground
realities and to create chaos in the country.
Srinjoy: In the past the Indian Government has been supplying
Sri Lanka with defence equipment. Can you tell us what kind of equipment
that is and whether it is still going on or not?
Minister: Our engagement and cooperation with India can be
shared in some quarters and in some quarters we cannot share. Therefore,
you will always respect me, when it comes to sensitive areas; it is not
meant for public domain.
Srinjoy: The other worry that India has had in the past is
regarding fishing boats. It appears sometimes that Sri Lankan Navy has
been firing on Indian fishing boats. Is this something you are
addressing to a concerned Indian Government?
Minister: We are addressing this issue. There have been some
allegations levelled that there had been some shooting on the Indian
fishing boats. But we have always maintained the position that the Navy
of Sri Lanka will not want to shoot at the Indian fishing boats. But
there have been some incidents involved with the LTTE and they are
trying to find some space in order to ignite some sensitive developments
involving the fishermen. We have brought this to the notice of the
authorities and at the same time both countries are working very closely
to prevent any such occurrences.
Srinjoy: What are the points regarding joint patrolling? Is
that still going on?
Minister: We are looking at coordinated patrolling. We share a
lot of intelligence information between the two Navies’ and also the
coastguard where India is concerned. This is something we expect to
generate, the need of safeguards in line with the fisheries issue.
Srinjoy: One problem is the fact that the DMK is part of the
coalition of the UPA and the DMK and its allies have been calling for a
ceasefire. What is your expectation from the Indian Government?
Minister: This is something we must always look at keeping in
mind the local compulsions, we call them the domestic compulsions. We
have always been a vibrant democracy. But at the same time when it comes
to regional security or bi-lateral relations one raises these factors
and try to approach a better understanding to be brought about on
issues. We are a part of that agenda with India this moment. We see that
the pressures that may mount out of certain interested situations or
interested groupings, particularly you mentioned Tamil Nadu, we are also
mindful of that. But there will be great prudence we expect will prevail
in addressing these issues.
Srinjoy: Have you discussed this with the Indian Government?
Minister: We are continuing to discuss these matters on a
regular basis. There have been several times that we have discussed
these matters. Also tomorrow we will have the opportunity to discuss
Srinjoy: Where is Prabhakaran and if you ever find him will
you hand him over to the Indian Government?
Minister: Obviously, the judicial process has taken its course
and there is a death sentence pronounced in India for the killing of
former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE. Prabhakaran is the first
accused in that so there is a death sentence already. However, at the
same time it is a matter for the Indian authorities to seek his
extradition and the Sri Lankan Government will always cooperate.
Srinjoy: Which means, that if a request for extradition comes,
the Sri Lankan Government will handover Prabhakaran, if he is caught?
Minister: Obviously. Our President has said that very openly
and as recently as a month or two ago.