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‘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 and more.

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 Government.

Srinjoy: In the past there have been reports about LTTE war planes, which have appeared to have done damage. What is your perception of them?

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 further.

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.

(Times Now)



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