The West has to help Sri Lanka instead of being critical unfairly
President Mahinda Rajapaksa tells Le Figaro:
In his first interview to a leading European
journal since the victory against the LTTE in May this President Mahinda
Rajapaksa has defended himself against the many attacks on him in the
West for alleged negligence of human rights and has called on the West
to help Sri Lanka rebuild and resettle the people affected by the 30
year long war against terror in the country, which had impacted other
countries in the region, too.
Asked how he would restore peace in the
country, President Rajapaksa said the absolute priority was to permit
displaced people to go back to their villages, especially in the North.
ďWe first need to finish the mine clearance for people to be able to go
back home and cultivate their land. Then, we need to develop the country
and we are calling upon foreign investors to do so.Ē
Asked why the persons displaced by the war are
still confined in camps the President emphasized they were not in camps
by our own doing but because the LTTE took them hostages. ďWe canít
leave them outside and let them step on a mine. We also have to sort out
the ones who are linked with terrorists and those arenít. They are not
in camps by our own doing but because the LTTE took them hostages.Ē
The wide ranging interview by Pierre Rousselin
covers, among other matters, the recent Channel 4 fabrication of a
summary execution of civilians by Sri Lankan forces, the verdict and
sentence on journalist J. Tissainayagam, the Presidentís plans for a
political solution and the next Presidential election.
Following is the translation into English of the interview published
in French, conducted in Colombo on September 4, 2009 and published in Le
Figaro of September 8.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Le Figaro - In May, you won the victory against the Tigers,
putting an end to a thirty-year-old conflict. How are you going to bring
peace in your country and rebuild it?
President Rajapaksa - First of all, we have to permit displaced
people to go back to their villages, especially in the North. We first
need to finish the mine clearance for people to be able to go back home
and cultivate their land. This is the absolute priority. Then, we need
to develop the country and we are calling upon foreign investors to do
Why is the return of refugees so slow? Will you be able to honour
your commitment to repatriate 80 percent of them by the end of the year?
The obstacle resides in mines. Itís a more serious problem than we
expected. The Army works relentlessly from morning till night to remove
them. Over one thousand families are home now, and so are the eldest
people. Currently, there are 220,000 refugees. By mid-September, 50,000
are likely to have left the camps.
Why are displaced people locked into camps?
We canít leave them outside and let them step on a mine. We also have
to sort out the ones who are linked with terrorists and those who
arenít. They are not in camps by our own doing but because the LTTE took
The Western countries criticize your army for having killed many
civilians towards the end of the war. What is your answer?
I do not accept these criticisms. I donít know how another country
would have coped. We fed, we paid the salary of civil servants who were
fighting with the terrorists. When we took over the Eastern Province,
there were no civilian victims. There were in the North. But we wouldnít
have lost so many men in the army if we had used heavy weapons. We did
not tell it publicly at the time because the military officers would
have rebelled. But this is a fact and the opposition criticized us for
You are still criticized even though the war came to an end. The
recent condemnation of a journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, to a
twenty-year sentence gave rise to a broad disapproval...
The judge gave the verdict in all independence. I canít interfere in
court orders. There are still possibilities of appeal before the Appeal
Court of the Supreme Court. People say the freedom of the press is
threatened, but they do not say a group of journalists was demonstrating
in front of the court even before the judgement was given.
Should the sentence be confirmed, could you use your right of
We need to wait until all the recourse procedures have been used.
Iíll take my decision when the time has come, but we canít consider that
journalists are above the law.
You do know that this question is an international issue for your
This is due to the LTTE propaganda. For the West, the LTTE can do
whatever they want, kill whoever they want, murder Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi (in 1991) without anybody to protest.
This is a shame, but thatís the way it is. There are two sets of
rules. The journalist we talked about has not been tried because he is a
journalist but because of his ties with the terrorists.
The war is over. When are you going to raise the state of
As soon as possible. We have to sort out the people displaced to see
how many of them are linked with the LTTE leaders and have to be
prosecuted. Terrorists do not wear uniforms; they become civilians as
soon as they lay down arms. But we canít let them free.
How long is it going to take? Weeks, months, years?
It depends of the return of the refugees. It could take six months,
one year. I donít want to make promises I would not keep. The West has
to help us and stop criticizing us so unfairly.
From November onwards, you will be able to call for presidential
elections. When will they take place?
As soon as possible.
At the beginning of next year?
Will you campaign with a program of settlement of the Tamil issue?
Yes. We are ready to apply the 13th Amendment of the Constitution
which provides decentralization and the establishment of local
(provincial) councils. This provision was not enforced because of the
war. We are even ready to go a little bit further.
Will this satisfy the Tamil leaders?
There will always be people asking for more. But what the population
wants is peace and security. They want schools. Theyíve had enough of
the war. Politicians are interested in these other questions.
Are you satisfied with the help brought by the West?
The aid for the return of refugees goes through NGOs, who are
spending about 40 to 60 percent for administrative matters. We saw this
with the tsunami.
You donít like NGOs...
Some of the NGOs helped the LTTE. Others did their work. But even the
UN agencies slow down the process of normalization.
A video broadcast in Great Britain showed what looked like summary
executions by soldiers of the Army. How do you retort to the sharp
criticisms it gave rise to?
We have elements showing that this video is a set-up. This is not the
first time members of the LTTE use Army uniforms to stage events with
You met Colonel Gaddhafi and Hugo Chavez in Tripoli. You went to
Burma. Why do you carry on openly with leaders who are not the best
friends of the West?
No Western country is inviting me! But when Iím invited to a friendly
country, I go. We are a founding country of the non-aligned movement. I
also go to India when I have the opportunity...
Journalists disappear, others are assassinated. Sri Lanka does not
embody a very rigorous democracy...
This is all propaganda. The press is free, criticism is free. The
opposition can even go to Brussels to do lobbying against the renewal by
the European Union of the GSP + system.
As for journalists disappearing, most of them reappear to claim visas
in consulates. We want to develop this country. We want to avoid any
kind of discrimination against Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims.
We want Western countries to help us, to trust us and stop listening
to the LTTE propaganda. France has been fair than many other countries.
It supported us in our fight against terrorism and never aligned itself
with the LTTE.
Interview done in Colombo by Pierre Rousselin