Improved water retention measures needed to thwart floods

Flash floods that affected 418,000 people and left 23 dead and four missing this week in western Sri Lanka could have been avoided with proper water retention schemes, government irrigation engineers told IRIN.

Floods caused by the onset of the southwestern monsoon on 2 and 3 June affected more than 94,000 families in nine districts in the western lowlands, GM Gunewardena, assistant director at the National Disaster Relief Service Centre (NDRSC), told IRIN.

[Motorists wade through a flooded street near Colombo in the aftermath of two days of torrential rains in western Sri Lanka in May 2007]

“The worst-hit area has been the Kalutara District, where over 150,000 people have been affected in some of the low-lying areas close to rivers,” he said.

Deaths and disappearances

According to a joint situation report released by the government and the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) on 4 June, 12 of the 23 deaths and three of the four flood-related disappearances were reported from southwestern Kalutara district.

Engineers at the Irrigation Department of Sri Lanka, which monitors floods, told IRIN the low-lying areas of Kalutara and other adjoining districts were submerged because they were in the flood basins of rivers that burst their banks after heavy rains.

“The rivers run down steep slopes in the hills, so water gains speed,” BK Jayasundera, senior deputy director at the Irrigation Department in charge of flood protection, told IRIN. “On the low-lying areas there is less [of a] slope and when there are heavy rains the water rushes down,” he said. “Unfortunately these areas have also become over-populated.”

Other rivers pose threat

He warned that several other rivers flowing down the southern and southwestern slopes of the central hills posed the same threat to low-lying areas.

Jayasundera said the best option to reduce flooding in downstream areas was to build dams to retain the water upstream and release it gradually. “They could also help agriculture [irrigation] and power generation.”

Two other flood protection schemes – the construction of pumping stations and of concrete walls along river banks – had been largely ineffective. “The pumping stations are very costly and when the waters swell, the walls are of little help,” he said.

Officials at the Meteorological Department said these recent rainfall patterns were becoming more frequent. “This is what we predicted just before the monsoon set in,” SH Kariyawasam, deputy director at the department told IRIN. “Between June and July the western slopes of the central hills get heavy rains.”

Flash floods

Flash floods have become a regular occurrence in Sri Lanka, especially during the onset of the monsoons, and at least six have been recorded since April 2007, Irrigation Department officials said.

“It is a combination of natural causes and man-made factors that trigger these floods, and they are very hard to control in populated, urban areas,” HP Somasiri, the director-general of the Irrigation Department, said.

Floods in 2007 affected 488,000 people, killed 20 and damaged 9,800 homes, according to statistics maintained by the NDRSC.

[Heavy rains in eastern Sri Lanka led to heavy flooding in late December 2007 and the temporary displacement of some 250,000 people-photo: Amantha Perera]

Over Rs159 million (around US$1.4million) was spent on relief and reconstruction following the 2007 floods, the centre said.

Soon after flooding was reported this week, the Sri Lankan government released Rs29 million ($270,000) and appealed for assistance from UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies.

The World Food Programme (WFP) released 98 metric tonnes of rice, pulses and cooking oil, sufficient for 50,000 persons for a week, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) contributed three tonnes of high protein biscuits, a joint statement by the Sri Lankan Government and ISAC said on 2 June.

“UNDP has hired a number of vehicles in the affected districts and UN Volunteers have been deployed to support efforts on the ground,” the statement said. “The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is considering the release of an emergency cash grant for immediate non-food needs.”

Officials at the Irrigation Department say such funds and resources should be readily available on a routine basis to support flood relief and reconstruction efforts, unless proper mitigation measures are taken.

“There are very few options open. You can try to move out hundreds of thousands of people from the downstream areas, which would not be very easy,” Jayasundera said, “or you can think of retaining water upstream and releasing it gradually.”

Report by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

Sri Lankan flood victims-Reuters News Video:


Sri Lanka, Somalia, Islam and the West

By Dr.Ram Manikkalingam

I recently visited Somalia to attend a meeting of religious figures, clan elders and women leaders. Somalia is not a very stable place. But like all unstable countries, there are pockets of relative stability. While this is true of most countries that have an internal armed conflict, Somalia has the additional problem of having no state, though it does have an (Ethiopian-backed) government, and a number of militias, ranging from clan-based and Islamist-led to business-run. The meeting I attended could be compared to any such gathering of activists in the world concerned about their own country, in that the discussion was about how to reconcile conflicting groups. The question posed in this particular, Somali case was how to move from a situation of “semi-organized chaos” to “organized chaos” and then stability. As the only outsider present, I was asked to speak about “western and other methods of resolving conflict”.

However after the discussion the post seminar fellowship turned to the wider topic of Islam and the West and Mufti who had broached the subject outlined his thoughts.

It was clear the Mufti had given much thought to this issue, because he responded immediately and at length. This is what he said:

“In Islam there are things we must do as a Muslim and things we must not do. For example, the Qur’an says that we must pray a particular number of times a day, and that we must contribute a certain part of our income as charity. Similarly, we must not eat certain food and we must not blaspheme. As a devout Muslim, I follow these religious injunctions. At the same time there is another category of things that we may or may not do. Here Islam does not stipulate what we must do, but permits us as devout Muslims to make a choice, one way or another. But the extremists do not accept this category. What they are doing is to seek to reduce this category, so that everything comes under their control. They try to reduce the choice available to Muslims, by saying that we are required to do something or not do something, when Islam, itself, has made no such demand of us.”

Even if we disagree with these extremists, we can still argue with them. They can live their lives and we can live ours. But the problem really begins when some people use guns to tell us what to do and how to practise our religion. Not only do they argue that Islam requires us to do certain things, when it does not, or that it requires us not to do certain things, that we believe it permits us to do, they also threaten us with violence, if we do not follow their injunctions. This is the problem we have in the Muslim world.”

“What is the problem with the west?” I asked at this point. He had an answer to that too:

“The west says that it cannot integrate Muslims into its societies because it is Christian and we are Muslim. So it discriminates against us. When we respond that we thought you are tolerant of all faiths, and that your state is not linked to any one religion, it quickly changes its position. It says, ‘we are not Christian, we are secular. We have no place for religion and the problem with you is not that you are Muslim, but that you are religious. So we cannot integrate you into our societies.’ The west is not sure if it is Christian or it is secular. But, either way, it is sure that it does not like Muslims.”

Distinguish, don’t conflate

I was impressed with the mufti. He had summarized a quite complex debate into a very succinct articulation of the tension between Islam and the west. But there was still one question nagging me about his answer. How different is violent extremism from extremism without violence. Don’t the two go hand in hand? Isn’t political extremism the first step to violent extremism? And to fight violent extremism, shouldn’t one also fight political extremism? The mufti’s toleration of Muslim political extremism, even when he disagreed with it, sounded misplaced to me, given his resistance to violent extremism.

These questions were left unresolved in my mind until, at another seminar I attended, I met a general from a southeast Asian country with a severe terrorist problem. I asked the general a question about engaging extremists. He responded:

“We make a distinction between extremists and terrorists. We like extremists, because extremists are fifty-fifty: half may go the violent side, but the other half will not. And it is these extremists, the second half, who have an impact on those resorting to violence – not moderate or secular Muslims like me. To convince those killing and bombing to stop, we need the help of the extremists. So we must not alienate them. Rather, we must work with them to tell those using violent and terrorist methods: your views are alright, provided you express them within the democratic political system, without resorting to violence. And you must convince those who share your views and are using violence to do the same.”

His basic point-counterintuitive in terms of the “standard” anti-terrorism approach – is that extremists are or can become allies, and not necessarily enemies, in the fight against terrorism.

In reflecting on the general’s point, I thought about the parallels between the “war on terror” and that other high-profile war it has to a degree eclipsed: the “war on drugs”. In many ways the two “wars” are similar: each is led by the United States; each has been going on for a long time; each has consumed huge resources of cash, lives and state policy; each has put a lot of people in prison; each is by nature indefinite in duration; each offers no clear evidence of progress towards any sort of “victory”.

There is a further similarity in the way these wars are justified by their advocates. Those fighting terrorism argue that political extremism must be fought because it leads to terrorism; those fighting the war on drugs argue that “soft drugs” like marijuana must be eradicated, because smoking marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs like heroin. But only a tiny minority of those who have smoked marijuana end up becoming heroin addicts. To expend resources on fighting marijuana (which in any case has a smaller social cost) does not help with fighting heroin use. A conflation of the two can prove counterproductive.

The limits to tolerance

The implication of the foregoing is threefold:

* political extremism, while clearly a major challenge, does not invariably lead to violence and terrorism

* tolerating those with extremist views need not imply tolerating those who use violence and terror to propagate them

* Those with extremist views are more likely than those at a remove from the conflict to understand the motivations of those who resort to violence and terrorism; thus, they can be a source of support in the struggle to move towards more stable and less violent societies.

However, tolerating or engaging extremists in a dialogue must not be confused with accepting their views as reasonable. For example, the general’s focus in the dialogue was to stop extremists from using violence to secure their goals. While he disagreed with their goals, his point to them was that they should use democratic political means and then ensure that a robust democratic political system can find a way to accommodate them and politically blunt their extremism.

But this leaves open an important additional point about specific practices in communities that violate what might be considered as basic democratic and liberal values, including a commitment to equal rights. What happens when political actors (even if unarmed) seek to use the political system to advance these kinds of aims?

What are the limits to tolerating extremists?

* There is such a limit, especially when the extremists’ aims include intolerance and an explicit rejection of others’ civic equality-whether based on race, gender, caste or class

* Extremists, especially those who are intolerant of others, have no general right to be tolerated based on reciprocity, since they themselves do not tolerate others

* If tolerating extremists leads to the weakening of a democratic constitutional order, then extra care must be taken before the step is taken-though the default judgment should be to have confidence that a stable democratic structure (where it exists) will not be so weakened

* There should be a working principle that extremists (even intolerant ones) should be tolerated-on the assumption that they too may give voice to concerns that are in fact reasonable and should be addressed.

The broad expectation and hope raised by such an approach is that over time intolerant (even if non-violent) extremists themselves will change their positions as they participate in a democratic political process and see that they are treated fairly as equals, even if not all their demands are accepted. The point, as I understood it, is that you must engage with extremists, but you need not concede extremism to them, politically. []

(Dr. Ram Manikkalingam served as an Advisor on Ethnic Affairs to President Kumaratunga and is presently a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam)

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Gota lays down his law to journos

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is officially tasked to ensure the security of all Sri Lankans, had indirectly levelled death threats on two senior journalists last Monday.

The people of this country had great respect for Secretary Rajapaksa for his effort to crackdown on the LTTE and were aghast when he faced an LTTE suicide attack at the Pithala junction Colombo sometime ago. But people will not by any stretch endorse his attempt to silence the fourth estate of this country in a bid to prevent people learning about corruption, misuse and abuse of power by this Government.

Secretary Rajapaksa summoned two senior journalists Sanath Balasuriya and Poddala Jayantha of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (Lake House) along with their Chairman Bandula Padmakumara. Rajapaksa, then threatened them saying “you will have to face severe consequences if you criticise military leaders”. The main reason the Secretary found fault with Jayantha and Balasuriya was that the duo organised a protest rally with the help of other media organisations the previous week opposite Temple Trees urging the Government to find the culprits who abducted and beat-up the Nation Newspaper Associate Editor Keith Noyahr.

Reflected glory

The two journalists Balasuriya and Jayantha who are also the President and Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) respectively, had then asked Rajapaksa whether he is threatening them with death. The defence secretary has responded “those who love military leaders would take serious action against journalists. Such actions are not wrong, and the Government cannot stop such actions”.

This proves that Secretary Gotabhaya who is technically a public servant, is inebriated with the reflected glory of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Presidency.

But when President Mahinda Rajapaksa took oaths he promised to uphold the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Chapter three of the Constitution clearly mentions the fundamental rights of Sri Lankans.

Article 14. (1) of the Constitution assures every citizen of this country-

(a) the freedom of speech and expression including publication;
(b) the freedom of peaceful assembly;
(c) the freedom of association;
(d) the freedom to form and join a trade union;
(e) the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in
private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching;

Can the Defence Secretary who is a mere public officer deprive the right to freedom of speech, expression and publication that accrues to any citizen of this country? Who is he to do so? What mandate have the people given him to do so? Is he trying to withhold this right guaranteed by the Constitution just because he is the President’s younger brother? This is a clear indication that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is trying to drive Sri Lanka into a state of anarchy perhaps as his brother’s Government is unpopular after just three years in power.

Does Rajapaksa know the identities of gang members who abducted the Nation newspaper Associate Editor Keith Noyahr? Seems so, as the Secretary had said that “those who love military leaders will attack if anyone criticises them.”

The Secretary has also said that he still considers Maubima newspaper journalist Parameshwari an LTTE activist but added that the courts had to release her as the SLWJA mounted pressure on the judiciary.

Secretary Rajapaksa should understand that the Sri Lankan judiciary will not bail out any suspect on the basis of newspaper agitation or pressure.

No evidence

If the judiciary succumbed to such pressure, most of the picketing and protest rallies will take place not in front of the Fort Railway station, but in Hulftsdorp. On the other hand.

Parameshwari was discharged as the Terrorists Investigative Unit of the Police could not find a single piece of evidence against her.

Secretary Rajapaksa and his brother’s Government’s attitude on human rights was the reason for the international community’s ejection of Sri Lanka from the United Nation Human Rights Council.
The international Community warned on many occasions of the deteriorating condition of human rights in Sri Lanka. But that was like singing to deaf elephants. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf sacked 60 or so judges from their positions. Despite this and many other human rights violations by Musharaff, Pakistan got elected to the UNHRC due to certain purposeful strides towards democracy made subsequently in that country. It proves that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is the worst in Asia. The world does not believe any more in the bluff of the Rajapaksas.

Analysts’ fear that the international community may consider imposing economic sanctions against Sri Lanka. Of course when there are public officers such as Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who are in a bid to impose de facto military rule in the entire country, Sri Lanka could face such an eventuality.

The main problem with the Rajapaksa government is that those who are running this country aren’t professional. They do not understand the law, or the basics of international treaties Sri Lanka has ratified on human rights. They think that anything can be accomplished with the people’s mandate. Such acts forced the international community to eject Sri Lanka from the UNHRC. Who is responsible for this state of affairs that causes the world to condemn Sri Lanka at every turn? []

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Strengthening the Provincial Council Process

Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Moore to the National Conference on Strengthening the Provincial Council Process, May 28, 2008 BMICH, Colombo:

Honored Governor, Chief Ministers, Ministers and Provincial Council Members, distinguished guests:

It is an honor to be with you today, to attend this National Conference on Strengthening the Provincial Council Process, and to have the opportunity to meet with high level regional government representatives from across Sri Lanka. I would like to thank the Center for Policy Alternatives and the other organizers, sponsors, and participants in this conference for the hard and thoughtful work they have invested in this important undertaking.

Your participation today gives evidence of the desire across Sri Lanka to find a non-violent, democratic and sustainable solution to the national conflict. Your presence demonstrates your commitment and that of your government to take part in building a strong, democratic nation.

How to resolve the conflict is clearly the fundamental question facing Sri Lanka today, and one to which, unfortunately, there is no easy answer.

The United States believes that the Government of Sri Lanka-like all governments-has a responsibility to protect its citizens against terrorism.

However, our experience has taught us that a purely military solution to such conflicts will not ultimately be successful. There must be a parallel political strategy to address the underlying factors, circumstances, and grievances that have given rise to the conflict.

As the President’s commitment to devolution suggests, Sri Lanka’s long running conflict will not be solved on the battlefield alone.

By articulating and implementing a vision of how power can be truly shared among Sri Lanka’s communities, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to demonstrate to the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities that they have a place of lasting respect in this island.

Sri Lanka’s minorities need to know that they can have a role in a united Sri Lanka where they can control many of their own affairs in local regions where they predominate.

The Government has made a good start toward this by emphasizing the importance of implementing the 13th Amendment to devolve power to the provincial councils, with a particular focus on the East.

Devolution of power to the provinces has long been talked about as a potential solution to the long-standing conflict. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution has been on the books for over twenty years.

This Amendment, along with the system of provincial councils that it set up, represents an important first step toward achieving a truly pluralistic democracy throughout the island.

However, the 13th Amendment has never really been put to the test. It needs to be activated in a way that serves the people in the provinces. It needs to be enacted in such a way that it grants meaningful power and resources to those living in and governing the provinces.

The All Party Representative Committee, under the outstanding leadership of Minister Tissa Vitharana, has therefore submitted a proposal calling for the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as a first phase in the devolution of power to the provinces and local governments.

The U.S government commends the decision by the President and the APRC to pursue the implementation of the 13th Amendment as a preliminary political step toward devolution of power in Sri Lanka.

Clearly, however, the decision on how to proceed in going about this extremely important endeavor is for the people of Sri Lanka, not the international community, to decide. The Center for Policy Alternatives and numerous other civil society organizations are prepared to assist in this process. My government supports and applauds their efforts to provide assistance in translating the decision on implementing the 13th Amendment into action.

They have done this by asking practical advice from the key partners: YOU – the members of the Provincial Council system.

Through this process over the past few months, you have taken steps to understand and debate the legislation on devolution of power. Today, you are presenting to His Excellency the President your recommendations on how to improve this legislation. Your perspective – the perspective from the provinces – is critical if the realization of the 13th Amendment is to be a success.

The elections in the East earlier this month mark another step in the Government’s efforts to stabilize eastern Sri Lanka, after it expelled the LTTE from the region in 2007. The elections gave the citizens of the Eastern Province an important opportunity to choose their elected representatives.

Peaceful political elections to enable greater representation for minorities in the context of a unified Sri Lanka are an indispensable element in the devolution of power to provincial and local governments.

The United States did not send observers to monitor the election. Many people in Sri Lanka and abroad did express concern that the elections might not be fully free and fair due to the participation of armed groups.

After the elections, there were numerous reports from observers and opposition parties of irregularities, including voter fraud, intimidation, and sporadic acts of violence, on Election Day.

We urge the Sri Lankan government to treat these allegations seriously and conduct investigations to ensure that the outcome has the support of the people in the eastern part of the country. Their support of the results and their confidence in the process will be vital in the months to come.

Let me emphasize that we sincerely believe that through the proposals you are presenting to the President today, Sri Lanka can take a major step forward toward achieving devolution.

All of us present here today hope that your proposals will impact positively on Sri Lanka’s future and on the country’s ability to realize its tremendous potential.

The United States welcomes the movement toward decentralizing power in Sri Lanka in the hope that it will contribute to achieving the comprehensive political settlement that is needed.

While the U.S. and other friends of Sri Lanka attach great importance to this process, far more important is whether the Sri Lankan people judge that these initial measures will contribute to bridging the tragic divide between Sri Lanka’s several communities.

Although 13th Amendment is a good start, further steps will be needed to provide a positive vision and a brighter future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of where within the country they live and what proportion of the local population they represent.

For that reason, we firmly hope that government and the APRC will continue to strive for consensus on a plan that will fully address the legitimate aspirations of Sri Lanka’s minorities – both national and local-to have a greater voice in their own affairs.

We continue to believe that the ongoing work of the All-Party Representative Committee can make a critical contribution to the discussion on devolution of power and to resolving Sri Lanka’s conflict.

An APRC proposal that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their daily lives would mark an extremely important step forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer these observations on what most, if not all, of us in this room would agree is the most pressing political issue facing this great country today.

I look forward to hearing and learning from your substantive discussions, and I wish you much success in this undertaking.

Thank you very much.

[Source: US Embassy, Colombo, Sri Lanka]

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NPC: Enhance Democratic Norms in the post election period in the East

Statement by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka:

The violent clashes that have taken place in the Muslim-inhabited parts of the east have led to the killing of several persons and to a climate of rapidly escalating tension. These clashes have come shortly after the Eastern Provincial Council elections which the TMVP contested while remaining an armed group whose presence has become more openly obvious following the elections.

The present clashes have pitted members of the TMVP against the Muslim community and reflect the deep suspicions and frustration following promises made and broken in the aftermath of the elections. The use of arms by the TMVP is unacceptable. The National Peace Council believes that if left unchecked they are likely to lead to further clashes and to an increase in tensions between the Tamil and Muslim communities, and this trend should be reversed immediately.

Having elections in the east, although flawed, was an important step towards empowering the people in the province to democratically determine their future. The post election period provides yet another opportunity to the government and the newly established Eastern Provincial Council to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic process and to promoting good governance and ethnic harmony in the region. We are encouraged by the willingness of the leader of the TMVP and Chief Minister Pillayan, to meet with the leader of the Muslim component of the ruling alliance M L A M Hizbullah and opposition leader Rauff Hakeem. We urge them to make a joint appeal for peace and non violence and ensure that their members behave

The National Peace Council calls on the government to reconsider its stance of permitting the TMVP to operate as an armed group, while providing this party that has entered the democratic process with maximum protection.

In addition, the police and armed forces which are the legitimate security arms of the state need to be made fully independent in enforcing the law instead of being compelled to operate in a partisan manner.

As members of civil society who have been supporting the processes of democratic transformation of the east, we are deeply disturbed by the unravelling of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence in the east following the provincial council elections. We are perturbed at the proliferation of small arms, former militant groups in the democratic process being permitted to carry arms and distribution of arms to civilians to provide security for communities. These measures are likely to lead to extreme militarization that will ultimately lead to a total collapse of the rule of law from which will find it extremely difficult to extricate ourselves.

Executive Director
On behalf of the Governing Council

The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

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Power sharing concept can respond to the aspirations, says Ambassador Blake

US ambassador Robert Blake in an interview with Colombo newspaper The Sunday Observer said that the US believes the answer to the Sri Lanka conflict lies with a power sharing concept which can respond to the aspirations of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Are you satisfied with the support that the US had offered so far to Sri Lanka and what are the strategic areas where the US and Sri Lanka should work closely?

A: Yes. The US and Sri Lanka are close friends for more than 50 years now. The US is a strong supporter of Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. We strongly believe that Sri Lanka like all other countries has an obligation to defend its people against LTTE terrorism.

The US has provided military, law enforcement and other kinds of support to help the government to defend itself while believing that a purely a military solution would not be the correct solution for this conflict.

The US believes that the answer to the conflict lies with a power sharing concept which can respond to the aspirations of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. We also believe that in this very important stage of the conflict, it is very important for the government to address the human rights issues as well.

The US also has concerns about Tamils who suffer disproportionately due to human rights violations. It is important to give them a sense of feeling that they could live with respect and dignity here. So improving the human rights performances is also an important aspect of our dialogue with the government.

Q: The US supports developing countries. Sri Lanka has been battered and bruised by LTTE terrorism and how best the US could support in curbing terrorism?

A: I think I have just answered that question. The US is one of the first countries to declare LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997. We have also helped to investigate and prosecute people in the US, who were trying to provide arms to the LTTE.

So, the FBI, for an example, has conducted distinct operations that had resulted in the arrest of many people and those investigations are on-going. We also have a central bank, which improves financial investigations to track down the money flow into the LTTE and help to stop those money from flowing in.

Then the most importantly we work with our friends in the military to help them to stop import of arms into this country.

We gave them a maritime surveillance system last year-a radar system-that will give the Sri Lanka Navy a much better picture of LTTE naval activities in their waters and thereby give them the opportunity to detect LTTE shipments of arms. I must say they have enjoyed considerable success last year in sinking many of these ships.

The ban on LTTE is extremely effective in terms of implementing the American law. People understand that we are very strict about forcing our laws which will prosecute anyone who is believed to be illegally assisting the LTTE.

Q: Criticism had mounted when the East was about to be liberated. Now the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has created the right environment to give more power to the people whereby they can look after their own affairs. What is your comment on restoring democracy in the East?

A: I think President Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan Government made very important progress over the past year. First they have expelled the LTTE from the East. That is a positive development and secondly they have restored government services.

In the East they have reopened schools, hospitals and government institutions. Now there is a greater sense of normalcy in many towns in the East. People are out late at nights, going for movies and for shopping which is a big achievement after 20 years. There is stability now, in that part of the country.

With regard to the election we always support the principle of free elections. It is important to allow the local inhabitants to represent their views. There have been some controversies which were highlighted in the media.

The Opposition parties have alleged that there were many irregularities. The US is not in a position to judge since we did not have observers on the ground. But we think that it is important for the government and the new Provincial Council to look into those charges seriously and act on them.

In the long run it is really important to consider what the people of the East believe. If they believe that it was largely a free and fair election and they support the new council, then the international community should also be prepared to accept their decision in toto.

In terms of what happens after, I think that the new Chief Minister has an important challenge on his hand. First of all, he has to assure security, because on one hand he is the chosen Chief Minister of the Eastern Province and on the other hand he is the head of the TMVP which still has armed cadres.

So, he is in a difficult position where he has to enforce state law as the Chief Minister and on the other hand a fairly large number of armed cadres. I think something must be done and they can not continue to do illegal activities in the East.

Otherwise they would undermine the leadership of Pillaiyan and the transition that the TMVP is trying to make while being a para-military group and a political party. So, we support the idea of them of being a political party. But that transition must be completed and certainly they can not be in both.

Beyond the challenge of security, I think that the new Chief Minister in order to secure the support of the people of the East, it is very important to show that he has been given opportunities to serve all other communities in the East and pursuing development in a neutral way.

And I think that way he can ensure that there is harmony among these communities and also stability in the East, which will automatically reach to a greater development and priority for the people of the East.

Q: Will the US continue with its support to develop the East?

A: Yes, we have quite a number of projects with the assistance of the private sector, for example the vocational training. We have just announced a major project in Batticaloa to develop dairy industry and another to grow vegetables for exports.

We strongly believe that we need to help the people of the East and give them economic opportunities. We believe that there is a big role for the private sector to play. We have proposed to give more assistance for the East and the US government is considering it now.

Q: You have always advocated a credible political package to meet the aspirations of the Tamils. How do you see the APRC proposal to implement the 13th Amendment?

A: The East is a fine laboratory to show that powers within the 13th Amendment be devolved within the Eastern Provincial Council. But I think the government needs to go beyond the 13th Amendment. Implementing the 13th amendment is itself will satisfy the aspirations of the Tamils.

The way they develop must be a significant power sharing proposals through the APRC using some other mechanisms. But I do believe that the APRC has made lots of progress.

According to Prof. Vitharana over 90 percent of their work has been done and I think the APRC has been a useful mechanism to get the Southern consensus to move forward. The most important thing is to come up with an idea which is really welcomed by the Tamils.

I think that it is important for the government to consult a wide range of Tamils. We are not calling for negotiations with the LTTE. That is something that the government has to decide.

It is important to recognize more than half of the Tamils are living outside the Wanni. I think their interests also should be respected as well. So, people like Anandasngaree and other elected representatives in the government controlled areas are needed to be brought into this process and consulted.

Q: You mentioned the solution should be something beyond the 13th Amendment. So what is your proposal to end the national issue?

A: I think we need to distinguish as these are two different things. The President Rajapaksa’s proposal to implement the 13th Amendment is a good idea. But I don’t really want to come up with a proposal because whenever I try to say something I am later accused of trying to dictate to the Sri Lankan people. The US does not have any intention of doing that. It is up to the Sri Lankan people to decide what is best for them.

Q: What do you think that Sri Lanka is facing today-is it a war on terror or an ethnic problem? What sort of a solution do you suggest to end the conflict in the island?

A: I think all these are loaded terms. I am reluctant to say this is an ethnic conflict but it is a civil conflict. I always remind people who are visiting from USA that Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims lived together and continue to live peacefully together. Tamils are living in Colombo peacefully with their Sinhalese and Muslim friends. So there is no ethnic conflict here. And certainly the government is defending itself against terrorism.

Q: It is clearly proven that the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamils. And also it has been proved the LTTE’s political agenda is different from the Tamils. What do you have to say?

A: I do actually see there are important differences here. From my discussions with Tamils I know that over 95 percent of them support a solution within a framework of a united Sri Lanka.

They are not seeking an independent Tamil Eelam which Prabhakaran is seeking. I think it would be very useful for Prabhakaran to give up this idea of seeking an independent Tamil State and agreeing to negotiate with a united Sri Lanka.

I think this would give him lots of credibility to respond to lots of scepticism here in the South that the LTTE would never negotiate with the government. The LTTE has a responsibility to show that they are prepared to negotiate in a genuine way.

Q: What is your view about the on-going military operations to liberate Wanni where people are living under severe hardship and the young and the old were being conscripted by the LTTE?

A: With respect to the on-going military campaign, as I said earlier, the US do not believe in purely a military solution is possible. The 25-years long experience of war here has shown that the LTTE is a rather formidable organisation and it is very difficult to defeat them militarily.

So the best way to reach a solution is through a political solution to address the aspirations of the Tamils and all the communities. And again the Tamils in Wanni and rest of the country need sense of dignity and conviction in future that they will be able to have an important say over matters that concern them especially the areas where they are predominant.

They should be able to have a high degree of self governance within a united Sri Lanka. I believe that is really a way forward to achieve a peaceful settlement to this conflict.

Q: You have just mentioned that the military can not defeat LTTE and this was the assumption before the East was liberated by the military. So how can you say that the military cannot defeat the LTTE in North?

A: The East was a different situation and the LTTE was spread out. But Wanni is more in the heartland of the LTTE. Here they have been prepared for many years to face any kind of an attack.

Q: Do you still believe that Sri Lankan Security Forces cannot capture Prabhakaran?

A: I think you have to ask this question from the Forces. What I can say is that the US does not have any love for Prabhakaran. But it is going to be difficult for the government to get him.

Q: He is the ‘Most wanted man’ by the Indian government for the killing of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In which way could the US help the government to bring him to book?

A: I can not really say how, as we are not involved in any military efforts to capture him. We believe that the best way would be, not with the gun but through peaceful means.

Q: Do you think that both Al-Qaeda and the LTTE, are ruthless terrorist organizations and how do you categorise the LTTE?

A: I would not say they are the same at all. I do not want to get into the business of comparing terrorist organisations because every terrorist organization is different. And it is also important to address the LTTE in the Sri Lankan context.

Q: But some countries call the LTTE as freedom fighters?

A: I do not respect the freedom fighter argument. Certainly any group which is working for freedom, they should do it in a peaceful manner. They can not use violence and terror. That is same with the LTTE and we have consistently said they must renounce terrorism and stop using violence.

Q: The US and Sri Lanka are engaged in a common fight-combatting terrorism. But some critics say that the US has double standards when combatting terrorism against the US and dealing with the terrorism in countries like Sri Lanka. What is your comment?

A: I really don’t agree with that. I think we have a very consistent approach and even in places like Iraq where we are confronted with a very serious terrorist problem and we are in favour of a political solution there. The insurgency strategy of the US is based on using a wide range of tools to combat terrorism and it is just not the military strategy.

In Iraq we are engaged in with certain strategies to bring down the levels of killing and violence both against American forces and other coalition forces. The ordinary iraqis have come way down over the last years. Iraq is a major domestic issue an year ago in my country and now people have confidence that Iraqis are in a better track and hopeful about their future.

So the policies are the same that we are advocating here in Sri Lanka and so I can say there would not be any double standards.

Q: In this situation what are the priorities of a country-combatting terror to save lives or safeguarding human rights?

A: Well. I do not think there is contradiction between the two. I think one has to devote. Clearly one has to defend one’s country against terrorism. That is extremely important. For any government the most important priority is to defend its citizens. It is true in the US and it is true in Sri Lanka and every other country in the world. But we also believe that it is possible to preserve human rights.

So, for example, one of the very difficult problems the government faces is to identify suicide bombers. How they find these people before they carry out their murderous acts. And I believe that the way to do that is still to arrest, question in a humane way and if they are suspected of the crime produce them in courts.

But do not use extra judicial killings and other kind of things. And those acts will undermine the long term solutions. So, it is much better to use rule of law to address terrorism. Accountability of rule of law is extremely important.

Q: Do you think that Sri Lanka has violated UN Conventions when strengthening bi-lateral relations with Iran?

A: I do not think so and not to my knowledge. But is up to the government to be aware of those resolutions.

Q: Iran is in rivalry with the US with regard to nuclear issues. Therefore how do you see the recent visit of the Iranian President to Sri Lanka?

A: Our concerns about Iran is well-known. President – Bush, Secretary of State – Rice and many our leaders are concerned about their nuclear capabilities. We acknowledge their right to develop civil nuclear energy for energy purposes. But the US opposes nuclear weapons. Similarly we have expressed our deep concern about the Iranian support for international terrorism particulary in the Middle East, especially the support for groups like Hisbulla.

We always want all our friends to make the same point for Iran. At the same time we understand that Sri Lanka has to develop relationships with Iran and we do not have objections if they donate funds education projects in the South.

Q: We were made to understand that you had met the members of the Commission of Inquiry which probes into 15 cases of killings of Aid workers and other alleged HR cases? What was your area of interest while meeting the commissioners?

A: Yes, we did have a short meeting with them, and the purpose of the meeting as Justice Udalagama has explained was purely a technical matter. The Commission did not get the support of the IIEGPS and the Commission has the problem of how to continue the video conferencing to record testimony of witnesses resident abroad. So the question arose as to whether the international community could continue to fund the video conferencing.

Since the US and the other partners in the IIEGP process happened to fund the process all along, we discussed the matter whether to fund the particular video conferencing. So that was real the purpose of the meeting.

The US do not have any intension of whatsoever in interfering anyway with the Commission of Inquiry. We strongly believe in independence. I really do not share the allegations that we are interfering with the Commission and we simply looked into logistic matters.

We support the Commission appointed by the President. And he has reiterated on many occasions that his commitment in seeing this commission achieve its desired task. So we totally support the President in this regard.

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