Sunday, July 13, 2008

'Ready for talks if LTTE down weapons first' - President

He was not aware as yet of Indian diplomats arriving in Colombo for the SAARC Summit bringing their own security, however he saw nothing wrong in leaders of countries having their own security when they travel abroad, said President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the Indian media yesterday (July 12).

He was answering questions regarding security for Indian delegates to the SAARC Summit in Colombo, at a press conference at Thirupathy in Andhra Pradesh, prior to his departure for Sri Lanka.

"I have my own security here. It is natural. Any leader who comes to another country will not just walk in there. They will bring their own security. We consider it our duty to look after their security while in Sri Lanka, but they also bring their own security. Every leader does that", the President said.

Answering a question about a statement by the LTTE's Political Wing leader, Nadesan, that the Government was not willing to reopen negotiations, President Rajapaksa said the government was ready even today.

"I am ready today. Let them keep their weapons down, because whenever they are weak they are ready for talks."

Asked about possible deadline for talks with the LTTE, President Rajapaksa said there was no deadline as it was up to the LTTE. "From my side, we are ready. Only, they must give up arms, and give up terrorism. You know the problems you have in your own country with terrorists and terrorist organisations."

"See what happened in Kabul. Terrorism strikes in Kabul, New York, London and Colombo. It is all the same. You cannot achieve anything through terrorism," he said. Asked whether he was interested in mediation, he said it should be possible to settle this matter by direct discussions: "We are all Sri Lankans, we are all brothers, whether we are from the North, East or South. Surely we can settle this by talking to each other".

President Rajapaksa explained in detail how the LTTE had been carrying out attacks on civilians, women and children, for more than 20 years, even when a Ceasefire Agreement was in place. He said that within two weeks of his election in November 2005, the LTTE had resumed violence that had gone on for months killing over 200 civilians and unarmed soldiers.

The government had sought negotiations in Geneva and Oslo, which were rejected by the LTTE. The current operation to defeat terrorism had begun only after the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru anicut in mid-2006 cutting off water for drinking and agriculture to more than 15,000 families. The LTTE had rejected the pleas of the government to open the anicut and give water to the people.

He said the LTTE had now been defeated in the East, where an election was held, and a former LTTE cadre, who had joined as child soldier when 15 years old, was now the elected Chief Minister.

On relationships with India, the President said there were very good relations between India and Sri Lanka. "India has always helped Sri Lanka, and now they are helping to train our people, our soldiers". The countries of the Indian sub-continent region were regularly exchanging intelligence and information of terrorism, he said.

Referring to allegations of the Sri Lankan Navy harassing Indian fishermen of Rameshwaram, President Rajapaksa said this was not so. He explained that fishing boats in large numbers came into this area from India, and the LTTE captured some of these boats and use them to transport weapons and explosives. The Sri Lanka Navy had to act against these move of the LTTE.

"You must remember that the LTTE killed one of the greatest leaders of India (Rajiv Gandhi) who tried to help the LTTE to come to negotiations. You must always remember that". He said that subject to correction, he had heard it said that he (Rajiv Gandhi) had offered to give his own bullet proof vest to the LTTE leader, when the latter had said he feared to return to Sri Lanka.

Courtesy : Sunday Observer

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