While concerns about the plight of Wanni civilians escalated with more MPs from the Tamil Nadu Government resigning in protest and demanding the intervention of the Indian Central Government, the Sri Lankan Government reiterated its commitment to end LTTE terrorism. While the subject has reached hot point in Tamil Nadu which is going for its elections soon, Sri Lanka's no nonsense Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that it was very unfair for Tamil Nadu to demand of the Indian Government, which has a longstanding relationship with Sri Lanka, to pressurise the Sri Lankan Government to halt military offensives against the LTTE. Rajapaksa, who fought many battles against the LTTE when he was in the Army, told the Sunday Observer that the fight is not against Tamils, but to battle LTTE terrorism.
"More than for us, terrorism is a serious problem to India. Therefore, India should help us more to defeat
LTTE terrorism", he said.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: What is the military assistance that Sri Lanka is getting at the moment?
* Government will continue to have a close relationship with India and will continue to get military assistance.
* Humanitarian crisis in Wanni is LTTE's false propaganda.
* Government is trying to liberate Tamils from the clutches of the LTTE.
* Tamil Nadu has come forward to save the LTTE, but no one can save the LTTE.
* Government has adopted the zero casualty of civilians.
* Civilians will break all hard rules of the LTTE and come to liberated areas.
* Prabhakaran is a terrorist, not a democrat.
* Tamil Diaspora and the international community should understand the ground realities of the war.
* Young LTTE cadres should not be caught up in LTTE's false promise of an Eelam.
* Media needs to be responsible in reporting in the present context.
A: From the inception of the Sri Lankan Army we are getting military help from India and it is mainly the training. We have a good relationship with India and also with its military. Indian military assistance for us is not a new thing and we are getting their help for the last so many years. Among the military assistance, training of military personnel is given priority. But, India is not giving us any unpleasant weapons like artillery and mortars or aircraft. However, we will continue to have our relationship with India and carry on to get whatever the assistance we are getting from India.
Q: But, some political parties in Tamil Nadu have demanded of the Indian Government to stop all armed assistance to us until our government stops the war in Wanni.
A: It is a very unfair request by them because we have a long-term bilateral relationship with India. Tamil Nadu should not request that because we are not fighting next to Tamils, but next to terrorism, which is a deadly menace to the whole world. More than for us, terrorism is a serious problem for India.
In fact, we should get more assistance from India to oppose terrorism. Especially the LTTE is a banned organisation. These politicians must not forget that their popular leader, loved by most of the Indians, was killed by the LTTE. They should not not remember problems that the LTTE has shaped in Tamil Nadu. There were LTTE gangs and the law and order was completely messed up by the LTTE. These political parties should realise that the so-called problems faced by Wanni civilians are false propaganda by the LTTE. They must understand the ground realities. Here, we are trying to safeguard Tamils from the control of the LTTE. This has been proved very clearly during the last three years. How we have liberated the Eastern Province is the best example. It is clear how we have cleared the area from the LTTE, and how we have transferred the power to their own people. Now they have their own Chief Minister and an MP who were former LTTEers. It is the best example to demonstrate the effectiveness of the power of the people rather than power of the gun. There the Government has given the former guerillas to come to the democratic mainstream to develop their much neglected areas. It is the responsibility of everyone to help them to learn the art of living within a democratic framework. It is not an simple task for them too. They have to change their previous stances to adjust themselves into the new life.
On the other hand, only this Government has given the Eastern Tamils the chance to have their own administration. The 13th Amendment was brought decades back but till this year it was not practised.
Q: Tamil Nadu politicians are trying their best to stop the progress of military offensives in Wanni. Why do you think that they have suddenly become so vociferous about civilians?
A: The LTTE has been trying and waiting for this to happen so long. We know that some of the TNA MPs are living in these areas and they are working hard on behalf of the LTTE. They have also invited the Tamil Nadu politicians to come forward to save the LTTE. Because it is very clear that the LTTE is at a decisive stage. And no one can stop them getting defeated. So, they are annoying their maximum to get Tamil Nadu to pressurise the Indian Government to pressurise the Sri Lankan Government. That is what the LTTE want and that is why this sudden pressure is coming. The Government expects this situation as we know there is no other way for the LTTE. Anyway, the LTTE cannot escape opposite military offensives now.
Q: TMVP leader Karuna Amman called this a political gimmick as the TN elections are around the corner. What is your comment?
A: Yes, the election is also another issue for them to be so active. These issues would be popular among them to attract Tamils there. The other is the false propaganda by the LTTE to show there is a humanitarian crisis in Wanni.
Q: What are the other major concerns of India separately from the military operations?
A: One issue is about their fishermen. For the last so many years the Sri Lankan Government has allowed Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters.But as these waters are in the high security zones the Sri Lankan fishermen were not allowed to do fishing. But as a good sign the Government has allowed the Indian fishermen to carry on fishing. They have crossed the international borders and are doing fishing in these areas. We have not taken any act but only thing we have requested is for them to attach to the security stipulations because the LTTE was using these fishermen to attack the Sri Lankan Navy. They pretend to be fishermen to carry out these attacks and smuggle weapons. We have asked them not to fish in areas which are very close to military camps and navel bases. Instead of going against the Sri Lankan Government the TN government must thank us for allowing their people to do fishing in our waters. For the last three years we have never prosecuted a single Indian fisherman though they are coming to our areas. Though we have arrested and questioned them, they were not subjected to any legal process. But look at the dilemma of the Sri Lankan fishermen who are fishing in Indian waters. They are being arrested, prosecuted and detained for over two to three months. There is not a single Indian fisherman in our custody.
The Tamil Nadu Government should teach their fishermen about our security concerns instead of putting pressure on us.
Another issue is the IDPs. It is not a crisis in Sri Lanka. It is very obvious how this government tackled the IDP issue in the East. There was a large number of displaced people during the clearing of the East. Over 95 a percent of the IDPs are now resettled and we have solved the issue better than any other part of the world. Now we are prepared to tackle the IDP issue in the North and we have begun sending food and essential items for the civilians trapped in Wanni. Though the LTTE is holding the land and control people, the administration is run by the Government through the GAs who are responsible for the distribution of food and handling of all other sectors from education to health to welfare.
What the LTTE did and is doing is controlling these civilians by force. Now what the Government is trying is to take this control out from them to establish democracy. No responsible government can allow anyone to terrorise its people. The administrative control is there and we are trying to provide food for the civilians who are trapped in Wanni. The Government will not stop sending relief and we will continue to feed these people. Last week over 39 civilians have fled from Mullaithivu to Pulmudei. They did not complaint about lack of food, but the reason that they have come to these areas is because they wanted to escape the LTTE. There is a youth who has got entrance to the Jaffna University, but the LTTE has blocked him so he has come to liberated area with his family. So we have set for him to go to Jaffna University. The LTTE is trying to create a humanitarian crisis there for their own benefits.
Q: India is also concerned about civilian casualties. Are there any steps taken to minimise the number of civilian casualties?
A: The policy of the Government in these military offensives is the zero casualty of civilian's. We can proudly boast about the zero wounded in the Eastern liberation. That does not exist anywhere in the world. No military can talk about this concept and only the Sri Lankan military has adopted this concept because the Government is seriously worried about people of this country. Whether they are Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims, the Government is bound to look after them all. We think all these communities as Sri Lankans.
Q: But can the military maintain the same concept when the offensives are getting stronger?
A: At one stage civilians will break all hard system of the LTTE and come to liberated areas. They will not remain in the midsts of the battle. This is not just a prediction but the reality which happened in the East. People came from Sampur to Vakarai and then crossed into government controlled areas. Same process will take place in Mullaithivu also.The pictures about civilian wounded published in the pro LTTE web sites were not taken in the new past but very old ones. What I want to reiterate is that the Government is not against Tamils but purely against terrorism.
Q: Another major allegation is that the Rajapaksa Government is encouraging genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka. What is your comment?
A: I strongly refute that allegation. That is not the truth and genocide is not taking place in Sri Lanka. That is just propaganda by the LTTE. They use these words like 'genocide' to get more international notice. As a responsible government we know exactly who the innocent Tamils are and who the terrorists are. Our responsibility is to look after the innocent Tamil civilians and destroy the terrorists. Remember, they are only talking about a Tamil population of 150,000 who are living in Kilinochchi and Mullathiv. But what about the Tamils who are scattered throughout the country. They are livelihood with all the communities like in a one family. If genocide is taking place in Sri Lanka how many Tamils living in these areas would have been killed upto now? This is all propaganda work of the terrorists. It is time for the Tamil Diaspora and the international community to understand these ground realities.
Q: If India pressurises to halt military offensives, will the Government stop military offensives to liberate Wanni?
A: I am sure that India will not do so. We have obviously underlined our stand.
The Sri Lankan President reiterated that if there are issues for the Tamils or any other community, those will be solved through political means. The Government is not trying to resolve the national problem through military means. What we are trying is to crush a military substance militarily. The LTTE terrorism is a military issue and sees what they are doing through terror - killing innocent people and politicians who go against them. The LTTE does not spare anyone who stands against them. I believe that there is no other way to control terrorism and it is only through military means.
Q: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too wanted the Government to come up with a negotiated settlement rather than a military solution.
A: Yes, talks should be done among the democratic political parties.
That is what he has meant. That is what the All Party Conference summoned by the President is all about. All the political parties were asked to take part and that is the place for negotiations. President Rajapaksa is committed to negotiate with the political parties. What they can do at the APC is to talk about and come out with a proposal to solve the national problem and then if it is acceptable the President can implement the proposal. But in the mean time he had given them the chance to find ways to solve the problem within the border work of the available Constitution. The best method that we have is the 13th Amendment, but the President asked the APC members whether there is a necessity to go beyond the 13th Amendment.
Q: Is there any possibility to bring Prabhakaran into peace talks?
A: We have tried this several times, but Prabhakaran is a terrorist and not a democrat. The Government does not want to talk to him as we had been cheated before. Bringing Prabhakaran to the negotiating bench is not a new thing and for the last twenty years, five Presidents tried to talk with him. The UNP which tried for 14 years had ended up with Prabhakaran blowing up President Premadasa. Then the Chandrika Bandaranaike Government tried. The international third parties India and Norway intervened but failed.
All these occasions the LTTE strengthened themselves to hit back at the Security Forces. They used peace talks as a cover up to open avenues to procure arms, and employ new cadres. During the last period of the Ceasefire Agreement what they did was strengthen their military power. The amount of weapons including heavy artillery and mortars, machine guns, explosives that we captured from the East are the evidences for this claim. They got aircrafts and boats for their Sea Tiger Unit during the CFA. They had trained their cadres during the CFA. Recently a being arriving from Malaysia who was taken into custody disclosed where huge amounts of explosives were hidden in some areas.
The stock was brought to Colombo during the CFA and hidden to use later.
We found lots of explosives from the upcountry. They have trained suicide cadres during the CFA and constructed bunkers in strategically important places during the CFA as they had a military plan to capture Trincomalee.
According to their plan, they prepared to declare Eelam. It is fool resilient for anybody to talk with Prabhakaran or the LTTE now. The LTTE is not the sole representative of the people and there are moderate Tamil leaders in this country. They are the people whom the Government should converse with. They are the people that should get involved in the APC and come out with a proposal but not Prabhakaran.
Q: As the Secretary Defence are you happy with the military successes that the Security Forces are gaining?
A: Yes, of course. What we have achieved for the last three years we have by no means achieved in the last twenty years. We have done extremely well in defeating the LTTE. This is mainly thanks to the Commanders of the three forces and other military leaders at various levels. And also this is due to the promise of the soldiers. Their courage has brought us military victories.
Q: According to your predictions how soon can the Security Forces imprison the entire Wanni?
A: It is very difficult to give time frames because in military operations we never know what obstacles you come across. But, we are confident of liberating Wanni. We have some more areas in Kilinochchi and Mullathiv, where they have been concentrating for longer periods as they know that they have to fight hard with the military one day. But facing whatever the difficulties, the military will imprison the entire Wanni.
Q: Talking about the development of man and fire power of the Security Forces, are we steady enough to face any offensive in future?
A: Yes, we have developed the strength of the three forces and the Police throughout the last three years. It is an increase of 30 percent and we are bringing more armour and getting more training. We are superior number wise and also quality wise. Sri Lankan Security Forces have professionalism now. Training is the number one and lots of emphasis has been given to improve training at all levels. Now our forces are well trained and have the capability of facing any state of affairs. The officers are very professional. Well trained and ready to face any situation. At the same time, from the Commanders to the three forces most of the officers have faced the LTTE. They have gone through all the major operations and have lots of experience and knowledge on how to adapt to situations. This has complete it easy to change the operational tactics and that has brought lots of success. With regard to fire power we have a high standard and most highly the morale of commitment is also high among the soldiers.
Q: Do we need additional man power to liberate Wanni?
A: Recruitment and training is going on. It is not only getting the control of Wanni, maintaining the stability is also important. Then only normalcy will prevail. We will continue with the recruiting process and training.
Q: The LTTE had used CF gas thrice to attack the front lines. Is there any information that they will use more deadly chemicals and are we ready to face such attacks?
A: Yes, they have used gas at the front lines. They may be having similar varieties in their hands but they cannot bring more developed ones in large quantities. We are ready to face such attacks and those who are in the front lines have been given defensive masks. We have countered those attacks effectively and I do not think it would be a serious problem for us. And I do not think that they would develop more deadly ones. If they had the capability they would have attacked us earlier.
Q: What is your message for the LTTE leaders and cadres and as the Secretary Defence can you guarantee their safety?
A: Yes, definitely we will promise their safety and the Government is compelled to do so if they come unarmed. The best example is the East. Those cadres who were fighting with the Security Forces have given up arms and surrendered. Now the Government is helping them to go back to normal life. They have been reformed and given vocational training.
Similarly, if those who are in Wanni come to us leaving their arms we will welcome them. Those who are unarmed would not be considered as LTTE terrorists but welcomed as normal civilians. So anybody can give up weapons and cross to liberated areas, Then we can hold up them to get back to normal life.
I think these youth should not be caught in the LTTE's false propaganda or their ideologies that they can declare Eelam.
It is very attractive to promise young people to give them a separate country and to motivate them to kill whoever goes next to their ideology. It is very easy to give a wrong impression of a government or a particular community. It is also easy to brainwash these young minds. It is time for them to understand, what the LTTE leader brought for Tamils for the last three decades. It is nothing other than obliteration.
The LTTE cadres should understand now that they are the people who are suffering.
Prabhakaran has destroyed the lives of his own people, their teaching and also their culture. These cadres should also remember that the Tamils who are living abroad like Canada, USA, UK and in other European countries while having luxury lives send money not to expand the lives of their own people, who are pain under the clutches of the LTTE but to strengthen the LTTE.
They put the innocent Tamils more into war while doing good jobs and charitable good education to their children. But the children of innocent Tamils are fighting and dying for an undeserving cause.
Q: You had clashes with the media in the new past. What is your present assessment about media?
A: I have no clashes with the media, but what I have said was that the media has to be responsible in reporting. That is very important as this is not a normal state of affairs. Because now we are facing this problem for more than twenty years. It is very clear that defeating LTTE terrorism is vital if the country needs permanent peace. The Government cannot allow the LTTE to carry on like this. How many generations are to go through this? One can forget the past and just talk and write. But in the present context they should analyse and talk.
If they want this country to be a united country, then everybody has to support to obliterate the LTTE. It is good to talk about media freedom, but media freedom comes after the freedom of the country. Without a country it is ineffective to talk about media freedom. Without jeopardising the thing media should help the Security armed forces to beat the LTTE.
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