|Saturday, 24 January 2004|
Resolution of ethnic problem:
Alliance seeks negotiated settlement, says President
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga reassured the Nation last night that the SLFP-JVP Alliance seeks a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict.
"The Alliance will not in any way encourage armed conflict or war. The JVP has also accepted the SLFP and PA's constant, consistent position that we are for a negotiated settlement," stressed President Kumaratunga in an interview over Channel Eye.
"The ceasefire agreement stands, as I stated two and a half months ago. We have done nothing at all to disturb the ceasefire agreement," the President told interviewer Harim Peiris.
"We have always stood for a negotiated settlement and will continue to do so. It is an unwavering stand. Alliances will not change that commitment. We will not change this position for opportunistic reasons or alliances with anybody," the President said.
She recalled that the PA was the first to tell the electorate at an election that the Tamil people have been discriminated against.
"Our policy was to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table, not just to discuss the problems of the LTTE, but also those of the Tamil people. Some of these are the same, but there are many others which are not. Soon after coming to power in 1994, we invited the LTTE for talks."
"I want to reiterate the SLFP's and my commitment to resolve the ethnic question while safeguarding the rights of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims," she added.
The President was appreciative of the recent statement made by S.P. Thamilselvan, LTTE Political Wing Leader, expressing willingness to negotiate peace with any Southern party with a people's mandate irrespective of the individuals who may hold power.
"But it is not all satisfactory that the Prime Minister has tried to wash his hands off the peace process now that it has gone some distance with whatever shortcomings. It is not a very happy situation to keep this in abeyance for a long time," the President observed.
Rejecting media reports that the alliance has jeopardised the peace process, she reiterated that "all major political forces must get together if the country is to rid itself of this long standing crisis".
Referring to the JVP, the President said: "The JVP has a bad history. But it is past history. It has a new policy and a dynamic young leadership. They are willing to move forward with the times. The JVP has clearly moved away from violent politics. They have eschewed armed struggles."
She noted that the SLFP has had many alliances with traditional marxist parties. "That has not changed the foundations of the policies of the SLFP. I do not think we have moved away from the centre-left position of our party."
She challenged the Prime Minister to prove his assertion that the recent political developments cost the country billions of dollars.
"This is absolute rubbish. I took those steps to correct a situation of instability and breakdown of national security and law and order. There was a total blackout of news other than those of the governing party."
The President said she did not see any "crisis" at present, apart from a breakdown of government.
"I don't know whether one could call it a crisis or not. Corruption has increased, Ministries are not working, administration has almost come to a standstill. Ministers and their sons are going around attacking other ministers' families. I am trying my best to change the law and order situation."
The President remarked that "there is something else wrong with the UNF economic policy and the way they are managing the economy; it had nothing to do with what happened in November. Even with a destructive war going on, we recorded impressive economic growth".
President Kumaratunga stated that she regrets the slowing down of the Reconstruction of the North East commenced by the PA Government.
"Tourism is a very sensitive sector. If there is anything to worry about, it could have been one of the first sectors to get affected. They could have cancelled all their bookings.
There was ample time to cancel the Christmas bookings. Investments were not coming to Sri Lanka a long time before that. I think the Prime Minister has to look within to correct this, instead of looking outside."
She reaffirmed that stern action would be taken against those who incite religious violence.
"Since the change of government in 2001, attacks on churches, traditional and non-traditional, increased hugely. It has not abated. I have given very strict instructions to police to ensure that this kind of violence is prevented. I have been told that in some areas police turned a blind eye to these attacks. If that is proved, stern action will be taken against the policemen involved."
Making an appeal to all communities, the President urged them not to veer away from their commitment to resolving the ethnic crisis through a negotiated settlement.
"It is a decisive moment in the history of our country. The Tamil people should not leave their destiny in the hands of a few. They should opt for democracy and pluralism. They have to decide correctly and pressurise their leaders to do what is right for them.
We stand for democracy. Muslim people have suffered a lot in the past. We stand by their rights. I urge the Sinhala people not be influenced by a small number of extremists and veer away from their commitment to resolving our national problems through negotiations.
We believe in harmony and solidarity of all communities living in Sri Lanka," said the President.
Produced by Lake House