Solutions lie in empowerment:
Lanka consciously looking at lasting political solution
Sri Lanka’s conflict resolution process has undergone a change during
the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency. In a wide-ranging interview to
Frontline, Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said this year’s
elections in the east were a major achievement that surpassed all other
Emphasising that democracy was the only way to sustainable peace, he
described the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as “a fascist
movement” that had “killed the political establishment of the Tamil
community, and totally wiped out pluralistic development, by liquidating
Tamil politicians”. Excerpts:
Q: What do you say on the current
phase of the conflict resolution process after the Mahinda Rajapaksa
A: We have gone through several phases since President Mahinda
Rajapaksa’s tenure began in November 2005. We devoted the first phase to
talks with the LTTE, believing that the talks would lead to a negotiated
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama
That lasted up to 2006 The LTTE, in spite of the talks, went about on
the normal, violent ways they were used to. They also prevented the
farmers in the Eastern Province from taking water, by closing the Mavil
Aru reservoir, leading to the second phase.
By October 2007, control was taken of the Eastern Province. By
January 2008, we could not see any useful purpose served by the
ceasefire agreement [CFA].
We annulled it and simultaneously introduced sustainable measures for
the restoration of democracy. We chose the democratic agenda to empower
the people politically when we were countering terrorists.
That led to elections to nine local bodies in Batticaloa district. We
followed them with provincial elections, and the process of development
has been identified for the Northern Province, while countering
The Eastern Province elections were preceded by the Supreme Court
judgment on the status of the temporarily merged north and east...
The view was that there should have been a merger for a de-merger to
take place. There was no de-merger there. There was the annulment of the
merger that was *ultra vires* of the Constitution.
Q: So will that status continue?
A: That was endorsed in the provincial elections by people
voting overwhelmingly for the Eastern Provincial Council. No one said,
‘we are not accepting the Eastern Provincial Council without the
Q: Earlier governments followed a
policy of ‘war for peace’- that the Tigers should be forced to the
negotiating table by militarily weakening them. What is the present
government’s approach ?
A: Democracy is the only answer we have for sustainable peace.
The subjugation of people by the LTTE cannot be tolerated. The way
forward lies for the offenders to correct themselves rather than for the
establishment to respond for the accommodation of the aggressors.
Q: When the government withdrew from
the CFA, you also spoke of a sustainable and practical approach towards
peace. How is that moving ?
A: Look at the seven months since we annulled the CFA, and see
the achievements for Sri Lanka. In the Eastern Province, local
government and provincial council elections were concluded. That is a
singular achievement surpassing all the other so-called peripheral
successes we have had.
People in the province are free to walk, free to travel, free to
pursue their studies, and seek their livelihoods. They are not being
subjugated, dictated or held hostage by any terrorist group. That is a
We are investing heavily on the people in the Eastern Province.
That’s the transformation we are seeking - by empowering the people
first politically, second economically. That will bring about
sustainable peace because people will then decide how they should steer
their own expectations.
Q: What is your response to reports
about humanitarian crises in the conflict areas in the North ?
A: A similar situation got created during the eastern
operations. There were so many internally displaced persons [IDPs].
Today, within one year, that has normalised. We are doing everything in
the north to facilitate daily life.
We know it is not as when the conditions are normal, but these are
interim phases that one has to go through. The government is very
mindful of protecting the civilian population. We do not want them to
fall into the hands of the LTTE, which likes to take them in order to
mobilise.... We strongly believe that this will only be a short and
interim phase. We are monitoring the situation on a daily basis and are
taking every meaningful step towards minimising inconveniences.
Q: How do you describe the
international role in the Sri Lankan conflict resolution now and the
international perception ?
A: Sri Lanka has to be conscious of the perception the
international community may form in relation to Sri Lanka’s local
That is why we maintain our relations by being articulate about the
conditions in Sri Lanka with credibility. When we communicate right and
with honesty, we expect an equal, strong reciprocation from the
international community. That is why I started speaking to the
international community about the problem we have in the country as a
No longer would the international community recognise there is an
ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. We have a terrorist problem, a fascist
movement, in the LTTE, and there is subjugation of the Tamil community
of our country by this fascist movement led by Prabhakaran.
He has taken the lives of the Tamils, killed the political
establishment of the Tamil community, and totally wiped out the
pluralistic development that could have contributed to Sri Lanka’s
political framework, by liquidating Tamil politicians. That is the fight
we are waging against the LTTE because of its terrorism. This is a
movement that claims to represent the Tamil community and has killed
more Tamils than any other community in the country.
Today the longest-serving IDPs are from the cleansing the LTTE
practised in Jaffna: the Muslim community. It is against this that we
are trying to project Sri Lanka’s position *vis-a-vis *that of the
international community, with very credible submissions. Our President
has said that only political solutions lie for political issues. We have
a military engagement purely as a means towards eliminating terrorism.
We will always communicate with the international community [about] Sri
Lanka’s agenda for a political solution.
Q: Will the government go in for
another round of efforts by facilitators as part of the conflict
resolution process, or will it entirely be a process within?
A: Now we have come to the Sri Lanka way, because Sri Lanka
has the polity that emerges representing the aspirations and
expectations of the people. We have no other issue of identities to be
We have a very established identity classification. We strongly
believe that we have the Sri Lankan identity as the people of Sri Lanka.
We live in harmony and we have communities, and these communities have
demonstrated their will to be part of each other. Their cultures are
very much similar. There are no divergent issues for one to be separated
from the other, whereas the fusion is greater than the need for
In that state of a society, it is very easy to find solutions because
solutions lie in the empowerment of our people. Basically, in terms of
what is needed for them to sustain more prosperous lives and to have
security, and for them to have access in terms of opportunities, and
this must be a countrywide development that we are after. That is what I
termed the phases - political empowerment and economic advancement.
Q: Will that be done within,
A: Yes, obviously. These are matters that we have to confine
now only within.
What we have introduced is yielding results. I am citing all the time
the experience we have had in the east. It is the same culture we
represent, and there is no issue why something that can answer in the
east cannot be a solution in the north.
Q: What does the government see as an
expected solution? *
A: We believe strongly that we need to empower the people at
the regional level to the fullest. That is the trend the government is
after. Bringing every political view on board and finding a consensus is
the way forward. Nothing else is going to materialise.
There have been five governments since the introduction of the
Thirteenth Amendment, but not a single government went this far.
President Rajapaksa’s government is the only one that held elections to
the Eastern Provincial Council. We don’t have the two-thirds mandate in
Parliament, but we have the people’s mandate to look for a political
That’s why, to some extent, today the community in the north has come
to realise that the government is honest in its belief and honest to the
cause to which we are committed to: liberating the people from the
clutches of terrorism and eliminating the scourge of terrorism from Sri
Lanka, simultaneously empowering the people.
Q: How do you see bilateral relations
and concerns about the Tamil Nadu factor in Sri Lanka’s conflict
A: Bilateral relations [are] at the highest level of our
relations. We are extremely candid with India in relation to what we
seek in terms of cooperation, and also how we look at our own conflict
in Sri Lanka.
That has been shown to India without any holdback areas. I am sure
the Indian leadership has come to appreciate that. That’s why it has
reciprocated so well in terms of our bilateral relationship. There is
the candid, honest relationship that prevails between the best of
We recognise the Tamil Nadu factor as an important element in terms
of Sri Lanka-India relations. Tamil Nadu has become a destination for
Sri Lankan refugees. Tamil Nadu has a pluralistic society and a polity
that is sometimes very sensitive to developments in northern Sri Lanka.
With these sensitivities, it is important for us to understand, and to
respect the concerns getting expressed.
India is a major player. India’s proposals have got into our
Constitution in terms of the India-Sri Lanka Accord. It found its way
into the Constitution through the Thirteenth Amendment, so India has
played a major part in our political process and India will always be on
board in terms of our relations.
Q: With regard to fisheries, there is
frequent mention of Katchativu.
A: Katchativu is not ... fisheries... no.
Q: But it is linked to fisheries.
A: That’s where they dry their nets.
Q: What is your government’s position
on the statements on Katchativu coming from Tamil Nadu?
A: Katchativu is a settled matter. And to Sri Lanka as settled
as Matara in the south of Sri Lanka. That is how Sri Lanka views
Katchativu. There is no issue. And the fact that Katchativu is there in
the northern part of Sri Lanka doesn’t mean anything. It is as much a
part of Sri Lanka in every sense of the word, so there is no further
discussion needed on that.
Q:You mentioned that there is no link
between Katchativu and the fisheries problem. Could you elaborate?
A: There are some areas where fishermen are going beyond the
There is an established rule: we must not cross the boundaries of
another country. Then there is room for very unpleasant consequences,
which we have been very consciously avoiding. That’s why, particularly
in the north, Sri Lankan fishermen are not permitted.
There is a major demand from our fisher community seeking access to
these waters because that is where the best catch can be found. It is
unfortunate that we are unable to service that because of the movements
in the northern sea, and we should not make it so accessible to other
fishermen to get into these areas.
Then it becomes not only losing the catch; it also may leave room for
terrorist movements. It is very wise to avoid such scenes. That is why
the Sri Lanka Navy, along with the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast
Guard, is working in a very coordinated manner. We are very careful. We
want to see that the best of protection is available for Indian
Q: Would you like to elaborate on
measures taken by the Sri Lankan government for the refugees in India? *
A: Our Deputy High Commission in Chennai is taking every
possible step to make accessible to them whatever opportunities the
refugee communities could have in Sri Lanka.
Q: Is there any message you would
like to take across to the people of India, Tamil Nadu in particular?
A: Sri Lanka is looking at a lasting solution, politically,
for this conflict.
Sri Lanka will find a political solution to a political issue, and
terrorism in the hands of the LTTE has to be eliminated in order to
sustain progress for the people of Sri Lanka as a whole.