14th May 2000
Signs of kaliyugaya: As we mark the triple
Pic by Gemunu Wellage.
By Our Diplomatic Editor
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar yesterday called for the removal of the censorship and said that issues relating to the very survival of the nation were being clouded as a result.
In an exclusive interview to The Sunday Times on a wide range of issues, Mr. Kadirgamar said moves were afoot to internationalise Sri Lanka's internal conflict by bringing it before the United Nations Security Council. But he expressed confidence that countries such as Russia and China which have veto powers in the UN Security Council would prevent any move to violate Sri Lanka's sovereignty.
Q: Mr. Minister, welcome back. You have been away for sometime and you returned at a time when Sri Lanka is at a crucial, in fact critical stage.
A: Thank-you, yes indeed.
Q: You were in India last week, frantically trying to persuade New Delhi to help us with the situation in Jaffna.
A: I was not there on any official business. There was nothing for me to be frantic about….. I was there for medical attention.
Q: You gave two interviews though….
A: Yes. First to CNN and then to Reuters.
Q: It is said that in one of those interviews you had said something that had pre-empted India giving us assistance.
A: It's absurd to say that some statement of mine can pre-empt Indian policy. One critic accused me of 'monumental naiveté' in speaking to the press about possible Indian assistance before I met the Prime Minister, thus embarrassing India. It is incredibly naive to believe that Indian policy on such a sensitive issue as the current situation in Sri Lanka can be made or unmade on a chance remark. Indian policy has to take into account complex issues of domestic and international concern to India and her interests. It is perfectly understandable that the Government of India would take time to reach decisions on the Sri Lankan question.
Q: That you had made a statement to the press after meeting Indian Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee….
A: I made no statement to the press after I met the Indian Prime Minister. Journalists usually assemble outside the Prime Minister's office and shout questions. All I did was wave at them. I left India a few hours later without speaking to any journalist. There were journalists assembled outside our Embassy after I returned from seeing the Prime Minister, but I did not speak to any of them.
Q: Did you have any substantive discussions with Mr. Vajpayee?
A: No. I just thanked him for the courtesies extended to me during my hospitalisation. When you meet a Prime Minister on a courtesy call, you don't talk things other than generalities. The whole meeting was only 12 minutes. I saw in an Indian newspaper that the Indian Service Chiefs were also present at that meeting. This is the height of absurdity. No Service Chiefs were present, only the Indian Foreign Secretary, the Joint Secretary in charge of Sri Lanka, Mr. Menon (Indian High Commissioner in Colombo), Mr. Mangala Moonesinghe (Sri Lanka High Commissioner in New Delhi) and Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, our Deputy High Commissioner.
Q: But you did meet Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and Defence Minister George Fernandez.
A: Yes, when Foreign Ministers meet we discuss a wide range of subjects. Mr. Jaswant Singh speaks very precisely. He is a good man. I like him a lot. Mr. Fernandez was charming and I like him too and find him also excellent company. Yes we did discuss matters of interest to our two countries and to our region. We spoke a great deal about combating terrorism.
Q: Through whom was the request for Indian assistance made?
A: It was Mr. Menon who actually conveyed the Sri Lankan Government's request to the Indian Government.
Q: But you got the Israelis engaged at this time.
A: Yes, things were a bit desperate at that time. I talked to the Israeli Ambassador in New Delhi along with our High Commissioner Moonesinghe and within 48-hours Colombo and Tel-Aviv agreed on re-establishing ties which has been under consideration by us ever since we came to office in 1994. We have asked Israel to help us militarily.
Q: Some Indian reports said there was a New Delhi-Washington axis in this?
A: I read a report that said the Indian Ambassador in Washington had talked to the U.S. Government about our establishing relations with Israel. That's pie in the sky. There was no such axis. As a Sovereign State we don't require the help or permission of any other State to establish relations with another State. In any case the matter was concluded in 48-hours with a statement by our President that the Government had decided to establish relations with Israel, so I don't see how any axis could have developed in a few hours.
Q: India has now thrown in its hat offering to negotiate. Is that official?
A: No, they haven't told us officially, but they have told us officially that Mr. Jaswant Singh did make that statement to Sky TV, that India is prepared to negotiate a settlement, that they have never been anything other than an honest broker. They want both parties to give their consent.
Q: Will Sri Lanka accept that offer?
A: Possibly. But we must await official intimation.
Q: What happens to Norway's current role?
A: We will keep them on board as well .
Q: But where is the international support the Government is talking of. It seems limited to paper.
A: These things don't fall like manna from heaven. There are logistical problems. No miraculous process takes place.
Q: Wasn't there some panic purchasing the Government had to do? As if they suddenly woke up?
A: We invited seven countries to enter into direct negotiations. They were all interviewed. These are no donations. We have to pay upto about US$ 800 million. There are countries willing to give us arms for a price.
Q: But Mr. Minister we understand there are moves to bring a resolution at the UN Security Council by a Western nation to discuss the Sri Lanka situation.
A: Well. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the debate last year at the General Assembly saying the time has come when sovereignty is not paramount, and that it will have to yield to human rights.
During that debate the West was in favour of the UN Secretary General's position, but Russia, China, Central Europe, Non-Aligned Nations, ourselves we were dead against it.
Now we have the situation in Sierra Leone, which is much, much worse than ours. The British have come in. A UN peace-keeping force is there and it's an un-holy mess there. But this has wetted the appetite of some powers.
The Chinese and Russians will not allow the UN Security Council getting involved in Sri Lanka. This is our internal situation. We appreciate the help of friendly countries, but we must maintain our dignity and self-respect however small a country we are, whatever difficulties we have got ourselves into. Our position still is that sovereignty is paramount.
Q: But you have asked India to intervene — on humanitarian grounds.
A: By consent, a Government can ask a friendly Government to help. Our sovereignty is our sovereignty. A Security Council decision is not necessarily by consent. That is a decision that can be imposed on a State.
Q: On this subject. Mr. Minister, the stringent censorship that is imposed in Sri Lanka is being used by Western nations against your Government. They say that the Government is muzzling the press and violating human rights etc.
A: I always regret censorship. I feel many issues are being brought in, which are extraneous to the issue at hand. Press Freedom and Human Rights are being brought on stage at a time when we are fighting for survival complicating the central issue which is our very survival. My feeling is that censorship is often counter-productive. I know there are many responsible journalists who report only what they see, and much of it is in our favour.
Speaking for myself, I would like to see the end of censorship without delay.
Security forces fought fierce gun battles throughout Friday night to thwart attempts by the LTTE to seize Jaffna town.
Beginning Friday night, the LTTE launched attacks on a number of fronts. They fired artillery and mortars at security force positions in the outskirts of Jaffna town.
Fresh attacks were also mounted on the Elluthumaduval-Kilali access road, north of Elephant Pass where troops are now positioned after withdrawing from Ariyali, Thanankillappu and Navatkuli.
Major General Janaka Perera flew to Colombo on Thursday to brief President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Additional reinforcements have been sent to the area to bring the situation under control.
The Government's official statement on the security in the north confirmed that fighting continued and said another desperate attempt to breach the security force forward defences in the Colombuthurai area had been repulsed.
The LTTE had withdrawn with its casualties.
Three soldiers were killed and 38 injured while the security forces sniped and killed seven guerrillas.
Earlier the government denied reports that the LTTE had taken control of the Jaffna Kachcheri and said 12 LTTE cadres who infiltrated the area had been killed by the security forces. The LTTE had claimed that it had taken control of the Kachcheri building. The government said the 12 cadres who infiltrated had been living among the civilian population in Jaffna.
In a related development the clashes around Jaffna town have triggered off a refugee exodus to areas further north within the peninsula.
The government is providing everything possible to some 7,000 people displaced by the ongoing fighting in the Jaffna peninsula, but it cannot prevent them from fleeing to India, Northern Rehabilitation Minister Sarath Amunugama said yesterday.
Amidst reports that displaced people were fleeing to South Indian coastal areas, Dr. Amunugama said food and shelter were being provided to the displaced people through the government agent.
"We are fully aware of our present responsibility towards these displaced people but there is little we can do if some seek safer shelter in South India," Dr. Amunugama said.
Since 1983 thousands of Sri Lankans have sought refuge in South India and that became a basis for the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987.
Meanwhile TULF leaders who met Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon on Friday have sought humanitarian assistance for the civilian population in the north and those displaced by the current fighting.
By Mihiri Wikramanayake
The United Nations Offices in Colombo were abuzz when high level discussions were underway to safeguard themselves and "innocent Tamil civilians" in case of any trouble in Colombo should the LTTE capture Jaffna.
The Sunday Times learns a circular faxed to all UN officers reportedly said if there was trouble the compound would be used as a refuge for "innocent Tamil civilians only" as they are the affected minority.
"I don't know if the foreign officials in the UN sent out such a circular, but to my knowledge, no such discussion took place," UN Information Secretary Mohan Samar-anayake said.
Another official meeting of the UN Security Management Team is to take place tomorrow to assess this situation, The Sunday Times learns.
Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in New Delhi, Mangala Moonesinghe, was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs in India this week and questioned about The Sunday Times late city edition lead story on Israeli military support for Lanka and India's rejection of providing military assistance.
Leela Ponappa, joint Secretary at the Indian External Ministry had sought the clarification, The Sunday Times learns.
Mr. Moonesinghe had explained that the government had no control over articles published in the independent press in Sri Lanka.
The Sunday Times learns that no complaints were made about the factual accuracy of the news item.
Our lead story in the late city edition gave details about how Sri Lanka had turned to Israel after New Delhi rejected Colombo's request for military assistance to the security forces.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has invited all registered political parties to attend a special meeting at Temple Trees tomorrow morning to discuss the current situation.
This came after UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe called for an urgent meeting with the President to discuss what he sees as a deteriorating situation in Jaffna peninsula. A Government statement said two representatives from each political party were invited for tomorrow's meeting.
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
After a lapse of more than one month, the Attorney General has sent a draft rule to the Chief Justice to be issued on Minister S. B. Dissanayake to face charges of contempt of court.
Chief Justice Sarath Silva is now expected to hand over the rule to Justice A. R. B. Amarasinghe who heads a three-judge panel which studied the case and recommended that there were grounds for such a charge. The Supreme Court will then issue the rule to be served on the Minister and tell him when to appear before court.
This unprecedented case where a minister faces contempt charges arose from a February 26 speech where Mr. Dissanayake reportedly said if the government did not obtain a two-thirds majority for constitutional reforms, it would close down parliament and courts, if necessary.
In this controversy, Parliament also has approved two conflicting motions proposed by the government and the opposition calling for the setting up of a Select Committee to look into the minister's remarks.
The government motion with eight signatories called for an investigation and a report on several matters;
* whether the statement was actually made as it was reported in the print and electronic media;
* and if so, whether the statement impaired the dignity and privileges of Parliament and/or the judiciary;
* whether it constituted fair political comment on a matter of public interest or importance.
Meanwhile, the opposition motion urged a probe on whether the statement, taking into account all the circumstances, constituted a serious devaluation of the dignity and the functions and privileges of Parliament and has also imperilled the independence of the Judiciary.
Meanwhile The Sunday Leader newspaper has been requested to submit an affidavit on its story regarding President Chandrika Kumaratunga's reported comments about a Supreme Court judge allegedly taking a bribe to settle a fundamental rights case and having links with the LTTE.
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