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LTTE waging a propoganda war – FM

by Namini Wijedasa

What feedback are you receiving from the international community about the Sri Lankan situation?

Obviously, there is a lot of concern internationally about the situation in Sri Lanka. Of course, the concern is sometimes rather exaggerated but it’s coming from well-meaning quarters.

What questions are you most asked on your official visits?

To begin with, one must appreciate the tremendous support we got from the international community during the last year. When Mahinda Rajapakse took over as president, there was a general perception that the international community will not be so forthcoming in their support for the new government. Instead, there has been a tremendous outpouring of goodwill.

For instance, the US Government has played an active role in trying to help us resolve our problems. Initiated by the US, the fundraising activities of the LTTE came under scrutiny and action was taken.

Countries like Canada took the initiative of banning the LTTE. The European Union eventually decided, unanimously, to ban the LTTE because they felt the government was sincere in its commitment to a negotiated settlement`85 and that it was the LTTE who as usual were playing truant.

Japan also took a very proactive role in trying to help us. And the much-maligned India`85 which many people like to say has not helped us or doesn’t want to help us`85 has helped `85 more than ever before. I don’t want to go into detail for obvious reasons but they, too, have played a very, very important role.

Nevertheless, hasn’t the tone of the international community changed?

Yes, certainly. The LTTE has realised that, in addition to waging a war of terrorism against the Sri Lankan nation, it is equally important to wage an international propaganda war. Their strategy now is to show that the government of Sri Lanka is also resorting to state terrorism, thereby diminishing our foreign international achievements during the previous months.

Especially using the tragic and horrific killing of the 17 aid workers, the LTTE has been continuously trying to tarnish the image of the government`85 almost to balance off the accusations and allegations levelled against them.

Their campaign is to show the world that the government is as bad as they are.

No right-thinking government anywhere in the world will accept that the LTTE is not a terrorist organisation. That has been proven beyond doubt, over and over again.

Why is the government supplying the LTTE with fuel?

It is our belief that, even when dealing with one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world, a democratically elected government cannot act in the same manner. But you have to realise our army is under a lot of stress, dealing with such a brutal organisation like the LTTE. We have lost an average of five soldiers a day since last January. The US Government has one of the best, most efficient and well-equipped armies in the world but we saw there were the odd raw elements`85

But one US soldier got sentenced to life even today for his actions in Iraq`85

Likewise, our government has tried so far to take action against miscreants even within the army. We made arrests when the five students were killed in Trincomalee.

They were released.

Not by us. The courts released them saying the bullets didn’t match the gun. But you can’t really blame the government. We did try. We had to go through the normal judicial process.

Since the killing of the aid workers, the president has himself suggested appointing an independent commission of inquiry. This has already been done but the International Independent Group of Eminent persons has not been set up because some of the countries we approached haven’t still sent in their nominees. So, some of the delays which the government has been blamed for are not really ours.

As a government, we have certainly not allowed — nor do we want — a culture of impunity to set in. We have tried everything possible.

Remember, though, that it’s not only these killings we have not been able to solve. We have yet to solve the murder of Lakshman Kadirgmar. A few months ago, Deputy Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat Kethesh Loganathan was killed. If one wants to score debating points, what about Neelan Tiruchelvam? And all the others killed so far?

We have not been able to solve these cases because of the very nature of the enemy we face.

However, that won’t deter us. We will certainly not leave anything unturned in the face of evidence. This is why I’m sad to see so-called responsible persons make allegations immediately as an incident happens saying, oh, the government did it. If the government did it, by all means present the evidence to us. If there is a cover-up in the face of evidence, then blame us.

Who are these so-called responsible people?

Well, look at Kumar Rupesinghe. At the drop of a hat he says, oh, the government is responsible. When we ask for evidence he has none other than speculation and hearsay. At the moment, therefore, because of the very achievements we gained during the last several months, there’s now an insidious and continuous conspiracy to tarnish the image of not only the government but the country.

What about the widespread allegations being levelled against the state? Could there be smoke without a fire?

The LTTE’s sharp, well-oiled propaganda machinery ensures that even the slightest shortcoming is magnified thousand fold to their advantage. Our people must also remember that. If there are bad eggs, the army must not hesitate to take action against them. Some people argue that it may demoralise the army. I believe it’s the other way around. If we take action against these few people, the majority of soldiers who fight for our country with great vigour, valour, honesty, commitment and discipline will only feel strengthened. We must not leave room for abductions or these disappearances that some people talk about. If they are happening, it doesn’t matter who the perpetrators are. We must put a stop to it.

Why are we not?

Again, if there is evidence`85 please tell us. There won’t be a cover-up.

Do you think the atmosphere is such people with evidence can confidently come before the state?

I don’t think this is like the late 80s when people were frightened to go even to a police station.

UN envoy Allan Rock said last week that he saw fear everywhere he went`85

Allan Rock obviously seems to be suffering from all kinds of other ailments as well, other than his fear psychosis`85 because a responsible member of the international community would not have made such unfounded public statements in such an irresponsible manner. Even if they were true, a person of that nature should have had the decency to bring it to the notice of the government discreetly. But here, from the way he presented it to the world, it is obvious that he was really being misled or being used by the LTTE to further their own agenda.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said Sri Lanka would be in "deep trouble" internationally if there was another high profile killing like Nadarajah Raviraj’s. Do you agree?

Not in trouble but the international community will become increasingly more concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. Again, I must say that all of them really are appreciative of the strains we are going through. On the other hand, as a responsible government, we must face these challenges in a very guarded and mature manner. A government doesn’t have the luxury of resorting to terrorism.

On local political front, do you think your government can still get some mileage out of the JVP?

Oh yes. I feel the JVP is a very important political force in this country. You can vilify them by drawing them as goats with bells around their necks but that certainly doesn’t diminish their importance. I think they’re committed and they’re honest. We need a political group like them. Unfortunately, where I donagree with the JVP is their inflexibility when it comes to exploring creative new ideas to sort out the ethic problem. They are stuck in a sort of extreme nationalistic vacuum.

My feeling, also, is that Sri Lanka is missing a centre. The country is getting polarised to such an extent that our whole society is becoming extremist in one way or another. We are becoming a nation of ideological fundamentalists.

I’m a Buddhist. Buddhism to me is a wonderful religion of tolerance which championed the middle path. But, today, Buddhism is becoming almost like a fundamentalist religion that is increasingly intolerant of anything else. You also get political fundamentalism; the extreme right and the extreme left. You get the Islamic factions becoming more extreme as are the Christian factions. We also have the LTTE and other groups. Everyone has forgotten the centre.

Why was the JVP flung away by this government like used karapincha?

They have not been throwing away at all. We have been inviting them over and over again to rejoin the government.

Do you think Mahinda Rajapakse could have won without the JVP?

(Pause). That would be speculation. I would rather not talk about it.

Indulge me.

Well, who knows`85 who knows.

Are you, in the short or medium term, aiming for the prime ministry?

Certainly not. Because, frankly there’s nothing you can do with the prime ministry under this constitution. I can do much more where I am now.

There is a feeling that, as media minister, you orchestrated the state media far more effectively than is being done now. Any comments?

I enjoyed being media minister. But one phobia I have is that I will one day become media minister again! It’s quite a thankless job. I had a tremendous time with the journalists. We had a kind of vociferous relationship. That’s my nature because I certainly don’t believe in censorship, especially in this day and age.

Didn’t you impose a censorship as media minister?

Not under me. Under me the Sunday Leader was sealed (laughing). One may do certain things for political expediency and realpolitik. In today’s day and age, however, censorship in itself is a self-defeating exercise. However, I think it’s vital for a country like Sri Lanka to have a proper code of ethics for the media. Sri Lanka is perhaps the only country in the world where the Fourth Estate is above the law.

Do you think the assault on BBC Correspondent Dumeetha Luthra and the debate over her reporting of the Galle harbour attack was fair?

No. One must look at the whole question in the context of what the BBC is today and what the media is today. In general, good news never makes big news. And the BBC generally has a slightly anti-establishment bias, wherever it may be. Tony Blair himself has constant rows with the reporting of the BBC. All governments have had.

The spin the BBC gives a story is always questionable but we provide the basis for their spin. To blame the media for some of the stories they write is perhaps unfair. We have to sometimes monitor them or see if our side of the story is also being told. In today’s context however, the media always likes to project the tales of the woe of the underdog because that makes better news than the tales of woe of those in power.

In your opinion, is Galle a tourist city?

Certainly, yes. And I’m in the process of trying to make Galle even more beautiful. But let me tell you that almost all the expensive boutique hotels and villas in Galle were full the very weekend after the Galle harbour was attacked.

Who will be the next foreign secretary?

No decision. Geetha de Silva is acting at the moment but this will be decided by the president.

There was a report that your personal assistant, actress Anarkali Akarsha, has been allocated a pension after a brief stint at your ministry. Is this true?

Absolutely not, poor girl. She is no longer working for me and didn’t even complete the first year. I would have given her a pension has she been entitled to it but she has to work five years. -The Sunday Island-

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November 19, 2006 - Posted by | News and politics

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