17 December 2018
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We Will Continue The Dialogue With All Sri Lankan Diaspora – Ajith P Perera

ajith c pereraDespite the recommendations of the Lesson Leant and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to get the Diaspora involved in the process towards achieving meaningful reconciliation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs came under heavy criticism of some groups for initiating a dialogue with the Diaspora groups. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ajith P Perera said that it is unfortunate that some groups are trying to give a wrong picture of the government’s attempt to build reconciliation and bring in foreign funds and investment to the country. He added that after the next general election, the UNP government under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe will continue the dialogue not only with Tamil Diaspora but also with Sri Lankans who live in other countries who would like to renew their connections and invest in an undivided Sri Lanka.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

By Waruni Karunarathne

Q: How do you describe Sri Lankan government’s present relationship with China and India?

A: We have an extremely good relationship with both the countries. From those days Sri Lanka has had a very good relationship with China. We have been able to maintain that relationship. Especially after President Maithripala Sirisena’s  visit to China we managed to strengthen that tie between the two countries. Sri Lanka had some issues previously with India. However, after the new government was formed in January, things have turned out to be much better. We have built a very good rapport with the Indian foreign minister. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is maintaining a good rapport with all the Indian state leaders including the Congress Party Leader Sonia Gandhi.

However, the fishermen’s issue between Sri Lanka and India is a very complex historical issue. We have only 20 kilometers separating the two countries and fishermen do not respect that maritime border. The two countries have to have some understanding and settle this issue amicably. That is our position. Fishermen’s organisations are carrying out discussions on this issue. There are periodical meetings in India and Sri Lanka to find a solution for this matter. It is a very difficult issue and we cannot find a solution within a short duration of time. But in the long run we will find a permanent solution for that issue. If a UNP government comes to power after the next general election, then we have a strong mandate to further discuss this issue. In any case, we do not want to compromise the rights of our fishermen – and we will maintain the maritime borders. Our Navy has the strength to protect our coastal line and our maritime borders. They will definitely take actions against those who cross the border unauthorised.  However it is a very sensitive and serious issue which has been there for a long time. We can only find solutions through amicable discussions.

Q:  If the UNP government comes to power after the next general election, what areas of improvement would you look at when it comes to SL foreign policy?

A: The current government has been able to live up to non-align policy. During last 30 years, nothing was done to show our stance on that. But after the 8th of January, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Minister of Foreign Affairs had some serious discussions and drafted a framework on Sri Lankan foreign policy which is based on non-align policy. We do not want to be part of European or Western alliance or Eastern alliance. That is how we expect to position ourselves and continue interacting with other countries.

Q: Recently, during the Press Conference, you said that the new government will not continue Mahinda Rajapaksa’s foreign policies. Would you be able to elaborate as to what policies you were referring to?

A: To begin with, the Rajapaksa government did not have a foreign policy. They had a policy of acting on day today matters according to their whims and fancies. They did not have a strong long term policy. But this government is different. We have already achieved landmark victories with the foreign policies we have in put in to practice. In reality, today we do not have any enemy in the international politics. We work with all the countries including the UN. Most importantly, now they do not put pressure on us. There have been serious allegations on human rights violations and war crime levelled against Sri Lanka which is a very sensitive issue. Even with reference to that matter, neither UN nor any other county has put pressure on us. Instead, they have been very cooperative and have been closely working with us.

Q: UN is expecting Sri Lanka to initiate investigations on alleged war crimes and human rights issues before September. Could you brief us on the mechanism the Government hopes to setup on the domestic probe?

A: I am not authorised to reveal any specific information on the mechanism that we plan to initiate. We are in a process of drafting relevant documents and looking into relevant laws. We have got a set of professionals involved in looking into these matters. We are confident that we will be able to satisfy all the stakeholders at the of September fourth UN session. We have an understanding. We will not be able to complete the probe – but we will be able to submit our plan on reconciliation and as to how we will establish accountability – and our plan will be submitted at the September UN session. Thereafter only we will have to implement that plan. We know the deadline and requirements. And I assure that there has not been any pressure from the UN at all. As a responsible government, we will definitely deliver what we promised.

Q: Some concerns had been raised over the meeting the Minister of foreign affairs had with the Diaspora in London and the proposed ‘Diaspora festival’. JHU claimed that they would consider taking court order to restrain this conference. How do you respond to that?

A: Unfortunately some people do not want reconciliation or make an attempt to live together with other communities. Unfortunately, there are people who use this kind of sensitive issues to their political advantages and take benefit out f that. JHU fought with us to defeat Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election in January but I am sorry to say that in this issue we cannot agree with their stance. JHU did not object when former President Rajapaksa was having similar conferences with the Diaspora. In 28.03.2009, the previous government invited Sri Lankans living in 9 countries and had a conference of this similar nature.

Then after the war ended, they also organised another three day conference from 12th to 14th of November, 2009 with participation of over 500 people of different ethnic groups from various countries. It is not a new thing. We expect to have a same kind of conference but our attitude is different and our approach is different. Earlier, most of the people did not trust former President Rajapaksa – but Prime Minister Wickremesinghe represents all the communities.

He received a strong mandate from North and East as well. The present government’s policies are very different. JHU’s version of the event is absurd and it is very irresponsible of them to give a totally different definition to what we attempt to do. We are inviting Sri Lankans who are living abroad regardless of their ethnicities, who wish to invest and reconnect with us in an united and undivided Sri Lanka. Those who have any motive to divide the country have no room in this path towards reconciliation. In the LLRC recommendations, they also noted that similar process of this nature should take place to build meaningful reconciliation. We expect to bring down thousands and thousands of people to this conference to build a proper dialogue with Sri Lankans who live in other countries. We are going to implement something Rajapaksa failed to do. Our intentions are pure. Not only Minster Mangala Samaraweera has had discussion with Tamil Diaspora groups, but President Sirisena also had discussions with Father S.J Emmanuel, Suren Surenthiran and other Tamil Diaspora representatives in April this year. Foreign Minister Samaraweera is only continuing that process initiated by the President. We are only building discussions with people who believe in unitary government. Those who are LTTE sympathisers and those who believe in separatism have no room in our discussion and they will not be part of this.

Q: Would a UNP Government continue to engage dialogue with the Tamil Diaspora?

A: Not only with Tamil Diaspora, we will definitely work with very strong Burgher Diaspora especially in Australia and Canada – with Muslim Diaspora in Europe and America – and with Sri Lankan Diaspora in Japan. Most of these Sri Lankans who live abroad are professionals and they can bring in much needed funds and even knowledge and technology to the country. Therefore we will definitely work with the Sri Lankan Diaspora to develop the country.

Q: Is the Government willing to even investigate the alleged white flag incident where some top LTTE leaders were said to have been killed after they surrendered?

A:  That is just one allegation. There are so many other allegations. Definitely we will be able to investigate almost all the allegations not only white flag issue. We will establish accountability in the process. There are cases such as Trinco 5, ACF 17 and many other allegations that we have to investigate. Already there are some processes that are put in place to investigate into certain cases. Sri Lanka police, Attorney General’s Department together with relevant ministries are investigating on certain cases. But the communities expect special credible investigations and we will be able to provide them with satisfactory answers.

Q: . The UNP has declared that the party will contest alone for the next general election. What are the chances of UNP alone forming a government? Given the fact that the UNP got the majority during last election only after forming an alliance, how confident are you?

A: There won’t be any serious issue. We will definitely get more than 113 seats in parliament. 90% Muslim parties will be contesting with us – most probably under the UNP list. We are sure that Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and other Muslim parties will definitely contest with us. It will be a UNP lead alliance under the elephant symbol.

P. Digambaran and Mano Ganesan’s parties will support us and come under the UNP umbrella. We will get the support of 90% of upcountry Indian origin Tamils and 95% of Muslim votes. After 8th January, we also have a strong presence in the grass root level in areas where majority of Sinhalese live. Their support is impressive. In the North, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will get a clear victory. Even though TNA will not be form an alliance with us, they will support us in the parliament on important issue. Even at present. The TNA is supporting us in various important issues related to accountability issue, reconciliation and development.

As a politician I can feel the victory and we will form the government after the next general election with more than 113 seats in parliament. Then after the election we will form a national unity government with President Sirisena fraction of the SLFP. Then, that government will have more than 150 seats in parliament

Q: Has the UNP decided on its prime ministerial candidate? Are there any differences of opinion within the party? Because earlier there were a Sajith Premadasa faction and a Ranil Wickremesinghe faction in the past, is it still there?

A: We have our leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is definitely the prime ministerial candidate and he will be the next prime minister after the election. There are no factions within the UNP now. There is only one leader – Wickremesinghe and there is no room for divisions. There is nobody challenging his leadership. Even the young people can see real leadership qualities and his vision. There is nobody to be compared with Wickremesinghe. We will get more than 113 seats.

Q: How do you look at the no-confidence motion proposed against Prime Minister Wickremesinghe? Would that affect his leadership in the next election?

A: We won’t reach to the point where a no- confidence motion is tabled against him in this parliament. And that will also give us some hope about the dissolution of parliament.

Q:. What preparations have you made as a party ahead of the next general election?

A: UNP is ready to face a general election in any given day. We have very strong grassroot organisations and they are very positive about facing the general election – that is the main thing in politics. The main opposition, SLFP is now divided. There is no doubt about that. There are two factions – President Sirisena faction and former President Rajapaksa fraction. A divided SLFP cannot defeat the UNP. In politics, division within opponent is always an advantage.

Q:  Does the UNP still have the support of the minorities?

A: Yes. Absolutely. We definitely have the support of Muslims and upcountry Tamils. All most all the upcountry leaders are with us. We defeated Thondaman in a very decisive way – they cannot recover from the defeat. They cannot get a single seat in upcountry. Even in East, the situation is positive and we expect to get a reasonable number of seats. TNA has a strong hold in the North and East – so they will get majority of seats there. Even Sinhala Buddhists are satisfied with this government. We are providing them with social and economic security and taking steps forwards towards development. We have plans to invest 6% of GDP on education and 3% of GDP on health which is doubled the amount spent at present. We will give priority on providing free health facilities. Such areas are most important for entire country and the people are with us.

Courtesy - http://www.thesundayleader.lk

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