• Former Sri Lankan President H.E Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech on Indo-Sri Lanka ties in New Delhi on 12/09/2018

    Let me begin by thanking Dr.Subramanian Swamy and the Vi-rat Hindustan Sangam for the kind invitation they have extended to me to join you this afternoon and to address you on some themes of immediate interest and importance to us all.I sincerely appreciate the friendship and goodwill of Dr. Subramanian Swamy over the years.

    My country, Sri Lanka, is a nation abundantly blessed with many advantages including its geographical location, the unique quality of its human resources, its scenic beauty, its ancient history and vibrant civilization, and strongly entrenched democratic culture. When we attained Independence from the British 70 years ago, the country seemed assured of a stable and prosperous future.Tragically,however, there appeared during the next few decades a dark cloud over the horizon, and all too rapidly we found ourselves embroiled in a military conflict of daunting proportions. At that moment in our history there seemed no light visible at the end of the tunnel.

    I would like to share some thoughts with you today about Sri Lanka’s story of conflict and reconciliation, challenge and accomplishment.

    Let me first dispel some common misconceptions. We did not, at any time, wage an ethnic war: the military action was certainly not directed against the Tamil community. It must not be forgotten that the reach of this terrorist origination was not confined to Sri Lanka, but extended to Indian soil where they assassinated Sri Rajiv Gandhi and many others. Those who spread vicious canards to vilify my country, are well aware that the terrorists brutally destroyed as many Tamil, as they did, Sinhala lives. Among their victims were such distinguished Tamil leaders as Mr. Amirthalingam, former Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Mr.Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Foreign Minister, and Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, an internationally renowned academic and Member of Parliament. Their first assassination, as far back as 1976, was that of Mr. Alfred Durayappah, Mayor of Jaffna. Not only celebrities but thousands of ordinary citizens died horribly at their hands.

    The eradication of terrorism was not for the sole benefit of one community, or even for one country. It was absolutely essential for every man, woman and child to breathe freely and lead a life of dignity, security and fulfillment.

    Military action was, for us, not the first resort but the last resort. After assumption of office in 2005, my government made repeated attempts to engage the terrorists in political negotiation, but on each occasion they spurned these well meaning efforts and resorted to a policy of delay, evasion and duplicity. This is because of their firm conviction that they could not be defeated militarily. Consequently, they saw no reason to commit themselves to any reasonable solution at the negotiating table. They were not alone in this belief. Many diplomatic missions, and their military attaches, in Colombo regarded the terrorist organization as invincible and warned us of the futility of military action against them.

    The total eradication of terrorism from Sri Lankan soil in 2009 took the world by surprise. Many countries, with far larger resources and better equipped Armed Forces at their command, have yet to attain complete or even substantial success in their struggle against terrorism. How, then, was it possible for Sri Lanka, with its limited military and financial capability, to succeed against all expectations, in its determined efforts against the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world? This issue, naturally, has evoked worldwide interest.

    There were three basic components of the strategy which my government followed.

    The first was single minded dedication to our aim and objective. The war was not of our making or our seeking. We did all that was possible, consistent with the national interest, to avoid it. I sent my Armed Forces into battle only when the terrorists, throwing all humanitarian considerations to the winds, cut off the precious supply of water, desperately required by an agricultural community for their survival, and thus threatened them with destruction. Once it became clear that there was no alternative, ours was a total and unremitting resolve. There was deep understanding and mutual empathy between the government and the military. Key personnel were carefully chosen for major positions of command, and there was strong emphasis on continuing review, supervision and follow through. Equipment needed for the military effort was realistically evaluated, and unhesitatingly provided. No effort was spared to enhance the morale of the Forces and to ensure fullest awareness of the justice of their cause.

    Motivation of men in the field of battle was not sufficient. There had to be equally vigorous commitment on the part of the public, right across the social spectrum. This imposed on the government an imperative duty to do all in its power against economic deprivation and scarcity of commodities essential for the life of the nation. It fell to us to manage the economy with this objective constantly in view, to avoid demoralization and consequent loss of confidence in the war effort.

    While domestic strategy was important, international dimensions, as well, called for sustained attention. It is no secret that, on many occasions, in the past, military action against terrorism in Sri Lanka had to be suspended or abandoned because of strong pressure from overseas. I myself had to contend with this issue. During the final phase of the war, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom and the Foreign Minister of France met me in the Deep South of Sri Lanka and were adamant in their demand that hostilities be discontinued. I replied that, if I were to accede to their demand when the end of terrorism was in sight, this would be nothing short of the betrayal of my country and the wellbeing of generations to come.

    Nevertheless, it was necessary to be sensitive to the nuances of external factors. I readily acknowledge, with deep appreciation, the generous and, indeed essential support we received from friendly foreign nations. The floating armories of the terrorists, bringing sophisticated weapons and explosives to our country were apprehended and destroyed by the Sri Lankan Navy thousands of nautical miles from our shores, thanks to the intelligence placed at our disposal by countries including the United States. Having the technology for the purpose. India’s abiding friendship was amply demonstrated by her rapid response to our needs, both material and moral.

    While this was of vital assistance to us, I remained unshaken in my conviction that foreign armies could not successfully banish terrorism from our soil, because the broad mass of popular opinion would not support this. I was, naturally, mindful of India’s special concerns, arising principally from the proximity of Tamil Nadu and other relevant circumstances. Our policy in this regard was constant consultation with India and other neighboring countries. For this purpose we had evolved the Troika mechanism involving key officials on both sides, who were in touch with one another at all times, day and night. It is my belief that a similar mechanism can be used with advantage in the future with regard to economic and social issues as well. I vividly recall our success in defusing tensions towards the end of the war, when a high level delegation from New Delhi met with me at short notice.

    India’s Foreign Secretary at the time, Shri Shiv Shankar Menon, has acknowledged publicly, in a recently published book, the understanding between the two governments. Our balanced handling of foreign policy certainly contributed to this situation.

    The last stage of the war involved a humanitarian operation by the Armed Forces to rescue almost 300,000 Tamil civilians trapped on a narrow strip of land between the lagoon in the Eastern Province and the sea, held hostage at gun point by the terrorists. To abandon them to their dismal fate would certainly have been an inexcusable breach of duty. Extravagant numbers, reaching up to the figure of 40,000, have been recklessly bandied about as the alleged scale of fatal casualties. This is false and malicious propaganda. Had our Forces not received the clearest instructions to do all they possibly could to avoid civilian casualties, the duration of the war would have been far shorter, and many lives of our Forces would have been saved. It is much to be regretted that objective and irrefutable evidence has been consistently ignored. In particular, the recent revelations by Lord Naseby a British peer of standing with several decades of experience of Sri Lankan developments, prove beyond doubt that the number of casualties, including terrorist casualties, would probably not have exceeded 8,000. These disclosures have been disregarded by propagandists who, in pursuit of their own partisan objectives, have shown scant regard for the truth.

    The military action was an essential, although regrettable, means to an end. At the end of the 30 year war, the urgent need was reconciliation and development. The inherent energies of our people, suppressed for so long, could now at last receive their fullest expression. My government placed the greatest emphasis on restoring livelihoods and incomes in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and towards that end embarked on a massive infrastructure development program involving highways, railroads and irrigation systems, besides rebuilding schools and hospitals and improving them to the highest levels. New employment opportunities which transformed lives were created in such fields as the apparel and fishing industries.

    In respect of all these initiatives, such diverse areas as transport and communications, agriculture, upgrading of exports and the delivery of social services including housing, health and education, the very substantial contribution of India needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. I recall, in particular, the close communication I had with the government of India in respect of priorities in this regard, and the very fruitful collaboration we achieved. I have no doubt that our relations will continue in the future in this same spirit of friendship and solidarity. The complex task of demining which a Norwegian company estimated would take 5 to 10 years, was completed by the Armed Forces under my direction within the brief span of a little more than a year. We disarmed all groups, irrespective of their political affiliations, and restored lands to their previous owners who had been evicted by the terrorists. We take legitimate pride in the accomplishment of a daunting task the rehabilitation of terrorist cadres and their reintegration into civil society. This achievement extended to demilitarization of the whole Island, with no checkpoints and no military presence in civilian areas an almost unbelievable change from the havoc and destruction of previous years.

    All of this, of course, was not attained without opposition. Within my own Cabinet, colleagues pointed out that the vast expenditure we willingly incurred, would yield no political dividends, and that even a fraction of these resources, if deployed in impoverished areas of the South, would have been of immense benefit in political terms. I resisted these pressures: it was my firm conviction that an accurate assessment of need, rather than political expediency, should be the criterion governing public expenditure in the aftermath of this devastating conflict. I have reason for satisfaction with the results we obtained against overwhelming odds.

    There was a logical sequence in the plans we formulated and implemented. Determination of priorities was crucial. Having addressed economic empowerment and the uplifting of living standards, we turned our attention to political rights and broad based participation in institutions of democratic governance. After an interval of more than two decades, my government held elections to the Provincial Council of the North. We had no illusion that we could win these elections. But it was important to us to afford the opportunity to the people of the Northern Province to exercise their franchise and, as a valued part of the peace dividend, to enjoy in the fullest measure their right to take part freely in the administration of their areas.

    They now have the capability to live their lives as they wished, without the ever present threat of extortion of their earnings, seizure of their lands and forced conscription of their children into terrorist fighting cadres. They were also rebuilding their homes, their careers and their lives on a stable and promising foundation. In sum, after long agonizing years of deprivation, they were tasting the fruits of freedom and dignity. Undeniably, more remained to be done in the political domain. This is why I initiated discussions in a friendly atmosphere with the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance. By this time, however, at the behest of other elements, they had already decided that their interest was best served by the defeat of my government and its replacement by an administration whose leaders had lured them by extravagant and irresponsible pledges.

    So it came about that the substantial gains of the postwar years were brought to an abrupt halt by the change of government which took place in January 2015. This was the result of a manipulative combination of forces, both foreign and local, which were determined to effect regime change for their own purposes. There is no need, however, to dwell on this: much water has flowed under the bridge since then, and what is important is to take stock of the present and move on.

    The externalization of domestic issues has serious consequences for national sovereignty and dignity. During the Ceasefire Agreement entered into by a previous government with the terrorists, a defined land mass of the Island was subjected to control by the terrorists, who used the opportunity to set up their own banks, police force and administrative system. Norwegian facilitation, invited by the government of the day, resulted in the conflict becoming internationalized in an obvious way. It is significant that successive Indian governments set their face firmly against this process of internationalization of domestic Sri Lankan issues. This stand reflected perception and sensitivity; and I am deeply appreciative of this.

    After the change of government in my country in 2015, the current administration cosponsored a Resolution moved at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, imputing blame to our country and its Armed Forces for the consequences of the conflict. The terms of the Resolution called for international supervision of processes which are exclusively within the do-main of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, and even required foreign judges to sit in judgment over our military. It is quite unique for a sovereign State to extend unqualified support to, and indeed adopt as one’s own, a Resolution seeking to incriminate its own Armed Forces and to call for their trial, under special laws given retrospective operation, at the hands of foreign tribunals. This effectively silenced countries across the globe which, for three consecutive years, had stood by Sri Lanka on the strongest grounds of principle.

    It is not without irony that the country which brought the Resolution, subsequently withdrew from the Human Rights Council itself, denouncing it as the most dismal failure of the United Nations system, and accusing it of hypocrisy, double standards and a self-serving agenda. I look upon this development as a vindication of all that my government and its representatives had consistently said, albeit in less aggressive terms.

    My own vision for my country is one of mature and inclusive nationhood, where ethnic and cultural diversity is regarded as a source of vitality. I am not only willing but eager to continue serious discussions with Tamil and Muslim leaders in respect of appropriate constitutional and political reforms. The relevant institutional structures, however, must be evolved with transparency and total candor. All citizens, irrespective of distinctions as to language, religion and cultural background, will be assured of security, dignity and the right of full participation in national life in a spirit of equality.

    Reconciliation, in order to stand the test of time, must be genuine and well considered. It must not assume the character of a sleight of hand which, while appearing to be promising on the surface, in reality has the potential to give rise to serious problems in the future. Reconciliation must be for all the communities over the long term. Fatal to its efficacy will be the impression that it is only a device to placate vested interests with agendas of their own. It is to a home grown process of reconciliation, deeply rooted in our own culture and traditions and fair to all those who regard our Island as their home, that I will commit a future government.

    A crucial feature of my vision is abiding friendship with India, our closest neighboring terms of cultural values and shared heritage, we have a great deal in common, especially because of the profound influence of the Buddhist tradition which has touched so many aspects of our lives. Throughout the centuries our two countries have enjoyed the warmest and most cordial relations. Complete understanding between Sri Lanka and India will be one of the pillars of our foreign policy.

    My current visit to your capital must be viewed in this context. I am deeply appreciative of the invitation extended to me by Dr. Subramanian Swamy and the Virat Hindustan Sangam to deliver these remarks to you this afternoon. I look forward to continuing interaction with my many friends in India.
    May the blessings of the Triple Gem be with you!

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