We have failed to convince the world: Sri Lanka defence secretary (Interview)

August 13th, 2008 - 12:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, Aug 13 (IANS) The spearhead of Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers Wednesday made light of India’s criticism that Tamils were not with Colombo, saying the government had failed to convince the world about its sincerity to resolve the ethnic conflict. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa added that Sri Lanka would never talk to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) because it would be a wasted effort.

Rajapaksa, brother and confidant of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was asked to comment on India’s National Security Advisor M.K. Narayayan’s comments Tuesday that even if Sri Lanka won the battle against the LTTE it would not win the war because “they haven’t got the Tamil population on their side”.

Narayanan also told The Straits Times that India had been urging Sri Lanka to get the Tamils on their side by devolving more power to minorities. “What the Sri Lankans are not factoring in is the great deal of sullenness in the Tamil man.”

Rajapaksa told IANS over the phone: “The only area where we have failed is to show our genuineness, to convince the outsiders, about our sincerity in resolving the problem. In action we have proved it. Unfortunately, we are not good at propaganda. If Tamils indeed are not with us, then it is our weakness.

“There is nothing negative to what Narayanan has said. In my opinion, he has only put in different words what our president has been saying, that we need to defeat terrorism but the (ethnic) problem needs to be resolved (politically).

“There is nothing bad against Sri Lanka in what Narayanan has said. It is significant that he has said that the military is winning. And he has never said that we should talk to the LTTE. These are very positive things.

“On the whole it is the inability of the president and the government to show the sincerity to the Tamils and to the outside world. We have to improve that… It will take time… As for Narayanan, I understand him very well. I know his vision.”

Rajapaksa, who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt blamed on the LTTE in 2006, has been widely blamed for the growing climate of intolerance bordering on violence in Sri Lanka as well as rights abuses in the conduct of the war.

He, however, maintained that Colombo - which has captured the multi-ethnic eastern province from the LTTE and is now trying to seize the Tamil-majority north from - would never talk to the Tigers.

Saying all previous negotiations with the LTTE had failed to resolve the problem, he said: “It is very clear it is useless talking to the LTTE because it is not genuine or sincere (vis-à-vis a negotiated solution). Ultimately, there will have to be a political solution, a permanent solution. And my solution is political.”

Thousands have been killed in renewed fighting between the military and the LTTE since 2005-end. Though Colombo has vowed to prevail over the LTTE, Sri Lankan leaders admit that Tamil nationalism can’t be wished away without a genuine power sharing deal.

Rajapaksa admitted that in the past 25-30 years promises were made to the Tamil community that were not kept by Colombo. He referred to the provincial elections in the east in May that led to a former LTTE guerrilla, Pillayan, becoming the chief minister of the province.

He said President Rajapaksa was determined to replicate what had been achieved in the east in the country’s north, parts of which are held by the LTTE and where heavy fighting is now raging.

Asked if seizing the LTTE-controlled north would be as easy as in the east, he said: “The LTTE are not in the Mullaitivu jungles because they wanted it but because they were pushed into it. They would have preferred Jaffna peninsula or Trincomalee. That would have been advantageous because those are built up areas… But they were chased away from Jaffna, chased away from Trincomalee. However it will take more troops in the Sri Lankan north because it is a large area.”

He added: “Ultimately, we all have to learn to be Sri Lankans. The day we are able to think as Sri Lankans first, and later as Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and Burghers, that is the day we will win. That will be the winning point.”

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