Sir David Frost: This week saw further violence in Sri Lanka as Tamil Tiger rebels murdered policemen in the north of the island. At the same time the government announced that it had arrested security personnel in connection with a series of killings and abductions in which most of the victims are from the minority Tamil community. Joining me now is Sri Lanka's foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama.
|Rohitha Bogollagama, the Sri Lankan foreign minister|
What is the situation about government security personnel, and these abductions? Are you fearful that they have been guilty of them?
Rohitha Bogollagama: I'd say not. What we are looking at is the improvement of the law and order situation of the country. And our government is committed to have the rule of law prevalent in all parts of the country. The biggest hindrance is the fact the LPTT [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] is restricting our access to certain locations in the country, and that is where the apprehension of the culprits or the criminals becomes extremely difficult for us. You can take the instance of my own predecessor in office, late foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar [who was murdered in 2005 in an attack blamed on the Tamil Tigers]. Even the culprits have now escaped, the criminals have escaped into the jungles in Kilinochi. And that is our biggest problem in the enforcement arm; not being able to get their act in certain locations in the country.
DF: But if the security personnel are abducting children and so on, it's the security personnel that also have to be investigated isn't it?
RB: Of course, obviously in the event [that] security personnel [are responsible] we are going to investigate and we have been doing that. And that is why we have brought the human rights so-called alert to a high level, and also there are several commissions now underway. And also international, the presence is there in terms of salvation of some of these commissions. So we are confident that the outcome will be good, and we also want to encourage [a] better environment in terms of the record of our country. Though we had a previous record, in terms of in 1988, 1989, 1990 where there was a southern insurrection, and we have gone through that phase, and today we are again being confronted by the LPTT. And this is something that we are trying to instill in terms of a law enforcement arm all throughout the country.
DF: Now human rights groups are lobbying for an international human rights monitoring mission as you know to be sent to Sri Lanka, because elements within the security forces, that we've been talking about, and because witnesses are often reluctant to speak up, would the presence of something like that, of an official human rights international commission be welcome to you?
RB: Obviously the need is there. Right now there is the imminent presence, international presence in the country. The first meeting was held on the 12th of last month. And we are hopeful that [what] comes through this type of mechanism will help to improve the type of investigation arm that we are currently mobilising in the country. So that what we have to do is look at the situation. Where are the terrorist[s]? And the LPTT return to the negotiating table.
DF: What can you do though? I mean here we have the situation. We have this sort of peace agreement back in 2002. We have the situation, the killing goes on. I mean what is the basis on which the two sides could actually get together, could actually sort something out?
RB: Of course. There's no foreign minister of Sri Lanka that has met with the LPTT as much as I have done, because I was part of the negotiating team in Geneva one and two talks.
And having met with the LPTT except for Prabhakaran [the leader of the Tamil Tigers] I have the experience of having talked with them, and we have seen how much they want to [leave] the negotiating table [over] frivolous issues. And this [is] something that we want to prevent and encourage their process out of terrorism to move to the negotiating table and come to talks in terms of lasting peace to be accomplished in our country. And towards that we want to encourage the process and that is why we are advocating the stoppage of the fundraising in the overseas locations, especially in the western countries where the influence is there, and they want to have the comfort of raising funds and procurement of arms, then have the arms smuggled into Sri Lanka and make the life chaotic to people.
DF: And in terms of 2002, you were really offering a form of autonomy to the Tamils in 2002. Would you offer it to them again today and would they ever take it?
RB: There was never an offer of autonomy in 2002. There was a ceasefire agreement that was negotiated, and there was a facilitator, the Norwegian government, and they assisted in the process, and there was no autonomy that was offered. And today we are bringing in the southern consensus in order to bring in the type of constitutional reforms that are needed to address this, towards which we build up the southern consensus over the last one year. Today our president is very confident that our proposals at the all party committee will get materialised, because the stakeholders from the southern polity has become part and parcel of the process. And we are also trying to encourage the LPTT to come towards accepting [a] negotiated settlement. That is our mission.
DF: And do you think within the next five years there is any hope of peace between the government and the Tamils?
RB: Obviously. In fact [the] Tamil community is part and parcel of our country and they are part and parcel of us. And we have several committees and one where the committee is the Tamil community. And there is no discrimination of the Tamil community and they are the ones who are making a major contribution to our economy, to our service sector, to our plantations, and they are part and parcel of Sri Lanka. And the other fact is 54 per cent of the Tamil community is living outside the areas where there is domination by the LPTT. And that is a factor that we have to understand in looking at Sri Lanka. Our corporate captains are coming from the Tamil community and major public services from the Tamil community. And today we are having that type of co-operation, that type of understanding, that type of co-existence that is in all parts, except for the north where there had been ethnic cleansing led by the LPTT.
DF: One last question, are you going to win the Cricket World Cup?
RB: Obviously. We have won it before.
Source: Al Jazeera