MEDIA CENTER FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF SRI LANKA
PRESIDENT DISPELS APPREHENSIONS ABOUT CHINA AND REITERATES THE IMPORTANCE OF CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH INDI
Your popularity in the country is at its height. But aren't you worried about the international image of the country and your own personal image abroad?
Why should I worry about others? If India and neighbours are good with me, that is enough for me.
The UN has made adverse remarks about the human rights situation and many have called for an international investigation into war crimes in the last phase of the war.
They should understand the country's situation. Earlier, they said Prabhakaran was the world's most ruthless terrorist. But now, suddenly, when I defeated him, they are talking differently. I wonder if they would say the same if bin Laden were to be defeated. They can advise us, but they can't force us. No one can force us to do this and that.
The international community, including EU, even India, frequently asks you to speed up the process of finding a political solution. Where do you stand on that?
We will take our own time and the solution, you can't ask for an instant solution like instant noodles. Constitutions are not for one or two days. It is not a magazine which is published weekly or monthly. We can't change the Constitution frequently. We will have to take our own time. We will certainly change all this. My commitment remains.
The European Union has threatened to suspend GSP Plus tariff concessions for Sri Lanka.
I am not bothered. These concessions were offered soon after the tsunami. Now the tsunami (rehabilitation) is over, it helped us at that time. Now we must find new markets. Our people must know this: when I called the elections, they (EU) immediately called for suspension of tariff concessions. It was a politically motivated decision. If the EU doesn't want to give it (concessions), let them keep it. I don't want it. We have gone and explained what we have done. Now we have appointed it (an inquiry commission), not because someone wanted me to, but because I am committed to that.
The commission is about the lessons learnt and what should be done for national reconciliation. You must have your own view on this. What will you say are the lessons learnt from this conflict and what are your suggestions for national reconciliation?
The people must trust each other. We have to build that trust. In Colombo, about 30 years ago, Sinhalese were the majority. Today, they are a minority, about 27%. There are more Tamils and Muslims now. But I don't see this as a problem. I believe in mixed population. Earlier, there was and they had no problem like this. Only politicians make althese issues for their own ends.
There are fears of complete Sinhalisation of the north and east. Will the Sinhalese people be settled in those areas in large numbers?
They were there, you know. They were chased by Prabhakaran, so, if anybody wants to go there, yes, they can. What if somebody were to say that in Colombo, the Tamils have come in large numbers?
Is it true there are 25,000 Chinese workers in Sri Lanka?
How can it be 25,000? Must be the Chinese who work here as dental technicians. They have been here for such a long time. I remember during the time of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime, the opposition started a campaign saying Bandaranaike had sold this country to China. And they came out with photos of these dental technicians. They took their photos and were publishing it saying China, China. I feel it is the same cry of China, China now. Others are saying India, India. Now they are saying we are selling this country to India. The JVP has declared we are selling this country to India.
Between all these developments, where do you see your relations with China?
We are a non-aligned country. Our neighbours are Indians. I always say, Indians are our relations. From the time of Emperor Asoka, we have had that culture. The whole culture, irrigation, architecture has been built up over the last 2,500 years. You can't break that. But that doesn't mean we won't get commercial benefits from others. From China, or Japan, or whoever. They will come here, they will build, they will go back. India comes here, they will build and they will stay. This is the difference. In simple terms, whenever our relationship is stronger and we get close to India, this campaign begins. They start to say India has started to rule, and they know India is very sensitive about Pakistan or China. So they will use these factors to upset the Indian public. Well, I think even the LTTE used this point.
How do you see your recent visit to India and the joint statement that spoke of cooperation in various fields?
I think it was a very successful visit. The agreements that we signed, in fact most of them, are concerned with development work, especially in the north, infrastructure development, railways, housing projects (50,000 houses in the north and east), power plant project in Sampur. All those things are necessary for development of this country.
Some of these ideas have been around for 2-3 years. However, not much progress has been made. Do you think work will speed up now?
I very much hope so. We need to have targets. Earlier, we could say the delay was due to the terrorist problem or something. Now we cannot say all those things. We agreed that all projects will be started by 2010.
How do you foresee Indo-Sri Lankan relations over the next five years?
It will be very strong. We had certain things in the past, but now it is very good, we understand them, they understand us. This is the best time we have had at all levels. Even the people-to-people contacts, business, politician.(niz).