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Updated: September 2, 2009 21:03 IST

Focused on development: Rajapaksa

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa greets the gathering during a ceremony to honour the soldiers in Colombo. File Photo: AP
AP Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa greets the gathering during a ceremony to honour the soldiers in Colombo. File Photo: AP

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that with the end of the war, it is time to stay focused on development. He is in Tripoli for the 40th anniversary celebrations of Libyan revolution.

In an extensive interview with the Forbes magazine, Mr. Rajapaksa said: “Without development, there won’t be peace; we must develop the economy, I don’t want to just be the liberator, I want to be the leader who brings permanent peace and development to this country and reconciliation with Tamil communities in the North and the East.

“I am a President for the whole nation. I divide people not as Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims or Burghers. I divide them into people who love the country and people who do not.”

He said he spoke Tamil when he wanted to, as he can approach Tamils more closely by speaking to them in their own language. To a question on inquiries into alleged violations of human rights during the war, especially in its final stages, Mr. Rajapaksa said: “We must not follow what happened in Africa or in Europe... I don’t think it is healthy to start digging into the history, these problems. We must forget about the past and start a new life, new thinking.”

When the magazine asked the President “whether Sri Lanka does 70% of its business with the West, now have new best friends”, he said, “Whoever wants to help me, I will welcome them without strings. I have invited Americans.

New bridges and dams are being done by the British and Canada.” He said he’s instituting a Singapore-style “one-stop shop” to limit paperwork and smooth official contacts and has a policy of “zero tolerance of corruption”.

A statement on the Presidential Secretariat website said Asia was represented at Tripoli by only three heads of state. The Sri Lankan Army took part in the celebrations with a special parade.

“Sri Lankan delegation had bilateral talks with several state leaders on the sidelines of this event including the President of Philippines and Prime Minister of Pakistan,” said the website.

He will meet his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez later on Wednesday. It said during his meetings Mr. Rajapaksa spoke of his government’s commitment to economic development and said: “We must have a Sri Lankan model… I prefer to be agriculturally based. If you can be self-sufficient in food, then the industries will come.”

President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, told Mr. Rajapaksa that she very much appreciated the achievements of Sri Lanka in eliminating terrorism from the country and her country was willing to solicit Sri Lanka’s experiences.”

“During the discussions with [Pakistan] Prime Minister [Yusuf] Raza Gilani, President Rajapaksa talked on topics that would strengthen more the already existing strong bonds between the two countries. The Pakistani Prime Minister also reiterated his country’s already expressed desire to train some Pakistani troops to share Sri Lanka’s experiences in routing terrorism,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, two days after the Colombo High Court sentenced senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam to 20 years rigorous imprisonment under the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), there was no word either from his lawyers or family on an appeal to a higher court.

Reporters Without Borders, which has consultative status with the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), on Wednesday asked the Council to intercede on behalf of two “imprisoned” Sri Lankan journalists, J.S. Tissainayagam and N. Vithyatharan, and to meet as quickly as possible to discuss the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Editor of the Tamil daily Sudar Oli had been held by the police on February 26 on suspicion of links with the LTTE and was released in the last week of April on court orders.

In another development, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Colombo-based think-tank Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was questioned on Wednesday early morning at the Katunayake International Airport (KIA) by Criminal Investigations Department officials upon his return from abroad in connection with a complaint he had filed with the police last month over an anonymous death threat he received.

The English paper Daily Mirror reported that three journalists attached to the pro-JVP news paper “Lanka” newspaper who were covering the issues related to Southern provincial council elections were arrested on Monday by the Deniyaya Police on the charge of illegally entering private land.

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