Under international spotlight over alleged rights violations during the last phase of war with the LTTE, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday sought more time to deal with the Tamil issue.
Defending his government’s efforts in rehabilitating the Tamil-dominated northern region, Mr. Rajapaksa said, “We always support peace... and we will keep supporting peace for all people.”
“In Sri Lanka we also fought thirty years of war against terrorists. So the whole development process, the economy went down. We suffered for thirty years but now we have peace for the last four years. In 2009 we managed to eradicate terrorism,” he said.
“Though we have eradicated terrorism, now we have to face the international community, which is pressurising us,” the Sri Lankan leader told his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres.
Ruing the continuous condemnation of his country’s human rights record at international forums, Mr. Rajapaksa said that his country would need some time to deal with their demands.
“Now our issue is that some of the countries are criticising though there are no bombs blasting in our country.
Every March or every six months in Geneva we are facing a confrontation with these countries. Some of the Western countries are bringing resolutions in the Human Rights Commission,” he said in reference to resolutions brought in the UNHCR.
“What we say is that we want time because in three to four years these issues cannot be sorted out,” Mr. Rajapaksa argued.
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March had adopted a US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka over its rights record, with 25 countries including India voting in favour of the document.
The resolution had urged Sri Lanka to reconcile with the Tamils and address outstanding issues of rights accountability.
Elaborating on steps taken by his government to develop the northern peninsula region and to integrate Tamils into the mainstream, the Sri Lankan President said that his government has spent almost USD 400 million in developing the region.
“Within these four years, we have developed the north economically and we have released 14,000 prisoners, rehabilitated them, sent them back to the society. We believe that the society can rehabilitate people more than the government,” Mr. Rajapaksa stressed.“We took that risk and released all the combatants. There were child soldiers. We released them within three months. There were nearly 3,00,000 displaced people. We have settled them now. There were mines so we had to de-mine the places,” he pointed out as confidence building measures undertaken by his government.
“We have built railway lines, roads, gave them electricity, water, drinking water, new hospitals, schools, so I think 400 million US dollars have been spent to develop north,” the Sri Lankan President emphasised.
In order to integrate the minority Tamil population into the political mainstream, Mr. Rajapaksa said that there were local government elections in the region and that the Tamils also participated in the Presidential elections.
He even hinted at reshuffling his Cabinet to accommodate the minority population.
“So we have done lots of development in those areas for people and we have recruited from the youth to the Sri Lankan army and in the police. We believe in one country and peace for all the people in Sri Lanka”, Mr. Rajapaksa asserted.
Mr. Peres, speaking before Mr. Rajapaksa at the meeting, lauded Sri Lanka’s efforts in overcoming internal challenges.
“Your country faced so many difficulties but you were able to overcome them,” the Israeli President said.
“You were really successful in bringing reconciliation to your people...it is not a small achievement...we followed your example with great admiration. It was an extraordinary lesson in history,” he added.