Interview

Ranil Wickramasinghe’s interview to Thanthi TV

THANTHI TV: Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister for agreeing to talk to us. Let me start asking about the working of the New National Govt. There is an SLFP President, UNP Prime Minister. Ministers from parties that have been opposing each other in elections consecutively. How does this actually work?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We were all united on few issues... Restoration of democracy in Sri Lanka, end of the Rajapaksa regime, the need to remove the executive presidency & finally need to have a national reconciliation. So we got together. The fact is that Rajapaksa was crowding the democratic space in Sri Lanka. One of the the smaller parties that has always opposed the UNP consistently said, "Look, fish need water, we need space... He is not giving us the space...let’s all get together, create a democratic system, strengthen it & then we can all go back to the party politics that we knew”. It is like Political parties getting together in a National crisis, it's generally a war, an invasion which brings them together... But here it was a major Political crisis which decided... Will this country be a Multi party democracy or will it be the Rajapaksa regime... It affected the SLFP itself...Because the SLFP was being replaced, the cadres, the Members were being replaced by the henchmen of Rajapaksa regime. This is why the General Secretary of the SLFP became the Common candidate, today, he is the President of the Country.

THANTHI TV: But can this set up go on after the Parliamentary elections...Can this go beyond the ensuing Parliamentary elections?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yes, we have decided that we will work together at least for two years & we could assess the situation, can we stay on or should we separate. I like all the parties to get together. As I said in Sinhalese, I want to make the whole Parliament a Government. One Group will be The Ministers & Deputy Ministers, the rest of them will become over sight Committee. Like the European Parliament or the American congress, exercising powers of oversight over the Government, therefore the chairman of the Oversight committee will also be a Powerful Political figure

THANTHI TV: But is it, practically feasible to go on for that long?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yes. We can go for 2 years...We can manage for 2 years

THANTHI TV: On President Sirisena's visit to India... He is back after after his first State visit to India... Are you happy about the outcome of his visit?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: yes... I’m quite happy. First being President Sirisena's visit to Delhi, Next month will be Prime Minister Modi's visit to Sri Lanka... This shows we are re-establishing links, repairing the damage, getting ahead.

THANTHI TV: That’s true... The engagements are happening more often than before. My question is on Prime Minister Modi's visit. This is very significant because this is a bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister that happens after 28 long years. If Modi wishes to visit the North of Sri Lanka, the Tamil Province, Would you facilitate & encourage such a visit?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: He is welcome to visit to Jaffna... We have invited him for him to visit Jaffna; He is requested to visit Jaffna. And that visit will take place. He also has to decide what are the other places he would like to visit during his stay in Sri Lanka.

THANTHI TV: Could it be in the upcountry?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Well he may visit Kandy, which is the old capital. But I think the focus will mainly be on some of our religious places & the North.

THANTHI TV: The Prime Minister will also be visiting Kandy where substantial number of Indian origin Tamils live?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Kandy is possible on the places that he may like to visit...Then he could visit the temple of the tooth & pay homage to the tooth relic. But his meeting with the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka will mainly be in & around Jaffna. Remember there are enough of Tamils of recent Indian origin in Colombo... He need not go anywhere else; he can meet them all in Colombo.

THANTHI TV: The previous regime was not very cozy about the Foreign Heads of Government, visiting the North of Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa regime expressed displeasure over the British Prime Minister visiting north... You have no problem about our Prime Minister visiting north?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: No, Once we have a visit by a Foreign head of Govt., in addition to Colombo, he must be allowed to choose where he likes to visit

THANTHI TV: When are you visiting India, Mr. Prime Minister?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Well, I have been visiting India on & off... But I don’t think I will come to India till after the Parliamentary elections are over.

THANTHI TV: Where does China factor today stand in the Indo- Sri Lankan Relations? The Previous regime was perceived largely pro-china

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We keep the Indo- Sri Lanka relations separate from Sino- Sri Lanka relations... Both are important for us. With India there is historic link. Under the Indo- Lanka agreement, both countries have agreed that they will not take any measures that will harm the security of the other country. So in conducting our relations with China or with other country, we keep this in mind. With this way, we are able to handle the Indo-Sri Lanka relationship separately from the Sino- Lanka relations. What we did not like was the attempt at the time of Rajapaksa regime to play India off against China. Play China card with India, India card with China. That is not a wise policy. India also helped us. Without the help of India, President Rajapaksa could have not wiped out the LTTE . He got that help & he agreed to give concessions even beyond the 13th amendment...But he did not do so...

THANTHI TV: India helped Sri Lanka in the war?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yes... certainly

THANTHI TV: India has been categorically denying that.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Amnesia, you know is very common among politicians.

THANTHI TV: There was a perception that the previous regime was largely in tilt towards China. Is the era of Pro- China tilt over today?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: As I told you, we have no Pro china tilt; we have No Pro India tilt.

THANTHI TV: I’m asking about the Previous Govt. There was a perception that the previous regime had a pro-china tilt.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Because they had a strained relations with the west. They relied on china for all the economic assistance .But in our case, while we welcome Chinese investment & assistance, we will also be getting investment assistance from other countries. There won’t be a tilt as far as UNP is concerned, President Sirisena is concerned & other parties in the National Govt. are concerned... As a result of how they conducted their foreign policy, there is a general feeling that Rajapaksa regime had tilted towards China.

THANTHI TV: Your Position on the Port city project has now triggered some doubts.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: No doubt. I'm the first person to raise the Port city in the Parliament... I asked for the reports. Now we have appointed a committee to go into the port city & to make a report. Depending on the outcome of the report, we will decide what our measures are going to be. But once we get the report, we will also give a copy of it to the Chinese Govt. & then commence discussion

THANTHI TV: You had spoken about the scrapping of the project. , but now....

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I still think if the report is adverse, then the project should be scrapped.

THANTHI TV: If the report is adverse, the port city project should be scrapped?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: if the report is adverse, we have to scrap it. But then, we want to hear all parties. My contention on the report has not been tabled... Hear all the parties & take a decision.

THANTHI TV: While bilateral consultations with regards to voluntary repatriation of refugees from India to Sri Lanka have begun, The Tamil Nadu Govt. has raised certain doubts. It believes the situation & atmosphere is still not congenial & your govt. has not taken constructive steps. Do you say all is well for the refugees to return to Sri Lanka?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We have an environment for the refugees to return to Sri Lanka. If they have doubts & they want a longer time, just give them some more time. As the situation keep getting back to normal & improving, people in Tamil Nadu will say, why don’t they go back to Sri Lanka. We don’t want to force the issue, as the events develop, they will have to return to Sri Lanka.

THANTHI TV: These criticisms come at the back ground that the resettlement of the internally displaced Tamils hasn’t happened in entirety

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Of the 11,000 acres, now only about 5000 acres are in army's control. We have identified some other places to be returned. Some of the refugees may be from these areas, or they may be from areas where life is back to normal. In any case, if they have fear, they should be given some more time to return.

THANTHI TV: Tamil Nadu has played a very significant or a powerful part in the Indo- Sri Lankan relations... The complaint is that Governments in Colombo & also in Delhi have not taken this special factor into consideration which in turn has only complicated relations between the 2 countries. Now that there is a regime change, would you take Tamil Nadu's views on board, would you like to engage with Tamil Nadu while dealing with India?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: When I was Prime Minister (earlier), I always engaged with Tamil Nadu, kept them informed. Of course we have to deal with the Govt. of India. We know Chennai, we go there regularly, we have friends there. Some go for shopping, some go for religious purposes . Tamil Nadu is not an unknown place.

THANTHI TV: But would you like to engage with Tamil Nadu?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: On bilateral relations, we deal with the Govt. of India. When we go to Tamil Nadu, we keep them informed. We like that to Continue.

THANTHI TV: Your Manifesto says, your policy will take diversity of India into concern...Does that mean Tamil Nadu?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yes...certainly... Southern part of the sub-continent is closer to each other.

THANTHI TV: When the Tamil Nadu issue was raised, the attitude of the previous Govt. was that we deal with the Govt. in Delhi, not Chennai. Chennai is not our concern... Will there now be change in attitude?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We have always said, Govt. to Govt. in Delhi... We have always wanted Good relations with States in Southern India, Chennai( TN) , Kerala- Large number of Sinhalese have supposed connections with Kerala , Karnataka, & of course Andhra which is now in 2 places .. Telengana & Andhra... All that has been traditional parts of our relations. Do you know that Narasimha Varman, The king of Pallavas, he was able to defeat the Chalukyan king because his command was a Prince from Sri Lanka called Manavamma. Then King gave his army to Manavamma to return to Sri Lanka & re-establish himself on the throne of Anuradhapura. Pallava & the Anuradhapura kings had very very close relations, Pandians too had... The final line up was Sri Lanka, Pallava, Pandiyas & Sri Vijaya against Cholas... Of course Chola defeated all of us. Kerala & Sri Lanka are the only two areas in the Indian subcontinent that use coconut oil for cooking.

THANTHI TV: Can I understand that you would prioritize strengthening relations with South India?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We will...We will always.

THANTHI TV: I must definitely ask you about the resolution that the Northern Provincial council of Sri Lanka has now passed. The allegation is that the successive Governments of Sri Lanka have been committing genocide against the Tamils. What is your response?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Very very irresponsible statement by the Chief Minister. I don’t agree with it. Makes it difficult for us to communicate with the Chief Minister when he passes resolutions like this. This will be the same position in India, if a Chief Minister passed resolution accusing Delhi of committing Genocide. I have been dealing with Mr. Sammanthan &the members of the TNA resolving the issue. Yes, there was a war, people were killed but on all sides. Remember just as much as Tamils got killed. There were Muslims & Sinhalese were killed.

THANTHI TV: But the Magnitude was high on the Tamil side

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yes... Muslims were killed in the east...they were Tamil speakers, not Sinhala speakers.

THANTHI TV: But the Magnitude sir. ! The numbers?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Magnitude high...Yes... But remember some of the Tamils were killed by the LTTE... LTTE wiped out the Political leadership of Jaffna. All the TULF & other members were killed by the LTTE. No Tamil politicians were killed by the Security forces of Sri Lanka. Many of the Jaffna's leadership were killed by the LTTE. You ask the people of Jaffna

THANTHI TV: Going by the UN Report, the large number of the killing were done by the Sri Lankan forces.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: UN report talks of the last phase of the war, where large numbers of people were killed. The numbers are in dispute. UN report says 40,000...Some of the official reports say 5000...

THANTHI TV: The diaspora says, it could be closer to a lakh or so.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: No... I would not say... I don’t think it would come even up to 40,000... We are willing to verify it. Sri Lanka had to fight a war...LTTE used the civilians as a shield... Then what happened there, is what we have to inquire into... Was it that they were used as a shield & you couldn’t avoid the casualties or was it that you could avoid some casualties & you dint do so. We are not trying to cover any thing up. We have got the UN; we are dealing with the UN

THANTHI TV: So, You deny the charge that there has been genocide against the Tamils. ?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I would say large number of people of Sri Lanka, including a large number of Tamils have been killed in the conflict. Some of them are casualties of war. Some are killed for no reasons at all. Deaths have been partly due to the operations of the Sri Lankan Army, security forces, partly due to the operations of the IPKF, partly due to the operations of the LTTE...

THANTHI TV: You would blame the IPKF also?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: People were killed by all these... casualties took place under Sri Lankan security forces, IPKF and also by LTTE... We are in no way denying it. We are not going to say that the actions of the Sri Lankan security forces did not result in deaths of Tamils, may be in large numbers. Some in fighting & some in other circumstances, which we are willing to look at. But to say that it was only that it was only the Government of Sri Lanka? When Mr. Wigneswaran knows that he would not have been taken from Colombo & made the Chief Minister if there was a Political leadership left in Jaffna by the LTTE. What happened in 2005? In 2005 if people of Jaffna were allowed to vote, I could have prevented what took place in 2009. Who made Mahinda Rajapaksa the President? Not the people in the south... By preventing 300 to 400 thousand Tamils from voting, there was a deal between Mahinda Rajapaksa & LTTE. Mahinda Rajapaksa paid money to the LTTE. One of them who took the money to LTTE Amirkanthan is still there somewhere in the Middle East. That’s well known.

THANTHI TV: You accuse Rajapaksa of paying money to the LTTE?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: That is a fact even Rajapaksa has not denied... Prabhakaran took money...

THANTHI TV: Had you become the President, things would have been otherwise?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We would have come towards a resolution... Because many in the LTTE were willing to do a deal. Prabhakaran wasn’t (ready). Finally he fell out with Balasingham...Why was Balasingham excluded? Balasingham knew the reality .The reality was the International Community wanted a deal. Prabhakaran thought I can't finish him off physically, I will finish off politically. He could finish off Premadasa physically; He failed to finish off President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was for peace, who still stands for peace. He dint want a peace settlement because after 5 -6 years, his leadership could have been challenged... We were all discussing one of the biggest issues that we have in a peace settlement was the threat to Prabhakaran from the people of Jaffna. Remember he had killed enough of them that someone was going to take revenge. As far as the Sinhalese, Muslims were concerned, they would have said it is all part of the war & it is over. One of the biggest concerned we have had was what is the security of Prabhakaran after the Peace settlement, because he would have been a target of people from the North who wanted to settle scores with him. How many Tamil leaders were killed...His own Mathaya was put into a cage & shot. Why did some of the others break away & come, because they knew Prabhakaran would kill them. Finally Prabhakaran's desire for glory was such that he nearly wiped out the whole Tamil race.

THANTHI TV: You blame Prabhakaran for Genocide?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I blame him for having destroyed, decimated the Tamil Political leadership.

THANTHI TV: There are allegations on both sides

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We have said, we are willing to have an Inquiry. We have no problem

THANTHI TV: Why not an International enquiry sir?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Because, Sri Lanka like India is not a party to Statute of Rome, therefore Jurisdiction lies with the Domestic courts. There was problem with the Domestic courts, as to whether the courts are Independent, when the Chief Justice was moved out. We now have the same standards like India. India would say the same stand as us... We are willing to have an Inquiry, if they want to have foreign observers; we have no problems with it at all.

THANTHI TV: Are you & Rajapaksa are not on the same page?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I’m not on the same page with Rajapaksa

THANTHI TV: On the International enquiry? He also spoke of a Domestic process credible to the International community

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I’m on the same line with the Government of India. As far as Jurisdiction in criminal & legal matters is concerned it lies with the Republic of India & with Republic of Sri Lanka as neither of us has signed the Statute of Rome... I'm the one who refused to sign the statute of Rome. But I'm prepared to have any amount of trials in Sri Lanka. We have to ensure that Judiciary is Independent... If anyone wants to come in, Human Rights Watch or any one, they are completely free to come into Sri Lanka, which was not allowed by Rajapaksa. If there is a request for an enquiry in Sri Lanka, We can talk over it with the Human Rights council. Let's see what their final report...We are willing to discuss with them... All we are saying is Jurisdiction for trials lies with the Government of Sri Lanka just as much as in India it lies with India, in America it lies with the USA. Remember that these are all Governments that did not sign the Statute of Rome. Therefore, if Human Rights Watch wants to come tomorrow they are free to come. I will say yes. As far as UN is concerned, if they make recommendations, certainly we have to consider & talk to them... We have invited the High Commissioner. If someone else makes a request... No....When we had problems in the South in the 1989 & 90, they asked for International enquiry... I said No; the person who asked for International enquiry was a person by the name of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

THANTHI TV: He was wrong?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I said No International Enquiry. If the UN Human rights commission wants an inquiry, I'm willing to talk to them. But I invited Human rights watch & others to come to Sri Lanka... (After the uprisings in 1989&90)They all came to Sri Lanka. The Congressional staff came to Sri Lanka... We have nothing to hide. We know terrible incidents have taken place...More than 100 Thousand people have been killed. There were uprisings in the North & in the South... I don’t think any country had gone through that. At one stage our Jurisdiction was limited to a few cities where uprising in the North & South had taken place same time. We just wanted to put it behind us. Any Inquiry that helps us to put it behind us, YES. The Only people who can talk to us about an Inquiry are the UN council on Human rights...

THANTHI TV: That’s right...But the Office of the High commission has recommended an International enquiry... Office of the Human rights commissioner wants it.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yes. President Rajapaksa turned it down. But When Ms. Pillay came to Sri Lanka; I met her & I said, make your recommendations... If we are in The Government we will consider it. But again I told her Domestic jurisdiction is different. You've got to draw a line between what is domestic jurisdiction & what is the enquiry...In the case the enquiry , It is a body like UN That can ask you for an enquiry & the Govt. can respond by saying 'No' we are not going to have an Inquiry or say Yes, we are willing to talk to you on that. If the UN report says so, we are willing to do that.

THANTHI TV: If the High commissioner insists, you would consider?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We want an Inquiry. As far as Jurisdiction is concerned, Jurisdiction is a matter for Sri Lanka. As far as the Inquiry is concerned, it is not me; it is President Rajapaksa who agreed with the Secretary General of the UN that there shall be an Inquiry that meets the International standards. It is the same resolution which he got the member states to move in the UN Human rights council. Whatever commitments President Rajapaksa gave in writing to the UN secretary General & UN Human rights council, we will honor... I have no problems about that.

THANTHI TV: Do you think he has not honoured the promise?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: He did not allow an inquiry.

THANTHI TV: The domestic process that Rajapaksa was talking about doesn’t seem credible to the International community. You say will bring an Inquiry that is credible to the International community?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: As far as the domestic commission he has appointed a commission called Maxwell - Paranagama -commission. They have asked for six months more...we have given six months, when that is over the report will be made available for the UN council to make their decision…they can make whether it is credible or not. I don't want to pass any judgment now. In addition the commission has appointed a committee chaired by Sir Desmond Desilva, British Queen council of Sri Lankan origin to make recommendation about the judicial procedures, so that report will also be made available to them and we are talking with the South African government in regard to establishing a truth commission, that will also be made available …so we are doing a lot.

THANTHI TV: Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran largely blames you for decision to retain the army in the North. He says you are playing obsolete political tactics for electoral reasons … Do you deny the charge?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Army is in all parts of Sri Lanka. I don't find any reason why the army should go out of any district in Sri Lanka, there are district head quarters in every part of Sri Lanka, and actually their structure is based on the India one.

THANTHI TV: But the army civilian ratio in the North is appalling

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I know that...what we have said is - as far as we are concerned we are not pulling the security forces out of any place unless we see improvements ..But at the same time there is lots of land that can be released to the people in different parts of the country. We have started with the thousand acres now the TNA said there has been an agreement in court over another two thousand acres, I just handed over to the attorney general .They have raised the issue of people in Mannar, we will go into it and Killinochi. We said lot of land has been utilized for other purposes. In Sampur we have handed the re-settlement to the people in Sampur...then in Panama we have resettled that issue that’s for Sinhala farmers whose lands were taken away so that they could build VIP chalets e. We are starting the process but remember this cannot be done overnight...it will take some time

THANTHI TV: But he blames the slow pace

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I told you that I disagree with him. He is irresponsible and he will have to explain himself for the Tamil speaking people. Lots of Tamils are today criticizing him. I am dealing here with the TNA members of parliament, if it is at slow pace they need not come weekly

THANTHI TV: This is not the TNA's demand alone the UN high commissioner has also been demanding this... international community has been demanding this

Ranil Wickramasinghe: UN high commissioner wants the lands restored .They say immediately and I have asked him to come, it has to be gradual. First we have to be satisfied with the security situation secondly we have to decide what happens in the rest of the country, but it was not a question, we never said in the 100 days manifesto which everyone voted for about pulling troops out .It was a security decision, we said about restoring lands to the people in all parts of Si Lanka

THANTHI TV: But what stops you from doing that

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Nothing to prevent us. All the land that is not required will be done

THANTHI TV: But the ratio? Army civilian ratio in the North is not proportionate to the other parts of the country.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Army civilian ratio will be adjusted as time goes on. No one has said it is going to be that high all the time. Isn't Vigneshwaran playing politics? It is utter irresponsible statement of a Chief Minister.

THANTHI TV: He has a line of two in praise of the president why do you think he blames you.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: He never even spoke to me on anything. Today you ask him again to repeat it. I’ll be going to Jaffna

THANTHI TV: He said you had told him that you had told the (Mahanayakas) Buddhist monks that you are not going to demilitarize the North

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I never told him anything. Wigneshwaran never dealt with me. He has never dealt with me.

THANTHI TV: He gives minute details, you smiled and said...

Ranil Wickramasinghe: He came only once when I was in the opposition. I have not dealt with him. I have no dealings with Wigneshwaran. He is a liar!

THANTHI TV: There was no meeting between you and Wigneshwaran recently?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Wigneswaran sent me a letter

THANTHI TV: The content of his speech was....

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I have not spoken to Wigneshwaran. I don't discuss Jaffna with Wigneshwaran. I discuss it with TNA in the parliament

THANTHI TV: You did not smile?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I would have smiled at him. He was a man who went and grabbed Rajapaksa here; he was willing to do a deal with Rajapaksa. I have not dealt with him. I have never had dealings with him.

THANTHI TV: As chief Minister he has to deal with the president

Ranil Wickramasinghe: No he has never come even otherwise as Chief Minister he never dealt with me as opposition. Wigneswaran has had no dealing. If he said so he is a liar. Next time I go to Jaffna, I will not meet him... I am going in the March.

THANTHI TV: You are not going to meet him

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I will not meet him unless he withdraws that …I will not meet him

THANTHI TV: You had not told him that you had told the Mahanayakas that there will be no de-militarization

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I have not spoken to all Mahanayakas... To begin with, my discussions on Jaffna have only been with two Mahanayakas... Maalvartha and the Mahanayaka Ramanya. Ramanya Mahanayaka is also the chair of the council of the religions, he was talking about the need to release the land and how we can do it while looking after the security...Mahanayaka Malwatta said certainly the land should be returned but we should not put the security at peril .that’s all they have said. I never spoke to him (Wigneswaran), he came to me once and I have no dealings

THANTHI TV: Your refusal to deal with him... will this not complicate matters further?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: It won't complicate matters for me...It will complicate matters for him.

THANTHI TV: For the people?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: I deal with the people & with the members of the parliament

THANTHI TV: He is the representative of the Northern provincial council

Ranil Wickramasinghe: He is the Chief Minister of the provincial council... I deal with the members of the parliament just as much as I deal with the members of parliament in Kandy, I don’t deal the Chief Minister

THANTHI TV: Not the provincial government?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: if the provincial government wants to deal with me... yes! I have a Chief Minister in Badulla, I don't deal with him. In this, it is a conscious decision not to deal with Wigneshwaran,

THANTHI TV: Because of his remarks?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Because of his remarks and he lied. I can say that because I can directly deal with the people of Jaffna. I have no problem. I don't need Wigneshwaran to go there.

THANTHI TV: On the autonomy issue & the full implementation of the 13th amendment, how do you propose to go about it further?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We are implementing it, we are looking at how it is going to function in regard to independent commission and a concern which has been raised by a lot of people about the politicization of the police and whether the independent police commission is sufficient to depoliticize the police and whether we should take other steps to depoliticize the police. The fear is that the police will become private armies with the chief ministers. We haven't got the precedent of India. Politicization of the police at the center by president Rajapaksa has given that fear.

THANTHI TV: It works well in the countries like India

Ranil Wickramasinghe: It works with India. I said we don't have the precedence of India. It hasn’t worked here. We had it earlier. We haven't got it now. Fortunately Inspector General of police said look I will carry out what is expected of me under the law for the election. As a result he brought in former Inspector General of police and made him the secretary of the minister of Public order who tried to overrule this. The country has agreed that there should be no politicization of police. How we achieve is the matter that the whole parliament has to discuss. There is the fear that if there is politicization of the police that will lead to central government having one may be with the Prime minister after the amendment, one under the chief ministers so there are 10 police forces. We brought in independent police service commission in 2001 when the police was not politicized in this way. Now the parties have to talk to each other to see that there are more steps to depoliticize the police force and what is the relationship between head of government and police and the Chief Ministers and the police.

THANTHI TV: The other concern is about the merger...Would you consider the merger of the north and the east?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: The constitution of Sri Lanka provided for 9 provinces and that any mergers requires a referendum in both those provinces

THANTHI TV: But it is an integral part of the accord

Ranil Wickramasinghe: It is not a part of the accord. It only acknowledged merger for 1 year… temporary merger for 1 year and in 2005 Rajapaksa said I will not have a merger and Prabakaran supported him.

THANTHI TV: That is a conspiracy theory

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Whatever it is... it prevented the Tamils from voting. If you want a merger of any two provinces or more 13th amendment provides the way. You can have a merger. That is the provincial councils must vote in favor of the merger and must be supported by the majority of the people.

THANTHI TV: You talk about the full implementation of 13th amendment without the merger, without the police powers....

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Merger is not a part of the 13th amendment as the way you say. No one said North and east are going to be one province; it was a temporary merger for 1 year under the Indo-Lanka accord and any merger there-after will have to be by a referendum. President Jayewardene said I am going to hold a referendum and I will campaign against it. The day he was with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi he said it...

THANTHI TV: Are you for referendum now?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: If the two provincial councils want a referendum, then we will hold a referendum

THANTHI TV: you are okay?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: If the two provincial councils... Not only there, if two provinces anywhere want to merge and the pass it then we have to agree.

THANTHI TV: If there is a resolution passed by North and Eastern provincial council pass a resolution in demand of a referendum, the central government is okay?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Then the central government must hold a referendum. If the western and the North western province want to merge, we will have to hold the referendum. You can’t pass constitution amendments. There are supreme court judgments so if they have the majority, let them get the majority and do that and I didn’t say no police powers I said relationship of the head of the government to the police and the chief Minister to the police have to be reconsidered in the light of the need to depoliticize the police. I didn’t say it is only Chief Minister I said the head of government also.

THANTHI TV: On the fishermen issue...This is a long standing issue between India & Sri Lanka...How do you propose to solve this issue.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: It's an issue between Tamil Nadu fishermen & Sri Lankan fishermen... They have got to sit down & we have to work this out. There can be No bottom trawling. There can be no solution that permits the Indian fishermen to do bottom trawling. This is basically Sri Lanka Waters... What would you have done if all our fishermen went into the Indian waters & started fishing there...? Now what you are claiming is, we want to come there, we want to fish in your water & we want to bottom trawl in your waters.

THANTHI TV: They say it is their traditional fishing right

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We are ready to consider the boats of the type that were used when Katchatheevu issue was resolved, you use the boats of that type...we will consider.

THANTHI TV: Our fishermen are on record saying that they are ready to give up bottom trawling.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Tell them to give up bottom trawling. Look, between you & me, these are relations...They are intermarried... They have to sit down & sort it out. As far as the Northern fishermen of Sri Lanka are concerned, it is their Track grounds. If you have the type of boats that were used when Katchatheevu has handed over, If you are using same number of boats that were there when the agreement was done, we are willing to talk on that.

THANTHI TV: You are willing to give them their traditional fishing right. ?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: We are willing to talk on that if it is restricted to the type of boats that were used when the Katchatheevu accord was done & the number of boats is equal to the number of boats that were there during the Katchatheevu accord.

THANTHI TV: You raised the Katchatheevu issue... Tamil Nadu largely believes the retrieval of Katchatheevu is the only solution for this issue... Would you consider ceding the island?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Look...Look. Katchatheevu is a Part of Sri Lanka... Delhi thinks it is a part of Sri Lanka, I know it is a part of Tamil Nadu Politics...I know all of them... On the issue of fishing, this is what we say...These are traditional waters... People who fish in it are the Fishermen in the North, even in the Fishermen in the south find some of the Indian trawlers coming to the southern areas also, like near Puttalam. It is a big issue for us... It is their livelihood. We prevented these (Sri Lankan) fishermen from fishing earlier because of the war, Otherwise they would have been fishing... At one stage LTTE armed some of the fishermen to shoot the fishermen coming from India. We are not doing that

THANTHI TV: But there are allegations of Sri Lankan Navy shooting fishermen...Around 600 Indian fishermen were killed in the last many years.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: No ...Not recently.

THANTHI TV: Until 2011.The last was in 2011.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: yeah. In 2011.Part of that earlier was during the time of war they felt some of them actually were involved in supplying of arms. Remember this, that as far as we are concerned, even today The Northern Fishermen are shouting why the Navy isn’t defending us... There were fishermen who have written letters why aren’t you using the Navy to shoot them. It is from the fishermen of the North... We have a job explaining to them, Look these are territorial waters, but we still have to go & talk to India & sort it out.

THANTHI TV: May be there are such requests... But do you deny the allegation that the Sri Lankan Navy has carried out Human right violations against Indian fishermen.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Sri Lankan Navy had to patrol it & at some stages there were shooting of Fishermen at the height when we asked fishermen to stop to prevent flow of arms between India & Sri Lanka.

THANTHI TV: Is that justified sir? Shooting fishermen of the neighboring country, a friendly neighbor.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: It’s not a question of that. At that time, LTTE was running arms. . Whether Sri Lankan Fishermen or Indian fishermen, they had to stop, when the Navy asks them to stop. There also have been instances of the Sri Lankan Navy shooting innocent fishermen. We have not said No to it.

THANTHI TV: So, that has happened?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yeah... The fact that they have been running arms... In some instance they have to shoot because they were poaching on Sri Lankan Waters.

THANTHI TV: Poaching waters? Can this be punished with shooting...? Human rights violations?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Why are you coming into our waters? Why are you fishing in our waters...? Stay on the Indian side... There will be no issue...No one will shoot anyone else...You stay on the Indian side, Let our fishermen stay on the Sri Lankan side... Otherwise don’t make accusations of Human rights violation by the Navy. You came in there.

THANTHI TV: Lot of friendly neighbors have fishing agreements.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: You be on to that side, we be on that side. Why do you all pick up the Italian sailors...? You say you are friendly with Italy, show that same magnanimity to Italy that you want us to show.

THANTHI TV: They killed our fishermen...We are still following the course of law

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Look... If you want us to show that magnanimity to your fishermen. India should show the same magnanimity to Italian sailors.

THANTHI TV: attack was on the Indian fishermen... Italian marines shot our Indian fishermen.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Look, you are taking away the livelihood for our Northern fishermen.

THANTHI TV: That can’t justify taking away lives sir.

Ranil Wickramasinghe: if someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed...Law allows me to do that... On the fishermen issue, As far as I'm concerned, I have very very strong lines. This is our waters...Fishermen of Jaffna should be allowed to fish. We stopped them from fishing , That's Why the Indian fishermen came in,, They are willing to have a deal...Let's have a reasonable deal..But not at the expense of the income of the Northern Fishermen...No...

THANTHI TV: There were proposals of Fishermen fishing on both sides without

having any territorial restrictions

Ranil Wickramasinghe: you have no fish... it's not worth fishing there... Fishes are here...

THANTHI TV: On Retrieval of Katchatheevu, If India raises this issue... Would you consider ceding, if not ceding, leasing the Island in perpetuity?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: Look...We are not ceding, we are not leasing, India is not raising it... Let’s be quite firm about that... India is not going to raise it... These are hypothetical issues.

THANTHI TV: We are talking a lot on Political relations... India & Sri Lanka share strong cultural ties. Now that things are getting normalized...How do you propose to strengthen the cultural ties in terms of Arts, literature?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: It's a people to people relationship...let it flow... it will happen. There was no Govt. involved in strengthening the relationship for so long... It will go on...Brahmi script, the Sinhala script, the Tamil scripts all had no Govts involved. It will take place.

THANTHI TV: But if the Govts facilitate, it can happen faster

Ranil Wickramasinghe: That’s true... Emperor Ashoka facilitated Mahinda coming to Sri Lanka...We can facilitate...It’s a normal process...it will keep growing

THANTHI TV: What to expect of Prime Minister Modi's visit to Sri Lanka?

Ranil Wickramasinghe: It's a goodwill one to restore the ties between the two countries

THANTHI TV: Thank you very much...A pleasure talking to you.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 7:09:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/ranil-wickramasinghes-interview-to-thanthi-tv/article6966818.ece

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