TamilWeek, Nov 13 - 19, 2005
"No war, but consensus for peace"

Rejecting claims that he has alienated the minority
voter, UPFA Presidential candidate and Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse says that so far
solutions to the ethnic conflict have failed and he
believes a fresh approach is necessary through
wider consensus. Excerpts from the interview:
By Anthony David

Your alliance has a number of parties with different views and there are
instances where they do not turn up on the same stage. Therefore some
believe you will find it difficult to work together with these parties. In the
past, the JVP has been known to pull out of alliances suddenly. Any
comment?

There is no reason that this alliance will breakdown as we have agreed on the
policies. We have been working together all along. All these parties support me
because we have reached an agreement on the policies. The Mahinda Chinthana is
the policy we will be working by. I have been able to bring these parties together.

There is a belief that you have alienated yourself from minority voters,
particularly after obtaining the support of the JHU in your campaign. How do
you hope to win their confidence?

There are many minority representatives like Mrs. Ashroff and Mr. Athaullah. Douglas
Devananda is also part of our alliance. So, nobody can say that I don't have the
support of the minorities. From the reception I got from the people in Jaffna, it was
obvious that I have not alienated myself from the minorities.

But, some of the main minority parties are supporting Mr. Wickremesinghe?

Mr. Thondaman does not have the same support base that he once had in the
upcountry. There is division among his supporters. Even Mr. Chandrasekaran's
support base has been reduced. The estate sector people think differently now. Even
the Muslims think differently and I am confident that I will have the support of the
minorities in all parts of the country.

There is a genuine fear that should you win, the LTTE would start its military
campaign and we will possibly see another period of the occasional bombs
exploding to worsen a retarded economy. Any comment?

That fear is baseless. This allegation has been brought up before this. Our aim is not
a return to war , but to reach consensus with all parties. We should not be tied down
to words arguing about unitary or united. Currently we have a unitary status. We
should find a solution among ourselves. This may not be in the books. We should
reach wide consensus. So far efforts to resolve the conflict have not helped. I am
looking for a new approach to reach a fresh consensus.

You have said that you want to reach a consensus with all parties to resolve
the ethnic conflict and the first phase of it is to be completed in three
months. How realistic is your first step towards peace?

I have said that we can arrive at some decision in three months. That is the maximum I
can give. What I will do is to try and reach some consensus from the people in the
south within three months. And after that we should try to reach a consensus with all
the parties.

How realistic is it when you say you will talk with Prabhakaran to solve the
ethnic problem?

We know that Prabhakaran has a problem, But I am ready to meet him. That itself
shows that I have not alienated the LTTE or Prabhakaran.

You have no experience in handling the 20-year old insurgency either
politically or militarily. You have kept aloof from the problem. Any comments?

I must tell you that I have 37 years of political experience. I have in fact faced the
insurgency in 1971. Even in 1989 I faced a similar situation. I do not believe in killing
people. Killing people is not the solution. Killing people , shooting people or putting
people in the Vadakagaraya (torture chamber) like Batalanda is not the solution. I am
a person who fought for human rights. Whether it is Eelam or war our priority should
be to settle the problems of the common man. I have experience in that. I will start
from that point.

If the LTTE does not agree will you choose war as a solution?

The LTTE wanted a separate state. It is because they cannot get it easily and it
cannot be easily given that the war broke out. Therefore we have to settle for a
solution short of Eelam. When you look for alternatives the LTTE will have to change.
Not only the LTTE, but we too will have to change to find a solution. The conflict must
be resolved and there isn't only just one alternative. Just because one alternative fails
war should not be the solution. All of us are tired of the war, the damage is much more
than the damage caused by the tsunami.

What about Norway's role, will it be reviewed?

We will not depend only on Norway. While accepting the services of Norway we should
get the help of India as well.

What would be your policy on obtaining foreign aid ?

It is common for governments to get foreign loans. Like other third world countries we
are caught in a trap. They put various conditions. But there are several countries
which are willing to help us without tough conditions. Remember during the tsunami
disaster how many countries supported us. But we will not betray the country to gain
foreign aid.

One of the points made by the opposition is that you lack international experience.
Just because a person travels abroad many times that is not a qualification for
international experience. We should see for what he has gained recognition. He
should represent the interests of the country. Foreign Policy is actually an expansion
of the country's policies.

What is the corner-stone of your foreign policy, "Friendship with all
countries", is ?

While improving relations with neighbouring countries like India and China we will not
distance ourselves from the West. But I will not bow down to any country. My foreign
policy will be based on the country's historic achievements.

What about relations with Israel. Can you comment?

My friendship with Palestine has not changed. Israel and Palestine are holding
discussions now, therefore there should be no problem

The misuse of tsunami funds is one of the allegations made by the
Opposition against you. Why did you stop the probe through a court order?

I believe that the allegations against me about misusing tsunami funds was a false
one. I think it was aimed at discrediting me at the Presidential election. Since this was
being used against me as a conspiracy I decided that I will resort to legal action. But I
have nothing against any investigation. The reason I stopped it was because the
allegation was being made with an ulterior motive.

Do you think there was a conspiracy to defeat you?

To my knowledge there is no conspiracy. My aim is to create a new Sri Lanka. The
people opposing it may join hands. I have understood this. During my 37 years of
politics I have faced many challenges. I will never quit. My aim is to restore peace and
develop the country.

What is your message to voters?

Have confidence in me and vote for me. I am only requesting one thing from the
voters. That is not to harm any of the opponents after the elections. We need to
co-operate and work with them after the election to build the nation.

[Courtesy: Sunday Times]
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