Janith Aranze, in Sunday Leader, 10 July 2010
Last week Presidential advisor, Rajiva Wijesinha, embarked on a journey to Britainand other parts of Europeto defend the Sri Lankan government against increasing international pressure regarding war crimes committed during the last stages of the war. Below are excerpts of an interview he gave The Sunday Leader regarding his visit and how the government is responding to international pressure.
Q: You are in the UK currently to defend serious war crimes charges against the Sri Lankan government. How successful has your visit been?
A: It has been very successful; both in terms of the diaspora reactions, especially the moderate Tamils, and talks with officials and politicians in London andBrussels, apart from the very generous coverage the BBC gave.
Q: 40 MP’s attended an event facilitated by the Global Tamil Forum in Parliament this week, where they called for ‘truth, accountability and justice’ in Sri Lanka. How does the government respond to such support?
A: We must bear in mind that people believe what they want to believe. The attacks will continue from people who refuse to look at evidence. If a report commissioned by the Secretary General ignored the evidence of senior UN personnel on the ground, and instead relied on a few who had been repudiated previously by their seniors, one must recognise that rationality has nothing to do with it, and that political and emotional considerations will trump evidence. Channel 4 still absolutely refuse to share the material with us, which makes a mockery of their claim that they want us to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for any crimes
Q: However several MP’s including former Foreign Secretary David Milliband and Alistair Burt, have come forward to say long-lasting peace can only be achieved in Sri Lanka through an independent investigations into war crimes.
A: We are not here to keep the British electorate happy. If David Milliband confessed to theUS his purpose was to win elections, we think it is unfair to put other countries at risk. TheUK and US would never allow the international community to carry out an investigation. Look how long it took theUK to investigate Bloody Sunday. The Sri Lankan government has pledged in the event of the evidence being given to us, that we will look into it.
Q: On what basis do you believe that the Channel 4 video was doctored?
A: When Channel 4 aired their first footage in August 2009, we asked them for the video, yet they didn’t give it to us. Even when Phillip Alston of the UN asked for the footage he was given an altered version. By altering, I mean video sent by Journalists for Democracy to Phillip Alston was saliently different to the one aired by Channel 4. The editing included transposing segments, so what was filmed first appeared third. This explained the strange phenomenon of the number of dead bodies on display reducing as time passed. The reason for this decision to edit backward remains obscure, as also the reason for including a segment that the experts declared had happened at a different time or even, as one of them asserted, in a different place. They continued to claim that the shooting was all done on mobile phones, even though one of them pointed out that an optical zoom had been used at one point, a device it seems you do not find in mobile phones. Incidentally, Channel 4 refused to give even the UN anymore information about the video, though this time it did provide them with the video that was shown
Q: The faces of men in Sri Lanka army uniform can be clearly identified in the Channel 4 video. Why have these men so far not been arrested or any investigation initiated?
A: We do not know who these people are, it’s just not possible for us to carry out an identification parade on nearly 100,000 people. We have asked for correct dates from Channel 4 which has not been given to us. The first video taken was said to be dated on January 19, 2009, which turned out to be false. The second video was declared by the UN experts to be microdated on July 16 or 19, 2009, which was long after the actual events took place. If we are given correct dates and time then we can find out if anyone was there.
Q: What work is currently being carried out to properly address the grievances of the Tamil people?
A: I believe the government has done extremely well thus far in the resettlement process, and in providing basic infrastructure, including schools, roads, water and electricity and better communications. It has also restored the local administration, led by extremely experienced Government Agents, some of whom did a superb job even while they had to work in areas controlled by the LTTE before 2009. The lady who ran Mullaitivu and supervised the distribution of supplies till just a few months before the conflict ended, is now in charge ofJaffna. One of her greatest achievements, it should be noted, was conducting the national Ordinary Level Examination in December 2008, for the children who the LTTE had forced into going along with them in their retreat from the Western part of the Wanni. The LTTE asked that the examination be boycotted, but the people did not give in and, after some sporadic efforts at violent prevention, their will prevailed. The gentleman who looked after Kilinochchi, and kept all services going right upto the time our forces took over the town, with hardly any civilian casualties, now heads the Secretariat in Mannar. The lady who was in charge of Vavuniya right through the period of conflict is ably developing new initiatives, while as mentioned, Kilinochchi is looked after by the first senior member of the Administrative Service born and bred in that area. In Mullaitivu we have someone who previously worked in Mannar during the conflict, with first hand experience of the problems faced by the displaced.
Q: What advise are you giving President Mahinda Rajapaksa as far as reconciliation is concerned following the conclusion of the war?
A: The work of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission is achieving a great deal when it comes to reconciliation. Though they could go more quickly about their work, and I have always been very critical of how slow they are, but we cannot affect the Commission.
Q: Why are there thousands of Tamil people continuing to be detained in the country under the Prevention of Terrorism Act if as you say Sri Lanka no longer has a terrorist problem?
A: There are fears that there are people trying to revive the LTTE and bring back terrorism to the country. When British MP’s tell us to speak to the rump of the LTTE inBritain rather then the Sinhala people themselves, we fear the money that they collected could be used to a bad end.