I wrote last week in these columns about how the meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Tamil National Alliance(TNA) leader and Trincomalee district MP Rajavarothayam Sampanthan at “Temple Trees” aimed at breaking the deadlock in Govt-TNA talks ended inconclusively and abruptly.
The impasse continues still! [Click here to read in full: on dbsjeyaraj.com: TNA leader R. Sampanthan interviewed by Namanin Wijedasa]
Senior Journalist Namini Wijedasa interviewed the veteran Tamil leder for the English weekly “Lakbima News” where Mr. Sampanthan explained what had occurred with the President. He also spoke about current issues and about the TNA position on those matters in the interview
I am reproducing the interview in full on my blog with due acknowledgement to “Lakbima News” and Namini Wijedasa.
Here it is Friends-DBS Jeyaraj
TNA LEADER R.SAMPANTHAN INTERVIEWED BY NAMINI WIJEDASA
Talks between the Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party on a possible power-sharing arrangement are deadlocked again. TNA parliamentarian R. Sampanthan said in an interview that he hoped the international community would “do the right thing” at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where Sri Lanka will face a resolution next week. Excerpts from the interview:
What happened at your meeting with the president this week?
At the invitation of the president, I met him at Temple Trees. It was not a one-to-one meeting. Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and president’s secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, were there. I was the only one who went on behalf of the TNA. Talks commenced about the present state of the bilateral talks and the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). The president expressed a desire to have our names for the PSC. I told him this was a matter on which we had come to an understanding earlier, when I met him on September 2.
Our bilateral talks had ceased on August 4 since the government did not come up with a response to our proposals (on power-sharing) despite seven meetings and five months having gone by. In September we agreed that the bilateral talks would continue and that consensus arrived at these talks on some of the more important issues could be taken before the PSC as a joint or government position. When the bilateral talks recommenced on September 16, this understanding was confirmed and recorded in the minutes. Our position has always been that bilateral talks must continue and that there must be a measure of consensus which must be taken before the PSC.
Why can’t you reach consensus in the PSC?
We have talked for one year with the SLFP, the main party in government. If we cannot arrive at a consensus with them on some of the more important issues, I don’t think the PSC, which will have several hardliners from the government on it, is going to be able to deliver anything.
Are you saying the JHU could cobble everything?
I’m not saying anyone can dictate, but if the SLFP, which is the main constituent party in the government and makes up 95 percent of the government, is unable to arrive at a consensus with the TNA at least on some of the most important issues, I see a total lack of good faith. In any case, this is an agreement that was arrived at between the TNA and the president. The abrogation and violation of agreements has been the cause of all this trouble. Why should I not have the benefit of an agreement that the president arrived at with me in order to have the bilateral talks recommenced?
Are you totally unwilling to nominate members to the PSC?
I can’t handle this through the media. I have explained my position to the president and told him that he must stand by his commitment.
What was his response?
He looked at me and looked at the others and then we wound up the talks.
Will this deadlock last until either the president or the TNA backs down?
I’m not saying we should back down but it’s unfair for them, particularly when (UN Human Rights Council) sessions are coming up in Geneva towards the end of the month, to call upon me to give names for the PSC. It is in violation of the specific commitment, not only made to me but recorded and confirmed at the next meeting of the bilateral talks
Was this a stunt the president pulled to have something to show in Geneva?
I don’t know. I don’t want to go into an analysis but I’m just telling you what happened. We remain committed to a dialogue. As far as the TNA is concerned we have told our people very clearly that we are committed to a dialogue which will bring about a reasonable, workable and durable political solution within the framework of a united, undivided country. I’m committed to this position and (I told him) you will not have many people like me around, if you do not use this opportunity. He seemed to agree with me. It’s up to him to do what he needs to do
Sri Lanka is facing a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva . What do you hope the international community will do in response?
I hope they will do the right thing.
The government maintains that the resolution is a Western conspiracy against the country. Do you agree?
I don’t see it that way for the simple reason that in this country nothing is ever done in a straightforward or candid way. What happened to the report of the All Party Representatives Committee which Tissa Vitarana is supposed to have submitted to the president? Why was the report of the Udalagama Commission not finished? Who terminated it, who scuttled it and why? The international community knows the position. We know all about this. There is a need for a degree of involvement by an independent impartial body to ensure that what happened in the last stages of the war is not repeated in Sri Lanka , that we don’t have a recurrence of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws.
You are referring to a unique situation that arose at the end of a 30-year conflict. Why would it recur?
Violence had been unleashed against the Tamils not only in the war. Other than violence by the LTTE, Tamil civilians in this country have been victims of racial violence in 1956,1958,1961, 1977, 1981, 1983 and regularly thereafter. All these bouts of violence took place because the Tamil people demanded their rights. If the Tamil people continue to demand these rights – and they will continue to demand their rights, I will continue to demand my rights -these things have to be brought to an end in an honourable way. That’s the recommendation of the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission), that the ethnic problem must be solved honourably.
So you want continued international pressure?
In my submission, the government is incapable of delivering on its own and the government will never deliver on its own. Mahinda Samarasinghe, when he addressed the HRC in May 2009, claimed that through a political process there will be a political solution. He made that claim three years ago. Where is the political solution?
The government says it has a strategy for Geneva . As a responsible government, do you think it should pay more attention to strategy or to what the HRC is saying?
They should realise that the LLRC is their own commission, appointed by the government, a commission that the government held out as being one from which answers would be forthcoming to all the allegations made against the government. They stated that the LLRC report would be a response to the report of panel of experts appointed by the UN secretary general. There is now no certainty that the government is committed to even implementing these recommendations. People in the government talk in different voices. Even Mahinda Samarasinghe has said not all these recommendations will be implemented
What does that tell you?
It means that they will not implement the LLRC recommendations. After some time they will forget about it and nothing will happen. It was made public only because there was international pressure for it to be made public. Otherwise, like the Tissa Vitarana report and the Udalagama Commission report, it would never have been made public
You want sustained international pressure?
Of course, yes, that is the only way it can be implemented. When a government has defaulted for such a long period of time and caused immense suffering to all its people, not merely Tamils… we are not demanding foreign interference by foreign governments or international community in affairs of our country. But in certain situations you must work in such a way as to benefit all the people.
Are you now endorsing the LLRC report?
We rejected the report on the question of accountability and said the report does not measure up to the expectations of victims but we certainly welcome recommendations on a whole lot of other matters. We further stated that it’s not recommendations of the LLRC in a report that matters. What matters is that recommendations of the LLRC must be implemented and must become reality.
Do you think that if the government implements the LLRC recommendations, it will get breathing space on accountability issues?
I don’t want to advise the government. The government must demonstrate its honesty and its commitment to accepting and implementing straightforward the recommendations of its own commission.
But will they get some respite from calls for accountability if they implement other recommendations, such as on reconciliation?
Certainly if the government demonstrates its commitment to be honest and implement the recommendations of the LLRC, it will be able to claim credit for that and it may influence thinking on other issues.
When you met visiting US officials recently, did you urge them to proceed with their resolution against Sri Lanka at the HRC?
I don’t want to be seen as being against Sri Lanka because I’m not against Sri Lanka . I don’t want to be seen as being against the Sinhala people because I am not against the Sinhala people. But to enable my people to live in justice and equality, I must do what I have to do.