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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution: Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Broken Pacts & Evasive Proposals > Chandrika's 'Devolution' Proposals:1995/2001 > The Mask Slips,1999
The Mask Slips
- Sri Lanka Foreign Minister interviewed
by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
25 January 1999
of the interview by Peter Mares, ABC
PETER MARES: Across Australia, this is Radio National. Hello Peter Mares here, Welcome to Asia Pacific and our first weekday edition of the program for 1999.
Coming up, Sri Lankaís Foreign Minister defends his governmentís record in trying to secure peace in the country. And you will find a full transcript of that story and our lead story on the Asia pacific website tomorrow. On radio Australia and Radio National this is Asia Pacific.
The popularity of Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been put to the test today. Her ruling Peopleís Alliance is pitted against the main opposition United National Party in elections for the north-west provisional council. The outcome will give an indication of the presidentís popularity for years after she swept to office with the promise to bring peace to Sri Lanka. Today the governmentís war with the separatist Tamil Tigers guerrillas the LTTE continues unabated. President Kumaratunga has tried to woo the Tigers with a devolution package, offering greater autonomy to regional areas, but so far she has failed to get the necessary constitutional changes through parliament.
Even Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar admits that the peace process is now stalled. The Foreign Minister spoke to me when he visited Canberra last week.
KADIRGAMAR: It is stalled yes, but not completely. Because we are not getting the 2/3 majority we need to amend the constitution.
PETER MARES: And it doesnít appear of the likelihood of that happening - the opposition United National Party is not going to support the governmentís devolution proposal.
KADIRGAMAR: Well, that we will have to wait and see. There might even be an election on that whole issue. Itís far too premature to go into that. The main thing to concentrate on - is that our government is absolutely determined to see that those proposals that we have been discussing for a year and a half or more will finally be adopted. You have to work at these things.
PETER MARES: The Tamil Tigers have held out the offer of talks with the government, why havenít the government taken up that offer?
KADIRGAMAR: Those talks are not bone fide. They have done that before and they come to nothing. When they are probed a little they all disappear. Those are cosmetic gestures.PETER MARES: How can you know theyíll come to nothing until you try them?
KADIRGAMAR: We know that.
PETER MARES: How do you know that?
KADIRGAMAR: Iím telling you we know that.
PETER MARES: The Tigers have also suggested third party mediation. South Africa and British parliamentarians have both offered that type of mediation. Why is the government so reluctant to take that up?
KADIRGAMAR: We have made it clear we are not interested in mediation, this is entirely an internal matter and there is no role at all in the part of mediation of anybody outside.
PETER MARES: But clearly the peace process is not progressing, the war has cost some 57,000 lives its chewing up some 37% of Sri Lankaís government revenues, surely now is the time to help the peace process move along?
KADIRGAMAR: Yes, but the people who can help the peace process move along is the LTTE and they are not doing that.
PETER MARES: Does the government have any new initiatives apart from the devolution package to move peace process forward?
KADIRGAMAR: A new initiative?
PETER MARES: Given you say yourself the process is stalled.
KADIRGAMAR: Yes, the process may be stalled, but it maybe restarted at any moment.
PETER MARES: Does the government have any new initiatives to restart it?
KADIRGAMAR: There is no new initiative. But we are constantly on alert for that. The main point is that the LTTE must be bona fide. They must show and stop murdering democratic politicians.
PETER MARES: So what does the LTTE need to do, in your view, to show bona fides.
KADIRGAMAR: They have to satisfy us, and there are ways and means of doing it, and they are not doing it. That they are bona fide in their proclaimed intentions to bring about a peaceful resolution of the matter.
PETER MARES: They released a number of Sri Lankan armed forces personnel as a gesture.
KADIRGAMAR: What are 9 people, when they are holding hundreds?
PETER MARES: So what further gestures do you need from the LTTE? Can you give us some examples?
KADIRGAMAR: No I think they must make an effort. I am not going to give you examples I am sorry. Anything else?
PETER MARES: Yes, minister there have been reports from a Sri Lankan service man that he knows of mass graves in Chemmani in the north of Sri Lanka. Why havenít those graves been investigated.
KADIRGAMAR: Yes, an exhumation order has been issued by the magistrate of the area. It is a judicial proceeding, it has started.
PETER MARES: When will there be a exhumation of those graves?
KADIRGAMAR: Whenever the authorities are ready. The magistrate is in control of it now. We have a judicial system, which is as good as yours.
PETER MARES: It has taken 6 months already.
KADIRGAMAR: Well, there are various steps that have to be taken. One thing is that the LTTE have threatened the magistrates and that part of the courts have come to a halt in that part of the country.
PETER MARES: So there is no reluctance to investigate this from your part of the government?
KADIRGAMAR: No certainly not. Anything more? Any apologies for the LTTE?
PETER MARES: I beg your pardon?
KADIRGAMAR: Any more apologies for the LTTE?
PETER MARES: Minister, Iím not making apologies for the LTTE. I am asking questions.
KADIRGAMAR: Sounds like it.
PETER MARES: Iím asking questions.
KADIRGAMAR: Yes, but there are certain ways of asking questions. All the questions are highly loaded. Anything else.
PETER MARES: President Chandrika Kumaratungaís Peopleís Alliance is facing a test of its popularity in the provisional elections for the Northwest provisional council. What do you think is going to happen in those elections?
KADIRGAMAR: We will win obviously.
PETER MARES: You are very confident of that?
KADIRGAMAR: Of course.
PETER MARES: Sri Lankan foreign minister, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar. And we will bring you the results of that important provisional election in Sri Lanka tomorrow on Asia