Statement by Hon. Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Diplomatic Corps on 28 August 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to have this opportunity of meeting you once again, as part of our regular interaction with the diplomatic community. I strongly believe that such a dialogue is important and useful in order to keep you briefed on the government’s agenda, enunciated in the Mahinda Chinthana Policy for the socio-economic development of the country, while at the same time defeating terrorism, and empowering the people.
As you are all aware, we have just concluded the Provincial Council elections to the North Central and the Sabaragamuwa Provinces. As stated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the convincing victory of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), retaining control of both Provincial Councils, is a victory for all people who love the motherland. The results are, without a shadow of doubt, a ringing endorsement of President Rajapaksa’s policy to finally rid this country of the scourge of terrorism, which has blighted the lives of millions of our people for more than two decades, and pushed back the country’s forward march to achieve rapid economic and sustainable development.
Notwithstanding the dire warnings of the Cassandras of doom, who predicted widespread violence and electoral rigging, in order to justify the defeat of the opposition parties, nothing of the sort happened. The Commissioner of Elections, Mr. Dayananda Dissanayake, the Elections Commission staff, supported by the Police and the Army in providing security for the peaceful conduct of the elections, deserve the sincere appreciation of the government and the people, for a job well done.
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) had noted that apart from a few incidents in comparison with previous Provincial Elections, polling day of the elections to both the Provincial Councils was relatively incident free. The CMEV in its report of 23 August 2008 states as follows:
“The expectations of violence that were based on the incidence of violence in the last three days of the campaign in particular, were fortunately not met.CMEV also acknowledges the positive impact of the actions of the Police in those areas where its presence and commitment was reinforced”.
The People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), the independent election monitoring organization, which observed the polls also certified that the elections took place in largely free and fair conditions in most areas. In its report issued on 23 August 2008, it noted:
“The relatively high voter turnout of around 65% and the general enthusiasm demonstrated by the electorate to cast their votes, were positive affirmations of their continuing belief in the value of the democratic system.”
Even the not so independent Campaign for Free & Fair Election (CaFFE) had to grudgingly acknowledge that there was a low level of violence on the day of the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections, compared to the situation in the pre-election period. The statements issued by the UNP and the JVP in the aftermath of the polls merely underscore the bankruptcy of their policies as well as a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the two parties by the people.
A plain reading of the results of the Provincial Council Elections held last week serves to reinforce the overwhelming popular endorsement of the Government’s agenda to usher in an era of lasting peace and prosperity. In the North Central Province, the UPFA secured 56.37% of the popular vote and won 20 seats (including 2 bonus seats) in the 33 member Council, against 12 by the UNP and a single seat by the JVP. In Sabaragamuwa, the UPFA polled 55.34% of the total number of votes cast, winning 25 seats (including 2 bonus seats) in the 44 seat Council, as against 17 by the UNP and a mere 2 seats by the JVP. The massive popular mandate for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s policies was further underscored by the fact that the UPFA had won all 27 electorates in the 4 districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the NCP and Kegalle and Ratnapura in Sabaragamuwa, and secured more than 50% of the votes cast in every one of them.
As I mentioned at the outset, the results of last week’s elections prove the massive popular support for the government’s current humanitarian endeavour to liberate the people of the North in our country who are languishing under the jackboot of the terrorists; the people have spoken out clearly; their message is unambiguous. They want the government under the leadership of President Rajapaksa to flush out the terrorists from their last remaining jungle hideouts in the Wanni, and bring freedom to our long suffering fellow citizens in the North.
Even the harshest critics of this government would have to acknowledge the success of our strategy to clear the Eastern Province of the LTTE last year, and the empowerment of the people. By holding Local Government elections in the Batticaloa district in March this year and the subsequent Provincial Council elections in May, we restored civil administration and democratic governance to the Province. The success story of the East, which has heralded a new era for the people in that part of our country, is remarkable in many respects.
The Government has already embarked on an ambitious programme to launch massive development projects, including the re-building of damaged roads and bridges as well as new infrastructure facilities, which would bring the Province on a par with the more developed parts of the country. Thus, the people of the region who have been deprived of the benefits of the rapid socio-economic progress achieved by the nation in the last three decades would be able to enjoy the peace dividend.
We witnessed the emergence of the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) as a recognized political party following a split within the ranks of the LTTE, which thereafter renounced terrorism and violence. Equally fascinating is the story of the transformation of a former child soldier into the Chief Executive of the Province – Mr. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillayan) in a deeply moving speech to a peace group which met him at the Provincial Council Secretariat in Trincomalee earlier this month, described this change in his own words as follows:
“We (the LTTE) in hiding, were starving in Maduru Oya sometime back. A young Sinhala woman carrying an infant brought me food and drink. I inquired from her about her husband and she said the LTTE killed him. Her reply made me speechless. Her husband was killed by the LTTE and she was still offering the terrorists, food and drink. It was then that I decided to give up terrorism”.
This is the message that we wish to convey to those misguided young men and women, and indeed young children who have been forcibly conscripted and brainwashed by the poisonous and racist ideology of the LTTE, who have taken up arms against the Sri Lankan State for a hopelessly lost cause to carve out an ethnically cleansed Tamil State in our nation. It is not too late for these LTTE cadres to abandon this futile and foolish struggle and come over to the government controlled areas.
We can give a categorical assurance that all those who surrender and lay down their arms will be treated in a humane manner and provided professional psychological counselling, formal education for those have been deprived of this basic human right by the LTTE, as well as vocational training so that they would be able to take up gainful employment and live as law abiding citizens of the country.
I am glad to have the Defence Secretary, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Commissioner General of Essential Services, Mr. S.B. Divaratne today with us here to brief you on the ongoing operations in the North. These gentlemen would be able to provide you first hand and up to date information on the factual situation, given the plethora of negative and misleading reports being circulated in the media as well as emanating from organizations which have a vested interest in tarnishing Sri Lanka’s good name.
Some of these reports which have been picked up by international wire services and broadcast by TV and radio channels as well as published in newspapers, tend to lend them a degree of credibility. The Government encourages civilians to move out from the conflict zone to areas under government control, which would enable it to provide them food, water, shelter and medical facilities. Even Amnesty International has reported that in the LTTE controlled Wanni area, the Tigers have hindered thousands of families from moving to safer places by imposing a strict pass system and, in some instances, forcing some family members to stay behind to ensure the return of the rest of the family. These measures, in Amnesty International’s own words, seem designed in part to use civilians as a buffer against government forces – a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
I believe that today’s briefing would give you a more balanced and objective perspective of the current situation in the North. We would be more than happy to entertain any questions or comments at the end of the briefing.