Nimal Siripala on Ramaphosa visit, intl. conspirators and freedom of speech

Friday, 11 July 2014 00:34 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Government bigwig and Cabinet Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva admitted there are both Sinhala and Muslim extreme groups in the country and stressed that the Government is trying to defuse both sides, which is not an easy task. Expressing his views about the recent visit of the South African Vice President, Minister Siripala said that the visit enabled Cyril Ramaphosa to witness whether there is discrimination in our country towards any ethnic community. “Ramaphosa had the opportunity to see that all the international propaganda is totally biased and wrong. I am sure he would have framed that opinion having come to Sri Lanka.” The Minister added that the recent clashes were manipulated by international conspirators and NGOs, which want to destabilise the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. “The Government has done well. We are on the correct path,” he asserted. Following are excerpts from the interview. Q: Why did the Government invite South African Vice President to visit Sri Lanka? A: Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Pieris has already outlined the circumstances under which Vice President of South Africa visited Sri Lanka. He came here at the invitation of the President. The South African President was here for CHOGM. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had long discussions with him with regard to the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. South Africa has undergone a very dramatic war between two fractions, the white minority and the black majority. But with the leadership given by late Nelson Mandela, they brought peace to that country. South Africa is considered a country which has shown positive results of reconciliation process. Therefore our President thought it fit to share their experience in the area of national reconciliation, which would be helpful to our reconciliation process also. So it is for that purpose he came here. The South African President has appointed Cyril Ramaphosa as a special envoy to Sri Lanka for this purpose. Q: Is it a damage control measure by the Government to counter the heavy criticism from the international community regarding reconciliation and ethnic harmony in the country? A: Clashes in Aluthgama have been blown to unwanted proportions. These kinds of clashes happen between people. When some incident happens, to construe that as cleansing or clashes between Muslims and Sinhalese is wrong. Those are some minor incidents that occurred of which we don’t approve. But these incidents cannot be taken as examples to say there is ethnic disharmony in the country. Therefore it is best that Ramaphosa came here and witnessed the situation of our country. He has the opportunity to see whether there is such discrimination in our country towards any ethnic community. Ramaphosa met with the Tamil National Alliance, Minister Rauff Hakeem, the Chief Minister of the Northern Province and the Governor. We welcome his visit because he had the opportunity to see that all the international propaganda is totally biased and wrong. I am sure he would have framed that opinion having come to Sri Lanka. Q: What was the outcome of Ramaphosa’s visit? A: Ramaphosa is on a mission to observe what has happened in Sri Lanka and what is happening in Sri Lanka, but he was not here to conduct any investigations. His role was not to pass any judgment. He came to assist us in the reconciliation process. Q: What plans do you have to strengthen the reconciliation process in the country? A: In the area of reconciliation, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) report is there. There is a committee headed by Lalith Weeratunga and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. All the proposals of the LLRC are being implemented stage by stage. Reconciliation is being done. The Disappearance Commission which was recommended by the LLRC; that is the greatest task we have fulfilled. What about integrating 10,000 child soldiers to civil society and rehabilitating them? What about the youth empowerment in the north? Now they are playing cricket and soccer. Some people have joined our Army too. Heath and education facilities have been provided. A lot of infrastructure facilities have been built in the war-torn areas. For national integration, this atmosphere has to be created. The Government is creating that. I strongly believe this Government is on the correct path. Q: You described the recent clashes in Aluthgama and Beruwala as ‘minor incidents’. Does this mean the Government is not disturbed by these occurrences that damage ethnic harmony in the county? A: Of course we are disturbed by such events. The President and our Government are disturbed by the extremism shown not on one side but many sides. Q: What do you mean by ‘many sides’? A: Various groups engaged in these incidents. We are trying to defuse that. The role of the Government is not to allow such incidents to spread. We have taken all required precautions. The President has addressed the nation and assured the safety of all communities. This was just a small wave which has come. When we analyse we can clearly see that these things are manipulated by the international conspirators, the Non-Government Organisations and many other people whose funding comes from abroad. There are many forces which want to destabilise the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. If we analyse deeply, this is what we see. Therefore we are very cautious in handling this issue. But I think the Government has won the day now because nobody can say that these extremist groups are emerging anymore. But we need to take precautions to ensure that similar events will not take place in the future. Q: The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has openly alleged there are Muslim extremist groups in the country. Do you agree? A: The BBS is accusing the Muslims and the Muslims are accusing the BBS. There are extreme groups on both sides. We have to defuse both. This is not an easy task. All over the world you find the emergence of such extremist groups. It is not something limited to Sri Lanka alone. Therefore when handling this issue we have to be very cautious and not allow them to become more violent. These groups need various kinds of recognition. Some people like to go to court or behind bars because by that they will get some mileage. They like the fame. They like to say ‘for the cause of the nation or religion I have been remanded’. This has happened in the past. This is why I always say we have to be very cautious when handling this issue. However, the high priests, maulavis and even the Catholic Church are now together in order to ensure that such things will not happen in the future. That is a positive scenario. Q: Are you saying there is no Muslim extremism in Sri Lanka? A: I can’t pass judgment on whether there are Muslim extremists or not, but when we look at the present scenario we see some form of extremism is coming from various quarters. When people get emotional about their religion and their community, they sometimes don’t realise what they are doing. They can be motivated and can be used by others who have their own agendas. Apart from that I don’t believe any Buddhist is an extremist or that any Muslim is an extremist. Extremism comes from some form of compulsion by people who have an agenda of destabilising the government. Q: The Government is accused of not taking necessary precautions that could have prevented the unfortunate incidents in Aluthgama and Beruwala. Your comments? A: The Government has taken all the precautions which had to be taken. Not only in Sri Lanka but in other countries too similar incidents of ethnic violence take place. There can be lapses in the Police. That does not mean the Government is not capable of handling a situation. But none of these things were orchestrated by the Government or by Government supporters. Q: Minister of Justice Rauff Hakeem has accused that the evidence regarding to the Aluthgama murders was fabricated. What is the Government’s stand on this allegation? A: I don’t know the facts and circumstances under which Minister Hakeem has made this statement. The inquiries are still going on. It is in the hands of the courts. Therefore, I don’t think it is proper to pass judgment on a matter which is pending before court until the final investigations are over. Q: During recent months, a number of Government Ministers have openly accused and criticised the Government. It was reported that there were heated arguments between the President and Government Ministers during a meeting that took place in Beruwala. Does this mean there is no unity in the Government? A: These are all interpretations. This is the highest form of democracy which has been practiced inside the party. In the Beruwala discussion we allowed all the Ministers and Members of Parliament to air their views with regard to the governance, with regard to the executive presidency, development and economy. Why are you interpreting this as disunity in the Government? Within the United National Party, do you get this kind of discussion opportunity? They will hammer each other. That is exactly what happened at the UNP’s Party Convention. In front of the President some members said the executive presidency should be abolished. That is the type of democracy we have in our alliance Government. We are proud of that. That is not a dissention as such. No one should forget that we are an alliance Government. Apart from the SLFP there are so many other constituent parties to the Government. These parties have their own missions with regard to certain issues. We are not on the same wave length on all the issues with the SLFP, but we have got together to govern this country. We have allowed them to air their views. There are no fractions in the Government. You wait and see – when we contest an election, these parties will be with us. Q: Are you prepared for the Uva elections? A: Yes we are getting ready and the elections will be held somewhere in September. Q: When will the Presidential elections be held? A: We have no indication. In terms of the Constitution, the President can call for another presidential election any time after 19 November this year. It is at his discretion. He can do that on the night of 19 November of one or two years thereafter. He has time till November 2017. All I can say is that no discussion has taken place as far as the presidential election is concerned. Q: Are you happy about the economic and political situation in the country? A: I am happy with the economic situation in the country. I come from a rural electorate. The majority of people in my electorate are farmers. Last year they got a very good price for paddy. They are getting guaranteed price for potatoes. Pepper and many other domestic products and small tea holders get good prices. We have carried out a lot of infrastructure development in the area of water supplies, irrigation, etc. We are satisfied. We may not have solved each and every person’s problem, but basically we have done well. Q: A statement made by Bodu Bala Sena that Pope Francis must apologise to Sri Lankan Buddhists over the alleged atrocities committed by Christian colonialists has once again created a stir. As a Government bigwig, what are your views on this? A: The BBS can make any request. The Pope either can consider or not consider the request. We don’t want to get involved in these issues. We welcome the Pope. He is a great religious leader. We welcome him wholeheartedly. Not only the Catholics but all the communities in our country will be happy to see the Pope visit Sri Lanka. The Government will not allow anyone to embarrass the Pope. But of course we are a democratic country. They say people must be allowed to express what they want. So that freedom is being exercised. This shows that freedom of speech and freedom of expression is available in Sri Lanka.

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