President Maithripala Sirisena
By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Our Lobby Correspondent
Assuring the nation that national security was still his first priority while efforts were being made to advance reconciliation and harmony between all communities, President Maithripala Sirisena joined the Committee Stage debate of the Ministry of Defence yesterday.
President Sirisena, who holds the Defence portfolio, condemned the use of extremist rhetoric in the country, saying it was being perpetuated by a few who were no longer powerful politically. He urged lawmakers to join hands to support national reconciliation.
“Our first priority is national security. There will be no lapses. Recently bail was granted to some LTTE cadres and the Government removed the ban on eight Tamil diaspora groups, but extremists spread lies creating doubts about national security,” President Sirisena charged.
He said the Government had scrutinised reports by intelligence agencies before making the decision to lift the ban on some Tamil groups operating overseas.
“As a Government, we will have to talk with all stakeholders. It is our responsibility to win their hearts, the hearts of the people who were on the battlefields,” he said, in a speech focused on reconciling communities divided by war, rather than perpetuating a military mindset.
President Sirisena even drew parallels between the procedures the previous Government had followed in releasing LTTE leaders and cadres, saying that during President Rajapaksa’s time, LTTE commander of the East, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman was given the option to become a politician, a Minister and finally the Vice President of the SLFP.
“I think that was a good move. Then Sivanesathirai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan was appointed Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. The former Government followed a different method for Shanmugam Kumaran Tharmalingam alias Kumaran Pathmanathan, Pillaiyan and Karuna Amman. That Government also released 12,000 LTTE cadres after rehabilitation. So, what is wrong with this Government releasing the few left in the prisons?” he asked.
The President denied that the move would threaten the nation’s security.
“Don’t be racists and give the wrong idea to the Sinhala Buddhist majority in this country. We also can play roles in front of camera to create racism, but it will only lead to a national disaster,” he warned, in a clear broadside at the pro-Rajapaksa camp.
President Sirisena said the Government would continue to improve the quality of the three forces. “The US will support us in this by providing training. In the absence of war we will increase the contingent sent for UN peace keeping missions,” he explained.
President Sirisena even expressed the country’s gratitude to his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, for providing the political leadership to end 26 years of war in May 2009.
“On the other hand, military leaders including General Sarath Fonseka and those who gave their lives in the battlefield receive the gratitude of the nation. The people also sacrificed in many ways to win the war,” he said, acknowledging other contributions.
The President said that large numbers of LTTE cadres were arrested on 18 May 2009. “But post war Sri Lanka many things had to change. The previous Government failed to deliver peace after the war ended. Its Uthuru Wasanthaya and Nagenahira Navodaya expanded the infrastructure. But psychologically people were not happy,” President Sirisena said, emphasising again the importance of building bridges with the Tamil community.
In the north, he said, mistrust continued between residents and armed forces personnel.
The new Government that was ushered into power in January had been given a mandate to deliver on the expectations of a post-war country, he added.
“That is why over 81% in Batticaloa, and over 71% votes were seen in all districts in the north and east to elect me,” he said, recalling the January poll results.
President Sirisena explained that a special office for National Reconciliation had been established, headed by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
“The UN has charged us with human rights violations and gave proposals. Our Government managed to handle this positively. We expect the support from all communities to face these challenges and find solutions. Even the LLRC report recommended that the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa start discussions with all stakeholders to prevent war from recurring,” the President added.