BBC World – Asia Today interview with Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha - 14th November 2007
Presenter: We will take a look at the situation in Sri Lanka and the continuing violence in the north of the country between government forces and Tamil tiger rebels. It has been increasing in intensity with artillery fire, air and naval bombardment. Back in 2002 a cease fire was negotiated by Norway and it was agreed by the government and the LTTE; the Tamil tiger rebel group. But by December 2005, that cease fire was in shreds although officially it remains in place. According to government figures over 5000 people have since died. Earlier this month the head of the Tamil tigers’ political wing S.P. Thamilchelvan was killed in a government air force raid. He was the most senior Tamil leader to die in recent years. On the very same day colonel Karuna, leader of a breakaway faction was arrested in London and held in immigration detention. Human Rights groups accused him of crimes including torture and recruiting child soldiers. The Asian Human Rights Commission is now criticising both the government and rebel forces for what it calls the extrajudicial killing of civilians. They claim that in October alone 53 ordinary Sri Lankans died in this way. So is there a peace process left, is there any point in talking about peace? Joining me now is Dr.Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General for the Co-ordination for the Peace Process. So that’s the key question I must ask you – Is there any kind of credible peace process or process that might lead to peace, on the table, apart from war?
Rajiva Wijesinha: The most important thing is negotiation. Unfortunately, the LTTE tigers have not been willing to negotiate, basically for 4 years, although there were brief talks last year. What the government has done is, it has thought that it should really discuss a future constitutional package with the non-LTTE Tamils plus other minorities. And there is an on-going process.
Presenter: But the All Party process, I think, that you are referring to – Tamil National Alliance isn’t a part of it, the main opposition isn’t a part of it, what did you hope to gain by killing S.P.Thamilselvan? After all he was one of main public faces and one of the negotiators of the LTTE
Rajiva Wijesinha: If he was committed to peace we should have actually had talks. I think the poor man was withdrawn from peace talks. In fairness let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He had been in military fatigue during most of the last year, but even assuming that he really wanted to negotiate; as he is dead let us give him that benefit, the LTTE withdrew him twice. We still hope that perhaps even now they will return to the table.
Presenter: But it is rather unlikely that you have taken out one of their chief negotiators on the very same day we saw colonel Karuna arrested here in London and the charge that’s put is that it was the Sri Lankan government that enabled him to travel – to get him out of the way – on a diplomatic passport.
Rajiva Wijesinha: That charge I have certainly read and it is conceivable but when I first saw he was in London I thought that this was a wonderful British way of removing a problem and agreeing to have him.
Presenter: Not a wonderful Sri Lankan government way?
Rajiva Wijesinha: I thought it was conceivable that they were together, but certainly all indications are that British knew nothing about it - which is remarkable.
Presenter: But indications are that the British government was quite upset with Sri Lanka for how that happened?
Rajiva Wijesinha: You have to recognise that in the murky world of people who have been militants or whatever in the past, perhaps trying to reform perhaps not doing so, there are agencies at work that perhaps would not be in an official government position, just as they might not be in an official British government position. But I think certainly the fact that Karuna is no longer in the East would help in reducing some of the tension. The problem in the north must be resolved through talks but if they are not happening with the LTTE, then we have to talk to whoever is willing. And that is what the government is trying to do, to produce a package that is serious devolution within the context of a united Sri Lanka.
Presenter: Is there a way ahead in concrete terms apart from just talking the needs of negotiations?
Rajiva Wijesinha: I think it is pretty remarkable that the Trotskyite who heads the APRC has managed to bring together two sides that seemed at logger heads – one saying you need a merger of two provinces and other saying nothing larger than a district - into a consensus on the unit of the devolution, which of course we have discussed with India as well. And this is in terms of the 1987 peace accord which I think couldn’t be properly implemented as the LTTE started fighting with India. So in a sense we should implement that if possible with full devolution so that the minorities could have the political rights that in the 80’s they were pretty badly deprived of.