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Gota slams double standards of Western Powers

Had the Opposition bothered to peruse the international press it would know the extraordinary counter-terrorism measures adopted by the US and its allies though they criticized Sri Lanka for being callous in her security strategy, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said on Friday.

He said that the international press had exposed glaring heavy handed actions on the part of international forces now battling terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11 but Sri Lanka was being harassed for defeating the LTTE.

Speaking to the Sunday Island after meeting the visiting UN Under Secretary General Lynn Pascoe at the Defence Ministry, he said that there should not be double standards in dealing with terrorism.

Referring to a recent NATO air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers that claimed the lives of as many as 70 civilians in northern Afghanistan, he said that all parties responsible for the attack defended the action.

The German Army which called for NATO strike defended its action on the basis the tankers could have been used to mount a suicide attack on its troops, he said citing international wire service reports.

The US Air Force assigned to NATO had carried out the strike, he said, adding that this was the latest in a series of similar incidents.

The UNP and SLFP (Mahajana faction) as well as several other political parties and organizations have accused the government of suppressing democratic Opposition on the pretext of tackling clandestine LTTE operations.

The JVP Politburo, too, said that the Rajapaksa regime was manipulating purely a security issue to undermine the Opposition ahead of forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

Rajapaksa said that even at the height of air operations against the LTTE holed up on the Puthumathalan beach early this year, the SLAF and SLA restricted the use of air power and heavy artillery to minimize civilian casualties.

He pointed out US air strikes (mainly carried out by drones) on Pakistani territory, arrest and transfer of terrorist suspects to detention facilities away from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as hiring of private security services in support of the US military had proved the West would go all out eradicate terrorism and that nothing would compromise their security interests.

The secretary urged the Sri Lankan press to reproduce extensive international coverage of the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq in all Sinhala, Tamil and English media.

``If that happened, Colombo based foreign envoys and their local agents would be less vociferous in their criticism. In fact, they would at least privately admit that Sri Lanka had never targeted civilians deliberately,’’ Rajapaksa said.

Commenting on international concern over media freedom in Sri Lanka, he said that over a year after the US and Iraqi Army had arrested Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance TV cameraman and photographer employed by Reuters, he remained in custody without charges being filed. The US Army had declared that Jassam posed a threat to Iraq due to his links with terrorists.

He expressed the belief at least the state-run media should report extensively on media issues in other parts of the world to prevent the Opposition from manipulating them. The UNP, he said had now conveniently forgotten that it went to the extent of support the US-led invasion of Iraq, at the 58 UN General Assembly in New York.

Unfortunately, the same political party, despite losing so many leaders to the LTTE, had turned a blind eye to the threat of terrorism, he said. Emphasizing that the Rajapaksa government would not derive some sadistic pleasure by detaining civilians, he said that security could not be compromised by releasing terrorists along with civilians.

Almost all suicide attacks in the South had been carried out by terrorists who posed as civilians until the final moment. President Premadasa’s killer had accompanied him on SLAF helicopters and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was sniped from his neighbour’s residence in a high security zone.

Some could not even remember attacks on public transport early this year in Colombo and its suburbs. "These attacks were not carried out by uniformed LTTE cadres but operatives or their Sinhala agents living in the South," he said.

The government should be ready to face any eventuality as terrorists would try to overcome their collapse on the Vanni front with successful intelligence operations.

Although, some countries are forced to compromise on security, nothing would hinder Western powers from enhancing their own security measures. A case in point was the EU-Pakistan agreement reached shortly after the 9/11 though the European Union earlier suspended the move over differences with Pakistan.

The 1999 military takeover, Kargil conflict and arrest of a prominent journalist had caused problems between Pakistan and the EU. The Sri Lankan Defence Secretary said that the EU needed the Pakistani support for anti-Taliban operations. But unfortunately when it comes to other smaller countries, they take a different approach, he said.

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