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Lanka still not free from separatist threat - President
Confident of clear victory
TNA demands unacceptable
Condemns Katakatha brigade

President Mahinda Rajapaksa says Sri Lanka still faces a severe threat from separatists though the LTTE has been militarily crushed and the country united after a 30-year war. He says people should recognise the growing threat to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

President Rajapaksa, who is seeking a second term at the forthcoming presidential polls, accused SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem of trying to revive the separatist movement once spearheaded by the LTTE. He said that a fresh threat of terrorism would cause another disaster.

Addressing a group of journalists at Temple Trees on Wednesday (January 13), the President asserted that a controversial understanding among parties backing Opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka could be the basis of the impending threat.

The President discussed a range of issues, including High Security Zones (HSZs) in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, foreign policy, links to the Tamil community, UNP-JVP marriage, corruption charges levelled against the Rajapaksas, political solution, 13th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution and crossovers.

The President said that the government would gradually ease security restrictions imposed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as well as other parts of the country because the LTTE no longer posed a conventional military threat. Emphasising his readiness to scale down HSZs in the Jaffna peninsula, the President said that could not be done overnight though the war ended last May.

He said that even in times of peace, security of key installations couldn’t be compromised. He said that no one should seek political advantage out of a purely security matter and easing of restrictions would depend on a careful study of the ground situation. The LTTE, too, had maintained HSZs, the President said.

Since the end of war, the government had taken a series of measures to facilitate civilian life, including opening of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, the President said.

Dismissing criticism that he had undermined the country’s foreign policy, the President said he was not aligned with any particular country. He reiterated that their relationship with any country would not be at the expense of another and he intended to continue that policy. He strongly defended growing relations with Iran while underscoring the importance of unprecedented Iranian financial assistance received at a time the country was facing a severe economic crisis. He gratefully recalled the grant of an interest free Iranian credit facility to Sri Lanka to purchase Iranian crude oil. That followed President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Iran in November 2007.

Under the credit line, the government of Iran agreed to provide seven months of credit, out of which four months were interest free. The rest were given at a concessionary interest rate of 0.5%.

Responding to The Island queries, the President said that he would secure a second term with a comfortable margin though the UNP-JVP combine was engaged in an all-out mud slinging campaign against him. He said that the Opposition campaign could not be considered fit for a presidential election. "They are not discussing political issues but carrying out a hate campaign against the Rajapaksas," he said. The Rajapaksas had been involved in politics for over 70 years but never experienced such a vicious propaganda assault, he said adding that the people would never be deceived by Opposition claims that they (Rajapaksas) had bought the Lanka Hospitals (formerly Apollo), Swarnavahini and property all over the country. Today no one could even open a wayside eatery without the Rajapaksas being accusing of buying it, he said.

The Opposition Katakatha Brigade was engaged in a village-level campaign. Although, the government had countered several big lies propagated by the Opposition, it would not be an easy task to expose each and every lie, the President said. According to him, Opposition politicians were going ahead with their despicable campaign even though they could not deceive the public.

The President said that the Opposition was attacking not only his integrity as the President of Sri Lanka but his social class as well. The Opposition had accused them of buying property all over the country but so far it had not said anything about property in foreign countries because the Rajapaksas came from a village. "This is the truth. Otherwise they would have accused us of buying land, houses and other property overseas," he said.

The President said the Rajapaksas were proud of their social status. There was also an attempt to lump all the wealthy Rajapaksas together including those who were not related to the President to create an impression in the public mind that the Rajapaksas were engaged in building a huge business empire.

The President said that the Rajapaksas were a cosmopolitan family though their opponents would not accept that publicly. Several Rajapaksas were married to Tamil speaking people. Although some people targeted Nirupama for marrying a Tamil, she had contested the Hambantota District and won. He said that a section of the press did not want to reveal the fact that the Rajapaksas had Tamil relations, the President said.

The President said that the Tamil speaking husband of his niece had been killed by the LTTE.

He said: "The Opposition didn’t have any real issues to raise in the run-up to the polls. If I had sold public property including State Banks, they could have challenged me. Now that such issues are nonexistent, they are making baseless allegations."

Recalling a former Prime Minister suddenly visiting Dubai to extend a controversial contract, the President said that he would never make money at the expense of the good name of his family. The President said Gotabhaya always challenged the Opposition to prove at least one charge against the Rajapaksa family.

Referring to a recent article carried by Ravaya editor Victor Ivan, the President said that the paper had exposed the Opposition’s strategy. The President said that Ravaya had responded to a range of baseless corruption charges being levelled against him and his family. He said a luxury house down the Balapokuna Road built by the proprietor of House of Fashion had been dubbed Basilaramaya by the Opposition to discredit his younger brother Basil.

The latest allegation was that the Rajapaksas got 100 acres of land in Colombo.

Commenting on his opponent’s manifesto, the President said that it would shortly end up in a wastepaper basket. There was absolutely no substance in it, he said. Fonseka’s manifesto hadn’t even been numbered. That alone proved that they weren’t serious about their policy statement.

The President said he was ready to discuss his proposals with regard to Constitutional amendments, including electoral reforms. Whatever political parties might agree to, nothing could be implemented without the consent of people. The President said that he wouldn’t make promises that couldn’t be met but strive to reach a consensus among political parties. He called for cooperation among political parties to achieve a lasting solution to the national question. The merger of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province was out of the question, the President said reiterating his commitment to thwart whatever attempt made to divide the country on the ethnic lines.

Referring to a recent dispute in India’s Utra Pradesh, the President said that he did not want a chaotic situation similar to that in Sri Lanka. Police powers in the hands of some persons could plunge the country to another crisis. There was no point in talking about a merger or police powers to Provincial Councils as he would not compromise the national interest. He also ruled out special arrangements for the Northern and Eastern Provinces on the basis that his government wouldn’t do anything detrimental to the national interest. It was a mistake to believe only Northern and Eastern Provinces wanted police powers whereas others, too, clamour for authority over law enforcement agencies.

Today, the 13th Amendment had been reduced to a mere political slogan, he said.

Commenting on his talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which recently pledged its support to the Opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, the President said that he had refused to give in to TNA’s demands. The TNA had, he said, called for merging the Eastern Province and the North and the withdrawal of security forces from that region. "Had we given in to their demands, they would have asked for the removal of the police, too," the President said. He dismissed TNA leader, MP R. Sampanthanaccusations that he wasn’t interested in settling contentious issue. The President said that Basil Rajapaksa, too, had been present at the discussion with the TNA. The President insisted that he would provide maximum possible relief directly to people and no one should expect political advantage out of it. There was absolutely no need to provide relief through the TNA, he said.

The President said that the TNA would have sided with the Opposition even if the government had accepted most of its demands. He dismissed the TNA’s criticism of HSZs as nothing but a political gimmick. Countries all over the world had HSZs to protect airports, harbours and other vital installations. Likewise, Sri Lanka, too, had established HSZs and the government could not be faulted for that, he said. He accused the TNA of working according to an agenda of the pro-LTTEsections of the Tamil Diaspora to destabilise the country, cause chaos and effect a regime change so as to create an environment conducive to the revival of the LTTE and furthering their separatist interests.

The President revealed a threat posed by LTTE operatives in the Jaffna peninsula. According to him, the area had not been cleared fully and the operatives could be as high as 10 per cent of the total population in the District.

The President said that the LTTE and agents would do anything to advance their cause. The LTTE had come out strongly in support of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s administration when he along with Vasudeva Nanayakkara took on the government in Geneva over human rights violations during the second JVP insurgency. The LTTE had assured the international community that President Premadasa protected human rights though the police and security forces were fighting the JVP, the President said.

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