Sri Lankan minister Douglas Devananda, who was declared a proclaimed offender by a Chennai court in 1986 and is accompanying President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his India visit, said on Thursday that all political leaders were pardoned under the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord.
Devananda, whose presence in the presidential delegation created a stir in India as he was accorded treatment due to a state guest despite being declared a proclaimed offender by a Chennai court in 1986, also said he was ready to face any legal action.
"...according to the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, they have given pardon to all leaders, all political leaders," he told reporters here. "If there is anything legal, I am prepared to face that."
Devananda, now minister for traditional industries and small enterprises, was declared a proclaimed offender and an absconding accused by a sessions court in Tamil Nadu over a shootout-cum-murder in Chennai in 1986.
Devananda was then a member of the separatist movement Eelam People's Revolutionary Front (EPRLF) in Sri Lanka.
Devananda also asserted that his visits to India were legal and he had come to India earlier for medical treatment.
He has found backing from Colombo.
A Sri Lankan official agreed that Devananda ceased to be a proclaimed offender after the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord and has visited India many times over the last two decades.
"After the India-Sri Lanka accord in 1987, many political leaders belonging to former separatist groups were pardoned. Devananda ceased to be a PO (proclaimed offender) after the accord," Sugeeswara Senadhira, consultant director, policy research and information, in the presidential office, told IANS in Colombo.
"This is not the first time he has visited India since the 1986 incident. He has been to India several times and has stayed for months on end many a time," said Senadhira.
Describing Rajapaksa's ongoing visit to India as "quite successful”, Senadhira said Sri Lanka appreciated the $1 billion assistance for rail projects and a power plant in the war-hit Northern and Eastern provinces that was unveiled after talks between Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
When asked to comment on Devananda's presence in the presidential delegation, Indian officials pointed out that he was not on a "watch list" of those prevented from entering the country.
India had extended an invitation to President Rajapaksa on a state visit and it was his prerogative whom to bring, said officials. In fact, Devananda came to India last year also, said officials.
A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed at the Madras High Court Wednesday seeking the arrest of Devananda in connection with the pending criminal charges.
In an interview to CNN-IBN, Devananda said: "I am not aware that I am a proclaimed offender. If informed legally about it, I will respond to the case."
"I have been coming to India for medical and personal reasons. The Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987 had pardoned several Tamil Sri Lankans," he said.