Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Mangala Pinsiri Samaraweera is no stranger to newspaper offices. A former media minister in President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government, Samaraweera has stakes in the Sinhalese Maubima (Motherland) newspaper.
So he was completely at ease on Friday morning when he visited HT House, accompanied by officials from his ministry in Colombo and his High Commissioner to India, CR Jayasinghe.
Samaraweera skillfully tackled questions over coffee during a freewheeling conversation with editors of the Hindustan Times.
The resurgence of violence in Sri Lanka has sparked a debate on the return of capital punishment in that country, with the government mulling a law to restore the death penalty. Personally against the death penalty, because "only the poor will suffer and the sons of politicians and rich men will go scot free", Samaraweera said the debate was necessary.
Samaraweera was scathing about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), while conceding the need to "genuinely" address the concerns of the Tamil population. "The LTTE is a very peculiar kind of organisation. It is not a freedom movement. I have never heard of a freedom movement that kills off its own best people," he said.
"They are fighting for Prabhakaran's personal agenda," he said, referring to LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. "The stark truth is that the LTTE is not interested in a negotiated settlement."
"With all due respect," Samaraweera said, squarely tongue in cheek, "the LTTE is much more brutal than the Al-Qaeda. They (LTTE) perfected the art of suicide bombing," and "there has been a transfer of technologies between the groups."
Pulling no punches on European 'liberalism' that allows the LTTE to still raise funds across the continent despite a ban imposed on the organisation by the European Union last May, Samaraweera said, "They have a feeling that the underdog is always right."
Though Sri Lanka is of "no strategic interest to the United States anymore", it has actively helped cut off sources of funding to the LTTE.
According to Samaraweera, who has been foreign minister since November 2005 and is also ports and aviation minister, Sri Lankans consider Indians as friends and not foes. He would like to see "a little extra effort" from India to ensure that democracy, threatened by the prolonged ethnic violence, prevails in the island nation.
Unfazed by questions about his background in design, 50-year-old Samaraweera, who graduated in Clothing Design and Technology from St Martin's School of Art in London, claimed he had no clothing labels to his name.
He did, however, design the logo (a white lotus) for President Mahinda Rajapakse when he campaigned as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party's presidential candidate in 2005.
After the session, where he deftly tackled questions, he said, "Compared to what I usually face, you all were angels."
Email Nilova Roy Chaudhury: nchaudhury @hindustantimes.com