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Of free speech, peace and CWG

world Updated: Feb 02, 2011 01:22 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in a chatty mood on Monday evening when a few of us got an unscheduled opportunity to interact with him.

The logo for his favourite town Hambantota's bid for the 2018 Commonwealth Games (CWG) had just been unveiled at Temple Tree, his official home, and Rajapaksa was surrounded by ministers, bureaucrats and family.

Earlier in the day, another media office had been mercilessly burnt down.

So, January was turning out to be a cruel month for free speech in Sri Lanka - editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed in January 2009 and a year later Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared.

The government was being blamed again for the attack, we told Rajapaksa.

No way, he said, adding: "Why should the government do such a thing? I have ordered a full enquiry."

But the truth has never come out and nobody has ever been arrested for attacking journalists.

"Nobody gives evidence. We can make arrests. But then human rights (issue) is there."

The conversation veered to his recent, private visit to the US, and reports that it was linked to his being unwell.

Rajapaksa gave a hearty laugh.

"Even this morning at 6 am I was in the gym, someone called to ask me whether I was unwell. It was a private visit and I went to meet a relative (brother Dudley lives in Houston). Presidents before me used to go on many private visits. Nobody said anything. If I announce my visits, then there will be protests. What happened in London? All these (reports that he was not well) are LTTE propaganda."

On the death of two Indian fishermen, Rajapaksa said as far as he knew the Sri Lanka navy (SLN) was not involved.

He said India had shared the post-mortem report of the first fisherman who died, giving details of bullet injuries, adding that SLN will make a detailed enquiry.

Rajapaksa said he had nothing to do with the three-member UN panel set up to advice secretary general Ban Ki-moon on human rights.

"They want to question officials (in Sri Lanka). Which (sovereign) country will allow that?"

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which he set up in May to investigate the final years of the civil war, however, could be given an extension if required, he said.