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'I am not pursuing a military solution'

The Sri Lankan President denies that he is seeking a military solution to the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka. Special: Hindustan Times Leadership Summit | Watch Day 1&2 videos
Hindustan Times | By Nilova Roy Chaudhury, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 14, 2007 12:29 AM IST

Denying he was seeking a military solution to the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Saturday that what he wanted was a political solution.

“I don’t believe in a military solution. When they (terrorists) attack, the army reacts. I want a political solution,” Rajapaksa said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. “While my government remains determined to fight terrorism, we are equally committed to seeking a negotiated and sustainable solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka,” he added.

Pointing out that “the Sri Lankan government is facing up to this terrorist challenge with increasing success today”, Rajapaksa indicated in an exclusive interview to HT that he is willing to speak “anywhere, at any time” to Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam head Velupillai Prabhakaran but, at the same time, will not allow the LTTE to recoup and re-arm. “The LTTE is the only terrorist group with floating arsenals… they get their supplies through the sea lanes”, which is why Sri Lanka is cooperating with India in “coordinated patrolling” of the sea lanes, the President said.

The two neighbours are also collaborating on “land-related policing of terrorist activities”, Rajapaksa said. He, however, denied his government was seeking a Defence Cooperation Agreement or Protection of Sri Lanka Act with India, or any other government. “We have a service agreement with the United States”, to service Sri Lanka’s military equipment, but “nothing more”.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi showed how the LTTE had the “audacity” to even take on India, the President said, adding that the outfit collects $10-13 million a month through “extortion of the diaspora in eastern countries” and gun-running, of which they spend around $8 million, using the rest for armaments.

Rajapaksa spoke of the “home-grown solution” his government is seeking, based on the Indian model of federalism, “to face up to Sri Lanka’s issues of governance, including the conflict affecting the country’s north. A conflict that has been exploited by separatists forces who, through the use of unmitigated terror, pose a threat to India too”. He expects to get the final report of the 13-party committee that is preparing a devolution model for the island nation by December, after which it will be considered and acted upon.

Along with the search for “a speedy political solution”, it is necessary to “curtail terrorist fundraising abroad and their illicit trafficking networks” and demonstrate to terrorists “that the way forward is to join the democratic mainstream in good faith”, Rajapaksa said.

The 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution would have been ideal, he said, giving adequate autonomy to the northern provinces, but “Prabhakaran walked away and did not accept it (the Rajiv Gandhi-J.R. Jayawardene Agreement)”.

The President also said Sri Lanka “needs to correct growth imbalance that tends to confine development to certain politically advantaged areas of the country. In addressing this, we find it necessary to overcome the current threat of terrorism that is consuming so much of our energies and resources”.

“In this, it would not be out of place to look for understanding and assistance from our regional neighbours and friends, especially those with whom we share the strongest bonds throughout history. It will be to a mature and understanding India that her neighbours look to for leadership,” Rajapaksa — who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi — said. “India is giving us assistance and moral support. That is enough.”

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