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'Indo-Lanka accord can solve ethnic issue'

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa said the 1987 accord offers the best solution for the ethnic problem in his country.

world Updated: Jan 13, 2008 09:56 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has said the India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987 offers the best solution for the ethnic problem in his country.

The devolution of power envisaged in the accord, offered the best solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa said in "Walk the Talk" programme on NDTV Saturday.

Following the signing of the accord by Sri Lankan president J.R. Jayewardene and the then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Sri Lankan parliament passed the 13th amendment to the constitution, which created provincial councils with a modicum of power devolved from the central government.

But the provincial council system did not function where it was primarily meant to, namely, the Tamil-speaking northeastern province. The northeast provincial council, dissolved in 1990 due to the war, still remains dissolved 17 years later.

Now, President Rajapaksa reportedly wants to fully implement the 13th amendment saying it is the most practical answer to the Tamil minority's demand for provincial autonomy.

The Sri Lankan president said Gandhi, who initiated the India-Sri Lanka accord, "had a vision".

"He was a great leader, who knew what was going on here (in Sri Lanka)," Rajapaksa said.

The Sri Lankan president sought Indian mediation in the ethnic conflict in his country, saying that Sri Lankans preferred India to Norway or US or any other Western country.

"India knows the mentality of the LTTE and can put pressure on it," he explained.

Rajapaksa clarified the idea was mooted by him and that the Indians had not offered to mediate.

Asked if the Indians saw him as a hawk and if they distrusted him, Rajapaksa said earlier they did, because of the propaganda of some Sri Lankan politicians opposed to him.

"Now they understand me better than earlier. They know who Mahinda Rajapaksa is," he said.

If Sri Lankans opposed the India-Sri Lanka accord in the 1980s, it was because people in the island felt that India "came by force", the president explained.

Alluding to the air dropping of dhal and other essential food items by India over beleaguered Jaffna just before the accord was signed, Rajapaksa said that it was "not a good gesture."

"They (India) should have done it in a more sophisticated way," he suggested.

To this day, Sri Lankans see the "parippu drop" (dhal drop) by IAF's C-130 transport aircraft escorted by Mirage jets, as a flagrant violation of Sri Lankan airspace.

It hurts the Sri Lankan psyche more than the induction of the 100,000 strong Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in the northeast to implement the accord, in place of the Sri Lankan armed forces which were asked to go back to their barracks.

Asked if the people of Sri Lanka had any sense of gratitude for the IPKF, which fought the Tamil Tigers for nearly three years, Rajapaksa recalled that the IPKF lost 1,200 men in the fight against the LTTE.

"The people have gratitude," he affirmed.

He then went on to announce the Sri Lankan government was building a monument for the IPKF near parliament (in the outskirts of Colombo) and that it would be completed by Sri Lanka's Independence Day, Feb 4.

On whether the people would oppose such a move, Rajapaksa said they would not, though the LTTE might not like it.

The Sri Lankan president said that if president R. Premadasa had not sent the IPKF away, (in March 1990) the LTTE could have been defeated. Another three or four months of fighting would have seen the end of the Tigers, he said.

Rajapaksa said that initially, the IPKF had indeed underestimated the Tigers. Later, they did acquire the capability to tackle the Tigers. But it was then that president Premadasa asked them to quit the island. The job was left unfinished.

Premadasa had sent the IPKF away for domestic political reasons, to please the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and some other extremist parties, Rajapaksa said.