COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has emphatically denied that the international community is putting pressure on Lanka and that he is betraying the country and handing it over to outside powers.
Speaking at a seminar here on Monday on Lanka’s foreign policy since he came to power in January 2015, Sirisena said that there is absolutely no pressure on Lanka from the international community to do one thing or the other. When he meets leaders of these countries they do give them their views on matters like human rights, democracy, reconciliation and press freedom, and that is about it, the President asserted.
Whatever his government has done on these issues so far, has been done on its own volition, the President said. To illustrate, he mentioned the enactment of the 19 th. Constitutional Amendment which restored democracy and curtailed the President’s powers and term of office.
Sirisena admitted that there are flaws in the Lankan system which the government will have to rectify. He also pointed out that certain steps in regard to post-war reconciliation, which ought to have been taken after the end of the war in May 2009, were not taken, and that was why the international community put Lanka in the dock.
The President said that it would be wrong to think that only one community in Lanka has grievances. He recalled a recent interaction he had with school students in the ethnically mixed district of Vavuniya in which Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese students all voiced the same complaint, that they were not been looked after.
Therefore, government has to attend to the educational, health and housing needs of all Lankans and for this, the support of the international community is necessary. And the international community is ready to help, he said.
Sirisena regretted that people talk about reconciliation without knowing what it means. Lanka needs reconciliation for economic development and therefore reconciliation has to be promoted, he said.
Lankans should realize that they cannot live in isolation and that they need international support. Therefore, the Lankan government has to cultivate other countries. This is no secret, and there is no reason to hide the policy, the President said.
To press home his point, Sirisena asked why the previous government (of Mahinda Rajapaksa) called for elections two years before it was due. According him, the then government went in for a snap poll because the economy was in bad shape, there was ethnic disharmony, and relations with the international community had deteriorated.
When elections were held in January 2015, Rajapaksa lost and Sirisena won.
Speaking at the seminar, Dayan Jayatilleka, former Lankan Ambassador at the UN in Geneva, noted that Sirisena had obtained space for Lanka in the international arena, but urged him to see that his coalition partner (the pro-West United National Party) does not deviate from his policy of conducting foreign relations based on Lanka’s national interest.
Such deviation had led to Lanka’s decision not to negotiate a favorable resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September 2015. As a result of the US-Lanka co-sponsored resolution, there is a danger of the Lankan armed forces personel being tried for war crimes by a Special Judicial Mechanism which would include foreign judges and prosecutors. A wing of the coalition government (which controls the Foreign Ministry) had stopped the negotiations and ordered the adoption of the US-backed resolution.
Jayatilleka said that Sirisena should implement his policy of not accepting a foreign judicial mechanism. He had told New York Times and BBC that he has full faith in the competence and impartiality of Lankan courts. No democratic country has accepted a foreign judicial mechanism after liberating the country from a fascist terrorist group, Jayatilleka pointed out.