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Sunday, September 01, 2013 - 02.35 GMT
Sri Lanka now a story of development - President


Sri Lanka is no longer a story of conflict, it is now a story of development, said President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an interview with The Australian at Temple Trees.

“I must admit we lost the propaganda battle,” President acknowledges, referring to the propaganda dimension of the 30-year civil war that Sri Lanka waged against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. “I must admit we lost that very badly.”

Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict has been a nation at peace. In under a decade per capita income has trebled to $3000. In the best years during the war, tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka reached 450,000. Last year there were a million international visitors. This year there will be 1.5 million. The economy is growing by nearly 7 per cent, having had 8 per cent growth in 2010 and 2011.

“We can sustain 6 per cent,” President said. “Peace is the driving force behind growth. You see growth in agriculture, tourism fisheries, manufacturing, services.

“Without peace you cannot have development, and without development you cannot have peace. But the biggest achievement of all is the peace itself.

“Every day during the war you would find a dead body, sometimes many. All these youths, the Tamils who were forced to fight for the LTTE, the Sinhalese in the army, who all lost their lives. All the civilians killed. All that has stopped.”

“Prabarkaran was a psychopath,” President said, “who had a delight in killing. He killed his own people, his own relations.”

Most of the LTTE’s targeted victims were other Tamils, President Rajapaksa said, as they set about eliminating all alternative Tamil leadership to themselves.

“The LTTE was at one time so powerful, it had an army, a navy and even a small air force. Even al-Qa’ida doesn’t have that.”

President denied Sri Lanka security forces knowingly or intentionally killed civilians. “In a war like this, it was a war against terrorists. If we had killed civilians, civilians would never have come to us. But some 300,000 civilians fled to our side. When people tried to flee from the LTTE, the LTTE shot them.”

Now, his request to outside critics is simple: “I would invite people to come and see for yourselves.” There are regular air services to Jaffna, and the road is always busy. Travel to Jaffna and all parts of the north is free. Outsiders are welcome.

President said that the international LTTE network is still alive and well, or at least the networks among the Tamil diaspora, which formerly raised funds and waged information campaigns on behalf of the LTTE.

“The LTTE sympathiser networks have been in this business for a long time. It was their big money-raiser. They are still doing it today. I don’t know whether the money they make goes to the LTTE today or to propaganda efforts.

“It’s easy money for them. Sometimes they even rent a fishing boat, just hire it, then use it for this (people-smuggling) purpose.”

He also accuses the LTTE networks of “using money to bribe politicians” in the West, to get them to take an anti-Sri Lankan government line.

The President wants Australia to take a hard line by refusing to allow illegal arrivals by boat any chance of permanent settlement in Australia.

“We are very happy with Australia’s policies,” he says. “If you take (the boatpeople) in and give them all the benefits, then there will be huge pull factors.

“Everyone wants to go to Australia, to educate their children. If you tell anybody, even my ambassador, that you’ll give him citizenship, and for his sons too, he’ll be there in an instant.

“The myth is that when you get to Australia, the government will look after you, the government will give you a dole, the government will give you free medical care. We don’t want this trade to happen.”

Says the President: “We are spending so much money to stop this. Over the last three years we have stopped more than 4000 would-be illegal immigrants (from going to Australia). Earlier, people were going to Europe, some went to Canada in ships. People want to go to the West.”

President is not only happy with Australia’s policies on boatpeople. He believes Australia has a history of warmth towards Sri Lanka: “We want a good relationship with Australia. Even when Australia welcomed the Bergers (a mixed race community of Sri Lankans, some of whom came to Australia decades ago) there was a lot of warmth in that relationship. That has been there for a long time. There was the Colombo Plan, there are scholarships, AusAID, the sporting links.”

“CHOGM will be a showcase for Sri Lanka,” President Rajapaksa said. “We can show the world what Sri Lanka is really like. A lot don’t know what Sri Lanka is really like. They get a dark picture of us. But there will be a business forum, a youth forum. We also want to promote Sri Lanka as a transport hub, a shipping hub, an energy hub.”

Sri Lanka is a remarkably beautiful island. Its emergence from its long civil war is one of the most hopeful developments in a world beset by conflict and internal strife.




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Last modified: September 01, 2013.

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