Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is open for a dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which devolves more powers to provinces in the island nation.
In an exclusive interview to TheHindu, Mr. Rajapaksa denied reports that he was upset about the meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with six leaders of the Tamil-majority North and Eastern provinces. It was their right in a democracy “to meet anyone,” he said.
He hoped to meet Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, if their schedules permitted, later this month. According to officials, Mr. Rajapaksa and Mr. Modi’s schedules would overlap for a day and efforts were on to find time for a meeting.
Implementation of the 13th Amendment was one of India’s key demands, and Mr. Modi had told a TNA delegation that “he was dismayed by reports that the Sri Lankan government proposed to dilute the 13th Amendment,” officials said.
In the interview, President Rajapaksa said he was grateful for India’s stand on the U.N. Human Rights Council vote, where New Delhi refused to endorse the demand for an inquiry by an international agency into allegations of “war crimes” by the Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE in 2009. “Our government is conducting local investigations, but we won’t allow them to internationalise it,” Mr. Rajapaksa said. “The next time it [the UNHRC] will say that there must be an international inquiry into Kashmir. What would be our position? Whether it is against India or Sri Lanka, we will not allow an external inquiry.”
He conceded that the inquiry into nearly 20,000 “disappearances” during the war was pending, and they still had not concluded who was responsible for the death of Balachandran Prabakaran, son of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran.
In photographs published in TheHindu dating back to May 2009, the boy was seen being guarded by men in uniform, suggesting it was a custodial killing. “We are investigating it still … I don’t believe that [it was carried out by the military]. But if it is true, I must know. That is why we are inquiring. In a war, when both sides are fighting, how can you say who shot at whom?” he said.
Significantly, the Sri Lankan President said he would not rule out early presidential elections, as reports suggest, in January 2015.
He also rejected concerns in India about the growing Chinese investment in Sri Lanka, even as he prepares for the visit of President Xi Jinping on September 16, when the two countries are expected to sign a Free Trade Agreement. “India has nothing to worry about from China in Sri Lanka,” Mr. Rajapaksa said in response to a question about a contract on Air Force maintenance that was recently awarded to the Chinese company CATIC. “Until I am here, I can promise that.”