Sri Lanka gets fillip from Basil’s Jaffna visit

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government has received an unexpected boost to its ethnic reconciliation efforts from former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political strategist brother Basil.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne announced at the weekly cabinet press briefing that Basil Rajapaksa had travelled to Jaffna at the weekend and made sweeping statements supporting his brother’s successor Maithripala Sirisena.

Basil Rajapaksa, the chief political ideologue of the former regime, announced the support of his new party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP), to ending military occupation of privately-owned land in the former war zone.

Basil’s went beyond the current government’s campaign to free up military occupied private land and said the government must give away state-owned land in Jaffna to people who did not own any property.

His call was diametrically opposed to the hard-line nationalist stance of key SLPP supporters, including Dinsesh Gunawardena, Bandula Gunawardenam Wimal Weerawansa and G. L. Peiris.

“His (Basil’s)  statement means that there is no one else who is objecting to the return of land,” minister Senaratne said on Wednesday.

Health Minister Senaratne said the government should now step up the return of occupied private land in Jaffna and elsewhere since there was no longer political opposition to demilitarisation of the former war zones.

Former minister Basil Rajapaksa claimed that only 20 percent of the ccupied land remained to be returned because his president brother had given back 80 percent before he was defeated in January 2015.

“We had returned about 80 percent of the lands. We believe that all private land should be returned to their owners,” Rajapaksa said. “Not only that, we should give state land to those who do not own land.”

“Land and homes is a problem in everywhere in the country, but especially in the north we must and we should address this problem at the earliest.”

Basil Rajapaksa made the comments to the Jaffna Press Club on Sunday after travelling there to set up a grassroots network of the SLPP in the region.

In another major shift in Rajapaksa policies, Basil supported attempts to end the problem of tens of thousands of people still missing eight years after the end of the separatist war.

He said the issue of people who had disappeared during and after the war should be addressed “humanely” and a solution found at the earliest.

“It is a question that must be addressed. We were trying to solve it during our time, it is an emotional issue. It must be solved in a very humane way,” he said.

He also agreed with former army chief Sarath Fonseka that security forces commanded committed “crimes” during and after the war. It is the first time that a Rajapaksa regime member admitted that armed forces had committed any crime.

Asked for his views on Field Marshal Fonseka’s remarks, including his willingness to testify before any war crimes tribunal, Rajapaksa said he was reluctant to comment, but ended up admitting to “crimes” by security forces.

“I think our forces didn’t do war crimes, but individuals might have done. It is not war crimes. We can call (it) crimes,” Rajapaksa said dispensing with a Sinhala-Tamil translator and switching to English.

However, he made it clear that he was unhappy with Field Marshall Fonseka’s comments. “I don’t think the person who led the forces at that time should talk like this.” (COLOMBO, October 5, 2017)

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