Close cooperation vital to nip terrorism
With SAARC law enforcement agencies:
countries will work hand-in-hand to eliminate terrorism, which is a
critical challenge to all the countries in the region, Secretary,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Palitha Kohona said.
He said that an agreement on countering terrorism and a treaty on
mutual assistance on criminal matters were being negotiated at the SAARC.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer he said that Sri Lanka has
proposed closer cooperation among SAARC countries on intelligence-
sharing with regard to terrorist matters and also on the need for
greater cooperation between the law enforcement agencies.
“Almost all the countries in the region are victims of terrorism.
Therefore, we have to help each other to overcome the evil of
Q: The government seems to be ready to hold the 15th SAARC
A: Yes. All arrangements to hold SAARC have been completed.
The meeting rooms have now been refurbished and accommodation
arrangements have put in place. All security arrangements are very much
in hand. The Program Committees starts today. The Standing Committee
Meetings will start on 29 and Ministerial segments meet on 31. The high
level summit begins on August 2.
Q: What are the main areas that Sri Lanka is going to
highlight at the SAARC?
A: There are number of areas which are important to Sri Lanka.
Terrorism is one of the major areas to Sri Lanka at the regional level.
Sri Lanka will continue to seek regional cooperation to ensure that
terrorism is eliminated from the world. Certainly we must take every
possible action to ensure that terrorism is eliminated from the SAARC
Sri Lanka is very much interested in global-warming and sea-level
rise. Because, the global-warming will have a deleterious impact on our
agriculture, fisheries, the forest resources and in other areas as well.
Therefore, we will be paying a great deal of attention to highlight
these areas. The low-lying areas of some of these countries will suffer
extensive damage as a result of sea-level rise. The SAARC region must
work together to address this trend.
We also have a major worrying concern about energy, which has
developed into a global crisis. As developing countries, we have to
continue to explore energy sources to develop our economy.
Another area that will be emphasised, is the development of
alternative and renewable energy sources, which the Sri Lanka and other
countries in the region are in dire need of. Potential for solar-energy
to be exploited is another priority. Then the there are options of wind
power and bio-fuel.
Another issue that is very important to us is the food security. We
will explore the means of tackling the threats posed by the food crisis
as effectively as possible. The SAARC itself agreed to establish a food
bank while the Sri Lanka government has proposed to setup a buffer zone
to address this issue.
This will be highlighted during the SAARC. We will also raise the
perennial question about poverty alleviation because the vast majority
of poor people live in the SAARC region.
Q: Terrorism is one major problem that has threatened the
whole region. How do we mobilise the SAARC countries to eliminate this
A: First and foremost, there is a convention on terrorism to
which all SAARC countries are parties themselves. Sri Lanka has proposed
closer cooperation among SAARC countries on intelligence-sharing with
regard to terrorist matters and also on the need for greater cooperation
between the law enforcement agencies.
There is also an agreement on provision of mutual legal assistance
among the SAARC countries being negotiated at present. There are various
measures being proposed at the moment to deal with this crisis which has
caused enormous damage and harm to people and properties of the
countries in the region.
Q: India and Pakistan have waged wars over the Kashmir issue,
Bangladesh too is having some problems and Sri Lanka and Nepal too are
fighting terrorism. Are you satisfied with the assistance given by these
countries to Sri Lanka to crush terrorism?
A: We are looking at assisting each other because Sri Lanka is
not the only victim of terrorism as you said. Almost all the countries
in the region are victims of terrorism. Therefore, we have to help each
other to overcome the evil of terrorism.
Q: SAARC is 23-years-old and do you think that SAARC has
brought significant changes in solving the problems of its member
A: The SAARC is a very young organisation compared to other
similar organizations in the world. The European Union has been in for
almost 15 years and ASEAN has been around for 40 years. But the SAARC is
in existence for a shorter period and it achieved a considerable
The countries in the region now consult and cooperate with each other
on matters like poverty alleviation, and terrorism. Now we are moving to
work together on issues like climate change, global-warming, food
security and energy.
Q: Sri Lankan refugees in India are another issue that needs
to be solved. Will this be a topic at the SAARC?
A: Sri Lankan refugees in India are a bi-lateral issue and not
an issue for the SAARC. Both governments are now in close consultations
with regard to this issue.
Q: The Kachchathiv has now become a serious issue in Tamil
Nadu. What do you have to say about it?
A: As far as we are aware there is no problem about
Kachchathivu and we have not been advised by the Indian authorities that
there is a problem. The borders between India and Sri Lanka were
resolved in 1970s. So I do not think that there is now a problem to
Q: It is said that the government is spending nearly Rs. 2.8
billion to host the Summit and some have accused for spending such a
huge amount of money at a time when the government is facing a serious
financial crisis. What is your comment?
A: It is not correct to say that the government is spending an
additional Rs. 2.8 billion purely on SAARC. A considerable proportion of
this amount about 70 to 80 percent is being spent on security matters.
This amount would have had to spend on security forces at some point of
time or other.
It is wrong to say that Rs. 2.8 billion has been pulled out from
somewhere to be spent on SAARC. It is very clear that the bulk of these
funds that could have been financed elsewhere. When you look around you
can see the roads are being repaired the city is being cleaned up and is
These things have to be done in a modern city. I do not think that
this is a case where the money which could have been spent on some other
project is being spent on SAARC. The funds that have spent on SAARC are
really benefitting the country.
Q: You talked about beautifying the city of Colombo. Will the
government maintain the same beauty of the city even after the SAARC?
A: We hope so. We live here and we would like to see this city
is a beautiful place to live in.
Q: But some claim that the SAARC would be a tamasha and Sri
Lanka will not be benefitted at this moment?
A: As I explained to you before Sri Lanka will be benefitted
enormously and this is not a ‘tamasha’. We will hold discussions on
terrorism, climate change and various other topics like the SAARC
Development Fund which will bring tangible benefits to Sri Lanka.
Therefore, I think it is a gross exaggeration to say that the SAARC is a
Q: Who are the Heads of States who have confirmed their
A: The SAARC summit must have the participation of all the
Heads of States. Without the participation of every one of them the
Summit cannot go ahead. So at this stage all are expected to
Q: But in some media, it was reported that some of the Heads
of States have not confirmed their participation.
A: I do not think that you should believe in every thing that
you read in our papers.
Q: Sri Lanka was not the selected venue for holding the 15th
SAARC Summit and why did we grab the opportunity given to the Maldives?
A: Maldives was the country that was scheduled to hold the
SAARC but due to domestic constraints they are not in a position to hold
the Summit this year. The member States of the SAARC gave Sri Lanka the
opportunity. It is also significant that it is our 60th Anniversary of
This was certainly the factor that has influenced the thinking of the
other members of the SAARC to give us the opportunity. Sri Lanka did not
take some body else’s place but was given to us because the Maldives was
not in a position to hold the SAARC this year.
Q: However much we tried to counteract the LTTE propaganda,
the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora is still active. Where do you think we have
A: I do not think we have failed. It is certainly true that
the propaganda machine of the LTTE which is absolutely sophisticated has
done very well in the recent times. We have to deal with a range of
matters which are important to the country. And they can muster all
their resources and energy in achieving that goal.
In comparison, I think we have not done too badly. It is also to be
remembered that the LTTE raises US $ 10 to 30 million a month. And all
these money is directed to achieve its limited goals.
But the government apart from the anti-LTTE propaganda, has to look
after the development of the country and other issues as well.
Therefore, in comparison it may appear that the LTTE has done extremely
Q: What are your comments about the measures taken by our
diplomats in their anti LTTE propaganda?
A: The diplomatic service is trying hard to counter the LTTE
propaganda and their fund raising efforts. It is not always easy and we
have to work hard. It is no accident that the LTTE has been banned in
India, USA, Canada and in 27 other countries in the EU.
It is also no accident that the TRO has also been banned in these
countries. Many of these countries, especially the Western democracies
began to prosecute the LTTE fund-raisers and sympathizers.
Over 16 LTTEers have been prosecuted and sent to jail by the US
government. The Canada has prosecuted several LTTEers and so is Britain.
In France over 20 LTTEers are languishing in jails and the Australian
government has started prosecuting LTTE sympathizers and fund-raisers.
These things would not happen accidentally. The Foreign Service has
played a crucial role in ensuring that these results are achieved. We
also have to remember that despite negative campaigns carried out by the
LTTE, Sri Lanka has received a record level of foreign investments in
2007, which is close to US $ 712 million.
This is the highest foreign direct investment that reached Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is also receiving probably the highest foreign aid ever and
again these things happened because of the work of the Foreign Service.
We also have to remember that this is because Sri Lanka continues to
maintain a good relationship with all our friends in the West and East.
There are times when even friends criticize each other. We do that in
our personal relationships and these things happen even at international
level. Even the best of friends might have to criticize each other for
This has happened in the case of Sri Lanka too. It is very important
to remember that we should not misunderstand criticisms as a reflection
of the failure on the part of the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry
has worked very hard and achieved good results and will continue to do
so future as well.
Q: Do you see any lapses on the part of the Foreign Ministry
and what steps will be taken to rectify them?
A: I would not describe them as lapses. There are areas in
which we need to work hard. We certainly need to work hard to counter
the LTTE propaganda. We also probably need to work harder to ensure that
our inflow of tourists is maintained at the same level or increased. And
we can encourage more foreign investment coming to Sri Lanka. On the
whole, we need to ensure our reputation as a reliable country and also
as a signatory to international treaties which are maintained in the
Q: The LTTE has declared a uniliteral Ceasefire during the
SAARC. Do you see it as genuine effort by the LTTE?
A: I think we have to be very cautious about such declarations
by the LTTE. In the past the LTTE has declared unilateral ceasefires but
they have used every such opportunity to re-arm, re-group and cause
So the government is extremely cautious and it has said publicly that
if the LTTE wishes to have its declaration taken seriously it must also
make a firm commitment to working towards a final settlement.
The Ceasefire is no solution. We need to make a commitment in
bringing this conflict to an end in an honourable and just manner.
Furthermore, the LTTE must ensure its commitment to a demobilization
process. Our experience in the past suggest that the LTTE has used
previous CFAs as I said earlier simply to re-arm, re-group and launch
fresh offensives. We need to get out of this cycle and ensure that
future generations of this country can look forward to in a different
Q: The LTTE has again expressed their willingness to resume
talks. As the former head of the Peace Secretariat, do you think we
should go for negotiations at this moment?
A: It is a question of how President Mahinda Rajapaksa will
decide on this issue. So, the President has said that he will take that
extra step in order to achieve a comprehensive and honourable peace but
at the same time the LTTE must commit itself to achieve a comprehensive
peace through a process of demobilization.
Q: Are we to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership
Program (CEPA), which created opposition from both the political parties
and the business community saying that India will derive more benefits
through CEPA than Sri Lanka, during the SAARC?
A: The CEPA is being considered by the Cabinet and so I will
leave it at that level.
Who is Palitha Tikiri Bandara Kohona
A brilliant student of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, Palitha
always waited to run to Matale, his home town, to play with his sisters,
brothers and cousins. The ‘Kohona Walauwa’ comes to life during school
vacations with mischievous kids running riot! “I used to go to Matale
for my holidays and those were the days we spent happily playing and
fighting with our cousins, my two brothers and two sisters”, Dr. Palitha
Kohona, Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminiscences his
Being one of the outstanding students of the College, Palitha wanted
to become a lawyer. After his LL.B from the University of Colombo, he
did International Trade Law at the Australian National University and
later obtained his doctorate from the University of Cambridge.
“It was really a challenge for me to pursue my studies in Trade Law
and Economics Law as they were relatively new fields at that time. But I
took the challenge”, Dr. Kohona who wrote his thesis on ‘The Regulation
of International Trade through Law,’ says.
One of his remarkable achievements in his career was that he cleared
an 11 year backlog at the United Nations Treaty Section, New York. Dr.
Kohona was the only Sri Lankan appointed as the Chief of the Treaty
He earned the UN 21 PIN Award for his performance and for introducing
major managerial innovations during the period of 1995-2006. He was able
to reduce the backlog to eight months when he left the Section.
He managed the computerization of the UN treaty database which
contains over one million pages of information and the UN treaty
collection consists of over 50,000 bilateral treaties registered with
the UN Secretariat and over 500 multilateral treaties.
The person that Dr. Kohona holds in reverence is Nelson Mandela but
he is also very much attracted to Stephen Hawking, a man who was
suffering from lugarics disease, from his young days. “Today despite the
fact that he is totally paralysed, he continues to produce unbelievable
thoughts on cosmology and physics. This man’s determination is simply
mind-boggling”, he admires.
There is no stopping Dr. Kohona when it comes to serving the country.
“One can never be satisfied with the service that one gives to one’s
country. There is lot more to be done. I only wish that I have all the
strength to do more to my country”.
Reading and cooking his favourite dishes are his past time but his
greatest hobby is photography. Ask Dr. Kohona who he is, apart from
being the Secretary of the Foreign Ministry? “I am a photographer”, the
man who totes his camera wherever he goes.
No specific area to click his camera, he takes everything and
anything that pleases his eye.
Having a vast collection of pictures ranging from wildlife to scenery
to human life, Dr. Kohona, who started photography in his teens, is
yearning for more time to do photography.
“I wish I had more time.
Wherever I go I carry my camera. I take pictures at every opportunity
I get”, he smiles. Guess ...! What is his greatest satisfaction in life
...? “I want to make the lives of the orphaned children at the Polygala
Children’s home better.
I am so proud that Sampath of that home has been selected to play for
the National Junior Cricket Team”, That is Dr. Palitha Kohona, who was
the former Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the
Peace Process (SCOPP) and a member who represented the peace talks with
the LTTE in Geneva and Oslo.
*SAARC countries need to take action to eliminate terrorism from the
*SAARC countries have to help each other to overcome terrorism.
*SAARC has achieved its goals within a short period of time.
*Sri Lanka will propose to set up a food buffer zone in the region.
*Indian and Sri Lankan governments have close dialogue about Sri
Lankan IDPs in India.
* Need to be very cautious about ceasefire declarations by the LTTE
as they use it as a ruse to bolster its fire and manpower.
* SAARC is not a ‘tamasha’ and Sri Lanka will get enormous benefits.
*We should not believe everything that is reported in the media.