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Sri Lanka has clear foreign policy - Minister Rohitha Bogollagama

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, who is looking forward to having face to face discussions with the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukarjee to brief him on the present situation in Wanni soon, said that the Government was confident that the Indian government would not dictate terms on counter terrorism activities in Sri Lanka.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer he said that the present turmoil in India and Tamil Nadu about the Lankan IDPs in Wanni were mainly due to their political climate. But, that Indian Government, which is one of the closet friends of Sri Lanka and which understands well about the country’s fight against LTTE terrorism, would stand by the Government.
“President Rajapaksa’s regime is the best of all times which has the best of relationships with India. India has always stood by us in terms of territorial integrity and sovereignty”, Minister Bogollagama said adding that the political agitations which are centred in a political agenda will fade away with the conclusion of the Tamil Nadu elections.
Excerpts of the interview:

*Mahinda Rajapaksa Government has strengthened strong relationships with India than earlier.

*Sri Lanka has a clear policy for foreign affairs.

*The national issues have been adequately represented in that policy.

*Sri Lanka’s major concern is countering terrorism and re-establishing democracy.

*Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is an independent one based on non aligned principles.

*Sri Lanka’s friendship with USA, UK and EU countries are strong and visible.

*I am happy with the outcome of my trips.

*Sri Lanka should not be subjected to any investigations to get GSP+.

*Though Sri Lanka’s propaganda mechanism is effective there are twists and spins created by the LTTE propagandists.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: It is said that all these issues have propped up because we lack a National Policy on Foreign Affairs. Isn’t it so?

A: No. It is a clearly established policy that we command in terms of foreign affairs. Being a non-aligned country and a friend of all, Sri Lanka is not a part of any ideologies in terms of foreign policy relations. We also maintain a very independent stance as a leading member in the NAM.

Q: But do you think we have adequately addressed the country’s national interests in this policy?

A: Yes, in terms of national issues like terrorism to which we are now finding solutions we are well represented in whatever actions in relation to foreign affairs. All the successive governments have looked at solutions to solve the current conflict. To address the national problem we have come up with a devolution proposal, which the government has now got into the Constitution. No government has changed that line. And that has now become a national policy in terms of how the devolution proposals are to be implemented.

Sri Lanka’s major concern is countering terrorism. Our government has taken the lead to engage the democratic establishment of all parts of Sri Lanka and eliminate terrorism. This is the policy that we are practising outside Sri Lanka too to eradicate terrorism in order to restore democracy. Threat to democracy comes from terrorism and that is why we always believe that liberty comes with security; liberty of our people to be retained and protected where we need to have eliminate terrorism. So, there can’t be liberty when there is terrorism. This is the fact that we are now looking at. We did it in the Eastern Province and we are looking at the Northern Province now.

Q: How does the foreign policy of the present government differ from the previous policies?

A: Overall, we have got one foreign policy and all governments have maintained it based on very non aligned principles. For the liberty of our people to be retained and protected we need to eliminate terrorism. So there cannot be liberty for our people when there is terrorism. Eastern Province is the best example of this.

We have the foreign policy of previous governments, which is being maintained. It is a very non-aligned one. And again, we are a country which has a very close relationship with India and that has been very well kept by successive governments. Then again, to look at China-Sri Lanka relations, we are a country that believes that there should be one China policy and all successive governments have been maintaining that policy. We are a member of the Commonwealth. As such we have looked at foreign relations within a framework of a non-aligned country.

Q: However, it seems that Sri Lanka is fast losing its European friends which claim the country has a poor track record of human rights. What are the steps taken to win their support?

A: I strongly refute that claim. No, we are not losing our European friends. In the world. There are so many views that have been expressed. Some believe in certain lines in terms of how they should have their so called value judgments. This is something that we should understand about respective priorities of some countries and Sri Lanka is engaged with all these countries. And that is very visible in today’s context where we are very well positioned with European countries. We have very strong bi-lateral relationship with almost every European country. There may be different opinions that have been formed as to how to deal with situations.

Like the situations in Kosovo, Iran and in other parts of the world, Sri Lanka also has our own value judgments on lots of these issues. Similarly, all these countries have their own lines to which they try to position their so-called perceptions and try to work towards that. But at the same time our relationship is so evident and visible with all countries in the European Union, USA, Canada and other European establishments.

Q: But, earlier we very much depended for financial assistance on the West. But now it has shifted to China, India, Iran and Japan. Isn’t it because we have lost the support of the West?

A: I think you have to look at it differently. Sri Lanka is largely getting foreign assistance from Japan, ADB, World Bank, IMF and some of the European countries, which are our traditional partners towards assisting Sri Lanka’s development. It is not that we are shifting from the West to East. In the East assistance has been on development basis.

And a considerable amount of assistance is coming from the West and we will continue to get financial assistance from the West. To that extent, we are happy and in today’s context we have to understand that there is an economic downturn in the West. Therefore, we are not going to depend too much on them in development assistance as they have to stabilize their economies.

But our economic cooperations like trading, technological transfers, investments have recorded a rapid rise from the West during the last three years. That rise is quite evident from direct foreign investments that we have been generating during the last three years and the amount of trading development now taking place in the European Union. These are fairly good visible evidences of our cordial and strong relationship we have been having with EU.

Q: President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that there was no request from the Indian Government officially to halt military offensives and that Opposition Leader has also confirmed this. What is the truth in this?

A: Yes, there is no official demand from the Indian Government to stop military offensives in Wanni. I can endorse with responsibility that there is no interference, no dictation or any sort of effort by India or from any country to halt countering terrorism, which is Sri Lanka’s top priority. Rajapaksa Government does not have anything to hide and we are very transparent as to how we are dealing with terrorism.

Q: But the UNP accused the Government for failing to adhere to a proper diplomatic relationship with India. What is your comment?

A: We have the best of relationships with India. It is quite visible and it gives us the highest stand to maintain our pursuits in line with the political aspirations of the people of Sri Lanka, our constitutional framework that we are working with in and also the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka for which India has been a major partner in helping to protect our territorial integrity and sovereignty. Therefore the Government has strengthened our relationships with India more than earlier.

Q: Why do you think that India did not raise the humanitarian issues during the military offensives launched during the times of late President D.B. Wijetunge, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga?

A: The fact is that in those times there was no such engagement with the LTTE as now. Under Rajapaksa Government we want to bring full liberty to our people. Other thing is concerns are getting extreme because there is a wider media freedom today not like during the UNP regime. So the IDP issue has got a wider coverage not only in Sri Lanka but also in internationally. However, Sri Lanka has shown a good record of handling IDP issues.

The Indian and Tamil Nadu concerns about Lankan IDP issue is mainly due to their political climate. Tamil Nadu is election centred now. These show how the political framework works.

We are very confident and as President Rajapaksa said we will handle the IDP issues well in the North. But the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu says that their concerns about Sri Lankan Tamils dates back to 1930s and this is not a political gimmick. Why do you think that the Foreign Ministry has failed to identify this issue before it becomes a boiling issue?

A: No one can say that the Foreign Ministry is clueless about this issue. We have been always following the developments and that you can see from the relationship that we are maintaining with India. But at the same time, the political agitations are centred in a political agenda that suits the respective local political interest rather than our bilateral interests in local context.

But these are not long exercises but temporary issues. Very soon you will see a change of these current developments that have taken place in Tamil Nadu. They will be very soon getting manifested. In diplomacy we do lot of things silently by not giving the results to the media or much exposure.

The closest engagements to address these issues will not be reflected much but what is important is how much you derived from that. That is why you see these matters with lesser degree of concerns. But if you do not know the issues properly you tend to get more worried. But, for us this is a matter which is very well addressed and we are confident it will turn for the better.

Q: What would really happen if India drops food to Wanni like in 1980s or intervene in the country’s domestic problems?

A: I am so confident that India will not resort to such actions as India is one of our closest friends and they understand Sri Lanka’s situation well.

President Rajapaksa’s regime is in the best of times in its relationship with India. We have maintained a close friendship with India and they helped us in every possible way and they are a country which stood by us in terms of territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Q: Do you think that strengthening bilateral relationships with China, Pakistan and Iran have made India unhappy?

A: Not at all because our bilateral relationship with China dates back to 50 years. Pakistan is one of our close friends and a good partner of the SARRC. Iran is a historical factor. So, there is nothing to that effect that would damage the closeness between India and Sri Lanka.

Q: At the very beginning President Rajapaksa had called all diplomatic missions here and advised them about their role to make the international community aware of the Sri Lanka issues. Are you satisfied with their performances now?

A: Yes, our diplomatic missions are doing an extraordinary service to maintain Sri Lanka’s interests. That is why today we have come and gone on board on several international platforms like Asian Co-operation Dialogue, Asian Regional Forum, G11 and other forums. Their contribution has made lots of progress to get a good exposure to Sri Lanka and to strengthen international relationships. That is the hallmark of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidency and also a clear reflection and demonstration of Sri Lanka’s connectivity with the rest of the world in the last three to four years.

Q: Meanwhile Minister of Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe had claimed last week that some of the British MPs were mis-informed about the real picture of Wanni. Do you think there are lapses in disseminating correct information to the international community?

A: The Ministerial delegation led by Lord Malek Brown, Minister for Commonwealth Affairs in Britain was here in June and several high level engagements from Britain were here. The President had met the British Prime Minister. Then again I met the British Foreign Minister over three times. I have interacted with the Leader of the Opposition. The entire polity of Britain is very much aware and kept informed. There is a section of the LTTE propaganda units who are also working in some of the locations. Our information is decimated in the highest level and at the same time there are twists and spins created by the LTTE propagandists.

Q: The EU is strongly insisting on an investigation into human rights and child recruitment before granting the GSP+ concession to Sri Lanka. What is the stance of the Foreign Ministry?

A: I have always maintained that Sri Lanka should not be subjected to any investigation on the extension of the GSP + facility. We are the best of profiles in terms of our records on the ICCPR Conventions. And also in terms of our rule of law that is prevalent in Sri Lanka, we have been always protecting and promoting human rights in Sri Lanka. We are a country that maintains high visibility in terms of democracy. And we as a democracy have to respect our sovereignty. Therefore, when child soldier recruitment is done by the LTTE - a terrorist organisation - Sri Lanka should not be taken as a country responsible for that. Child recruitment is the responsibility of the LTTE. These are matters that we have been advocating and I also said that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka should be respected rather than our compromising those things for international investigations.

Q: How many countries have you visited after you became the Foreign Minister?

A: I have a calendar covering at least 15 countries at minimal level. And in addition, we have so many multilateral and bilateral forums that we have to attend. Therefore, we have a greater connectivity as I mentioned earlier for new platforms that we have got into.

Q: But the Opposition and several other critics, who criticized your trips, claim that all these trips have brought nothing much to strengthen our international relationships. But only a huge air freight bill. Your comments?

A: The cost of travel is associated with the number of travels that you made. While our main focus to establish relationships with the world is mainly countering terrorism, we are looking to improve the living conditions of our people and getting the donor assistance for mega development projects under President Rajapaksa. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs it is my responsibility to see that we get these sources and resources outside Sri Lanka adequately. That is how I have been able to maintain a very high profile in the international scene. As a result of my recent visit to Australia we have been able to get our agenda well in Australia after a lapse of over 10 years. I am the first Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to visit Brazil and as a result, new development opportunities are generating there now. Over 10 heads of States have visited Sri Lanka in 2008.

I am happy about the public endorsement that I have been getting. Some times some of the politicians always say things because they believe that saying things being in the Opposition is their duty.

*******************

Who is Chandrasekara Rohitha Bandara Bogollagama?

The attorney practising at the Supreme Court, who was one of the leading youth politicians of the UNP always wanted to become a part of the political process of the country. He learnt the ABC of politics when he was a member of the Ananda College Student Movement and the Sri Lanka Law College had become a fine platform for the young lawyer Rohitha to gain more experience in politics as he was an active member of the Law College student movement.

Rohitha was a working committee member of the UNP for over 13 years, and then, having had a long career in law from 1976 to 1999, he entered Parliament in 2000 representing the Kurunegala District. “I liked politics from my young days and I am a trained politician”, says Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama, adding that he trained overseas in political management activities.

“Serve people when you can!” That is the motto of the Minister who had the privilege of going around the globe strengthening bilateral and multi-lateral ties between Sri Lanka and the rest of the world.

Any challenge for him, he says, is just another opportunity for ‘me to do my work with more responsibility’. “I do not take anything as challenges, but opportunities”, he says of himself.

“Are you satisfied with the work you have done for the poor people in your electorate, Nikaweratiya?”, I asked him. He gives a list of things that he has done for the country as the former chief of the Board of Investment, Minister of Industries, Enterprise Development Promotion and Minister of Foreign Affairs. “I would like to reflect on my overall services to the country.

I am satisfied with the landmark developments that I have been able to do during my career in politics. As the Minister of Industries, I was able to register over Rs. 602 million FDIs for the first time in Sri Lanka. I was instrumental in introducing the National Enterprise Development Authority Bill. I was able to take small industries to the outskirts of the country.

The Pallekelle Free Trade Zone is my brain-child. As the Foreign Minister I was able to bring the SAARC chair to Sri Lanka within a year”, he goes on with the list, a proud tone echoing his achievements.

This politician, whose roots date back to the UNP says he will never shift his strides back to the UNP and is determined to remain as UPFAer.

Never tired after flying from one country to another and even after brain storming sessions on serious issues, The Minister of Foreign Affairs says he can sleep well and he is always stress free. Read whatever comes his way he is happy after a jogging sessions or a walk. “ I live a stress free life”, Minister Bogollagama says.

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