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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: President Shares His Views On The

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UNCLAS COLOMBO 001261

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PHUM MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: PRESIDENT SHARES HIS VIEWS ON THE
CONFLICT

1. SUMMARY: In an early September interview with Indian
author and journalist Inderjit Badhwar (full text at
www.tamilunitedfront.com/articles/rajapakse.h tml), President
Mahinda Rajapaksa emphasized his desire for a political
solution that addresses the aspirations of the Tamil people.
He also acknowledged certain constraints to achieving a
political solution, including his election promise that any
political solution would be based on the idea of a unitary
state, and spoke of his desire to see a larger role for India
in resolving Sri Lanka's conflict. The President's
well-spoken, detailed answers showed a clear understanding of
the international community's concerns and expectations with
regard to resolving the conflict. End Summary.

2. In an early September interview with Indian author and
journalist Inderjit Badhwar, President Mahinda Rajapaksa
emphasized his desire for a political solution that addresses
the aspirations of the Tamil people. "I recognize the
legitimate historic grievances of our Tamil people," he said.
"They are Sri Lankans -- proud Sri Lankans. And any
organized repression of the rights of any Sri Lankan is a
blot on all Sri Lankans." He noted his career as a lawyer
and human rights activist and insisted that, "as a human
rights activist, I simply cannot be a Sinhala chauvinist. On
the contrary I would like to call myself a Sri Lankan
nationalist. I have Tamil relatives and heaps of Tamil
friends."

3. He also, however, acknowledged certain constraints to
achieving a political solution. "The only question that is
non-negotiable is a divided Sri Lanka," he said, noting that
the international community, and even Sri Lanka's Tamils, did
not support a divided Sri Lanka. "Federalism is a negative
word in Sri Lanka because people think it synonymous with
dividing the country...You must remember my political legacy
and constraints... I was elected by a Sinhala constituency on
an election manifesto which made it clear that an ultimate
solution to the ethnic crisis could be evolved only on the
basis of a unitary state." He noted that, "in any peace
settlement, I have to carry the Sinhala voters with
me...That's why the first step I took was to try and forge
what I call a Southern Consensus."

4. Rajapaksa reiterated his intention to hold elections in
the Eastern Province by the end of the year. "We will
demonstrate the viability of a Tamil-Sinhala-Muslim
partnership...It will be an example to the North where the
LTTE's efforts have been to isolate the Tamil community from
the rest of the Sri Lankan people."

5. In a nod to his Indian audience, he also spoke of his
desire to see a larger role for India in resolving Sri
Lanka's conflict. He noted that the "U.S. looks to India
today as a responsible nuclear power that can keep the Indian
Ocean as a zone of peace and stability...We too look to India
to help us protect our democracy from the threat of
terrorism." He added that the "whole world is looking to
India to provide the initiative that would move the peace
process forward."

6. COMMENT: President's well-spoken, detailed answers to
Badhwar's questions, calibrated to appeal to an Indian
public, show a clear understanding of the international
community's concerns and expectations with regard to
resolving the conflict. Rajapaksa's emphasis on the Tamil
community's legitimate aspirations and acknowledgment of its
justified grievances is encouraging, especially in light of
his reputation as a hard-liner.
BLAKE

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