Daily Archives: June 1, 2007
The Government is prepared to renew the Ceasefire Agreement at any time, but Prabhakaran does not honour it, said President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an interview with Al Jazeera’s 101 East presenter Teymoor Nabili. “We still honour it. We still do not send our police, our army to that side,’ the President added.
The President also told Al Jazeera, “Even today I am ready to negotiate, very clearly. My argument is that terrorism has to be got rid off. We cannot kneel down to that. I am not prepared to kneel down to their arms capability. But I am committed to ensuring the rights of the Tamil people. That I will achieve, somehow.”
The following is the full transcript of the interview:
Teymoor Nabili: Mr. President, the Tamil Tigers launched their first attack against your government and against the Sri Lankan people only weeks after you came to power. Why do you think it was, that after so long of adhering to the peace plan, they suddenly decided to start attacking again?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: They would have thought it was a weakness of mine, that I could be defeated. That was a good opportunity for them to establish a separate state. They would have believed that.
Teymoor Nabili:Is it possible that for Prabhakaran, war or continuing conflict is actually a preferred option because only by convincing the northern population that they were under attack can he convince them to support his movement. If there were no attacks from the government the population would lose the need for his command?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Like I said before, he thought that we were weak, that the state is weak, that he is strong. But now, he has come to a point, where he has accepted that. He has lost the east. Prabhakaran does not represent the aspirations of the Tamil people. What he represents, is the interests of a small group, not the needs of the Tamil people. The Tamil people do not want a war, they want peace. The government does not need a war, the government wants peace.
Teymoor Nabili:Is there any level of dialogue at all between your government and the LTTE right now?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa:Actually, at present there are no talks at any level. As a government we cannot have talks. We say that we are ready for talks always.
Teymoor Nabili:You don’t see any value in dialogue?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: We are always ready for talks. Always, even today. Even while the fighting goes on, I am ready for talks. Even being armed, the way they are behaving today, we are ready to go forward.
Teymoor Nabili:When you say you are prepared to talk, you are prepared to instigate, to initiate dialogue?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Definitely, if the LTTE is ready. [It takes] two hands to clap.
Teymoor Nabili:Have you made the offer?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: I am ready if Prabhakaran is ready. We have said that very clearly. I am ready, but I am not prepared to kneel before the terrorism of the LTTE. I have said that many times. If I am attacked, I will counter attack. That is what we have done at every occasion.
Teymoor Nabili:We have then, a face-off. How does one get around what seems to be an intractable problem?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Actually in this instance, and at every other instance we have said, come and commence talks with us, we are ready. We have offered a political solution to the people. Along with the political solution, we are prepared to talk. But what the LTTE wants, to keep their arms and divide the country into two. That I cannot allow.
Teymoor Nabili:Do you think the Sri Lankan people would rather see a victory against the Tamil Tigers or a peace agreement with the Tamil Tigers?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: The people have been battered by the LTTE for many years. It has come to a point where the LTTE cannot be trusted. If the people are asked, they will say, defeat the LTTE and talk. But I am ready to talk with the LTTE. From the other side, this question is a question not faced in any other country. Where a head of state asks Prabhakaran to talk.
Teymoor Nabili:So you are saying that you think the Sri Lankan people would prefer a defeat of the LTTE first?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: First. Opinion polls seem to suggest that peace is much more important to the Sri Lankan people. For the people, LTTE, peace – the people want peace that is the truth, without defeating the LTTE, without defeating the terrorism of the LTTE. There is no politics in this. There is a political side and terrorism here. This is a terrorist group. The people are aware that as long as a terrorist organization exists, that negotiations will not be successful. They are making use of the negotiations to strengthen themselves, to bring in arms. This is a historical fact, historically because the people have been battered. Today we have to be very careful.
Teymoor Nabili:So let me be clear on this: what you’re saying is that there must first be military victory and then peace talks?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: No. That is not what I hope for. Until the terrorists are weakened, they will not come for talks. As long as they think they are strong, they will try to break up the country. Today, what we hope is to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamil people.
Teymoor Nabili:What do you mean by weakened? At what point will you accept that the Tamil Tigers are weakened because it’s now been almost a year of …
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Even under today’s circumstances. Clearly said, what the people expect. But what I expect is not that. I said that even today I am ready to negotiate, very clearly. My argument is that terrorism has to be got rid off. We cannot kneel down to that. I am not prepared to kneel down to their arms capability. But I am committed to ensuring the rights of the Tamil people. That I will achieve, somehow.
Teymoor Nabili:I apologise, I am not really following you. You say that terrorism must be defeated but you don’t want, you don’t think that a military victory is necessary?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Absolutely, a victory is essential against terrorism. That is a different story. But because we need to meet the aspirations of the Tamil people, I am prepared to go for talks, with the terrorists. I have come to that point. Has any other world leader said that?
Teymoor Nabili:Could you then describe a situation under which both those things can be achieved – defeat of the terrorists and representation of the Tamil people? What I am struggling to understand here is if the defeat of terrorism is a key element of your strategy and yet dialogue is also a key element of your strategy. How do you see those two working together? Which comes first and how do you proceed?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Now, we tried to talk at the beginning. While keeping their arms, we were prepared to talk. When we went to Geneva ; they killed innocent people. Even while they were killing, I negotiated. I think, if you were to compare with other countries, you will see a difference. In other countries there will be no negotiations. But, we have been prepared, we have negotiated, we have shown that we are genuinely ready to do that. But they must give up terrorism. They must enter a democratic framework. Without that, that is what we expect to achieve through negotiations. It was clear during our negotiations with them, that they have no interest in negotiating because they believe they can win this war, that they can divide this country into two. That is their strong belief, Prabhakaran’s belief.
Teymoor Nabili:The message I am hearing from you right now is that your military strategy is going to continue until the Tigers come to the table and ask for negotiations and lay down their arms.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: No. I am ready to talk even while they carry arms. Even while they fight, if they want to negotiate with me, and reach a solution, I am ready for that too.
Teymoor Nabili:Let me rephrase then. What you are saying is that the government’s military strategy will continue as is, until you get a signal from Prabhakaran that he is willing to talk and he is willing to stop his military action first?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: If they do not attack me, I will not attack. If they stay where they are, keeping their arms, I have no problem with that. But, they must agree to a political solution. To achieve the aspirations of the Tamil people, and to achieve the aspirations of the people of this country, I am prepared. Because I will not divide people as Tamils, Muslims or Sinhalese.
Teymoor Nabili:Let’s assume that Prabhakaran is committed to a military victory against the government. Is it your belief that the government can defeat the Tigers militarily if it comes to the necessity?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Actually, the government has the capability to defeat them. The government is strong. Defeating terrorism is not only for the Sri Lankan government. To protect democracy, the whole world must act to defeat terrorism.
Teymoor Nabili:But we’ve had a year now of the government putting an all-out effort to counter the Tamil Tiger terrorism and in that time there has not only been no progress made, we now see they have an air force.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: I must say this very clearly. We have cleared the east from terrorism. Today, they have been limited to Killinochchi and Mullaitivu areas. We have weakened them. They receive help from the European and other countries, they get strong. As long as they get this protection money they will carry this out as a business. We must keep that in mind.
Teymoor Nabili:Do you think Prabhakaran should admit finally that the ceasefire agreement is dead?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Prabhakaran is breaking it all the time. Prabhakaran is not talking about a ceasefire agreement. When it’s needed, he talks about it to the international community. Prabhakaran has completely forgotten about it, and is carrying out his terrorist activities.
Teymoor Nabili:As far as you are concerned it’s no more than a piece of paper now?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Even though I dislike saying it, the agreement has fallen to that state. This agreement is between us. We are prepared to renew the agreement at any time. But Prabhakaran does not honour that. We still honour it. We still do not send our police, our army to that side.
Teymoor Nabili:Richard Boucher visited Sri Lanka recently and he said there are two aspects that concern us, abductions and killings and the freedom of the press. Other human rights organizations have also levelled criticisms at the forces, armed forces.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Actually, today I am not prepared to accept that there are human rights violations as has been reported. When such accusations are made, I, the forces, the police …
Teymoor Nabili:Are you willing to accept that there are violations of human rights occurring?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Knowingly, a state will not violate human rights, abduct people. That must be stated very clearly. Our forces are a very disciplined force. Not seen in any other country. Not a single civilian was injured when we took Vakarai. We know that in certain instances when bombs are dropped in other countries, people are killed, children die. We do not behave like that. We did not do that. We protected every civilian.
Teymoor Nabili:But Human Rights Watch has documented at least 700 and more abductions during your term.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Many of those people who are said to have been abducted are in England , Germany , gone abroad. They have made complaints that they were abducted, but when they return they don’t say. Some talk of a few people abducted from Colombo . We do not know whether they are fighting in Killinochchi, we have no way of finding out. This is all against the government. We have seen this business. We have found out that under the same name, they have gone abroad. In these lists we have seen.
Teymoor Nabili:So this is a conspiracy?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: Definitely, I don’t refute the fact that the LTTE is abducting people. The LTTE has abducted people and killed them. The state forces do not have to abduct people, because we have a law. We can question them, and remand them, imprison them. We can detain them under emergency laws. So there is no need to abduct someone, for the state. If we receive evidence about any incidents, I have appointed a commission to take action against such people. International observers have been brought in. That is what a state can do. If there are killings, we have a police, a law to stop that. For this too, we have a law and a commission.
Teymoor Nabili:Let’s move away from abductions, you said after your victory that your aim is to bring about an honourable peace. This has been a long-running problem. How long do you think it can continue to go on before something very serious occurs within the Sri Lankan society itself?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: I would like to solve this problem today. This has gone on too far. We need to solve this as quickly as possible. That is why we are working very hard.
Teymoor Nabili:How do you propose to do that?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: We have to discuss it, then we have to bring it before the people and we also have to eradicate terrorism. We cannot allow these criminals to dictate to us. We cannot have them join us. While we go ahead with our programme to control these people we will bring forward a solution. This way the people will be with us. If you ask the people whether they want LTTE rule, they will say they don’t want it. You go there and ask them. But the problem is that if they say they are opposed to the LTTE, they will be killed.
Teymoor Nabili:The ambassador designate to the EU from Sri Lanka has been speaking about his
concerns with the situation; that perhaps Europe, and maybe even a Democratic US President after the next election, may begin to support either a humanitarian intervention in Sri Lanka, or a perhaps a slightly stronger intervention in Sri Lanka. Perhaps even ultimately a Bosnia-style solution. Is that a fear that you have?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: I believe in this country, for the problem of this country, another country cannot force a solution. To find a solution for this country, it is not Europe that can help. It is India that can find a solution. India is our neighbour. It is essential for the people of India . Therefore I believe, that it is the Indian government that can help us with this question.
Teymoor Nabili:But what would you like India to do today?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa: To offer a solution to this problem, according to the present situation, to help the Tamil people, India ’s support is necessary. India must work with this government. It has worked, and my belief is that there must be more support from the Indian government. Sri Lanka is not a colony of England, America or any other country. Sri Lanka is a sovereign state. So when they get involved it is important that they do not interfere in the internal affairs of this country.
Teymoor Nabili:Mr. President thank you very much for talking to Al Jazeera.
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One of the world’s biggest solid tyre makers is trying to double its turnover and turn Sri Lanka into a key exporter of rubber products.
Raw rubber has been the country’s second largest export commodity after tea, but a Belgian-Sri Lanka joint venture is trying to re-invent the way wheels are made and make the island a global hub for tyres.
Solideal Loadstar is one of Sri Lanka’s best kept secrets and its biggest exporter, accounting for just over two per cent of the nation’s near seven billion dollar export earnings.
“In the world market, we now control 20 per cent in the solid tyre and about five per cent in the industrial tyre markets,” chairman Nihal Jinasena told AFP.
“Any fool can make a tyre,” said Jinasena, whose family controls 40 per cent of Solideal Loadstar. “What is difficult is to keep innovating, penetrate markets worldwide and to support your sales.”
Loadstar’s closest rival in the global solid tyre market is Sweden’s Trelleborg, said the firm’s joint managing director, Koenraad Pringiers, whose family controls 60 per cent of the Sri Lankan company.
The $250-million firm is now working with top management consultancy McKinsey and Company to fine tune operations and ensure a firmer grip on the global tyre market.
“We want to double our turnover in three years. To do that we need to attract new talent to the company who can transform our vision to bigger things,” said Jinasena.
Loadstar makes industrial and construction tyres, rubberised tracks, wheels and rims at its Sri Lanka facility, catering to buyers in the United States, Europe, Australasia, Africa and the Middle East.
Working across five plants situated close to rubber producing areas in Sri Lanka, the company turns out about 6,500 tyres daily for heavy equipment firms such as Caterpillar, JCB, Komatsu, Fiat, Yale and John Deere.
Loadstar is also making rubber tracks to replace the steel traction chains used in heavy earth-moving equipment.
The company’s 7,000 staff produce one of the biggest construction tyres in the world, with a diameter of seven feet (two metres) and weighing about 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds).
“These giant construction tyres are very costly to make due to high labour involvement because it is made using manual methods,” Jinasena said.
At this plant in Kotugoda, 18 kilometres (11 miles) from the capital Colombo, the male-dominated workforce handles complex machinery to make all sizes of solid and air-filled tyres.
Another plant nearby uses around 48,000 tonnes of steel annually to churn out heavy duty steel rims to fit customer designs.
Manufacturers such as Toyota, Nissan and Komatsu prefer to buy fully assembled wheels with flaps, tubes and tyres that can be directly used in their vehicles.
“This single source helps them to cut back on inventory,” explains Jinasena.
The company scoops up 40 per cent of Sri Lanka’s annual production of 100,000 tonnes of raw rubber. It also imports about 15 percent of its rubber needs. Tyre exports fill 700 containers each month.
“Our business has grown steadily over the years and we have kept our word with buyers despite the ups and downs associated with investing in Sri Lanka,” said Pringiers.
Pringiers, whose father Pierre teamed up with the Jinasena family to start the business in 1984, looks after marketing.
“The ethnic conflict here has not slowed down our orders,” he said, referring to the Tamil separatist conflict, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.
“People keep asking us if its safe to live here, invest here and I say ‘yes’. We have had no problems. There are always risks associated with any business and you need to work around them,” he said. (ITN)
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Come September come FACETS” could not have been a better slogan to tag on to Sri Lanka’s most prestigious International Gem & Jewellery show by the Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Macky Hashim. This year the show hits the billboards on August 30th to September 2nd at the traditional venue; the BMICH.
This major event, in Colombo which showcases both Sri Lanka’s and the world’s best gemstones and jewellery, has been snowballing over the past decade and a half, come what may economically, politically or socially. From the Srilankan point of view there is no better time or place to do your much awaited jewellery shopping be it for the festival, wedding, engagement or you name it; in the luxury of air conditioning under one roof, you have the best known local names in the business, garnished with a spread of foreign design and elegance.
Giving the FACETS Sri Lanka show an international flavour are the miners, manufacturers and wholesalers from around the globe including those from major source countries such as Madagascar, Burma, Dubai, Thailand, Hong Kong and India who regularly exhibit their stunning products at the Show.
Visitors to FACETS Sri Lanka can expect to find a fantastic array of coloured gemstones on sale ranging from Cornflower blue sapphires, Padparadschas, Star Sapphires and Rubies, Alexandrites and Cats-eye Chrysoberyls to Aquamarines, Tourmalines, Topazes, Spinels, Zircons and Moonstones to name just a few of the gemstone varieties that will be on offer at the Show.
Visitors can also look forward to a feast of fine jewellery manufactured to the highest standards ranging from 18K white or yellow gold jewellery set with sapphire and diamonds in the latest designs to traditional 22K gold jewellery and trend setting Silver jewellery.
The organizers the Sri Lanka Gem & Jewellery Association has been traditionally and faithfully supported by the National Gem & Jewellery Authority and the Sri Lanka Export Development Board. -Financial Times