Sri Lanka President Sirisena answered to questions asked by Indian journalists

Maithripala Sirisena - President of Sri Lanka

The answers given to the questions asked by Indian journalists from Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena during the press conference held during his visit to the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India.

Honorable President, Will you compete in the next presidential election? As well as when we consider the BIMSTEC organization what will be its sphere of subject and the future? Especially with the SAARC organization

The next election of Sri Lanka will be held this year. The election will take place on 7th of December this year. The election commission of Sri Lanka has made an announcement on this. We still have time for the election. None of the political parties in Sri Lanka has nominated a candidate yet, neither the government nor the opposition. I will also wait until others make their selection to come to my decision.

You asked me about the BIMSTEC conference. As well as you asked me the difference between SAARC and BIMSTEC. SAARC is also an important organization as the BIMSTEC. It is important that organizations should collaborate together at regional level and international level aligning with different fields and in different spheres. So that it strengthens the bilateral relations through such an organization. It also strengthens the trade and economic ties as well.  It increases the mutual understanding and friendliness of the regional countries. Hence, both these organizations are of massive importance. With today’s hyper technology when we consider problems with the internet and regionally it is important that the organizations of the region must be in collaborating together and steadily build friendliness and understanding.

Have you mentioned of a visit that would be made by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka? As well as the ethnic violence in the country? Don’t you consider it as an issue?

The Indian Prime minister Narendra Modhi has mentioned that he would visit Sri Lanka during a visit to Maldives. The visit of the Indian Prime minister to Sri Lanka is of massive importance. We are close neighbours. There is a long history of the friendship between India and Sri Lanka that dates back for thousand years. So, that we welcome him very warmly. His arrival is a privilege for Sri Lankan government as well as for the people.

As well as you asked about the April 21st terrorist attack and the current situation of the country. After the April 21st attack I made Sri Lanka completely peaceful within few weeks. As well as our intelligence units and the security forces managed it very well.

Right now there is a very well secured situation in the country and the country has returned to normality. So that foreigners are arriving in Sri Lanka. As well as the travel advices imposed on the foreign visitors to arrive to the country were taken off. So, that the country is now very much in peace. We are ready for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. There is a good situation in the country. There is no problem.

It’s being reported that India, Japan and Sri Lanka all these three countries signed for the treaty regarding the eastern terminal of the Colombo Port. Is there any conflict?

There was a Memorandum of Understanding signed regarding the development of eastern terminal of Colombo Port between India, Sri Lanka, and Japan. That is not solely the treaty itself. It was the agreement before compiling the treaty. India, Sri Lanka and Japan held discussions regarding the development and the usage of the eastern terminal of the Colombo Port and that would be very important to all three countries. It’s expected that Sri Lanka will hold discussions of this treaty which will favor the country in terms of trade and economy.

It seems that prior information was available regarding the 21st terrorist attack. As well as you have mentioned if you had received information regarding that you would have taken necessary actions? What did really occur there?

The first attack on April 21 was centered around Colombo and other areas. I was in Singapore at that moment. The Indian government has made a warning prior to the incident to the Sri Lankan intelligence services. They have sent a report on a potential threat. The Indian government has made this announcement on 4th of April.

The heads of security forces have exchanged letters regarding the issue. Information regarding the issue was exchanged between the former Secretary of Defence and the Inspector General of Police through letters. I left the Island on 16th of April.

When I was in Sri Lanka from 4th of April to April 16 for 12 days and although this information was channeled to the intelligence units, yet none of the heads of intelligence units have brought it to my knowledge about this kind of information being channeled.

If I had known I would not have left the country. If I was previously informed I would have prevented this situation. Our heads of some sections have neglected their responsibilities and shown severe weaknesses. So that I had to dismiss the Secretary of Defence and the Inspector General of Police form their positions. As well as I appointed a panel headed by a high court judge to inquire into find out if there is a deficiency within the security forces or else how the incidents happened on 21st  of April. Accordingly we will take legal actions against the officers of security forces. If I was informed before I would not have let the innocent people be killed this way. The security sectors will be reconstituted.

Now, terrorist organizations and Islamic radicalization are a challenge for the region. What action should be taken to prevent this?

Terrorism is all around the world. There is terrorism in the country. There was a war in our country for 30 years. For ten years, the country was at peace after the end of the war.

Also, political extremists in the world and religious extremists organize terrorism. Whatever the nature of this international terrorism, it is a threat to every country in the world. It is clear that this terrorist attack is focused on the most powerful and influential countries in the world. In our country, it is clear that this terrorist attacks were carried out by an Islamist extremist organization. Whatever it is, it is a threat and a serious crisis. Hence, all democratic countries should join together against terrorism in the world. Terrorism can be defeated everywhere whether in a powerful country or in a small country.

These terrorists groups aim is to split the countries. However, in Sri Lanka, terrorist activities have been completely out now. All those involved people have been either dead or arrested. Now, there is peace in the country.

You mentioned earlier that BIMSTEC and SAARC were important. There is now a certain amount of progress in the SAARC process. Do you think it should be renewed again?

I previously stated that both BIMSTEC and SAARC are important. Therefore, the responsibility of its member states is to strengthen both these organizations. A good attitude and good ideas will show good results. As such, both these organizations should be strengthened.

We got information that Ven. Gnanasara Thero was released. He’s a prominent right-wing politician. Some people are criticizing this. What happened, how was he released?

Ven. Gnanasara Thera is a Buddhist monk. Especially, Buddhist monks and the Mahanayaka Theras in Sri Lanka made a strong request to release him from prison. Also, no other religious leaders have objected to this. That is why I decided to release him. Personally, I have advised him to behave and act calmly and perfectly. Some people argue that this matter will create trouble in the country. But, we expect that all of us will build a peaceful society for all of us.

In particular, we have carried out successful security operations after the 21st of April terrorist attack.

Sri Lankan Security forces and intelligence units were investigating this. Our friendly countries are also supporting us. Great countries like India, the United Kingdom and the United came to our country and collaborated with this investigation.

The results of these investigations show that this terror attacks carried out with the support of an international organization. There is information that Sri Lankan terrorists involved in this explosion have been trained in other countries in the world.

After this incident, an international terrorist organization, ISIS leaders made a statement that they are taking responsibility for it. Especially intelligence reports that they had links with a foreign international terrorist organization.

These terrorists have been to visit any of the countries where they are trained.

The intelligence units have not yet informed information about that. But it reports that foreign training has been obtained.

Did Sri Lankans receive financial support from foreign countries?

Many of those who had committed suicide related to the wealthiest families in Sri Lanka. And also, they were well educated young people.

It is reported that intelligence reports that the money needed for the organization mainly comprise those from within the country. We do not have information yet that money was received from abroad. And we cannot tell about yet.

Even though they have been informed of these terrorists by India, they have come to know about their connections, but now there are reports that they have come to India.

I have not been told whether these terrorists have come to India. I have not received reports from my security forces about such a relationship.

Are the Muslims of Sri Lanka secure. There were attacks last week also. But we did not receive any statement from you?

In Sri Lanka, there are Sinhalese, Tamil, Islam, Malay and Burgher as well. We have ensures the security of all of them as a government. We do not accept it as our policy to protect one community or those who belong to one religion. Our country is a democratic country like India. People have freedom. Therefore, my government has ensured the lives of every citizen in the country. So, there is no question about any race or religion. The responsibility has been given to the police and security forces.

Do you think that Tamil communalism will rise again in the Northern Province?

The LTTE terrorism was 28 years old. We were able to suppress it and establish peace in the country. We were given the support by several countries. I too was subjected to LTTE offensives. All of my potential assassins were killed. They themselves destroyed their lives. One man who attempted to kill me was convicted. I also gave him freedom. I released this man who tried to kill me. He is now in his parents’ custody. When it comes to such matters the LTTE will not be reorganized. We will not allow that to happen.

When is the Prime Minister Modi coming to your country? How long it has been for? What is the main purpose of the visit? And also, in Delhi is no doubt that China will expand its influence in Sri Lanka and how you see it?

The Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka at the same time as the Maldivian tour. We have been informed that he is coming to Sri Lanka on the 9th. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka is really important.

China and Sri Lanka have economic and trade relations. Therefore, economic – trade relations have any motives on any other country. Sri Lankan government is responsible for that.

The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka recently stated that the Indian support and assistance is needed for the Sri Lanka. Have you discussed with the Indian Prime Minister regarding this?

Pakistan’s behaviour has become a major factor in the future progress of the SAARC. How you see the role of Sri Lanka in SAARC organization.

During the discussions between the Prime Minister Modi and me, the main focus was on strengthening economic and commercial bilateral relations between the two countries. We did not talk about the matter that you were saying.

Foreign policy of the government of Sri Lanka is modest. Our policy is to be friendly with all countries of the whole world. Therefore, in our foreign policy, we consider all countries as friendly nations. If there is any conflict, we will act as mediator. Therefore, the Government of Sri Lanka will not look at you like that at all.

Why is the process of devolution of power very slow in the Tamil speaking people living in areas? 

We have been working towards devolution of power in accordance with our constitution since 1987. Devolution of power has been done through the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. According to the 13th Amendment, the present devolution of power has been formalized. The demand of the people in the North and the South is that the government wants to build a better economic environment for them. Therefore, we are working to solve that problem at this time.

Mr. President, you said that you did not receive any information from the security chiefs. What is the reason for that?

The main problem is that they have not fulfilled their responsibilities. They have acted very poorly. There is no problem beyond that. That’s why they were removed. Also, disciplinary action is being taken against them.