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Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka

Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q. In the recent times, before you were appointed MP and then a minister, you have been quite silent pertaining to your views and criticism on the current government. But do you have any concerns pertaining to the progress made by the government on any aspect?
Basically, the current government is doing what it should do in relation to development, law and order and such aspects. Of course there are certain issues. Those who voted for the current president on January 8, last year, expected that immediate action would be taken against those who robbed the country, who pilfered the money and those who were corrupt.  At the moment the majority of the people, some of whom are silent, feel that the government has not been fast enough in taking action against them.

Newly -appointed Minister of Regional Development, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said that there should be thorough investigations on war crimes allegations through a local mechanism with the participation of foreign advisors.In an interview with Nation, the former Army Commander speaks about several issues, including the progress made by the current government on taking action against wrong doers.

Right now I have to agree with the majority of the people. The Government should be concerned about this and ensure that those promises that were given to the people be executed. One year has already passed.

Q. What you said earlier was pertaining to taking action against wrongdoers. But apart from that, do you have any concerns on how the government has progressed?
No. When compared to the previous Government, the present government is doing extremely well. The country was in a very bad shape and was indebted. So the recovery process will take time. You cannot expect everything to be all right overnight.

Q. There have been several instances, like in the case of Wasim Thajudeen, where members of the security forces have been accused of being involved in crimes and murders. How do you look at this situation? Wouldn’t this taint the image of the forces?
If you take Yoshitha’s case, he had the military background, but it did not have anything to do with his activities. He’s in remand today because he has been involved doing things not involved with military duties. In the case of Thajudeen also, at least one military officer involved has committed offenses not as part of their duty, but because of their allegiance to various political leaders. They went and did this to please them.

But in any case, you cannot blame the entire military based on what two or three people do. There are 400,000 personnel in the tri-forces who were doing their job. They cannot be put to shame just because a few people get involved in murders, abductions and so on.

Q. The previous government resisted any probe into allegations of war crimes during the final stages of the war. The present government seems to believe that there would be opportunities in such a probe for the government to place its case in an inquiry mechanism. Which approach is better?
There are allegations, and there are people who want to point the finger at the military. I was responsible for conducting the operations. I don’t like unwarranted allegations leveled against the military. So I would prefer to clear and restore the name of the military by clearing all these allegations.

Therefore I prefer a transparent investigation. Most of these allegations have been leveled by the foreign countries and organizations. Therefore there should be some international representations by way of advisors and supervisors. The mechanism should be local, and the judges also should be local. So in order for the world to understand that the investigations are done in a transparent manner, we should allow room for foreign advisors and supervisors.

Thereby we can justify the manner in which the investigations were done. In addition, I personally want to clear my name as well.

Q. Were there war crimes committed during the final stages of the war?
The Army as a whole did not commit any offense like that. I am 100% sure since I was monitoring each and every progress day and night. But there were allegations, such as the White Flag case. There were people who were trying to link me to this episode and put me to jail. I think that there should be a proper inquiry on the White Flag issue.

I can give the assurance for 99.9% for the Army that nothing like that would have happened. But if one odd man somewhere has committed anything without the knowledge of the others or the authorities, he should be punished.

Q. You were recently appointed as a parliamentarian following which you were sworn in as a minister. How do you feel? Are you happy with the portfolio given to you?
I feel happy about where I am now and what I have got. As far as the ministerial portfolio is concerned, I am happy with the ministry as long as the government gives me the necessary backing.

Q. You have been given the Ministry of Regional Development. What exactly is the mandate of the ministry? Have you been given an action plan?
Actually, the expected activities have not been spelt out yet. The Gazette notification is not out. Therefore, the Departments which would come under my Ministry have not been spelt out as yet. But if you take into consideration the terms ’Regional Development’ then we could look at development at regional level in various sectors such as agriculture, or infrastructure. However, I’ waiting till they spell it out.

Q. There are other ministries that are also involved in various aspects of development. How would your ministry function in this context?
Then the government will have to come up with proper instructions and demarcations as to what comes under my ministry and the institutions that my ministry would have to work with so there would be no confrontations and duplications. So the government will have to work out on those issues.