New Delhi: Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa said Wednesday the fight against the LTTE that ended in 2009 cannot be dubbed an "ethnic war", asserting that the military action was not directed against the Tamil community. Rajapaksa, who was at the helm when the nearly three-decade-long civil war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the military, said India's "abiding friendship" was amply demonstrated by its rapid response to Sri Lanka's needs at the time, both material and moral.
"While this was of vital assistance to us, I remained unshaken in my conviction that foreign armies could not successfully banish terrorism from our soil, because the broad mass of popular opinion would not support this," he said in his address at a symposium, titled 'Indo-Sri Lanka Relations: The Way Forward', organised by the Virat Hindustan Sangam led by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy here.
The former Sri Lankan president said he was, however, mindful of India's special concerns at the time, arising principally from the proximity of Tamil Nadu and other relevant circumstances. "Our policy in this regard was constant consultation with India and other neighbouring countries. For this purpose, we had evolved the TROIKA mechanism involving key officials on both sides, who were in touch with one another at all times," Rajapaksa, who was accompanied by his former foreign minister G L Peiris and son Namal Rajapaksa at the event, said. He proposed that a similar mechanism could be set up by Sri Lanka and India to resolve economic and social issues.
Talking about the last phase of the civil war, which started with his government ordering military action against the LTTE, he said the move was not the first resort, but the last one. "We did not at any time wage an ethnic war. The military action was certainly not directed against the Tamil community. It must not be forgotten that the reach of this terrorist organisation was not confined to Sri Lanka, but extended to Indian soil where they assassinated (former prime minister) Rajiv Gandhi and many others," Rajapaksa said.
He asserted that the eradication of terrorism was not for the sole benefit of one community, or for one country.
Rajapaksa recalled that during the final phase of the war, the foreign secretary of the UK and the foreign minister of France had called for discontinuation of hostilities, but he had replied that acceding to their demands would be nothing short of "betrayal" of coming generations.
Rajapaksa also slammed the current Sri Lankan dispensation led by President Maithripala Sirisena, saying that it undermined the sovereignty of his country by co-sponsoring a resolution at the Human Rights Council in Geneva calling for "internal supervision" of processes that are exclusively the domain of Sri Lanka's Parliament.
The former Sri Lankan president said a crucial feature of his vision was "abiding" friendship with India and asserted that a complete understanding between the two countries would be "one of the pillars of our foreign policy".
Swamy, in his remarks, said it was widely believed that Rajapaksa is the frontrunner for the next government in Sri Lanka which would come to power after polls next year.
Rajapaksa took decisive action against terrorism and cleaned up the country, Swamy said, adding that Sri Lanka had now become a favoured destination of international investment. "I look forward to close relations as I know that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not easily shackled by past views and views expressed by intellectuals or anyone. He makes his own mind...There is a definite indication that we will give top priority to improving relations as soon as the matters in both countries politically get settled," he said.