SLankan group pushes for resolution of Oceanic Viking stand off | Connect Asia

SLankan group pushes for resolution of Oceanic Viking stand off

SLankan group pushes for resolution of Oceanic Viking stand off

Updated 18 January 2012, 19:05 AEDT

Chanaka Bandarage is a Canberra based barrister, and a leading figure in the Sri Lanka Support Group in Australia.

He was the moderator at a recent forum in the Australian capital, titled 'Sri Lanka after the war - building of a new nation' attended by Australian MPs and the Sri Lankan High Commissioner.

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy

Speaker: Chanaka Bandarage, Sri Lanka Support Group

MCCARTHY: Is it fair to say your group is a strong supporter of the Sri Lankan government?

BANDARAGE: Not necessarily the support of the Sri Lankan Government. We are a group of people who are committed to creating a peaceful and harmonious, 'one nation' Sri Lanka. If there are any unfair things or unjust things done by the Sri Lankan Government, we will criticise the Sri Lankan Government as well. But at the moment, there is a lot of unfair and unjust criticism made against Sri Lanka and most of the allegations are not true and some of them are totally fabricated. So we are trying to defend Sri Lanka in that manner.

MCCARTHY: Okay, and we'll move on to some of those allegations later. First of all, can I just get your perspective on the Oceanic Viking stalemate. The Sri Lankans on board have made it plain they are not going to leave voluntarily. How do you see this situation being resolved?

BANDARAGE: Yeah, I think Mr Rudd, our prime minister, should resolve this with his Indonesian counterpart. He had some arrangement with the Prime Minister of Indonesia. I think Mr Rudd made a big publicity by saying that he had struck a deal with Indonesia beforehand, so he should use his diplomatic skills and resolve this problem with Indonesia. It looks like at the moment, Indonesia is not cooperating with Australia, which is a very unfortunate situation. Indonesia has already stated that they want this boat to be removed from their waters, so I think Australia should speak with Indonesia very closely. Mr Smith should be in Indonesia now and speak to his Indonesian counterpart and try to resolve this issue, because it's a problem between Australia and Indonesia. And if Mr Rudd had made some undertaking or some arrangement with Indonesia, then Indonesia should honour that and they have to talk to each other and try to resolve this problem.

MCCARTHY: Mr Rudd, of course, came into office saying he wanted to change the image of Australia in the region. Do you think his handling of this issue has hampered his public image in the region?

BANDARAGE: I believe even within Australia his ratings have come down. When he was in the Opposition he criticised the Howard Government, but you have to understand that during the Howard Government, he [John Howard] stopped all these boats from coming to Australia. Whether the Pacific solution was good or not is not an issue, but the boats stopped coming, but now with what [Mr Rudd] has done, he has virtually opened the floodgates, so these boats are keep coming and it's no end to that. So Mr Rudd has to stop this from happening, otherwise the problem will exacerbate in the future.

MCCARTHY: Okay, and let's turn to some of the developments regarding Sri Lanka in the US this week. As you would be aware, the US authorities say they want to question former military commander General Sarath Fonseka about suspected human rights violations during the last days of the civil war. Do you agree that General Fonseka should be made to answer these allegations?

BANDARAGE: Well, you see the US Government, the US Department of Homeland Security state that they won't question Sarath Fonseka, but what they said is that they want Mr Fonseka to give evidence against the Sri Lankan defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, so he said, if you give evidence against Mr Rajapakse, then we will let you go. So this is not fair dinkum investigation by the US Government. You see if they are really genuine about investigating Sri Lanka's human rights allegations, they can't be partial and be biased against Mr Rajapakse. They have to have impartial investigation. They just had a report published here about Sri Lanka and if you read that report, you will see that it hasn't really blamed Sri Lanka, but it had really reported certain instances that happened. So fortunately the interview didn't go on and the Sri Lankan Government I believe has lobbied the US Government very strongly, so the problem is solved and Mr Fonseka is back in Sri Lanka. But, I think if the questioning went ahead, then it would have seriously tarnished the good relations that Sri Lanka has with the US.

MCCARTHY: A number of human rights organisations though have raised serious questions about the conduct of the Sri Lankan Government during those last days of the civil war. Shouldn't there be some accountability for what happened?

BANDARAGE: Yeah, that's right. You see now some even have gone and said that Sri Lanka had committed genocide, so if you see the definition of genocide, it is a systematic murder of a whole community or a race. So no responsible person can make such an allegation against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was fighting against the most brutal terrorist group in the world, the Tamil Tigers. Actually, Sri Lanka should be congratulated for getting rid of the Tamil Tigers and it's good for Sri Lanka and for the entire world. And if Sri Lanka had made any human rights violations during the last stages of the war, well then, they had to substantiate them and state exactly what happened. You see there is an issue where some civilians got killed, but at the same time, we know that the LTTE were shelling and firing at those civilians who were fleeing the no-fire zone. The Sri Lankan military actually sacrificed a lot of its men during that war, because they didn't want to fire back. Then again, the internal displaced people - you see once the war ended, there were about 300,000 civilians became homeless and they had nowhere to go. So Sri Lanka went and established this camp over a very short period and they did very well and housed these people and now they are resettling them back. So they are doing their best you see to look after these people and move on and then create a prosperous and united country - the world should help Sri Lanka rather than criticising. But if there are any serious human rights violations occurred, then they should really pinpoint and say this is what happened, rather than making blatant open statements.

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