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Countries should not dictate to Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa

November 17, 2013 18:03 IST

A defiant President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday once again rejected demands for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes during the military campaign against the LTTE, saying countries should not "dictate" to Sri Lanka.

A day after British Prime Minister David Cameron gave an ultimatum for free and independent probe into human rights violations in the country and called for a life of dignity and respect for the Tamils, Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka needed time for reconciliation and there cannot be a time limit for it.

"We have a legal system and constitution. We have a process, it has started. It will take time. We have to change the mindset of the people not only in the north but also in the south," he told a media conference here at the conclusion of the three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

"The conflict was there for 30 years. Not just Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims also suffered. It is my responsibility to look after them. But you cannot say you have to do this in one week or three or four months. It is unfair," Rajapaksa said.

Asked about the March deadline set by Cameron, he said, Sri Lanka cannot do it. "Be fair to us and help us. Nobody should dictate."

"You have to respect our views, be fair to us. You must not try to divide communities," Rajapaksa said in an apparent reference to Cameron's remarks.

Rajapaksa, who has faced international criticism, said he had a responsibility to his people.

"We have set up a Parliamentary committee that has representatives from all parties. Give us time," he said.

"We respect Commonwealth values, human rights and freedom of media that is why we held elections in the north. We have a Parliament. We have appointed a select committee. We have asked people to suggest a solution. One person cannot do it. I cannot do it," the Sri Lankan President said.

Cameron had given Sri Lanka an ultimatum to conduct a credible probe into the war crimes by March, failing which he would seek an international investigation.

Rajapaksa had promptly rejected Cameron's demand and the Sri Lankan government said it would not conduct any inquiry under "pressure" or allow an independent international probe.

After a historic visit to war-ravaged Jaffna, the first by a foreign head of government since the island's independence from Britain in 1948, Cameron met Rajapaksa Friday night.

Cameron said they had a "free and frank" discussion on all issues, including an independent credible probe, reconciliation and rehabilitation of Tamils.

Cameron's visit to Jaffna drew the spotlight away from the summit of the 53-member grouping after Rajapaksa made a combative speech at the opening ceremony.

At the press conference today, the Commonwealth Secretariat officials appealed to journalists to confine their questions to the CHOGM summit outcomes and not focus on Sri Lankan issues as has been the case for the last two days.

On Thursday and Friday, at the two media interactions, the international press had plied Rajapaksa with questions on alleged human rights violations during the last phase of the war against the LTTE.

A Sri Lankan journalist attacked the Commonwealth Secretariat officials of orchestrating a campaign against Sri Lanka in the press conferences.

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamlesh Sharma, on being asked whether Cameron had neglected the CHOGM summit by going to Jaffna, said the leaders by attending the CHOGM had shown their commitment to the Commonwealth and Sri Lanka had no objection to any leader going to any part of the country.

The absence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterparts from Canada and Mauritius had cast a shadow over the CHOGM summit which took place amid allegations of human rights violations against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

However, Rajapaksa had sought to downplay Singh's absence, saying he was satisfied with the presence of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who represented India at the summit after the prime minister backed out in the wake of strong sentiments in Tamil Nadu.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Mauritian counterpart Navin Chandra Ramgoolam chose to keep away from the summit citing the "poor" human rights record of Sri Lanka. 

V S Chandrasekar in Colombo
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