In an interview with The National, Mr Amunugama defended the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa against accusations of the first coup in Sri Lanka’s history, bribing MPs to obtain support in parliament and delaying a vote until it has the majority it needs. “They would have done absolutely the same,” he said, referring to removed prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his supporters, who are operating a parallel government less than two kilometres away.
China now controls a deep sea port in Mr Rajapaksa’s home town of Hambantota, giving it a dock for its navy, although Sri Lankan officials say any military use of the port would require its approval. China owns the port on a 99-year lease, which leaves plenty of time for that to change as Sri Lanka’s debt burden increases, according to critics. Mr Amunugama said Colombo will not side with either China or India, but benefit from alliances with both.
“We don’t lean towards anybody. We are equidistant from India and China. There is no benefit to Sri Lanka by tilting to one side or the other,” he said. “We have constantly reassured not only India, but America, the western countries, Japan, all those who are interested in what is happening in Hambantota, that it is only a commercial port, by no means is it a military port.”
There are also murmurs in Colombo that China has helped Mr Rajapaksa’s re-emergence to power, as it tried to do in 2015 when he lost the presidential election to Mr Sirisena. The Chinese ambassador was the only foreign envoy to congratulate Mr Rajapaksa when he was sworn in last month. “I don’t think that the Chinese government is giving money,” Mr Amunugama said.
Asked about whether Mr Rajapaksa would favour China over traditional allies, the minister said: “That is a wrong perception. We are friends of everybody. Why should you have a single diet when you have a smorgasbord?”
On the Tamil minority, which fears the return of Mr Rajapaksa because of his repression of the community during and after the civil war that ended in 2009, Mr Amunugama brushes off their hopes of justice.
The United Nations blames Mr Rajapaksa for the killings of thousands of Tamil civilians in the final weeks of the civil war against the LTTE rebel group. There has been little justice for them, with those behind the killings still at large, much of their land still in military hands and numerous still missing.
“Our idea would be to put this all behind us, now 10 years have gone. We can’t go on and on and on,” he said. “In a war, there are war situations.”
He said “almost all” of the Tamil land taken by the military has been returned, the government has appointed “missing people’s committees” and claims that most of those believed to be missing were “LTTE cadres who were killed in battle”. Tamil activists said children and women are among those still being held. Mr Amunugama blames the accusations on the Tamil “diaspora” who are protesting in Europe and elsewhere for international justice to be brought against those responsible for civil war atrocities.
Mr Amunugama also dismisses fears about the increasing militarisation of the Tamil-majority north and east of Sri Lanka, saying the presence of the military gives the Tamils better security, a statement in stark contrast to the words of fear coming out of those areas.…………………………