New Delhi: Mint caught up with Sarath Leelananda Bandara Amunugama, Sri Lanka’s minister of public administration and home affairs at India Economic Summit. Belonging to the United People’s Freedom Alliance and a member of Parliament from the Kandy district, Amunugama defended his government’s record on human rights and talked about issues such as new found peace for the island nation.
Mint: There have been concerns about media freedom in Sri Lanka. Earlier this year an editor was assassinated. What is your take on this? Is there freedom of press in Sri Lanka?
Sarath Amunugama: Sri Lanka is basically a democratic country. There is a long tradition of freedom of the press. If you go to Sri Lanka you will find nearly ten television channels, about 60 radio channels and hundreds of magazines, newspapers and journals. We are just emerging from one of the most difficult terrorist battles in the region. So during this time, large number of journalists was assassinated by LTTE. Particularly Tamil language journalists. Anybody criticizing the journalists was killed. So all this has been put as if Government of Sri Lanka is doing this.
Rebuilding nation: Sri Lanka’s minister of public administration and home affairs Sarath Amunugama. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Mint: What about the transgressions by the government forces in the conflict zones?
Sarath Amunugama: Our views are everybody has to follow the laws of the land. If anybody has broken the laws of the land, it doesn’t matter who, they need to be brought before the judicial authority. We have done that. Some of the army fellows who have been doing these things have been convicted and imprisoned.
Mint: How many such cases would have taken place?
Sarath Amunugama: On the part of the Army there are around six cases. Anyone found responsible has been punished…Of course after judicial inquiry, the legal system takes care. One thing you can say that the government has not deliberately tried to transgress the law.
Mint: Would you maintain that media has been given a free hand in reporting?
Sarath Amunugama: Yes…One problem we had with media was, we had a war zone. In the war zone they were not allowed to go in. Now we are relaxing for them.
Mint: When would such a relaxation take place?
Sarath Amunugama: Very soon. Maybe in the next month.
Mint: You are talking about rebuilding the country. What kind of help are you looking at from the Indian government?
Sarath Amunugama: The Indian government is helping us with the money for the upkeep of 240,000 people and now about 1,50,000 people. They were in camps. They had to be fed. Their health had to be looked after. All that had to be done. …It is a very expensive business. Indian government has helped us a lot.