Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, accused by rights groups of war crimes during the final months of Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war a decade ago, has confirmed he plans to run for the presidency in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks that have shattered the country’s uneasy peace.
Rajapaksa, the brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Al Jazeera that he would stand as a candidate in elections due by late 2019.
“Definitely I’m contesting,” Rajapaksa said with a chuckle during an interview in the book-lined study of his home in the capital, Colombo, photos from his military career hanging from the walls.
“I have decided long time. Otherwise there’s no need for me to renounce my US citizenship.”
There has long been speculation that Rajapaksa, a Sri Lanka-US dual citizen, will campaign for the presidency.
Rajapaksa has to renounce his US citizenship in order to run for president. His name does not appear on the most recent quarterly filing to the US registry on those who have lost their citizenship, which covers the three months until the end of March.
He insists he is not being an opportunist in revealing his plans in the wake of the attacks on churches and luxury hotels that killed more than 250 people and have fuelled a wave of mob violence against Muslim communities.
“I don’t consider it as an opportunity,” he told Al Jazeera. “It is not the elections, but it is our country and nation. Something I focused on is destroyed. I’m worried and saddened because of that.”