By Arthur Wamanan
Q. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has not been vocal in recent times. Has the party changed its stance on the solution for the ethnic issue after the end of the war?
Well, the TNA has a manifesto on which we contested the election. In that, we have specifically stated that we are looking for meaningful devolution of powers in terms of constitutional reforms. There must be sharing of power. And as far as the TNA is concerned, that sharing of power must be meaningfully implemented in the North and East. We have very specifically said that these reforms must be within a united country and must take the form of a federal structure.
Q. Can you explain as to what the TNA is looking for with regard to the settlement? Are you looking for the full implementation of the 13th amendment or an improved one?
Well, the 13th amendment is a reform made in 1987, which the TNA’s predecessor, the TULF had rejected. After negotiations with India, it was considered insufficient. The President at that time, J R Jayewardene, gave a letter to India, undertaking to improve on the provisions of the 13th amendment. Thereafter, several attempts have been made to improve on that. Notably, the Mangala Moonasinghe select committee proposals and thereafter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge’s constitutional reforms from 1995 to 2000. There were three of those. And when President Rajapaksa took office, he appointed an All Party Representative Committee (APRC). At the inaugural session, he made a speech. He specifically asked them to study power-sharing arrangements in other countries in the world and particularly that of our neighbour India. There was an expert committee that the President himself appointed and the majority of those experts gave a report giving various options as to how meaningful power sharing can be achieved. And we believe that even the final report APRC Chairman Prof Tissa Vitharana submitted to the President is in that direction although it has not been made public by either the President or Prof. Vitharana. The report is in the public realm now as it was recently released by Mr R Yogarajan and Mr Nizam Kariyappar, who were members of the APRC.
Now the recent joint communiqué that the President issued following his visit to New Delhi, along with Indian Prime Minister, also refers to meaningful sharing of power. So that’s the direction in which everyone has been looking at to resolve the issue and that’s the direction in which we are also specifically looking at.
Q. Some of the members of the TNA visited India a few months ago and met Indian Premier Manmohan Singh. What was the outcome of the discussions and what role do you think India should play in going towards a political solution?
The 13th amendment was as a result of the Indo-Lanka accord. It was with the intervention of India that it was brought about. And as I said earlier, there was to be meaningful improvements made to that. And now again, India has extended its good offices and invited President Rajapaksa after the Presidential election and the general election. He went to India on June 8. He had several rounds of discussions with the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, Foreign Minister, Finance Minister and senior government officials. Soon after his visit, the Indian government invited us. And a six-member delegation of the TNA went there. We also held talks with everyone of those Ministers that the President met.
Now, India at this stage is trying to bring the two parties together. Our claim is that President Rajapaksa has received a mandate to govern the country and we respect and recognise that mandate. But similarly, we have been given a mandate in the North and East. The government and everyone else must recognise and respect the mandate of our people given to us. If this issue is to resolve, these two parties must sit together and come to a consensus. So India is helping us to come together. And we are also looking to India for a meaningful participation, meaningful facilitation, so that what commenced in 1987 with India’s direct participation in the form of the 13th amendment to the constitution can come to a meaningful end. The 13th amendment obviously is not the answer. If it was, we wouldn’t have had a conflict that would have raged on until now. So, India has a moral duty to bring what it started, to a successful completion. With that end in mind, we are also participating in discussions with India and also with the government.
Q. The TNA had met the President as well. Can you explain the outcome of the meeting? Does the TNA have any intentions of working with the government in the future?
We have had only one meeting at the invitation of the President. That was on the eve of his departure to India. That was also soon after a fact-finding mission that we undertook to the resettled areas in the Wanni. We presented a report to the President on the situation in the Wanni. Thereafter, we tabled it in Parliament.
Our discussion with the President was twofold. One was with regard to the immediate concerns of our people. Namely, the resettlement issues, the displacement of people due to high security zones in Valikamam in the North and several parts of the East. The other is related to the settlement of the political issue. We reached an agreement with the President on both matters. That is the TNA and the government will work together, have some kind of mechanism to address both the issues.
With regard to the resettlement issue, we have been asked to nominate some names for the President to constitute some kind of institutional mechanism. And hopefully, he will appoint a committee with the participation of the TNA. We have communicated that to the President today (27). That’s as a result of a meeting we had with Minister Basil Rajapaksa on Monday (23). He met us just prior to his departure to India. We were told to forward our names to the President and we have done that.
We will participate with the government to address those concerns.
Similarly, at our meeting with the President, it was agreed that he will appoint a committee and we will appoint ours to meet in order to find a solution to the political issue. That has not taken off as yet. I think the President has already made an appointment as Prof. G L Peiris as the head of the delegation. Prof Peiris has been in touch with us and we have agreed to start negotiations very soon, perhaps early next month.
Q. What is your stance on the merger of the North and East, especially, since the provincial council has started to function in the east?
The merger is part of the 13th amendment. If the President says that he will implement the 13th amendment in full, then the merger is a part of that. If the President says he will go beyond the 13th amendment or as sometimes stated, 13++, then certainly merger must be a part of that and should be more than that. Therefore, we take it that any solution that goes beyond the 13th amendment naturally must include the merger of the North and East. The 13th amendment envisaged the merger of the North and East. Provided a mechanism to merge the two provinces and that was done. Unfortunately, after 19 years, the Supreme Court ruled that the modality by which the merger was brought about was flawed. That is not to say that there should not be a merger of the North and East. All it said was the way it was done was wrong. When the judgment was given, the UNP, the opposition, publicly stated that they would support the government to bring proper legislation to merge the two provinces. In fact, even the position of the government in court was that the merger must not be disturbed and that the court should not intervene as it was a political issue. There was consensus on the part of the government, on the part of the main opposition that the merger must be properly effected. We are looking forward to a time that will be done.
Q. Don’t you think that there would be practical issues in merging the two provinces, since there is a provincial council that has already been set up in the East?
Provincial administration ran as a merged province for 19 years, although there was no provincial council. It ran without a problem for 19 years. Therefore, I don’t see any issue if the North and East are to become a merged province again.
Q. But wouldn’t the parties in the East oppose to such a move?
They have to state their position with regard to the merger of the North and the East. I have not come across even one political party that is opposed to the merger. In fact, the declared stance of every Tamil political party is that the North and East should be merged. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) also did not support the de-merger. Their position is that they would stand by the merger, provided that certain measure of autonomy should be considered for them as well. We have very clearly stated in our manifesto that the merger of the North and East must be achieved with the consent of the Muslim population in the Eastern Province. And we are not seeking a merger that the Muslims oppose.
Q. The TNA has also been invited to be a part of the Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF) set up by several Tamil parties. What is your view of this process and what is your stand?
We have got an invitation from the Tamil Political Parties Forum only last week. A letter that was addressed to the TNA parliamentary group leader, Mr Sampanthan, was received in Jaffna. It was sent to us here in Colombo. I have sent a copy of the letter to Mr Sampanthan, who is in India at the moment. We will look into it and consider our response. Until now, it was said that we were not responding positively to this forum’s invitation. But the invitation has come only now. We have not rejected it. But that does not mean that we will readily participate in it. We have had some reservations about joining a forum that has been set up, whose objectives we were unaware of. We are always for a broader unity among Tamil parties and as a primary Tamil party that has representation in parliament, we will work towards that. We will take initiatives of our own to achieve that kind of broader unity. But we are also conscious, that one cannot compromise on fundamental principles in the name of unity. We have been elected by the people with a mandate, and people have voted for us at an election which was conducted under extremely difficult circumstances. They have reposed some kind of confidence in us. They have rejected most of those parties that are part of this forum. We must not dilute or betray the confidence the people have placed in us by readily joining hands with forces who have been rejected by the people. But that is not to say that we should not talk to them or work with them for a common good. But, we will do that at the right time and in the right manner.
Q. What role should the diaspora play in assisting the people who have been affected by the war?
The diaspora has a great opportunity now to participate in the rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the North and East. But as to how they will participate in that is a big question. Because the institutional mechanism for that is not in place. Many of them are apprehensive about sending their funds or investing as they are not very sure of the stability of such endeavours. But that is something for the future. We are also looking at mechanisms that can be brought about through which the diaspora can meaningfully participate.
Q. You had said earlier that the people who were being resettled had not been provided with basic needs. What is the situation now? Did you visit any of these areas recently?
Yes. We visited 28 villages during the end of May and the beginning of June. We went to several places in July where resettlement had not taken place. We are aware that the situation has not significantly changed. They have been allowed to go to their villages with certain roofing materials, tin sheets, certain poles, tarpaulin sheets and some cement bags. And they are expected to live with those. Livelihood programmes have not started, farming has not commenced, fishing industry has not taken off. The people have just been dumped in those places. Several others have not been allowed to go. They are still in the camps. Resettlement has really not happened at all. That remains an issue to date. But, we are not seeking to criticise the government on that score. Our position is that we are willing to work with the government to ensure that our people return to their original places. - courtesy: The Nation -