By Rathindra Kuruwita
Though the government has had discussions with Tamil political parties on arriving at a political solution to the ethnic issue, this is solely to pacify the international community as nothing concrete has been achieved even after months of discussions said Jaffna district Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Suresh Premachandran, adding that pronouncements that discussions are being held with the TNA to reach a political solution are misleading.
The discussions between the government and the TNA began in mid 2010, shortly after the General Elections in April in which the TNA won an overwhelming majority of the electorates in the North and the East. In view of the lack of progress and with nothing accomplished, the TNA is to decide whether to continue having talks with the government over this vexed issue.
In addition, despite these discussions being officially on, TNA MPs were not invited to the District Progress Committee meeting held last week with the meeting scheduled for March 1, also postponed indefinitely, since ministers are busy with work connected to the local government elections.
“Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe speaking before the Human Rights Council in Geneva had said that the government is conducting a dialogue with Tamil parties, especially the TNA. He spoke about the discussions they had with us on constitutional changes. This is absurd. We did not talk about constitutional changes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the government is using these ‘talks’ to pacify and at the same time mislead the international community,” said MP Premachandran.
The TNA believes that the discussions should lead to concrete results including a programme to address the issues faced by the residents in the North and the East. Although initially there was a dialogue about conducting these meetings to achieve specific goals within a given time frame, the government delegation had not agreed to the terms set out.
“They told us that this was too complex to be conducted within a set time frame. But after months, we have achieved nothing and the people are losing faith. So we will give this a few more months and then take a decision on how we should proceed thereafter,” he said.
The discussions between the TNA and the government began in June 2010 as TNA leader R. Sampanthan met President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The TNA won almost all electorates in the North and a majority in the East in last April’s General Elections and they requested the government to include them in the rehabilitation and resettlement process in the North.
Around the same time the government of India and several European Union countries applied pressure on the government to speak to the TNA to reach a settlement regarding the Tamil problem. After the initial discussion between Sampanthan and President Rajapaksa, two teams from the respective parties were appointed - Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, Nimal Siripala De Silva, Prof G.L. Peiris and Sajin Vaas Gunawardena were nominated by the government and R. Sampanthan, Suresh Premachandran, M.A. Sumanthiran and President’s Council K. Kanageshwaran were appointed to speak on behalf of the Tamil parties.
“The two teams met for discussions in January and we discussed resettlement, High Security Zones and the plight of the detainees. We urged the government to release a list of names of the detainees in the camps. At that time, nearly 11000 people were in camps, and even now over 6000 are still in camps,” Premachandran said.
Responding to the TNA’s request the government delegation told the TNA during their meeting in February that the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) has compiled a list of names of the detainees. Relatives and family members of those who have been detained could search the data base available at the TID office in Vavuniya.
“We asked them whether we could inform our constituencies and they said we could. We then did so, through the media and through our grassroots activists. However, when people went to the TID office in Vavuniya they were told that there was no such list and that it was a TNA election gimmick.”
Premachandran added that they wrote back to the government seeking a clarification about the issue but so far no response has been received from the government. He added that this maybe one of the reasons why the government might have postponed the scheduled meeting on March 1.
“We were initially told that discussions should happen bi-weekly. However, it’s difficult to meet the government delegation even once a month. It’s disheartening that after months of discussions we have achieved nothing and as time goes on we are missing out on opportunities to win the confidence of the Tamil people,” he averred.
Providing a political solution to the ethnic conflict has been a much discussed topic in the last few decades and many committees have been appointed (in the past) to look into the issues. The main objective for the discussions between the two parties was to find a common ground for the Tamil problem.
The government has requested the TNA to provide a precise proposal regarding the matter which exercise the TNA thinks is a waste of time considering the work that has already been done with regard to devolution of power in the last few decades.
“We reminded the government delegation that the President had agreed to a maximum devolution of powers that would not compromise territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the country. We reminded them about the APRC proposals and said that we are ready to accept a united Sri Lanka. If the government is serious they can start from these proposals but I don’t think they are serious about this at all. This appears to be mere eyewash,” he added.
The Rajapaksa administration has put great emphasis on economic and infrastructure development as an alternative to devolution. However, despite the claims of the government that they are conducting a massive economic drive in the North through the Uthuru Wasanthaya (Northern Spring) programme, nothing significant has been done to enhance the living standards of the people. Premachandran said that although infrastructure like roads and bridges are essential, not a single factory has been opened in the North that would provide employment opportunities.
“All the banks are in Jaffna, from HSBC to BoC because the government has asked them to open branches. But what is interesting to find out would be the number of transactions that have taken place. If you look at the Jaffna landscape it is still very much war torn,” MP Premachandran said.
Although 50,000 houses have been promised to the residents of the Vanni by the Indian government, so far not a single house has been built and people are gradually losing hope of a quick return to normalcy. The TNA MP added that though the situation is dire some of the aid given for the northern rehabilitation has been channelled to the President’s pet projects in the South.
Recently 500 tractors were donated by the Indian government to farmers in the Vanni, where nearly 10,000 tractors were destroyed due to the war. However, nearly 200 tractors have been channelled to development projects in the South and for the use of security personnel.
“Is this the so called development? What are roads without jobs and freedom? We are doing our best to help those in need through the Tamil diaspora and with diplomats,” he said.
Premachandran added that the NGO run by Kumaran Pathmanadan alias KP has received 100 acres from the Vanni and that he has been visiting Jaffna and the Vanni frequently in the last few months. Although KP has the freedom to go anywhere in the North, opposition political parties cannot enter certain areas and are kept waiting for several hours.
“This is an example of the duplicity of the government when it comes to the democratic rights of the people. There is no freedom of movement, association or expression in the North. The army and its intelligence unit are always present at all gatherings and the civil administrative officers are powerless before them. This has led to the northern residents being hesitant to engage in politics,” Premachandran added.
The TNA, the strongest party in the North finds it very difficult to find candidates under 35 years due to continuous intimidation by the security forces. After nominations, the security forces have visited homes of TNA and JVP candidates and questioned them.
“People are afraid to come out. Parents are worried and don’t want their children to engage in politics. This is bad for democracy. The youth are the driving force in any political party. When there is no public space for politics, the youth have always gone underground. Take the examples in both the North and the South. This is the very reason why the government should establish democracy and guarantee the fundamental rights of the people,” he stressed. ~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~