Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa seeks cooperation from Tamil leaders to ‘rebuild the country’

Team Udayavani, Mar 26, 2022, 8:59 AM IST

Image credit: AP / File photo

Colombo: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday sought cooperation from the Tamil leaders to ”rebuild the country” during a meeting with the main Tamil party here for the first time since assuming office over two years ago.

”Let’s work together to rebuild the country,” President Rajapaksa told the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who called on him at the Presidential Secretariat here.

The President assured the TNA leaders that as the leader of the entire nation, he will focus on all communities equally, according to the President’s Media Division.

He further said that the government is working on a number of issues, including the release of suspects held in long-term detention, taking further actions regarding suspects who have not been charged or prosecuted, the launch of a truth-finding mechanism, the amendment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the resolving of issues related to missing persons, it added.

During more than two-hour-long talks, the President pointed out that by continuing to work together, the objectives of the entire people of the country, including the North and the East, can be achieved and the country can move towards development.

”Attention was paid on further steps to be taken with regard to those who are held in long-term detention, release of lands that have been previously used for cultivation, investigation of missing persons, discussion of amendments to the new Constitution after translating into Tamil and Sinhala, and the establishment of a North-East Development Fund,” the president’s office said.

TNA Leader R Sampanthan said that he hopes to see the country moving towards prosperity with a political solution in a united Sri Lanka.

”We must unite as a country,” Sampanthan said, adding that it is the responsibility of everyone to work together to overcome the current challenges as one country and one nation.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, ministers G L Peiris, Chamal Rajapaksa and Ali Sabry were among those present during the meeting.

The TNA had asked for a meeting with President Rajapaksa several times ever since he was elected in November 2019. At least on two occasions, the meeting had been canceled at the last minute without any reason, the Tamil leaders had claimed at the protest.

A group of TNA Parliamentarians last month staged a protest in front of the Presidential Secretariat demanding to meet the President and discuss the issues faced by the Tamil people in the north and east of the island nation.

Meanwhile, TNA sources said the discussions on the political solution – or the TNA quest for extended powers under the 13th Amendment would be on hold until the government released the report of a committee appointed to draft a new Constitution. The report will be due in two months.

The TNA wants full devolution under the 13th Amendment as the central governments have over the years shown reluctance to meet the demand for police and land powers to the provinces.

The 13th Amendment was the result of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, inked by the then Sri Lankan President J R Jayawardena and then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It provides for the devolution of powers to the minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka. India has continually reaffirmed its commitment to protecting the rights of Sri Lanka’s Tamil community through the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, early convening of Provincial Council elections, and achieving reconciliation.

However, the LTTE, who led a three-decade-long armed campaign for a separate Tamil homeland, rejected the 13th Amendment, saying it offered too little in the form of power-sharing to meet Tamil aspirations for self-determination.

The 13A has introduced a provincial administration system in each of the country’s nine provinces. The TNA won by a landslide margin at the first-ever provincial council election held in 2013 in Northern Province.

Presently, the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Party’s Sinhala majority hardliners have been advocating for total abolition of the island’s Provincial Council system.

On Thursday, TNA’s main spokesman M A Sumanthiran said the alliance was planning to center talks with Rajapaksa on the possibility of making the 13th Amendment more ”meaningful”.

”We want the Governor’s control over the Chief Minister to end,” he had said.

The provincial elections to provinces were held up due to a legal snag involving the Delimitation Commission report.

India has been continuously pressing for the holding of provincial councils.

During the meeting with the president, the party urged Rajapaksa for the release of Tamil prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The government agreed to work jointly with TNA to review the cases of detainees, the TNA sources said.

The TNA also raised the issue of what they termed grabbing of Tamil lands by the state. The government agreed that the implementation of laws pertaining to archaeology, wildlife, and forests so as to impede the free ownership of lands in Tamil districts would be stopped.

The meeting also discussed a move to set up a special fund to develop the war-battered regions in the north and east.

The government was not averse to allowing Tamil diaspora funding for the purpose, the sources said.

They said Rajapaksa agreed to handle the issue of the conflict missing persons as fast as possible and provide economic relief to the north and east regions.

On Thursday, TNA spokesman Sumanthiran said the party was willing to help Sri Lanka out of its current foreign reserve crisis by getting investment from the Tamil diaspora.

Sri Lanka is in the midst of a severe foreign exchange crisis, with costs of imports going through the roof – hurting fuel costs, farm produce, and the education sector. Power cuts as long as five hours have become common in major cities.

”The diaspora has more resources than the Sri Lankan government but they can only come in after 13A is fully implemented,” Sumanthiran said.

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