Lanka Tamil parties to press for autonomy in a new Constitution
Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority parties who had an intra-party discussion following president Ranil Wickremesinghe’s invitation to talks have agreed to put forward a three-point formula, including their push for federalism, a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) source said on Saturday.
The island nation’s all Tamil political parties based in the East and the North on Friday met at the residence of 89-year-old TNA leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan to push for federalism ahead of Wickremesinghe’s proposed all-party meeting next month to address the long-held demand for political autonomy for the minority community in the country.
The formula decided in the intra-party meeting on Friday includes the proposal to hold the stalled provincial council elections, including devolution to the Tamil regions in formulating a brand new Constitution, and put a stop to what they call the grabbing of lands belonging to the Tamils by the State.
“The parties will meet again before meeting the president,” the TNA source said on condition of anonymity.
Wickremesinghe on Wednesday invited all political parties for talks aimed at ending the Tamil ethnic issue by February 4 next year — Sri Lanka’s 75th anniversary of independence from Britain.
Wickremesinghe told Parliament that he was willing to hold the meeting after December 11.
He said it was important to build trust between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamils to resolve the long-standing conflict.
The TNA — an alliance of parties who represent Tamils from the north and east regions — responded to Wickremesinghe’s call.
However, at least one Sinhala majority hardline parliamentarian objected to the proposal.
Wickremesinghe as prime minister in 2015 had started a reconciliation process with the veteran TNA leader Sampanthan.
Many attempts since the 1950s to resolve the Tamil demand for autonomy were thwarted by the hardline Sinhala majority, leading to a violent armed campaign for separatism by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on behalf of the Tamils.
An Indian effort in 1987, which created the system of a joint provincial council for the Tamil-dominated North and East, faltered as the minority community claimed it fell short of full autonomy.
C V Vigneswaran was elected as the first-ever Tamil chief minister for the North in 2013.
The elections since 2018 have been on hold for a technicality connected to electoral reforms.
India has been consistently calling upon Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments to protect the interests of the Tamil community and preserve the island nation’s character as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
Over the years, the Sri Lankan government has been aggressive against Tamilian groups following its war with the LTTE.
The LTTE ran a military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern provinces of the island nation for nearly 30 years before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
According to Sri Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
International rights groups claim at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, but the Sri Lankan government has disputed the figures.