By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The major Muslim party in the country, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) says that any political solution to the ethnic issue should be acceptable to the Muslim community. Some Muslims have claimed that various solutions proposed to solve the ethnic issue have so far failed due to the non-inclusion of the Muslim community.
The SLMC is therefore to officially request the government to include them as the third party in the talks between the government and major Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on finding a political solution to the ethnic issue.
The party’s High Command, which is the main decision making body, is to meet this week to make an official decision on writing to the government requesting third party representation at the talks between the government and the TNA.
SLMC Chairman and Deputy Cooperatives and Internal Trade Minister Basheer Segu Dawood said that although the party has not yet officially requested for third party representation in the talks, the matter has already been discussed by the SLMC High Command.
A majority of the party members have expressed the need for the inclusion of the SLMC in the talks to find a political solution to the ethnic issue, he said.
He added that the SLMC met with the TNA at least on a monthly basis to discuss issues relating to the minority communities as well as the TNA’s discussion with the government.
However, Segu Dawood observed that the Muslim community needed to be represented at the discussions being held between the government and the TNA on finding a political solution to the ethnic issue.
“The government is discussing with the TNA, as a community that has been affected by war. The Muslim community has also been affected by war,” he said.
Segu Dawood observed that the government should include the Muslim community in finding a political solution to solve the ethnic issue. He says that it is for this reason that the SLMC had participated in the peace talks in 2002 and 2005.
“We, as the Muslim community also have the right to be part of finding a political solution acceptable to all communities. The Muslims have never fought but have been affected by the fighting,” he noted.
The SLMC seems firm in its stance of being included as the third party in the talks between the government and TNA.
Segu Dawood reiterated the need for the inclusion of the SLMC in talks when he said, “Any solution to the ethnic issue needs to include the Muslim community and have its approval as well.”
The TNA however, maintained that the party wanted to first meet with the SLMC leadership and discuss before including the Muslim party in the talks between the government and the TNA.
TNA parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said since the SLMC and the TNA had a good rapport the leadership of the two parties could discuss a political solution.
According to the TNA, the SLMC could discuss a political solution with the party without directly getting involved in the party’s discussion with the government.
Be that as it may, when asked if the Muslim community should be involved in finding a political solution to the ethnic issue, Premachandran was evasive and declined to comment. “It cannot be said right now. We have to first discuss with the SLMC,” he said.
The Muslims have sought recognition as a community affected by war, especially since the mass scale eviction of Muslims from the North by the LTTE in October 1990.
The LTTE decided to evict the Muslim population of about 100,000 from Jaffna and Mannar after giving them two days notice in 1990.
The LTTE ordered the Muslims to leave the North within 48 hours or face death.
The Muslims who were asked to leave were carefully searched by the LTTE prior to their departure and all their possessions and valuables were taken away from them.
They were permitted to have only Rs. 300 for transportation out of Jaffna and a change of clothes.
Many of the Muslims fled to Puttalam and most of them still live in refugee camps and temporary shelters.
Following the end of the war in 2009, the government requested the Muslims who were evicted from the North to return to their homes if they so wished.
The government would now have to be mindful of the Muslims who have called for inclusion in the process of finding a political solution to the ethnic issue.