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Devolution, LLRC report and India

Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna’s talks with Rajapaksa assume greater significance in the light of last month’s release of the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and matters arising from it. In what was described as ‘initial comments,’ an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said among other matters that it is “important to ensure that an independent and credible mechanism is put in place to investigate allegations of human rights violations,
as brought out by the LLRC, in a time-bound manner.” He added “…..we have been assured by the government of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process, through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and to go beyond, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers and genuine national reconciliation. We will remain engaged with them through this process and offer our support in the spirit of partnership…..”

Whilst this would be one of the most important subjects to be discussed between Rajapaksa and Krishna, another new development has thrust this issue into much greater focus. It is the “on again” and “off again” dialogue between the government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Just two weeks ago, the government delegation leader and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told the Sunday Times (January 1 2012) that during talks with the TNA, the government would discuss how to implement limited land powers vested in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. ‘Not only land, but we will also discuss a number of other issues,’ he said adding that such issues would also include police powers to provincial councils.

Things have changed again. The government has now taken up the position that there would be no talks with the TNA until it nominates members to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). Minister de Silva told sections of the Sinhala media that the government had taken up this latest position since the TNA was delaying participation in the PSC.

Rajapaksa told a meeting of leaders of constituent parties of the UPFA coalition this week that parties represented in Parliament should nominate persons for talks with the TNA when they resume. On the other hand, TNA contends that it would only name its representatives to the PSC when the talks with the government lead to the formulation of a mutually agreeable package. In the light of this, the government-TNA talks scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday are not expected to take place.

Reports from South Africa about utterances by TNA leaders during talks with members of the ruling African National Congress as well as members of the Global Tamil Forum have angered UPFA leaders. A cabinet minister who did not wish to be identified said, “they were as vociferous as the overseas LTTE lobby. What they said was no different.” This is said to be a major contributory factor for the latest position taken up by the government. The sting lay in the TNA position. A TNA spokesperson said that they were “able and willing” to hold talks with the government. The remark was further bolstered by the Global Tamil Forum which said in a statement from South Africa that it too favoured the talks. This was obviously after the TNA-GTF discussions during the centenary celebrations of the African National Congress. Edited excerpts of the GTF statement:

“In the history of political societies, there are times, which come very rarely, when individuals, groups, organisations and peoples in general within it are required to shed their differences and connect one with another, united to repel the aggressive forces threatening their existence in order to promote the general good of society. The Tamil speaking peoples in Sri Lanka are passing through such times.. …….
“………We believe that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has not ended by ending the armed conflict. The Tamil speaking peoples are still subject to the same chauvinistic forces which have oppressed them since 1948.

“We note that the elected representatives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have engaged with the Government of Sri Lanka for the past one year, in dialogue to find a durable, and dignified political solution to the National Question. Such resolution must necessarily alter the governance structure of the country to recognise that the Tamil speaking peoples are entitled to the right to self-determination and granting to them irreversible autonomy in the areas of historic habitation. We for our part will support the full implementation of such an arrangement if agreed upon, and urge the international community to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to come up with such an acceptable political solution and ensure its genuine implementation.”

When the government says there are no talks, the TNA strategy of saying it is both able and willing places the government in a tricky position. More so, since it had first agreed to talk and decided on the dates for it. Some in Colombo’s diplomatic community opine that the government’s strategy may be a bargaining stance. “Upon an appeal by Krishna to resume talks, they (the Government) could demonstrate that they were heeding India’s call,” said one source. On the other hand, the TNA has during its talks with representatives of the GTF in South Africa appeared to have agreed on a common position.

Yet, there are other hurdles to clear. The key issue would be matters related to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Months after being re-elected President for a second term, Rajapaksa visited India from June 8 to 11. A joint statement issued by Colombo and New Delhi after his talks with Indian Premier Manmohan Singh said, “The Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, congratulated the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, on his recent electoral victories and conveyed that the recent elections, together with the cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka in May 2009, provided a historic opportunity for the country’s leaders to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation and to work towards genuine national reconciliation.

“The Prime Minister emphasised that a meaningful devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would create the necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement. The President of Sri Lanka reiterated his determination to evolve a political settlement acceptable to all communities that would act as a catalyst to create the necessary conditions in which all the people of Sri Lanka could lead their lives in an atmosphere of peace, justice and dignity, consistent with democracy, pluralism, equal opportunity and respect for human rights. Towards this end, the President expressed his resolve to continue to implement in particular the relevant provisions of the Constitution designed to strengthen national amity and reconciliation through empowerment. In this context, he shared his ideas on conducting a broader dialogue with all parties involved. The Prime Minister of India expressed India’s constructive support for efforts that build peace and reconciliation among all communities in Sri Lanka.
A similar commitment was also made by External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris, during a visit to New Delhi in May last year. However, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella, who has been contradicting himself over issues relating to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution said in his latest remarks that further amendments could be introduced with regard to land and police powers. He hinted in media interviews that such amendments would take away the current limited powers. Other than that, the government’s latest position is that the talks with TNA would have to run parallel with the deliberations of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC).

from ST political column

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