[Palihakkara with ban Ki-Moon]
By P.K.Balachandran -
COLOMBO: Addressing a long standing demand of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the new Sri Lankan government led by President Maithripala Sirisena has removed ex-military man Maj.Gen.G.A.Chandrasiri from the Governorship of the Tamil-majority Northern Province, and replaced him by H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, a former Foreign Secretary who had been a member of the celebrated Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
“The Government has appointed a non-military civil servant as the Governor,” said an official statement dated January 14.
Palihakkara, a firm believer in democracy and devolution of power, had been Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka at the United Nations. He has served on the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. He was Acting Director-General and Deputy Director-General of Sri Lanka’s Peace Secretariat, which serviced the Norwegian-facilitated peace talks in 2002 and the subsequent ceasefire in 2003.
Welcoming the appointment, TNA MP, M.A.Sumanthiran, described Palihakkara as a “very fair minded person” and said that the TNA is glad that a civilian has been appointed, at long last.
The TNA has been demanding the removal of Gen.Chandrasiri not only because he was a military man but because he was commander of the Lankan army in the Jaffna Peninsula during Eelam War IV which had left a deep wound on the Tamil psyche.
But the Rajapaksa government felt that, given the likelihood of a resurgence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the appointment of an ex-military man as Governor was imperative. The then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, also argued that Governor Chandrasiri could not be considered a “military man” because he had retired from the army prior to his appointment. However, the TNA insisted that a Governor of the Northern Province in the post-war era should necessarily be a civilian and not one with a military background and mindset.
When the TNA extended its support to Sirisena against Rajapaksa in the January 8 Presidential election, one of the promises extracted was that the military Governor would be replaced by a civilian.
However, the Sinhalese nationalist National Freedom Front (NFF) led by the hawkish former Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa has criticized the removal of the military Governor, saying that it will jeopardize the security of the country.
Believer in Accommodation
Palihakkara’s progressive views were evident in a speech he delivered at a book launch in 2007 when Eelam War IV was raging. He said: “The LTTE’s separatist agenda can only be dislodged through a genuine devolution agenda offered to all our people especially to minorities. We must not forget that all communities in Sri Lanka constitute minority communities in different parts of the country.”
“All over the world, the diehard separatists fear devolution more than the armies of a unitary state. Sri Lankan separatists are no exception – that is why they eliminated devolutionists like Thiruchelvam, Amirthalingam, Yogeswaran and Kadirgamar.”
And he added in anguish: “After 75 years of Universal Adult Franchise and nearly six decades of self-government as an independent nation, are we to concede that we are either incapable or unwilling to practice mature democratic governance ? Do we see democracy only as an adversarial interaction or zero sum equation between contending parties? Is it beyond our intellectual faculties or political will to practice consensual democracy?”
New Indian Express