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LLRC and India After LLRC report, new Indo-Lanka dispute looming over devolution of power

In these columns last week, I reported that matters arising from the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas in May 2009 would be one of the most difficult challenges staring in the face of the government in 2012 which begins today. This is particularly in the light of the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) being placed in Parliament last month. The sequel continues.
Last week, the final week of 2011, saw the beginning of a new bout of shadow boxing between Sri Lanka and India. This came in the light of conflicting positions over matters relating to the enforcement of 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Reacting to the LLRC report, an Indian government official spokesperson, who responded to a question at a news conference, made some “preliminary remarks”. The text of what he said was later released by the Indian External Affairs Ministry. It said:

“The report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was tabled by the Government of Sri Lanka in its Parliament on 16 December. While we are still studying the report which runs into over 400 pages, I can share with you some initial comments on its contents.

“The Government of India welcomes the public release of the LLRC report and takes note of the assurance given by the Government of Sri Lanka in Parliament about implementation of many of its recommendations.
“The LLRC has recommended various constructive measures for addressing issues related to healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering a process of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. In particular, we have noted the proposed measures pertaining to information on missing persons and detainees, investigation of cases of disappearances and abductions, promotion of a trilingual policy, deployment of Tamil-speaking officers in all offices, curbing activities of illegal armed groups, reduction of high security zones, return of private lands by the military and demilitarization, including phasing out of the involvement of the security forces in civilian activities and restoration of civilian administration in the Northern Province. We have noted the assurance given by the Government of Sri Lanka in Parliament that it will ensure the withdrawal of security forces from all aspects of community life and confine their role exclusively to security matters.
“Implementation of assurances to ensure speedy resettlement and genuine reconciliation, including early completion of the process of the return of Internally Displaced Persons and refugees to their respective homes, restoration of normal civilian life in affected areas would mark a major step forward in the process of reconciliation.

“The LLRC report has underlined that the present situation provides a great window of opportunity to forge a consensual way forward towards reconciliation through a political settlement based on devolution of power. It recognises that a political solution is imperative to addressing the root cause of the conflict and notes that the Government should provide leadership to a political process which must be pursued for the purpose of establishing a framework for ensuring sustainable peace and security in the post-conflict environment.

“In this context, 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 hope that the Government of Sri Lanka recognising the critical importance of this issue acts decisively and with vision in this regard. We will remain engaged with them through this process and offer our support in the spirit of partnership.

“We have also noted the Government of Sri Lanka’s intention to set up a mechanism to carry out further investigations relating to instances of alleged human rights violations and incidents involving loss of civilian life. 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.”

India has, among other matters, re-iterated its position that it wants the government to ensure “…… 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…..”

During his meeting with editors and media personnel on December 20, Rajapaksa ruled out such a move that would give police powers to the Provincial Councils. He said, “We know how the police powers are implemented in India. During the Mumbai attack it took two hours to contact the Chief Minister to get down the Police from New Delhi. Sonia (Gandhi) was not allowed to go. If police powers are given I will not be able to go to my village sometimes. Journalists will complain to me that they have been assaulted because they wrote something about a Chief Minister. There are good reasons not to give police powers. Already 750 Tamils have been recruited to the Police. In the past they did not allow the Tamils to join the Police.”

Additional powers ruled outThe granting of limited police powers and land use powers to Provincial Councils was included in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. However, such measures were not enforced by successive governments. In interviews with selected Indian media outlets, Rajapaksa has explained why such powers cannot be conferred.

However, the controversial Joint Statement issued after External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris visited New Delhi last year for talks with his counterpart S.M. Krishna, among other matters said, “Both sides agreed that the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka created a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation. In this context, the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the on-going dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties. A devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation”.

There was a lot of criticism of Dr. Peiris for having agreed to this statement, and the Indian side was quick to say that the draft (prepared by India) had been shown to the Sri Lankans before it was agreed to. It was obvious that the Sri Lankan side had not given much thought to it. Dr. Peiris was criticised for not taking a single Foreign Ministry official with him for those talks. The issue, no doubt, would turn into a bone of contention between Colombo and New Delhi now. Needless to say an unhappy India, when issues arising from the LLRC report come up for discussion at the March sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), would pose a formidable diplomatic challenge to the government. It is no secret that India was at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic campaign to avert an adverse resolution being adopted at the UNHRC in 2009. Instead a resolution that praised the Sri Lankan government for the military defeat of the LTTE guerrillas in May 2009 was adopted. In fact, the report of the UN Panel of Experts, recommended that this 2009 resolution, be rescinded. The government has three months to ensure that such a thing does not happen.

 ST ( from the Political column)


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