Six member panel to work on political rights for minorities

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya

A panel of six Tamil politicians, hoping to work out a proposal on political rights for minorities, has been jointly set up by the TNA and the EPDP-led Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF), following a meeting of the two formations at the TNA office in Clombo on December 11.

TNA members and Parliamentarians R. Sampanthan, S. Premachandran and M. Senathirajah along with EPDP’s former Batticaloa MP A. Rasamanickam, V. Anandasangaree from the TULF and D Siddharthan from the DPLF comprise the committee, expected to meet early next year.

“We agreed to work with the TPPF on the basis that a political solution is soon needed,” TNA member M. Senathirajah told the Sunday Times last Friday, adding that the TNA’s collaboration on the ethnic question however, should not be interpreted as joining the Tamil Forum.

Last Saturday’s meeting between the TNA and seven pro-government Tamil parties and two NGOs that formed the TPPF in July this year, was a first of its kind. While sharp differences between the two sides over the ethnic issue itself exist, the recent meeting probably threw up the opportunity for stakeholders to interact.

Prior to meeting the TPPF on December 11, the TNA discussed with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), issues pertaining to the Muslim community in the North and the East. “When we speak of the merger of the North and the East, we would also like to know the SLMC’s views,” Senathirajah said.
According to DPLF leader D Siddharthan, the panel was being formed to “evolve a consensus” among the island’s Tamil parties on the political question.

“We must be able to accept our differences and find a common ground on the subject,” he told the Sunday Times last Saturday.

“The committee has been formed to draft a proposal for a political solution that we will discuss among ourselves and then present to the Government,” Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development and EPDP leader Douglas Devananda, instrumental in cobbling up the TPPF, said on Saturday.

“Full implementation” of the 13th Amendment and a merged North-East was part of Devananda’s earlier proposal to the Government. Calling it “a three stage solution,” he had asked for the implementation of the 13th Amendment followed by empowering the proposed North-East Provincial Council and “with the consent of all the political parties including the LTTE, a lasting solution final solution to resolve the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people.”

The EPDP leader had made this suggestion while the LTTE was still active. Last month, the TPPF had submitted a memorandum to President Mahinda Rajapaksa saying that “implementation of the 13th Amendment in full” would be “a positive beginning of the political process.”

The TNA’s position so far had been that the 13th Amendment was a “non-starter” and that the Government needed to look beyond for substantial devolution of powers in the north and the East.
“But the situation of not finding a solution cannot drag on,” Siddharthan said adding that the Tamil community would benefit from a speedy resolution. Indian and the Western governments are understood to have urged Sri Lanka’s fragmented Tamil parties to collectively bargain for minorities rights.

The lack of a political solution even 18 months after the end of war is perhaps not yet lost on the Tamil parties but whether they can get their acts together will eventually be revealed by the panel’s progress.
For the moment, the Tamil Forum-TNA Committee is more symbolic than real.

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