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Rajapaksa committed to power sharing, feels Japan

[Express Buzz, Saturday, 13 June 2009 09:45 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is committed to sharing power with the minorities, now that he has crushed the Tamil Tigers. This is the feeling of Japan, whose Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi held extensive discussions with the president this week.

Rajapaksa told Akashi over breakfast that he realizes that defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) does not automatically amount to ending the long-standing Tamil grievances that fuelled the ethnic conflict at the first place.

One measure the president might come up with is an upper house where the minorities, Tamils and Muslims in particular, could be better represented, informed sources with knowledge of the Rajapaksa-Akashi meeting told IANS.

Rajapaksa underlined to Akashi that although he felt "90 percent of Sri Lanka" was with him, there were powerful actors on the Sinhalese side who were against giving concessions to the Tamils because they think this could exasperate domestic tensions.

The president argued that he lacked two-thirds majority in the 225-seat parliament so vital to unleash major constitutional changes, and he could trip if he tried to hurry up with the political process.

This is a key reason Rajapaksa is contemplating holding local elections in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna and in Vavuniya, another Tamil-majority town, before going for early presidential and then parliamentary elections.

This was Akashi’s first meeting with Rajapaksa after Sri Lanka decimated the LTTE last month, killing its founder leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and all his top lieutenants.

The decisive military victory marked the end of one of the world’s longest running conflicts that led to the death of some 90,000 people since 1983, the vast majority being Tamils.

Rajapaksa has since vowed to build a united Sri Lanka but sections of the Tamils, including those who never saw eye to eye with the LTTE, doubt the seriousness of Colombo vis-�-vis political devolution.

Sri Lanka is seeking special aid from Japan so that it can employ a large number of retired soldiers to clear thousands of buried land mines, which have become the biggest obstacle to the hundreds of thousands of Tamils displaced by the war in the country’s north.

Akashi visited some of the "refugee camps" to check their conditions and came away satisfied about the quality of shelter and food provided to the inmates although he felt that sanitation was poor.

At the same time, Rajapaksa seems hesitant to shake hands with the United National Party (UNP) though the main opposition party is ready to reach out to him. Rajapaksa’s view is that the UNP is not sincere and its overtures are mainly an outcome of its internal fissures.

Japan was one of the key countries – the others being the US, the European Union and Norway – which oversaw the now dead peace process that flowed from the 2002 ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and Sri Lanka.

Unlike sections of the West, Japan never showed any sympathy for the Tigers, a point well appreciated in Colombo. But Japan is not enthused by Sri Lanka’s stubborn inability to accept any criticism of the way it waged war against the LTTE, resulting in large-scale civilian suffering.

[Full Coverage]

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