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T.R. Baalu-led MPs’ team lands in Colombo, meets Tamil parties

[Hindu, Saturday, 10 October 2009 20:34 No Comment]

A group of 10 parliamentarians of the ruling combine from Tamil Nadu arrived here on Saturday afternoon on a four-day visit. It met representatives of the Tamil and Muslim political parties and exchanged views on the plight of the 2.5-lakh war displaced and the need for a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict with meaningful devolution.

Though this is the largest Indian parliamentary contingent to visit the island nation since the emergence of Tamil militant and terrorist outfits on the scene three decades ago, it has been kept away from the Indian media contingent based here.

The Sri Lankan officials said the government was ready to allow the Indian media to accompany the delegation on their visit outside Colombo if the Indian mission gave its consent.

The mission released a set of photographs of the meetings of the delegation at 7.22 p.m. Till the filing of this report, there was no briefing or statement on the visit.

Here on an invitation from Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the main objective of the delegation is to visit the camps of the war-displaced in the north for a first hand assessment of their welfare.

The delegation led by Minister T.R. Baalu is scheduled to leave on Sunday morning for Jaffna for an assessment of the situation in the peninsula and proceed to Menik Farm where most of the war displaced are housed in the temporary camps.

In the course of their visit the MPs plan to get a first hand account of the process of resettlement of the war displaced and initiatives of the government for re-building in the war-torn east and north.

On Saturday evening the Indian delegation interacted with representatives of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Democratic Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

D. Siddhathan of the PLOTE and E. Sreedharan of the EPRLF jointly met the delegation at India House. Mr. Siddhathan told The Hindu that during the meeting they urged the Indian delegation to use its good offices with New Delhi to prevail upon Colombo to speedily resettle the war displaced in their original places of habitation in the north and east, as well work towards a “permanent solution based on meaningful devolution” for the Tamils.

Mr. Siddhathan described the meeting as ‘very constructive’ and said the MPs gave them a ‘patient hearing.’ According to him the proceedings were recorded by Kanimozhi and videoed by Thol. Thirumavalavan of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi.

The Indian delegation was quoted by him as enquiring about the fate of the 10,000 LTTE cadres who are in the custody of the Sri Lankan authorities.

“We told them that all the 10,000 detained cadres are safe. If the number of detained Tigers is more we have no idea about them. We informed the Indian side that the ICRC has recorded details of all the 10,000 detained suspected LTTE cadres,” he said.

“Baalu and Kanimozhi asked if India could have, at any stage, stopped the war. We replied that it was not possible for India to have intervened at any stage because by the time the LTTE appealed for a ceasefire, the war had almost ended and it was not possible for anyone to have stopped the Sri Lankan government from fighting to the finish. If New Delhi had intervened at that critical juncture, Sri Lanka would have lurched towards China or other countries inimical to India,” Mr. Siddharthan said.

The TNA team told the MPs that the Sri Lankan government was not serious about the resettlement of the Tamil refugees as it had other plans for the Wanni area, previously controlled by the LTTE.

Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP for Jaffna district, said the TNA delegation pointed out that only 50 days remained for the Sri Lankan government to fulfil its promise to resettle 80 per cent of the refugees in 180 days.

But till date, only 20,000 refugees had been moved out of the camps. Even these had not been sent back to their villages but to transit camps. The government was using de-mining as an excuse for delaying resettlement, he charged. Demining had taken place only in 32 villages in Mannar and Vavuniya districts. There was no demining in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts.

The TNA delegation pointed out that in war-torn countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, mines were no bar to resettlement, and that demining was going on years after the war had ended.

According to Mr. Premachandran, the Sri Lankan government had plans to settle Sinhalese in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts so that at least 30 per cent of the population would be Sinhalese.

“There is a plan to change the demographic pattern in the Wanni area so that there is no such thing as a Tamil province,” he charged. He further said that Buddhist stupas were being built in Wanni with an intention to change its culture and ethnicity.

Sudarshana Nachiappan of the Congress asked if there could be opposition from the military if the Rajapaksa government were to accommodate the Tamils, the TNA delegation said there was no such possibility.

Rauf Hakeem, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), told the Indian delegation that any settlement of the North Eastern question would have to take into account the Tamil-speaking Muslims also, as they had suffered under the LTTE and were marginalised by Sinhalese majoritarianism.

On the last but one day of their stay here, the delegation will go to Kandy in the hill district for an interaction with the Indian-origin Tamils in the plantation sector. It would visit the technical vocational training centre set up with Indian help.

In another development, voting for the Southern Provincial Council (SPC) ended in the evening with around 55 per cent turnout.

[Full Coverage]

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