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Tamils seek political solution

[Gulf Times, Friday, 23 April 2010 09:15 No Comment]

[DPA] Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has seen some stunning victories in the past year: ending a 26-year civil war with Tamil separatist rebels and achieving resounding victories in presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010.

Now, politicians of the Tamil ethnic minority are pushing him to use his election mandate to follow his military victory over Tamil separatist rebels with a political solution.

Rajapaksa’s ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was returned to Parliament on Wednesday, the day final results from the April 8 elections were released, with one of the strongest mandates in three decades – 144 seats in the 225-member Parliament.

“The people have carried out their duty to the country,” Rajapaksa told the newly elected UPFA lawmakers at the weekend. “Now it is time to repay them. Our single aim should be the development of the country.”

As development takes priority, it was likely that ethnic minority issues, which led to the civil war, would be sent offstage, but Tamil parties and politicians have called on Rajapaksa to find a political settlement to the conflict.

“There might be a difference of opinions as to what the political solution might be, but the president will have to make use of the opportunity and look for a political solution,” prominent former Tamil parliamentarian Nallathamby Srikantha said.

“It is up to the government to take the initiative,” Srikantha added.

Tamils, who have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Sinhala majority and the government, live primarily in the north and east, and in the north, Srikantha’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which earlier acted as the proxy of the Tamil rebels, gained a majority of the votes and won 15 parliamentary seats.

The TNA has called upon the government to give priority to finding a political solution to the conflict, resettling all people displaced by the war, releasing an estimated 10,000 Tamil rebel suspects detained without charge, allowing civilians to return to their lands within high-security zones demarcated for the military, and carrying out reconstruction and development projects.

“To work towards a just, reasonable and durable political arrangement within the framework of a united country that would address the legitimate political aspirations of our people” is another objective of the party, TNA leader R Sampanthan said.

V Anandasangaree, leader of the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front, the most powerful party before Tamil rebels dominated affairs in the Northern Province, said a solution should be worked out and his preference was for one proposed by India, a provincial administration introduced in 1987.

Provincial council administrations were introduced in each of Sri Lanka’s nine provinces, but the system has come under fire because the central government failed to devolve powers to the provincial councils. The council in the Northern Province has been defunct since 1990.

Rajapaksa has vowed to go ahead with provincial elections in the Northern Province, possibly this year, but the issue of whether sufficient powers would be devolved remains and has been one of the major complaints from the councils set up in the Eastern Province as well as those in the Sinhala-dominated southern part of the country.

Rajapaksa was likely to focus on development in the north as another strategy to overcome social and administrative issues.

Soon after the war last year, Rajapaksa entrusted his brother, Basil Rajapaksa, to oversee development in the former rebel-held areas in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The brother has been re-elected to Parliament and was likely to play a more prominent role in the government on winning over minorities.

Meanwhile, the main railway line to the north, which has not been functioning for 25 years, is being repaired, travel by road disrupted for nearly two decades has been restored, the government has identified potential tourist attractions in the north and the private sector has started moving in slowly but steadily.

A separate state that the Tamil rebels campaigned for as well as a federal state demanded by Tamil minority parties have proven to be distant dreams since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

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