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Way forward in Sri Lanka

[Hindu, Friday, 20 January 2012 09:08 No Comment]

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reiteration — in his recent meeting with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna — of his commitment to the “13th Amendment plus” approach to solving the nation’s Tamil question is to be welcomed, although it is only from Mr. Krishna that we know about this in the present instance. Of course, the President has articulated this commitment several times before, including in an interview to The Hindu in 2009. But what proponents of an early political settlement, including India, are concerned about is that more than two years after the LTTE’s defeat by the Sri Lankan military, the country has made little progress in that direction. In the post-war period, as Mr. Rajapaksa moved to consolidate his political gains and the government made progress on rehabilitation, it was expected that he would also swiftly seek political closure to the decades-long ethnic issue. Indeed, the government has given several indications of its seriousness about a political settlement. It initiated talks with the Tamil National Alliance, the political representatives of the Tamil minority. It also set up a parliamentary select committee to discuss a political solution. The relaxation of the Emergency in 2011 was also an encouraging sign. The government sought to address international concerns about civilian casualties and human rights violations in the last phase of the war in 2009 by appointing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which has identified some areas for further action by the government. And yet, there has been little by way of concrete movement forward on the Tamil question.

Given President Rajapaksa’s apparent conviction that the 13th Amendment should form the basis for a political settlement, it is time for him to move towards the specifics. Thus far, there has been articulation only about those subjects the government is unwilling to devolve, that is, police powers and land administration. The “plus” appears to be a reference to an upper house — a Senate — representing all the provinces. The Parliamentary Select Committee, which the government hopes to make the mechanism for drafting a political package, should not go the way of previous committees which did not lead to any substantive outcomes, but rather became a forum for sections opposed to a settlement. As the main representatives of the Tamils, the TNA should not shy away — or be discouraged by extremist elements in the community — from playing a constructive role in this process.

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