Voicing Tamil concerns
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had a landmark meeting with the members of the Tamil Parties’ Forum (TPF) comprising representatives of a majority of Tamil political parties of the country to discuss aspects of post-conflict reconciliation at Temple Trees yesterday.
The meeting was significant in that those present comprised Tamil politicians who had strongly opposite views in dealing with the problems of the LTTE and a solution to the ethnic conflict.
Key figures among them were Minister Douglas Devananda, V. Anandasankari, T Siddarthan and Chelvanayakam Chandrahasan, son of the former Federal Party and TULF leader S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, now active in relief work of Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.
The members of the TPF appreciated the work of the President in easing the problems of IDPs. They were of the view that having won a massive mandate in both the presidential and parliamentary elections and enjoying a two thirds majority in Parliament, the President had an unprecedented opportunity to solve the problems of the Tamil people.
They informed the President that these political parties have come to an understanding and constituted a common forum to strive for a permanent political solution to the ethnic problem and also work towards solving the immediate issues faced by the Tamil people.
They believed that a political solution to the ethnic problem should be found within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, thus enabling the Tamil people to participate fully in their own governance in the North and East. They said that TPF had initiated discussions with other political parties with a view to forge a consensus on the question of a political solution.
Among the matters discussed were relief for the resettled IDPs who have been returned to their former places of habitation, adequate compensation for those who had lost their limbs, breadwinners, family members and properties.
The issue of Tamil persons detained for long under the Emergency Regulations or the Prevention of Terrorism Act without being indicted was discussed and a request was made for speedy settlement of this matter.
They also discussed the issue of missing persons, some of whom it is believed are in state custody.
President Rajapaksa assured the TPF that the government would continue with its policy of humane resettlement of IDPs and would take into consideration the matter of providing adequate compensation by way of services and not necessarily by way of cash which may be used unwisely or wasted. He said that the government already gives subsidies to these people by way of a financial grant of Rs. 25,000, agricultural utensils, housing material, seed paddy and tractors and the ploughing of fields.
With regard to the financial status of IDPs, the President explained that a considerable number of those who came to IDP centres had substantial amounts of money deposited in State Banks. He said that the Bank of Ceylon had Rs. 973 million of deposits from 35,000 Menik Farm accounts. Similarly, in Mullaitivu there was Rs. 838 mn in 26,580 accounts.
Quoting figures from the Bank of Ceylon, the President said that 7.7 billion had been given as loans to the people in the North from the Bank of Ceylon only.
In further discussions with members of the TPF, President Rajapaksa explained that the government will certainly look into the case of missing persons if a proper list of such persons is provided. However, he cautioned that it would be difficult or impossible to find persons killed in combat especially in a battle that involved a terrorist organisation such as the LTTE. There would hardly be a trace of such persons and the parents would rarely admit that the missing children had fought with the LTTE.
The President did not accept the position made out by some that the people of the North and East were being ignored in the many government development activities that carried out there. He said he had visited these places and found work on construction projects were carried out by local Tamil speaking residents.
He assured the TPF that with regard to detainees there was a large number of hardcore LTTE elements. Some were silent for very long and had begun to speak only now. All those against whom there was no evidence of offences and those involving minor offences would be released, he said. Some of them had already been released and prosecutions will be initiated against others where there was evidence of serious crime.
C. Chandrahasan expressed his appreciation of the work being done by the President for reconciliation and nation-building. He said that there was a unique example of this when the Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Chennai had personally issued Sri Lankan birth certificates to the children of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees at the Madurai Collectorate in Tamil Nadu. He emphasised that such understanding had never been seen anywhere else in the world. He recalled a similar initative by President Rajapaksa in the conduct of GCE O/L examination for the children of Tamil refugees while in Tamil Nadu.
Chandrahasan said the process of reconciliation introduced should continue with new impetus and the cooperation of all to achieve the goal of national unity.
It was decided to appoint a committee comprising members of TPF and other Tamil political parties to review the situation regarding the IDPs and with affected Tamil persons, and have regular interaction with the government on their needs. Minister Douglas Devananda said this committee could play a major role in the process of reconciliation. Anandasankari drew the attention of the President to the special conditions in the two districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu that have been almost totally destroyed.
The President assured them that all these representations would be attended to and thanked them for being united in making these representations. He also assured them that he would live up to his promises to the Tamil people as he has done to all other communities.
Douglas Devananda, Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, Veerasingam Anandasankari (TULF), Tharmalingam Sitharthan (PLOTE), Subramaniyam Sathanantham (PLOTE), Thirunavukarasu Sritharan (EPRLF), Peachimuthu Kumar (EPRLF), Nallathamby Srikantha (TNLA), Kanagalingam Sivajilingam (TNLA), Chelvanayakam Chandrahasan (TPF), Selvathurai Perinpanayagam (TPF), Pararajasingam Uthayarajah (Sri Telo), Kuruswamy Surendran (Sri Telo), Dr. Nalliah Kumaraguruparan MMC-C (DPF), Alagiah Rajamanickam (EPDP), Murugesu Chandrakumar (EPDP), Kathiramalai Dayaline (TPF) and Ganeshamoorthy Rajakumar (TFP) were among those present.