05/06/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Government sets up Tamil committee, a trick for the opposition

by Melani Manel Perera
Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa summons Tamil leaders to discuss minority issues. Opposition Nava Sama Samaja Party leader Karunaratne says committee is “a ridiculous step.” If the government is serious it must open talks Tamil Tigers and the Tamil National Alliance.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – “The government that crushed the Tamil struggle mercilessly has appointed a committee, consisting of Tamil leaders who helped government oppression, to explain Tamil grievances. It is a ridiculous step, to say the least,” this according to Vickramabahu Karunaratne, secretary general of the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) and president of the New Left Front (NLF), the opposition alliance that stands against President Mahinda Rajapaksa (pictured) and his government.

Speaking to AsiaNews Karunaratne was sarcastic in his comments about the government’s decision to set up a special committee with Tamil representatives to look into the grievance of the Tamil community. For the NLF leader this is just another attempt to trick the minority community living in northern Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa announced his decision at Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s official residence, after a meeting held yesterday that saw the participation of cabinet ministers and representatives of Tamil parties: Anandasangaree, president of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF); Devanda of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP); Siddharthan, leader of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE); Sridharan of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF); Sivalingam of the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC); Radhacrishnan of the Upcountry Peoples Front (UPF); and Chandrakanthan of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).

The government is said to have discussed steps to take in order to meet the needs of northern communities, especially assistance for refugees who fled the no fire zone and who are now in military-held areas. After this initial meeting others are scheduled to follow on a weekly basis.

Karunaratne noted that Tamil grievances have been on the agenda for decades, and need little explaining: Tamils want “the freedom to look after Tamil affairs” and “the power to govern themselves” which “can be done within Sri Lanka, if not by separation,” he said.

However, the Sri Lankan government “has consistently rejected this demand, claiming that this is a unitary country under Sinhala hegemony.” And it is “making a fool of all these gentlemen.” Talks might not bring any harm but they will not deal with the issue.

The NLF leader is also not very tender with the Tamil leaders who took part in the meeting and who will sit on the committee. They, in his view, “have come here to save their face” because voters back in their home region are up in arms against them for their role in President Rajapaksa’s policies.

If the government is serious about ending the war, Karunaratne said, a path is available, namely open “talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).”

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