06/14/2013, 00.00
SRI LANKA

For Sri Lankan bishops, the government must respect Tamils, the country needs unity

In a statement addressed to the government, the Bishops' Conference calls for the retention of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which created provincial councils and granted Tamil official language status. Its repeal would be detrimental to northern minorities.

Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Administrative decentralisation and a new  constitution that guarantees peace, justice and real prosperity for all citizens, irrespective of ethnic, religious or social differences is what the Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka wants from the government at a time when parliament is debating the possible repeal of the 13th amendment of the constitution.

Adopted in 1987 during the civil war, the amendment set up provincial councils and recognised Sinhala and Tamil as Sri Lanka's official languages, with English as a link language between the island's various ethnic groups.

For the first time, the constitutional change recognised the Tamil community as a distinct political and social entity. This is particularly important in the north, where Tamils are the majority, a region that saw the bloodiest moments of the civil war.

For several weeks, parliament has been discussing a proposal to repeal the amendment. The latter was introduced into the house by the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a Sinhala ultra-nationalist party that is part of the ruling coalition.

For this purpose, the government has set up a parliamentary committee to review the constitution, but opposition parties and minority representatives have expressed their opposition, accusing the government of President Mahindra Rajapaksa of wanting to centralise power to harm Tamils.

In a statement on the issue, Sri Lanka's Catholic bishops, led by Card Malcolm Ranjith, noted, "Essentially, the problem in the North is a national question for which the solution is to be found by the local political leadership of both the Sinhala and the Tamil communities. What is needed is the proper study and careful consideration of all factors along with a broad based consultation of the different political parties and civil society groups before any changes are to be made. We are not convinced that this is happening."

In the north, people are still coping with difficult conditions, as well as a massive military presence, despite the fact that the state of emergency was lifted from the area two years ago.

Provincial elections in the Northern Province are scheduled for September. Since April, a local NGO has been helping local residents get new identity papers after their original ones were lost during the Civil War and never re-issued.

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