Wickremesinghe to kickstart talks over Tamil autonomy
Some lawmakers are sceptical about the president’s sincerity. Wickremesinghe calls on Tamil parties to solve the ethnic issue before February 2023. At the UN Human Rights Council, India said that Sri Lanka did not make sufficient efforts. The Tamil National Alliance is ready to cooperate.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has invited Tamil parties to sit down at the negotiating table to resolve the outstanding issue of adopting a federal form of government before the 75th anniversary of independence, in February next year.
Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Tamils have been demanding some form of autonomy in the country's northern and eastern provinces, where they are concentrated.
Since no date has been set for the meeting with the president, Tamil politicians are very sceptical about it.
Several lawmakers believe that the “efforts lack sincerity, and only serve to show the international community" that attempts are being made in favour of reconciliation.
For Mr Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka does not need "others to intervene" in domestic matters.
Several Tamil lawmakers told AsiaNews that many national leaders have made promises in the past, especially after the civil war, but have failed to deliver a political solution to the ethnic issue.
“During the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration (2015-2019), they attempted to draft a new constitution, yet did not complete the task, much to the disappointment of Tamils who supported them in the election campaign.”
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest party in Sri Lanka’s north and east, welcomed the president's appeal and said that it was ready to "cooperate fully".
For decades, TNA leader R. Sampanthan tried to negotiate a constitutional deal with various Sri Lankan leaders; he believes that "the president's pledge is genuine."
C.V. Wigneswaran, former chief minister of the Northern Province, is of the opinion that "the leadership of the South must be ready to do away with the unitary constitution”.
Despite known differences among Tamil parties, the TNA urged them to sit down at the negotiating table “as we share the objective of achieving meaningful power devolution under a federal set-up.”
TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran welcomed "the president's initiative”, noting that there must be unanimity on a solution. "We want all citizens to be happy, satisfied and feel secure that this is their country," he explained.
"There is already a broad consensus on the issue and only a few things need to be ironed out; that can be done in a day’s sitting,” he added.
“The president has agreed that there is nothing new left to talk about, and if he is looking at the South African example, it must be noted that they too underwent a political transformation before they could look at accountability issues. This fundamental change must take place and precede other measures."
The TNA said it was open to a federal solution. As MP Sumanthiran tweeted, “We will engage constructively in every sincere attempt as we have always done, but will not allow any farcical process.”
In a speech in parliament on 23 November, he said that "there can be no reconciliation by sweeping the truth under the rug.”
The need for “greater power devolution and a political solution” have also been central to Indian engagement in Sri Lanka.
At the September sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, the Indian delegation looked “with concern [at] the lack of measurable progress” by Sri Lanka on their commitments to a political solution to the ethnic issue.
New Delhi has consistently urged Colombo to “fully implement” the 13th amendment to the constitution, even though, “Tamil parties in Sri Lanka frequently point to its inadequacies.”
Meanwhile, several Tamil MPs ask themselves that if the president "rejected federalism, what are we going to discuss with him?
“He wants to show the world that his government is legitimate, stable and that he is talking to all the actors, he just needs us to be at the negotiating table. If he is sincere in his pledge to resolve the issue, federalism should be a precondition for these talks.”