By Ananth Palakidnar
The Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) leader and the General Secretary of the Tamil National Alliance Mavai S. Senathiraja while criticizing the burning of the effigies of TNA Parliamentarians Sumanthiran and Sampanthan has said that it was a highly irresponsible act at this political juncture by certain misguided elements. He also said that the TNA was not at all manipulated by the Tamil Diaspora abroad and the majority of the Tamils living abroad agree on the stance taken by the TNA towards handling the North and East in the Island. Excerpts of the interview with Ceylon Today:
The effigies of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M.A.Sumanthiran and the TNA leader R.Sampanthan were set on fire in Jaffna and in several countries where the Lankan Tamil expatriates live. What have you got to say about it?
A: It is very ridiculous and as the leader of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) I feel bad about it. Certain elements which are unable to understand the diplomatic approach of the ITAK , the flag ship party of the TNA are trying to create problems to fulfil their vested interests. Parliamentarians Sampanthan and Sumanthiran with the support of other TNA Members are playing their part in a constructive manner in dealing with the Tamil question. Apart from handling the political issues, parliamentarian Sumanthiran being a lawyer assisting the TNA in various issues with regard to challenging the land acquisition activities in the North and East as well as looking into the legal aspects of the political prisoners and the families of the disappeared persons. The TNA leader Sampanthan and Sumanthiran also play their role as prominent TNA representatives interacting closely with the International Community towards seeking the support towards solving our problems. Therefore, as the general election is expected to be held this year certain unscrupulous elements are trying to tarnish the image of the TNA by carrying out the activities such as setting on fire the effigies of Sumanthiran and Sampanthan.
I wonder why those who had burnt the effigies of Sampanthan and Sumanthiran didn’t come forward to burn the effigies of former President Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa who were responsible for alleged war crimes and human rights violations in the past. I would like to mention that the TNA remains a formidable political force and it will continue to remain so.
The TNA leader Sampanthan and Sumanthiran were also criticized for attending the 67th Independence Day in Colombo by certain members of the ITAK in Sri Lanka and abroad. How do you comment on this?
A: Well this year the 67th Independence Day celebrations of the Island was significant in many ways. It’s again the people who do not understand the ground realities in the country have agitated over the Independence Day issue. The TNA ‘s contribution in ousting the Rajapaksa regime was remarkable. Our people in the North and East wanted the change more than any other people in the country. There were even attempts to bring back Rajapaksa to power by campaigning among our people in the North and East to keep away from taking part in the Presidential polls. But the TNA did an extensive campaign to encourage the voters to take part in the polls and succeeded in defeating Rajapaksa. So our people gained the freedom from the grip of the previous regime. Since the TNA played an important role in changing the Government , our leader Sampanthan and Sumanthiran attended the Independence Day to express the good will and the sincerity of our people working towards peace and reconciliation. The matter with regard to attending the Independence Day was discussed among the TNA Members. Though we emotionally stand by fulfilling the political aspirations of our people, nothing was decided by the TNA hierarchy to boycott the Independence Day. Therefore, the TNA leader Sampanthan along with Parliamentarian Sumanthiran attended the Independence Day on the invitation of the new government.
What have you got to say about the genocide resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council recently and the postponement of the release of the UNHRC’s OISL Report to September this year?
A: There were criticisms over the use of the word genocide. It was in Sri Lanka first mentioned by the late ITAK leader S.J.V Chelvanayagam in the forties over the problems faced by the Tamils in the Island. It was again soon after the communal unrest in 1983, when the TULF leader late A. Amirthalingam briefed the atrocities faced by the Tamils to late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi , she also described the atrocities as genocide. Therefore the word was nothing new.
As far as the postponement of the release of the UNHRC’s OISL is concerned, the TNA leader R.Sampanthan expressed the displeasure over the decision to postpone the UNHRC Report. However, the TNA has been assured that the release of the OISL will not be delayed further after September by the Senior UN Official Jeffrey Feltman who met us in Colombo last week. The UNHRC is of the opinion that since the previous Government was not supportive towards an investigation into the alleged war crimes and related issues, the present Government has come forward to conduct an internal investigation under the supervision of the UNHRC. Therefore, to give an opportunity for the new Government, the release of the UNHRC Report has been postponed till September. However, the TNA is on the process of strengthening further the OISL Report with more evidences from the people who have been directly affected by war.
The general impression in the Southern political circle is that the TNA is under the manipulations of the Tamil Diaspora abroad. What do you say about it?
A: It is nothing like that. The Lankan Tamils living abroad are concerned about the political developments in the Island as they also fled the country due to the intensity of the communal unrest in the country. So, their concerns could not be set aside. On the other hand it cannot be interpreted as manipulating the TNA. Majority of the Tamils living abroad are in support of a durable political solution for Tamils in the North and East. As long as the extremist views are expressed from the South, the hardliners among the Tamil Diaspora will also remain hard hitting. But the TNA has its own views as several of the TNA supporters in the UK, Canada and in several other countries have appreciated the stance taken by the TNA towards handling the political issues in the North and East. Therefore, the TNA is very clear of its political activities and it cannot be manipulated.
How do you assess the first three months of the President Sirisena Administration and his first Development Coordinating meeting in Jaffna last week?
A: He has responded positively to some of the key issues the TNA has been agitating. The Governors with the military background in the North and East have been replaced with civil servants. We understand the Initiatives have also been taken by the new Government to expedite the resettlement process and to release the lands acquired from the civilians in the North and East. Only thing the Government should expedite the processes to bring relief to our people as early as possible.
President Sirisena’s Development Coordinating meeting in Jaffna last week covered the entire Northern Province unlike confining only into district level during the previous Government.
President has paid his attention towards the humanitarian issues in the North in the presence of the Parliamentarians, Provincial Councillors and the Government officials. I emphasized on the need of giving priority towards addressing the grievances of nearly 80,000 young war widows in the North.
What have you got to say about the palatial holiday home supposed to have been built by former President Rajapaksa in Kankesanthurai (KKS) in Valikamam North?
A: I would say being a person from Valikamam North in Jaffna I still do not have any access to my own house in the area. It has been damaged. I am an Internally Displaced Person and living with relatives. So there are thousands of IDPs still living without any access to their original places in Valikamama North. However, the former President Rajapaksa despite the agitations of the IDPs in the North, has put up his luxurious mansion in KKS in the Valikamam North without any concern for the IDPs of that region.
Not only a mansion has been built for the former President. Even the lands of the people have been acquired by the Security Forces in the North to put up their hotels, bungalows for senior officers and also the land have been utilized for cultivation by the Army depriving the local farmers.
So the mansion built for Mahinda Rajapaksa spending multimillions in KKS has highlighted the life style he had lived without any concerns not only for the Northerners but also ignoring the people in the South. The visit of President Sirisena to his predecessor’s palatial house and the state of the areas around the mansion would have given the first hand information to him on the plight of the people of the area who still remain as IDPs.
A week ago at a recent Central Committee meeting of the ITAK in Vavuniya under your Chairmanship a resolution was passed to expedite the political process. Could you comment on this resolution?
A: The resolution was passed to expedite the political process. ITAK being the oldest Tamil political party has been struggling to fulfill the political aspirations of Tamils for the past six decades since the country gained independence.
The ITAK wants a self rule in the merged North and East Provinces with maximum devolution of powers. Several healthy suggestions have been made in the past during the previous Governments of Jeyewarden and Chandrika. The APRC Recommendations and the expert committee reports in the previous government were also made suggestions for healthy political solutions. So, the ITAK wants the new government to expedite the political process to settle the Tamil question while addressing the grievances of the people affected by war.
The TNA has joined hands with the SLMC to form the Eastern Provincial Council. What is your view on this new coalition?
A: The SLMC –TNA coalition in the Easter Province is the need of the hour. Since the Tamils and the Muslims remain majority in the Eastern Province , the two communities have several aspects in common. There were misunderstandings between the two communities in the past. So to strengthen the unity among Tamils and the Muslims along with other communities in the Eastern Province the TNA has extended its support to the SLMC towards forming the Eastern Provincial Council. The new coalition will also help the two political parties to work closely in the Parliamentary polls as well.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit the Island next week. He is also travelling to Jaffna during his visit to the Island. How do you comment on the Indian leader’s visit to the Island?
A: It is for the first time in several years an Indian Prime Minister is visiting the Island and it is for the first time an Indian Prime Minister is going to visit Jaffna. The TNA already briefed the Indian Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, on the North and East issue.
Since the Indian leader is visiting the North and East he will be able to get the first hand information on the post-war issues remain unresolved. Let us hope Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit will pave the path way for peace and reconciliation in the Island.