By Camelia Nathaniel
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What is the situation with regard to the displaced?
A: There are many who are displaced in camps and could not go back to their own lands. Although the government promised to expedite the resettlement process only a very few were resettled and the majority of them are still in the same predicament. Most of the people want to go back to their own lands as only then they can get on with their livelihood activities whether it is farming or fishing.
Last week the president came to Jaffna to celebrate Christmas and he visited several displaced camps. This is probably the first time a president visited the displaced people. President Sirisena visited several houses as well and saw how these people are living. He promised them that he would take action to settle their problems within the next six months. Well I don’t know what he is going to do and I’m not sure if he will keep his promise but he has promised these people to do something and resettle them within the next six months.
He said that the Sinhala Buddhist extremists in the south were making some noise about the resettlement, but the president also invited them to come to Jaffna and see the situation for themselves and how bad things are for these people. We appreciate the president’s effort for at least visiting the place and explaining to the Sinhala masses of how the Tamil people are suffering. Although we appreciate the president on this matter there is so much more that has not been done.
A: Within the TNA there are different views regarding the government’s functions and concerns. I am having my own views and Sampanthan is having different views. As for the TNA I am not sure which view it has adopted. As an individual I think it’s almost one year now and Maithripala Sirisena was supported by the entire Tamil population. They thought if he comes to power he will resolves all their problems, mainly the day to day problems. However, in spite of some progress being made nothing much has been done for the Tamil people.
A: The missing persons commission’s mandate was extended and still they are functioning but the commission has so far not been able to trace a single person. This is how effective the commission is, and the Tamil people are fed up with this commission. Most of the children who were reported missing, the parents still do not know what happened to them. For parents to put a closure they need to have answers and they need to know what happened to their children. But there is no proper action being taken by the new government.
Q: The TNA has on several occasions voiced concerns about the Tamil political prisoners. What is the current situation?
A: The government has given promises to the opposition leader Mr. Sampanthan saying that before seventh of December that they will release them or take action with regard to their cases. However, so far nothing has happened. After the seventh there was a hunger strike again by the Tamil prisoners and then the government released some of them on bail. But that is a very minimal number. Still over 200 people are still languishing in jail and their cases are going on for the last 15 to 20 years and still going on. Even the political prisoners and their families are fed up with the government because the government is making promises and giving them hope but they are not keeping their promises. These are some of the problems the Tamil people are facing.
Q: Given the disputes within the TNA do you think that there is room for another Tamil political party to emerge?
A: Around the 19th of this month there was a new organisation formed that was headed by the chief minister. There was a joint leadership between the Chief Minister and Lakshman from the Civil Society and Wasantha Raja from Batticaloa who are the co-chairs. This new organisation is called the Tamil Peoples council which was organised by the Civil Society and with the support of the religious leaders and the political parties. Their main activities are: to find proposals to resolve the Tamil national problem. Because the Sri Lankan government says they are going to form a constitutional assembly but until today the government has not come out with any proposal to resolve the Tamil national problem. Also the TNA has also not said how they propose to resolve the problems of the Tamils and what sort of proposals they have nobody knows. They are not discussing these matters with the public as such. So in that situation the victims in the north and east have no hope. Therefore, the newly formed council will hold discussions with the people and will come out with a proposal that could be acceptable to the government and the people. These proposals could also be incorporated into the new constitution.
Apart from that we are also going to form another subcommittee to monitor the mechanism they are going to create to address the issue of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last September the UN instructed the Sri Lanka government to address these issues but so far nothing has happened. Already there is an organisation formed to look into these matters and the reason that this orgasnisation was formed was because the TNA failed to take up these matters and the TNA did not discuss these matters with the general public. Because the Public and the Civil Society saw that there was a vacuum and they thought that the people’s needs must be addressed and peoples aspirations have to be taken note of especially like the constitutional changes and the Tamil peoples views should also be taken note of when constitutional changes are made, that’s why the need for such a council arose.
Therefore, as there is also an institution, which by the way is not a political party that is formed, I don’t know if there is a need for another political party. However because of the TNA parliamentary group’s inefficiency and lack of transparency nobody knows what they are doing. No one knows what sort of meetings is taking place between the government and the TNA leadership. This was the reason that the need arose for this council to be formed. However, I am not certain if we will need another alternative to the TNA in the future. Right now I am not entirely sure about it.
Q: Right throughout the TNA was critising the budget. But when it came to the final vote the TNA supported the government; do you think the TNA is softening its stance and towing the line with the government?
A: I think so. I agree with that statement as I also feel the same because in the past even during the last regime the TNA always opposed the budget on the basis that the government is spending a lot on defence.
They were always of the view that since the war is over that there is no need to allocate so much for defence. Instead they said that these funds can be used to develop the northern and backward areas. However, this time the defence budget has been increased even further and as far as we are concerned out of 250 thousand military 150 thousand are deployed in the north and they are putting up several large buildings and there is much construction going on for Army purposes. When the government is spending so much to solidify the military presence in the north how can the TNA support the Budget? So people like me and my party are vehemently against it and we are appalled at how the TNA leadership is conducting their dealings with the government. Not just us but even the Tamil people in the north are now in doubt regarding the intentions and attitudes of the TNA.
Q: You have been someone who has been very vocal regarding the activities of the government. However, in this currant TNA set up do you feel that there is an attempt to sideline you?
A: That has already started and I am very sure that I was defeated by the leadership and not by the people. My defeat was very well planned by the TNA because they don’t want people like me who will oppose the government and disrupt their agendas. Now the TNA leadership is creating divisions within the parties of the TNA and they are making inroads within the EPRLF and other political parties. Even if is not the government that is not making these inroads it is the TNA leadership that is creating these divisions.
Q: With the next UNHRC sessions scheduled for March do you think that the government has made enough progress to resolve the Tamil national issue?
A: There is a timeframe and if they are not going to do things within that timeframe there will be an oral report that will be submitted by the commissioner in March. However, they do have a full year to give a report and because the resolution was sponsored by the SL government and it was supported by US and India I don’t know how they are going to tackle this matter. The US is now very close with the present government and in that situation I don’t know if they will pressurise the government to implement the resolution which was sponsored by the government.
Therefore I think if they fail to meet their deadlines they might face some difficulties with the European countries but we have to wait and see how this government will handle this whole situation.
Q: Even within the SLFP there is a lot of division and given this situation what do you think of the stability of the government?
A: I think they are having an agreement for two years and they will somehow run for the two years. They will also try to get the local government under their control. There might be some challenges between the UNP and the SLFP and the local government elections because both parties will want the local bodies under them. So I don’t see any major issues between the coalitions unless one party gets a clear majority over the other at the next local government elections.