by Roshani Nathaniel
Sampanthan, Sidharthan and Suresh Premechandran
The Tamils in the North played a pivotal role in the change of regime and they expected their burning issues, mainly the resettlement, releasing of political prisoners and reduction of the military presence in the North to be fulfilled. Some election promises have been partially activated but according to the Northern people the majority of their expectations have not been fulfilled.
The Tamils in the North are also rather disgruntled with their elected leaders and feel that their issues have been neglected for political gain. According to TNA member Suresh Premachandran the government process is very slow and still the armed forces are holding onto the private lands and still the people cannot return to their own area. “The government used to say that once Maithripala Sirisena takes over as the President about 4,000 acres of land from the North including Trincomalee has been returned. However, according to the Chief Minister’s estimation about 67,000 acres of land is being held by the armed forces. More than half of that land belongs to private people. This is the biggest problem as far as the Tamils are concerned,” he said.
Although the government passed a law about opening an office to look into missing person’s issues, but till today there is no such office that has been established. This too is another ongoing problem, according to the Northern politicians.
The third issue is the political prisoners who have had no solace for many years being incarcerated without either being punished or released. All these main problems are still very evident and the Tamil people in the North are suffering due to the government’s lethargy.
“Apart from the resolution to the Tamil National problem we are still facing many other issues. Even though the war is over these issues are still continuing. However, the government is doing nothing to address these issues and we are certainly not happy about it, said Premachandran.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader TNA parliamentarian Dharmalingam Sidharthan too admitted that the Tamils in the North are a bit disappointed about the performance of the government. “When the new President was elected in 2015, the Tamils had a lot of expectations but today they feel that the progress is very slow. They are very disappointed about the slow release of lands, releasing of political prisoners and even the unemployment problem. There is no job creation and even the available government jobs are being filled by the youth from the South. These things are affecting the Tamils and they are not very happy with the government,” he pointed out.
However, he said compared to the previous government today the people are living without fear. During the past they were afraid of disappearances and white vans etc, but today that fear is not there anymore and the people feel free. “At least this sort of action provides some relief to the people,” he added.
Disappointed with their representatives
The TNA is basically the only Tamil party in the country representing the Tamil people. Hence the TNA was elected by the people and sent to parliament to represent them and their issues. However, since being appointed the Leader of the Opposition, the TNA over the past two years have become very unpopular among the majority of Tamils in the North. The people are not being informed of what is happening in the constitutional council. “There is no transparency and Sampanthan and Sumanthiran are doing whatever they want and the people are very sceptical about them.
They feel that the people are going to be sold by these members of parliament. The TNA in their election manifesto put forward some basic demands. That is that the North and East which was merged for 18 years should be merged again, but now it has been refused by the government,” said Premachandran.
“Likewise they were calling for a Federal system but again the government now says it will be a unitary state and unitary constitution. All these problems are there and we do not know what is happening at present in parliament as our representatives are not keeping us updated on what is happening. This was what they were voted in for, but now the TNA are going on their own path and not in the least concerned about the people,” he said adding that they are not aware of what is going on in the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Council, and it is the main reason the people are disappointed with the TNA.
However, Sidharthan said the TNA leadership perhaps has a reason why they do not give out all the information about the discussions that take place. “I do agree that the people are not being kept informed of what is happening. Even the rest of us parliamentarians sometimes are not aware of what is being discussed between the government and the TNA.
But at the same time I would not say that we are completely in the dark. Sampanthan sometimes does explain to us what is happening during our TNA parliamentary group meetings. He also maybe having a reason for not divulging everything that is discussed at the meetings with the government for good reason,” he added.
According to Sidharthan, certain things are best kept in secrecy because if it is being discussed openly and made a big fuss of it, there could be other agitations and disturbances or opposition from the South. “Therefore I am sure Sampanthan has a good reason for not divulging all the details that might eventually derail the whole process. I am sure he has good reason. I think although there are many complaints that the TNA is not concerned about the daily problems of the Tamil people, but I think Sampanthan feels that if he can find a solution to the national issue the rest can be looked after by the rest of the members,” he said, adding that if the TNA leader goes to ask the government help every now and then over the Tamil issues and get favours, he would not be in a position to be hard on the government on the main matters.
The war widows and injured during the war and those who lost their loved ones are still waiting for justice to be served. Disappointment among all these people is very high and the people feel that they voted and sent their representatives expecting them to take up matters concerning the Tamil people and get the government to provide the Tamil people solutions to these issues. However, Premachandran charges that it is not what is happening and the TNA representatives are safeguarding the government and their positions and have turned their backs on the Tamil people of the North. Hence, the people are very disgruntled and unhappy with the elected members.
On the resettlement front, Premachandran said the government has built around 200-250 houses in Jaffna and the houses were built by the Armed forces. “However despite these houses being built the army is still occupying most of the lands belonging to the people and the resettlement process is very slow.
“Although President Sirisena promised that the resettlement will be complete within three months this too was nothing but an empty promise. The military holds most of the lands and the Northern Commander claims that they need a considerable extent of lands. So far the government has released only a small portion of the lands. The military don’t need that much of lands. If it is for security purposes, we can understand. They use them to cultivate and establish recreational centres and so on. The military must not engage in such activities. The Tamil people own these lands. While they are suffering in camps, the military cultivates on their lands. Why can’t the government understand unfairness in this process?” he questioned.
According to Premachandran, the government has no control over their own military. “So, it was obvious to us from the start that the government will not be able to complete the resettlement process within three months as they promised. After this period, they will come up with some excuse as to why they could not complete it,” added Premachandran.
Sidharthan too admits that the resettlement process is very slow which has led to the disappointment of the Tamil people. “On the development front nothing much is happening after the new government came into power. With the previous government, the roads were done up and development at least to some extent was taking place, but unfortunately although there are positive signs on the human rights side, development seems to have come to a somewhat standstill in the North,” said Sidharthan.
Future of the North
As far as the displaced persons are concerned there is no alternative but to fight against the government to get our rights, said Premachandran. “What I mean by fighting is that the people need to agitate. The UN charter too specifically says that the displaced people should be allowed to return to their original lands. When the government and the army is refusing it what else can we do but to agitate against the government. This is what will eventually happen. We were hopeful that the new government will keep to their promises. But although the President promised us it has not been honoured. Even to release some of the lands the government is in discussion with the army and only if the army agrees the lands will be released. Hence the army is army holding huge portions of lands just for their commercial purposes. They are having their hotels, yoghurt factories and farms while the Tamil people are suffering. The problem is that the government does not have a proper political resolution to release these lands otherwise it will definitely not happen. There is only about a million people in the North and we don’t need so much of the military here as now the war is over. Even after the war there have not been serious incidents that call for such a huge military presence,” he said.
According to Premachandran, there are also no jobs in the North and even the fishermen are facing huge issues with the Indian fishermen encroaching on Sri Lankan waters. This is affecting the livelihoods of the Sri Lankan fishermen.
“The Indian trawlers come to our waters and they destroy our marine resources and the Northern fishermen are facing numerous issues due to this situation. Therefore the Tamil fishermen in the North have urged the government to prevent Indian fishermen entering our Northern waters and destroying our fishing resources and also the livelihoods of the Northern fishermen. The Sri Lankan Navy too have been keeping up their pressure and arresting the Indian fishermen who encroach on Sri Lankan territorial waters.
However, another issue is the Southern fishermen coming to the Northern waters to fish. They are also doing the same thing as the Indian fishermen which is affecting the Northern fishermen especially in Mullaithivu,” he added.
Certain politicians in the North feel that it was important to have better Tamil representation in the government and also there was a need for other Tamil political parties to come up in order to create a more vibrant democratic rule in the North it is best to have a number of Tamil parties.
According to Sidharthan, “Currently it is a one party rule in the North and its the TNA. I always believe in democracy and I feel democracy in the North is lacking since the LTTE emergence as the main party. Even now it is a one party dominance. A vibrant democracy must be there but today I don’t think that the Tamil people can afford to break up the TNA until the political process is completed. Certainly we need other parties, but right now we have to keep the TNA intact,” he pointed out.