According to Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), in the democratic aspirations of Tamil people, they have come to a point to find a legitimate solution within a united, undivided country – which will enable Tamils to live with self-respect and dignity while being part of political decision making and enjoying other rights as much as the majority community. For this process, the ITAK, one of the alliance members of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) brought up several resolutions during the recent Convention of the party. Speaking toThe Sunday Leader TNA MP and ITAK Member M. A. Sumanthiran said the need to merge North and East is recognised in Indo-Lanka Accord and they would launch a non-violent campaign if the Sri Lankan government is unable to address the issues raised by them by the end of this year.
Excerpts of the interview:
By Waruni Karunarathne
Q: What is the need to merge the North and East?
A: Merging North and East is stated in the Indo-Lanka Accord. The North and East are the historic habitation of Tamil speaking people. There has been systematic state sponsored colonization of Sinhalese in the Eastern Province. In 1821, Sinhala population in Eastern Province was 0.5% but today it is 29%. People are free to move about and live anywhere they want to live in the country. But what has happened here is not a free movement but a deliberate state sponsored colonization with a view to change the ethnic demography of the area. Sinhala settlement growth rate in East was several times higher than the birth rate of Sinhalese in the country. It is unethical and deliberate alteration of the demography. This has been a historic issue. In The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact, the fundamental issue that was addressed was the issue about land alienation.
Q: What are the key issues that ITAK will take up under its new leadership?
A: We have passed 15 resolutions in which we have laid out what our priorities are. That is what we will take forward.
Q: The ITAK has stated that if the government does not address their issues before the end of this year they would take non-violent actions. What would those actions be?
A: We have clearly said that we will act in line with the non-violent actions of Mahatma Gandhi. There are many forms of the non-violent struggle introduced to the world by Mahatma Gandhi. We will certainly carry out non-violent protests. These issues that we are raising about are related to resettlement of people and who have lost their original settlements. The President promised the UN General Secretary in May 2009 in a joint communiqué that every person who is being displaced will be resettled in their own place before the end of December 2009. Five years have elapsed but it is not yet being done. Besides, the private lands of the people are being acquired for military purposes. People are still languishing with their families and relatives. Our move is a result of the government not keeping their promises – not only to us but also to the world at large.
Q: At the ongoing UNHRC sessions what kind of pressure do you expect the council to put on Sri Lankan government?
A: I do not think that the Council is interested in putting any pressure on Sri Lanka at all. The Council will do its work. The new High Commissioner for human rights made his initial speech in which he mentioned Sri Lanka and importance of having a comprehensive international investigation into Sri Lankan human rights issues.
He also commended on the work of his predecessor Navy Pillay. In this particular session there will be an oral update on their investigations by the High Commissioner which will probably come out during the last week of this month. We will have to wait and see what the investigation report is and how the investigations will proceed from here on.
Q: Will the witness protection bill that is to be passed in the parliament serve any purpose?
The Witness Protection Bill is not being passed yet – it was only tabled in the Parliament recently. This is also a promise that was given by the government long time ago when the Presidential Commission of Inquiry was headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Nissanka Udalagama. It was introduced during the last parliament and was debated and then the government abandoned it. At least now they have taken the measures to table it.
There are some good features in the bill but in the bottom line, it is the state authorities who are tasked with giving protection to the witnesses and victims of crime. We are at a situation where state is accused of many crimes.
So the question arises whether the state, being in the accused end, would be able to provide protection to witnesses who might testify against the state.