- The vexed issue re-surfaces
By Nirmala Kannangara
The re-merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a single political administrative unit is the only solution to the Tamil issue, along with the right to self-determination, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman and MP, Suresh Premachandran, said.
Premachandran said the re-merger of the North and the East had been their demand right from the beginning, and most Tamil lands in the Northern Province had been taken over by the military after the de-merger.
“The lands were taken over for security purposes but never returned to the owners after the war. When we filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding that the lands be returned to the rightful owners, we were told that the lands will be returned after the de-mining process is concluded. But the lands in question are yet to be given back, although the government keeps claiming that they have de-mined most of the areas,” Premachandran alleged.
According to him, lands that had been owned by the Tamils are now used for ‘fake’ development in the North by the military, as well as to maintain the high security areas although the government claims that there is no threat to anyone’s life in the country after the war.
“Why do they want to maintain the high security zones in the Northern Province if there is peace in the country?” Premachandran questioned.
He noted that private lands in the Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Vavuniya Districts, thousands of acres in extent, are now being made use of under the guise of development by the military.
“Most of the beach-front properties in the North and the East had been taken over and given away to those in the Tourism industry to build hotels. These were ancestral properties of the Tamils, and in addition, their agricultural lands too had been taken over which is distressing,” Premachandran added.
Weaken the Tamil constituency
He also said that unless the Northern and Eastern Provinces are re-merged as a single political administrative unit, through which a negotiated political solution with the right to self-determination could evolve, the military will keep on acquiring their lands further, while Sinhala colonization is also taking place rapidly in the two provinces in order to weaken the Tamil constituency.
The TNA Spokesman said they will campaign for a single political administrative unit in the North and the East, and they will work towards power devolution in the two provinces, as far as possible.
He went on to say the TNA wants the early establishment of civil administration in the North, the dismantling of the military camps, the completion of the resettlement of displaced persons, and the release of detainees.
“The military has formed Sinhala colonies in the North, thereby depriving our population the right to their own lands. This issue started after the controversial Court ruling to de-merge the two provinces. This situation deteriorated after the end of the war. Sinhalese from the South had been settled in our lands and the government has deliberately changed the demography in the North and the East. Tamil ancestral lands in Murugandi that the military had taken over had been used to construct housing projects consisting of more than 10,000 housing units with Chinese aid, for the military personnel,” Premachandran claimed.
The de-merger had been carried out for political reasons as the Sri Lankan government had committed to a merger of the North and the East, according to the Indo Lanka Accord signed in 1987, Premachandran said.
“Under the Indo Lanka Accord, these two provinces were merged while a referendum was to be held after one year to ascertain whether the merger should be permanent or not. Under the administration of Presidents J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, the referendum was not held, and under the present regime, the two provinces were de-merged,” he explained.
Premachadran further accused the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) for not demanding that the two provinces be merged once again to safeguard the rights of the Muslim community. He added, the Muslim leaders should work for the betterment of their community, and not according to their personal agendas.
“The minority Muslims want the provinces to be merged once again, but their voices had been silenced by their leaders,” Premachandran alleged.
Muslims underwent severe hardships
Meanwhile, political analyst, Ahilan Kadirgamar, said it is up to the Muslim community to decide whether they want a merger or not as the Muslims underwent severe hardships during the war.
“Politically, it is up to the Muslims to decide whether they want the North and the East to be merged, or whether they want the East to go alone as a province,” Kadirgamar said.
Kadirgarmar further voicing his views said that after the Northern Province was de-merged and the two areas became the Northern and Eastern Provinces, Tamil colonization was taken over by the military to weaken the Tamil constituency.
“It was under the Indo Lanka Accord in 1987 that the two provinces were merged, and after the controversial judicial ruling that de-merged the two provinces, the Tamils had to face many issues including the issue of land. The military is taking over Tamil lands without any restriction. They take over the lands under the guise of establishing security zones or security bases. But in reality, they are giving these lands to private parties in the North and the East,” Kadirgamar alleged.
According to Kadirgamar, a considerable number of Tamil colonies had been taken over by the military after the de-merger. He added that the de-merger had weakened the Tamils and they had been marginalized over the past eight years.
“Powers were not evolved and the de-merger had resulted in the Tamils facing a crisis. Not only had the military taken over lands in the northern part of Jaffna and Vavuniya; it is the same situation with other parts of the country as well as the South,” Kadirgamar further alleged.
Meanwhile, National Organiser, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe, said the demand made by the Tamils that the North and the East be merged once again, would only be a dream.
“We hail the landmark verdict given by the Supreme Court on the de-merger. The latest verdict given on land powers under the 13th Amendment that, rights over land are vested with the Central Government and not with the Provincial Councils has strengthened the hands of the government, further. Although land and police powers are devolved under the 13th Amendment, these powers had never been granted to provincial administrations,” Warnasinghe said.
Warnasinghe dismissed the allegation levelled against the military that land belonging to the Tamils had been taken over for ‘fake’ development. The lands had been taken over to establish security points to provide security in the North and the East, he affirmed.