The removal of the Sri Lankan military from the Tamil areas is the most important issue at present, the chief minister of the Northern Province, C V Wigneswaran told the UK’s Minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire during a visit to Jaffna on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters afterwards about his meeting with Mr Swire, Mr Wigneswaran said he had also warned of the change in the ethnic demography of the Tamil areas due to state sponsored resettlement of Sinhala people.
Asked by the visiting UK delegation what change the Northern Province had experienced since the new government, Mr Wigneswaran said: “I told them the new government appears to be giving us some benefits [such as] the changing of the governor [to the province] from a military person to a civilian.
“However, these are very small issues,” he added. “If we look at big issues, removing the military is an important.”
“I explained to them that the land [in the North] held by the military needs to be taken away from them and given back to the Tamil people.”
The British delegation asked about the government’s announcement this week that it would return private lands to the Tamil people, he added.
“I replied: it has been announced, however, the prime minister has already said that they will not reduce the number of military camps. Therefore this creates some confusion.”
They asked what we would do with the land if it was vacated by the military, Mr Wigneswaran said with surprise.
“I said: when the British prime minister came [to Jaffna] he himself went to the IDP camps to meet with the people who need this land.”
Asked if the military had taken the lands of those people in the camp, Mr Wigneswaran replied yes, he said, adding that it was their own private land, not state lands.
Highlighting the issue of government sponsored Sinhala colonisation into the Tamil homeland, Mr Wigneswaran said: “I also told them of how the government is resettling people from outside this province into lands owned by Tamils who are now refugees in India.”
“They [UK delegation] asked me if this would have a significant change. I said: Very soon, in our life time, within around 10 years, there is the possibility of a Sinhala MP from the Northern Province, which has been of over 99% Tamil speaking.”
“They asked how can this be. I explained that the proportional representational in elections can allow this happen,” he added.
“When I explained this, [Mr Swire] commented there are very significant problems taking place here.”
Highlighting the UN inquiry into mass atrocities committed against the Tamil people, which is due to report its findings to the UN Human Rights Council in two months time, Mr Wigneswaran told the delegation “there is a fear amongst the people that it will be delayed or postponed”.
“They said, as far as they are concerned there is no need for such a delay, and they are not aware of any such delay. However, they added that it is the member states that decide this.”
Discussing ways in which the British government could help the Tamils, the delegation said they were looking into twinning the University of Jaffna with a British university, and organising English lessons with the support of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Hugo Swire said that the people of Jaffna still “face many challenges”, after meeting Northern Province Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran and journalists from the Jaffna Press Club as part of his visit to the North of the island today.
Commenting on his visit Mr Swire stated he was “pleased to have visited Jaffna”, adding,
“Northern Sri Lanka suffered much throughout the country’s long conflict and the people there still face many challenges. This was part of the reason why Prime Minister David Cameron also prioritised visiting Jaffna when he was in Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013.”
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