The decision by the Government to engage with the Diaspora and get them involved in some of the post war activities in Sri Lanka has drawn mixed reactions.
Foreign Minister Mangala Smaraweera’s recent visit to London to meet the Tamil Diaspora groups was debated mainly due to lack of transparency established initially.
Even though, the idea was presumably to explore ways in which the Sri Lankan Diaspora could assist Sri Lanka by bringing its exceptional capacity and capabilities to support the reconciliation process, some local Tamil politicians expressed the view that the government should give the primary focus on engaging in a discussion with the local Tamil groups to reach a political settlement rather than trying to satisfy the Diaspora groups.
Issuing a joint statement TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran and Director General of Strategic of Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Suren Surendiran stated that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) continued their informal dialogue recently in London with various stakeholders to enhance confidence building measures between all communities within and outside Sri Lanka – and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera was also present. According to the statement, the need for constructive engagement by the Sri Lankan Diaspora was discussed, including the needs of displaced people. “It was agreed that a further meeting will be called to present the requirements to various High Commissioners and Ambassadors based in Sri Lanka, with the aim to raise funds for housing of over two thousand families in these newly released lands. The release of prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in the light of the review by the Ministry of Justice was also discussed. The TNA and the GTF further raised the issue of listing of Diaspora organisations and individuals by the previous Government,” it stated.
However, speaking to The Sunday Leader Suresh Premachandran said that the TNA was completely unaware of the discussions that took place recently in London. Nevertheless, he said that the reconciliation must first happen in Sri Lanka through a political settlement before engaging in a dialogue with the Diaspora. “The issue is that this whole discussion seemed to be a secret. We do not know anything about this dialogue other than what we heard from media. Earlier also they had a dialogue in Singapore last month with Minister of External Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Sumanthiran and several other Tamil Diaspora groups. We didn’t know about that either,” he said. Premachandran added that there is much more to be done within Sri Lanka towards reconciliation – there are still issues related to resettlement and land pending – no solutions on the issue related to Tamil political prisoners and enforced disappearances etc and in this context there is nothing much that the Diaspora can do and the solutions should come within the country.
He further noted that even though a new domestic investigation was promised by the present government to investigate over alleged war crimes and human rights violations, there has not been any progress. “We have been insisting on an international investigation. The current president also appointed a Sri Lankan armed force commander who was accused of war crimes to high ranking position in the Sri Lankan army which raises serious concerns regarding the commitment of the government to initiate a credible process. In this context, how can they have a proper investigation?” Premachandran asked.
Leader of the EPDP Douglus Devananda told The Sunday Leader that the Tamil Diaspora also has two groups – one group pro-reconciliation and another group against reconciliation.
“We were initially not aware of the recent dialogue that the government had with the Diaspora groups in London. After inquiry the feeling was that the government had engaged in a dialogue with those who are against reconciliation. Unlike them, there has been a group willing to support the reconciliation process throughout. The government should also engage in a dialogue with those who are pro-reconciliation. ,” he added. According to him, he was the first to join the political main stream putting a step forward towards reconciliation whereas many Tamil political parties failed to do so. “I joined the political mainstream because I believed that we could find a settlement only through reconciliation. However there is still part of the Diaspora that is not ready for reconciliation. Discussions with them may amount to nothing much,” Devanada added.
However he noted that the Diaspora can help in the reconciliation process in various ways – through financial investments in the North and East to create livelihood options and other income generation programmes, financial aid for rehabilitation, resettlement, development, creating self employment options and uplifting the lives of the war affected people.
Meanwhile Devananda added that the EPDP welcomed the investigations over alleged war crimes and human rights violations. “Because there were a lot of allegations levelled against my party just to satisfy certain ulterior political motives of some groups. For example certain elements pointed the finger at EPDP for the murder of Raviraj and Maheswaran to tarnish our image – whereas now it’s being revealed that we had nothing to do with that. Therefore we welcome any genuine local or international investigations to look into these allegations,” he said. Devanada also pointed out that a credible investigation is required to find out what really happened, to punish those who were involved in crimes, to give justice and compensation to affected people. However, he pointed out that the investigations should support the reconciliation and should not be counter productive.
According to Leader of TULF Ananda Sangaree, External Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera has taken a risk of going to London to start a dialogue with Diaspora groups and the ITAK – a party that had been hailing LTTE ideologies.
He expressed his disappointment of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasignhe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for not contacting him or his party about the discussions that the government has initiated with the Diaspora. He accused most of the Diaspora of holding pro LTTE ideas. “People may say now the LTTE is no more – I am not going to vouch for anything on that. However, when it comes to the Tamil Diaspora, they have not been genuine or honest in their dealings with regard the Tamil problem and in addressing the Tamil issue. They have had their own agenda. I am sure that the Diaspora probably has been misleading them. Minister Mangala Samaraweera has mistakenly taken a huge risk and he is playing with fire,” Sangaree expressed his views. According to him, Samaraweera should first focus on sorting out the matters locally. He added that the Diaspora will not help the reconciliation in Sri Lanka and they do not have the intention to do so. “The Diaspora has been misleading the TNA crowd and TNA is still taking orders from them. Meeting the Diaspora is as good as accepting the leadership of LTTE. The government is losing an opportunity to bring this country back to normalcy,” he noted.
Rudrakumaran Questions TalksHead of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) V. Rudrakumaran says there is nothing new about political entities becoming involved in official or unofficial talks pertaining to the Tamil National Question as well as the urgent and immediate needs of the Tamil people.
Rudrakumaran told The Sunday Leader that as a legal advisor to the LTTE, he has taken part in many rounds of talks in the past and he is also well aware of the duplicitous drama staged by the Government of Sri Lanka during such talks.
“When launching into talks of this kind, it is not only the subject matter of the talks that should be taken into account but also the timing of the talks, the motives of the parties to the talks, and who will gain more from entering into such talks. Whoever engages in talks on behalf of the Tamils should only speak from the perspective of Tamil interest,” he said.
Rudrakumaran also said that a number of questions and concerns come to the surface in relation to talks held last week, including that the timing of the talks coincide with the expression of support by the international community to the efforts taken by Sri Lankan Government to convert the international investigation started by the UNHRC into a domestic investigation with international involvement.
He says the UN appears to have allocated initial funding for this as well and the recent talks are being used to create the impression that the domestic investigation was setup with the support of the Tamils.
“When the parties to the talks are hiding even the identity of the participants from the international community at the talks, one begins to doubt the truthfulness of their assertion about what was discussed there,” he said.
He also noted that with respect to people’s urgent and immediate needs, there are plenty of issues to be discussed at home where the Tamil representatives are. Their attempts instead to talk with the Diaspora raises the question whether this is in fact an exercise to weaken the campaign for rights by the Tamil Diaspora.
“The present government is to be a short lived one with parliamentary elections likely to happen soon. Nothing much will eventuate in terms of long term outcomes for Tamils with this interim government structure. Therefore, the urgency surrounding these talks brings up questions whether the talks are genuinely in the interest of the Tamils,” he added.
Rudrakumaran said that doubts have also been expressed as to whether the decision to hold these talks came as official positions of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) or indeed it was based on decisions of the individuals who participated in the talks.
“Therefore, we call upon the TNA and GTF to tell the Tamil people their official position with regards to these talks. If they were official talks, they are obliged to inform the Tamil people the rationale for the talks and the matters discussed in the form of an official report,” he said.
Rudrakumaran also said that the Government did not invite the TGTE to talks. He said that since the TGTE’s position with respect to the Tamil National question includes the holding of a referendum that includes the creation of an independent state as an option; referral of Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the establishment of an international mechanism to enable the Tamil Diaspora to contribute to the development of Tamil homeland, the Government cannot realise their political motivation by engaging in talks with the TGTE and this may be the reason why the TGTE was not invited.
Mangala Urges Lankan Diaspora To Return Home
He also urged the Diaspora to stop thinking in narrow, parochial terms and call themselves Sri Lankan Diaspora and not be defined on ethnic lines by labeling themselves as the Sinhala Diaspora, Tamil Diaspora or the Muslim Diaspora.
“Let there be unity in our diversity. The new Sri Lanka we all dream of will be a celebration of our multi ethnic, multi religious, multi cultural country. We hope that they use the talent and skills they have gained over the years, to help us accelerate our development and enrich our thinking. We should strive to reverse the brain drain during the long years of conflict and ensure that Sri Lanka will now receive all the benefits of a brain gain at this crucial time of her history,” he said.
Samaraweera said this at a function held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with the Ministry of Public Order and Christian Religious Affairs jointly handed over Dual Citizenship Certificates to recipients. Samaraweera said that dual-citizens are in a privileged position of being a bridge – bringing Sri Lankans closer together and enabling them to travel together again.
The Foreign Minister said that the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena realises the true value of the Diaspora community and welcome all of them as Sri Lankan citizens