By Camelia Nathaniel
Following are excerpts of the interview;
Q:The TNA was complaining that the previous government had not allocated enough funds for the North. Has this government done anything different?
A: I don’t think that enough funds have been allocated for the Northern Province and even the budget has not brought any advantages for the Tamils and the North. In terms of allocations, I don’t think this government has done much differently than the previous.
Q:The government has not agreed to foreign judges in the investigations over alleged war crimes. Are you still insisting on bringing in foreign judges?
A:We are pressurising the government to comply with the UN recommendations and implement the recommendations made by them. It is our view that the foreign judges should be involved with the investigations as we have no faith in a local mechanism.
If a local mechanism is adopted by the government then we must say that we will not accept that these investigations are fair by the Tamil people. That is why we have insisted that the government should adopt the conditions that were laid out by the UNHRC and get the assistance of the foreign judges and involve the United States and other countries and the UN in the investigation process.
Q:During the previous regime the TNA was very critical and vocal, but now it seems that the TNA has mellowed down. Why?
A: It is not true. However unlike the previous regime who were trying to supress the Tamil people and control them, this government has assured us that they will work for the betterment of the Tamils and get them involved in the reconciliation and development process.
In fact the president has given us an assurance that he is committed to finding solutions for the issues faced by the Tamil people and would do his best to prevent the Tamils from being marginalised.
Therefore we too will cooperate with the new national government and see how things go. We are willing to work with and support the new government as we have faith in the president that he will do justice by the Tamil people.
Q:What is the current situation regarding development in the Northern Province?
A: There aren’t enough funds being allocated for the Northern Province to facilitate the development process. Development as a whole is rather slow and the needs of the people are not being met.
There is a problem of lack of employment opportunities especially for the youth and the government has not done enough to provide opportunities for people to rebuild their livelihoods and generate income. There is a lot more that needs to be done and I don’t think that the government has addressed the development issue in a broader manner. Just building roads and a few schools is certainly not enough.
Q:Has the new government addressed the issue of resettlement and how far have they progressed?
A:Resettlement is also at a standstill and other than just some portion of the people being resettled. The government had promised funds for the construction of 20,000 houses too but that again has not been done properly. I would want to see much more being done for the resettlement of the people but things are moving too slowly. There are still many people who are in temporary shelters or living with relatives as their lands have not been returned to them or even housing not being provided. Therefore I think that there is a lot more to be done and the government has to address this issue without further dragging their feet on the resettlement process.
Q:The TNA has insisted that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution be fully implemented, and that as part of the 13th Amendment, powers should be fully devolved to the provinces. What is the current situation?
A:The 13th Amendment must be fully implemented with powers fully devolved to the Northern Province. However the government has still not done this and they are still to take a firm stance. We too are in constant dialog with the government in order to try to win our demands as we feel that we should as Tamils have the right to self-govern. It’s too soon to predict the outcome of these discussions with the government and we are waiting patiently to see what the government’s response will be.
Q:There are allegations that the Tamil people are losing faith in the TNA, as they feel that they are supportive of the government and ignoring the concerns of the Tamil people. What is your response to this allegation?
A: It is not true and I don’t agree with that. The TNA has always raised their voice against the injustice to the Tamils, be it against the government or anyone else. No one else has ever stood up for the rights of the Tamil people as much as the TNA. In the future too the TNA will continue to fight for the rights of the Tamils and will stand by the Tamils at any cost. There is no one else who is capable of doing it better than the TNA.
Q:How much land in the Northern Province has been returned to the people and is this process taking place satisfactorily under the new government?
A: No certainly not. There is a lot more lands that are still being occupied by the military that has to be returned to the people but this is still not happening. Some lands were returned to the people in the East in Sampur and in Palali but this is not enough. We are still very firm on our demands that all the lands that are being occupied by the military must be returned to the people or the displaced should be given alternative lands on par with the lands that were taken away from them or paid adequate compensation for their lands.
Q: What is the NPC’s stance with regard to the current government and its policies?
A: Well so far we find no fault with regard to the policies of the current government. However having said that I must add that it is still too early as its been just over three months since the new national government was formed. Therefore it is not fair to expect everything to be done instantly. Let’s wait and see and give them enough time to address the issues at hand.
Q: In general are you happy with the maiden budget presented by the national unity government?
A: We have decided not to side with either party and will stay silent without supporting the government or the opposition. The budget has not brought any special privileges for the people of the North and we are not happy at all with the budget.
Q:Currently many farmers have taken to the streets against the government’s decision to drop the fertiliser subsidy. What is the situation with regard to the Northern farmers?
A: As far as I have heard the government is not going to stop the fertiliser subsidy to the farmers and will continue to support the farmers. If this is done the issue will be resolved.
Q:What is the latest development with regard to the releasing of Tamil political prisoners?
A:The government has promised to release the political prisoners by the 15th of this month. We too insist on releasing the political prisoners and the government should definitely release them.