By Ananth Palakidnar
?: A few days ago TNA met in Colombo and discussed on holding talks with the Government on political issues. Could you brief us on the discussion?
A: It was a discussion based mainly on the Constitutional Assembly (CA) to be formed. The TNA has also formed a steering committee to go with the representations from the constituent parties. The Tamil political prisoners’ issue and the TNA’s role in the Constitutional Assembly were also discussed. The TNA has not deviated from the last year’s election manifestos.
With the formation of the CA the TNA will hold talks with all political parties to reach a solution for the question. We believe that the new political atmosphere is conducive for a political solution to the Tamil question. The new steering committee of the TNA will be led by R. Sampanthan with the representations from all constituent parties.
?: What is the TNA stance in drafting a new Constitution?
A: The earlier Constitutions had failed to address the minority issues. Therefore any new arrangement must lead to a durable solution to the ethnic question. The TNA is for a solution based on an extensive devolution of powers. The TNA has already mentioned that a merged North and East Province with the devolution of adequate powers could only be the solution to the problem.
The Government leaders should realize that the errors made in finding a solution to the ethnic question in the past must not happen again. The TNA will use the opportunities available in the CA to deal with the ethnic issue.
?: In the recent past there were differences between the TNA hierarchy and the TNA led Northern Provincial Council by Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran. How does the leadership deal with this situation?
A: The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is a separate body which consists of all political parties. The differences between some of the TNA Councillors and the TNA leadership surfaced recently. The NPC has 38 members and 30 of them are TNA Councillors. The TNA leadership has realized the importance of maintaining a good coordination with the NPC’s TNA Councillors. The necessity of holding frequent meetings between the TNA’s NPC Councillors and the TNA hierarchy has now been realized to avert any misunderstandings in the future. Now the TNA leadership has decided to visit Jaffna where the TNA leader will hold talks with the Chief Minister and other NPC Councillors of the TNA.
?: Some of the constituent parties in the TNA have requested that the alliance must be registered as a political party. How do you consider this request?
A: Technically the Election Commission has recognized the TNA as an alliance of four registered political parties. So registering the TNA as a political party with four other constituent parties aligned to the TNA will be another issue. Therefore, suggestions have been made by certain constituent parties to bring about a memorandum of understanding within the alliance.
The Tamil political prisoners’ issue remains a big challenge to the TNA. The TNA in its election manifesto last year prioritized the issue of Tamil political prisoners. The Tamil political prisoners who were on hunger strike demanding their release has called off their strike following the announcement made by the Attorney General on expediting the legal proceedings with regard to their cases. We realize that there are certain obnoxious provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). With the new constitutional arrangements the existing PTA is expected to be repealed. This is a political issue. The political prisoners have been detained for nearly 10 to 15 years and even more than that. While expediting the legal process to release them, the cases should be taken up on the arrestees of very recent years with regard to their activities.
?: The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)of Valikamam North are still on the warpath over regaining their original lands despite the Government’s announcement of expediting the resettlement process. What is the TNA’s view on this issue?
A: President Maithripala Sirisena was in Jaffna yesterday (12). We hear that some of the IDPs have not got their deeds for the lands released to them. So the President was expected to hand over the deeds to those who have got their original lands during his stay in Jaffna yesterday. The Government has expedited the process to release the lands. However, there are several issues to be sorted out. The TNA will stand by the IDPs regaining their legitimate lands. The IDPs cannot be allowed to be in makeshift shelters anymore.
Recently there were incidents of surveying the land areas by the security forces. Navy has attempted to survey the land areas in Senthankulam in Keerimalai. This sort of action cannot be allowed to be continued. The TNA strongly opposes any move by the Government to acquire lands in the North for military purposes.
?: How about the land acquisition for the intended Palaly Airport expansion?
A: Expanding Palaly as a regional Airport is good. However, the fertile land of the people should not be grabbed for the expansion. We had discussions over the issue with the Government. Instead of acquiring new lands for the expansion, extending the airport within the land areas belonging to it is presently being explored. Palaly becoming a regional airport in the Peninsula is significant. It will provide job opportunities in the North. The Tamil expatriates will also have an easy access to the North. However, the expansion shouldn’t be carried out by acquiring the lands of the people. The Palaly Airport has already been extended to a great extent during the turbulent period.
?: What is your observation on the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons (PCMP)? The people who gave evidence before the PCMP have expressed their dissatisfaction saying that its proceedings are not going to take them anywhere.
A: We understand the feeling of the families of the disappeared persons. There is a long delay in the functions of the PCMP.
The foreign dignitaries who are monitoring the PCMP have also expressed their concerns over the delays and the credibility of the Commission.
The Government has assured us to set up an office to work on the findings of the Commission so far. The new office must launch the investigations on the missing persons on the basis of the findings and the evidence gathered by the commission.
?: The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is expected to speak on his Lankan assignment at the 32nd session of the UNHRC in Geneva in June this year. What have you got to say about it?
A: Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had an extensive tour in the island in February. He had even visited the people affected by the war. He had met the leaders of all political parties. So his findings on his Sri Lankan assignment are widely expected. The Human Rights Commissioner had emphasized on several aspects with regard to the protection of human rights in the island. He had also expressed his concerns on the disappeared persons. The TNA believes that he would submit his report with constructive suggestions on enhancing the protection of human rights in the island.
?: What is the state of the investigations into the alleged war crimes and human rights violations during the final phase of the war?
A: The TNA is firm on its stance on the investigations into the alleged war crimes. A special committee has been formed under the chairmanship of Manouri Muttetuwegama which is currently holding meetings on the public views with regard to reconciliation. The Government also realizes the importance of expediting the investigation process under the guidance of foreign experts. The UNHRC has also emphasized on the need of holding a free and fair investigation.
?: The TNA leader R. Sampanthan and you were in Scotland recently. Do you have any idea of making the suggestion to form a Scottish type of Federalism?
A: We were in Scotland a couple of weeks ago to study how the powers are devolved in the countries with multi-ethnicities. We were studying on the systems in Spain, India, Britain, Belgium and the Ache Province in Indonesia. No decision was taken at the Scotland discussion which was organized by the University of Edinborough. The meetings there had been very useful in studying various power sharing systems