Dispute over prisoners: TNA boycotts President’s functions in the north

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) yesterday boycotted a state festival presided over by President Maithripala Sirisena in Jaffna in protest over the failure to resolve an going issue over Tamil prisoners in custody. The boycott came after Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan wrote to President Sirisena on Thursday seeking the release of prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The President was in the North to take part in state functions in Jaffna and Kilinochchi. In Jaffna, he took part in the Tamil Language Day events to which the Opposition Leader Sampanthan was also invited. The TNA’s Jaffna district Parliamentarian S. Shritharan said they decided to boycott the function as they had not received a response to their plea to release “political prisoners’.

“We are often given various promises during his visits to Jaffna, but they are not implemented,” he said. However, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene has said that despite protests in the north, persons who have committed crimes will not be released. “The TNA, for political reasons says there are political prisoners. But there is not a category known as political prisoners. Some of them have been involved in serious offences,” he told journalists at a function in Biyagama on Frida.

As the President visited the Hindu College in Jaffna yesterday, he also faced protests by civil organisations and politicians. The President after witnessing the protests had instructed his security to stop the vehicle and walked upto those demonstrating. “The President told the protesters that he was willing to discuss any problems they faced and resolve them,” the UPFA’s Jaffna district Parliamentarian Angajan Ramanathan said.

The President spent about 10 minutes with the protesters before leaving for the main function. Among the protesters were former TNA MP Suresh Premachandran and Provincial Council member N.K. Sivajilinga. Mr Sampanthan in his letter to the President said that Tamil prisoners arrested under the PTA were held for prolonged periods and needed to be released without further delay.

He also referred to instances where some of the cases related to PTA prisoners from Vavuniya were being transferred to Anuradhapura. The transfer has sparked a hunger strike by three prisoners.

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