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Lanka parties to meet again after talks on Tamil rights ends in discord

Source: PTI
July 27, 2023 15:23 IST
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The all-party meeting aimed at reconciliation and conferring full powers to Sri Lanka's provincial councils will be reconvened in a month after initial deliberations on Wednesday failed to yield any agreements, party officials said on Thursday.

IMAGE: Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe addresses the all-party conference at the presidential secretariat, Colombo, July 26, 2023. Photograph: Courtesy, President’s Media Division of Sri Lanka on Twitter

The all-party meeting was called by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to discuss the government's National Reconciliation Programme and the way forward.

MA Sumanthiran, a member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), tweeted that the Sri Lankan President's position yesterday was contrary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's wish for full implementation of the India-backed 13A.

Before his recent visit to New Delhi, Wickremesinghe at a meeting with the Tamil parties represented in the north and east provinces had agreed to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A) to the Sri Lankan constitution with all-party consensus without the police powers being granted to the provinces.


The 13A was India's pioneering move in 1987 to try and bring a settlement to the issue of political autonomy to the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

It created nine provinces as devolved units with a temporary merger of the northern and eastern provinces.

Sumanthiran said that Prime Minister Modi told Wickremesinghe to hold the stalled provincial council elections but the president had other ideas.

”But yesterday we were told to choose one or the other,” Sumanthiran tweeted. He was referring to Wickremesinghe's position that it was the political parties who must by consensus decide if the India-backed 13A should be fully implemented or scrapped altogether.

Prime Minister Modi during his talks with Wickremesinghe in New Delhi had expressed hope that the Sri Lankan leader would be committed to implementing the 13A and holding the provincial council elections. He urged to ensure a life of respect and dignity for the Tamils.

Suren Raghavan, a Tamil and a minister of state in the Wickremesinghe government, said the Tamils remained divided on the issue.

”Some of them wanted provincial elections to happen soon," Raghavan said.

The elections for the nine provinces have been on hold since 2018 following a move to introduce electoral reforms.

Even some of the Sinhala majority parties had insisted on holding elections before the full implementation of 13A to empower the councils.

Wickremesinghe has come under fire from the majority Sinhala community parties for bringing forward the issue of devolution at a time when the country was grappling with its worst-ever economic crisis.

They say the president's action was a political stunt to woo the Tamils ahead of the next presidential election due in the last quarter of 2024.

Sri Lanka has had a long history of failed negotiations to end the Tamil claim of discrimination by allowing some form of political autonomy.

The Tamils put forward their demand for autonomy after gaining independence from Britain in 1948, which from the mid-70s turned into a bloody armed conflict.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ran a military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island nation for nearly 30 years before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

According to Sri Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts, including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east, which claimed at least 100,000 lives. 

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