• Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Sri Lanka’s president backs India’s proposal for Tamil autonomy

Tamil political parties are currently sceptical of the political will in the majority Sinhala south to fully implement the 13A

The ethnic Tamil minority community has been demanding autonomy since independence

By: Eastern Eye

SRI Lanka’s president Ranil Wickremesinghe said last Friday (5) he backed a proposal by India to provide political autonomy to the island’s minority Tamil community.

India has urged Colombo to implement the 13th Amendment, following the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987, which can be a solution for the devolution of power to the group.

Wickremesinghe said the devolution of power shouldn’t merely be a political concept, but an economic reality.

“If we examine the provisions of the 13th Amendment, there is ample authority to establish a robust local economy. We pledge not to intervene in those affairs. I am encouraging you to take the initiative,” Wickremesinghe said. His remarks came as he addressed a group of professionals in Jaffna, the capital of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province.

The 13A became a part of Sri Lanka’s constitution in 1987 through the direct intervention of then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It created nine provincial councils for nine provinces with a temporary merger of the North and East, which the Tamil minority claims is their traditional homeland.

Currently, the Western Province is the only region capable of substantial independent spending, while others are financially dependent on it, Wickremesinghe said.

“This situation warrants reconsideration. By utilising the powers within the 13th Amendment, each province can chart its course to development. It’s time to put these powers into action,” he added.

Wickremesinghe’s willingness to grant full powers (other than the police) to provinces was shot down by the powerful Buddhist clergy, which claimed the move could endanger the unitary state of Sri Lanka.

An all-political party meeting called by Wickremesinghe last year to reach a consensus on implementing the 13A ended in a stalemate.

“Take Japan, for instance, it is not a federal state, yet various departments and regions are well developed… Look at the United Kingdom – Scotland and Wales have their own developed economies. Why can’t we emulate such functioning regional economies,” the president said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which fought for a Tamil homeland for nearly 30 years had rejected the 13A.

They fought the Indian Army that was deployed as part of an Indo-Lanka Accord.

In 2013, the Tamils voted for the first time for their own chief minister for the North.

The previous provincial elections were severely hampered by the LTTE’s armed campaign. Tamil political parties are currently sceptical of the political will in the majority Sinhala south to fully implement the 13A.

The Tamils put forward their demand for autonomy since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, which from the mid-1970s turned into a bloody armed conflict. Over the years, the Sri Lankan government has been aggressive against Tamilian groups following its war with the LTTE.

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