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Sri Lankan president to press for reconciliation with minority Tamils

Ranil Wickremesinghe to deliver a speech in parliament next week over devolution of powers

Sri Lanka’s president Ranil Wickremesinghe (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

SRI LANKAN president Ranil Wickremesinghe plans to press ahead with the full implementation of amended legislation as part of his reconciliation efforts with the country’s minority Tamil community.

The Tamils have been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment that provides for devolution of power to the community.

Brought in after the India-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987, it created nine provinces as devolved units with a temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Wickremesinghe’s office said on Wednesday (2) that he will deliver a speech in parliament next week when it is reconvened for its regular session.

“The President will outline his plan to implement it with all powers that could be granted to provincial councils,” an official said.

During an all-party meeting last month, Wickremesinghe had said that all powers, except police powers, could be granted to the councils.

He would also submit to parliament all proposals received from different political parties on the full implementation of the legislation.

However, the main Tamil party – the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was adamant about holding the stalled provincial council elections at the talks.

The TNA cited previous Sri Lankan government statements which said full powers would be granted.

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

It now needs a parliamentary amendment to enable the elections to be held under the existing proportional representation system.

Wickremesinghe convened the all-party meeting immediately after his recent two-day visit to India during which the 13 Amendment figured prominently in his wide-ranging talks with prime minister Narendra Modi. Modi had reiterated India’s wish to see the full implementation of the legislation.

Sinhala majority parties have urged Wickremesinghe to hold the stalled council elections.

But some parties have renewed their fears that full powers to councils would pave the way for the separation of the north and east from the island nation.

The president at the all-party meeting had asserted that cross-party consensus was needed through parliament and urged parties to come on board to settle the issue.

Wickremesinghe’s parliamentary speech should happen on any day from Tuesday (8) next week, officials said.

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

They say the president’s action is 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 Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948. From the mid-70s, it 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, more than 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.

(With inputs from PTI)

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