Ranil’s Ambition Punctured by TNA’s Disappointment
By Siva Parameswaran – Senior International Journalist, London
A week’s time is too long in politics. The ambitious dream of President Ranil Wickremesinghe to find a solution to the decades long ethnic issue might become a damp squib(d) as the main Tamil party – the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has expressed its deep disappointment over some of its preconditions not being met.
Led by veteran parliamentarian R. Sampanthan the TNA may abruptly end its talk with the president if there is no progress in what the government calls reconciliation efforts. TNA has demanded returning of lands still forcefully occupied by the security forces, in particular the army and the release of political prisoners as a precondition for the talks to proceed further.
TNA spokesperson and Jaffna district MP Sumanthiran told the media after the initial meeting that a note has been given to the government outlining their stand and precondition for the talks.
“After the last meeting returning of lands and releasing of political prisoners were scheduled to be discussed in the meeting earlier this month. Unfortunately, there is no development in that so far”.
Disappointment of the TNA and the future of the talks itself being in limbo is clearly visible. The army has usurped huge tracts of land to create camps under various ‘Headquarters Brigade’ which includes private, state, and department lands. Although most of the lands in the Jaffna peninsula have been released by the army and returned back to the public, certain pockets of most fertile lands albeit comparatively small in area, are still under the control of the Sri Lankan Army.
Even on the day the initial talks were held with the President public in the North staged a strong
unified protest and stopped further land grabbing attempts. TNA has been consistently insisting on the
full implementation of the 13th amendment in spite of making its stand clear that it can just be the basis
for further devolution of power and not a solution by itself. Other Tamil parties too echo similarly.
For the talks to continue TNA is particular about concrete action on land return and the release of
political prisoners. The delay in both has been a major issue since the end of the bloody war.
A journey from Mullaithivu to Jaffna via Kilinochchi is ample proof of the widespread Military and Naval camps along the traditional Tamil homeland.
The non-return of land coupled with further land grabbing has badly affected the livelihood of tens of thousands of people in the Vanni area.
S u m a n t h i r a n further said the TNA would be handing over a note on how to proceed beyond the 13th amendment, meaningful devolution of power, and putting into place a truly federal system.
The Tamils in the North and East want their traditional homeland to be a united single province for evolution of power. Land powers to the provincial councils as envisaged in the Indo-Lanka accord if devolved in full would ensure complete control of the land area rests with the elected Provincial Councils which in turn would ensure private lands being returned to their rightful owners, while government and
department lands are used for the designated purpose and stop further land grabbing.
TNA is very particular about these two things, Sumanthiran reiterated. “We were told that those two things would be taken forward in the meeting on the 10th. The government side has put forward various reasons for this. They say some more formalities are yet to be completed in this regard. So, nothing has moved forward in those aspects. We need to see developments by the 10th of January”.
As expected, nothing tangible was put forward in the meeting on the 10th. And now a ‘grace period’ of a week-till the 17th has been granted for the President to sort out things failing which it could be ‘do or die’ for him in potentially putting forward an ‘acceptable political solution’.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe has planned to visit Jaffna on the 15th in connection with Thai Pongal and the Tamils hope he would announce returning the private lands under the control of the army. And his decision either wise is considered crucial to the talks between the government and the TNA.
“The president has said when he visits Jaffna on the 15th he will come to an understanding with the army. We will make our position clear on the meeting to be held on the 10th and the decisions taken on that date will decide if the talks will go forward or not”. As Sri Lanka celebrates its 75th Independence Day on 4th February,
President Wickremesinghe has repeatedly said in recent times that he would like to resolve pending
issues including the vital solution to the long-time ethnic issue.
P o l i t i c a l analysts say Ranil Wickremesinghe would like to leave a legacy and claim credit for finding a solution to the ethnic issue during his tenure as President which may be his last in Public Office.
Earlier this month, in what was described as a courtesy call former President and leader of the Sri Lanka
Podujana Peramuna Mahinda Rajapaksa met ailing TNA leader Sampanthan at his home. During this
meeting, it is understood Mahinda Rajapaksa assured Sampanthan that his party would
wholeheartedly support any political solution.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe survives in office based on the support offered by Mahinda’s party. Subtly but equally the Sri Lankan Military has a say in returning the lands to the individuals.
If the President is unable to use his executive powers and the powers as the Commander-in-Chief
of the armed forces in forcing the military to return the lands within a timeframe and assure the TNA
and the other Tamil Parties as well as the Tamils, his ambitious plans of finding a solution the national
ethnic question is bound to be derailed.
This is amply clear in a tweet by Sumanthiran recently following the invitation from the President for the talks. “We will engage constructively in every sincere attempt as we have always done but will not
allow any farcical process”.
Whether the talks go forward or not depends on President Wickremesinghe’s reply to the two vital questions put forward by the TNA. It’s also an acid test for his leadership.
low res pgs Jan 13 2023 (002).pdf (Uthayan News January 13, 2023