Hard-line sections of the TNA are breathing fire against the new Prime Minister for the Government delays in releasing lands seized by the military in war time back to its original owners in the North and East.
The two major regions being contested are Valikamam North in the Jaffna District and Sampur in the Trincomalee District. In Valikamam North, the army holds 6000 acres of land, originally belonging to private citizens. The Government announced two weeks ago that it would release 1000 acres back to the original owners. Since the announcement there is little progress.
It appears the 1000 acres is the present compromise the Government has been able to exact from the military.
The frustration over the delays has resulted in a spate of protests by families of the disappeared, student activists and land owners, against both the new Government and the more moderate leaders of the TNA.
Last Thursday, a stormy meeting ensued when Prime Minister Wickremesinghe met with a TNA delegation for talks about the release of land and detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Several TNA MPs, including EPRLF Leader Suresh Premachandra, were harsh with the Prime Minister. Wickremesinghe reacted by urging calm.
“Can’t we have a civilised discussion – don’t shout at me. I understand your issues,” he said, after which the meeting proceeded calmly.
One TNA MP from Jaffna said even the usually civil TNA Leader R. Sampanthan had been palpably angry at the meeting. The return of land and the release of political prisoners held under PTA were major verbal promises made by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe before the election.
At the TNA’s first meeting with the new President, they raised two key issues, says MP M.A. Sumanthiran: the disappeared people and the release of land.
At Thursday’s meeting, Wickremesinghe asked the TNA to give him two more weeks to allow the new Army Commander to settle into office.
The new Government has also annoyed the TNA by refusing to discuss the UNHRC process and strategies with them. The reaction came in the form of the infamous ‘Genocide’ resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council, with a green light from Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, widely believed to be a moderate and rational Tamil politician.
The resolution has not been well-received in the South of the island. In light of what are seen as the Government’s genuine efforts to advance reconciliation and build bridges – even though progress might be slow – the NPC reaction appeared to be over the top and needlessly aggressive.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera believes the NPC resolution indicates the continuing lack of trust between the northern council and the Centre. “It was a surprising statement,” Samaraweera acknowledged to the Daily FT. “It shows the trust deficit between the North and the Centre and shows that building trust is of paramount importance,” he said.
Minister Samaraweera insists that requesting the deferral of the UN report was not a time-buying measure. The Government would explore the possibility of setting up a truth commission with the aid of South Africa, while also establishing a domestic accountability mechanism with technical assistance from the UN, its international partners and even human rights groups.
While the hardening positions in the North could also be put down to electoral compulsions, the trend is a dangerous one and could easily derail any real moves to build trust between the communities in the long term. In order to keep the moderates relevant within the TNA, the Government must ensure a consensus driven, consultative process on issues pertaining to the Tamil minority.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the new Prime Minister certainly faces a unique dilemma. Unpopular with nationalist sections of the south, who view him as having ‘sold out’ to the LTTE with his Ceasefire Agreement and Peace Talks in 2001-2004, he faces an uphill task winning large chunks of the Sinhala Buddhist majority.
But hardliners on the other side of the ethnic divide continue to perceive him as the Sinhala leader who heralded the defeat of the LTTE by effecting the defection of Karuna after the peace talks broke down. Now hardline sections of the TNA are convinced Wickremesinghe is engaged in a similar game to end the party’s political future.
Five days before the presidential elections in 2005, several members of the TNA visited Wickremesinghe at his Fifth Lane residence. It was close to midnight and the then Opposition Leader had been campaigning in Ratnapura. The alleged pre-election pact between his opponent’s campaign and the LTTE had already been made. But the Tigers had been convinced by certain Tamil politicians to bring their conditions to Wickremesinghe.
In April 2003, peace talks with the Wickremesinghe Government had broken down after the Prime Minister refused to give into LTTE demands to create an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) in areas of the North and East which were under their control.
In November 2005, the TNA carried the message to Wickremesinghe from the Tigers that they would allow the Tamil people to vote in the election on 17 November 2005, if he agreed to give into the ISGA condition. Wickremesinghe, whose presidency was effectively stolen from him only five days later, refused.
With that election, the man who had paid the LTTE Rs. 500 million to effect a polls boycott, became the supra-patriot in an end-justifies-the-means argument. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had refused to give into the Tiger’s political demands, became a traitor. And so the status quo has remained, largely as a result of the UNP’s own communication failures and Wickremesinghe’s own refusal to engage in public discussions about the matter.
If Wickremesinghe must in a June election, face off again against Mahinda Rajapaksa, the question of patriot and traitor will be front and centre again. The Sinhala nationalists will rally against the Prime Minister and the hardliners in the North will spew nationalistic rhetoric against him to keep any UNP attempt to secure seats in the region at bay and hold on to large majorities in the province.
To overcome the challenge, Wickremesinghe will need to carry the moderates with him, ward off any attempts to communalise the political debate surrounding the election and act swiftly to clip the wings of the former regime waiting in the shadows, by indicting them for misdeeds and corruption.
Courtesy :Daily FT