Sri Lanka’s major parliamentary Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on Monday expressed serious concerns over the actual motives of the closed-door meeting held in London involving Sri Lankan government, Tamil representatives and some international peace facilitators.
TNA’s official media spokesman Suresh K. Premachandran said that the secret nature of such meetings “has resulted in creating a fear whether these people are working against the Tamil people”.
The meeting took place in London on Sunday and Monday and the participators notably included Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, TNA national list parliamentarian A. Sumanthiran, director of Global Tamil Forum S.Surendran, facilitator of Sri Lanka’s failed peace process Erik Solheim and members from South Africa and Switzerland.
As their meeting in London became public by design or default, leaving room for wild speculations, Sumanthiran and Surendran had to come out in public to defend the agenda of the meeting.
They appeared in London-based Tamil television channels and claimed that the meeting was purely to explore the possibilities of effectively addressing the urgent need of the war-affected people in the north and to get the international funding. They also said that they cannot reveal everything on the agenda for “diplomatic reasons”.
At the end of the meeting on Monday, both Sumanthiran and Surendran issued a joint-statement saying that both the TNA and the GTF continued their informal dialogue over the last two days in London with various stakeholders “to enhance confidence building measures between all communities within and outside Sri Lanka”.
“The need for constructive engagement by the Sri Lankan Diaspora was discussed, including the needs of displaced people. It was agreed that a further meeting will be called to present the requirements to various High Commissioners and Ambassadors based in Sri Lanka, with the aim to raise funds for housing of over two thousand families in these newly released lands,” the statement said.
It said that the release of prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the issue of listing of diaspora organisations and individuals by the previous Government were also discussed at this meeting.
MP Sumanthiran said in London the TNA leadership was aware of this meeting and that he took part in this meeting on the direction of the TNA leadership.
The TNA spokesman MP Suresh Premachandran, however, said that the TNA leaders were unaware of such meeting and that his parliamentary colleague Sumanthiran “is not representing the TNA here”.
“I am the official spokesman of the TNA and I state with full responsibility that the TNA leaders have neither discussed about this meeting nor approved anyone to attend it on its behalf. Sumanthiran may have attended this meeting in his private capacity or as the member of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), but certainly not as a representative of the TNA. It is a blatant lie,” he told Colombo Mirror via phone.
“We don’t know what exactly they discussed there, but the time has come for TNA leader R. Sampanthan to tell the truth and clear the doubts in the minds of the Tamil people. Such secret activities will result in creating fears and hatred among the people at a time of an election,” he said.
When pointed out that the stated objective of the meeting was to get international aid for emergency relief of the war-affected people, MP Premachandran asked “why should that be kept a secret then”.
Impact on Geneva outcome
“Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who convinced the UNHRC to defer the releasing of the UN-led war crime probe report is one of the participants. Considering the timing of the meeting and the ground political realities, we fear that the meeting could favour Sri Lankan government, which looks to neutralise the international pressure on the accountability issue by seemingly engaging the local and diaspora Tamils and turning their opinions towards it,” he said.
Some of the key international human rights activists who have been pushing for an international probe into Sri Lanka’s war crimes and post-war abuses, also expressed concerns that the London meeting could be aimed at weakening the Geneva outcome in September.
“It reflects the reluctance to deal with accountability properly which pervades everything,” an activist said on condition of anonymity.
Commenting on the meeting, Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director of the International Crisis Group, Alan Keenan told Colombo Mirror that it’s a “positive sign in principle” as representatives of the government, the TNA and some diaspora organisations were meeting again to discuss issues of mutual concern.
“While I have seen no tangible evidence the meeting involved any conspiracy to undermine accountability, the suspicions about the meeting among some, particularly those in diaspora organisations not invited to the meeting, suggest that one of the major challenges of any confidence-building process between the government and Tamils in and out of Sri Lanka will be to ensure that all voices are heard and taken seriously,” he said.
He expressed hopes that the South African experts involved in previous such dialogues will be able, based on their unique experience, to communicate to Tamil and government representatives the importance of making such dialogues as inclusive as possible, even though perfect consensus will never be possible.
“Eventually expanding the circle of those involved in important confidence-building exercises like this one will be essential for them to make a sustainable contribution to reconciliation and a just settlement of Sri Lanka’s various complex conflicts,” Mr Keenan said.