UPFA government and the TNA are now put to face each
other and both teams are engrossed in talks to find
a solution to the day to day problems faced by the
Tamils of North-East. Already four rounds of talks
have been held between these parties. However on
April 29 the all important talks will commence and
that will be on the political solution to the ethnic
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already promised to
offer the Tamils what he himself has described as
‘13th amendment plus’ while India, Sri Lanka’s giant
neighbour has suggested a ‘13th amendment plus
plus’. The contentious issue however seems to be in
devolving police powers to the periphery. On this
issue both the TNA and the government are sharply
divided. The TNA last week submitted its proposals
to the government outlining details of the degree of
powers that had to be devolved to the periphery.
Having submitted its proposal, the TNA is waiting
for something positive to happen on April 29. Tamil
National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian and Jaffna
district MP, Suresh Premachandran in a hard hitting
interview to The Nation said successive governments
had only prolonged the issue by merely talking
without any action.
“We have seen only talks but no action. When the
LTTE was present it was difficult for us also to
convince the governments to settle for a solution.
But now that the LTTE is defeated it should not be
difficult for the government to find a suitable
solution. We have not given up hope in this
government,” he said.
Following are excerpts:
Q: What is the progress of the talks held between
the TNA and the government so far?
There is no major breakthrough as a matter of fact.
The progress is slow. The government has asked us
several times what our requirements and needs are.
Now this question has been asked from us since the
early 70s. But nevertheless, we have given our
proposals to the government.
In the very first meeting we had with the
government, we did mention that we need maximum
possible devolution within a united Sri Lanka. We
then submitted the government our package, in which
the degree of powers that had to be devolved to the
periphery had been clearly spelled out. We are
awaiting response from the government.
Now this is about the political solution. About
the day to day issues too we have been talking with
the government and I do not see any improvement in
this regard as well. We told the government that
Tamils still in Army custody must be given an
opportunity to meet their kith and kin. First the
government said it was collecting details of these
members and later told us that they have collected
the much needed information and there has been a
data bank set up. After that the government told us
that the kith and kin were now allowed to visit this
bank and obtain any details about their loved ones.
But when we told our people about it and when they
visited the data bank in the Wanni, they were chased
out by the army.
We then reported back to the government regarding
this and the government promised to look into it.
But to date, there has not been any information
about this from the government. About 850 long term
prisoners are languishing in prisons for more than
10 years without any charges. We requested the
government to release them but there has been no
Then about resettlement, we informed the
government that there are several High Security
Zones (HSZ) and they must be reduced, to no avail.
There are refugee camps in Valigamam north. For the
last 24 years the people have been living in this
camp. In Sambur and Muthur more than 6,000 people
are in camps for more than five years. These people
have no access to their own lands. In Mullaitivu
district in the Wanni, an extent of 20 square kilo
metres of land is not accessible to the Tamils who
have their properties. This covers three Grama
Nilsdhari divisions. But they can’t go there. In
Thirumurugandi in the A9 road about 100 families are
without land because they are taken over by the
government. People in Mullaikulam in Mannar district
can’t return to their homes because their lands are
taken over by the government. So whenever we tell
all these problems to the government, the government
only listens to us without any action.
Q: But the TNA has met the government only
four times. Are you confident that future talks
would be fruitful?
We have to wait and see. The real pain of mind is
when we as peoples’ representatives visit the Tamil
areas the people plead from us asking us whether
they can see their children who are kept behind bars
by the government. Can anyone understand our plight?
So we told the government to at least release the
names of those kept in prisons so that the people
will know that their children are living. But this
has not happened. It is a violation of human rights
to deny parents or relations from visiting their
children and loved ones who are in prisons. Doesn’t
this government know about this?
Q: How confident are you that these talks
would pay dividends at the end of the day?
Well, no discussion from the inception has shown
positive results. It does not mean we are
pessimistic. We still have hopes that this
government will do something. President Mahinda
Rajapaksa is the first one who said that he will
offer us 13th amendment plus. So we are confident
that at least under his regime some change will take
Q: What do you think were the reasons for past
talks to go wrong?
The main stumbling block has been the unwillingness
on the part of the successive governments to give in
to any of our demands. Even before the Indo-Lanka
talks we had the Thimpu talks, then Mangala
Moonasinghe commission, then talks under former
Presidents like J. R. Jayawardene,
R. Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and under Ranil
Wickremesinghe and also under the present President
Under Rajapaksa we had two meaningful exercises. One
was the APRC conference and the other was the Expert
Committee meetings. The report we submitted to the
Expert Committee in my view could be the basis for
any form of dialogue. But still the government is
asking us what we want. So we feel all governments
have been in the habit of buying time and nobody
takes our problems serious. What we really don’t
understand is that when the government says one
thing, the cabinet ministers say a total different
thing outside parliament. Now we never found this
type of politics in the past.
Q: You accused the government of being the
stumbling block. But how about the LTTE. Did not the
LTTE throw out everything what was offered including
the Oslo declaration and demanded only for Eelam?
Yes, you are correct. And this is why the Tamils are
continuing to suffer in their own land.
Q: If you say the discussions on the day to
day issues are slow and without any progress, is it
prudent to talk with the government on the main
political solution on April 29?
We are doing it simultaneously. For us both are
equally important, the day to day issue as well as a
political solution. As regards the political
solution we have already given it in black and white
to the government outlining our needs. So now it is
up to the government to see whether they can
accommodate us or tell us these demands will not be
met. We are also eager to find out a decent answer
from the government. We have told the government in
no uncertain terms that if we need to have
functional institutions in our respective provinces
then we need to have powers.
Q: The other day the TNA handed over a long
list to the government mentioning about certain
powers to the periphery including the police and
land powers. One area that successive governments
have found it difficult to compromise is on the
police powers because there is a fear that this
could be misused. How do you look at it?
As long as the LTTE was present there was room to
justify this fear but now we are saying that we do
not want a separate state but want only provincial
powers under a united Sri Lanka. If you take any
other country in which powers are devolved, the
police powers are also devolved. We are not asking
for a police force with guns and missiles, but a law
enforcement authority to maintain law and order. I
don’t think there should be any fear or apprehension
Q: How optimistic are you that these proposals
will be considered by the government?
Again I want to reiterate that we do not want to be
pessimistic. Life is all to do with hopes. So we are
going on that basis. The proposal we gave to the
government is not the comprehensive set of
proposals. There is lot more to it. Whether the
government will accept it or not is not something
that worries us. We have had bitter experiences in
the past when leaders abrogated several of our
Q: What prompts only the Tamil parties to ask
for powers to their respective provinces while
others do not make any claim?
This springs from the past bitter and frightening
experiences the Tamils have undergone in the past.
Take for instance the ethnic riots, the Sinhala Only
Act, the disenfranchisement of the plantation
population and various other moves to suppress the
rights of the minority. So this is one reason why we
need to have protection and proper safeguards for
our people. Also power devolution is not something
new or unique. Almost all democratic countries have
powers devolved to the periphery. If this happens
Sri Lanka will prosper further and there can be more
investments and this is also good for the country’s
economy and of course the image of the country.
Today, as a matter of fact Sri Lanka is facing the
brunt of the International Community for various
reasons and we only want to help our own country. We
reiterate to the government that we do not want a
separate state but we want a solution within the
united Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is our country and we
too feel for it the way every Sinhalese feels.
Q: What will be the outcome at the end of the
day if all the talks fail and things return to zero?
Would there be space for another uprising?
This is why we are tiring ourselves to find a
solution. We do not want to pass this problem on to
the next generation. Right now I do not see any
possibility of an uprising. But who knows what will
happen in the future if the Tamils are continued to
be pushed against the wall. I cannot speak for the
actions of the next generation. It is up to the
leaders of this country to think about.
Q: Does the TNA have any links with the Global
Tamil Forum and the Transnational Government of
Tamil Eelam that are gaining momentum outside Sri
No. We have no connections. They have their own
agenda while we have ours. We want to solve the
problems within a united Sri Lanka while they are
clamouring for a separate state. But I hope the Sri
Lankan leaders will take us seriously and sincerely
because at the end of the day we do not like to see
such huge organizations outside our country trying
to mount pressure on our governments.
Take for instance the Oxford union incident. Now who
knew that the Diaspora could be powerful enough to
prevent President Rajapaksa from making his speech
there? So we have to be mindful of these
Q: India now wants the 13th Amendment plus
implemented. Is this another election gimmick or do
you think India is serious?
I think India is serious. In fact India has insisted
that the government talks to the TNA. The TNA has
been identified by India as a party democratically
elected by the people. And we see this as one of the
reasons why the Sri Lankan government is talking to
us. So we respect the role played by India at all
Q: You just said the present talks with the
government are on the insistence of India. Does this
augur well for the future amity of both communities
if talks are held under pressure?
This is our worry as well. If the present talks
are aimed at managing or cushioning pressure from
India or for that matter any other country, then the
end result will be pathetic.
Q: During the war it is India again that
wanted to finish the war while even US wanted Sri
Lanka to take a step back, according to the
Wikileaks. Is this because India was keen to see the
end of Prabhakaran?
Yes. India was keen to see the eradication of
terrorism. But India knows well that Tamils have a
major problem and that is why even at present India
is continuing to put pressure on the Sri Lankan
government. This is why India came out with the
Indo-Lanka accord and out of that sprang the 13th
Amendment. So from the inception India has been
playing a prudent role in the Sri Lankan ethnic
Q: There is a fear that Indian role could lead
to separatism as some key Tamil Nadu politicians are
determined to see it happening. How do you look at
India will never allow separatism and that is one
reason we are confidently going behind India and
further depending upon her for assistance. India
only wants a decent devolution to take place.
Q: Even Congress leader Sonia Gandhi is seen
extending her support to the Tamil cause. Is this
because the LTTE is defeated in your view?
That is one reason. But otherwise India is
increasingly worried about Sri Lanka’s gravitation
Q: What is the next plan after April 29?
We will have to wait and see. It depends on how the
government is going to react. We have placed
everything before the government.
Q: Earlier it was said that the TNA proposal
to the government made a week ago is confidential
and that the document will not be circulated to the
media. But how come certain Sunday newspapers had
the details of the TNA proposals?
This is not our work. That was the work of the
government. In fact we are very worried about it.
When the government told us not to leak the details
of our proposals to the media, we honoured it by not
releasing it to the media. But it is the government
that leaked the details of the document to some
I personally think this is a breach of trust and the
government should not be stooping down to such low
levels. Certainly the details of the TNA proposals
have not gone out from the TNA. I assure you.