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  Interviews  


TNA visited USA on invitation - Sumanthiran
By Arthur Wamanan

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recently went to the United States and met with several US State Department officials and the UN Under Secretary General, Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe.TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, a member of the delegation, speaks to The Nation on their visit and the displeasure expressed by the members of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) over their exclusion from the US visit and the talks with the government

Q. A delegation of the TNA recently concluded its visit to the US and Canada. What was the reason behind your visit? What were the outcomes of this visit, if there were any?
A.
We went upon an invitation made by the US State Department. In Washington, we met with three high officials in the State Department, namely Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake, Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp and Wendy Sherman of the State Department. We also met with other officials as well including congressmen and senators.
The discussions were with regard to our stand in respect of a political solution and shared our views on the issues of accountability and the work of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
We were at the United Nations (UN) in New York as well. We had an appointment with the Secretary General (SG) Ban Ki-moon on November 1 at 3.30 pm. However, it was cancelled at the last moment as he was going out of the country.
So we met with the Under Secretary General, Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe at the SG’s office. We also met with the officials of the Canadian Foreign office and the UK Foreign office.
They were keen on finding out our views being representatives of the people who were affected due to the war.

Q. What were their concerns with regard to the political situation in Sri Lanka?
A.
Their concerns were with regard to the non-fulfillment of the undertaking given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Ban Ki -moon when he was here in May 2009 with regard to a political solution, with regard to the resettlement of all the people back in their homes and with regard to setting up an accountability mechanism.

Q. There are some who are of the view that your visit to the US was not successful owing to the fact that you could not meet with dignitaries including the UN Secretary General. What do you have to say about it?
A.
Well, if meeting the SG was the target then obviously it wasn’t successful. But, SG who gave an appointment had to go abroad at the last minute. The visit cannot said to be successful or unsuccessful like that.

Q. But have you requested for another meeting with the SG sometime in the future?
A.
No. This meeting was planned because we were going there on the US State Department visit and we could go to New York while being there and met with various officials in the UN.

Q. Your visit to the US had created some friction within the TNA. The TELO had expressed their displeasure over not being included in the delegation. What do you have to say about that?
A.
To my knowledge the TELO had not expressed dissatisfaction.

Q. But, Shivajilingam did express his displeasure over this issue.
A.
Shivajilingam rejoined TELO recently. He was the one who was expelled from the TELO for violating the joint decision by the TNA not to contest Presidential Election. We broadened the TNA recently to accept the likes of Anandasangare and Sidhdharthan and in that context Shivajilingam was also taken back into the TNA. So, this has to be viewed in that context.
The TELO leadership had discussions with us before we left and they perfectly understood the delegation could not be a large one. Originally the invitation was for me and Sampanthan. But we wanted certain representation from the other parties since we were an alliance. But, we couldn’t ask for more than four people to be in the delegation. That was explained to Adaikkalanathan and he accepted that. This happened before we left.

Q. Do you think that this issue would be a problem for the TNA in the long -run?
A.
No it wouldn’t be a problem because that was resolved with the TELO leadership before we left.

Q. They had also expressed their dissatisfaction since they were not included in the team that holds talks with the government. Your response?
A.
They had never requested that they be a part of the delegation. There was to be two committees initially. One was to deal with finding a political solution and the other to do with the day-to-day affairs faced by the people.
Adaikkalanathan’s name was also included in the latter committee. Unfortunately, the President never appointed that committee. He only appointed the committee that looks into the political solution.

Q. But now this same committee is looking into the day-to-day affairs of the war affected people, right?
A.
No. We raised the immediate issues faced by the people at this forum as the other committee was not appointed. But, they really do not have the mandate to look into those things.

Q. What is the state of the talks between the government and the TNA after its recommencement?
A.
We met twice after the recommencement of the talks. We haven’t made any progress during those two rounds of talks. The third meeting is fixed for November 16. We have requested that we meet regularly after the next meeting because the budget debates would start the following week and everybody will be available here. So there cannot be an excuse that some members of the government delegation are not available. We have said that we need to see some progress before the end of the year.

Q. The TNA is still looked upon as a party that continues to carry forward the political views of the LTTE. How do you respond to that?
A.
That is a very wrong perception. The LTTE had had its main method an armed struggle, the use of violence. The TNA has never endorsed violence even during the time of the LTTE. We have very clearly stated our position with regard to that. In our meetings with the Sri Lanka Tamil community in Canada and UK, Mr. Sampanthan has told them that our objective is to find a political solution within an undivided, united country and that we cannot be running two courses. This is our clear position. And we will work towards that.

Q. How do you look at the development process that takes place in the north and east?
A.
There is no development that benefits the people. There are roads, bridges and culverts being built but they do not benefit the people. That is worse when the people do not have the roof over their heads and they have to watch all these mega projects going around them without priorities such housing and their own livelihood opportunities are not met.

Q. But, don’t you think that this issue is not confined to the North and East alone, it applies to all places in the country?
A.
Yes it is true. But the need of rehabilitation works for the people who have been resettled is far more than the rest of the country. They have lost all their belongings, their relatives and houses and have been rendered destitute. They were in temporary shelters and cannot be compared to other parts of the country. And when they have been allowed to go back to their places, they have not been given anything. Just tarpaulin sheets, tin sheets and a few sticks and the government says they are spending so much on development. That is the irony that they have all that money to spend and they have chosen not to spend it on the people.