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  Interviews  


Being flexible is not agreeing with govt - Sampanthan
By Arthur Wamanan
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has said it was still committed to proceed with the talks with the government. TNA Parliamentary Group Leader, R. Sampanthan says there was no truth in allegations that it was acting on instructions of the Diaspora, adding that the party had clearly stated their position on the solution to the ethnic crisis.
Sampanthan speaks to The Nation on the state of the TNA-government talks and the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC).

Following are excerpts:
Q. The government had criticised the TNA for not cooperating with them on the talks and absconding from talks with the government and affecting the smooth flow of the talks. Do you agree with this allegation?
Such criticism on the part of the government is totally unjustified. We have defined the contours of a political solution at our first meeting in January 2011. At the request of the government we submitted a written proposal in February 2011. On a further request, we submitted a more comprehensive proposal in March. The government agreed to respond to that proposal to enable a meaningful dialogue to commence. However, the government did not respond to that proposal and at our meeting on August 4, 2011, we insisted that no dates could be fixed for the next round of talks until the government came up with a response since more than four months had lapsed from the governmentís undertaking to respond, and seven meetings had been held during that period. No date was fixed for further talks.
Subsequent to a meeting between the President and me on September 2, and certain decisions arrived at the said meeting, talks recommenced on September 16. I will not, for the present, go into details of those discussions.
After talks commenced, the issues to be discussed were identified and talks have commenced on some of those issues in regard to which the government stated it had some difficulties.
The talks are continuing. We have acted with a sense of responsibility at the talks. The talks that have taken place have been around the same issues that have been considered at different times between 1987 and now.

QThe TNA has not made any new proposals.
I regret to state that it is the government, which has been the cause for the delay. We want to engage in the talks constructively. Because it is our view that reasonable, workable and durable political solution needs to be arrived at both in the interest of the Tamil people and in the interest of the country as a whole.

Q. The government had also been critical on the demands made by you, such as giving police powers to the periphery was not practicable. The government had also said the TNA should be flexible in their demands for the talks to move forward. What do you have to say about this?
All that I can say is the issues that we have raised and discussed are issues on which there have always been discussions. There has even been a measure of agreement. And it would be unreasonable to accuse the TNA of not being flexible. Being flexible does not mean agreeing to the government, retracting from positions already accepted.

Q. There are also allegations that the TNA is acting on the instructions of certain sections of the Diaspora and not working on the interest of the people. Your response?
It is extremely unfortunate that the government makes this allegation. I am aware that the government is in possession of addresses delivered by me to the Tamil diaspora both in North America and the United Kingdom when I was there recently. Far from being influenced by the Tamil Diaspora, we have very truthfully told them that on our part., we will make a constructive contribution towards achieving a reasonable, workable and durable political solution. A vast majority of the Tamil Diaspora is in agreement with this position.
Instead of making unfounded accusations, the government should deliver on its commitment to evolve an acceptable political solution.

Q. Do you see the talks heading towards a positive end considering the negative reactions by the government?
We are committed to doing everything reasonably possible to make the talks a success. There has to be positive contribution by the government also for success to be achieved. We will appeal to the government to make a positive contribution.
Q. The government has come with a proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and has said it was awaiting your representations to it. However, you are yet to nominate members from the TNA to the proposed PSC. Why are you delaying it? Are there chances of you joining the PSC at any point of time?
Bilateral talks between the government and the TNA started in January 2011. There was no talk of a PSC at that point of time. Proposals with regard to a PSC came up only in August/September 2011. The discussions between me and the President dealt with issues pertaining both to the bilateral talks and the PSC. These matters have also been referred to in the minutes of the talks between the TNA and the government delegation.
The TNAís future course of action will be consistent with the agreements arrived at as recorded in the minutes of the bilateral talks.

Q. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recently came up with its report. You have expressed disappointment over the content of the report. At the same time, countries like Canada that were critical of the government on issues related to human rights had commended the report while making their own reservations. Donít you think that the recommendations by the LLRC would provide some basis on which the crisis could be solved?
The LLRC recommendations are a mixed bag. Ever since the report of the Panel of experts appointed by the Secretary General of the UN came out and ever since the international community commenced highlighting the matters contained in that report, the government has endeavored to make out that the report of the LLRC will deal with the issues covered by the Expert Panel report. That was primarily on the issue of accountability pertaining to violations of international human rights laws and humanitarian laws.
We do not accept the report of the LLRC on the issue of accountability. It is our considered view that the victims of the war, many thousands of Tamil civilians have good reason to be disappointed with the report of the LLRC.
We have referred to the several violations that occurred in the course of the conduct of the war as and when they happened, in Parliament. And these are a matter of record. We know the truth with regard to what happened. We had no alternative but to state the truth in the statement we issued. We could not fail in this duty by the victims of the war.
We do acknowledge that the LLRC report also refers to a number of other matters pertaining to a political solution such as language, law and order, disarming of paramilitary groups, detainees and so on. Some of these matters were also referred to in the interim recommendations of the LLRC made more than one year ago.
The LLRC itself has lamented that the Sri Lankan State has not implemented those interim recommendations.
Given the track record of the Sri Lankan State, one has to await the implementation of whatever other recommendations had been made by the LLRC before believing that these would become a reality.
In our initial statement we have also stated that we would be making a comprehensive statement in due course and these matters will find preference in the comprehensive statement that we will make.