Wary of a Kosovo-type fate, Colombo wants to adopt a cautious approach to the issue of political settlement of Tamils, a senior Sri Lankan official told The Hindu here.

“We need to move forward on the process of empowerment. But one problem with federalism in a small country is that it is more subject to splitting. Take Kosovo. They [The West] said give autonomy and we will guarantee unity. But two years later they supported independence. Clearly a promise should be a promise. We have to be careful,” said Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights Rajiva Wijesinha.

Conceding the need to concentrate on the political question because the first few actions of Colombo since Independence were discriminatory, Mr. Wijesinha said that with a new crop of Tamil leaders coming up, it was time to strengthen grass-roots democracy to ensure that the issues agreed upon in 1987 began to be implemented.

“There is clearly need for a new beginning in the body politic. Unfortunately, there was discrimination and violence against the Tamils in the 1970s and early 1980s. The 1983 riots were appalling and had the government support as they were not quelled immediately. Some Tamils had very bitter experiences,” he acknowledged.

Colombo believed that the settlement of 1987 should have helped to resolve several issues, but it did not happen due largely to the intransigence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as also to internal Sri Lankan politics. “Unfortunately over the next 20 years, the LTTE was able to present itself with greater success as the sole representative of the Tamil people. This was fiction. There were many Tamil groups, though they might not have had the heroic image of the LTTE. These groups became the greatest victims of the peace agreement of 2002. Unfortunately, the government was not strong enough to resist the decimation of these non-LTTE Tamil groups. The ground was swept under their feet,” Mr. Wijesinha said.

In the post-LTTE phase, what the displaced Sri Lankan Tamils returning home wanted was empowerment — the ability to decide all non-security aspects of government such as the social and educational systems, he said, pointing out that Jaffna now has a woman Mayor as does have Batticaloa in a 26-year-old.

“We have solved some initial problems but have not been implementing the provisions fast enough due to tension of the last 20 years,” the Secretary underlined.

Mr. Wijesinha pointed out that complaints of lack of job opportunities were no longer valid now that the private sector opened up in a big way.

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