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Updated: November 29, 2009 15:14 IST

Minority groups from Sri Lanka to meet in Zurich

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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Sri Lankan Social Welfare Minister Douglas Devananda, heads the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP). Photo : N. Sridharan
The Hindu Sri Lankan Social Welfare Minister Douglas Devananda, heads the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP). Photo : N. Sridharan

In the first of its kind, representatives of the Sri Lanka Tamil and Muslim parties including the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, to take stock of the ground situation in the post-Prabakaran island nation, BBC Tamil service reported on Saturday.

Sri Lankan Social Welfare Minister Douglas Devananda, who heads the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), told BBC Tamil Service from Zurich that though there is no fixed agenda, the objective behind the conference was to arrive at a “common ground” on issues affecting minorities in Sri Lanka and explore options of talks on safeguarding interests of minorities with the government.

With Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka round the corner and the likely scenario of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the just retired General Sarath Fonseka being pitted against each other, the dilemmas faced by minorities could well be imagined.

The idea of the Zurich gathering has not gone down well among influential sections of the Tamil Diaspora. TamilNet in a feature titled ‘Tamil, Muslim political parties find their table in Zurich’ said, “Widely speculated as a drama backed by ‘high-powers,’ leaders of most of the Tamil and Muslim political parties in the island of Sri Lanka are meeting for the first time in Zurich, Switzerland, between Thursday and Saturday.

“The move is said to be for ‘extracting’ a joint proclamation of them necessary for further power manoeuvres in the island. A couple of years ago it was such a behind-the-scene move of some powers that made most of these parties except the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to rally behind Mahinda Rajapaksa and pledge support to him in the war that brought in disaster to the Tamils, writes TamilNet political commentator in Colombo”.

As per TamilNet Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, the parliamentary group leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Mavai Senathirajah (TNA), Suresh Premachandran (EPRLF-S, TNA), Gajendrakumar Ponnampalam (All Ceylon Tamil Congress, TNA), Arumugam Thondaman (CWC),Muthu Sivalingam (CWC), Mano Ganesan (DPA), Douglas Devananda (EPDP), P. Chandrasekaran (UPF), Ananda Sangaree (TULF), T. Sritharan (EPRLF-P), Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan (TMVP), D. Siddharthan (PLOTE) and Rauff Hakeem (SLMC) have flown to Switzerland from Colombo to take part in the conference.

The coming together of political representatives of Sri Lanka, Indian origin Tamils and Muslims is indeed an extraordinary development. The three communities have nursed grudges against the majority community, the political establishment of the day as well as among themselves.

Political parties representing these groups are divided on many lines and their affiliations vis-à-vis the majority parties in the island nation is varied. Some are with the government, some with the opposition and others in-between.

Of all the three distinct minority communities, Muslims believe that they are the victims of majority as well as minority politics and for good reasons. The oldest category of displaced persons in Sri Lanka is the minority Muslim community.

About 90,000 Muslim IDPs have been languishing in ‘temporary’ government-run welfare centres in Puttalam since 1990. They were forcibly evicted from the North by the LTTE weeks after the last soldier of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) left the shores of Sri Lanka. Suspecting their loyalties, the Tigers robbed them of their land and valuables. An outfit championing the cause of the minorities treated a minority community living in the territory under its control in a callous manner.

The Puttalam refugees, one-third the size of those displaced in Eelam War IV, have so far figured as a footnote in the ongoing debate on post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka. The Tamil Diaspora is silent on the subject and the international community behaves as if they do not exist.

Weeks after the Norway-brokered 2002 ceasefire agreement (CFA) between the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the LTTE, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Rauf Hakeem signed a pact with the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran. It promised the right of return for Muslims to LTTE-controlled areas, an end to LTTE extortion of Muslim businesses in the East, and access for Muslims to their lands in LTTE-controlled areas.

At the second round of peace talks in Thailand (October 31-November 3, 2002), the LTTE announced that it would return land and property to Muslim owners in the North and the East. None of these promises was kept, and the hopes Muslims had for some compensation remained largely unfulfilled.

In its 2007 report titled, ‘Sri Lanka's Muslims: Caught in the Crossfire’ the International Crisis Group (ICG), an NGO think-tank, had said that immediate steps should be taken to ensure the security and political involvement of Sri Lanka's Muslims if a lasting peace settlement is to be achieved.

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