The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has decided to support the Sri Lankan Opposition consensus presidential nominee General (retired) Sarath Fonseka, an announcement by United National Party (UNP) which is leading the alliance in support of the General.
It came within hours after the retired General, in a bid to get the support of Tamil voters, on Monday handed over to TNA leader R. Sampanthan a document pledging to address their concerns on the nearly three lakh war displaced.
While indications are that a majority in the Tamil Alliance will back the retired General in the January 26 poll, there has been no formal word from the TNA on their interactions with the former Army chief.
TNA, an alliance of militant-turned-political groups stitched together by LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran in 2001, has had its share of problems after the military defeat of the LTTE in the Eelam War IV (July 2006 to ay 2009).
In fact, one of the senior parliamentarians from the alliance, K. Sivajilingam is contesting the Presidential as an independent candidate. At least one TNA parliamentarian has extended support to ruling front’s candidate President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
For several weeks now, the TNA leaders have been negotiating separately with the President on the conditions under which they could consider endorsing his effort to secure a second term.
The document handed over to the TNA by the retired General among others commits Fonseka to lift the state of emergency (in vogue since August 2005) in the country at the earliest, release all the persons who are in detention without any evidence within one month of coming to power and grant general amnesty to those who were engaged in war activities and help in their rehabilitation.
The text of Fonseka document reads:
I Restoration of Civil Administration and Normalcy
1. Full restoration of all institutions of Civil Administration from the Office of Grama Sevaka upwards – Free from Military, Police and Political interference.
2. Committees for each District headed by the respective District Secretary (GA), and comprising,
-Nomine of the President
-Other Officials (Representatives of such Officials)
-Members of Parliament / Their Representatives
-Representatives of Local Authorities
-Securities Forces /Commanders / Officers North / East
-DIG – Police /Officers
-Civil Society Representatives
To prepare Plan Action for immediate implementation within one month.
Monthly Reports on progress to be submitted to the President, Cabinet and Parliament.
A dedicated Secretariat to be established under the President to monitor progress and ensure implementation.
3. The immediate measures stated herein to be implemented through Presidential Orders, including appointing Presidential task Forces therefor.
4. Securities Forces to be stationed at strategic location only, taking into consideration national security. High Security Zones to be dismantled in keeping with the re-location of the Security Forces.
5. Free movement of all persons to be guaranteed without being impeded by Security and Police personnel.
6. Polce to be manned, as far as practicable by Officers, who are conversant in Tamil.
II. Prohibition of ‘para-military cadres’ and armed groups (self styled ‘war loads’)
1. All ‘para-military cadres’ and ‘armed groups’ to be disarmed forthwith.
2. Areas of civilian activity to be free of weapons.
3. Except the Security Forces and Police, only persons with permits under the Firearms Ordinance, would be entitled to possess firearms.
III Re-settlement and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons.
1. De-mining of areas to be speedily concluded, through De-mining Units.
2. Displaced persons to be returned to their original homes, and where homes have been destroyed alternative accommodation to be provided, with financial support to establish themselves and develop livelihoods.
3. Social infrastructure requirements, such as provision of essential Foods, Medical Centers, Hospitals, Schools, Transport, etc., to be provided.
IV Land & Agriculture
1. Restoration of possession of private land and buildings, now occupied by Security Forces / Police Government Agencies, to those lawfully entitled to such land and buildings.
2. Committees referred to in 1.2 above to arrange for such restoration.
3. Committee to submit a Scheme to the Government for payment of compensation for damage caused to buildings.
(a) Eviction of persons legitimately entitled to State Land from such Lands
(b) Other instances of deprivation of legitimate title holders of State Lands, and
(c) Unlawful occupation of State Lands
To be reviewed and the position regularized on lawful and just basis.
V Indiscriminate alienations of State Lands to be terminated. Allocations thus far made to be reviewed and cancelled, where such allocation:
-has not been transparent, or
-lacked equal opportunity to all concerned, or
-lacked proper consultation with the elected Representatives of the areas concerned, or
-are unwarranted, or
-has been on a corrupt basis
VI Relief packages for full cultivation of lands
VII A special law enacted to decide on disputes, as to ownership and succession of lands.
1. Full restoration of fishing rights
2. Joint Committees to be set-up of Representatives of those engaged in the fishing industry and the Navy to ensure security.
6. Trade and Commerce
1. All barriers in respect to transport of passengers, goods, agricultural and fisheries produce to be eliminated forthwith.
2. No payments (‘Kappang’) to be levied by anyone. Stringent action to be taken against those who do so.
1. Trains service to be restored. without delay within the Jaffna Peninsula, i.e. Elephant Pass to Point Pedro.
2. All implements for shipping and air transport to removed, with effective facilities which would ensure a reduction of costs of shipping and air transport.
3. Establishment of a new rail line, with private sector participation, from Point Pedro to Trincomalee.
8. Special Relief Packages
1. For dependents of all persons, who have lost their lives during the war, including military and police personnel, and civilians.
2. For persons disabled, as result of the war.
9. Persons in Detention
1. Release of all persons in detention, within a period of one month against whom, there is no evidence, and on the basis that such detention would not be a stigma or a set back for their future.
2. Rehabilitation of those persons, who had been engaged in war activities, on the basis of a general amnesty.
10. An overall measure affecting all Sri Lankans:
The State of Emergency presently in force and the Regulation made there under to be terminated, since it affects the liberties and fundamental rights of all People, in accordance with my Pledges General Sarath Fonseka”.
Incidentally Fonseka, at his maiden political rally at Jaffna on Saturday, had committed on many of these points. At the gathering he had agreed to dismantle the high security zones in the peninsula, de mine and expedite resettlement of nearly three lakhs war displaced and grant all fishing rights in the region.
Decision of the leadership of the TNA to back the candidature of the retired General is bound to trigger a debate within the Tamil circles inside and outside the island nation as most Tamils till very recently regarded Fonseka as one of the main architects of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Besides, the wide perception that it was the former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka who as the Commander of Jaffna had insisted on the continuation of the high security zones and paved the way for the collapse of the peace talks between the Tigers and the then Government headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe initiated after the 2002 Norwegian brokered ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and the then government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
With the decision of TNA to rally behind the retired General, the spirit of the understanding among the representatives of Sri Lankan Tamil and Muslim parties including the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance that met for first time at Zurich in the fourth week of November in an attempt to evolve a common approach towards the Presidential election and protect the interests of the minorities in Sri Lanka stands evaporated.
However, the TNA can not be blamed for the situation. In fact, it was one the last groupings to take sides. Several of the parties affiliated with the Tamils and Muslims have already declared their loyalties either in favour of the sitting President or the retired General.
The Switzerland meeting was the first of its kind in the post-British independent history of the island nation. Among others who took part in the deliberation of the two day conference were Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, the parliamentary group leader of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Suresh Premachandran (EPRLF-S, TNA), Gajendrakumar Ponnampalam (All Ceylon Tamil Congress, TNA), Arumugam Thondaman (CWC), Muthu Sivalingam (CWC), Mano Ganesan (DPA), Anandasangaree (TULF), Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan (TMVP), D. Siddharthan (PLOTE) and Rauff Hakeem (SLMC).
A joint statement at the end of the conference had appealed for unity to develop an effective common programme to hold the government accountable for the protection of minorities, and to act as a serious and dependable negotiating partner representing the demands of minorities in the development of meaningful proposals for reform in the island nation.
Political parties representing these groups are divided on many lines and their affiliations vis-À-vis the majority parties are 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 the majority as well as minority politics and for good reasons. The oldest category of displaced persons 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.