The first of its kind Zurich conference of representatives of Sri Lankan Tamil and Muslim parties including the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) held from November 20 to 22 in a joint statement has 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.

A joint statement released here said, “We, the representatives of the political parties of the Tamil-speaking peoples unanimously: Affirm the historic meeting enabling an exchange of views, and express a full commitment to a common forum among representatives of all Tamil-speaking peoples;

“Recognize ‘Tamil-speaking peoples’ comprises three distinct peoples: Tamils, Muslims, and Tamils of Indian origin; Respect the distinct and separate identities, interests and positions of the parties;

“Recognize and affirm the need for unity and consensus among the Tamil-speaking peoples while acknowledging differences with regard to some issues and the paths to pursue them;

Commit to the engagement by all segments of society towards a just and durable political solution through a dignified, respectful and peaceful process; Agree and commit to continuing our dialogue”.

Just and durable political solution

A press release on the conclave said that those who participated in the three day deliberations committed themselves to the engagement by all segments of society towards ‘a just and durable political solution’ in the island through a dignified, respectful and peaceful process and agreed to continue the discussions.

The outcome of the consultations among Sri Lanka Tamil and Muslim parties nominees in Switzerland is to be seen against the backdrop of the January 23 Presidential election, prospect of a direct contest between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the just retired General Sarath Fonseka and the feverish debate among the political parties in the island nation on the pros and cons of an Executive Presidency.

There is little doubt that Tamil and Muslim parties in Sri Lanka are in a dilemma on the options before them on the Presidential poll and several other issues confronted by people in the post-Prabhakaran era.

Write-up on Groundviews

This came to surface a few days ago when Mano Ganeshan, leader of Sri Lanka’s Western People’s Front (WPF) and Colombo district parliamentarian, disclosed in a write-up on Groundviews, a Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative (http://www.groundviews.org/).

In a lengthy response to criticism on how a party which claims to represent aspirations and concerns of Tamils could even consider the General who spearheaded the Eelam War IV, Mr. Ganeshan said his party had sent a set of questions to General Fonseka and was awaiting his response.

Mr. Ganeshan was scheduled to have met Gen. (retd) Fonseka on Tuesday evening. The Western People’s Front leader could not be reached as he is believed to be busy in consultations with leaders of opposition parties.

“Until then we will say that if his [General Fonseka] answers satisfy us we will decide positively. It is logical. Isn’t it? First let him answer. We are also discussing with the main opposition for alternative candidates. We are also discussing among the Tamil and Muslim parties. There are some efforts made from the government side too for some discussions with me,” Mr. Ganeshan had said in his Groundviews note.

He maintained that as a party which represents the oppressed Tamil minorities, it maintains dialogues with all sources and cannot always be very ambitious and rigid. “We will be wiped off if we refuse to answer all the calls we receive. We cannot be another LTTE. We value engagements.”

Mr. Ganeshan had said a “deadly” silence was maintained by all Tamil leaders since General Fonseka’s name was proposed as the common opposition candidate. “But we spoke at the appropriate time and initiated a national dialogue in the media, street corners, households, offices, among the political parties etc.

“Drama backed by high-powers”

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 Tamils, writes TamilNet political commentator in Colombo”. After posting the feature, the web site has gone silent on the Zurich confabulations.

The Zurich initiative press release said, “The conference from 20 to 22 November 2009, titled “The role of the elected representatives of Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim population in a process of national reconciliation, reconstruction and reform” was jointly organised by the Tamil Information Centre (TIC), the International Working Group on Sri Lanka (IWG) and the Initiative on Conflict Prevention through Quiet Diplomacy (ICPQD) at the University of Essex.

“It was hosted by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The following Tamil parties were represented at the conference: All Ceylon Muslim Congress, All Ceylon Tamil Congress, Ceylon Workers Congress, Democratic Peoples Front, Eelam People’s Democratic Party, Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front, Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students, Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, Pathmanabha Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front, People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal , Tamil National Alliance, Tamil United Liberation Front and Up-Country Peoples Front”.

Extraordinary development

The coming together of the representatives of Tamil and Muslim parties is an extraordinary development. The three communities (Sri Lanka Tamils, Indian Origin Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims) have nursed grievances against the majority community, the political establishment of the day and among themselves.

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 reason. 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.

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