“But there was also lingering fear among them”

The four Congress MPs from Tamil Nadu, who were part of a Parliamentary delegation which concluded its five-day visit to Sri Lanka on Saturday, said here on Saturday that they could see some improvement in the life of Tamils there, but there was also lingering fear among them.

E.M. Sudharsana Natchiappan, M. Krishnassamy, N.S.V. Chitthan and Manicka Tagore were speaking to reporters immediately after their return from the island nation.

It was not a guided tour, as alleged by some parties, the MPs stressed at the press conference held at Sathyamurthi Bhavan, the Congress headquarters here.

“We were able to visit all the places we wanted to and interact with the Tamils in their own places without any army/ police escort,” Mr. Krishnassamy said. However, in some areas, the army could be seen questioning civilians about their movement, even if they visited a temple.

Appeal made

“We have appealed to the Sri Lankan authorities to withdraw the army and they have said that they will look into it,” he said.

Only 6,000 people were now staying at the Manik Farm, a rehabilitation camp that once housed three lakh persons displaced by war. “These people said they wanted to go back to their native villages as they are languishing there for three years. However, Sri Lankan officials said their return was not possible until the United Nations could certify that the areas had been totally demined.”

The MPs said that they had an opportunity to study the ground situation in various areas where there was a substantial Tamil population.

They were definitely in need of infrastructure, including roads, irrigation facilities. School buildings had been demolished in certain areas.

The Indian government, apart from constructing 50,000 houses, had also helped to form women self-help groups.

“We wanted to tell our brethren there that the Indian government is very much with them. At the same time, our major focus was to impress upon Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa that implementation of the 13 Amendment, ensuring devolution of political powers and making Tamils equal citizens alone could bring about lasting peace. Besides, we wanted him to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC),” Mr. Natchiappan said.

According to the MPs, Mr. Rajapaksa responded that the issue of devolution would be considered by a Select Committee of Parliament.

He also wanted the representatives of the Tamil National Alliance to take part in the process.

However, when the delegation broached the issue with the Tamil leaders there, one of them wanted the Sri Lankan government to first spell out its stand on devolution before they took a call on whether to join the talks.

Asked how the Congress MPs could feel the visit was a success when the two major political parties in Tamil Nadu had pulled out of the delegation saying the visit would serve no purpose, Mr. Natchiappan said, “It's their opinion.”

Mr. Gnanadesikan said issuing statements sitting in India would be of no help to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. “Our endeavour should be to help them live in peace.”