B. Muralidhar Reddy

It will provide advice to all ministries and statutory bodies of the state and will help coordinate operations

The announcement follows recommendations made by the APRC in its interim report

It comes a week before elections in the east for a Provincial Council

COLOMBO: The Sri Lanka Cabinet has approved a proposal made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to set up a Special Task Force (STF) to oversee development initiatives in the strife-torn Northern Province districts, including the districts of Jaffna — administered by the government — and Killinochi and Mullathivu, which are under the control of the LTTE.

An official announcement here on Saturday said the three-member STF would be headed by the Cabinet Minister for Social Services, Douglas Devananda, and comprise the Minister for Rehabilitation, Rishad Badiuddin, and senior Presidential Advisor and MP Basil Rajapaksa. Mr. Rajapaksa is the younger brother of the President.

Coordinating operations

“This body will provide advice to all ministries, departments and statutory bodies of the state and will help coordinate operations in the area. It will also oversee resettlement and rehabilitation work, facilitate coordination between the executive and the Consultative Board proposed by the All-Party Representative Committee and where necessary provide proposals and ideas to the Governor of the Northern Province,” the announcement said.

The announcement follows recommendations made by the APRC in its interim report submitted to the Sri Lanka President on January 23 seeking “full and faithful implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, holding of Provincial Council elections in the east and establishment of an interim Provincial Council in the north.”

The appointment of the Task Force has come a week before the poll in the east for a Provincial Council. The election is being held after a gap of two decades and the stakes for the ruling combine and the Opposition in the outcome of the election is high.

The APRC interim report had said that pending consensus among all parties on further amendments to the Constitution on devolution of powers for a resolution of the ethnic conflict, the President should initiate measures to translate into action the provisions of the 13th Amendment and establish Provincial Councils in the east and the north to enable people to have a say in the governance of their affairs.

The APRC was established by Mr. Rajapaksa in mid-2006 to forge a consensus among all parties on a political solution acceptable to all for resolution of the three-decade-old ethnic conflict in the island nation. However, the Committee suffered a setback when the main Opposition, the United National Party (UNP), withdrew from it in protest against the decision of the President to induct rebel members of the party into the government. The Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP) also walked out of the Committee and now wants dissolution of the APRC.

The 13th Amendment, focus of the interim report of the APRC, to the Sri Lanka Constitution followed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987. Among other steps it envisages the province as the unit of power and devolution of powers between the Centre and the provinces as a solution to the ethnic crisis. However, for a variety of reasons, successive governments have not been able to implement its various provisions.

The report said:

“The APRC is of the view that conditions in the eastern provinces are conducive for holding elections to the Provincial Council and that elections should be held immediately. Conditions in the Northern Province are far from being peaceful. A free and fair election in the North will not be possible in the near future. Hence an alternative arrangement is required in the Northern Province to enable the people of that Province to enjoy the fruits of devolution.

“As it is not possible to hold elections in the North, the President could make appropriate order to establish an Interim Council for the Northern Province in terms of the Constitution. It may be necessary for such an Interim Council to make statues. The Interim Council of a province will aid advice the Governor in the exercise of his executive powers, and will function until election is held in that province. The Interim Council should reflect the ethnic character of the province.

“Hence, it is proposed that the Interim Council for a province should consist of individuals who have political experience and an abiding interest in the development of the province and in its people and be acceptable to the people of the province. A person to qualify for appointment as a member of an interim council should have a thorough knowledge of the particular province,” the APRC interim report said.

It is immediately not clear as to what prompted the President to opt for an STF rather than an Interim Council as suggested by the APRC. “The Task Force appointed by the Sri Lanka President for the north is more powerful than an Interim Council” the head of the newly constituted STF told reporters.

“My limit is sky and my sky is the President,” the Minister said. Intellectuals, religious leaders, former militant groups and the Sri Lankan Diaspora will be consulted in developing the north under the Task Force, Mr. Devananda said.

‘Indian model’

He also hopes to hold talks with the leader of the Tamil United liberation Front (TULF), V. Anandasangari. The TULF leader, who long proposed the “Indian model” in resolving Sri Lanka’s national question, is in favour of the interim measure, the Minister said.

The powerful Task Force, he said, hopes to establish a separate police unit in the north as an attempt to establish peace in the volatile region. The Task Force also expects to re-open the main supply route to Jaffna, the A-9 highway, which has been closed since 2006. “If I could do that, I think it will be a great step in ending the war,” he said.

Separately, the military claimed that six cadres of the LTTE were killed and many others injured in a confrontation between security forces and the Tigers in general area Chettiyarkattaiadampan on the Mannar front on Saturday.