Sri Lanka's North-East to remain united for another year

COLOMBO Nov. 13. The Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, today extended the life of the North-East province as a single administrative unit for another year.

A proclamation to allow the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces to continue for another year was signed by Ms. Kumaratunga on November 6. The two provinces were "temporarily merged" after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987. Referenda were to have been held in the northern and eastern provinces for the people to decide if the merger should continue, but these have been annually postponed since 1988.

The status of the two "temporarily merged" provinces is an important factor in any solution to the island's decades-long separatist conflict. While both provinces have a majority of Tamil-speaking people, Sri Lankan Tamils are a majority in the northern province, while in the eastern province, the island's three main ethnicities — Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are in near equal proportion. Tamil political parties have taken the position that the north and east of Sri Lanka are the historical homeland of the Tamil-speaking people in the island.

Chandrika reassures LTTE

Earlier, Ms. Kumaratunga sent a message of reassurance to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that her recent constitutional moves were not aimed at sabotaging the peace process.

Ms. Kumaratunga conveyed this to the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgesen, and Oslo's Special Envoy for the peace process, Erik Solheim, at a "cordial" meeting yesterday, a senior Presidential aide told The Hindu. [A Norwegian delegation, led by Mr. Helgesen, met the LTTE leadership in Kilinochchi today.]

Mr. Helgesen and Mr. Solheim are in Sri Lanka on a visit finalised before the latest political stalemate. On November 4, Ms. Kumaratunga took over the portfolios of Defence, Interior and Mass Communication, exercising her constitutional powers. The Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Front Cabinet has demanded restoration of the portfolios as Ms. Kumaratunga's moves had caused "fundamental changes" to the peace process.