Sumanthiran interviewed: pleads for sincere approach from the Rajapaksa government

Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema,  in the Sunday Leader, 17 April 2011

The issues faced by the Tamil community and finding a political settlement will have to be done through discussions, says TNA Parliamentarian and Attorney at Law, M.A. Sumanthiran. In an e-mail interview with The Sunday Leader, Sumanthiran observed that the TNA was engaged in discussions honestly and sincerely with a view to resolving all issues. “There is no other way. We wish that the government too would show more sincerity and purpose in this matter,” he said. Speaking of looking for a political settlement beyond the 13th Amendment, Sumanthiran observed there was no need to discuss anything further than the 13th Amendment if it is the solution to the issue.


Q: What has been the outcome of the four rounds of discussions the TNA has had with the government?
Our discussions have been on two fronts. One, on immediate issues faced by our people and the other on a long-term political settlement. The first three rounds were on both matters, with the meetings being divided into two parts. The fourth meeting was only on the immediate issues. The next, on the 29th of April, will be on the political settlement.
We have an agreement not to divulge the details of the discussions regarding the political solution to the public at this stage, except through a joint statement which we issue after each meeting.
On the immediate issues, we placed three matters — long term detainees, resettlement in ‘high security zones’ and illegal armed groups. The government delegation responded with regard to the armed groups issue by undertaking to amend the Criminal Procedure Code and making the possession of illegal arms, a non-bailable offence.
No proper response has emerged with regard to the other two matters. The ‘surrendees’ after the war ended, are said to number around 4,500. Their identities are not known. The result is that many thousands of parents don’t know whether their children are yet living or not! The government delegation assured us in writing that there was a computer data base that was already made accessible for the next of kin to check. However no such facility was made available. People who went there consequent to our publicity were chased away by the police.
At the subsequent meeting the government delegation apologized but to date the situation has not changed. At the last meeting it was agreed that on the 16th of April both parties would go there and check that data base and then announce the date on which this will become operable.
Another example of the government delegation’s information being inaccurate is with regard to resettlement in Thirumurigandy. When we inquired last June, we were told that the roofing sheets were getting delayed and that within a month the people could be resettled there. At the last meeting we were told that demining is not over there! We have pointed out that we ourselves have walked around in that area and that there were no mines there. Now we find that bull dozers are being employed there to even close all the wells.

Q: How confidant is the TNA of being able to resolve the issues faced by the Tamil communities through discussions with the government?
We are engaged in the discussions honestly and sincerely with a view to resolving all issues. There is no other way. We wish that the government too would show more sincerity and purpose in this matter.

Q: Sections of the Tamil community are displeased with the TNA’s decision to discuss with the government. How do you respond?
Past experiences and even the fact that presently also there doesn’t seem to be any intent in the government, perhaps makes them think so. But we will have to resolve all the issues through discussions.

Q: The government has nominated External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and MP Sajin Vass Gunawardena to represent the state. Do you think these officials hold the authority to help resolve issues faced by the Tamil people?
That is not a matter for us to comment. The President has nominated the government delegation. So they have his confidence. Similarly the TNA delegation was nominated by our Leader, Mr. Sampanthan.

Q: The TNA was preparing a set of proposals on finding a political solution to the ethnic issue. What is the TNA looking at proposing and when will they be presented to the government?
We are only placing points for discussion so that the proposal can emerge from this committee. As I said earlier we are not free to make public those discussions yet.

Q: India has reportedly asked the TNA to request for a political solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment. Do you think the government would agree to such a request?
That news item is not accurate. What was stated was thatIndia says that the solution must go beyond the 13th Amendment. Foreign Minister Krishna said so in his speech inJaffna. If the 13th Amendment is the answer, there is no need for any further discussion now. That is the law at present. The worst part of the violence also took place after 1987. That is why the President has now appointed a committee to come up with a solution.

Q: What option would the TNA have in the event the government rejects its proposals including the request for a solution beyond the 13th Amendment?
Well, I don’t think we should speculate on that now, while we are engaged in a sincere dialogue. But I can say that if the Tamil people’s repeated democratic verdict is ignored a different scenario will definitely emerge. International Law has also developed over the last 60 years.

Q: How effective has the TNA been in addressing the issues faced by the Tamil people, especially the detainees?
Not effective at all. I have already given an example. The government must sincerely engage with us as the elected representatives of the Tamil people.

Q: What is your comment on the move to add three chapters on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the new volume of the Mahavamsa?
I have no comment since the accuracy of the existing chapters are also in serious doubt.


Tangential addendum, from the Daily Mirror, 25 April 2011

A TNA delegation would be granted access to the data base of Tamil detainees at the TID office in Vavuniya tomorrow to see verify facts for themselves, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran said today. The government officials also would accompany the TNA delegation.

During talks between the two parties, it had been requested to give details of these detainees on behalf of family members and relatives. There was also allegation by the TNA that the government failed to live up to its promise in this regard.   “There are over 4000 detainees. Their kith and kin should be allowed to know the personal details of these persons. We will go there first and see for ourselves the details,” he said.  

MP Sajin de Vaas Gunawardane will join the visit on behalf of the government. The TNA delegation will comprise MP Suresh Premachandran and Mr. Sumanthiran. Also, the TNA is expected to have another round of talks with   the government on April 29. Mr. Sumanthiran said that the focus would be made on the contours of a political solution and the dismantling of the High Security Zones during the meeting.  “There are over 4000 detainees. Their kith and kin should be allowed to know the personal details of these persons. We will go there first and see for ourselves the details,” he said. (Kelum Bandara)

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