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APRC 'Dead in the Water'

by Tamil Guardian, August 29, 2007

The stated purpose of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) is to reach a southern consensus on what power-sharing arrangement to offer the Tamils.  

It has, however, been criticized as a ploy by the hardline Rajapakse government to avoid returning to negotiations with the Tamil Tigers...

With no agreement on a draft proposal, on August 20 the Working Committee of the UNP decided to withdraw from the APRC citing the latest adjournment.  

A spokesman for the UNP said with the decision to adjourn the APRC indefinitely the “process is dead in the water.”

 

Sri Lanka’s hardline Buddhist monks are opposed to any form of settlement with the Tamils, and the political party of monks walked out of the all party constitutional conference. Photo Daily News August 2007
Sri Lanka’s hardline Buddhist monks are opposed to any form of settlement with the Tamils, and the political party of monks walked out of the all party constitutional conference. Photo Daily News

The troubled multi-party committee appointed by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to derive a southern consensus on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka collapsed last week with his ruling party calling for an indefinite adjournment and two more parties, including the main opposition party, walking out.  

The stated purpose of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) is to reach a southern consensus on what power-sharing arrangement to offer the Tamils.  

It has, however, been criticized as a ploy by the hardline Rajapakse government to avoid returning to negotiations with the Tamil Tigers.  

Earlier this month, the APRC announced that a final draft of a proposed solution to the protracted conflict would be submitted to President Rajapakse on August 15.  

The APRC convened a series of meetings in early August with aim of meeting the deadline. But as with past deadlines, it passed without result.  

The opposition United National Party (UNP) promptly set a target of August 20 to finalise the draft report and linked its continued participation in future APRC proceedings to the committee meeting the new target.   

However the ruling Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) representative Minister Vishwa Warnapala and a ruling coalition party Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) representative Nalin De Silva attending the APRC meeting on August 19 called for the indefinite adjournment of proceedings.  

They informed APRC Chairman Tissa Vitharana that the proceedings had to be adjourned in keeping with a ‘request’ made by the President and no further meetings of the APRC should be held until Rajapakse met with all party leaders in the APRC who are members of the ruling coalition.  

With no agreement on a draft proposal, on August 20 the Working Committee of the UNP decided to withdraw from the APRC citing the latest adjournment.  

A spokesman for the UNP said with the decision to adjourn the APRC indefinitely the “process is dead in the water.”   The UNP had been vindicated as "they have been proved correct that the entire APRC process was an eye wash," he said.  

The UNP further announced that it will not participate in any further deliberations until the parties in the ruling coalition come up with a common stand regarding the resolution of the national question.  

As the UNP withdrew from the APRC proceedings, Jaathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the hard line monks party led by a firebrand cabinet minister, also distanced itself from the APRC.  

The JHU is opposed to the very notion of power-sharing with the Tamils.    

According sources close the APRC proceedings, the sudden decision to move for an adjournment came following representations made by the JHU to the President.  

Earlier, the APRC had taken the position that the unit of devolution should be the province and the nature of the state should be "united" as opposed to unitary.  

However the ruling collation parties including SLFP, MEP and the JHU had opposed this position, insisting the word uni

According to the Sunday Leader newspaper , the government is now planning to delay finalising the APRC proposals until the conclusion of the budget vote in November.  

This is following a threat by the right wing Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP), Sri Lanka’s third largest party, to defeat the budget if the APRC proposals did not include a unitary state devoid of any federal features.  

Last week the JHU complained to the media that the APRC proposals being discussed would have dire consequences on the country and is a step to impose a federal system even exceeding the parameters of the Indian and US constitutions.  

“According to these proposals, the constitution cannot be amended without a two-thirds majority in Parliament in addition to obtaining the consent of the Provinces to be set up,” the party’s APRC representative Udaya Gammanpila said.

“Today, the government has a problem in amending the present constitution because of such a clause included by President J.R. Jayewardene who introduced it.”  

“In the US, the centre has the power for revenue collection. Then, the government distributes collected revenues among its 50 states. This has helped the US government to prevent secessions,” he said.  

“Sinhala, Mulsim, Tamils of Sri Lankan origin and Tamils of Indian origin have been mentioned as ethnic groups. Then the Malays and Burghers will never get representation in the country’s top posts according to these proposals,” he further grumbled.  

The JHU founder and current Environment Minister, Champika Ranawaka, launched a verbal tirade against the APRC Chairman Tissa Vitarana accusing him of conspiring against the Rajapakse government to undermine the military victories in the Eastern province.   Ranawaka told journalists that even the SLFP and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), which were parties of the ruling coalition had not agreed to this set of proposals, along with the Muslim parties, which some reservations about these proposals.  

“The APRC is an expert panel representing political parties in the House. It was appointed by the All Party Conference assigned with the task of seeking consensual approach to resolve the national question. It has no post called chairman. Prof. Vitarana has been assigned only to chair its meetings as the most senior Cabinet Minister in it.”  

“He has no right to issue statements as the chairman,” Mr. Ranawaka added.  

“Today, we have gained a military victory in the East [against the LTTE]. Plans are in place to push northwards,” Mr. Ranawaka said.  

“According to information, LTTE leader Prabhakaran has instructed his field commanders to recapture the Vadamarachchi area before November. He has emphasized his desire to die in his home town rather than in Wanni.”  

“There is a [therefore] a conspiracy to reverse the military victories. We wonder whether Prof. Vitarana is playing a part in this conspiracy,” Mr. Ranawaka asked.  

In another move to undermine the APRC, according to local reports, the president has appointed another committee comprising of southern political parties under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake.  

The aim of the new committee, according to the report, is to ‘iron out the differences’ between the parties on the on the controversial matters such as nature of the state and the limit of devolution.  

In March 2007, Vitarana, announced that the consensual APRC proposal, which was hoped to be ready by February, had been delayed because of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party's (SLFP) delay in submitting its proposals.  

On March 22, the Minister said he wants the "exercise to be completed over the next 60 days," again moving the deadline to end of May.  

The JVP, which is third largest political party represented in parliament with 39 parliamentarians, has boycotted the APRC since early December saying it is not interested in formulating a political package based on federal concept.

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