Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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PSC is Only a Delaying Tactic: Suresh Premachandran

by Shakuntala Perera, Daily Mirror, August 31, 2011

I was a member of the Mangala Munasinghe PSC - and that report is today in a shelf in the Parliament.  I wonder if this one would also suffer the same fate. There are plenty of such approaches- from Chandrika Kumaratunga's proposal to the APRC etc. So I don't understand why there is a need for this. This is only a delaying tactic.

TNA MP, Suresh Premachandran insists that a cohesive devolution of power to the Tamil people to be the only solution that can ensure long standing peace in the country. Stressing that there was no ultimatum issued to the government he claims that the TNA however has little faith on the PSC given the plight of similar moves in the past.

LIFTING EMERGENCY REGULATIONS

'We are against any new regulations where the PTA is retained.'

Q: Lifting Of the Emergency regulations has long been a contentious issue for the Tamil National Alliance, and last week the President announced its removal in Parliament. Yet, you remain concerned of the detainees arrested under the Emergency laws?

We're still concerned about the security of the Tamil people as arrest can still take place and kept under detention for months under certain sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. So for the Tamil people there's still a concern. The PTA was brought by late President J R Jayewardene but after 35 years and the end of the war it is still in existence. We request the government to remove the PTA now- it is only then can democracy prevail. Till it is removed anyone holding a discussion, a meeting can still be arrested.

There is no use lifting the Emergency regulations if they are going to bring any new regulations either. In that situation the government is going to restrict movements further- in fact it will be a worse situation. We are against any new regulations where the PTA is retained. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara today announced that no such new regulation would be brought and that the detainees would be brought under the normal law of the country. It is certainly good if that is the case.

Q: You however still remain critical of the High Security Zones which the government insists must remain till normalcy is obtained and any security threats in the North and the East completely removed.

As far as the North and the East is concerned it is still under the control of the security forces. Even civil administration is controlled by the security forces. If there is a school sports meet in some rural school they have to invite the security forces- if there is a progress meeting conducted by the Government Agent then they have to invite the head of the Army in the area concerned. The roads are still manned by the security forces. We are still not under normal rule there. Whatever the government says the HSZ still exist.

According to government information you can be happy with the reconstruction and resettlement of the displaced people. But in reality 200,000 people still have to go back to their own places of residence- these people are still either in transit camps or with relatives; not in their own houses. Of course with these areas being controlled by the security forces, some of the houses are still occupied by them and have not been handed over to the owners. Certainly, the government is doing up the roads and building other infrastructure but housing remains a far cry from what is needed. The government didn't allow any NGO to be involved.

Livelihoods are still a huge concern.  While the Northern and Eastern fishermen are still in the camps the ones from the South come and fish even within the restricted areas with the support of the security forces.

THE PARLIAMENTARY SELECT COMMITTEE

'We don't know why the government is even interested in the PSC.'

Q: If a viable political solution was your concern then why do you express reservations about the Parliamentary Select Committee?

In the beginning we said that  we were not keen on a Parliamentary Select Committee because negotiations were already going on between us and the government. We were asked to give a proposal which we gave the government six months ago. The government said they would discuss it with the alliance partners and get their views and respond to us- to date there is no response. So now, we don't know why the government is even interested in the PSC.

I was a member of the Mangala Munasinghe PSC - and that report is today in a shelf in the Parliament.  I wonder if this one would also suffer the same fate. There are plenty of such approaches- from Chandrika Kumaratunga's proposal to the APRC etc. So I don't understand why there is a need for this. This is only a delaying tactic.

Q: But the accusation against you is that of pushing ultimatum's on the government to pressurizing them in to a solution without a real commitment.?

 There is no ultimatum at all. In our first meeting itself we said that we were open for any discussion. But the government didn't come forward for discussions till January, maybe under pressure from within its alliance members. We never spoke of ultimatums- they're the ones who asked us for a paper. All we want is a response. We are not behaving like the LTTE- not wanting a separate state. It is wrong to accuse us like that. The President even when the talks were on said that he would never grant police or land powers- but we still remained silent.

ON POLICE AND LAND POWERS

'What use is devolution without police or land powers?'

Q: Given the majority view can police or land powers still remain a basis for you obtaining a viable solution?

If the government is willing to devolve powers to the provinces, that must be one suited to those provinces or there is no use. They give various excuses claiming we're too small a country to devolve such powers- but look at Switzerland or even the UK; some boroughs in the UK have their own police. There shouldn't be any problems in devolving police powers when you have already given administrative or excutive powers to the provinces. When we discuss these issues with Indian Chief Ministers for example, they ask us what use there is in getting devolution without police or land powers.   

Q: You often speak of the Indian example. How much is India a model for you on these issues?

Even though India is a federal system the provinces are still asking for greater power. So on these grounds there are various Chief Ministers fighting for more. There is no real power devolution in that sense. While Jammu and Kashmir has one system, somewhere else the system is different, depending on the people and the language etc. They even want to divide Andrapradesh.

THE NEGOTIATED SOLUTION

'If there is proper power sharing the Tamil people can look after themselves.'

Q: So what in your opinion is the middle ground upon which negotiations can take off on a more positive note?

Mr. Chelvanayagam had agreements with two Sinhala leaders- Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayake. Both were abrogated by these two governments. Then he said he tried all avenues and failed and said that nothing outside of a separate state will grant these rights. The LTTE then tried that for over 35 years.  But all that the TNA is saying is let the Tamil people live in dignity in our areas which we have lived in for years.

There are two different problems here. One involves a political solution. While reconstruction and resettlement to resolve issues caused by war are completed, if there is proper power sharing the Tamil people can look after themselves with the help of the Tamil Diaspora. They're scared to help now as they would get arrested when they come over here etc. If the government gives the Tamil people the power they will look after their livelihoods etc.

But we can't move beyond without a proper political solution. We can't resolve this situation. The Tamil people are very much for living in a united Sri Lanka- it's only the government that is adamant. They must find a way to accommodate the Tamil people without saying that this land belongs to the Sinhala people to be shared by other races.  Otherwise there is no solution that we can ever come to.