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Sunday, 23 June 2013

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Grievances should be resolved in keeping with Constitution

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main constituent party in the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), has invited all political parties to present their proposals to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the 13th Amendment, and contest the forthcoming Northern Provincial Council election. As the SLFP General Secretary, Minister Maithripala Sirisena has said, the Government is committed to conduct a transparent, free and fair election in the three provinces for which elections are scheduled to be held in September.

The election for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is of utmost importance as the voters in the North had been deprived of exercising their democratic right due to the LTTE's gun culture. Though the LTTE had projected itself as the sole representatives of the Tamils, the terror outfit reposed more faith in the bullet than the ballot.

Now that the Government is going ahead with the NPC elections, there has been a greater dialogue on the 13th Amendment which had been foisted on the then J.R. Jayewardene Government under the controversial 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.

President Jayewardene succumbed to Indian pressure by hastily introducing the 13th Amendment. He kept his entire Cabinet in the dark when he inked the Indo-Lanka Accord with the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, amidst heavy countrywide protests.

One could well imagine the tremendous pressure the late President had faced at the time - in that he had even ignored whether it was in keeping with the Constitution or not. The then Jayewardene-led UNP government introduced the 13th Amendment to the Constitution even without calling for a referendum in the face of a threat of an invasion.

Hence, there is no doubt whatsoever that the clauses detrimental to the Constitution or the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity should be amended. The puppets who supported and rallied round the LTTE are today clamouring to retain the 13th Amendment and for an election in the North by putting forward various baseless allegations.

Though the Provincial Council system was introduced in 1987 purely to decentralise power to address the grievances of the people in the North and the East, the proper establishment of the NPC had been adversely affected by LTTE terrorism for over two decades. Hence, conducting elections to the NPC is a singular achievement since the dawn of peace after the LTTE leadership was vanquished in May 2009.

Now that the PSC has been appointed by Parliament to study the 13th Amendment, it is the bounden duty of all political parties to present their proposals. Rather than shouting at roundabouts to gain petty political mileage, Opposition politicians must submit concrete proposals and put the country before self. They should desist from attempting to gain cheap political gains and make a tangible contribution towards the success of the PSC.

The Northern poll will be a historic occasion as the Government plans to consolidate the political rights of people in the North. Their inalienable right had been suppressed by the LTTE for decades on end. As a leader who reposes implicit faith in democracy and the people's power, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is determined to ensure the political rights of the Northerners.

Hence, all political parties, including the TNA, should participate in the PSC proceedings and engage in a greater dialogue. There is no purpose in running to India or turning to the international community to solve internal problems.

As President Rajapaksa had stressed time and again, no foreign leader could be more concerned about the people of Sri Lanka than our own leaders. Hence, the TNA should abandon its 'cry baby tours' to New Delhi and enter the democratic process through the PSC.

It seems that Velupillai Prabhakaran, at the time of his death at the Nandikadal lagoon four years ago, had handed over the 'Eelam' baton to TNA leader R. Sampanthan. When Tiger terrorism was at its peak, the LTTE projected themselves as the sole representatives of the Tamils. Sampanthan's TNA is now making that same claim.

Petty-minded Opposition political parties, along with other extremist groups, are surprisingly hailing Sampanthan in his attempt to carry forward the 'Eelam' baton. The self-same forces which supported Prabhakaran in the past are now openly extending their support to Sampanthan. It is even more baffling as to why certain Opposition political parties and groups are running to the UNHCR in Geneva to complain against the government on trivial matters.

All political parties and the international community should bear in mind that the Government cannot compromise matters pertaining to national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

No country would do so and moreover, is it fair for those countries to expect Sri Lanka to do something that is not practised by them?

More importantly, it is the paramount duty of all Sri Lankans to protect the hard-earned peace, achieved through the supreme sacrifices by the true sons of our soil.

As far as domestic security is concerned, perhaps the most critical aspect will be achieving national reconciliation and forging a common Sri Lankan identity. As pointed out by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, guarding against potential threats is a sine qua non as national security is the foundation of the country's freedom and prosperity.

Escalating terrorism and the resultant mayhem created deep insecurity amongst the people and it helped foreign powers to meddle in Sri Lanka's internal affairs. It has now come to light that several INGOs, in the North and the East, had maintained close links with the LTTE when the world's deadliest terrorist outfit was at its peak.

The Government was constrained to take precautionary measures to counter the LTTE terrorist attacks that had been waged against civilians. That led to the deployment of soldiers on the streets and the entire country was more or less on a war footing. However, with the dawn of peace four years ago, the Government has taken every possible step to reduce the military presence among civilians.

Simultaneously, it must be borne in mind that the removal of military presence overnight is not feasible for a country which had been plagued by LTTE terrorism. People in the North still recall those horrifying days when they were subjected to untold misery due to the LTTE's brutal terror. Thanks to the Security Forces, they were liberated from the clutches of LTTE terror.

Although the international community pontificated on peace, it did precious little to avert thousands of innocent civilians falling prey to Prabhakaran's unimaginable terror. Despite the international presence here after the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, the LTTE blatantly continued to create instability in the country. It was only after the great humanitarian operation and the battle against terrorism from 2006 to 2009 that the country achieved peace eventually. Had it continued to listen to the fairytale peace talks of the West, the country would have still been at the receiving end of Prabhakaran's merciless terror.

Having eradicated terrorism, it is the prime responsibility of the Government to ensure national security. It is crystal clear that a country would not achieve economic development sans national security and stability. Hence, national security must be perceived within a unified, single framework that integrates the nation's defence, law and order, foreign policy as well as its economic policy.

No extraneous elements should try to preach to Sri Lanka on the 13th Amendment. The Government is ever ready to address the genuine grievances of the people in the North and the East, but certainly not those put forward by the Tiger cohorts and LTTE Diaspora. The grievances of the people in the North and the East are poles apart from the LTTE Diaspora and Tamils abroad.

Be it the 13th Amendment or otherwise, any solution to address the grievances of those in the two provinces should be in accordance with the Constitution and a unitary state. Foreign interlopers would do the vanishing trick in the event problems surface again. We should not look at solutions to appease the neighbours or the Western countries. All internal matters should be resolved in keeping with the country's Constitution.

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